It used to be that no one was afraid of Virginia Woolf; so, it must have been that people were looking for something else to be afraid of; and, it appears that businesspeople have found their foil: the marketing plan, a close cousin of the business plan. I’ve said before that I think lawyers should create business plans and marketing plans. Only, they hardly ever do, either. What’s a forlorn practice management consultant to do? Stop beating his head against the wall, for one.

So, you don’t want to write a marketing plan . . . Okay. I give up. Don’t. I mean, I sort of get it. In a world where the press on people’s time is really unrelenting and almost unbelievable, the obvious, self-preserving move is to find quicker, roter solutions. But, you can’t entirely eliminate effort. At some point, you have to do something, to get something; or, more eloquently put: ‘And, in the end, the (marketing plan you get) is equal to the (effort) you make (to create your marketing plan and maintain it)’. . . . Dear God, what have I done?

But, I think I have the answer. I’ve worked with enough lawyers and law firms, at this point, to have some idea about what the tolerance level is for the average lawyer, to know what sort of effort they will expend on harnessing their marketing before they claim: ‘No further’.

Here’s my idea: In lieu of the traditional ‘marketing plan’ (which sounds just so daunting, right?), try creating a ‘marketing platform’ (which never hurt no one, and probably has large, doe-y eyes). With a marketing platform, you’ll ditch most of what you’ll likely view as the extraneous stuff, to get to the heart of the matter. There are three (and only three!) categories within a marketing platform: (1) the Platform (of course, right? — hence the name); (2) the Message; and, (3) (drumroll, please) the Return on Investment. Let’s look at each in turn:

What’s the Platform? Well, it’s whence your message departs. If you’re doing some in-person networking, then the event is your platform. If you’re doing email marketing, the system you use to broadcast the email is your platform. If you’re tweeting, Twitter is your platform. Got it? Good.

What’s the Message? Well, that’s (1) your content, and (2) the strategy by which you deploy that content. If you’re networking, your message is in part your elevator speech, and in part how you launch it. How do you get to your desired contacts? If you’re going to a cocktail party, do you establish targets beforehand, or do you play it by ear? How will you finagle your way into larger conversations? Are you looking to set up a more formal meeting, or are you trying to close a deal that night? If you’re using social media to market your practice, your message could be a tweet. How many times can you reasonably and effectively tweet the same content? Will you cross-post to other services? If so, How will the message change? What days of the week and times of day are most effective for distributing your content?

What’s the Return on Investment? The concept is fairly straightforward: that you’ll need to track the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, to determine which ones are working and which ones are not. The application is a little more difficult, however: You’ll have to settle upon a rubric by which you judge the success of your marketing. Different attorneys, however, will have different goals, including for specific marketing strategies. So, you’ll have to (1) record the data; (2) settle upon a method to calculate the effects of your marketing; and, (3) analyze the results. The initial requirement of data retention is the reason why most attorneys never get off the ground when it comes to ROI. They don’t get to collecting data. Fortunately, given the glut of analytics tools for websites and for social media, it’s fairly easy to collect web-based information respecting visitors and users. If you’re running a virtual law practice, and engaging all of your clients online, it’s easier to track conversions; but, if you’re not, you’ve got to rely on an old-fangled intake form, in which you’re asking potential clients how they learned of your services. Many law firms provide the questionnaire; most don’t apply the data. Since the data you want is usually buried in a larger form, with extraneous (to the point of determining ROI) information included, the trick is to extract the relevant data, and to drop it into a separate sheet, with similar relevant data, from other potential clients. Once you have the data collected, you can filter it, and apply your formula. Probably the simplest equation to muster is a money-to-money conversion (though, there are multitudes of conversion formulae to consider). Determine how much time you spent on a particular marketing endeavor, multiply that by your hourly rate, and figure out how much business you brought in, in terms of billable hours, from that marketing endeavor; then, compare the two figures. If you’re putting far more time = money into a marketing foray than you’re getting clients out of it, it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing in that area. Of course, even if you are running a virtual law practice, you’re likely not going to be escaping the data contraption requirement altogether: While it’s easy to collect data respecting web marketing, there is no avoiding inputting data (somewhere, sometime), related to your in-person networking efforts; though, certainly, there are systems that will help you to leverage all of that data.

Simpler marketing plan? (Check) Healthier breakfast? (Check) I believe my work here is done.

Well, not quite. I suppose that (and, you may want to put your earmuffs on now) this is a deceptively simple version of a marketing plan. There’s still a lot to be done here, including the continual maintenance of all three items. And, if you’ve noticed, above, each of the paragraphs I’ve written on my three components was, successively, longer — meaning that it’s likely that each phase requires more work than the last. (It’s a version of a success pyramid, however.) But, in the end, I believe that the relayed alternative to the traditional marketing plan is probably still less daunting for lawyers, and will likely still lead to impactful (also, compactful) results. That, and you don’t even need to write full sentences.

It is my continual observation that most lawyers looking to draft a marketing plan really just want someone to do it for them. They want a form, which they can slavishly copy, so that they can tell other lawyers at cocktail parties that they drafted a marketing plan, even if not much thought at all went into it.

Naturally, I will provide you with template forms, which will be available at some indeterminate future time, though in this space.

Hold your breath.