An Experiment in Transparency – Monthly Report: May 2018

monthly report imageWe just finished month three of this relaunch journey (I shared a report for my first two months here and here). The ship keeps sailing along.

These monthly reports are the most popular thing I write, but I worry they’ll become mundane. “Another month of mostly the same thing…” And maybe there’s a lesson in there.

Success rarely comes with sex appeal and clickbait headlines. It’s a slog. And maybe that’s why so few of us find it.

However, to give you something you can act on right away, I’ll share with you monthly landmarks and some thoughts about websites. I’ll also detail numbers for you, and plans for the future.

This is me CEO-ing out loud, and I hope you find it helpful.


MONTHLY LANDMARKS

The biggest shift this month happened when I decided to hire my wife.

This came with some fear, to be honest. Her income has helped create a safety net, making sure kids don’t starve if the money dries up. But that work also became really irrational.

She made less money for our family than she would if she brought in one new client each month. One. And she’s made important efforts this month to help make that happen.

Among other things, she created a new Facebook profile for my lawyer self. I found that lots of people in Rockport wanted to friend me on Facebook, but I have a hard time mixing my very personal space with my professional space. 

Yet a business page can’t give the human touch. Creating a public persona checked all the boxes. Now I have somewhere to talk local issues and events while still maintaining a space to vent about politics and sports. That works.

My wife then created a group page on Facebook, targeted to helping local small business owners. After hurricane Harvey, many small operators struggle to get by. With this Facebook group, I have an opportunity to help them learn the business principles I’m putting into practice.

The Rockport Small Business Mastermind group now has 56 members. It hasn’t seen as much activity as I’d like, largely because I currently filter through every post. Many owners want to simply promote their businesses, and that’s not the culture I want to foster, so I have to be more hands on with it.

Here’s the thing to know: if you want to get clients for your firm, you have to make contacts, and people make contacts on Facebook. Especially after Harvey, much of the Rockport community connected on social media. If I want those people to think of me, I need to be in front of them.

So create a personal profile (not a business page) if you want to play on Facebook, then create a group that connects members of your target community. Being the organizer (or impresario) has enormous advantages.


ONLINE RESULTS

Now let me share some thoughts on website design. These come primarily from my dissatisfaction with my own website. It worked for a while, but it’s time to step things up.

In short, let me show you how to build a website that focuses on the buyer’s journey, rather than your own poor content habits.

What We Think Websites Are For

Most lawyers believe their website should be a source of traffic. If you write a bunch, people will show up. That just isn’t true.

I hate to break it to you, dear lawyer, but you’re not winning the SEO battle (despite all the salespeople promising you otherwise).

 Go do a Google search for “[your practice area] [your city]” and see what pops up. Unless you’ve been practicing for 20 years in a small town, it’s probably not you.

Here are the results for “family lawyer Houston TX.” As you can see, it’s almost all directories (and Laura Dale, who’s been online forever).

Do you have an online budget bigger than Justia’s? Or Avvo’s? Do you have a content machine that can beat those companies? Probably not.

So the SEO salespeople tell you to focus on “long tail” keywords, meaning the kinds of phrases a person with a random question would use. 

I searched “is my boat community property under texas law” and got these results. As you can see, none of the responses are boat-specific, so you might be able to get that one. Or, if you know Jack Zinda, you know you can chase it down for a long time until he pays to get ahead of you. It will happen.

So, if someone told you to treat your website like they did in the 90s – basically a web journal, with your random thoughts in a blog ordered by recency – you should probably ignore them.

Not because an authority blog couldn’t get you referral results, but because the 300-word “how to calculate child support in Texas” posts are a losing battle. People will ask Alexa questions like that, and she won’t even give you credit for the answer. Move on.

A Better Way To Website

This all came up because I’m helping a couple of lawyer friends with their site content. Basically, I record podcast episodes on Texas Lawyers Forum, then staff turns those interviews into networked subject posts with unique opt-in assets. I prefer this over other outsourced content options because I’m able to get the words and personality of the lawyer, as opposed to having generic and random useless blog posts.

And it all got me thinking about how to order things even better. That led me to some really great philosophies that will inform how I design my own site.

I prefer the way Mark Homer and Jabez LeBret of GNGF talk about websites in their book Online Law Practice Strategies. For them, a lawyer’s website primarily protects referrals.

If you believe Clio’s Legal Trends Report, the majority of legal consumers still find a lawyer through a friend or family member. 62%, to be precise. 31% ask other lawyers.

Then they’ll go online. 37% use a search engine, and 28% use a lawyer directory. (As you can see, those numbers add up to more than 100%, meaning many people are using multiple methods).

The point is, winning the SEO battle will cost you tens of thousands of dollars each month and still won’t give you the biggest pool of interested consumers. This feels like a fool’s game.

Instead, think of your website as a book, organized in a way that leads a would-be buyer to know, like, and trust you. It’s a filtering device that gets rid of the wrong people and empowers the right people.

Website-As-Book

Here’s where the design stuff comes in. And I’d encourage you to think of your site less like a crazy, boring person’s journal and more like an interactive self-help book.

I’ll expand on that, but let’s start with the 5 things your website must have, taken from Donald Miller’s Building A StoryBrand:

  1. An offer above the fold,
  2. Obvious calls to action,
  3. Images of success,
  4. Bite-sized breakdowns of your revenue streams, and
  5. Very few words. 

(By the way, go read that book. Right now. I promise it’s worthwhile.)

Here’s an image of a homepage that complies with Miller’s recommendations…

This is the above-the fold-area (meaning, the very first bit you see on a website, as designated by the dotted line on the bottom).

As you can see, this homepage is an act of simplicity. No one who lands on your site should be confused about what you offer and what you want them to do next. The “Start Here” button at the top and the “Buy Now” button are the simple navigational tools a buyer needs. And the hamburger menu on the right will let them dig deeper if they’d like.

 But I want to make them work for the hamburger menu stuff and to make “Start Here” easy. You don’t want prospects to go navigating all over your book. There’s no story if they start in the middle, so give them a table of contents. That’s what “Start Here” does.

Take a look at this Start Here page, titled “What brings you here?” What you should see on any Start Here page is a listing of customer journeys, then guidance as to where to head next.

(Notice the “Buy Here” button peppered throughout, a unique color found nowhere else on your site and ever-present. Don’t put a “call us for a free consultation” button. Sell something. You’ve earned that right with this website.)

Each link out of the Start Here page goes to a new customer journey. The prospective buyer should have a really hard time landing on content that doesn’t apply to them, and your table of contents approach will keep them on track.

Once the prospect reaches a customer journey page, that’s when the deep information comes in. Now you’ve led them to a chapter in your book, and you should make sure they have an organized way to interact with lots of helpful details. 

This is where your “blog” has gone. No more posting random thoughts that you send to a page organized by when you posted. Because no one cares when you posted, and few people will come to your homepage from your content.

(This, by the way, is probably the opposite of the advice I’d have give 5 years ago, but that’s how quickly the landscape has changed.)

How you organize this page is up to you, and I’m excited to experiment on what works best.

Here are two possibilities:

  • One page with a long article that you add to frequently (an example), or
  • A deeper table of contents, leading the buyer to networked posts on related subjects.

However you go about it, I wouldn’t suggest using the “Start Here” page as a substitute “About Us” page. Don’t ramble on about you. Yes, you should pepper in how you’ll provide unique value to the client, but nobody cares where you went to school.

Nobody. Cares. Where. You. Went. To. School.

Future Website Changes

I have other thoughts on this, but let’s leave it at that for now. Figure out how to shift your thinking toward the buyer’s journey. Their path matters more than yours does.

By building a site that easily leads the prospective client to what they need, you’ll do more than satisfy search engines. You’ll protect your referrals and define your culture.


INCOME BREAKDOWN

Enough pontificating. Let’s get to the dolla dolla bills, y’all.

Another good month on a long road. Slower than I’d like, but I went out of town and mostly worked from the road. Not bad at all for half a month off.

And some of that still comes from serving Rockport. The town has definite needs, and I’m happy to be there for them, but I may need to adapt the product offerings to serve the means people have there. I’m not inclined to become a whatever-comes-through-the-door lawyer, but that’s tough in a small town. We’ll have to keep evaluating that.

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………………….. $4,000

Family law sold…………………………….. $0
Probate cases sold……………………….. $4,000
Estate planning sold……………………… $0
Other sold……………………………………. $0

Family law collected……………………… $3,600
Probate collected…………………………. $4,000
Estate planning collected………………. $0
Other collected…………………………….. $0

Total Revenue For March 2018: $7,600

I’m glad things continue to build. I don’t want to spread my product offerings too thin, so I’m more likely to add geographic areas rather than practice areas. I want to give this room to grow.


Expenses Paid

Costs were not bad this month…

Total Expenses For April 2018………………….. $1,549.08

Software and Tools……………….. $160.97
Tech upgrades……………………….$991.59
Contract Staff……………………….. $90.00 (not final number)
Office………………………………….. $0
Marketing…………………………….. $0
Travel………………………………….. $306.52

Pretty consistent expenses, looking at previous months. I like to keep costs low. So far I have not set up an office space in Rockport because the revenue has not justified it. That’s how I want to think of my expenses.

But you have to spend money to make money, and at some point I need to decide how to invest strategically. Too many lawyers spend too much on the appearance of lawyering, and I don’t want to do that.

But still profitable and making real progress. It’s tough to justify these non-revenue generating hours of planning and writing, but they’ll pay off in the end. They always do.


COMING UP

There’s a lot going on. What my wife and I are creating for both Lawyer Forward (with the content work, which will be available to others once we get the systems right) has been fantastic. It’s important work that will help change the way customers perceive lawyers.

And she’s helping a lot with the law firm’s exposure in the community. I know that will help. I continue to build an online presence that will last as an asset.

See you next month.

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®.

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One comment on “An Experiment in Transparency – Monthly Report: May 2018

  • Really enjoying your journey here; thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

    That’s fantastic advice on the website design. I’m reading StoryBrand now and it’s kicking me right in the teeth!

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