Spending the time and money to get my name in front of several hundred attorneys would be worth it if I could get a handful of leads.
Here’s how I did it.
A few months ago, when my marketing plan was still in its infancy, I considered potential strategies for getting my name out to attorneys in my region. I knew that lawyers were going to be my strongest client base, and that solo and small-firm attorneys were likely to be a better fit for me than larger firms. So naturally, I asked an attorney friend of mine how I could reach other lawyers and convert them into clients. He advised me to sign up for the Missouri Solo & Small Firm Conference as a vendor.
As I researched this possibility, I discovered that the conference is the most widely attended of its kind in the nation, bringing in between 800-900 solo and small firm practitioners from the Midwest. I am licensed in Missouri and Kansas, which is where most of the attendees practice. Also, the conference location was only a few hours from where I live, so it seemed like a no-brainer. I signed up and started devising a game plan.
My specific goals were to collect as many business cards as I could (and sign those attorneys up for my email newsletter), obtain at least five very strong leads, and get ten moderate leads—and more generally, to introduce myself to the legal community in my area. As a relative newcomer to the industry, I knew I’d need to hone my message very carefully to get their attention. I read many articles on putting together a successful booth and asked several local attorneys how best to reach their colleagues: Would they respond well to an email campaign? What qualities did lawyers look for in an investigator?
The answers I got helped me to prepare my materials and my elevator pitch for the attorneys I’d meet at the conference.
My first step was deciding on a level of sponsorship for the conference. This wasn’t very difficult for a solo private investigator who is just starting out. I chose the cheapest option: a basic booth and my name in the program.
I was then given a choice for my booth location. I wisely chose the booth directly across from the only coffee/snack station in the vendor hall. I figured this would be the most visited location, and it was. It was simply by happenstance that I was also sandwiched between the vendor with the best swag and the vendor with a golf game, offering free booze to every hole-in-one. So my booth traffic couldn’t have been any better.
Next in line was putting together my display. I decided on a large floor banner featuring my name and my top four services. The table would display a similar sign with a list of services, plus an announcement to passersby that I was twice published in Pursuit Magazine. This was a simple, yet effective way to show my traffic that I have been published as an authority in my discipline.
For attendees who seemed genuinely interested in following up, I created folders containing my business card, brochure, price list, cover letter, and resume. I also planned to display my business cards and brochures separately for those who might not want to take an entire folder of information. Lastly, I decided on my swag: a bowl of chocolates and a bowl of bottle opener keychains with my information on them. And instead of offering a game, I decided to collect business cards for a drawing in which the winner would receive $500 worth of free investigative services, to be used at their leisure.
And then I got my “big idea,” a creative coup which I hoped would really set my booth apart: a set of attorney trading cards I designed myself. I chose my favorite six attorneys from television and movies, from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird to Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, and created a card for each one featuring the show or movie title, actor or actress’ name, character’s name, release date, and a favorite quote from the character. I hired an artist friend to draw caricatures of each attorney and added some marketing material on the back. They turned out beautifully.
A few weeks before go-time, I set up a mock booth in my home office. This helped me work out the kinks and see what it looked like all together. I typed out an elevator pitch to rehearse and brainstormed answers to any difficult questions that might be asked of me.
My final preparations included advertising the upcoming event on social media. I specifically advertised my attorney trading cards and booth number, taking care to use the appropriate hashtag for the event.
What to Do AT the Conference
I arrived the night before the start of the conference and set up my booth. I arranged everything neatly and made sure all of my materials were in order. I met my vendor neighbors, ran through my elevator pitch that night, and reviewed potential questions that might get asked.
Right away on the first morning, I knew placing my booth across from the coffee and snacks was a smart move. I was also extremely grateful that my husband agreed to help me man the booth. He is a natural conversationalist, and people love him. I would have missed out on lots of conversations had I been alone.
Having the folders out for those who wanted them was a very valuable way to get comprehensive information into their hands. It was also well worth having my business cards and brochures available separately, because many who didn’t want an entire folder did at least take a card and/or brochure.
The baseball-style attorney cards were a huge hit. It didn’t take long for word to get around. Lots of attendees stopped by, specifically in search of the attorney cards. This was my best idea.
The drawing for $500 in free investigative services was also a very nice touch. It offered up something of value for free, and it didn’t cost me a dime. Also, the item of value is directly related to my business AND there is now a better chance to gain the winner as a future client. The drawing was also my method for collecting business cards that I could use later on for recontact.
As a side note, I was shocked at how many attorneys didn’t carry business cards with them. Thankfully, I had a stack of pre-made cards where they could fill in their name and email. I would have missed out on collecting information from approximately 20 attorneys if I hadn’t made these cards beforehand.
When attorneys stopped by my booth, I typically started with, “What kind of law do you practice?” Then I followed up with, “Do you ever use private investigators for anything?” When attorneys showed little interest in my services or flatly told me they don’t use private investigators, I asked follow-up questions and offered suggestions on ways I could help them with their future workload, perhaps in ways they hadn’t considered.
In many instances, those follow-up discussions showed me that many of the attorneys simply had a misconception of private investigators and what we actually do. Once I explained that private investigators do much more than just conduct surveillance, they seemed to change their minds about using a PI’s services.
Certainly, not every attorney can use the services I provide. But many of them do, and it was my job to help them see the possibilities.
I learned never to show up late or skip out early. I made some of my best contacts at the very beginning or very end of a session. This means I could have lost out on thousands of dollars of future business just because I was tired and wanted to skip out 30 minutes early from my booth.
In the week after the conference, I sent a personalized email to every attorney who dropped a business card into my drawing box. At the conference, I made notes on the backs of business cards and also in a notebook that helped me to remember what I said and to whom. I feel this is a critical step in continuing to foster relationships that might turn into clients one day.
I also added contact information from all of the business cards I collected to my email marketing campaign/newsletter. (You can sign up for my newsletter at www.newhopeinvestigations.com)! My newsletter, specifically for attorneys, provides helpful content, educational materials, subscriber deals, etc. The purpose is to keep me top-of-mind, be perceived as a thoughtful contributor to my field, educate attorneys on the benefits of using private investigators, and offer breaks to my loyal subscribers.
Next week, I’m planning to follow up again with some of my strongest leads via phone calls and office visits. I would have done this already, but I was too busy working a case this week for one of my attorney contacts from the conference!
My best piece of advice is this: If you’ve never thought about being a vendor at a conference, consider it. Discover your target audience, research the conferences they attend, then sign up for the one that makes most sense for your needs, financial ability, and location. I feel strongly that it was worth my time and expense. It helped me to shake off my nerves and get in front of a lot of attorneys. It opened my eyes about what my potential clients need and how I can tailor my services to them. And it definitely helped get my name out there as a private investigator.
About the author:
Rachele’ Davis became a licensed private investigator in Missouri and Kansas in 2016, then launched her one-woman agency, New Hope Investigations. She specializes in locating and researching people through social media and open source investigations and has a personal interest in adoption searches.