Let’s review. When we launched The Thought Leadership Project podcast one year ago, Jay Harrington and I kicked off of our very first episode discussing the importance of targeting a narrowly defined niche. This was no accident. We really do believe that it all starts there. When you narrow your audience strategically, everything becomes easier. It’s easier to find and target prospects, it’s easier to claim the mantle of specialized thought leader, and it becomes so much easier to turn and perpetuate the “thought leadership flywheel.”
Yet we often encounter philosophical resistance—or at least, hesitance—on the part of attorneys who fear that narrowing one’s audience could result in missed opportunities. The natural tendency is to want to grow a large network, to play the numbers game, and to cast as wide of a net as possible. Understandable. But the evidence demonstrates the contrary. By generalizing, one risks acquiring a reputation of “being all things to all people” or “the jack of all trades, master of none.”
There are reasons these phrases exist. And are shunned.
In fact, “niching” actually opens more doors than broadening. It further instills calm and focus into an attorney’s business development efforts. Again, everything becomes easier—not harder. Importantly, it gives one the clarity—and the permission—to do less but to greater effect
Since recording that first episode, Jay and I have gone on to interview and chronicle a number of success stories that prove the rule. Reviewing them just might give you the courage to go small, in order to hit it big.
Scott Becker, McGuireWoods
Scott Becker is a graduate of Harvard Law School, is the founder and publisher of Becker’s Hospital Review, and is a nationally recognized healthcare lawyer at McGuireWoods. Listen to Scott explain how he discovered his niche almost by accident, but went on to embrace a narrow market position to achieve great success. Scott attributes this success to the intense focus it requires to stay disciplined about an attorney’s intentionally narrowed addressable market.
By staking out a difficult-to-replicate market position in the healthcare space, Scott went on to become a recognized thought leader, a highly sought after specialist, and even something of a media mogul. In the days before the internet, Scott used a small industry-focused newsletter and a conference he organized to reach his audience and develop business, which was the genesis of what would become Becker’s Hospital Review, a multimedia publishing platform and conference series that has become an industry-standard resource and center of influence. As a result, Scott rose to the position of thought leader, and clients now seek him for hire, as opposed to the other way around, like much of the rest of the legal profession.
Jonathan Barber, Franchise.Law
As Jonathan Barber demonstrates, narrowing doesn’t only work vertically, but can also be applied horizontally. Whereas Becker narrowed to a specific industry, Jonathan and his partner chose to narrow by legal expertise and services offered, in addition to vertical specialization. In fact, almost magically, the moment Jonathan’s firm focused exclusively on providing specialized legal services strictly for franchisors—going all in by even branding the firm name Franchise.Law—is when Jonathan describes the flood gates opening. He and his partner were actually receiving more inbound inquiries than their geographical bandwidth could accommodate.
As is often the case when narrowing a target market, it was importantly differentiating for Jonathan’s firm to have the confidence to explain not only what they are, but also what they are not. By not casting such a wide net, the inbound opportunities were more specific, more specialized, and practically pre-qualified. Yet again, business development became much easier, not more difficult.
Robert H. Montgomery, III, Esquire, P.C (A Dental Amigo)
Rob Montgomery is the founder of Robert H. Montgomery, III, Esquire, P.C., a leading boutique law firm focusing on counseling healthcare clients—particularly dentists and veterinarians—in a full range of business and legal matters affecting their practices. What’s interesting about Robert’s story is that he actually targets two niches at once, but does so separately and distinctly. I wonder if such a model gives hesitant nichers a path to hedge their bets, if they fear going too narrow? But notice how he targets each market (dentists and veterinarians) distinctly, as opposed to jointly and generally.
For example, Rob brands his practice’s marketing assets and efforts all around the target market he is focusing on. His website URL to market to dentists is “YourDentalLawyer.com,” and he even co-hosts a podcast entitled, “The Dental Amigos” with a friend, client and, importantly, a doctor of medicine in dentistry. Who could argue that Rob doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of what owners of dental practices need in terms of legal support and expertise? Imagine what that reputation earns him as he competes for clients in the dental practice arena.
Mike Mellor, Pryor Cashman
While my last success story isn’t technically an attorney, Mike Mellor, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Pryor Cashman, has established a reputation of a thought leader in the legal marketing space and an innovator that helps attorneys at his firm stay focused on narrow markets to build their practices. In fact, he wrote for Law.com an article entitled, “Use Your Digital Toolbox to Win Business and Build a Brand” in which he contends, “Being a generalist no longer cuts it, unless you are already an established brand name, so today’s attorneys need to rely on methodically building a niche practice that demonstrates industry expertise and focus to consistently drive business.”
He explained to Jay and me that it’s not only important to identify and target a narrowly defined niche, but to also consistently create and publish thought-leadership content in the platforms that such an audience frequents and trusts for insights and information, be they websites, trade media or podcasts. That repetition is what breeds reputation, which in turn begets thought leadership and business development mastery.
Start Small, Start Now
The goal here is to make things easier and more productive for you when it comes to business development, not inflict painful exclusion on your prospecting efforts. This first step is perhaps the most difficult, as it requires a courageous mindset shift. But consider the trail that others have blazed before you, and embrace what the innovators in legal marketing are prescribing. Once you overcome legal FOMO—the fear-of-missing-out—the path to building a successful and career-sustaining practice is indeed paved, and not nearly as rocky nor winding as any of the alternatives.
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