Time To Start Building

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Like it or not, business is a game of numbers. Yes, even the law business.

Facebook had 1.32 billion active users as of June 30, 2014. 63% of the those users log in each day, and the average American spends about 40 minutes per day on the site.

Twitter’s got 271 million users.

As for Instagram, it has 200 million active monthly users.

I’ll stop there, but add to that all the people on Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Vine … well, you get the point.

Those are a lot of people who could see your blog post, your video, or just your words of wisdom.

A lot of people who could, without costing them a dime or more than a few seconds of their day, share your message with their friends and colleagues.

The problem? Unless you’ve built a network of people to share the message with, it won’t go anywhere.

Time to start building.

Why You Shouldn’t Blog About Bankruptcy (And What To Do Instead)

bankruptcy blog ideas

I felt like I was wasting my time blogging about my knowledge of bankruptcy.

Each day I’d slog to the computer, cup of coffee in hand, and do my best to bang out 400-600 words on some bankruptcy-related topic. Confident that I was using my time effectively for my business-building efforts, I would use every trick in the book to create an article that would get a lot of traffic.

Pictures? Check.

Social sharing buttons? Yup.

Zippy headlines and crafty subheads? Got ‘em.

I built my social profiles, promoted my articles online in as many places as was possible, and was content that I was doing my best possible work.

My analytics package showed decent daily traffic. Still, the new clients didn’t beat a path to my door.

I was convinced that my time could be better spent looking a cat pictures on Facebook.

Rather than give up, I got curious.

I began to dig around into my web traffic and came to the conclusion that my visitors weren’t looking to file for bankruptcy. Either they had already filed a case, were preparing to do so on their own, or were lawyers looking for help in understanding the law.

After all, who else would sit down at their computer and do a search for, “timing of reaffirmation agreements in chapter 7 proceedings?” Most of my clients didn’t know the term unless they had been educated by my office or had done a significant amount of research on their own before stepping through my doors.

How could I be sure that this was the case? Simple: I had set up my analytics to show me the paths that people took to get to the place where they could contact me or set up an appointment. The people who got in touch didn’t come from organic (in other words, unpaid) web traffic to my bankruptcy articles.

The people who got in contact were those who were searching for information that interested them.

Articles about how to pay off high interest credit card debts did well. So did one article in particular that discussed how I cut my cable television bill to save money.

In fact, none of the bankruptcy-related articles drove people to contact me. They were useful for my existing clients as a reference and to guide the search engines in ranking my site. But beyond fulfilling those goals, my bankruptcy articles were useless.

Once I realized that the reason people were contacting me had everything to do with finding help for their problems, I started focusing on that rather than the technical aspects of bankruptcy.

Know what? My web traffic grew an astonishing 319%.

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Beyond that, my clients started telling me how useful my writing was to them. They were able to try to solve their real problems – lack of money and too much debt – before coming to the realization that I was the right lawyer to help them end their bill problems.

Mind you, success didn’t come overnight. Nor did it come solely as a result of writing a few pieces about money-saving tips. But when I began to intersperse my bankruptcy posts with information that spoke to the potential client’s problems, the tide turned on my website.

So when you’re wondering what to write about, stop before you churn out yet another article about the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Set yourself apart from the others by writing for your potential clients and their true needs.

Why We Do It

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We’re told to write, do videos or create podcasts as part of our marketing efforts. This is known as “content marketing” and it may take many forms – a blog post, an ebook, and article for the bar journal, a video on YouTube or public access television, a podcast or a call-in radio show.

Content, they say, is king. Once said, others step into the limelight and say that content is not king, that it’s useless and unimportant given the volume of information out there.

FOMO, fear of missing out, drives us to fall in line with content marketing. We don’t want to be the one who loses the client, so we invest our precious and least-recoverable resource – time – in the process of creation.

It is worth it?

Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order. They are, by the way, the result of using the written word as my primary marketing vehicle for the past decade or so.

  1. Creating content allows you to hone your own knowledge by explaining it better;
  2. Content gives you the ability to connect with your clients by using the language they use to communicate;
  3. Content provides greater volume to your online presence, which makes it more likely that a casual seeker of information will stumble upon your words of wisdom;
  4. Potential clients, on reading what you’ve written (or seeing what you’ve recorded, or listened to it), will be suitably impressed by your knowledge such that they will be moved to hire you before all others;
  5. Members of the press will read what you’ve written and use you as a resource, leading to your name in the media – exposure that is far better than anything purchased;
  6. Existing and former clients will go back to your work for clarification of issues, leading to greater client satisfaction and high referral rates; and
  7. Other professionals will recognize you as an authority in the field, and will be compelled to refer work to you above all others.

Which boils down to the real reason why we create content.

We create to improve our base of knowledge. We publish in various formats online and offline to impress people with our knowledge and abilities so that they will either send us clients or become clients of their own accord. We continue so that those people and others will continue to maintain their high opinions of us and our abilities long into the future. 

Spoiled Milk And Old Retainers

bankruptcy retainer gets stale

How much spoiled milk do you have in your file cabinets?

A client hires you for a bankruptcy case, proclaiming that they want to get filed “as soon as possible.”

Your letters and phone calls go unreturned. Emails fall into a black hole. Text messages are met with silence.

Congratulations – like milk, your files have spoiled. But instead of turning into a fine cheese, those files are stinking up the whole place.

What happens if the client shows up a few years later? Do you honor the fee agreement?

You can call the client back into the office and essentially start over, but then you’re in the unenviable position of having to explain why your fees are different (if they are), the amount of money the client can have applied to the new retainer, and the like.

Most clients have an expectation that if a retainer is valid, it remains valid no matter how long ago it was entered into. Many state ethics boards feel the same way – an active retainer agreement governs the lawyer-client relationship for as long as it remains valid.

Want to avoid the spoiled file?

If you use the tip I gave you about getting paid, you should back it up with a clause allowing you to close the file for lack of activity after a certain period of time (I use 90 days of inactivity, but you may decide that’s too draconian or too laid back).

Once time’s up, fire the client and close the file.

If you put a “sell by date” on your retainer agreement then you prevent it from dragging on for longer than makes you comfortable. You give the client the incentive to move forward quickly (in the old days, we called this, “s**t or get off the pot”), and you retain control over your processes.

How many files do you have languishing in the file cabinet for so long that the information is stale?

A Simple 9-Step System For Getting Paid For Bankruptcy Work

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When I tell people that I’m a bankruptcy lawyer, they laugh and ask me how I get paid by people who don’t pay their bills.

It’s a frustration we all know, chasing people for legal fees so that we can keep the doors open to help other people. Though we’ve all felt the pinch, the truth is that our clients often don’t have the ability to pay for their bankruptcy case.

“If I had money,” goes the old saying, “I wouldn’t need you.”

It’s up to us to help our clients with a payment plan. The trouble is that often those payment plans are too open-ended for our clients to follow.

For years I told my clients that their case would be filed when the legal fee was paid in full, but didn’t provide guidance on exactly how they were expected to pay that legal fee.

Without guidance, many of my clients tried to save up their legal fees. This didn’t work because there’s always something that gets in the way of savings. After all, if my clients could save then they’d likely be able to pay their bills.

So I set up an actual, honest-to-goodness payment plan. And that worked like gangbusters.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Tell your client how much they need to pay to get their bankruptcy case filed;
  2. Ask your client how often they get paid;
  3. Find out how much the client can pay you each pay period;
  4. Remind the client that the rent needs to be paid, and find out if there will perhaps be a little less to pay you once each month;
  5. Reduce the amount provided by the client by $50 – that is the amount to be paid per paycheck;
  6. Write down a schedule of payment amounts and due dates on your retainer agreement;
  7. Provide for a penalty of $10 per missed or late payment;
  8. Have the client sign below the payment schedule; and
  9. Send a bill to the client once per month with the remaining balance due.

This takes a few more minutes when you complete a retainer agreement, but it provides the client with a way to pay off the legal fee in an affordable manner over a defined period of time.

This method provides for a schedule, as well as for a way to compensate you in the event that it takes longer to get the case filed than you originally anticipate.

The client has some certainty, you have assurances as well.

And yes – it works like a charm.