First impressions convey your image even when you don't want them to

friday, 10 february of 2012

First impressions convey your image even when you don't want them to

by Trey Ryder

Lawyers often go to great lengths to design handsome offices so they make a positive, commanding impression when prospective clients come into their office.

But your prospects may decide not to meet with you if their first impressions of you are negative. And many times, their first impressions are formed long before they reach your office door.

First impressions are often made by one or more of the following. Evaluate how you measure up in these areas.

1. Web site.Fortunately, lawyers and law firms exercise a great deal of control over the appearance of their web sites. This is one area where you can easily convey a dignified, professional, upscale image. Is the appearance of your web site consistent with the image you want for your firm?

2. Display ads.Similar to yellow page ads, prospects can draw a number of conclusions from your display ads. Does your ad convey a dignified, professional image? Or does it make you look like a low-end law firm? Does your ad speak softly and clearly to your prospect? Or does it scream?

3. Brochure.Does your brochure provide all the information you prospect wants? Or does it leave out important facts that would help your prospect decide to hire you? Is your brochure crisp, clean and neat? Or did you reproduce it on your copy machine, with poor photos and black marks throughout?

Every negative conclusion your prospect draws from your brochure creates a negative perception about your firm. To your prospect, your brochure IS your firm. Is your brochure everything you want it to be? Neat. Clean. Attractive. Crisp. Precise. Informative. Easy to understand. Easy to follow. Complete. Helpful. Friendly. Personal. Are you pleased with the image your brochure conveys?

4. Yellow page ad.I recently reviewed the new yellow pages for the Phoenix metro area. As in many large cities, lawyer listings and display ads consume over 100 pages. Leafing through the ads, I hope the lawyers and law firms those ads represent have more integrity and character than I would conclude from the appearance of those ads.

In an effort to get noticed, yellow page ads are getting more and more graphically outrageous. No doubt, some of the ads are consistent with the image of the lawyer(s) they represent. Also, no doubt, some well-respected and capable firms would shudder to think prospects draw conclusions about their firm based on the appearance of their yellow page ad.

If you run a yellow page ad, does it accurately convey the image you want for your firm? I hope so because your prospect's first impression may come from that yellow page ad.

5. Business cards. Are they crisp, clean and professional? Is information on the card easy to find? Are the type size and font easy to read? Do they look like traditional lawyer cards? Do they convey the image you want prospects to receive?

6. Stationery and envelopes. After one of my articles appeared in a legal publication, a lawyer requested my law marketing articles, which I sent by e-mail. After receiving my fact kit, the lawyer sent me a letter by mail.

Picture this: Outside envelope: Smudged rubber stamp with the lawyer's name and return address. "CONFIDENTIAL" scrawled in handwritten ballpoint pen.

Inside stationery: Name and address typed at the top. "Attorney at Law", "Telephone" and "Facsimile" were photocopied onto her letterhead from someone else's letterhead, in a font often used for engraved stationery. Then her phone numbers were typed in after those words. "Serving the legal profession since (unreadable year)". Then all this was photocopied onto Classic Laid stationery, so everything appears to be a second- or third-generation photocopy. Then (yes, there's more) the unreadable year in "serving the legal profession since..." was overwritten in ballpoint pen to read (I think) "1979".

I can't imagine prospects would hire this lawyer if they first saw her letterhead. What's more, I can't imagine this lawyer could be as bad as her stationery. But I may be wrong.

Do your stationery and envelopes convey the image you want to project? Your letterhead and envelope may be the first thing your prospect sees. Make sure it represents you well.

7. Telephone reception. The person who answers your phone is critical to your marketing success. You can create powerful, effective marketing in every area. But if you have a weak person answering your phone, you've got problems. You want the person who answers to be friendly, informed and efficient. The person calling your office can notice a weakness on the telephone in the first three seconds. It's a negative impression you don't want to make.

Harvey Mackay, in his syndicated business column, said the person answering the phone should be the highest paid person in the office, other than the boss. When prospects call your office, are they greeted promptly by someone who makes sure their calls get to the proper person without delay?

8. Voice mail message.I recently concluded an assignment from a long-time friend and attorney. When I called his office and got his voice mail, his message was a real disappointment. I know him to be a positive, upbeat person. But his voice mail message didn't reflect that. He spoke in a monotone that made him sound bored and uninterested. Clearly a turnoff to someone who doesn't know him, like prospective clients.

When you're fortunate enough to have prospects calling your office, make sure the message they receive -- even a voice mail message -- is professional, upbeat, friendly and inviting.

Everything prospects see, hear, and read about your firm creates an image in their mind. Everything! I urge you to work overtime to make sure the impressions you create on prospects are consistent with the images you want to convey. In addition to attracting new clients, your marketing program should be designed to convey, refine and polish your firm's image so you always -- always! -- make a positive first impression.

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© Trey Ryder

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