Law Firm Marketing: Hire Internally or Outsource?
It’s a question every law firm that isn’t content with staying small asks: Should I handle growth myself, hire someone internally, or outsource my client generation? If you’re considering handling your firm’s growth by yourself then you either haven’t hit that gritty milestone, or you haven’t taken a look at your peer’s successful firms. I can usually tell if a managing partner has reached the milestone in their firm by the tufts of hair they are pulling out from their 60 hour work weeks and comparing it to the three day weekends that partners in other firms can afford. So the question for growth-minded firms is whether you should hire internally or outsource the strategy and execution of your firm’s growth plan. It depends on what’s important to your firm, and what your long term goals are. These are the differences between hiring a marketing professional internally, and hiring an outsourced marketing team:
Time to Production -
If you have the time, and the cash reservoir to onboard a marketing hire, then you still have your options open. Time to production is one of the biggest differentiations between an internal hire and outsourcing your law firm’s marketing. It takes a new marketing hire 3-6 months to start producing, and up to a full year to start returning serious demand generation depending on their background. The closer their background is to what you need, the more you’re going to be paying. A portion of that ramp time is unavoidable and you have to have a certain amount of ramp time to obtain a quality output from your marketing efforts. After-all, you’re not after a cookie cutter, copy-and-paste, get-rich-quick marketing effort… you want something that is unique to your firm, your ideal clients, your practice area, and your geography. That’s going to take some time regardless of whom you choose. The difference, is how long your ramp time will be. Outsourced legal marketing teams are familiar with the quirks that are unique to law firm marketing, such as ethics codes, and they are familiar with the general needs of clients in particular practice areas. The only gap they need to close in the ramping process is becoming familiar with is your firm, not your industry.
Return on investment -
How much return are you hoping to generate from a marketing hire? Are you hoping their efforts will return 1.5x, 2x, 3x the amount of money you are paying them? Many firms I’ve talked to who were considering hiring an internal marketing strategist hadn’t taken the time to actually quantify how much revenue they want their new hire to drive. For whatever reason, marketing hires aren’t held responsible for demonstrating their effectiveness after they join the firm. If you were responsible for hiring and managing salesperson for your friend’s business, you’d be holding them to a quota or some quantifiable goal to make sure they are producing enough of a return to justify the amount of money you are spending on them. The same goes for a marketing hire or an outsourced marketing team. Hold them responsible for results and performance. If your marketing resources cost $50,000 a year, and a new client’s value is $10,000, then your marketing resources should be producing 15 new clients a year to produce a 3x return. If you do the math, you’ll find that outsourced marketing teams can have a much higher return on your investment due to their distributed expertise and experience in the legal industry. Instead of paying salaries for 6 different people with varying expertise, you’re only paying the equivalent salary of one person that includes access to a number of experts when you need them. After all, you don’t need a graphic designer working 40-50 hours a week on your law firm.
Scalability and Flexibility -
What happens if your firm grows? What happens if you hit a rough patch and you need to scale down? Whether your firm hits a fairy-tale growth pattern and you skyrocket through your projections, or you fail to hit your goals and you need to scale down, having an internal marketing hire puts you in an inflexible position. You can scale up by hiring another professional, or you can scale down by firing them, but there’s no in-between to help you smooth out the rest of your growth. This adds a measurable amount of risk in your hiring plan. If you spend 12 months with a marketing professional only to find that your firm can’t continue to afford their efforts, you end up losing all of the progress you made during their onboarding, and you’ve lost the investment your firm has put into them as an asset. Outsourced marketing teams can scale up or scale down depending on needs. If you need a bigger push, an outsourced marketing team can put more hours in to help you reach your next milestone. If you need to scale back, a team can reduce the amount of time they spend on your firm, but not eliminate it. They can keep core systems running while your firm comes out of it’s operational valley.
Internal marketing teams do have their perks. You can interact with them in person instead of over video, they only work with your firm (although they may not get the benefit of “what’s working now” experience across multiple firms that can benefit you), and they show up to your holiday parties. When you break the numbers down, you’ll see that you’re paying for those perks. For some firms it’s worth it. Others choose outsourced marketing teams. It’s a business choice based on needs, cash flow, and expected return. Know your firm’s requirements and explore your options before you commit to either choice.