From the December 2000 issue of Startups

Question: I recently completed a legal nurse consulting certification program and opened my own consulting business, providing medical information to lawyers handling civil or criminal cases. I'm having difficulty marketing to attorneys and getting the opportunity to explain the benefits of my services. What do you suggest? I want to present myself in the most professional manner possible, and cold calls don't seem to be the best way to approach a busy attorney.

Lisa
Sydney, Illinois

Answer: To successfully market your new consulting practice to attorneys, you'll have to throw out the guidebook on business-to-business sales, particularly the rules about always presenting directly to the ultimate decision-maker. Attorneys, like doctors, often can't be reached directly, and a successful program must rely on a series of relationship-building activities.

Your first step is to compile a list of specific attorneys who specialize in personal injury, product liability, medical negligence and workers compensation, or require support in any medically-related litigation and other medical-legal matters. Do your homework carefully to be sure you have a highly qualified list before you proceed. Next, create a well-crafted cover letter that can accompany your company brochure or stand on its own. It should outline the benefits of working with a legal nurse consultant and, most important, how you'll bring a winning edge to the attorney's team.

Armed with your list and cover letter, you're ready to make calls. But not to the attorneys. Your target is each attorney's executive assistant (or legal secretary), and your goal is persuade him or her to accept a fax of your cover letter and place it in front of the attorney. Once this has taken place, you'll make a follow-up call to the executive assistant to get feedback on your fax and set up an appointment to meet with the attorney in person or by telephone. If you can't secure an appointment at that time, agree to send a copy of your brochure and follow up periodically. As soon as you secure a meeting with the attorney, he or she will become your primary contact, though you should always maintain a good relationship with the executive assistant-a vitally important gatekeeper.

In addition to telephone contact, networking and referrals from other lawyers will help you build your new practice. So look for legal and other professional business groups that bring you into contact with your top prospects and allow you to build relationships with key attorneys over time.