At 2:30pm on Monday, October 1, 2012, I will be speaking at the annual meeting of the Association of Intellectual Property Firms (AIPF). My topic is the business of blogging for lawyers. This is a topic I have written about, and spoken about, in the past. Given the trajectory of my career over the past seven years the topic is one near and dear to my heart. While I have been operating IPWatchdog since October 1999, which almost doesn’t seem possible, I left full-time teaching in the summer of 2005. It was at that point that I started devoted full-time attention to IPWatchdog.
Many in the industry know that my professional persona causes me to wear several different hats. First, I teach a patent bar review course for the Practising Law Institute, which takes me out of the office for 6 days at a time between 8 and 10 weeks a year. I also have a patent practice at Zies, Widerman & Malek, which primarily focuses on software and Internet technologies. But the overwhelming majority of my time is spent with IPWatchdog.com, which is my blogging hat. Of course, blogging also leads to clients for me and the firm.
Blogging can lead to name recognition, establishing one as an expert and ultimately leading to client development, which is why many attorneys are interested in learning about how to go about “this blogging thing.” Like everything in life, there are steps that can and should be taken to pursue the path. So if you are interested in blogging for business let me give you some advice.
While there is something that can be said for jumping right in, if you are going to do things properly from the start there are a number of things that you really should consider, which will help you lay a foundation for success. As with any business this means the creation of a plan, at least from a conceptual or philosophical standpoint.
In Blogging Business: 7 Questions to a Blogging Business Plan I set out the initial questions that you really should ask yourself, and perhaps your partners, before you or your firm enters the wonderful world of blogging. They are:
- What are you hoping to achieve?
- Who is your audience?
- What content will you provide?
- What is your self censoring plan?
- What viewpoint do you plan on providing?
- How will you establish yourself as an authority?
- Who do you plan to be? How many masks will you wear?
Those 7 questions are as relevant today as when I wrote that article some 30 months ago. Without clear goals you will just be wandering aimlessly, perhaps spending a lot of time but not engaging in any kind of activity that is likely to lead where you want it to go. That is why it is essential to think about who it is that you are writing for, what kind of writing you want to do to attract the audience you are looking for and what kind of content are you willing to put out. If I have one overriding piece of advice it is that you absolutely positively need to be yourself. If you are trying to be something else people will see right through you and this endeavor will be the most arduous work you have ever done.
Writing to be Read and the Importance of Traffic
The most arduous work I have ever done? Ridiculous! Well, not really. There is not going to be a quick and easy path from where you are now to where you want to be. The Internet is far more mature than when I started out in 1999, which means that if you start a blog now you not only have to try and figure out what you want to achieve and set a realistic plan to accomplish that, but you will also need to engage in some extra lifting to make sure your writings are not just sitting there in space, unread by virtually anyone.
On a typical Monday and Tuesday IPWatchdog gets between 7,500 to 8,000 visits. On a typical Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we get 6,800 to 7,500 visits. On a typical Saturday or Sunday we get 4,500 to 5,500 visits. A couple times a month we approach 10,000 visits in a day. Through August 31, 2012, IPWatchdog has averaged 80,347 unique visitors a month, and September is on pace to be right around that number as well. But you cannot expect those kinds of numbers when you start. Many lawyers who blog count their daily visits by the dozen. So how do you get from launch with no readers to where it is worthwhile?
First, the biggest mistake lawyers make is that they primarily write for other lawyers. That is a huge mistake. There are only so many lawyers in any legal niche, and only a subset of them are going to be willing to read news or information on the Internet. A smaller subset of those who use the Internet to acquire information will be willing to read blogs. So if you are primarily writing for lawyers that means your audience is going to be kept small.
I do write for lawyers, but not only lawyers. While I write about patents and other areas of intellectual property, I do it in a way that makes the topic understandable by someone who is educated and interested, but who doesn’t necessarily have the legal training of a lawyer. I get read by business people and investment brokers, politicians and Staffers, lawyers and judges, paralegals and entrepreneurs. Of course, not every article is read by every segment of my core audience.
Variety is the spice of life, and it is absolutely essential when it comes to blogging. You can’t expect all of your audience to read every article you write. So you can’t write every article for any one particular segment of your audience. You need to identify those different constituencies that (1) you want to attract; and (2) that will be attracted. Why? Who cares about those that I don’t want to attract but will be attracted to my writing? They offer eyeballs and traffic. You might not care about their traffic because they will never become a client, will never invite you to speak at a conference or symposium, and they are not folks in government with power who you want to share your viewpoint with. But Google and Yahoo do care about those folks, and so should you! In order to gain traction on the Internet people need to find your website or blog useful and interesting enough to visit. They need to find it informative and entertaining enough to pass it along to their friends and family. In short, they need to find you relevant and the way that relevance is gaged on the Internet is by eyeballs. The more legitimate traffic you generate the more likely you are to be treated well by search engines, which then creates a snowball effect. Not everything is going to attract clients or decision-makers, but you won’t get to where you want to go without traffic of all kinds.
For Goodness Sakes Don’t Write Like a Lawyer
Obviously, what you write needs to be something that you find interesting. If you find it dull then the odds are that others will find it dull. If, however, you bring a passion to your writing then others will likely find it interesting, or at least be entertained by your enthusiasm. So write what you enjoy and what you find informative and entertaining. But for goodness sakes don’t write like a lawyer!
Writing like a lawyer is the kiss of death, and where most legal blogs fail. Legal writing is dry and humorless. It also doesn’t offer any meaningful insight or opinion because most lawyers are worse than politicians! You simply cannot write to be read on the Internet if your writing is so sanitized that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. If you are not going to offer analysis or somehow make your writings relevant to what people are thinking, asking and want to know then you might as well prepare yourself for the inevitability that you will not be read.
This doesn’t mean that you should be careless with facts or statements of law. Just explain them in an honest way so that those who are casually interested can understand. For example, if you are writing about a complicated patent legal matter try and explain it so that one of your trademark attorney friends can understand what you are talking about and why the issue is important. Don’t try and write it for an 8th grader, but if another attorney from another discipline can’t understand the issues and the importance that should be a clue that you are severely missing the target.
Writing to Attract Clients
Of course, not every article should be aimed even at an attorney audience. Attorneys will read what you write as part of their effort to stay on top of what is going on in the field in which they practice. But attorneys don’t typically turn into clients. So if you want to attract clients you want to write so clients. This is another place where most lawyers fail miserably, although how and why they fail remains a mystery to me because the formula for success is VERY easy.
Do you remember being told somewhere at some time that there are no bad questions? We can debate that philosophical point I suppose, but the reality is that if you don’t know the answer to the question it may sound like a dumb question to some, but it certainly isn’t a dumb question to you.
I can’t believe that my practice experience with clients is one-of-a-kind unique, so I am guessing you get questions from clients and potential clients. Indeed, clients have questions — lots of questions. That is the nature of the relationship. If they knew everything they wouldn’t need to hire you, would they?
I would be shocked if with a little effort you couldn’t identify the 10 most common questions that you receive from clients. If you can’t think of them off the top of your head just start to notice. The next time a client asks you a question make a note of it. Write it down or save it into a file. Ask yourself whether that question might make a nice article. The answer is going to be YES! If one client or potential client has a question there are others that have the question but just don’t ask for one reason or another. If you identify clients or potential clients asking the same or similar question repeatedly there are a lot of people with that question. Given the nature of the Internet and how easy it is to search for answers to questions to at least become casually informed, more and more clients and potential clients are doing just that.
If you write something that answers a common question that is easy to understand then that makes it more likely that the person with that question will trust you and be interested in working with you. Over the years I have picked up many clients who felt they were not getting the right answers or representation. They had an invention, they knew it was unique, but they couldn’t receive a patent. They read articles I wrote about working with examiners, claiming strategies and how to get a little protection and then circle back for more later. They wanted me to represent them, and we took over the case and managed to get them patents where they had been unsuccessful before.
I have had situations where potential clients would call me and tell me that the attorneys they spoke to told them software couldn’t be patented. They read articles I wrote about the type of information you need to put into a software patent application, how you have to draft software patent claims and how to conceptualize a software related invention. It made sense to them even if they didn’t fully understand the nuances and the message was conveyed that I know what I am talking about. It is far better for a prospective client to come to the understanding that you know what you are talking about for themselves than it is for you to tell them you know what you are talking about directly. This is something you can accomplish through writing.
Stay tuned for more! Up next will be strategies for attracting traffic the tools you need.