Ever since December 9, 2002, when I launched my first blog, MyShingle.com, I’ve extolled the virtues of blogging for lawyers all over the Internet, every chance I’d get. Way back in 2003, before the term “blog” entered the vernacular, I created a comprehensive presentation on the 13 benefits of blogging (in blog format, naturally) that’s largely still relevant today. I also published dozens of articles and blog posts about blogging, spoke about blogging, and produced a short video on blogging as the centerpiece of social media campaign. My blogging has lead to a couple of clients and many professional opportunities; most recently, a blog post that I penned right here at ATL earned me a twenty-second spot on the Daily Show. Heck, I’ve even been sued for blogging!
Yet in spite of my love affair blogging, these days, I no longer believe as ardently as I once did that solo and small firm lawyers should take up blogging to market their practice or to show what they know to prospective clients. Sure, there are exceptions. For lawyers who’ve already taken up blogging in law school or who have a unique viewpoint about practice area that they yearn to share, starting a blog is a no-brainer. Likewise, blogging makes sense if writing about the challenges of practicing law or handling particular types of cases offers a pleasurable release from the stress. If mind and computer keyboard operate as a seamless unit, with thoughts effortlessly transforming into cogent and compelling prose, then blogging makes sense as well.
But let’s face it: most lawyers aren’t built that way….
The reality is that most lawyers, particularly those just out of school, are strapped for time or still learning the craft and the pressure to write even more after a tough day at the office is really the last thing they want to do. At the same time, having been led to believe by persistent marketers that blogging is the end all and be all, many lawyers waste thousands of dollars a year on pallid, SEO-laden, canned, ghost-written blog content that does little to generate web traffic or clients. Other lawyers start a blog with the best of intentions, only to have it wither and die on the vine just a few months later.
It’s not just lawyers’ schedules that stand in the way of blogging success. There’s also substantially more online content competing for consumer attention than ever before – though the number of potential clients reading blogs hasn’t increased in the same proportions. And while large firms have the manpower, in the form of associates and paralegals, to keep churning out blog content, most solos simply don’t have the resources to compete. The confluence of all of these factors means that there’s less ROI (return on investment) from blogging — at least in its current form — than ever before.
That’s not to say that solos and smalls should give up on content marketing. Instead, they need to seek out a more effective way to disseminate content. And in my view, that’s the e-newsletter — a newsletter that’s distributed entirely by email. Here’s six reasons why.
1. More Depth, Less Frequency
Although I write endless blog posts (this one being Exhibit A), many web readers lack the attention for a 2,000-word blog posts. Yet often, short posts result in over-simplification of issues that can be misleading for consumer clients and not particularly useful for a more sophisticated business audience. Newsletters allow more flexibility for longer articles, since readers are more likely to print out or save newsletters than blog posts. On the other hand, newsletters don’t demand the same consistency as blog posts. If you start a blog and only write every month or two, chances are, you’ll lose most of the audience. By contrast, lawyers can send just 2-3 newsletters a year and retain the same level of readership.
2. Ability to Build Contact Lists
Because blogs are publicly posted, they’re available to anyone who happens by. Trouble is, even if a blog receives hundreds of visitors daily, that’s useless from a marketing perspective if a lawyer doesn’t know who those readers are and has no way of contacting them. An e-newsletter enables lawyers to build the all-important contact list. Each time a user registers for the newsletter, or you add a contact with their permission, you build a valuable contact list that you can use to promote law firm events or offer new services such as business audits or a free consultation.
A blog simply isn’t as effective for this purpose. If you blog erratically, chances are no one will see any of your announcements, and if you have a substantial following, you may wind up giving away benefits to a far larger audience than anticipated. Contact lists are the lifeblood of law firm business marketing. E-newsletters help build them. Blogs don’t.
3. Ability to Share Higher Quality and Personal Content
For all the talk about free sharing of information, no one wants to — or should, for that matter — put out valuable content with nothing in return. Certainly, when lawyers blog, they want to write in enough detail to demonstrate command of a practice area. But let’s face it, no one wants to publicly post a step-by-step game plan for handling a case that every other competitor law firm can pick up and use for its own benefit. By putting quality information into a newsletter, you have more control over where it’s disseminated. In addition, many times lawyers want to share tidbits of personal information about hobbies or even photos of their family or pets — but may feel uncomfortable doing so publicly on a blog. By contrast, if you choose to share this information in a newsletter, it won’t be available to the entire Internet (unless of course, as discussed below, you decide to post the newsletter publicly).
4. More Likely To Attract Readers
Perhaps it’s anecdotal, but even when I blogged regularly on energy regulatory topics, I had few readers. It wasn’t the content; rather, it’s just that most of my target audience — small energy developers and entrepreneurs, corporate utility counsel and large firm lawyers — generally keep up to date on developments through one or two paid news services and rarely if ever read blogs. When I finally understood my potential clients’ reading preferences, I decided to launch an e-newsletter, which generated far better feedback than my blogs ever had. For example, I noticed through the tracking tool that at least half of the subscribers were opening the newsletter and clicking on the article. In addition, at least every issue of the newsletter generates one or two complimentary emails from readers or acknowledgements during conversations at industry events. So for me, e-newsletters have been far more effective in reaching my target audience in my energy practice than blogging — though your mileage may vary, of course.
5. Cheaper and Easier to Set Up
It’s not difficult to set up a blog using out-of-the-box platforms like WordPress or Tumblr or Blogger — but it can be tough to actually make your blog look decent. By contrast, most newsletter templates like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact are easier to create and personalize. Plus, MailChimp offers a free service so you can experiment without commitment.
6. Best of Both Worlds
Understandably, some lawyers may be reluctant to focus their efforts on e-newsletters instead of increasing online visibility through blogging and SEO. But with e-newsletters, you don’t have to choose. Once you’ve issued a newsletter, you can re-circulate it either through a blog (if you choose to maintain one) or post it on JD Supra (as I do here or here). You can also generate links to newsletter content and disseminate them on Twitter or Facebook. As you introduce more readers to your newsletter through other sources, they may decide to subscribe as well.
Interested in getting started on your own e-newsletter? For added inspiration, check out this collection of solo and small firm newsletters that I’ve gathered — and feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to add your own. And feel free to add your comments to the blogging versus e-newsletter marketing smackdown below.
P.S. Speaking of newsletters, you can sign up for ATL’s various newsletters here.
Carolyn Elefant has been blogging about solo and small firm practice at MyShingle.com since 2002 and operated her firm, the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC, even longer than that. She’s also authored a bunch of books on topics like starting a law practice, social media, and 21st century lawyer representation agreements (affiliate links). If you’re really that interested in learning more about Carolyn, just Google her. The Internet never lies, right? You can contact Carolyn by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @carolynelefant.