October 6, 2012, ERIE, PA — Tim and I are Pennsylvania injury lawyers, as any regular reader of this Erie law blog knows. But we also represent local business owners in business disputes. One, a local used car dealer with a small business but a sterling reputation, wrote to thank us at the conclusion of his case. He asked, “If you’re ever in need of a car, keep us in mind.”
I thought to myself that I surely would keep him in mind. After all, I knew him to be a man of integrity and knowledge. Why wouldn’t I go to him when next I needed to buy a car? But then I thought, “Come on. You know yourself better than that. You’re not buying a car for at least a couple of years and by then there is at least an even chance you’ll have forgotten all about him.”
And then I thought, I really wish he would send me a newsletter like the one Tim and I send to our friends and clients. That way, not only would I get the inside story on the used car business (I love hearing about how a business works) but it will remind me to see him when I need him. So, I wrote my client about this and, after writing it, I thought, I really should share this everyone because it applies to almost anyone who runs their own small business. Here is what I wrote:
Dear Michael (not his real name),
I will tell you that I intend to look you up when the time comes for me to buy another car. I will also tell you that I am notoriously forgetful about these sorts of things. In fact, that’s why I am replying to you.
When Tim and I decided to grow the personal injury side of our practice, we really started to listen to other lawyers who were trying, with mixed results, to do the same thing. One of the tales we heard other lawyers tell over and over again, with depressing frequency, went something like this. “I can’t believe what happened the other day. I ran into an old friend/family member/former client. She said that her husband was hurt in a car crash and they went to a big Pennsylvania personal injury firm that advertises a lot. l said to my old friend/family member/former client, ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ You know what she said? She said, ‘I never thought to call you. I didn’t know you handled car accidents. I wish I had known. We’d have been much happier with you.”
The Erie accident lawyer telling the story would look at his audience incredulously. Sometimes he’d say, “Can you believe that?” Then, inevitably, the lawyer would blame the heavy advertising that the big Pennsylvania accident law firm does and conclude that there is nothing that the lawyer could have done to prevent the loss of the client to such a heavy advertiser. Other Erie injury attorneys would listen to this story and nod in agreement.
Tim and I thought to ourselves, “This doesn’t make sense.” The people who know a Pennsylvania car accident lawyer best, especially former clients, friends, vendors and family, these people ought to be a lawyer’s very best referral sources (I’m assuming the lawyer is good at his chosen profession). I mean, they know the lawyer. Presumably, they trust and like the lawyer. With these people, at least, a Pennsylvania injury attorney should have a built in advantage over even the heaviest of advertisers. And yet, the stories were legion.
So, how to explain this phenomenon? We concluded that people are forgetful. If they aren’t calling you regularly (and, fortunately, personal injury clients don’t call regularly) then you won’t be ‘top of mind’ not even among your most ardent fans. Even if they think of you, perhaps what you did for them was different than what they’re looking for now. Perhaps, for example, the lawyer handled a crazy breach of contract case and now, ten years later, the former client needs a personal injury or medical malpractice lawyer and the former client doesn’t know if this is the sort of thing their former lawyer handles.
Thinking about this problem is what led us to our newsletter, which I believe you should be receiving. We send out one newsletter a month. Two out of three months it is an e-mail newsletter. The third it is a print newsletter. The idea is that we stay in constant contact with the people who know us best and we constantly remind them of the work we do. It is relatively inexpensive and, once you get the hang of it, takes very little time. If I was starting over from scratch, I would start by re-building my database and sending my newsletter.
I humbly suggest to you that you ought to consider doing something similar. You are your best asset. The people who know you immediately get a sense of decency about you. I suspect that most people, like me, think to themselves, “The next time I buy a used car I am definitely calling Michael.” The problem is that the next time a person buys a used car might be years later. By then, they may be responding to a big colorful ad in the paper or stopping at some big lot. You don’t know when your customers are going to be looking for a car but you should know that the people who contact you are the people who are most likely to be your customers.
If you want some more information on how to start a newsletter, call me. I’d love to help you get it started.
I know this is unsolicited advice and so, if I never get a newsletter from you, I won’t be hurt. But I’ll be thrilled if I do.
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