In the movie American Graffiti, there's a terrific scene in which a teenager, Terry, is attempting to buy a pint of whiskey, in hopes of liquoring up his rumored-to-be-easy date. Given that he's underage, and given that he's a complete nerd, he is not exactly Mr. Smooth when he encounters the cashier in the liquor store:
You want something?
Terry looks at the man and the endless rows of liquor behind him.
Yeah--ah--let me have a Three
Musketeers, ah, and a ball point pen
ther, a comb, a pint of Old Harper,
couple of flashlight batteries and
some of this beef jerky.
The owner puts everything into a bag and starts to ring it up.
Okay, got an I.D. for the liquor?
One of my new favorite blogs, Morepartnerincome.com (you have to love the brevity, clarity and elegance of that name) has a nice little post in it on this very topic. http://www.morepartnerincome.com/blog/_archives/2006/2/22/1760851.html If you're raising your hourly rates by a moderate amount, don't make a big deal out of it. Just send a brief, to-the-point letter explaining the rationale, and let that be that. Most clients will understand, and if you know of some that won't, then call them or take other steps to assuage their response.
However, making too much out of what you want perceived as a routine increase defeats the purpose. Just be straightforward, and clear, and don't make too big a deal out of it. Chances are, the client won't, either.
In an interesting, but incomplete, post Patrick Lamb, in his "In Search of Perfect Client Service" blog, quotes the Editor in Chief of The American Lawyer's criticism of what he calls "one-bounce marketing". http://patricklamb.typepad.com/perfectservice/2006/02/marketing_a_cli.html
It's incomplete because although it does a nice job of discussing the "what" it doesn't deal with the "why".
The basic idea is that law firms, when they market, have this tendency to send out one thing, once, and expect results: announcements, folders, brochures, whatever. All this jive is expensively crafted, printed and sent, and then the firm isn't heard from again. No follow-up. Echoing silence.
I have three small daughters. They are, respectively, 3, 3 and 7. My wife and I spent a huge amount of time drilling the basics of human civilized behavior into them. This is not fun -- nothing ruins a dinner faster than having to tell Laura thirty forty or fifty times not to eat her noodles with her fingers, but to use that thing with the pointy metal things on the end -- the FORK. Use your fork, not your fingers! Use your fork, not your fingers! Use your fork, not your fingers!
We do this because if they get the basics down early, and just do them, they will have much easier, happier lives. Same thing is true in business development, as Guy Kawasaki helpfully points out in this nice post: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/02/the_art_of_schm.html
I was writing up some material for my father-in-law a few days ago. He's teaching a class on entrepreneurs, and I forwarded him some thoughts about my own ventures in this area. And one of my thoughts was that technology is an immense advantage for small enterprises. The same is true for law firms. A post in the "More Partner Income blog" is an excellent example. It's here: http://www.morepartnerincome.com/blog/_archives/2006/2/1/1720682.html
This particular post is about billing clients electronically, but the same principle applies to almost every facet of client acquisition, and retention. If you take the time to learn technology, and apply it, it's astonishing what you can do.