As an estate planning national practice development expert, I’m frequently asked “How much should I spend on marketing?” It’s a very good question. The answer is a product of several sub-issues that I intend to delve into here, as marketing consists not only of the direct cost of advertising, but also should include costs associated with human resources (both internal and outsourced), equipment, software, development and coaching that result in the best systems to attract A+ clients on a consistent basis.
Budget 10 Percent of Annual Gross
I suggest setting aside approximately 10 percent of your firm’s annual gross revenue to start budgeting for marketing expenses, depending on the size of your firm and other variables, such as the ability to take on new clients and whether your firm’s front stage and back stage systems are developed enough to create the content for your marketing plan. My firm actually budgets more than 10 percent, but I’d suggest this as a good starting point.
While 10 percent of your firm’s annual gross revenue may sound like a significant amount of money to spend on advertising, keep in mind that I’m not suggesting that all of this money be used solely for advertising. Marketing is different from advertising in the sense that marketing includes a broad range of activities geared towards distinguishing and differentiating your firm while advertising speaks to the promotion of a single event or activity.
Development of Front/Back Stage Systems
As I’ve written about in prior columns, to transform your estate planning practice from a commoditized transaction, where you visit with your client once or twice a decade, into a client value-based relationship experience, you first need to consider the front and back stage systems and processes enabling you to so deliver.
This won’t happen without a significant investment of time, money, resources and perhaps coaching, as I suggest below. So, part of your budget should include amounts necessary to identify, name and record these systems.
Branding Your Systems
Once you’ve created your front and back stage systems, you’ll likely need to hire an outsourced marketing firm to conceptualize branding and description in written and electronic communication pieces, such as your firm brochures and website. If you go so far as to create your own systems as opposed to licensing them from existing outlets, you’ll want to protect your intellectual capital by hiring an intellectual property attorney to so register.
The right marketing firm can take your concepts and create images to convey the value to clients. Don’t skimp here because you’ll likely use the graphics and images for years before updating them.
Hiring Your Team
As you identify and create your systems that deliver the client value experience, and are in the process of branding the content and graphics that illustrate that experience, you should ensure that you have the right team members in place to deliver that experience. Depending on how extensive your firm capabilities are, you may have to hire a number of individuals (over time) to accomplish the various tasks that need to get done.
Outside marketing firms are expensive. So if you intend to create your own media, such as podcasts, webinars and books, you may want to consider hiring in-house team members who can do a lot of that groundwork for you. I found that it’s more cost-effective to hire someone well-versed in basic web design, editing, video editing and the like in-house (and I’m in a five attorney office) than it is to pay an outside marketing firm to do those functions for us.
We do have the outside marketing firm, but we have them perform the tasks that are unique to their capabilities rather than those that we can easily perform in-house.
While web-based marketing serves as a growing portion of many firm’s efforts, you always need to have first-class printed materials. I’ve authored several books that serve to both educate my clients, prospective clients and centers of influence, as well as serve as attractive marketing pieces. I don’t harbor fantasies of becoming the next John Grisham, but the books are available on Amazon and through my firm’s website.
Because the book’s chief function is to both educate and market, we print more than 2,000 to give away. About half of those are distributed to our annual maintenance client base and their referrals, others to our centers of influence, and the rest to prospective clients who request them and to attendees of our workshops. It costs roughly $10 each just to print a short book with color graphics, which means that we spend anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000 just to have them on hand. This doesn’t count the cost to have a professional editor, graphic design for the front and back covers, layout and illustrator for the interior graphics.
A well thought out book, however, can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue. So it’s worth it. Although these numbers may seem frightening, a well thought out marketing plan should multiply firm revenues. Our experience is a five-fold increase from the time that we began developing our front stage/back stage systems to today.
You’ll also spend significant sums on quality brochures, folders and three-ring binders to hold your client’s finished trusts.
Another expense that you may wish to include in your annual marketing budget is the production and presentation of workshops. These workshops might be geared to your existing client base to keep them abreast of recent developments in the law, or perhaps you’ll produce workshops for potential clients. In either case, these educational workshops could fit hand-in-glove with your estate planning front stage and back stage systems. Further, it’s a great idea to video record your workshops, archiving them on your website as well as using them as promotional material on your YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The cost of conducting a workshop therefore includes the renting of the facility, refreshments, handouts, promotional materials, with a major expense being the advertising when you promote that workshop to potential clients. When we conduct a series of workshops, it’s common for my firm to spend upwards of $30,000 on all of these expenses.
Advertising is perhaps the trickiest marketing expense to consider and budget for. Are you looking simply to get the name of your firm in front of potential clients and centers of influence, or are you going to accomplish something specific, such as filling the seats at one of your upcoming workshops or having individuals watch a webinar? Each type of advertisement must be carefully and intentionally planned, or you risk wasting thousands of dollars. The cost of the advertisement generally includes professional layout and graphic design, as well as placement in periodicals.
I could (and probably will) write another post on this topic, as there are enough attributes to consider when budgeting for and creating advertising for your firm. Just know this: those ads that say you do “wills, trusts, estate planning and probate” are, generally speaking, worthless. Your ads should speak to a specific concern about your target market. Similarly, ads that tout you and your partners have a combined 100 years of experience aren’t worth the money to place.
Think about it from a potential client’s point of view: “I can find out how long this guy’s been practicing by looking him up on the web. What I want to know is how is he going to help me?”
Speaking of the Internet, a good portion of your marketing budget should be directed to the development of a website that speaks to your target clients concerns, offers a sample of your firm’s front stage client experience and is constantly updated with new content. The web page content that I develop for my firm, as well as licensees of my systems, requires me to spend money not only on web designers, but also on videographers, podcast editors, related video and podcast hosting web sites, Google ads and a host of other expenses.
In the best of all worlds, you create the content. If you aren’t good at that, then perhaps look to offerings that pre-package that content for you. A static web page won’t do well in Google and other search engine rankings, nor will it retain the attention of those who visit.
Your web page should also contain a call to action, as well as capture the contact information of those who visit. So, your marketing budget should contain a healthy annual amount to keep your firm’s web page current.
Depending on how much of your own content you intend to generate, equipment expense will be another line item in your marketing budget. I transformed a small file room into a soundproof media studio complete with lighting, video cameras and professional podcast equipment. There’s nothing stopping you from doing the same. Generally speaking, this type of equipment lasts for years, so once you incur the cost you have the ability to create additional video and audio content for a small incremental expense.
Consider budgeting amounts for quarterly coaching. A variety of programs exist in the marketplace that will help you take your practice to the next level. It’s very difficult to do so on your own, because you actually have to spend time thinking about your thinking. When you spend all of your time working in your practice as opposed to working on your practice, it goes stagnant. I’ve been in a coaching program since 2004, taking the concepts I’ve learned from that program to develop the systems I describe for you in this post.
The best coaching programs can cost thousands of dollars annually, not counting travel and accommodations to attend those programs. I even send one of my key team members to a related program, which is also quite expensive. Don’t be dissuaded. By enrolling in a great coaching program, you’ll inject some excitement into your practice and feel an increase in commitment, courage, capability and confidence.
Return on Investment
While the amounts that I suggest spending may seem preposterous to you, understand that it’s all a function of scale. My firm now has 800 families in its annual maintenance program, so whatever materials we produce must not only be available to those individuals, but also to prospects and centers of influence. As I said earlier, we’ve experienced a five-fold increase in firm revenue since implementing our systems and developing a sophisticated marketing plan. There’s nothing stopping you from multiplying your practice — except you!
My advice is to create a one-year planner taking the concepts found in this article and laying out how you intend to create and implement your program. You can use this planner to budget the amount of time, money and resources that you’ll need. I hope this short post helps you think more clearly and intentionally when developing your own marketing budget and plan.