An Experiment in Transparency: Monthly Report: April 2018

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Last month I shared my first monthly report. The response really surprised me.

That post has had three times as many views as anything I’ve ever written. Some people called it brave, others called it unwise, but it definitely generated interest. I believe it’s because we lawyers are so inclined to hide or posture or self-deceive. Transparency inspires us because we are so disinclined to be transparent.

I don’t intend to shake up the industry or anything, nor do I believe this little blog has that capacity. But one day, years from now, a new attorney will land on these monthly reports. She will see that an idiot like me can stumble through and succeed, and she’ll see a path forward. That’s why I’m doing this.

So, although month 2 of law practice was super busy and I’ve written here less than I’d like, I knew I had to get out April’s monthly report. Here it is…


MONTHLY LANDMARKS

Month two was busy. In a good way, in that I had lots of work, but also tougher to stay ahead of. Being a stay at home dad right now also complicates things, but I’ve picked up even more incredible cases to keep things interesting.

I took a week-long trip down to Rockport this month. The time in town allowed me to make new contacts, including lunch with a lawTwitter buddy in Corpus Christi and a meeting with a local attorney ad litem who wants to share office space. Those face-to-face encounters with other great lawyers are so vital.

The dynamic of owning a small business in fascinating. The law firm’s fundamentals are definitely sound, but I do find myself struggling sometimes with doubt.

On my last day in town, I remember sending quotes to four new prospective clients. I told my wife, “If all four prospects sign up, I’m a genius and everything’s going as planned; if none of them sign up, it’ll feel like it’s all coming down on me.”

That emotional conflict comes with the solo attorney job. You feel only as good as your last new case, and you constantly have to find the drive to get to the next one. The ups and downs are emotional, but they’re also compelling and important.

You have to find balance while building this thing. You have to become a professional. And that’s the big focus of the next month. Rockport deserves a strong and focused attorney, and I’m setting up the right systems to make that happen.


ONLINE RESULTS

Let’s start with my website work in Month 2.

I focus a lot more on online marketing than I would advise someone else to, but for reasons I explained in my extended Catan analogy post, I have to.

Rockport is still suffering after the hurricane. Real estate there is limited, but the locals are working incredibly hard to make it the beautiful tourist area it always has been. But we had to leave for a bit after the hurricane and will have some time before we can get back.

Not being in the city where my practice is located creates challenges. I can’t focus as much as I’d like on referral networks and in-person events. So I’ve had to work extra hard to create an online presence.

And, like many attorneys, I’ve found that often hard to do. Writing blog posts while taking consult calls and drafting documents can strain the schedule. Ultimately, my clients need me to lawyer and deserve me doing that well. So let me describe quickly how I’ve shortened my content creation time.

A Faster Way To Come Up With Posts

For me, coming up with subjects for the blog takes way too much time. I could certainly sit and make a list of the top 50 questions clients ask and tackle one a week, but I wanted to create more content than that. There aren’t many free legal resources locally, so I want to build this blog quickly. I just don’t have enough ideas to keep the machine going.

 That’s where Feedly comes in. If you’re not familiar with Feedly, it became the popular replacement after Google Reader closed down. It’s an RSS reader that brings together all the blogs you’ve subscribed to in one place. Every day Feedly gives me a list of Texas family law blog posts that prime my mental pump.

I decided there must be a way to automate the connection between other people’s blogs and my blog. Enter Zapier.

Zapier is a bridge between apps that don’t already play well together. Virtually every tech platform and app is connected to sites like Facebook, but more random apps don’t have these dedicated bridges built. Zapier creates those connections for less common platforms.

In this case, I use Zapier to connect Feedly and WordPress, the content management tool for my website. When I read a blog post I like on Feedly, I hit the “save for later” tab. This automatically creates a draft blog post on my website.

Zapier obviously does way more than that, and I recommend you check it out. Just enter the apps you currently use and see what the tool can do to connect them. For me, the simple connection between Feedly and WordPress greatly impacted my blogging time.

Cleaning Up The Posts

Once the Feedly-initiated draft is in WordPress, I edit it using the recommendations from the Yoast SEO plugin. Yoast tells me what search engines want me to change about the post, and even tells me when my writing isn’t up to par.

 This is a content curation strategy, similar to what Lifehacker does. I add my commentary to each post, link to the original blog, and optimize my title, headlines, and images to help the search engines find me. I’m acting as the local teacher for people in Rockport searching for legal information.

And posting this way allows me to deliver quality legal information while also showing a little personality.

Getting Results

Because of low search volume, I’m still not showing up on the first page of Google for attorneys in Rockport. As Chris at Get Noticed Get Found explained to me, that will change.

 Eventually, once Google sees a good number of local searches, it’ll reprioritize the sites. Because I’m writing these “Around the Web” posts four days a week, my blog will be well positioned to rise to the top.

Google rewards quality work. If the content I create is useful to the Rockport community, it will appear in results. And that’s vital because Rockport needs these resources.

I’ve been sharing these curated posts to a new Facebook profile and website traffic has started to rise. Nothing big, but a law firm website doesn’t need the traffic of HuffPo to be useful to prospective clients. So I’ll keep plugging away and capturing the influence.


INCOME BREAKDOWN

Finally, the money.

I again fell short of my $10,000 goal for new sales, but not by much. And I collected more revenue this month than last, so that feels like progress.

As a reminder, I’m tracking two numbers: new business and earned revenue. The first helps me gauge the second, and I always want to keep track of what business will pay the bills next month.

So the “sold” numbers are the total case value for new cases sold this month, and the “collected” numbers are for payments made on both new and existing cases. Most of my bigger cases are on monthly payment plans (something clients really love), so the money gets spread out.

Total Sold For April 2018………………….. $9,500

Family law sold…………………………….. $5,500
Probate cases sold……………………….. $2,500
Estate planning sold……………………… $1,500
Other sold……………………………………. $0

Family law collected……………………… $3,100
Probate collected…………………………. $3,735
Estate planning collected………………. $1,500
Other collected…………………………….. $0

Total Revenue For March 2018: $8,335

Fine numbers for month two, and they represent people in need thatI’ve been able to help. As time goes on, I’ll be able to grow revenue and build the firm to help more people. A local associate, better office space, more technology… whatever can help better serve the client.


Expenses Paid

April cost a pretty penny, mainly because of the trip down to Rockport. I’ll be visiting one week out of each month until I can hire local help, so I need to get better at managing those costs.

Total Expenses For April 2018………………….. $1,575.77

Software and Tools……………….. $142.84
Contract Staff……………………….. $462.00
Office………………………………….. $99
Marketing…………………………….. $0
Travel………………………………….. $871.93

This month I picked up a Post Office box in Rockport. The office space I used pre-hurricane is still unavailable, so I’m looking at another option. It’s a good solution, one room with utilities included for $500 per month. And another attorney in the office, so a good chance of referrals.

This early in the firm re-launch, I have to be really careful about expenses. And I need a more direct line between staff expenses and money coming in. Being profitable allows me to serve more of my target audience.

But, for now, we are profitable. Two months into a new business, that’s crazy.


COMING UP

This has been a good month. We’ve had the difficulties common to rebuilding or starting a new business, but we’re making progress.

I imagine a future in which Rockport has a robust tool for understanding legal issues. As I build that, I’m also building something that will last for the practice. This is an asset both for the community and for my family.

I will keep planting referral seeds and building an online presence to serve more people. Now I just have to relax a bit and let it happen.

I hope this exploration helps you.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

This entry was posted in Guest Bloggers, Solo & Small Firm Practice and tagged Michael Whelan. Bookmark the permalink.

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