Ep. 7: Authentic Marketing - 7 Strategies for ADR Professionals

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Necessary but not sufficient. 

I'll give you a moment to recover from your LSAT or GRE flashbacks. 

Better now? Good.

A well-defined brand is necessary, but not sufficient, to build a profitable ADR business. 

Specifically, your brand is useless unless people know about it, and that means:

  1. You first need to have a brand.
  2. You need to market your brand. You need to market your brand authentically, and you need to market it consistently.

The good news is, there are lots of ways to do this. Marketing isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition, and in fact, what works incredibly well for one person could fail spectacularly for someone else. 

Defining your brand

Let's back up a second and make sure you have the first part covered; that you have a well-defined brand. I covered branding in Branding 101 for ADR Professionals, where I walked through the process of creating a branding statement that resonates with potential clients – that speaks to their burning problems and offers a solution in the form of the services you offer. 

All of your marketing is built on the foundation of your brand, so if you haven't defined your brand yet, go back and review that article, to learn how to do that. You'll also find a free worksheet that walks you through the process of creating your own branding statement. 

Once you have your brand well-defined and encapsulated in a short branding statement, again, your job is to market that brand authentically and consistently. 

Authentic marketing vs. sleazy advertising

First off, I want to address a sentiment that comes up sometimes in the service professions, particularly those that deal with people at vulnerable times of their lives. To some people in these fields — including mediation, mental health, law, and finance — marketing seems to be treated like a 4-letter word. It seems sleazy or opportunistic, and it really doesn't have to be that way. 

I think part of the problem is that to many people, marketing is synonymous with advertising, which evokes images of gaudy billboards and ambulance chasers. In fact, although ads are a form of marketing, the world of marketing is much, much bigger than that, and I'm 100% sure there's a form of marketing that would feel authentic to you.  

Here's the key...

Marketing is storytelling!

It's really that simple. Marketing is storytelling.

Have you ever answered the question, "What do you do?" with a little spiel about your services and what you're trying to accomplish with them, maybe including how they're different from the alternatives?

That's marketing. It's a story you tell about your brand. 

Now, you can tell the story of your brand to one person, or you can tell it to a million people, but the principle really doesn't change. 

In a nutshell, your challenge as a marketer is to get your story in front of the right people.

Who is the audience for your story? 

When I say, "get your story in front of the right people," first you have to decide who the "right people" are. In general, there are two different audiences you might be targeting:

  1. Potential clients — the goal being to make them aware of your services so they will reach out to you directly. In family matters, that would generally mean the spouses or parents who need to reach some kind of agreement, whether it's a divorce, post-divorce parenting arrangement, prenuptial agreement, etc.
  2. Referral sources — people who we might call "gatekeepers," who are in a unique position to guide potential clients toward your services. Examples of gatekeepers would be mental health professionals, financial advisors, clergy, etc.

You can market to both of these groups of people — potential clients and referral sources — but every marketing effort should have one of these groups specifically in mind.

In marketing lingo, what we're talking about here is a "persona" or "avatar"; a theoretical archetype for whom you're tailoring your message. People sometimes give these avatars memorable names, like "Samantha the Spouse" or "Tony the Therapist," and give them personalities — hopes, dreams, fears, etc. That way, if you're writing an article directed at potential clients, for example, you would imagine Samantha the Spouse reading it and make sure you're writing it in a way that will resonate with her specifically. If you start veering off course a bit and writing in a voice that's more directed at referral sources, keeping Samantha the Spouse in mind can help get you back on track.

Choose a marketing strategy that's right for YOU.

With your audience in mind, now you need to decide how you're going to tell your story to that audience. Now we're talking about specific marketing strategies. There are different ways to go about it, and you don't have to do all of them. In fact, you SHOULDN'T try to do all of them, because you'll end up spreading yourself too thin and not really doing any of them very well. The important thing is to choose the strategies that you can follow through on consistently, day after day and week after week.

Here are 7 different marketing strategies for you to consider, in no particular order:

#1: Networking

Getting to know referral sources and building lasting business relationships with them. Good networking doesn't just mean going to networking events, and in fact some kinds of networking events are just going to be a waste of time. It's much better to get to know people one-on-one, through lunches, practice groups, committees, etc. A lot of professionals do no marketing other than networking, and have built very profitable businesses through the relationships they've formed that way.


Blogging can be very effective at bringing in business, if it's done right. There are two ways blogging can be effective. One is for SEO purposes: writing an article that ranks high in Google when people are searching on that particular topic, or that builds your website's general authority on a that topic. I have an article I wrote years ago about Massachusetts prenuptial agreements that has done very well, sometimes landing third or fourth in search results. Another reason to blog — the one I like best — is to build up an audience of subscribers who have found value in your articles. You're not selling anything directly to them, but you're putting out information that they find helpful. If you enjoy writing, blogging is a great way to be of service to people while staying top of mind when the time comes to hire you or make a referral. 

#3: Public education

If you want to market directly to potential clients, you can find ways to reach out and be of assistance to them, while making them aware of you and your services. Organizations like The Divorce Center in Massachusetts do regular public education seminars, for example, and I've heard from members of those organizations that it's a good source of business. They're not explicitly advertising their own practices, so it's a very authentic way of raising public awareness and being of service without feeling sleazy about it.

#4: Free online resources

In many practice areas, there are opportunities to create tools that people will find and use, and that will boost awareness of your business. One great example is what Justin Kelsey has done with his child support and alimony calculators, over at Skylark Law and Mediation. Those tools aren't just useful for do-it-yourselfers, but they're routinely used by other professionals who could end up being referral sources. You probably wouldn't want this to be your only marketing strategy, but it's a great way to put something out there that's useful and brings attention to the work you do.

#5: Video

Video is huge right now in marketing, especially live video streaming. But you don't have to get super fancy about it. My friend Ruth Carter has a YouTube channel where she talks about her work, and it's gotten nearly 500 subscribers since 2012. Many of her videos have more than 1,000 views each. So if you like the idea of being on camera and engaging with people through visual media, video can be a great option for you.

#6: Podcasting

Along the same lines, if you like the idea of reaching people through their ears and not just their eyes, podcasting is a great option. It does take a bit of research and equipment to get set up right, but it lets you do things you couldn't do otherwise, like the interviews I've been doing with ADR professionals, which give you a chance to hear from those people directly, in their own voices, rather than just reading about them. Those interviews have been very well received and I've even started hearing from people asking if they can be on the show!

#7: Direct advertising

I mentioned that advertising is a form of marketing, and it's one that often gets a bad rap in the ADR community. But for some people, it can be a very authentic and profitable way to market their services. For example, you might send an information booklet to potential referral sources. That's advertising, but it's educational and non-intrusive — and it's also something you could combine with a follow-up networking effort. To advertise to clients, you might choose to invest in Google Adwords, or Facebook ads, or Twitter promotions. All of these fall under the category of advertising, but they can be done in ways that are tasteful and helpful, and that avoid that "sleazy" feeling people sometimes get.

I've listed some of the big ways you can market your business. It's not an exhaustive list, by any means, but it's a good place to start. Depending on your particular outlook and strengths, you might find that one or two of these marketing strategies resonate better with you — they feel more authentic and seem like something you'd like to do. I do have to throw in the caveat here that you should be aware of the rules around marketing and advertising in your profession and your particular jurisdiction. Don't do anything that will get you in trouble with your licensing board!

Here's something to keep in mind for all of these marketing strategies, though...

Whatever you do, do it consistently.

If you're going to build your business on networking, then you need to be constantly networking: constantly attending events, scheduling lunches, etc. If you're going to be a blogger, then you have to publish constantly — set a schedule and stick to it! If you're going to get into public education, they you have to keep running those seminars; you can't just do it once. Think about how big companies market their brands. They don't just put out a Super Bowl ad once a year; they have marketing budgets that they're using year-round to bring in business. You need to do the same.

A note on social media

Finally, I need to comment on social media, because you might have noticed that I didn't include it in the list of marketing strategies. That's because I don't consider social media a marketing strategy in itself. It's a tool we use to support the other marketing strategies we use. You might use it to promote a public education seminar, for example, or reach out to people for networking opportunities. If you're publishing content like a blog or podcast, you absolutely MUST use social media to link to your content and get people engaging with it. Using social media effectively to support your marketing efforts is a huge topic and I'll be getting into it a bit later on. For now, just focus on finding the marketing strategies that feel authentic to you and that you can see yourself doing consistently over the long term.

What's next:

Next week I'll be back with an interview with Chris Chen, a financial advisor who often works as a neutral in collaborative law cases. After that, I'll be sharing some suggestions for building a solid website for your business, and I'll show you just how quickly it can be done. If you're not already subscribed to this blog, make sure you do that now, so you'll get notified when those pieces come out!