How to Write for New Business: 3 Do's and Don'ts for Lawyers

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...assume that your article won’t be read. Use your headline to build the case for readership.

Last week, one of our more business-development-savvy clients invited me to be a guest speaker on their monthly client development call. They'd asked us to share our perspective on ways to improve content and how better to take advantage of hot topics in order to grow diverse practices.

During our discussion, the topic of content style popped up. What advice did we have on the best writing style to use? Did we have guidance on the optimal length of a piece? And how comprehensive should it be? This led to a great discussion that I wanted to pass along here:

The concept of writing to be comprehensive has its roots in the early days of law school...

Lawyers are trained to write with precise language, and lots of it, to capture every nuance of an issue. Background and history are incorporated to provide context. Footnotes are expected. If the article runs to a million-billion words, it’s okay. The most comprehensive article is usually the one deemed worth of publication in influential legal publications, those that aspire to shape the law.

This approach is completely at odds with writing for business development...

...especially if one is seeking business from in-house counsel. Olga Mack, General Counsel at Clearslide, wrote about this in her excellent piece on the art and science of being useful to in-house counsel. Her advice: publish succinct, pragmatic pieces in clear language that can be quickly read and are accessible for lawyers and non-lawyer executives alike. (Read Olga's entire post here.)

...you can do this work for many, many people, so one tendency is to make the article broad in order to apply to as many professionals as possible. The reality is, by doing that, you make it much less relevant to most...

So how does an attorney overcome their training and begin writing effectively to generate new business? 

1. Write as though you were speaking to a single person’s needs 

This is the rub: you can do this work for many, many people, so one tendency is to make the article broad in order to apply to as many professionals as possible. The reality is, by doing that, you make it much less relevant to most, and greatly reduce the odds of it being useful to a single potential client. Overcome this by writing directly to the needs of the professional for whom you want to work. You’ll increase the odds of reaching them – and others just like them, too.

2. Shorter is better (for each post)

At worst, we live in an age of skimmers; at best, everyone is very busy and doesn't have time to explore whether or not your piece of writing addresses matters relevant to them. Don't make your readers work at it. Length is actually off-putting to many. Save yourself the effort and skip the history, background and nuanced context. Instead, offer your thoughts on how to address just one area and save the other areas for future posts. (Note the distinction I am making here. I am not saying to avoid depth in your writing - however, instead of one long article, I am saying: write many focused, succinct posts. Which leads to...)

3. Repeat yourself. Again. And again. 

Indeed, rather than produce one article that covers all of the potential risks of a new regulation, it’s better to write a series of articles that each focuses on a single area. Yes, there is likely to be some overlap. But you increase the likelihood that someone will find, read and share your article when you do this. That’s because execs seek out information that speaks to their precise need.  (And a bonus: by writing several shorter, accessible articles, each focused on one issue, you appear to be more engaged on the topic. You also appear more approachable:  attorneys who write very long, dense articles may give the impression that they sit in a lofty ivory tower and are too important - or expensive - to take time out of their day for a single question. Don’t be like them.)

And three things to avoid:

1. Summarizing news without adding anything to it

Much like the expression “Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it,” do add a comment, a perspective, a few tips on what actions should be taken – or not taken – as a result of the news. Doing so is helpful and sets your content apart.

2. Believing you have nothing more to say on a hot topic that’s important to your practice

Take it from cable news, there is always more to say on a hot topic. To help you develop a fresh approach, create news alerts to capture what’s trending in specific industries of importance (and, if you're a client, sign up for JD Supra Trend Alerts). Write about the legal impact of these non-legal industry trends.

3. Waiting to publish your piece until it’s polished and perfect

Those who take this approach will miss opportunities to be well read by being late. If you spot an issue of importance to a client and it’s timely, set a goal of publishing something quickly. You can publish your additional info later.

*

I can’t sign off of this topic without one last point critical to the success of every content post written for business development:

Market your headline to make the best case for being read. There’s a tendency for professional to focus on putting as accurate a label as possible on an article and calling it good. That’s unfortunate as it severely undercuts the value locked within your content. When writing for business development purposes (or, frankly, when writing in the busy, noisy online landscape), it’s best to assume that your article won’t be read. Use your headline to build the case for readership. Who do you want to read it? Why should your readers take their time to read it? How will they benefit by reading it? The best headlines incorporate these things in addition to describing what it discusses.

Simple stuff really, but often overlooked for the sake of being comprehensive.  What’s your checklist for producing good content for business development? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

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