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Your Marketing Budget Will Disappear Dec 31. So Spend It!

Your law firm’s use-it-or-lose-it marketing budget

Professional firm marketing budgets are like The Pentagon’s defense budget — every year you get a budget which you must spend down to zero or you lose those dollars entirely at the end of the calendar year.  So, as year-end nears, all the government pet projects get funded.

Starting around October, many law firms start hoarding their cash.  Checks don’t get written, and vendors don’t get paid.  In professional services firms, anything left over gets split up among the owners, so everyone looks forward to the big distribution at the end of the year.

Administrators and other law firm leaders want to show a nice big payday for the owners, which validates the good job they’re doing.  All entirely reasonable behavior. 

Let me propose another idea.

Instead of hanging on to your marketing money, spend the heck out of it.  

Spend it down to zero.

Marketing is an investment in your firm’s future. 

If you believe that marketing works, that it measurably helps generate revenue, then having money left over is a missed opportunity to invest that money. 

You failed to turn that into even more revenue for the firm.  Don’t be proud of having a lot of marketing dollars left unspent on December 31–it’s a failure to invest that money in activities that could have enhanced the firm’s growth and profitability.  Your marketing dollars should bring back multiples of those dollars in return. 

But of course unspent dollars are unavoidable. Funded projects never get off the ground or the economy goes nuts, and valuable marketing dollars sit, unspent.  You can watch them disappear <poof> as you start fresh with a new budget next year, OR you can seek to put them to good use ASAP.  It’s not too late.

Simply PRE-pay for some of your current or future activities.

Law firms that have hired us to develop a big branding campaign or website next year have already started paying us in advance for the work.  That way, when they ask for additional dollars next year, they’ll be starting from a stronger position. They can seek fewer dollars or, better, ask for the same amount but be able to do much more with it.

This can quickly turn a $100,000 initiative into a $150,000 campaign simply by pre-paying that residual $50,000 that was going to go to waste before the end of the year.

One client already paid me for the monthly marketing training they want to conduct throughout next year.  Next year it’ll be like they’re getting the training for free.

Get it off your books and onto someone else’s.  (My accountant hates it when we receive year-end payments because we have to pay taxes on it a year earlier, but that’s not the law firm’s problem.)

It’s in the budget; the firm wanted you to spend that money. So spend it!

Find the spare change, the excess dollars, the projects that never got off the ground, and put those dollars to good use.  Front-load some expenditures in anticipation of a fresh start next year. It’s like free money. But act fast, the closer to December 31, the less spending will occur in many firms.

In firms that had a great year, they might want to front-load next year’s payments. They may need to find more deductions this year. So you might want to talk to you CFO or COO to see what the plan is. Maybe you could be doing them a favor by finding more ways to spend your money this year. Find out.

© 2023 Fishman MarketingNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 334

About this Author

Ross Fishman legal marketing expert  Fishman Marketing

National Law Review Thought Leader 2018

Of Counsel magazine wrote: “Many people consider Ross to be the nation’s foremost expert on professional services marketing.” He uses powerful brands, websites, and marketing training to help lawyers and law firms dominate their markets and dramatically increase profits.

A former...