Planting and reaping a harvest, building your settlement planning practice

If you read the introduction to my month long series on rebranding and growing a structured settlement practice in which I discussed sowing and reaping, hopefully you are looking forward to todays commentary as I finally roll out the topics for the rest of the month and give you the first glimpse at some solutions to your current marketing malaise.

I know the column has been highly negative for the last few weeks as I first took the defense brokers to task for decades of business practices, as well as last weeks rip job on plaintiff settlement brokers and agents. I’ve taken this approach as I believe while the conversation in the structured settlement profession has been relentlessly negative and non-productive for years, that we  acknowledged the sins and issues of the past, but it is time now to get started on discussing what is solid and good about our profession and plant the seeds necessary to the prepare for a harvest in the months and years ahead.

In that spirit it is time to start discussing where structured settlement professionals ( or for that matter any professional ) should spend their time and money to rebrand their firm or professional practice, and start to develop a coherent, low cost social networking strategy for the year ahead. As the theme has been the parable of sowing and reaping, this column will be about putting good seeds in properly prepared soil and then tending it carefully so that a harvest “ 30 or 60 fold” can be realized in due time.

Note that phrase, “ In due time…”. Nothing I am going to recommend is going to be an immediate magic bullet or quick fix to the lack of sales you are currently struggling with, or your currently invisible online status that makes you non-existent in the eyes of your clients and potential prospects. Just as it takes a full growing season to produce a crop of wheat and in other cases years to grow a mature fruit tree or vine, you need to have reasonable expectations as to what kind of investment you need to make and when you can reasonably expect a harvest.

Decide what kind of crop you want to grow and pick out the best place to plant it.

Sure, this seems basic but in the settlement planning and structured settlement profession its not that simple. There exist three different business models to choose from, plaintiff work only, defense work only or positioning yourself as a “gun for hire” who can represent either side as the situation dictates. Each has its advantages, but in the tradition bound, adversarial world of litigation, most settlement experts choose one or the other, with the few successful straddlers typically being experienced brokers who have ties and contacts on both sides who trust them and send them business.  Annuity peddlers

The plaintiff and defense models are both dealing with emerging business factors that are shaping their practices, but the branding message challenge is typically pretty straight forward. In my case I make it clear that Wahlstrom & Associates represents trial lawyers and injury victims in settlement negotiations and that our commitment is to be a plaintiff advocate exclusively. We will partner with other planning and settlement professionals on multi-claimant or attorney retirement planning strategy, but there is no question who we work with and thus who we market too. We have selected the kind of crop we want to grow, assisting injury victims and trial lawyers, and can thus move to deciding the best place to plant our seed.

However, the problem I see in looking at our profession is that many brokers now just seem to state they are structured settlement “brokers” and appear to imply that they can or will work with anyone who thinks they want or can use a structured settlement. What exactly is that saying  and what message are you sending to your market? It’s certainly fine to represent both sides if you are comfortable with that or have contacts that are ok with you working for them one day and against them another, that’s each professionals personal decision or market. It’s just that you can’t really have a coherent “planting strategy” unless you are able to articulate why you adopt that professional stance, how it benefits your clients and is clear as to how it makes you anything better then an annuity peddler, pushing your professional cart around the internet or trade shows, hoping someone will throw you some premium.

So, before we move to step two on “preparing the soil before you plant”, I suggest you look at who you market to and  the overt and implied messages your current company name, marketing materials, web site and communications send to current clients and prospects. If they can’t figure out who you work with, why you work them and who you want to attract as new clients, chances are the phone won’t be ringing.

( Mark Wahlstrom is the President of Wahlstrom & Associates in Scottsdale, AZ, and is generally considered to be the nations leading expert in structured settlements, settlement planning and structured legal fees. You can read his weekly commentary on The Settlement Channel or view his weekly broadcast at Speaking of Settlements.)

Posted on October 28, 2010 .