The general purpose of formulating a marketing plan is to identify the most viable and promising growth opportunities. For a lawyer or law firm the marketing plan helps to achieve this by outlining ways to expand and maintain a client base successfully within a clearly identified market. It also helps to establish and define the goals, principles, procedures, and methods that play a key role in determining future success.

A great amount of confusion exists between marketing plans and business plans. Mention marketing plan to some administrators and they think you mean a business plan. For other administrators, the reverse is true. Perhaps the reason for the confusion is that the terms are often used interchangeably. But it is also because people hear what they need to hear. If your primary concern is with the marketing function of your law practice, then when someone talks about how you should put together a business plan, you may well be thinking “marketing plan” as you nod in agreement. The following explanation may provide valuable insight about the differences between marketing and business plans and may help clarify the matter.

Business plans are meant to sell a company to stakeholders, such as financial backers, key executives, and even the owners. Marketing plans are designed to guide organizations along a particular path. The reason for the difference stems from the way business and marketing plans have traditionally been used. Business plans are frequently used to raise investment and loan funds. Marketing plans are used primarily as internal planning documents to help you and other stakeholders in the firm identify profitable business opportunities.

Because most business plans are typically prepared for external use or outside consumption and marketing plans for internal use, marketing plans are more informal than business plans. The business plan is typically broken down into five to seven sections with similar titles (i.e., the firm, markets, products/services, finance). As you’ll see later in this chapter, marketing plans can be broken down in any of several ways to best fit your needs.

With the previous two points in mind, it should also be noted that it sometimes isn’t clear whether a particular plan is a marketing plan or a business plan. In some cases, the marketing plan is simply a chapter in the business plan. But sometimes marketing is such a major component of the business plan that it is often difficult to determine what kind of a plan one is really dealing with. There are three broad categorizations of marketing plans: start-up or early-stage strategic plan; aggressive growth implementation plan; and the mature firm implementation plan.

Start-up or early-stage strategic plan – The challenge for a new law firm is simply to understand such fundamentals as the dynamics of the market, the motivations of prospective clients, and the firm’s place in that market; the ingredients of strategy. It could be counter productive to try to lock an early-stage law firm into a detailed implementation approach when the overall strategy could be flawed in one way or another. A more sensible approach could involve testing ways for getting potential clients to make an appointment.

Aggressive growth strategic implementation plan – Once a law firm has developed a strategy that seemingly works, it is now postured to give renewed emphasis to implementation issues. It can assess more closely past implementation tactics, determine which work best and seek to exploit those more effectively

Mature Firm’s implementation plan – Legal organizations that have well established, and proven marketing strategies may well decide to devote much if not all of their market planning efforts to implementation issues. Practice leaders must determine what is working and what isn’t and examine what new approaches might be called for to make the basic strategy work more effectively.