What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Andrew Elowitt:
Andrew Elowitt JD MBA PCC worked for over twenty years both in law firms and as the head of a corporate legal department before becoming a practice management consultant and professional certified coach. He is the Managing Director of New Actions LLC, a firm that specializes in talent, strategy and leadership development for law firms, businesses, and government agencies.
His work focuses on the people side of legal practice: how lawyers manage, lead, thrive, change, and find satisfaction. He is regarded as an expert on the use of coaching and emotional, social and conversational intelligences in leading and managing legal organizations of all sizes.
Andrew is a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management, an International Coach Federation Professional Certified Coach, Vice Chair of the ABA Law Practice Division Publications Board, and founding member of its Lawyer Leadership and Management Board. He is the author of numerous articles and is regularly invited to conduct workshops and retreats for his clients and to present programs to bar associations.
Coaching is a powerful tool that can help lawyers in all stages of their careers become more effective leaders, mentors, and professionals. The legal industry has embraced coaching over the last 10 years, thanks in no small part to the work of Andrew Elowitt, founder of coaching firm New Actions and author of books “The Lawyer’s Guide to Professional Coaching: Leadership, Mentoring, and Effectiveness” and “Lawyers as Managers: How to Be a Champion for Your Firm and Employees.” He joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about how lawyers can face and overcome their resistance to change; why a growth mindset is necessary for lasting transformation; and how lawyers should choose the right coach. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Andrew Elowitt. Andrew is the managing director and founder of New Actions LLC. His firm provides high-level coaching, practice management consulting and retreat facilitation services to law firms and other professional service firms. He is a former lawyer and corporate executive. He’s also an in-demand speaker. He is a very accomplished author who has been on the podcast before with one of this coauthors, Marcia Wasserman. We’ll hear all about his journey today. Andrew, welcome to the program.
Andrew: It’s great to be back, Sharon.
Sharon: It’s great to have you. Thank you so much. Tell us about your journey. How did you get to where you are now?
Andrew: I had been practicing law for 15 years, first in firms and then I went in-house. It wasn’t something that hit me suddenly at 15 years. I realized I was a good lawyer and I was well-compensated, but my passion for the law, for legal practice, was ebbing. I wanted to do something more. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I definitely wanted to have a second act.
So, I got to that point 15 years in, like I said, and it was a matter of some awfully good luck. My best friend’s weekend hiking buddy was a senior organizational development consultant who was putting on learning opportunities for an eclectic mix of people. I had known him socially, and I was introduced to him. I talked about what he was doing with the learning groups. He had a clinical psychologist, a college professor, an educational consultant, and a woman who did film editing and writing, so a lawyer in the mix made it all the more eclectic. Once I started that learning group, I was fascinated. It was like all the lights going on on the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. I went, “This is so interesting. I want to do this.” Then I started to train, and I probably read more in those first two or three years that I was training with my mentor than I had practicing law in the prior 10 years.
Then I made the transition into doing organizational development consulting. We were working with a lot of tech companies in Silicon Valley. Over time, slowly, I started to pick up more professional services firm clients, lawyers, accountants. A lot of my friends from the legal world were now in managerial positions. We’d get together and they’d say, “Andrew, we’re having this problem,” and I’d give them advice. After about six months, they said, “You know what? We’ll pay to have you go into the firms and help us with these things.” I went, “Oh my gosh, there’s a niche here.” So, I started working with lawyers then.
At that time, which was the early 2000s, coaching in the legal world was not well understood. People thought I was a life coach. They had all kinds of misgivings, and I had to overcome that initially in making the transition. At this point, coaching is very well known and respected and utilized, not fully utilized, but utilized in the legal profession.
Sharon: Do you think that’s more in California? When I talk to people in other areas of the country, they don’t really know what coaching is. They’re going, “Coaching, what’s that?”
Andrew: Yeah, occasionally I get that. I don’t think there’s a big geographic difference anymore. Maybe on the coasts there’s more understanding of coaching. The legal community has followed the business community. The business community was a much earlier adapter and user of coaching. You certainly saw that in the tech companies. One of the reasons why was because you had a lot of younger, relatively inexperienced managers coming in, and they needed help. Brilliant people, great subject matter experts, but they didn’t know how to manage, especially managing people. That’s one of the reasons why there was a lot of traction for coaching in tech centers, both on the west coast and the east coast.
Law has followed that, and I think it’s a matter of what the business models are for businesses versus professional services firms. As you know, partners or senior attorneys have their producer/manager dilemma. They’re the ones that are on the factory floor grinding out the equipment or the product. At the same time, they need to manage, but do they have the time? There’s a built-in tension there. Do I step away from billable hours to do the work? Do I step away from client development to do the managerial piece? It’s a built-in dilemma. You don’t see that on the business side. On the business side, with the executives I work with, which is anywhere from 40% to 60% of my practice, they are managers. Their job is to manage the people that report to them and to collaborate with the people in their organizations. It’s different than in law firms.
Sharon: Law firms are their own animal. One of the ways is exactly what you’re talking about. You have tension. What do you tell people who come and say, “I love the business side and I like client development, but I don’t like the law. I don’t like to write briefs. I don’t like to read them. What can I do?”
Andrew: First of all, that resonates with me because that was my feeling about the law. I know I was a good technician, but I much rather would have been negotiating. I think that’s one of the reasons why I was happy going in-house. I got to be the client, and I was more involved in the business affairs of my organization.
For those people, I think it’s great that they have wider interests. The people who like client development, they’re the future rainmakers in a firm. The people who like doing the managerial piece are really important. Now, there’s a problem because they may be very good at it, but firms are still slow in rewarding and incentivizing people to take on those managerial roles.
One thing we’ve seen in big law, the largest law firms in North America and around the world, is the emergence of professional managers. People that may or may not be lawyers are now doing the administration and the leading of firms. There can be challenges to that. In a lot of jurisdictions, you can’t have nonlawyers, people that are not certified as lawyers, being equity holders in a law firm. That makes the compensation and incentivizing issue a lot more complicated, but I think we’ll see more of a continuation in that direction. It’s great to have people in firms that are interested, passionate, experienced and competent in management. It makes a big difference in the bottom line.
Sharon: I had forgotten how it’s become so professionalized on the business side in many ways. I can’t remember; it’ll come to me later. I was trying to remember when I was at Arthur Andersen. There was such a big dichotomy between fee earners, non-revenue generators and revenue generators. I always felt like, “What are you talking about? We bring in this much.”
Anyway, you said you were doing training in organizational development or coaching.
Andrew: It started out with organizational development. That was the focus of our learning group. It was great for me. I was with people more senior than I in terms of work experience, not necessarily in terms of age. We started with a couple of learning groups in Los Angeles. Then my mentor, Don Rossmoore, got invited to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, PARC, to lead learning groups there, so we had other professionals and executive coaches that were in-house for Xerox. We had people from Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Sun. It was the whole list of tech companies. This is back in the 1990s. It fast-tracked me to have all those people available to learn from.
Our last learning groups morphed into a consulting group that was a bit informal. Very different from law firms, where everything is very structured. This was, “Do you have the availability? O.K., we’ll work together on this engagement.” I learned a tremendous amount there. We were usually dealing with larger issues throughout an organization.
What I found in doing that was I loved the strategic part, the systems part of that, but it really comes down to implementation. When it comes down to implementing the changes we’re recommending, that goes back to the individual. Often the individual executives and managers were having difficulty implementing the changes they knew they needed to make, including changes in the organization, changes in the team they were leading, or changes in themselves. It’s the individual.
That’s where I really began the transition into coaching. I didn’t think I was very good at it initially. I still feel that way. I had to unlearn a lot of qualities and approaches that made me a good lawyer, but not necessarily a good coach. For example, as a lawyer, you need to be prescriptive and directed. You’re there to provide a solution. A client comes to you with a problem, then, “O.K., well, this is what you should do.” That doesn’t necessarily work well when you’re coaching. It’s better to work more collaboratively with your coach-ee to help them come to their ideas and figure out what they need to do. I had to stop myself. I had to restrain myself from jumping to solutions and saying “Here’s the roadmap. Here are steps one through five. Do them.” That was me at the beginning. I had to sit on my hands and zip my mouth and go, “I have some ideas about this, but I’d like to hear from you first. What do you think would be a good approach?” It’s bringing them more into the picture.
That was one of the biggest and hardest changes for me, but I found I really liked working with executives. There’s something about working with people one-on-one I found very satisfying, far more satisfying than working with people one-on-one in the legal capacity. I went in that direction with executives and lawyers and a few other service professionals from time to time, but I wouldn’t identify myself in those positions. That’s pretty much the journey that I took.
Sharon: Do you find that you have to put on a different hat when you’re working with a lawyer, and then another hat when you’re working with an executive?
Andrew: That’s a great question. It depends on the lawyer and the executive. Sometimes I have to put on a different hat with the same person from one session to the next depending on where they’re at. With lawyers, Sharon, it’s usually a matter of the issues we’re dealing with. On the executive side, it’s pretty much pure management and leadership skills. Lately with the pandemic, resilience and finding a healthy work/life integration are huge, huge issues. For the last two or three years, that has been a theme in almost all of the coaching I’ve done.
On the legal side, it’s different. It’s not pure management and leadership. At the younger levels of an attorney’s career, we’re more often focused on issues of productivity, time management, work-flow management. They are on the receiving end of delegation and feedback, so a lot of it is helping them learn how to receive delegation and feedback and how to help them make the people giving them the feedback and delegation even better.
It’s a sweeping generalization, but I think it’s true that lawyers don’t have a lot of formal training in managerial skills. Some who came to the law after working in another area may have that. Some who took management classes in college or grad school, they may have some familiarity. But basically, when it comes to people management, lawyers don’t know a lot. They are replicating the ways they were managed, which means they may be using managerial and leadership approaches that are two generations old, which are not great with millennials and Gen Z. So, a lot of is helping people learn how to manage.
Now, I said I started with people at the lower level. As you get higher, then it is learning those managerial skills, delegating, giving feedback. How do you hold the people that work with you accountable? How do you collaborate with other people? As you go further up, it becomes more client-facing, so it’s about developing those client relationships. Then we get into business development. I’m not a business development specialist, but I’m very good at helping attorneys that have support for client development within their firm and may even have dedicated client development people.
They know what they should be doing, but they’re not doing it. It’s the classical example of the knowing-doing gap. This is something that’s not unique to lawyers. There’s something we know we should do, but do we get around to doing it? No. That can be the case with a lot of lawyers when it comes to business development. I’m very good at helping them understand what’s holding them back. Typically, it’s nothing external; it’s nothing in the firm or the environment. It’s something in them. We acknowledge what the inner obstacle is and we work past it and through it. I have a good record of getting them into gear and getting them developing clients.
Finally, when we get to partner-level, practice area heads and executive committee members, then it’s a lot about leadership and management. That’s where there’s the most similarity to the business side or the executive side of my practice.
Sharon: Do you work with people at all different levels, depending on where they are when they contact you or the firm brings you in? How does it work?
Andrew: For firms, it’s virtually all levels. Large firms will bring me in. I’ll work with their professional development or talent development people. Most often, they have a high-potential associate and there may be a couple of things that they’re struggling with. As I think most of your listeners will know, it’s expensive to find new people and onboard and train them. You don’t want to lose that human capital. So, coaching can be very helpful and cost-effective in helping those people overcome the problems they may be having.
It may be something like time management. You have an associate who’s starting to trend late on their deliverables. It’s the work they need to get to partners. It’s overly simple to say, “Oh, they need to work harder and faster,” or something like that. It may be an issue—it often is—where they’re not doing a good job of pushing back against the people giving them work. There are lot of people all over the world and there are a lot of associates. They’re hesitant to say no to a partner when a partner hands them a piece of work. What they end up doing is overloading themselves because they are overly optimistic about what they can achieve in a given amount of time. So, helping them learn how to push back is a way of dealing the time management issue.
Sharon: I can see how it would be very hard to say, “I don’t have time,” or “No,” to a partner. That must be very, very hard.
Andrew: There’s a skill and art to it, a lot of finesse. With some partners even more finesse.
Sharon: Is there resistance? It seems like there would be. Maybe I have an old image of it, but it seems like there would be people who say, “I don’t need coaching,” or “I’ve failed if I have coaching.
Andrew: Happily, there’s less and less of that. That sense of failure, I don’t run into that much anymore. Usually with younger associates, they may feel like, “I should know this. This is a flaw in me. I’m not doing a good job of this.” Often, they’re their most severe critics, so I make it very clear to people I coach that I’m not there to fix them. Seldom am I dealing with somebody who really has a risk of being fired from a firm. It’s usually developmental. Usually, they’re worth investing in, and the firm is spending money to help them become more productive and a tighter part of the firm.
The one thing you did mention is that some people think, “I don’t need coaching.” I’ll initially talk to a prospective coach-ee—and this works on the executive side or the legal side. I qualify them, which sounds like turning them into objects, but it’s coach-speak for talking to them to see if they’re coachable. Not all people are. Most are very earnestly interested. They want the help. They’re stuck. They don’t know what to do, but they know they need to do something. Occasionally, you’ll find somebody who points the finger at everybody else. They say, “I’m not the problem. It’s their problem, if you could just help them.” That’s not going to be a good coach-ee.
The other thing you look for is a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think, “This is all the intelligence I have, all the social skills I have. What you see is what you get. I’m not going to change. There’s not a lot of room, if any room, for improvement.” Why spend time, energy, money on dealing with a person or trying to help a person who is saying, “This is where I am and I’m O.K. to be there”? There’s no upside potential. You want people with a growth mindset who are curious, who are saying, “I want to learn how to do this.” It’s a challenge. You want people who can say, “I’ve really messed up doing this. I can tell you about the last three failures I’ve had.” That level of self-awareness and candor makes for a great coach-ee.
Sharon: I’m thinking there are some similarities. Sometimes a partner will say, “I know how to do it. I did it this way. They can learn how to do it this way.” Can that change? They may be resistant, or maybe they’re not coachable. What do you think about that?
Andrew: There’s often a degree of resistance in making changes. There’s a reason why we are the way are at a given moment. Often, it’s because something has worked well for us in the past, and that’s fine. It makes sense to me. It got you to where you are. Why change it? You don’t want to take that risk. But that mindset ignores the fact that our world is changing really quickly.
Let’s use the example of working virtually. There were people that said, “No, I only want to have face-to-face meetings.” This goes for coaches and their coaching sessions as well as clients and people in their firm. But the world changed, and all of a sudden, we got a lot better working virtually.
Sometimes you do run into people who are resistant. If you’re coaching them, you can start to work with them on resistance. You can say, “I can see why this would work for you. I can see the track record. I’m curious. What do you imagine might happen if you tried doing this differently?” I will lay out a scenario of what different would look like. When you start to engage them in that conversation, that’s where you listen and hear what their fears are, what their expectations are, why their fears may be justified. Often, they’re not. They’re thinking something horrible will happen, and you can say, “There is that risk, but here’s the opportunity. What do you think?” So, you can subtly, gently shift them.
Sharon: It sounds like you have opened up people who were closed when you walked in.
Andrew: Yes, all the time.
Sharon: I know you went to the Institute of Management Coaching.
Andrew: No, my training didn’t include IMC. In terms of management training, I did get my MBA from Marshall School of Business at USC. The learning group supplemented a lot of that. A lot of it was self-study, but I also took workshops and got certified in Essential Facilitation. That was something I found extraordinarily helpful and is a big part of the work I do. There was also action science, which is, again, organizational development oriented. It helped me to understand the dynamics of organizations.
The other thing in terms of training was my coaching training. One thing about coaching that is very different from lawyering is how you become a lawyer. Typically, you’re doing your undergraduate work; you’re going to law school; you have to take the bar exam. There are a lot of steps, a lot of certifications, that help with quality control. On the complete other side of the picture, we have coaching. You want to be a coach? Go to your stationery store or big office supply place, get cards printed up that say “coach,” and you’re a coach. There’s very little in the way of, at least, governmental oversight. The last I checked, which was a few years ago, I think the only state that said anything about coaching in their laws was Colorado. It said that coaching is not considered a mental health profession, so it was excluding coaching. Nothing about what you have to do to be a coach.
So, it’s incumbent upon coaches to get training. There are a few organizations that sanction training and offer certification. I’m an International Coach Federation Professional Certified Coach. Boy, is that a mouthful! ICF is probably the leading and most well-known organization for certifying coaches. It’s not the only one anymore, but it is an effort to raise the standards of the profession and to make sure that people who are using coaches get somebody who knows what they’re doing.
Sharon: Did you have to take some training and go through at least one class? Or could you just send in your money?
Andrew: That’s a great question. There are some organizations where basically you’re paying to be on an online list of certified coaches in the area. That exists. I shake my head in dismay about that. As far as I see it, you have to go through an approved training program. Mine was Newfield Network. It was a nine-month program. I think we met three times for three or four days in person. There was a lot of virtual work, albeit this was so long ago that it was by telephone in between. It was rigorous.
There are several good coaching programs. ICF approves them. They have lists of them. What we’re seeing more of, both on the executive side and in law firms, is that they want people that are certified coaches. Certification of a coach doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right coach for you or they’re a great coach, but it does mean they’ve taken it seriously enough that they put time and effort into it. They know what they should be doing. Hopefully, they’re also doing it.
Sharon: You’ve been a lawyer and an executive, but being a lawyer, I can see how that gives you so much of an advantage. I’m thinking about how many times we’ve had to write a press release and weren’t exactly sure—we did know, but we’re not lawyers. It gives you an advantage.
Andrew: Yeah, it does help. Especially in the past, it helped a great deal. If you look at studies of lawyer personalities versus the general population, lawyers typically are slower to trust other people. It makes sense. It’s not a bad quality to have considering how we need to protect our clients’ interests. But I found that lawyers and administrators in law firms are very happy that I have a legal background.
There was this one moment relatively early in my career where I was sitting across a managing partner’s desk. He was starting to explain to me realization rates, and I held up my hand and said, “It’s O.K.” He stopped and went, “Oh, that’s right. You’ve practiced.” His shoulders sank down a couple of inches, and he sat back in his chair and said, “That’s so nice that I don’t have to go through all that explanation.” Understanding the context of what goes on in a law firm helps a tremendous amount. So, that is good. With that said, not everybody has to have a legal background. But I think some of the most effective coaches I know do have that background.
Sharon: I can see how that would make you very effective, especially being on the other side of the desk in any capacity. If you were a lawyer at one point, you know about doing the work and getting the work. There’s a difference there.
I love the name of your firm, New Actions. That’s what all of this is about, right?
Andrew: You nailed it, Sharon. Especially when I started the firm, there was, like I said, a limited understanding of what coaching was about. Coaching can be these wonderful dialogues and interesting conversations you have with a coach-ee. What you want to do is get results—at least, that’s my philosophy—and the results are helping people make changes. Where they are doing is not satisfactory for some reason. They may be unclear about a direction. They may need new skills. They may have difficultly working with people in the system of their organization or getting past that knowing-doing gap we talked about. It could be all those things, but people have to start taking new actions to get new results, better results. That’s where the name came from.
Sharon: Do you think results last? Maybe they try the new actions once or twice and say, “Oh, that’s different,” but then they forget. Maybe I’m personalizing it. I’m thinking you forget.
Andrew: Yeah, as I said earlier, there’s a reason why people do the things the way they do. It’s easy for people to revert back. That’s one of the problems we find with training in a business or a professional firm environment. I’m sure you experienced that in doing trainings with lawyers and seeing they’ve learned all this new stuff. They’ll do it for a couple of months, but without reinforcement, people do start to revert back to old behaviors. The six-month mark is my ballpark estimate. I liken it to having taken a foreign language in high school. You don’t take it in college. You don’t go to that foreign country. You don’t use the language. You lose it. It certainly happened with me. That is a problem.
The difference with coaching is there is a reinforcement. Sometimes we do spot coaching or laser coaching. It may be three sessions. When it’s really short, we’re probably dealing with a specific issue or problem, but most executive coaching goes for six months. That’s our target area. Often, it may extend a little bit longer than that. In the first part of the coaching, you’re understanding the person, why they’re doing what they’re doing. Then you move into what they could be doing differently. In the middle third—and this is very rough as to the time—they’re practicing the new skills, the new behaviors. They’re understanding what works for them and what doesn’t. The last third is really more practice. It’s integrating those skills so they become second nature, almost automatic. That’s where what you learn in coaching can become sticky, if I can use that term. After you finish coaching, it’s going to stick with you.
I was just thinking of this while on LinkedIn. A former coach-ee of mine posted that he got a promotion, and I sent him a congratulations. I got back a comment saying, “Thank you so much for your coaching. I’m still quoting you.” I coached him about four years ago. That was the kind of gratification I was talking about earlier, the difference between being a lawyer and being a coach. I don’t remember what I said or what he’s quoting, but it stuck with him. He’s using it, and he’s in a global world now. That made me very happy. I had a big smile for the rest of that day.
Sharon: As a lawyer, when should I consider getting a coach? What would I be dealing with? What should I look for?
Andrew: O.K., two different questions. Often, the lawyers I’m working with, their firms have contacted me or they’ve been instrumental. With that said, one positive trend I’ve seen is that younger lawyers are saying, “I would like a coach. I need a coach.” Lately a lot of them are saying, “I’m overwhelmed. I’m stressed. I have too much work for my ability to handle it. I need to get better organized.” They’re initiating that.
The first step for a lawyer at any stage of their career is that you’re dissatisfied with the way things are. You may have a good idea of where that’s coming from. You may sense, “I want to stop doing whatever I’m doing now,” but knowing what you want to stop doing is different from knowing what you need to be doing differently. The analogy or metaphor I use is think back to being on the playground. We had monkey bars, I think they were called. Those were the horizontal bars that went across. You grab one and then you swing to the next one. What you learned early on as a kid was that if you don’t have some forward momentum, you get stuck. Then you would end up letting go and dropping to the ground. In making changes, you have to be able to release the hand that’s on the back bar. Sometimes in coaching, it’s unlearning what you were doing. If an attorney finds themselves in that position, that’s where coaching might help. It’s not a panacea. It’s not perfect for everybody.
I’m a good coach, but I’m not the right coach for absolutely everybody. Rapport is very important. Fit is a very important thing. Typically, when I work with somebody, I qualify them and they’re qualifying me. Do they want to work with me? It’s important that you feel a degree of comfort with your coach. As I’ve gone on, I think you can be too comfortable with a coach. You want a coach who can challenge you and be honest with you and be able to say, “No, I’m not saying this,” or “No, I don’t think is working for you,” or “Hey, it sounds like there’s an internal contradiction in what you’re saying to me.” A lot of coaching is helping people get past their blind spots. We all have blind spots. That’s not a failure. I think it’s wired into us. Having another person there, especially an experienced person who can help us see what those blind spots are once you recognize you have them, that opens up a lot of possibilities for taking new actions.
Sharon: You mentioned in some writings that you’ve helped people with difficult conversations. There are a lot of difficult conversations. Can you give us some examples in law?
Andrew: There are two conversations that come to mind. One I alluded to earlier, which is pushing back on partners. Just recently I co-presented at a professional development consortium summer conference. It was a program on helping passive and timid associates learn to push back and manage up. For all the talk about law firms being flat organizations—and it’s true; they do have fewer layers than a lot of business organizations—they’re still pretty hierarchical. Younger attorneys can be overly deferential and very uncomfortable in saying no or pushing back. It can be a lot of different things. I don’t have the bandwidth to handle work, like I mentioned earlier. How do you say that?
This can especially be a problem if you have one associate who’s getting work from multiple partners. Then it’s like, “Well, I’d like to do your work, but I’m slammed.” That can be a difficult conversation for an associate. In helping them, one learns that they need to do that and it’s O.K. for them to do that. Actually, if they’re just a passive person who’s not providing that information to the people who are giving them work, they’re harming the firm, harming clients potentially, and definitely harming themselves. That is something that’s come up a lot lately, at least enough that the presentation we did this summer was very well received and attended. It’s something that professional development managers and directors in big law are hearing from their associates. That’s one area.
The second difficult conversation is around feedback. This is difficult in a way because it’s not done enough. Often, in the rush of doing tasks and taking care of client matters, lawyers don’t hit the pause button and spend time with the people who report to them and give them feedback on how they did. I remember this when I was a lawyer. You would finish a transaction. Rarely did we have the time to do a debrief. What worked well? What didn’t? “This was great what you did. It really moved us forward. This is what you could have done differently that would have helped. Next time, maybe you can do it.” Feedback conversations are often missing.
The other thing in feedback conversations is that they can be very top-down and done with a lack of curiosity about what was going on with the associate. Those conversations can take a more collaborative tone, become more of a dialogue, be less about the problem. “Here’s the problem that came up on this case. We were slow in responding to every filing the opposition brought to us. Let’s get curious about why that happened. What can we, not just associates, but all of us as a team do differently?” Those sorts of conversations.
The hardest ones, Sharon, are obviously the conversations between partners in terms of strategy, direction, and compensation. Those are given to be difficult, and I do get pulled in to help. I’m a facilitator in those. I don’t have a dog in the fight. I’m just trying to help people understand one another’s perspective. What facts they’re looking at, what their rationale is based on, trying to change it from a legal argument with pros, cons and who’s going to win to more, “Let’s look at the whole business of the law firm. Let’s see what’s good short-term and long-term for all of us, not just part of us.”
Sharon: Each of these are very interesting scenarios. I give you credit for even being able to endure them, especially the first one. Covid probably changed this, but I do remember a partner saying, “What do they think evenings and weekends are for?” I always think of how partners would say, “This guy didn’t make it in terms of client development. It was clear they weren’t going to become a partner. I coached them out.” I always think about, “What did you say? How did you do that?
Andrew: I’m not sure what coaching somebody out necessarily means. Let’s stop here and think about lawyers as coaches. This is one of the things in my first book that I went into in some detail in one of the chapters. The skills for being a good lawyer, when you line them up against being a good coach, there’s not a lot of overlap. Lawyers, to be good managers and leaders, they need to take off their lawyer hat at times. If they’re coaching, which is a very potent, effective way of managing your people, you have to not approach it as lawyers.
For an example, as lawyers, we often ask closed-ended questions. We’re getting to the facts. In coaching, open-ended questions are much better. You want to see where the conversation is going to go. You want to learn more about what’s going on with the other person. In coaching, you also have to be listening very attentively, not thinking about, “What am I going to say in response to this?” Again, I’m going back to one of the shifts I had to make when I made the transition. As a lawyer, I’m thinking, “This is what I’m hearing from opposition. Now, how am I going to counter that argument? What am I going to say next? How do I want to navigate this conversation?” It’s more oppositional in that way. You really do have to take off the lawyer hat at times to be effective.
Sharon: Your first book, “Lawyers as Managers,” talks about that. Am I remembering that correctly?
Andrew: That’s the second book with Marcia Wasserman. The first one was “The Lawyer’s Guide to Professional Coaching: Leadership, Mentoring, and Effectiveness.” That was, I think, back in 2012. It’s available now. I think you can find used copies on Amazon. The ABA still has it as an e-book. Coaching in the last 10 years has certainly changed within law firms. At the time it was written, it was to help lawyers and firm administrators understand the potential of coaching. I’m happy to say I think that potential is increasingly realized. I wouldn’t say my book is responsible for that solely. Absolutely not, but it was one piece that helped.
In “Lawyers as Managers,” Marcia and I look at the role that lawyers need to take as people managers. Lawyers are generally good managers when it comes to technical aspects. You give a lawyer a spreadsheet, they’re probably pretty good at dealing with it. Things like budgets. When you come to the more interpersonal stuff, like client development, lawyers aren’t as good. When it comes to people management, there really was a lack of understanding.
Marcia originated the idea. We were at a meeting, and she said, “I’m looking for some materials on leadership and management for lawyers. Do you have any?” I said, “I have a few articles I’ve written for bar associations, but most of the stuff out there is general management and leadership. It’s tailored for the executive committee, the business community.” A couple of months later, we had the same conversation. I said, “Marcia, we’re going to have to write the book,” and she agreed. Little did she know what she was getting herself into. That, I will say, is the definitive book on people management for lawyers.
Sharon: To end, can you tell us about one of the difficult conversations you’ve had? I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped myself and just said, “I can’t do it,” or “I’ll go around it.”
Andrew: I’ll speak in general terms. Again, I’m going back to when I was first making the transition to coaching. I found a great deal of difficulty in having uncomfortable conversations where I had to deliver bad news. I had to tell somebody what they were doing was not working at all. It wasn’t even neutral. It was really harming them and other people. In short, they were really messing up.
I was very gentle. I was bypassing. I was softening, diluting, sugar-coating messages that needed to be heard. I realized that I was playing nice. I didn’t want to upset the other person. I didn’t want to feel my own upset in doing this, so I wasn’t providing value and the proof that they were making the changes they needed to make. This was maybe in my first two or three years of coaching, and I started to realize this isn’t good. I was stuck and working with my coach at that time. I realized I had to let go of my personal discomfort if I was going to be more helpful to my clients, and I started to make the change.
Now, I am honest. Sometimes people will say, “Can you predict or guarantee any results?” and I go, “No, absolutely not. Coaching at heart is a partnership. We’re working together. I can’t fix you. I can’t wave a magic wand. It’s on both of us. I’m here to help you, but just like I can’t wear your clothes, I can’t do everything for you. We’re going to work together.”
I do make three promises. One, I listen. I listen very attentively to what my coach-ees say and what they’re not saying. The second thing is I am honest. I am very honest. I will not hold back in terms of what I’m hearing or the impact it’s having on me. If a coach-ee is saying something and I’m not believing them, I’ll say that. I need to. If I think something is B.S., it’s the same thing. If I think they’re fooling themselves, same thing. There are times where I have to deliver tough feedback.
The third promise is I’m compassionate. I don’t beat people up in the process. I won’t sugar-coat, dilute, or bypass. I deliver the message, but I understand they have feelings. In giving them this feedback, it may affect their emotions and their own identity as a person and a professional. I’m aware of it and sensitive to that, but I still get the message across. I figure that in the first two or three years of my coaching, I was sugar-coating. For the last 22 years, I think I have a good record of being straight with people and getting results.
Sharon: Andrew, I’m sure you do get results. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Andrew: It’s been a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Thank you, Sharon.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Reza Torkzadeh:
Reza Torkzadeh is a nationally recognized plaintiff’s trial attorney who has dedicated his professional career to the pursuit of justice by exclusively representing victims in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Reza has handled numerous high-profile cases in both state and federal courts, and has served in leadership roles in litigation at the national level. He has been featured for legal commentary by the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Daily Journal, San Francisco Daily Journal, New York Daily News, Metro News, Christian Science Monitor, KUSI TV, and many other news outlets and publications.
Through Reza’s leadership, vision and passion for representing the people, TorkLaw has established offices nationwide, in cities throughout California, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, Texas, Washington State, and Washington, D.C.
Reza has successfully represented thousands of clients and after more than a decade of practicing law, “Representing the People” continues to be the core foundation and guiding principle of his practice and the firm.
Reza is a frequently invited guest speaker and has lectured across the country on the practice of law and the civil justice system. He is a proud Honorary Board Member of the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Charity, an active member of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, and President’s Club Member of the Consumer Attorneys of California.
Whether it’s stigma or tradition, law firm owners typically don’t call themselves CEOs. But according to Reza Torkzadeh, founder and—you guessed it—CEO of TorkLaw, the most successful law firm owners are the ones that run their firms like any other Fortune 500 company. Reza joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about the importance of creating a strong team and culture; why law firms are really in the business of customer service; and why any firm that wants to succeed the long term needs to scale. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Reza Torkzadeh. Reza has a successful personal injury firm located in Orange County, California. He recently wrote a book, “The Lawyer as CEO,” which we will hear all about today. Reza, welcome to the program.
Reza: Hi, Sharon. Thanks so much. I appreciate the opportunity and for having me on.
Sharon: It’s great to have you. Can you tell us about your career path? How did you end up where you are right now?
Reza: Oh boy! Well, throughout high school and growing up, I never thought of becoming a lawyer. It was never a career path I envisioned. I originally wanted to go to medical school and be a doctor. That was my study during undergraduate. I worked a summer as an EMT driving around in an ambulance downtown. I was doing all the things you would do if you are going to medical school and you are interested in that career.
In my last year in college, I realized very quickly that the lifestyle of a doctor is one where you need to absolutely love what you’re doing. My grandfather is a doctor. My uncle is a doctor. We’ve got doctors in the family, and I didn’t feel like it was something I loved and was passionate enough about to put in those long hours and to be on call and to make those sacrifices. But I knew I loved people, and I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s what was driving my initial desire to go to medical school. I wanted to meet patients; I wanted to help patients and treat them. So, that was still there.
The next natural option for me was going to law school. I didn’t go to law school with the intention of practicing. I went to law school with the intention of using my law degree in some setting, in some business. During law school I tried a few different areas of the law. I worked at the district attorney’s office. I did transactional work. I did international business as a lawyer. After every position I knew what I didn’t want to do.
It was right around my third year that I discovered plaintiff’s work, representing individuals on a contingency-fee basis, where if you don’t win, you don’t get paid. That was very attractive to me. How great to be able to provide legal representation to those who couldn’t afford a lawyer and to make a meaningful change in their lives? To cut it short for this interview and podcast, that’s how I ended up doing plaintiff’s work, and I never looked back.
Sharon: That’s interesting. Most lawyers have wanted to be lawyers since kindergarten, so that’s interesting. Tell us about your practice today.
Reza: We’re exclusively representing plaintiffs. We never represent the defense or insurance carriers, and it’s 100% personal injury. We handle a wide spectrum of PI cases. The majority of our cases now, 10 years into it, are catastrophic injury or wrongful death cases, and we handle them nationwide. We’ve got an office presence and staff in about nine states right now.
Sharon: Wow! Had you been thinking about writing your book, “The Lawyer as CEO,” for a long time? Did it come to you because of your entrepreneurial background? What was it?
Reza: A great question. I wrote it almost as a way for me to reflect on the last 10 years of the law firm. I had a lot of growing pains, a lot of learning the hard way and experiences where I almost walked away from the practice altogether. I thought to myself, “What would I have wanted if I was first starting out my practice?” I would want a book. I would want to know examples. Every industry has so much support for how to do things, and yet the legal industry doesn’t. They don’t teach you how to be a business owner in law school. They don’t teach you how important the business side is. We are a profession. We’re lawyers, so we have to act accordingly; however, every law firm is still a business. You’re not going to do anybody any good if you’re not running it like a business should be run.
When I looked back on the last 10 years of starting and running TorkLaw, I thought about what I would have wanted on day one. It was really an exercise in vulnerability for me to write the book. I shared many things in there that I think are new to the legal world. We’re so used to hearing how wonderful all the lawyers are and their great results, and we’re not used to seeing the reality of what it takes to start a law firm. So, for me, it was an exercise in putting my thoughts and my journey down on paper.
It was also a way where I felt I could make a meaningful difference in the lives of all lawyers, not just new and young lawyers. Not a day goes by, Sharon, that I don’t get a random email or message from a lawyer that says, “Wow! You really inspired me to take action.” That was the goal from the beginning: to put this out there and share my experiences, my ups and downs, my failures and my successes, and then ultimately my realization that in order to be an effective business owner, in order to be an effective CEO, you need to take a look at yourself. You need to look in the mirror and come to the conclusion that the buck stops with you as a business owner.
Sharon: I guess that’s why the title of the book stopped me. As someone who spent their professional career marketing lawyers, it’s such a different thing than being an entrepreneur. How did the book change how you viewed marketing or client development?
Reza: Great question. A question I asked myself before I wrote the book was if I were a CEO of a Fortune 500, publicly traded company, how long would I have lasted in that role? My response was, “Not very long.” I would have been kicked out very quickly. I think as business owners, that’s a great way to measure your performance and your accountabilities. When you’re at the top and you’re leading an organization of 50, 60 or 100 employees, whatever it might be—it might be five employees—it’s hard for those folks to be as transparent as you need them to be to hold you accountable. So, I often ask myself the question, “If I were a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, what would my board of directors say to me?”
You’re absolutely right; I’ve been practicing for 15 years, and I’ve never heard a lawyer-business owner call themselves a CEO. Whether it’s stigma or tradition or whatever it might be, I think ultimately you have to decide whether you want to be the CEO of your company or not. Every organization, if it’s meant to thrive, if it’s meant to scale and grow and do meaningful work and make a change in the community, needs an effective CEO.
Sharon: Maybe a lawyer wants to be successful but doesn’t want to be a CEO. They want to focus on developing clients and marketing, and they say, “I’ll leave the CEO to other people,” like you. What do you think about that?
Reza: Absolutely. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s every person’s own path. They get to choose for themselves. I chose this one because I am more drawn to the business side. I’m more drawn to marketing. I’m more drawn to scaling and the big picture. I’ve been fortunate enough to find people on my team who are much better lawyers than I am, much better at doing the tasks than I am. So, it works. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer for a lawyer who says, “Look, I just love lawyering, and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Sharon: Very early in my own career working with lawyers—I can’t even remember who it was—I heard a managing partner or a lawyer say they thought scaling a law firm wasn’t feasible. What are your thoughts about that?
Reza: I disagree. At our firm, we say we’re a customer service business that happens to practice law. We’re in competition for the consumer. The consumer is used to a certain level of customer service and experience that you get at Apple or Amazon or Walmart or Starbucks or FedEx and these national brands we all recognize. I think where lawyers and law firms have fallen behind is this element of customer service and customer experience.
I think you can absolutely scale. It’s no different than providing a product. You’re providing a service, and if you’re providing a good enough experience for your clients, there’s no reason why you can’t replicate that in other markets, in other practice areas. You have to have the right people. You have to have the right tools, the right infrastructure, of course, but if you’ve discovered a formula that’s successful in your own law firm, the only thing that’s stopping you from scaling is yourself. I think any CEO or business owner will tell you that if you’re not growing, you’re going in the wrong direction.
When I started practicing law 15 years ago, it was competitive. The personal injury industry has always been competitive, but not as fierce as it is today. There wasn’t the amount of dollars being spent on marketing as there is today. Now, you’ve got hedge funds and banks and venture capital firms that are dumping money into law firm marketing. In order to survive the next 10, 15, 20, 25 years, and in order to be competitive with these behemoths that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on marketing, in a way you have to scale. You have to grow to stay competitive.
Sharon: Did the book change how you look at clients, how you market or how you develop your people?
Reza: Absolutely. The exercise of the book was itself a reflection. Our lives are so crazy. Oftentimes I describe it as being inside of a tornado. Writing the book allowed me to quiet everything down and put on paper what’s in my mind. It made me focus on the things we were doing. If I’m talking about customer service in the book, it made me focus on, “O.K., what are we doing step by step, A through Z, for customer service?”
It’s the same thing for marketing. One of the biggest realizations for me—and I included this in the book—was ego-play marketing, which is seeing your face on a billboard or on TV or hearing it on the radio. Just because you see it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective and that there’s a positive ROI on it. It made me self-reflect, to go back and dig deeper. Look, I don’t have all the answers and I continue to make mistakes, but an important takeaway is that you can always improve. You can always do better; you can always change. We’re not the same law firm we were five years ago, and I can promise you something: we’re not going to be the same law firm five years from now, either. We’re always retooling; we’re always changing. We don’t have all the answers, but I think there’s always a better way to do things.
Sharon: Do you think there will be a sequel, a third edition?
Reza: I don’t know. Not now. This one took me about 18 months to do. It was a massive labor of love. I wanted to create a book that was super easy to read. You could read it in one day. So, I spent a majority of that 18 months cutting back what was in the book and making it as short as possible. I wanted as many people as possible to pick it up and finish it and read it more than once. As of right now, no sequel. This is it. The response has been incredible, and this is not a money maker for me. 100% of the proceeds are donated to charity.
Sharon: Writing the book probably brought to the fore a lot of things that lawyers don’t do or mistakes they make. What are the top two things that lawyers should do differently or the mistakes they’re making? What do you think?
Reza: For law firm owners, I will tell you the two biggest mistakes I see—which I made also—is, number one, not focusing on culture, vision and values. That’s the first one. Had we not had those things in place, in writing, engrained in everything we do, we would not have been able to scale effectively. Number two is not having a process or procedure for recruitment and retention of teammates. Both mistakes we made and paid for dearly.
I think the most common way we hire is that you put up a job post, you get back hundreds of résumés and you can’t tell the difference between one or the other, and then you just pick one that might have some experience or might have worked for a competitor. You bring them in for an interview. You interview them, everyone interviews great, and then you hire them. Six months in, you realize this is the wrong person. This person sucks. I think doing that type of blind hiring is a mistake. I think desperation hiring is a mistake, and not having the culture be part of it and not having the right people is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
Sharon: Do you think if somebody had said that to you when you were just opening your doors, you would have been able to say, “Oh yeah, I didn’t do it that way the first time,” or “I don’t know what my culture is”?
Reza: Yeah, I’ll tell you. This was my experience. It was my own ego for the longest time. I thought we had the best culture. I thought this was the best place to work. That was in my head; it wasn’t reality. I was dealing with office drama and turmoil. It was a toxic environment, and I kept telling myself, “This is the greatest place to work.” It really wasn’t. If someone early on, in year one, told me to focus on culture and a method to distinguish the players you’re bringing onto your team, I don’t know if I would have taken that advice. I learned it the hard way.
Sharon: I’m not thinking about it as advice. I’m thinking back on when I didn’t have business experience, and professors were asking me, “What about this, that and the other thing,” in a business environment. How would people know what their culture is? You could ask. You could say, “My culture is to have the best place to work.” Who knocked you on the side of the head to say it isn’t the best place? I’m asking two questions.
Reza: It was a one-day event that occurred, but it was an accumulation of the stress I was feeling working in the office. I was doing anything and everything not to go into the office. That’s how bad it got. This is a company that was my first baby, that I put my blood, sweat and tears and everything into. Now I was at a point, five years in, where I didn’t even like going into the office. I think that was a reality check.
Then losing half of my staff in one day was a reality check. It was an indication of my failures as a leader than it was anything else. All the things I was complaining about, all the things I was struggling with, really started from me. I was not being accountable. I was not the leader I should have been, and for the longest time I assumed I was. When you get to the point when you can take accountability for those things we’re all complaining about and see how it was my responsibility to correct them and make different decisions, I looked back and said, “Wow! I was a pretty crappy leader.” I was not making the decisions I should have been making to set an example for the rest of my team. I should have been making those decisions so the people on my team could be proud of who they’re working with and for. It took a good five or six years of pain to figure that out.
Sharon: My last question is—I have a lot of questions. I’m thinking about all the newbie lawyers, because I hear about them and see them all the time, who say, “I can’t work for anybody else. I’m going to hang my own shingle.” If they had read your book, would it have helped them develop the business into a client-focused business? How would it have helped them?
Reza: I hope so, Sharon. I think there are some fundamental things in there that every business organization can benefit from, but it’s like everything else: what you put in is what you get out. I meet with young lawyers all over the country all the time. I’m telling them what to do, and the majority of them won’t do it and don’t do it. They continue going along just how they were. I think for those folks, the book could be the spark. I don’t think the book is a blueprint on exactly how to start your practice and scale and be efficient, but I do think it’s a way to get some inspiration and a spark that will lead you down your own path.
Our core values are going to be different than everybody else’s. My vision is going to be different than everybody else’s, and the things that are important to me may not be important to everybody else. You’ve got to figure out your own path, but I think there are foundational things, like having your core values, having your vision very clear, making sure everybody understands what they are. You need to know every single person you bring onto your team, or at least make a best effort to go beyond just posting a job, pulling a résumé and hiring somebody. I say don’t make desperate hires and wait for the right person. It may take a while, but you’re better off waiting for the right person than bringing the wrong person into your organization.
Sharon: It’s hard to let go of the wrong person, yes. Reza, thank you so much for being with us today.
Reza: Thank you, Sharon. I appreciate it.
Sharon: I greatly appreciate it.
Larry Cohen is the president and co-founder of advertising agency Glyphix. His vision of a small agency of talented, skilled professionals doing great work for great clients is what drives the group. He’s a writer. Copy. Scripts. Children’s books. In addition to his work with clients, he understands the financial side of their investment in Glyphix…and keeps Glyphix financially strong and stable.
Brad Wilder is creative director and co-founder of Glyphix. Art direction and design are his thing. The national and international awards he’s won prove the point. Awards for almost everything… corporate identity, advertising, packaging, in-store merchandising, display and trade show booth design, interfaces, for clients like Nestlé, Mercedes-Benz, Baskin-Robbins, Xircom and Disney. He’s also a tech geek.
In the legal industry, advertising has done a 180. What was once considered tacky is now a requirement. And according to Larry Cohen and Brad Wilder, co-founders of advertising agency Glyphix, if you’re going to advertise, you better make it count. They joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about how to make the creative process run smoothly; why a strong website is a critical part of attracting top talent; and why even the best brands need a refresh from time to time. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guests are Larry Cohen and Brad Wilder, who are some of the professional forces behind Glyphix. Glyphix is an advertising agency which works across all genres but has particular expertise in the professional services space. They’re specialists in all kinds of advertising, websites, print, etc. I say specialists because they’re specialists in having their work stand out from the crowd. We will learn more about Glyphix today. Larry and Brad, welcome to the program.
Larry: Thank you very much for having us
Brad: We’re glad to be here.
Sharon: We’re so glad to have you. Each of you, give us your career paths just briefly.
Larry: Interesting question, because our career paths are almost exactly the same in the sense that—
Sharon: Larry, that’s you speaking?
Larry: Yeah, this is Larry. Brad and I met in high school at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. I was a writer for the school paper. Brad was the photographer and designer, and that’s where we met. After college, we got together and began working for an advertising agency called Mendelson Design. Back in 1986, when the Mac came out and gave us the tools to do a lot of great creative work for a very affordable price, we decided, “Hey, let’s start our own new agency.” We’ve been together since 1986. So, it’s been a very similar career path.
Sharon: So, you’ve known each other a long time.
Brad: Longer than we’ve known our wives, yeah.
Sharon: Can you tell us what Glyphix does in general?
Larry: In general, we do professional services-focused, full-service advertising, some marketing, no PR. We try and delineate those two things, but it’s soup-to-nuts advertising from brand building to SEO and social.
Brad: The bottom line for us is really helping our clients position themselves in the marketplace against the competition and keeping them ever-present in the minds of their potential customers and clients. That can start with the strategy, and then from there move right through to naming their websites, logos, branding, TV advertising, print. All those are different tools we have at our disposal to keep our clients front and center in front of their clients.
Sharon: How do you describe each of your roles at Glyphix? Are they the same?
Larry: No, our roles are very, very different. I came out of university with a business degree. So, for me, it’s the business, dealing with clients, doing some copywriting. Brad is our creative director, so he runs the creative. Whether we’re designing websites, shooting TV commercials, doing print ads, Brad’s the guy that runs the creative here. I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve survived together, as we have a good delineation between who does what with respect to each other’s talents.
Sharon: That is a good delineation. You’re not crossing over on each other. Brad, the first time I ever saw the agency was when you did something—I can’t remember which company it was for—it was advertising an x-ray. It was for a healthcare law firm.
Brad: It was for Fenton Nelson which is now Nelson Hardiman, health-care attorneys. What was the question? That was a great piece. It was so radically different at the time. No one had ever done it before.
Sharon: It was radically different. It was for healthcare marketing attorneys, as you say, and it really stood out.
Brad: To give some background on that, Fenton Nelson is a healthcare law firm specializing in all things healthcare. They wanted direct mail, not digital, but they wanted it to completely stand out. We actually shot x-ray film with a design that became a direct mail line. It was a full x-ray in an x-ray envelope. It was sent to all the healthcare agencies on their call list. It was 10, 15 years ago, and people are still talking about it.
Sharon: So, it was a real x-ray?
Larry: We actually had to source x-ray film.
Sharon: How did you come up with that?
Larry: That’s a great question. We came up with it because Brad and I always try to look for what makes a client unique, what makes them special. In this case, we interviewed Harry Nelson and his staff and they said, “We could go to any healthcare facility. We can walk through the facility and see what their issues are and where they’re going to get in trouble. We see things that other people don’t.” That gave us the idea that an x-ray allows you to see things other people don’t. That gave us a positioning line for the firm, and it was, “We see things other firms don’t.” It was a positioning that said, “We’re unique because our experience and expertise allow us to help our clients.” In that case, it was to help healthcare clients, hospitals, and facilities stay out of trouble.
It really came out of the client organically, and that’s what Brad and I tried to do. I think we’re good at helping clients find a position for themselves, find the thing that makes them unique. Are you the most expensive? Are you the most experienced? What is it that you’re the best at, and how do we translate that into a creative message? Then, how do we get that in front of our potential clients?
Sharon: Do you tell the client that even if they don’t ask for it? Do you tell them what you’re working from?
Larry: Yes, absolutely, because we want to educate the client. I think clients find it exciting. People love hearing stories, and every firm, every client has a story to tell. The trick is to find that story. I have to uncover that and deliver that story. It’s compelling. You think about great brands. Most of them have a story behind it: why the company was started, what problem you are solving for your customers. That’s what customers and clients care about. Nobody cares about what you do. They care about what you can do for them, how you make them successful. Our job is to translate what you do into why somebody should care.
Sharon: Is that how you got the name Glyphix? Is there something with Glyphix that tells clients that?
Larry: It was painful naming. We’re a creative firm, so we have to have a creative name; we have to do things differently. We went through hundreds of names. We kept focusing on the name “glyph” as in a hieroglyph. It’s using a picture or several pictures in a row to tell a story. At the time, everything that ended in X was much cooler, and we just stuck with Glyphix. Even our logo is a little “GX” man—it’s on Glyphix.com; check it out—that tells a story through pictures and simple storytelling.
Sharon: I was thinking this while I was looking at the website. You have these very simple line drawings that tell what you do. Was it you who came up with that, Brad?
Larry: Are you talking about the video?
Sharon: Yeah, the video.
Larry: We typically come up with work as a team. At Glyphix, we have a great bunch of people who work together as a team. At the time, we had a gentleman, David Allman, working with us. I think David and Brad came up with that idea. Then we had it animated, and we had a wonderful gentleman who did the voiceover. We wanted a very simple way to explain what we do to people.
Sharon: As I was looking at it, I thought it was great, but it’s like, “How do they come up with it?” I don’t know if I could have.
Larry: We’re very glad that other people can’t do it; otherwise, we’d be out of work.
Sharon: If somebody says to you, “What does the firm specialize in?” do you have an area you specialize in?
Larry: I’m not sure about the word specialize. We do a lot of work with professional services firms. We understand how they function and how they work. We work with dozens and dozens of law firms and accounting firms, helping them craft their position, understand the brand and keep it in front of clients.
Ballard Rosenberg is a firm out here in the Valley. We keep them in front of their clients by keeping them in the business journals every month. For other firms, we’ll get them on television. For others, we’ll put them on KCRW radio. For us, it’s helping our clients manage their brand. For others, it’s evolved into websites and doing some social media for them. I think nowadays people are so busy, it’s difficult to keep up with everybody. The key is keeping our clients front and center in the minds of their clients so when a need comes up, they remember them.
Brad: And I should say we don’t do only professional services. We just happen to be very good at it. Professional services, especially with law firms, they bring their own special challenges, and we’ve learned to work around those things. You often hear that working with law firms is like herding cats. We’ve gotten pretty good at herding cats, but we handle many other firms. Our newest onboard is an AI and machine learning company. It couldn’t be any more different than law firms, and the approach is very different from law firms, but again, we’re looking for that story, that one thing they do best.
Sharon: How would you say that working with professional services firms is different than working with a products firm, let’s say?
Brad: It’s super different, because with professional services firms—I don’t mean this in a negative way, but there’s a lot of ego involved because it’s personal. You’re talking about selling the people. With a product, you can get some distance in between them. I can go to a CEO or marketing group in a firm and say, “Hey, your product is this and that. Here’s the audience. Here’s how they’re going to respond.” There’s some objectivity you can bring to that.
With professional services firms, it’s very, very personal, especially when you get in a room with three, four, five partners of a law firm. They all have opinions. They’re all valid, but they’re all personal. Imagine taking five lawyers at a law firm out to purchase one car. You’d come back with a motorcycle. They have very strong opinions. They’re always very articulate. They’re very bright folks, so they all have valid opinions. Trying to get to a consensus is oftentimes difficult, as opposed to a product that stands on its own. Instead of telling a story about the product, you’re telling a story about the people at the firm, and you have to get them over that hurdle. The firm itself has a brand and that brand stands for something. If you can get to that point, they can put their own personal biases aside and do what’s best for the firm, but that’s a challenge sometimes.
Sharon: I’m sure that’s a challenge if you’re dealing with ego. How do you overcome that? If you have a managing partner who feels one way and a senior associate feels differently, or if you’re talking to an equity firm and the driver feels they’re going one way and the other people are going another, how do you overcome that?
Larry: It’s a great question. It’s challenging. You can start by listening. Hopefully, we can spend the first meeting or two really listening and coming back to them with a creative brief that says, “Based on all the input we’ve received, this is what we’re hearing. This is the direction to go in. Do we all agree on this?” We’ll never start a design, whether it’s a logo or a website or an ad campaign, until we understand who we’re talking to, what we’re trying to say, what our goals are. We try to get them all on the same page. That’s the first hurdle.
The second hurdle is when you show creative. Creative is subjective in nature. People like blue, but they hate green, and they like flowers, but they don’t like butterflies. Who knows? With that subjectivity, we try to bring objectivity to this process by saying, “Based on what we heard, this works well for you. Here’s why these colors work well. Here’s why these graphics work well. Here’s why this typestyle works well.” We bring objectivity and some rationale behind the design, but again, you can look at a painting and you can love it or hate it. It may be a Rembrandt, but you may still hate it. It’s hard, and you just take time. Sometimes these projects will go on for months and months because they’re debating in-house or they’re busy. We do our best to keep moving things along and trying to get to a final answer.
Brad: In addition to that, I think it’s partly common ground. If you have a lot of partners and they all have strong opinions, it’s sitting down long before any creative and discussing likes and dislikes, because personal likes and dislikes are every bit as valid as any other design criteria. In talking with you as long as possible, we try and pick out the common ground they all agree on to start with and then build outward from there. We build on the common ground and the trust that’s been created in the initial discussions. Then that’s where, as Larry was saying, we try and make it as objective as possible in a very subjective industry. That’s one of the biggest challenges about being in advertising.
Sharon: I bet it’s a challenge with a lot of professional service industries. Are you ever the order takers, as we sometimes get accused of being? Do people call you and say, “We need a new website,” and you go in thinking, “O.K., let’s look at the website. We may not need everything new.”
Larry: I would say definitely not. In fact, we’ve lost business in the past by saying, “This is not what you need.” I feel like our responsibility is to talk to the client and say, “Based on your goals, here’s what we suggest.” Now, if you want to ignore that, O.K., we can do what you’re asking us to do. But I’ll always give a client our best advice right up front, because otherwise I don’t think we’ll be successful in the long term, and they won’t be successful. That doesn’t work for us.
Most of our clients we’ve had now for, some of them, five, 10, 15 years. I think they know we will make the hard call and give them good advice. We may not be so popular, but I think in the long run, it serves them well. We try very hard to avoid being order takers. We always say, “If you ask for this, we’ll give you that, but here’s what we think you should do as well. Here are both options for you.” I always want to feel good that we gave the client the best thinking we could, even if they want to make a bad decision. That’s up to them, but I want to give them an option and say, “Here’s another way of going. What do you think?
Brad: We will never do only what the client asks for. I don’t want that to be taken wrong, but if they ask for something very specific, if they’ve got something in their mind they want to get out and see how it looks, we’re happy to help them with that process. But we’re always going to give another opinion or two about a possible better way to get them thinking in larger spheres or in different directions.
Sharon: Do you think it’s possible to rebrand? If everybody has a brand in their mind, is it possible to change that?
Brad: Oh, absolutely. Brands evolve constantly. If you look at the big brands, the Apples and Cokes of the world, they’re constantly evolving and changing and staying current. We do that very often. We just finished a project for Enenstein Pham & Glass, a great law firm over the hill in Century City. They wanted to tighten the name up to EPG. We had a great project we did with them. We redid the logo and updated collateral materials.
I think firms constantly need to be responsive to the changes in the marketplace. They need to stay fresh. Law firms oftentimes say to us, “We don’t need a website because nobody checks our website.” Well, the truth is when you’re hiring, that’s the first place they go. We’ve been working with a lot of our law firm clients and accounting clients so their site is designed in part to attract young talent, to bring people on board. Your website is your calling card. It’s your office. Everybody goes there and checks it out just to validate who you are. Oftentimes, you have to understand who is going there. If you are looking to hire, which every accounting firm we know of right now is looking desperately to hire talent, that’s where talent goes. They check out your site and get a sense of who you are.
Larry: And to see if it’s some place they want to join. The better the candidate, the better the website should be to impress in both directions. Most people think of a website as outbound. I don’t get new business from my website, especially in professional services. It’s usually word of mouth. But they’re always going to validate, and that validation has to be up to date. It has to be modern. It has to be credible for every law firm, and everybody knows this.
For 20 years, the professional services industry has been going through upheaval after upheaval because it came from a time when law firms, if they advertised, they were shysters. Now more than ever for law firms, you have to think about marketing and social and putting your best face forward. That’s a huge turn of events, and I think some law firms are still having trouble getting used to that idea.
Sharon: Do you think that in any professional service there’s room for traditional advertising, for print, for newspaper ads or magazine ads? Is there room for that?
Larry: Oh, sure. I think they all complement each other. As I said, for Ballard Rosenberg, we keep them current. They represent companies in employment law cases. So, for that firm, we keep them in front of the L.A. Business Journal, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal and some other publications where businesses are looking, where CEOs are reading those publications. I think there’s definitely room for that.
For other clients—I’ll give you an example. With direct mail, people think, “Why would you use direct mail for a law firm?” Well, we’ve got a number of law firms who don’t want to do traditional advertising, which I completely respect. They have a list of 5,000 clients they’ve worked with over the past 10 years who they don’t normally talk to. We put together a concept called an annual review. It’s an annual report that goes out, basically. It’s not the financials, but it’s a yearend review on what happened at the firm this past year. It talks about cases they’ve won and publicity and pro bono work and new hires. It’s a lovely booklet, and it goes out at the end of the year to 5,000 clients. Suddenly, it’s a non-advertising way to get in front of all those clients you’ve had in the past, remind them of who you are, remind them of the exciting things going on at your firm and why they should do business with you.
We’ve done this for a number of firms and they’ve gotten tremendous response. People say, “I love this. I get an update on what’s happening at the firm.” It’s a very non-solicitous advertising piece, but it still an advertising piece because it communicates what’s going on. It’s a communication tool. I think it’s traditional because it’s direct mail, but it’s been tweaked a little bit to be more contemporary. All these things combine to deliver an impression to your clients.
Sharon: That’s interesting. Given the amount of direct mail I receive, my first reaction to what you’re saying is, “Who would do direct mail today for any kind of marketing?” But I guess a lot of people do.
Larry: I think the key is to do it well. I agree with you. You get a lot of crap in the mail. 90% of it is garbage. Our job is to make sure that whatever we do, like that x-ray we did for Harry Nelson years ago, it’s got to stand out. We’ve done those campaigns for law firms. We have a lot of nonprofits we work with. Whenever Brad and I do a direct mail campaign, we always push the pedal to the metal on creative. How out there can we be to get some attention, whether that’s headlines, colors, different sizes, different materials? Brad and I have sent things out in tubes before.
Brad: Even bubble wrap.
Larry: The direct mail piece was sent out in bubble wrap because they were an insurance company. It was about protecting yourself, so it went out in bubble wrap. People went nuts. They were like, “This is so creative. I had to open it. I got a piece of bubble wrap in the mail. I had to open it up and see what was inside. You got me. I gave you the 10 seconds to read it.” So, I think the trick is to get creative.
Sharon: That makes a lot of sense. Brad, when it comes to picking the right photo, you did a little booklet on your website. What do you think about when it comes to picking the right photo? What do you both think about?
Brad: Actually, that one was very specific. That wasn’t actually about photo composition choice. We tried to educate our clients about aspects that are really different with digital advertising. The biggest problem we’ve had over the last five, six years is responsive web design. Every screen has a different ratio, a different dimension, a different pixel count, and website elements move depending on how big the screen is. Most people think of websites as the old desktop publishing page layout, where you put everything in. Then, if you want to move it around, it’s going to stay exactly the same, like a print piece. The web is not that way at all anymore. It is completely data-driven and responsive to the screen size. It’s a phone up to a 32-inch monitor. It still has to lay out properly, but it’s not the same.
So, we had this issue with photos. People would pick the exact cropping of a photo they liked, and it would have things on the edges and the corners of the photo that were very important to the composition. When we put it in the website, when the website responsive design would change for different screen sizes, the photos would crop differently and something that was important on the edges would get cut off. It’s a very difficult concept to understand, that even a webpage looks different on every screen. It’s a difficult concept for everyone to deal with. I know people in the industry who still have trouble with it. So, that booklet was to try and help clients understand that digital technology is not the way it used to be and there are adjustments that need to be made in that area.
In terms of regular composition of photos, we generally do it for the client. We alter it. We choose stock photos, and we work with them to find the photo they like. We are always keeping an eye on the images we give them to make sure they are proper for the branding with their approval. I totally forgot about that being on the website.
Sharon: How do you keep current? As you said, it changes so quickly.
Brad: Neither of us wants to answer that. It is insanely difficult. I personally spend probably eight hours a day in addition to work trying to keep up. I’m not the spring chicken I used to be, and it’s getting harder and harder, but I love the industry. In fact, I love the web far more. I grew up on traditional advertising. I’ve done print. My first job was for a print company, actually, on the presses. I know traditional, but I prefer digital. It’s more free flow. It’s more creative. Sometimes, when things have a lot of hard parameters, you have to get super creative, and the web has a lot more parameters than print. I love it.
I love being in it, but it’s starting to vulcanize a little bit where you need specialists. There are specific SEO specialists now in different areas. Social has become an industry in itself. We used to do it all in-house, and it’s starting to get too complicated to do that. So, we find the best we can. We don’t do PR, but I love the industry. If I didn’t love design and trying to make companies look better, I wouldn’t have been doing this for the last 30 years. It’s barely better than ditch digging, but I really love it, as an old partner of ours said.
Sharon: You have to love it. You have to bite the bullet, I suppose, to keep abreast of everything.
Brad: Absolutely. Larry, on the other hand, he wants nothing to do with technology. So, we keep him doing what he does best, and we try and educate him as best we can on the fly. But we have developers in-house, we have designers in-house, and all of them have to be more up to date on the nuts and bolts of digital marketing than you did before. It used to be that a designer had to know how to create something that will print correctly, but he didn’t have to know how to do the printing. Now, you have to learn a little about coding and what coding platforms there are for web and for social and APIs and all of that stuff. It’s getting into the weeds, but once you grasp it, it’s actually fascinating. It really is.
Larry: You’re talking about technology. Once we thought we had it all figured out and websites were a piece of cake, then the ADA comes along. Now you have ADA compliance issues. You have to really understand what ADA limitations are in terms of fonts and colors and be responsive to that. Technology is always going to be encroaching on the creative aspect. You have to learn how to balance the two of them.
Sharon: I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. You do have to balance, and it seems as soon you’ve learned it all, it changes. Let me ask you before we end, because you did write something about this. How do you know if your logo sucks and what do you do about it?
Larry: That’s a tough one. It’s hard to go up to someone and tell them their logo sucks. It’s like telling them their baby is ugly. They may love the logo or hate it, but if you say something about that, they’re going to take it personally. They should take it personally. Your logo represents you and your company, especially in professional services, and very few friends are going to tell you your logo sucks. That’s just the way it is. When someone’s building a company and building a brand, you don’t want to tear them down if you’re a friend.
So, the best thing to do is get a third opinion. Get an objective view. Every design firm, every ad agency will be more than happy to do a quick review of your identity. Every marketing design firm is going to have a different opinion about it, but they will be as objective as possible within their preferences. There are design rules that can’t be broken. So, if it breaks design rules, the logo needs work.
Brad: Things also just get dated. I’ll go back to the Cokes and the Disneys and the Apples of the world. These are companies that don’t need to change their logo, yet they do because society evolves. Things change, and you want to look progressive and contemporary. I think even just a logo refresh is a great idea. You don’t have to change the whole thing, but maybe bring it up, make it current. Fonts change. Colors change. There are lots of ways to refresh a brand. Plus, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to go back to your clients and say, “Hey, check out our new logo. Same great commitment to service, but a new logo reflecting whatever it is.” It’s a nice way to take a new look. It’s like painting your house. It gives it a new, fresh look.
Sharon: Larry and Brad, thank you so much for being with us today. You’ve answered a lot of questions and given us a lot to think about.
Brad: It’s a pleasure. It was great.
Larry: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Eric Bersano
Eric Bersano has been deeply involved in online legal marketing since 2006. He is the VP of Business Development at Market My Market, a digital marketing agency that helps businesses generate new clients by implementing the right systems and strategies. Depending on a law firm’s goals, Eric ensures the best marketing channel and modalities are implemented, including search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and TV and radio. His focus on the legal space gives Eric the network to utilize the most talented designers, programmers, and marketers in the country. His clients maintain very high rankings for competitive online searches at the city, state, and national levels.
The online marketing landscape is so competitive that it almost seems pointless to put much effort into SEO. Why try to compete with the firms that rank highest on Google? But according to Eric Bersano, Vice President of Business Development for Market My Market, that belief is misguided. Not only can the top law firms on Google get knocked off their number one spots, it happens quite often. Eric joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about the paid and organic campaign options available through Google; why you should think of your website like a book in a library; and when paid search and social media ads can pay off for your firm. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Eric Bersano, Vice President of Business Development for Market My Market. Eric has been in the legal marketing space since 2006 and has seen a lot of changes. Today, we’ll hear all about the evolution of legal marketing and its importance to the legal marketing community, as well as why law firms need a guide to navigate the proliferation of marketing venues. Eric, welcome to the program.
Eric: Thanks for having me, Sharon.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your career path. I’m sure you weren’t saying this is what you wanted to do when you were in kindergarten.
Eric: That’s a very good point. I actually made a shift in 2006. I was working with orthopedic surgeons. I had a friend who was working at a company called FindLaw, which really put search engine optimization and digital marketing on the map for lawyers. My mom didn’t raise a doctor or a lawyer, but I’ve worked with both. To be honest, I prefer the law field.
Sharon: We’ll talk more about it, but how did you get into this space, the online legal space?
Eric: So, a quick background. Coming over from the medical side, one thing I always tell people is I was never going to be as knowledgeable as a surgeon. I was selling orthopedic implants, and there was no way I would ever know more than they did. My nail for the femur was very similar to somebody else’s nail for the femur. When I came over to attorney marketing, I realized very quickly that this was a new animal. A lot of attorneys weren’t doing marketing or weren’t putting it into focus. To a lot of the old-school attorneys, marketing was hurtful, because they weren’t even legally allowed to market until, I think, the late 70s. Most attorneys that had a thriving practice were using either Yellow Pages or just referral sources, and they were doing extraordinarily well.
Once the internet started to become a place for people to find attorneys, it was this brand-new open ground that was really fertile. The thing I loved about it was that I could go into a law firm in January and six months later, they wanted to buy me lunch or dinner because they doubled in size or their profits had doubled. In the early days, search engine optimization was fairly easily, especially working for a big company, because it didn’t take much. But as you said, over the past 16, 17 years, there has been a ton of changes. I like to keep up with all those changes to make sure my clients are profiting from those.
Sharon: You’re bringing back so many memories of firms saying, “Oh, I don’t need any online stuff. We take care of it with referrals only. We don’t market. We just do referrals,” which to me is marketing, but O.K.
Sharon: What does Market My Market do, and what does that mean?
Eric: Good question. We get asked that a lot. When you’re choosing the name for a company, you throw a bunch of things against the wall, and you’re hoping for something that really defines what you do. We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into just legal marketing. There are a lot of companies that do that, but we do work with other professionals. That would be doctors and some accountants, and then lawyers are probably our biggest market. Market My Market is us marketing you in your market. Everybody’s got a geography they cover, and our true focus is to make sure they’re being as competitive as they possibly can when it comes to online.
The one big differentiator we bring is that one of the co-founders, Ryan Klein, worked in-house at two extremely competitive law firms in south Florida. One was a personal injury law firm and the other one was a criminal defense firm. Both were in south Florida, which is the home of John Morgan when it comes to personal injury plus a host of other really competitive law firms. One of the things he did was bring over his philosophy from working in-house, working side by side with attorneys and knowing exactly what they wanted to see. When some people get lost in the weeds as marketers, they say, “Hey, look, your traffic is up,” or “Look how many intakes or phone calls you got,” which are great indicators, but what a lawyer really wants is signed cases. They want more high-quality, signed cases. We want to work backwards into that with our approach to make sure we’re getting an increase in signed cases, not just pointing to some of the key indicators.
Sharon: I’m going to stop to ask you, is John Morgan a personal injury law firm or an attorney? I’ve never heard that before.
Eric: John Morgan of Morgan and Morgan has built kind of the Death Star of websites. He started out in south Florida as a big TV advertiser. You can’t drive more than 10 feet without seeing one of his billboards. Probably five, eight years ago, he started really branching out. He’s got practices in Boston and Arizona and Las Vegas. So, his one website they’ve grown is really competitive in a lot of markets. If you talk to any personal injury attorney in Florida they’ll know John Morgan, but more and more, they’re starting to know him in other parts of the country because he’s starting to encroach in everybody’s backyard.
Sharon: That’s interesting. When you said Morgan and Morgan, I’ve seen that, but I didn’t realize it was John Morgan.
This question comes up a lot: what’s the difference between SEM, search engine marketing, and SEO, which is search engine optimization? What’s the difference?
Eric: It’s a good question. SEM would be the umbrella term. Search engine marketing is all the different types of marketing you can do online with search engines. We always refer to Google because that’s the 800-pound gorilla, but there’s also Bing and Yahoo and some other ancillary search engines. Search engine marketing encompasses search engine optimization, but it also includes paid search. Those would be things like Google ads, or one thing that’s become very popular over the last two years is LSAs, or Local Services Ads.
Anybody listening to this who’s done a search for a car accident lawyer in “insert city here,” you’ll see three ads at the very top with a profile photo. Those are Local Services Ads. The key to those is you don’t pay when somebody clicks; you only pay when you get a lead. If somebody clicks on your ads, reads all your information, but doesn’t contact you, you’re never charged. But if they fill out a contact form or call that tracking number, it’s taken into account on your Google dashboard. You can even reject leads for a refund if they don’t qualify. For example, if you’re a criminal defense attorney and you get a family law lead, you can dispute that, and they’ll take it off your bill. So, search engine marketing is everything you can do with search engine advertising.
Search engine optimization is really the key we focus on for one main reason. Nobody goes to Google or any search engine because they have the best ads. They go to that search engine because they trust that the results that show up on the first page are the best information and resource for that subject matter. If I type in “DUI attorney Fresno,” the average person assumes that the law firm that shows up number one is the best DUI attorney in Fresno. It’s not always the case, but the big advantage to the optimization piece is people will trust you more when you show up on that first page.
The marketing costs are also generally fixed. What I mean by that is if I do a PPC ad and I’ve got a $10,000 a month budget—
Sharon: PPC is?
Eric: Pay-per-click. When I do a pay-per-click ad, I’m going to be charged every time someone clicks on my ad, whether they call me or not. Now, if I’m spending $10,000 in January and I spend none in February, that’s a sunk cost. I’ll never get that $10,000 back. But with search engine optimization, you’re paying for links, you’re paying for new website pages, blog articles. All of that stuff accumulates over time.
The biggest thing I hear with search engine optimization from attorneys is, “Oh, we tried it. It doesn’t work,” or “It doesn’t work for anybody.” I would challenge you to do a search for your most important keyword in your city and look at the firm who’s showing up number one. That person is fighting tooth and nail to stay there. The bigger the city, the harder they’re fighting, because if you’re showing up number one for “car accident lawyer Houston,” your business is exploding. You can guarantee that the people who are there want to stay there, and they’ll do anything they can to keep their number one spot.
Sharon: Does anybody still say, “Oh, we tried that and it doesn’t work,” when it comes to SEO?
Eric: Yeah, they do. To be honest, SEO is constantly changing. Companies like us, we don’t claim that we know exactly what Google wants. Google gives you best practices, but they don’t want to say, “Do, A, B, C and D and you’ll rank number one,” because not everybody can rank number one. The one thing they’ve always stayed true to is that they want original, relevant content and a great user experience. That’s what we’ve built our company principles on.
The people who say it doesn’t work have been burned, because no matter how great of an SEO company you are, it takes time to see results. Let’s say we’re talking about a competitive market like Chicago. That could take six months to a year. If you give an SEO company a year and you get nothing in that year, it’s going to be hard for you to invest in somebody else and give them a full year. What happens all the time is they don’t get somebody who focuses on legal. They don’t know which directories to go to. They don’t understand the practice areas, the keyword terms to optimize for. They might be a really good SEO company, but without understanding that legal niche, they might not be performing well enough to get them rankings. I talk to attorneys every day who are like, “Nope, I tried SEO before. It doesn’t work.” It’s just because it didn’t work for them with the particular program they had.
Sharon: When you say LSA, Local Services Ads, do you set up a separate phone number for that?
Eric: The Local Services Ads are through Google, and Google has its own tracking numbers for you because they want to be able to tell you exactly what somebody searched for and clicked on to serve that ad. That’s how they charge you. One of the things we do is manage those Local Services Ad campaigns, so that tracking number gets imported into our dashboard. We can actually say, “Hey, you got 10 Local Services Ad calls. You got 15 intakes. You got 20 calls from organic, and you got 15 calls from Google My Business.” We want to know which piece of the online marketing is working.
There are four places for you to get business on Google’s homepage: LSAs, PPC, Google Maps, and then there’s organic. We really like to focus on organic because that’s typically 60% or more of clicks. Not that LSAs and PPC aren’t a good substitute, but anybody who’s relying solely on PPC is really putting their client flow in jeopardy. It doesn’t take many bad months with PPC for you to spend your marketing dollars with no return.
Sharon: It used to be many, many years ago that you could say to somebody, “O.K., you don’t have the budget. I understand. Here are some things you can do.” It seems like today there’s not much you can do. With PPC, it seems like that’s the one thing you can still do and say, “O.K., you could just start with PPC. Put all your money into PPC and start that tomorrow,” but you’re saying they’re missing a lot still.
Eric: That’s a really good point. If I’m working with somebody in a really competitive market, let’s say New York City, and they have almost no web presence at all, that’s going to be a really tough pill for them to swallow, for them to hear, “I need you to pay me X dollars a month for a year before you can expect anything.” But that’s realistic if they don’t have any SEO working at all. That’s the case where I’d say, “All right, let’s put together a very competitive, focused, pay-per-click campaign to start getting some clients in the door,” because the big advantage with PPC is it’s instantaneous. You do the keyword research. You set up your landing pages, and you can start receiving phone calls and emails right away.
Now, the downside of PPC is it’s become extremely competitive. If you’ve ever done a search, the most expensive pay-per-click keywords, there’s a list of about 180 of them that are legal keywords, things like, “I’m a car accident lawyer.” Those could go anywhere from $50 to $150 per click with no guarantee that the person’s even going to reach out to you.
So, I think PPC can be used sparingly to make up for that valley of death before you start to get organic results or to hyper-target something that’s very timely. For example, if there’s a bridge collapse or food poisoning, sometimes there’s going to be a bunch of people that are injured in a very short window. Those types of cases come out all the time. You’re not going to have a “food poisoning for Tyson Chicken” campaign ready to go with SEO, so in those cases it would make sense. But the most efficient, lowest cost would be LSAs. Again, you’re only paying for leads. The big issue right now with LSAs is they’ve been around so long that if you’re in a major market, there are probably at least 50 people in those LSAs already, and there are only three spots that will show up on the homepage.
Sharon: And Google decides who those are.
Eric: Yes, Google decides. There’s some thought that having more reviews, getting consistent reviews, is going to help you show up there. You don’t want to get 10 reviews in a month and no more for six months. But the number one factor for showing up in those LSAs is how responsive you are to the leads that come in. Google will know if those go to voicemail. Google will know if you’re not interacting with their dashboard to say, “We have this lead” and move that through their funnel. They want to make sure that if you’re getting the leads, you’re treating their clients well. Remember, they’re Google’s client first. They went to Google for a search. If you mistreat them and don’t provide them a good service, Google’s not going to reward you with those rankings.
Sharon: Wow! With LSAs, it seems that they would go to voicemail sometimes, because nobody’s manning those phones all the time.
Eric: That’s another good point. The more sophisticated people become, the more efficient their front and back office are, the more profitable they’ll be. In the old days, let’s say 20 years ago, I don’t think the average person expected someone to pick up the phone at 7:00. But if you’re having a legal issue, you may not want to talk about that in the workplace. You may call on your way home or after you get home. So, if you don’t have 24/7 answering, you could be missing out, and this is actual data we have with our clients. We use call tracking for every single one of our clients. Just under 30% of contacts came in either before 9:00 or after 5:00. If 30% of your contacts are coming in during off hours and you’re not immediately responding, you are definitely losing out on clients.
Sharon: Wow! That’s a lot of person power, I should say.
Eric: Exactly. If you get a hundred leads in a month and 30 of those are going to voicemail, that’s not a good client experience.
Sharon: Is it still possible to become number one in Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, no matter how much money you’re putting out? Are those spots just long gone? Could somebody overtake somebody?
Eric: Yes, it happens all the time. There are two things that will typically happen. You’ll have somebody who gets really aggressive with an organic campaign. There are a lot of myths about organic. A lot of people will say they’ve got proprietary software; they’ve got a proprietary secret sauce or amazing links that nobody else knows about. The truth is search engine optimization comes down to doing a lot of things really well. It’s very detailed. I’s need to be dotted; T’s need to be crossed.
It’s keeping up with trends like user experience. One quick example would be on a mobile phone, you want the contact us and phone buttons to be towards the bottom of the page because that’s where people’s thumbs are at, whereas on a desktop, people are used to seeing them at the top. Extrapolate that times a thousand little, tiny things, they all add up to the people who show up in those top three to five spots, which is where you need to be to get any clicks.
The second thing that can jostle things up would be a Google algorithm change. Google admits that they change and update their algorithm hundreds of times a year, but each year there are usually two or three major ones, and you’ll see a big shakeup. Someone who has been in the number one spot for months and months and months all of a sudden drops down to the bottom of page one or even page two. Those are opportunities, because Google is testing out some of their new changes, and they want to see if that user experience is still good.
What that means is, let’s say you and I are both competing for the same keyword. Somebody goes to your website and the average time on your website is 90 seconds, and the average time on my website is 20 seconds. Well, Google knows that, and they’re just going to assume that your website is better; it’s more engaging; it has more relevant content. When the algorithm shakes up, that one factor could cause somebody to stay higher than the person who was previously number one.
I’ll just end by saying this. There’s no one factor or silver bullet that’s going to get you to number one. Time on site is really good, and it makes logical sense when you tell somebody, but just because your time on site is great doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be number one in that market. There are so many other things that need to be done correctly to keep those rankings.
Sharon: You mentioned organic. I know you said you’re going to finish up, but I have a lot more questions.
Sharon: When you say organic, what do you mean? What are you talking about?
Eric: Organic are Google’s results. They’re their most preferred result. Google needs to make money, and we all know that Google is one of the most profitable companies in history, and the reason they are is because they sell ads. They sell Local Services Ads and pay-per-click. Every time someone clicks on an ad, Google gets paid.
Well, underneath the ads are typically the Google Maps results first, although sometimes an organic search will show up above it. Then there are the organic links below that. If I’m looking for a pair of shoes and I type in “running shoes,” I’m probably going to see Nike or Dick’s Sporting Goods as number one because they’re such big, powerful websites. Organic refers to those things underneath the paid section. You basically have to walk through the paid section—a lot of people get stuck there and click on those ads. Google gets paid, but the vast, vast majority of people are going specifically to that organic section because they trust that those are the best, most relevant websites.
Sharon: How do you influence organic? You mentioned blogs. Do you write? Do you have other people writing? How does that work?
Eric: That’s a good question. I like to use the library analogy for how Google picks out a website. Instead of websites, let’s call them books. Google is our librarian in the largest library in the world, and I’m looking for a book on cookies. Not just cookies, but I want chocolate chip cookies. What’s a better resource, a hundred-page book on cooking that includes chicken and roast beef and baking, or a hundred-page book on just cookies, and specifically chocolate chip cookies? What Google is looking for is the best, most relevant information.
As a personal injury attorney, if I’ve got family law and criminal defense and estate planning and trusts and intellectual property and car accidents, I’m really diluting my message. My book is a catchall for everything. If I have a really focused book on just personal injury—and I’m talking about car accidents or brain injuries or spine injuries—now I’ve created a really powerful, relevant, niche source. If you do a search for Covid right now, you’re probably going to find something like WebMD. You’re not going to find some random website. You’ll find something from the CDC because those are powerful sites that have developed their niche.
So, the way to earn Google’s respect is, number one, the content has to be original. They don’t want to duplicate content. They’re literally tracking billions, if not trillions, of websites by now, so if your content isn’t original, why keep track of it? Then they want to make sure those user experience things are there: how much time on site, how quickly does the website load, how easy is it to get from one page to the next?
When you ask us specifically about content, we have our own in-house team. We think content is so important, so we look for really good writers and we train them on how to research for the purposes of showing up organically. So, how to research for a keyword and then how to write so search engines can pick up on those keywords. Content is such an important part. Instead of outsourcing it to a third party, we hired good writers. These are all US-based employees of Market My Market that write, edit and post their content to the website.
Sharon: With Google, I always imagined—and maybe you can shed some light on it—that there’s some person somewhere who’s watching all these screens and making decisions. Is this all done by a machine?
Eric: Yes. Google specifically calls this machine learning. That’s really where the user experience part comes into this. In the old days, back in 2006, all you really needed to do was have some good content and a couple of labels. If I was trying to rank for “medical malpractice attorney Los Angeles,” I would want to make sure that page was titled “medical malpractice attorney.” I’d want that to be the title of the first paragraph, and I’d want to use that term a couple of times in there.
Well, people got wise to that, and then they started keyword stuffing. They started putting keywords all over the place. They would even put black text on a black background so you couldn’t see it, but Google could read it. Well, Google is much smarter than any of us, and they can now pick up on those. They pick up on the user experience key indicators, which is how people interact with the website. They know if someone is clicking around and going to multiple pages.
One of the biggest SEO terms is bounce rate. A lot of people mistake bounce rate with how fast someone bounces from the website, meaning, “I went to the website, and I bounced in two seconds.” That’s not what bounce rate is. Bounce rate is only going to a single page. If I come to the homepage and I don’t click on an attorney profile or a client testimonial or the car accident page, Google is marking that against me because they’re saying, “People come to your website. You’ve got a hundred pages and they only go to one. That can’t be a good search experience.”
These algorithms are now taking all these learning experiences from millions and millions of searches, and they’re coming up with—and Google admits this—rankings that even the Google engineers don’t know exactly how they get to it. The benefit of AI is that it works while you’re sleeping. The downside of AI is you’re not exactly sure why the output is what it is until you dig into the weeds. That’s why we see so many changes in Google’s algorithm throughout the year.
Sharon: AI being artificial intelligence.
Eric: Correct, yeah. Google likes to use the term “machine learning.” I don’t know if they just want to coin their own term, but they always refer to it as machine learning. Their computers are learning based on how people interact with the Google searches they provide.
Sharon: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that was how they defined it.
What’s the difference between working with lawyers and working with financial professionals, doctors, other professional services?
Eric: The biggest difference from a marketing perspective is knowing which resources are best. Most of my clients are in the legal industry. People are going to get their links from Avvo and FindLaw, but if you haven’t dealt with lawyers before, you might not know the more obscure or random or even local searches. Most attorneys belong to at least one if not several bar associations. They could belong to their local city bar association. They could belong to their state bar association. All of those give them opportunities to list who they are and link back to their website.
When it comes to other professionals like financial, that’s not a market we dabble in. I wouldn’t have the confidence to tell somebody who was a financial planner or someone big in the finance world that I know exactly where to market them, because I don’t have the 17 years of experience there. When somebody can focus in on a niche, they can find all these nooks and crannies on the internet where they can market their clients to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward.
Sharon: Does social media play any part in this? Does that change things?
Eric: When it comes to social media, there are two different ways to use it. The first one is the most labor-intensive and hardest, but it can pay off. I strongly suggest anybody who wants to do organic social media, which means you’re posting about your law firm—that takes a lot of work. They say you should be posting one to three times a day, and that would be on things like TikTok and Instagram and Facebook. Now, I see your face. That seems like a lot of work, and it is. You’ve got to think about this, and you’ve got to be very inventive when you do your posts, because who is going to follow a criminal defense attorney for no reason? Who’s going to follow a family law attorney?
One way to use social media to your advantage organically is to take viral content that’s happening right now and put your spin on it. For example, we just got past the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial that was making worldwide news. Some of the most popular posts were attorneys who were giving their two cents on that day’s trial. That’s a great way to do something through social media. It still takes time because you’ve got to keep up on whatever that trial is, and then you’ve got to go in and give your unique take, but that could pay off in dividends. Some of those videos were getting millions of views, which is really raising their presence.
The other way to use social media is to do paid advertising. You can do paid advertising through TikTok. You can do it through Facebook and Instagram, and what you’re doing is targeting your most likely audience. If I’m a criminal defense attorney, I might be targeting males because more males are committing crimes. I might target certain areas of the county near jails or where courts are. I can geotarget those. I can put a circle around the court. Anybody who’s coming in and out of this building, I want to target them with an ad. Those would be paid ads. Budgets can range in the low thousands to the high thousands, depending on how competitive that market is and how many people you want to serve ads to.
Sharon: Do you take that into account? Does one hand influence the other in terms of things you’re doing to optimize everything? Does that come into play?
Eric: Social media doesn’t have a huge organic bump to it unless you get into the extremes. If I have a post that’s going viral, if I’m getting lots of mentions, if the firm name is being mentioned a lot on Twitter, that can have some effects, but that’s very rare. I would say if you have somebody in the office who loves social media and they’re going to post your holiday parties—for example, if somebody gives you a great review on Google, repost that review and say, “Thanks, Karen. We really love having you as a client.” Make it interactive. That’s probably not going to win you a case organically, but if someone finds your social media profile, sees how active you are, gets a feel for the personality of the firm, it could get you that first phone call as they’re doing their due diligence on who to hire.
Sharon: Do you see social media playing more of a role as you continue in this vein?
Eric: I see social media as a really good way to connect with people. I see it more as a tool for paid. There are very few attorneys that are going to spend enough time on social media, the time it needs. If you hire me to run your social media campaign, what do I know about the daily workings of the firm? That should be more of a personal thing.
What you could hire us to do is to create ads for you and to serve those ads to specific people. As a general rule of thumb, social media is not a great tool for single-event personal injuries like car accidents, because it’s really hard to target your audience. Where they do make a difference would be in mass torts, for example Roundup. Roundup has glyphosate in it. It was giving people non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There were links to this. Monsanto was sued. Bellwether trials went on to prove that they were at fault, and the verdicts were coming back in the tens of millions of dollars.
That is a great tool for social media because I know the type of person that used Roundup. I know the hotbeds. This wasn’t your weekend gardener; these were people in the flyover states that were using tons of this stuff, literally, on their crops. People who were working on farms or in agriculture were overly exposed to this stuff and were coming down with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a couple other types of cancer. That’s great for Facebook because you’re leveraging all the data they have on their users, all their attributes, their age, their income. I like social media for those kinds of campaigns, but for your typical family law attorney or criminal defense attorney, it’s probably dollars that could be spent better somewhere else.
Sharon: Eric, I could go on forever asking a million more questions. There’s so much to all of this. Thank you being here today.
Eric: Sharon, thanks for having me. I appreciate the conversation.
Sharon: Greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Chris Dreyer
Chris Dreyer is the CEO and Founder of Rankings.io, an SEO agency that helps elite personal injury law firms land serious injury and auto accident cases through Google’s organic search results. His company has the distinction of making the Inc. 5000 list four years in a row.
Chris’s journey in legal marketing has been a saga, to say the least. A world-ranked collectible card game player in his youth, Chris began his “grown up” career with a History Education degree and landed a job out of college as a detention room supervisor. The surplus of free time in that job allowed him to develop a side hustle in affiliate marketing, where (at his apex) he managed over 100 affiliate sites simultaneously, allowing him to turn his side gig into a full-time one. When his time in affiliate marketing came to an end, he segued into SEO for attorneys, while also having time to become a top-ranked online poker player.
Today, Chris is the CEO and founder of Rankings.io, an SEO agency specializing in elite personal injury law firms and 4x consecutive member of the Inc. 5000.
In addition to owning and operating Rankings, Chris is a real estate investor and podcast host, as well as a member of the Forbes Agency Council, the Rolling Stone Culture Council, Business Journals Leadership Trust, Fast Company Executive Board, and Newsweek Expert Forum.
Chris’s first book, Niching Up: The Narrower the Market, the Bigger the Prize, is slated for release in late 2022.
SEO is a complicated beast. If you want to conquer it, you have to go in ready to swing, according to Chris Dreyer. As CEO of Rankings.io, Chris specializes in working with personal injury lawyers and law firms to get them on the first page of Google in competitive markets. He joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about how the “proximity factor” affects Google rankings; why your content is the first area to target if you want to improve your rankings; and how SEO, digital marketing and traditional advertising all work together to build your brand. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to The Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Chris Dreyer, CEO of Rankings.io. His firm specializes in working with elite personal injury firms, helping them to generate auto accident and other cases involving serious personal injury. He does this through Google’s organic keyword search rankings which, to me, is quite a challenge. This is a very competitive market, and it’s one that requires a very healthy budget if you’re going to be successful. Today, Chris is going to tell us about his journey and some of what he’s learned along the way. Chris, welcome to the program.
Chris: Sharon, thanks so much for having me.
Sharon: Great to have you. Tell us about your career path. You weren’t five years old saying this is what you wanted to do.
Chris: I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I saw my uncle. My uncle’s a very successful business CEO for many organizations. He’s had a really interesting career path. I told my parents before I went to college that no matter what I got a degree in, I was going to start and own my business at one point, and they were on the same page.
I ended up getting a history education degree. I was a teacher, and I was working in a detention room when I typed in “how to make money online,” probably the worst query you could possibly type in. But I found a basic course that taught me the fundamentals of digital marketing and I pursued that. By the end of my second year teaching, I was making about four times the amount from that than I got from teaching.
So, I went all in and did some affiliate marketing. I had some ups and downs with that. Then I went and worked for another agency and rose to their lead consultant. Then I had an epiphany and thought, “I think I can do this myself. I think I can do it better,” and that’s what I did. That’s when I started. At the time, it was attorney rankings.
Sharon: Wow! Had you played around with attorney rankings before, when you were a teacher and just typing away?
Chris: When I worked for this digital agency that’s no longer in business, they were a generalist agency, but they worked with many law firms and attorneys. I was their lead account manager. I just enjoyed working with them. I enjoyed the competition and the satisfaction I would get from ranking a site in a more competitive vertical. That’s how I chose legal. I wanted to look for something that had a longstanding business. I didn’t want to jump into something fast or tech-related that could be changing all the time; I wanted something with a little bit more longevity.
Sharon: Did you ever want to be a lawyer yourself?
Chris: I ask that to myself all the time. I think about it now, mainly because of all the relationships I have, how easy it could be for a referral practice. We have our own agency and I know how to generate leads now. So, I ask myself that a lot. That’s a 2½ to 3-year commitment. You never know; I may end up getting my degree.
Sharon: There are a lot of history majors who went into law and then probably decided they wanted to do something else, so that’s a great combination you have. It’s Rankings.io. What’s the .io?
Chris: There are these new top-level domain extensions. There are .org, .net, .com. Now you see stuff like .lawyer or .red. There are all kinds of different categories of those domains. Tech companies frequently use .io, standing for “input” and “output.” How I look at it, or how I make the justification for it, is that if you invest in us, you get cases—input/output.
Sharon: Can you make up your own top level or is there a list somewhere?
Chris: There’s a big list. GoDaddy and NameSheet.com have many of them. In legal specifically, there’s .law, there’s . attorney, there’s .lawyer, I believe even .legal. Most industries have their own top-level domain extension now.
Sharon: I’ve seen .io, but I never knew what it stood for. You don’t see it that often. I happened to be Googling somebody in Ireland the other day. Most of the places were using .com, but this was using .ie, and I thought, “What is .ie?” but it turns out it was Ireland.
Tell us a little about your business. What kinds of clients do you have? Is there seasonality?
Chris: We help personal injury attorneys. We primarily work with personal injury law firms that are midsize to large. Typically not solo practitioners and new firms, but more established firms trying to break into major markets in metropolitan areas, your Chicagos, your Philadelphias, your bigger cities that have a lot of competition. We’ve been around since 2013. We don’t work with a high volume of clients because our investments are higher, because to rank in these big cities takes a lot of quantitative actions, a lot of production. We currently work with around 45 to 50 firms, and that’s what we do. We do search engine optimization for personal injury law firms.
Sharon: Search engine optimization for personal injury law firms. To me, that seems like a lot. It’s great. Are these typically smaller firms that are in—I don’t know—Podunk, Iowa, and they say, “I want to go to the big city”? Is that what happens?
Chris: Typically, it’s one of two things. It’s either a TV, radio, traditional advertiser that wants to focus more on digital that has a larger investment. They have more capital to invest. Or, it’s someone that wants to get creative and focus on digital to try to take market share away from the big TV advertisers. Most of the time it’s individuals in big cities because there are tons of personal injury attorneys.
Right now, I’m in Marion, Illinois. There’s a handful of attorneys. Most of them aren’t focused on marketing. Just by the nature of having a practice, they typically show up in the Map Pack. That’s not the case in Chicago. You actually have to aggressively market to show up on the first page of Google.
Sharon: If somebody’s already spending a lot of money on TV or radio or billboards in Chicago, are your clients people who have turned around and said, “I can do better if I put this money all into digital and rankings.” Does that happen?
Chris: I personally am not an “or.” I’m an “and.” You did TV? Well, let’s also do SEO. Let’s also do pay-per-click. I like the omnichannel approach. I think there are two types of marketing. There is lead generation and direct response. That’s your pay-per-click, your SEO, things like that. Then there’s demand generation and brand building.
The thing about demand generation and brand building is they actually complement direct response, and you can get lower cost per acquisition. To give you an example, if you’re a big TV advertiser and have an established brand, and someone types something into Google, you may capture that click because they recognize your company as opposed to someone that isn’t as known. I think they all work together.
Of course, we’re always playing the attention arbitrage game. We want to go to the locations where our money can carry the most weight to get us the most attention. For example, right now, individuals are going to TikTok and Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts because there isn’t the same amount of competition there. That’s where a lot of tension and competition are occurring. It’s a constant game, and it’s something to be apprised of and aware of what’s going on.
Sharon: Is that something you also do in terms of rankings? Do you do TikTok or Instagram or anything like that, or Google My Business? Is it all of those?
Chris: We use that ourselves to market our business because we’re omnichannel, but for our clients, we focus solely on design and SEO. That’s simply because we have intense focus and expertise in those areas. We want to be the best in the world and really dialed in to all the fundamental changes that occur. But knowing that limitation, knowing that there is more effort and sacrifice if someone wants to come to us because we don’t do everything, we like to be aware of who is providing services in those other areas. Who’s the best at pay-per-click, who’s the best at social media. We try to make it as easy as possible to get our clients help in those areas too.
Sharon: How do you keep up with everything? There are so many different things.
Chris: Obsession. I think of it as a game. I always tell people that running a digital agency is like a game that pays me. I truly believe that, because I enjoy what I do. I don’t love the quote that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. I don’t believe that’s completely true, but I don’t have the same stressors and I enjoy what I do. So, that’s an obsession.
Sharon: So that’s dinner-table talk.
Chris: Oh, yeah.
Sharon: What keeps you attracted to attorneys? A lot of people say, “O.K., I’ve had it.” What keeps you attracted?
Chris: I think they’re providing a good service to the common individual and fighting against big insurance companies. Generally, they get a bad rap, particularly personal injury attorneys. They’re referred to as ambulance chasers. Sometimes individuals get creative, and they refer to me and our agency as an ambulance-chaser chaser. But in general, they’re the plaintiffs; they’re trying to help individuals that have been injured.
I think where they get a bad rap is sometimes people are banging down their doors and soliciting them right after they’re injured or in the hospital bed. Other times, you’ll see these big billboards where it’s like, “How could you possibly put that up on a billboard?” There’s a complete lack of EQ or empathy. It’s like, “Congratulations. You just lost a leg. Contact us,” or “Congratulations. Someone’s seriously hurt.” It’s just the wrong messaging. That’s where they get a bad rap, but the overwhelming majority are truly trying to provide value and help these injured victims.
Sharon: Do you ever work with defense firms or law firms that aren’t personal injury?
Chris: That’s a good question. Our focus and expertise is personal injury, and what I tell other businesses and my peers is that it gives us optionality. If I think we can help a law firm and we can serve them and continue to provide extreme value, we will selectively take those opportunities. Right now we have about 45 clients, and I think three of them aren’t personal injury law firms. It just happened to be the perfect prospect for us. They were in competitive markets. They had these clearly defined goals and brands, and we wanted to help them.
Sharon: How about other legal services, like—I forget; I think it’s Legal Voice or something like that. If it’s a graphics firm that does graphics for trials, do you work with that kind of firm?
Chris: We’ve worked with some. I can’t think of any specifically. I would say our business is more focused on the front end, the marketing and awareness side, and less on the sales intake or operations side. Operations would be your trials and customer service and things like that. At this point in time, we’re focused solely on lead generation, and that’s an issue upon itself. Our job is to overwhelm the sales department. Intake is a whole different ballgame. Sometimes intake has to be addressed, but it’s not us. We have referrals that we give for that.
Sharon: Do you work with only lawyers, or do you work with marketing directors at these firms? Who are you typically working with?
Chris: Most of the time it’s the lead attorney. There are some firms that have a CMO or a marketing manager, but I would say that’s the minority. When they get a CMO, typically it’s at your higher eight-figure or nine-figure firms, and they will start to bring these services in-house. So, most of the time it’s still the lead attorney.
Sharon: You used a term I hadn’t heard before, end-to-end SEO. What does that mean?
Chris: It’s a great question. A lot of digital agencies that are full-service, they’ll offer design and social and PPC. They have a very narrow span of control, meaning you get assigned a SEO specialist, and that SEO specialist is supposed to be able to write content, optimize your site, do your local SEO, do your link building. Look, I don’t believe in unicorns. I don’t think people have the skillset to do all of those.
So, when I say end-to-end, we have a dedicated content department with writers; we have a dedicated, on-site SEO and technical department to optimize your site; we have a dedicated local department that only works with local maps and helps you on the Map Pack; we have a dedicated link-building department. It’s the full spectrum of SEO as opposed to getting these generalists, where maybe they’re good at one thing and not good at the other things.
Sharon: Do you think your market understands the term end-to-end SEO?
Chris: Probably not. I probably should work on the copyrighting a little bit, but I do like to make that distinction. Even though we’re specialists and do only SEO, you can take it a step farther. If you look at how we staff, everybody’s a SEO specialist, as opposed to it being an add-on or backend service.
Sharon: The Map Pack, is that where you have the top three local firms on a map near you, when you search “Starbucks near me” or “Personal injury firm near me”? I say Starbucks because we did that last weekend. I know things are always changing, but if it’s a one- or two-person personal injury firm and they don’t have the budget you’re talking about, can they do anything themselves? What do you recommend?
Chris: That’s a good question. If you don’t have a budget, try to scrape your budget together and get a website made the easiest way you can, whether it’s a WordPress site or a template. That’s your main conversion point. Try to get your practice area pages and your sales pages created as an outlet for conversions. If you don’t have a big budget and you’re in a metropolitan area, I would encourage you to look at other opportunities to generate business, potentially on-the-ground, grassroots business development practices where you’re making relationships with other attorneys. That can carry a lot of weight and get you started.
SEO is a zero-sum game. Either you rank in the top positions or you don’t, and if you don’t, you’re not going to get the clicks. If you’re on the second page of Google, you might as well be on the 90th page. No one goes to page two. So, if you’re going to do SEO, you can’t just dip your toe into it. You’ve got to go in ready to swing and ready to do the quantitative actions to get results. Otherwise, you might as well not do it at all. You might as well choose a different channel.
Sharon: That’s interesting. So, if you Google your firm and find you’re on the second page, should you just give it up and say, “O.K., I’m not going to do anything in this area”?
Chris: If you’re working with an SEO agency and you’re on the second page of Google, I would tell you to—well, first of all, depending upon the length of time you’ve been with them, if you’ve given them sufficient time, then I would say you probably need a different SEO agency.
If you are on the second page of Google and you’re not doing SEO, that’s O.K. You could still rank for your brand, your firm name, particularly some of the attorney names, the name of their company. There are probably not going to be many of those. You’re probably going to rank for that. I would find a different way to generate leads. It may even mean working for someone else to generate revenue before you go in and start your own practice.
Sharon: So, being a lawyer in a law firm first and getting your feet wet that way. You mentioned something about the length of time. How long should you give a firm before you say, “O.K., thanks”?
Chris: I’m going to give the lawyer answer here. It depends. If you’ve been doing SEO for a long time and you have a tremendous amount of links and content, it could be a technical SEO coding issue, maybe a site architecture issue. Maybe you need as little as 90 days to truly make a huge impact. We just took on a client in Florida that had a tremendous amount of links, a tremendous amount of content. We literally just unclogged the sink, so to speak, and they’re skyrocketing in a short amount of time.
If you’re in a major market and you just got your website built and you don’t have links, it’s going to take some time. All of these SEO specialists will say it takes six months. That’s completely untrue. It’s based upon the gap. What are you benchmarking against? What does the data show? It could be nine months; it could be 14 months based upon the quantitative actions you’re taking. If you don’t take the correct quantitative actions, you could be treading water, too. So, it really depends. You can see results quickly. It just depends on where you’re at in your state for your firm.
Sharon: Since you work with attorneys, I’m sure more than once you’ve heard, “Chris, I’ve waited three months. What’s going on? How long do I have to wait? We’re pouring money into this.” What’s your response?
Chris: That’s a great question. We try to set those expectations on the front end before we even sign them as a client, but occasionally those situations will slip through. Maybe we didn’t have those conversations enough or they weren’t clear enough. We have a series in our onboarding called “Teach Our Clients Not to Be Crazy.” I’m being really transparent here. Clients become crazy when expectations were not set. If they’re set in the front end when we sign them and it’s part of our onboarding processes, we say, “This is how long it’s going to take to get results.” We’re not three months down the road getting that, because we already told them on the front end this is how long it will take. The same for your operation processes like content or reporting. You report our meeting cadences, your communication preferences, all these things. We do that in our “Teach Our Clients Not to Be Crazy.” That’s the biggest issue. Most individuals don’t have those expectations set well enough on the front end.
Sharon: So, you basically say, “It depends. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. We have to look at your website.” Do you start usually by looking at the site architecture? Do you change—I forget what you call it—the headings at the top of the page, things that are searchable?
Chris: We have a very thorough diagnostic that uses a lot of data from different APIs, Ahrefs, and other tools that help us with benchmarking and setting these goals and KPIs. We look at three primary pillars. We’ll look at their content to see if it’s targeting keywords properly, if it’s well-written, if they’re missing content. We’ll look at their architecture, like you said, to see if the information is easily accessible, if they can Google the website and the consumer can find the information they’re looking for, if it loads quickly. Then we will look at their backlink profile to see if they have enough endorsements. If you’re trying to win an election, you want to get as many votes as possible. If you’re trying to win the first page of Google, you want to get as many high-quality links as possible. So, we’ll take a look at that too. There are a lot of subcategories to those, but those are the big, top-level things we look at.
Sharon: Of course, we’re a PR firm and we do a lot of PR, a lot of article writing for the media. We’ve had SEO companies say, “I want to see the article before you post it. I want to pump it up, add words, delete words.” Do you do things like that, or is that more on the PR side?
Chris: I’ll be transparent. I don’t love it because it hurts things from a throughput perspective and getting it to the end. It’s a bottleneck. It delays things. We do heavy, up-front analysis of the content to try to identify voice and their style. We go through a style guide and try to identify their taglines. It’s very cumbersome up front. Then we try to get their permission to not do the approval process. Not everyone will allow us to do that, but we like to say it delays us. If we’re an SEO agency and we write 40 articles a month, and if the client takes a month to approve them, we don’t have any content to market. So, we try to avoid that when we can.
Sharon: Yeah, lawyers didn’t go to law school for SEO; they went to be lawyers.
Chris: And I think there’s this perception where they think everybody in the world is going to see the content. We can publish the content then make edits post-production. I know that’s a bit different from what you do, Sharon, with PR, but for us, we can control and make changes. You see something you don’t like, we’ll just change it.
Sharon: How important is money? You emphasize that in your own marketing. There’s always a debate with personal injury firms. Do people care about warm fuzzies, or do they care about your wins? What do you look at?
Chris: That’s a deep question. I’m a big fan of Naval Ravikant, and he talks about—
Sharon: I’m sorry, who?
Chris: Naval Ravikant. He talks about people’s motivations based upon status or wealth. Status is a zero-sum game; there’s a winner and a loser. A lot of attorneys love trial because there’s a winner and a loser. Sports is a zero-sum game. So, there’s status orientation. Then there’s wealth. Wealth is not a zero-sum game. Many individuals can be wealthy. So, it depends on their demeanor. I think some of them are more status-oriented and want to be the heavy-hitting trial attorneys and peacock and be the man, but then there are others that don’t care. They’ll let the other individuals shine and they’re more wealth oriented. You see this a lot in society. Individuals will choose to go against common things, but they’re doing it because it’s a status play. It brings them status to be against the big billionaires or whoever. That’s a whole different conversation we’ll probably want to avoid, but that’s the way I see it.
Sharon: Do you basically stick with the marketing they have? If they call you in to do SEO and you look at their website and messaging, do you stick with that or do you recommend a change?
Chris: We absolutely will make recommendations if we see an opportunity to help them. Ultimately, if they’re signing more cases, it helps us; we have more opportunities to do different SEO for different locations, for retention, for security. Individuals that are living and dying by each lead are the ones that are emailing you every single day, “Where are my leads? Where are my leads?” We just try to do the best. If we think we have excellent rankings, and maybe they don’t have the correct copywriting or positioning conversion points, we’ll absolutely make recommendations for branding or anything that can help them.
Sharon: Have you ever let a client go because they were too anxious or they wouldn’t listen to you, or you thought, “This is not going to work”?
Chris: Yeah, I wouldn’t say very frequently, but absolutely. We’ve done it a couple of times this year under different circumstances. At the end of the day, your team has to feel welcome and hungry and motivated to work on your client. I want to have a culture where people enjoy their work. Sometimes we’ve had individuals that weren’t respectful or the best from the culture perspective. Look, at the end of the day, it’s not worth it. I know our employees really appreciate that we have their back when those situations occur. When you take care of your employees, they’re going to take care of your clients.
Sharon: Another question, one that’s important to me. I’m not sure I understand it, but how can you work with a client in more than one market? Can you only work with one law firm that wants auto cases in Philadelphia? If client B comes and says, “I want auto cases in Philadelphia,” can you do that? What do you do?
Chris: That’s a great question that has been debated on and on in the SEO community. What I’ll tell you is that radio and TV own the distribution rights. They already own the distribution. For SEO, it’s determined based upon proximity. I’ll give you an example, and then I’m going to circle this around. If you go on vacation to St. Louis and you type “best restaurants near me” in your phone, you’re going to see restaurants nearest your proximity. You’re not going to see them 10 miles away or 20 miles away. In some situations, if you have a big market, let’s say Houston, you could, in theory, have multiple clients in Houston. You could have one downtown, one in the northeast, and there will not be a true conflict because of the proximity factor.
Having said that, I personally have given up on trying to educate our clients on this because, at the end of the day, it’s what they feel. So, we only take one per market now. In the past, I was very resistant to it because of the proximity. We’ve done our own data studies, but the SEO industry itself, it’s perceived as a snake oil salesman. Any time I would try to educate about proximity, it’s like they have earmuffs, and they’re like, “Oh, another snake oil salesman.” So, I’ve basically given up. It’s what they want; it’s their perception, so we just take one per market.
Sharon: Let me make sure I understand. Are you saying you think it could be done, but your client doesn’t want that?
Chris: Yes, that was what I was circling around to. Because the Map Pack, which is the best virtual real estate we talk about, after about one mile, your rankings start to deplete based upon your physical location. One of the biggest things I see attorneys do wrong is they’ll have an office in Orlando or Houston, and they’ll think about going to an entirely different city. They don’t understand there’s a big portion of their market that’s not covered just because of the location where their office is. It may be better to actually open a second office in the same city than to go to an entirely new city based upon proximity.
Sharon: Physical offices may not be the same today as it was a few years ago, but the law firms that advertise will advertise 20 different locations. What location do you use? The main location?
Chris: First, I’ll say all attorney listings are supposed to follow Google’s guidelines. Google’s guidelines state that the office has to have staff during your regularly stated hours. That’s the big one that most don’t do. It has to have signage. It has to be an actual brick-and-mortar with an office space. It can’t be a shared office. You’ll see a lot of fake satellite offices. Technically, they’re violating Google’s guidelines.
So, when we say they should expand, we tell them to follow the book. Get a lease. Make sure it’s staffed. Have proof of that. Have signage. Have business cards so if there’s any question, here’s the proof. That’s the way to do it by the book. There are many firms that do not do it by the book, but again, we can educate them as to the best ways to do things. Then it’s their choice on how they proceed.
Sharon: I can see them saying, “That’s nice, Chris. O.K., thanks.” There are people listening today who are going to get off the phone and go look at their website and say, “What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong?” What are the things they should look at right away, the top three things to evaluate whether this is going to work for SEO?
Chris: I would say read your content first. Does the content answer consumer intent? Do you think it would answer your customer’s pains? Is it well-written? Is it formatted well? Can they find the information they’re looking for? That’s where I would start. Looking at things like links, you need to use diagnostic tools. You need third-party assistance or someone that really understands that. So, I would pay close attention to your website, to your content. Read it and make sure everything’s covered thoroughly. That’s where I would start.
Sharon: Can you set SEO and then leave it for a few months? If you get things up and running, can you just—
Chris: In major metros, typically, you cannot. In most of the major metros, all SEO agencies are an in-house team that is constantly foot on the pedal, doing more content, more links, more Google reviews, or eventually you’ll lose market share. In smaller markets, you may be able to create a big enough gap where you don’t have to touch it as frequently. Maybe there are only a few firms. You can get a big runway ahead of them. But in most markets, it’s a constant game. It’s not set and forget it.
Sharon: Do people ask you, “Should I add YouTube?” or “Should I link my YouTube? Should I link my podcast or blog?” I know you have a blog. Should those all be linked, and does that help?
Chris: Yes and no. I’m trying not to get too confusing for the audience. In general, I would tell the audience to create a link if it can serve the consumer, if you’re trying to transition or build brand awareness. I know you’re aware of this, Sharon, because of what you do for PR. A lot of times, the links are not followed, and they won’t contribute or pass equity. A lot of press release sites, a lot of media news sites, don’t pass authority back to your site. Is it still a good reason to include a link? Yes, because you could transition a consumer to your website. It could still convert. Is it going to help SEO? Maybe. The traffic might help, but will the link pass authority? Maybe not. Should you link your social assets and directories and things like this? Absolutely. Are they going help improve your rankings? Maybe. Maybe they will; maybe they won’t.
Sharon: Is your team constantly Googling your clients? Is it constantly evaluating them? When you say diagnostics, what are you looking for? Are they doing Google Analytics? I don’t know exactly what it is.
Chris: Yeah, we do. We have several tools that track rankings. Rankings are one of those leading indicators. Just because you have great rankings doesn’t mean it’s going to generate cases. It’s more predictive. So, we look at leading indicators. There’s one we look at as an agency. I’m not aware of another agency that does. It’s referred to as Ahrefs traffic value, and basically this number shows the amount of money you’d have to spend on pay-per-click to get the same amount for organic. We measure that on a weekly basis. If we see it increase, great. Our rankings and visibility are improving. If we see a decrease, them something happened. It allows us to take action more quickly on a weekly basis than by looking at your Google Analytics traffic or goals and conversions on a monthly basis, which is more a lagging indicator. We look at a lot of KPIs. We look at leading end lagging.
Sharon: You mentioned pay-per-click and social before. You don’t do social. Do you do pay-per-click? Do you incorporate that, or is that totally separate?
Chris: That would be a situation where we have a few strategic partners we can highly recommend. We work very well with them from a communications standpoint. We feel we’re the best in the world of SEO. We try to find the best in the world of pay-per-click and these other services and let our clients work with those individuals.
Sharon: That’s interesting to me, because I always think of pay-per-click as part of SEO in a sense. There are so many perspectives on SEO. Should you focus on this? Should you focus on linking everything? Should you focus on YouTube? That’s why it’s always changing. What are your thoughts about something like that?
Chris: Again, I’m a big omnichannel person, so I think there are a lot of different places where individuals congregate and hang out. They could hang out on Facebook; now that audience is depleted, so let’s go to Instagram. Now that audience is depleted and it’s going to TikTok or YouTube. I think you need to do it all.
The difference between pay-per-click and SEO in my eyes is with pay-per-click, you’re leasing visibility. The moment you quit bidding, you’re gone. It’s great. You can get that visibility immediately. With SEO, you’re creating a library so people can pull these books from the shelves when they have a certain query. The more content and queries and keywords you target, the bigger your library is, the more opportunities there are for consumers to find you. I look at it more as an asset as opposed to a leasing situation or a liability perspective. That’s the way I look at it for SEO. It just gets better with time. Still today, even though there are all these different mediums, it’s still one of the best costs per conversion, costs per acquisition.
With pay-per-click, the amount per click has exponentially increased. Now, we’re looking at $300, $600 per click. Facebook ads have gotten more expensive, and you’re not seeing yourself on the organic feed as much as you used to. It’s more pay to play, but we still see a lot of value in SEO.
Sharon: I would think it would be foundational in the long term. No matter what else is coming, you are still going to need that. Do you work with your clients on the intake process? What if you’re generating these leads and they’re blowing it when somebody calls?
Chris: We secret shop them. We secret shop our clients. We listen to calls. There’s nothing worse than when we generate leads and the phone’s not answered or calls aren’t returned. It’s our job to overwhelm the sales department. The moment we get any insights to where sales could be improved, we make those recommendations because it impacts us. We can generate a thousand leads, but if they’re not getting assigned, we’re going to get fired because they’re not making money.
Sharon: How are you tracking that? Do you work with people inside for that to work?
Chris: Yes. There are certain CRMs we recommend. There are a few consultants we recommend. There are even outsourced intake services we recommend for all those scenarios. It depends based upon the type of firm. There are some firms that are settlement firms, so they don’t do a lot of litigation. They’re really high-volume. Then there are litigating firms, where maybe their case criteria are super high and they don’t do volume. The way you staff those sales teams is different, so it depends based upon our recommendations.
Sharon: Going to back to what you were saying before about working only with personal injury firms, I would think they’re not scared off by big marketing budgets or the big numbers you might be throwing around. When you read the Wall Street Journal, they’re spending millions of dollars on stuff like this. I don’t know if you find that.
Chris: They’re not afraid to spend money; I’ll say that. It is definitely increasing in most major markets. You’re not going to do TV in most markets for less than $50,000 a month. Pay-per-click, you’re not doing that for less than $10,000 typically. There’s big money in personal injury because there’s a lot of opportunity. There are a lot of different insurances and big insurance companies. It’s a behemoth that takes advantage of a lot of consumers, so they definitely invest a lot.
Sharon: Chris, I really appreciate your being here today because this is, to me, foundational. It’s not going away no matter what comes. Thank you so much for sharing all your expertise with us. If things ever change with SEO, we’ll have you back. Thank you so much.
Chris: Awesome. Sharon, thanks so much for having me.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Ronnie Deaver
Ronnie Deaver is the founder of NoBull Marketing, a lead generation firm for lawyers. Specializing in Google Ads and Google My Business, NoBull is know for its “No B.S. Guarantee” and fluff-free services. Before founding NoBull, Ronnie was Director of Operations and Director of Web Development & SEO at SMB Team, a legal marketing and coaching firm.
SEO has changed dramatically over the last five years, but one thing remains the same: keep Google happy, and Google will reward your firm with higher rankings. Ronnie Deaver, CEO of NoBull Marketing, has figured out exactly how to do that for his legal clients. He joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about why Google My Business is so important for law firms; how to get more valuable online reviews; and why your website still matters—but not for the reasons you might think. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today my guest is Ronnie Deaver, who is CEO of NoBull Marketing. NoBull Marketing is a lawyer-exclusive marketing firm. In this session, we’re going to be touching on three areas: search engine optimization or SEO, Google My Business and Google Ads. They all play a role in generating leads for your firm. They can also make your head spin, as they have mine, but Ronnie’s going to lay it out for us clearly. Ronnie, welcome to the program.
Ronnie: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.
Sharon: So glad to have you. First of all, tell us about your career path, how you got here.
Ronnie: My career path probably started around 10 years ago, and it was a very unexpected way to get into marketing as a whole. I moved to Boston, and for anyone who wonders why, it’s a very stereotypical story: I chased a woman. The woman did not work out, but the city did. While I was there, I was very broke. I went on Craigslist—this is one of my favorite stories—and found a guy who was like, “Hey, I need help with my website.” I met with him at a McDonald’s, and the first thing he said to me was, “Hey man, I want a website, but what I really want is to show up number one on Google.” In my head, I was like, “I don’t know how to make that happen, but if you pay me this much per month, I’ll make it happen for you.” So, I got my first recurring client. Fortunately I succeeded, and the rest is history from there.
As it relates to lawyers, I got involved with lawyers three or so years ago. From then on, I’ve been sold that they’re the people I want to work with. As far as I’m concerned, it’s almost like a spiritual calling. I have so much respect for lawyers because they literally raise their hands and say, “Yes, I’m willing to get involved with people at the worst times of their lives.” They’re crazy. That’s insane to be like, “People going through the most emotional problems of their lives, when they’re at their worst and their lowest, I’m going to help those people.” I’m like, “Wow! I want to help those people help other people.” I’ve been working with lawyers ever since.
Sharon: Why are they at the lowest? Because they’re lawyers, because they went to law school?
Ronnie: No, they’re helping people who are at their lowest.
Sharon: I see. I get it.
Ronnie: If you’re getting a divorce, you’re pretty emotionally stressed. If you’re going through a criminal case, you’re usually not your happiest person at that time. What I respect about lawyers is they put a lot of training and time and willingness into helping people who are not coming to them when they’re super chippy and cheery and excited. They’re usually unhappy; they’re usually trying to solve a big problem; they need help; they can be emotionally touchy. It’s not easy to be a lawyer. You’re dealing with people at the worst, but these lawyers are volunteering to do that. It’s a cool career. While I couldn’t be a lawyer—I wasn’t destined for that—I want to help those lawyers build better lives and build better businesses for themselves so they can help more people.
Sharon: That must keep you very busy. You answered my question. I was going to ask if you had thought about law school yourself.
Ronnie: I did, but I’m one of those guys that’s more of intense action than intense thought. I thought about it, and I was like, “Man, this is not my destination.” I’m a very clearcut, no B.S. guy, and the law is a little—there’s a lot of negotiation. There’s no clearcut “This is right. This is wrong.” It’s not that simple, and I’m a simple guy in that sense. I’m like, “This is how we do it. This is what’s going to work. I’ve tested it and I’ll evolve that over time.” I’m not destined for that high level of nuance and thought that lawyers need. I thought about it, but it’s not me as a person.
Sharon: That’s interesting. I’ll have to think about it. I like the idea about intense action. You’re a person of intense action and not intense thought, and lawyers are so thoughtful and think everything through. What keeps you attracted, then? Why, after years now, have you continued to work with lawyers?
Ronnie: The biggest thing is because they’re so intensely thoughtful, they’re also willing to recognize that intense thought doesn’t make a business. That’s the cool thing about business; it inherently is this weird balance of both. You have to have to incredibly good thinking. You have to think and know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, but you can’t think your way to success. You also have to take a lot of action, action that you don’t know if it’s going to be profitable; action you don’t know if it’s going to work; action even when it’s hard; action when you’re having a bad day. It’s a combination of both.
What I love about lawyers is that oftentimes they’re very driven people if they went through law school. They’re like, “Hey, I know I have this weakness. I know I can think well, but I don’t know what I need to do to act.” They’re very willing, if given appropriate guidance and coaching, to take real, major action and have success. When I work with a lawyer, I’m usually quite confident. In almost every circumstance, I can work with that lawyer and they’re like, “Yes, I want to make this business work,” and I’m like, “Great. Do this, this and that. This is what we found works. If we follow these steps, we’re going to make you money.” They’re like, “Great, I will follow the steps,” and they do it and they execute.
If I work with a restaurant and I work with somebody who’s not quite as driven as a lawyer, you can end up with a lot less successful story. The success stories I get with lawyers are incredible. I’ve got one woman right now, and when I met her, she was basically facing bankruptcy. Now she’s growing so fast and hiring because she can barely keep up with the caseload. They’re struggling to follow up with their leads. That delta, that change, is so common in the lawyer space because once given direction, they run with it because they’re so driven. I love it, and I have so much energy for it.
Sharon: That’s great. I’d like to know some of the lawyers you know. Don’t you find resistance sometimes? Resistance like, “I know. You don’t know. I’m a lawyer. I know how to do that.” Not to knock anybody, but it’s like, “I know how to do whatever needs to be done, whether it’s marketing or whatever.” Do you find that?
Ronnie: I think that’s broadly true for most marketers in working with lawyers. I have a unique experience with lawyers as an individual because of the way I come off and the way I speak to people. The way I think and talk and approach people is very forward. It’s no B.S. It’s like, “Hey, this is what I think. This is why. This is going to be the outcome if you do this and the outcome if you don’t.” I’m very honest and transparent.
Maybe you have seen my guarantee—I won’t go into it right now—but if I don’t think I can make you money, I’m not going to charge you, basically. If I don’t think I can succeed for you, I’m going to tell you I can’t, and I won’t take you on as a client. I make it very clear to people that I’m not trying to sell you anything. Either you want the thing I do and I can make you money, or you don’t want the thing I can do or I can’t make you money, and we shouldn’t work together. When I come to people with that approach and I’m that transparent, that no-B.S., and I have that wiliness to not take your money, and I’m not trying to scam you or sell to you regardless of your benefit, people will come to trust me a lot quicker. They’re going to say, “This guy actually has integrity.”
Character and integrity building is something I care a lot about. Because I approach my business and every person I speak with like that, I usually get very little resistance, because at that point, they’re like, “Hey, I actually trust this guy.” That resistance is usually coming from fundamentally they don’t trust the person they’re talking to. That’s not usually an experience I have, because I will willingly stop working with somebody when I’m like, “I think you should focus on a different investment, because I don’t think you’re getting the ROI from me for whatever circumstances. I think you should go to do this.” I do that even to my own detriment, because my fundamental goal is that I want lawyers to build better businesses. Sometimes that includes me and sometimes that doesn’t. I’m willing to say that regardless.
Sharon: I can see how that can engender trust and less resistance. You’re in area we’ve worked in, but not so much as a hands-on area. It’s something that really needs to be straightened out. SEO has come a long way since the first websites and I could tell people, “Do it yourself.” That can’t be done anymore. What’s the difference between SEO, search engine optimization, Google My Business and Google Ads? Can you explain that all?
Ronnie: I find the easiest way to explain it is to envision an actual search. Any lawyer listening, do a search for “divorce lawyer New York City.” I chose New York City because it’s going to have tons of searches and a lot of competition. If you do that search, what you’ll see immediately at the top is Google Ads. You’re going to see the new local service ads. I should say newer; it’s been out for years now. That’s where you see maybe an image of a lawyer and their reviews. Under that, you’ll see text ads. Those are ads that literally just have text on them. Both of these, though, are a form of Google Ads. Google Ads, they’re great. A lot of people have had mixed experiences, but the great thing about Google Ads is you can pay to play, and it works if it’s done right, if you’re doing it with a professional who knows how to fight Google.
Here’s the thing: Google Ads is designed to spend your money, not make you money. Think about who’s running it. Google wants to make money. They don’t really care that much about you. They just want to make money. But when you work with a professional whose goal is to make you money, like me, my goal is to say, “Hey, Google, I don’t want you to take my money. I want to make sure we’re making money.” Anyway, Google Ads can be really profitable if you spend this much to get that much. So, that’s Google Ads, and basically it’s pay to play. You pay to advertise. You get clicks. Those clicks turn into calls. Those calls turn into cases. You run the numbers. You try to make it profitable. That’s Google Ads you see at the very top.
Interestingly enough, as you mentioned, a lot has changed over the last 10, 15 years in the SEO/Google world. What’s right below Google Ads now—and this didn’t used to be true—is Google My Business, otherwise known as the Map Pack or the Three Pack. There are a lot of different names for it. That’s the next thing, where you see names and reviews and a literal map. Back about 10, 15 years ago, you saw organic results first. You would see ads, of course, but then you would see organic results, your typical text search results, and then you would see a map under that. This was a major shift that happened roughly five years ago, where Google My Business was completely allotted to being above organic results.
Nowadays, what I talk to lawyers most about is that Google My Business shows up above all of your organic results. This is where I think you should put your effort into on the organic side. Google My Business is its own standalone profile. It has a lot of ranking factors that are a little bit different than SEO. It’s going to have ranking factors based on reviews, how active you are on the profile. Are you making posts? Are you uploading photos? Have you added your services? Have you added your products? Are you doing Q&As? Are you responding to your reviews? There’s a lot of grunt work, which we’ll talk about later, that goes into Google My Business as a platform for ranking on there.
Quick caveat there: one of the big differences from traditional SEO—when people say, “I want to be ranked one”—is on Google My Business, you can get to rank one, two or three, but you’re never going to own that spot 100% of the time. It doesn’t happen. Google My Business is always switching them out. There’s no owning rank one 100% of the time in your market, especially in a bigger market. So, the name of the game with Google My Business, because it’s so dynamic, is not just to rank one. It’s the percentage of time that you own rank one, otherwise known as your market share or your share of local voice, which are just different ways of saying how often you show up in the top three. So, just remember that, people. The big thing that’s changed from SEO to focusing on Google My Business is instead of owning that rank one spot and owning it permanently for years, you’re talking about a percentage of time, literally, in a given day. If a thousand searches are made in one day, you’re trying to have maybe 20% of that, not 100% like you would in the old days, which is traditional SEO.
Beneath is, of course—if you search “divorce lawyer New York City,” we saw the ads; we saw Google My Business. Right beneath that is your traditional SEO. I personally don’t promote a lot of traditional SEO anymore. The big reason for that is that nowadays there are all these aggregators: Super Lawyers, Lawyers.com, Justia, FindLaw. These guys are spending millions and millions of dollars a year to own these. I’ve found that even if you could rank here—and you can with sufficient effort, but the value you get out of it, plus the chances of your ranking are so low that it’s not worth the ROI. I did the tracking once. The average website tracker converts 3%. You’re going to put all this effort in, and you get 300 extra people on your website. That’s like 10 calls. 300 people, that could be a big number for a lot of business owners, especially for the level of SEO they can commit to, but it’s only 10 calls. Making that profitable is very hard.
Regardless, that’s your three fundamental separations between Google Ads that show up at the top, pay to play. Google My Business, which is where I now recommend people put the majority of effort because it’s at the top. More importantly, you’re not competing with Findlaw, Super Lawyers, Avvo, any of those guys on Google My Business. You’re just competing with the local people in your market. It’s a much less competitive market while still having all the volume of everyone in your area searching for it. Below that are organic SEO results. That covers the three.
Sharon: Let’s say I’m a family lawyer and I’ve never done any of this. I come to you and say, “I have money to put behind it. Can you get me to the top or near the top?” Is that possible today? Do I have to redo my website with content?
Ronnie: Yes, it’s absolutely possible. Here’s the thing. SEO and Google My Business, they still have a relationship together. Do you have to do everything as crazy and intense as you used to have to do with SEO? People used to think with SEO, “We have to redo the website, and we’ve got to make millions of pages of content. We’ve got to do that,” and it’s this whole giant affair. You don’t have to do that anymore. However, your website still does affect your Google My Business because it scans your website and uses that for context of what services you offer. If you say you’re an estate planning lawyer, for example, Google wants to see that you have pages for probate, pages for estate planning, pages for wills, pages for trusts, because it’s going to scan your website and use that as context.
But here’s the thing. This is the big changing in mindset. It’s not about those pages’ rankings. Those pages are never going to rank. I don’t give a crud if anyone ever Googles and finds that page. That’s not the goal when you’re focusing on Google My Business, at least. The goal is that Google scans them to help it understand what your business does, and then it’s more likely to rank your Google My Business profile higher on that Map Pack rather than your actual page.
Here’s the other reason I love Google My Business. Google My Business only shows up on the searches where people have literally raised their hands and said, “I need a lawyer right now.” It doesn’t show up when they’re saying, “Should I get a lawyer?” or “Can I avoid getting a lawyer?” or any of these other research terms. It literally only shows up when people say, “Hey, I want to hire a lawyer right now.” So, the leads you get from it, the people who call you, they’re usually very close to making a decision. You’re putting effort into showing up in front of people right when they need a lawyer, which is why it can have a high conversion rate and why it can be so profitable.
But yes, you can absolutely start ranking. A lot of my clients rank within as little as 90 days. That’s possible. The reason it’s possible is because if you put the sufficient grunt work into the profile—grunt work being the posts, photos, Q&As, getting reviews—reviews alone are like 35% of the factor. Put that grunt work in, and even a small boost in your ranking on Google My Business can easily turn into an extra 10, 15, 20 calls a month. 10, 15, 20 calls, maybe that’s three, four or five consultations. If you close one of those with an average case value of $3,000 to $5,000, you’re already starting to get profitable from what you’re spending on somebody like me. The ROI to time factor with Google My Business is so much better and so much faster than whatever SEO that was in the past, where it’s 12 months or 24 months to float an expense, and maybe $30, 40 grand a year for years. Google My Business doesn’t have that factor. You can go a lot faster.
Sharon: You still have to do a lot of SEO behind the scenes. It shows up in a different way. Tell us more about the grunt work. Do you do the reviews? Are you doing the photography? Are you prodding your clients, saying it’s time to write an article or whatever?
Ronnie: Yes, so we do as much of the grunt work as we humanly can. This what I talk about the whole time. We’re not selling back magic. We’re not selling a magic pill that solves all your problems. What we sell is grunt work. We know if we put this work in, it pays. So, we handle all the on-page SEO. We’ll go through and optimize your website fully. For anybody who wants to hear these terms, some of these will be a little technical. We’re not going too far into them, but metatitles, metadescriptions, local schema, image alt text, image compression, website speedup stuff. All your basics of having a website that makes sense to Google so they know your name, your address, your phone number, what you do, we’ll handle all that.
Then on the setup side of Google My Business, there’s actually quite a lot. One of the things people don’t realize is that five or eight years ago, Google My Business was a set-and-forget thing. You put your name, your info, your category and never thought about it again. Maybe you get a review every now and then. Nowadays, they’ve turned it into a quasi-social platform. I want to be clear here: it’s a terrible social platform. Never think of it as a social platform. But even if you’re not going to get views or likes or whatever on it, doing that activity still makes Google happy, which means you’re more likely to rank higher. It’s about making Google happy, not about getting profile views or image likes. In terms of setup, you can put all that basic information in: your name, address, phone number, description.
Nowadays, they’ve recently—and I say recently as in the last couple of years—they’ve added functionality where you can add literally every service you offer. Let me give you an example. When I work with a criminal lawyer, they’re not just a criminal lawyer. They do drug crimes; they do manslaughter; they do criminal deportation. They do all these different subcategories. Even below that, a drug crime lawyer is not just a drug crime lawyer. It’s also Xanax crime, meth crime, marijuana crime. You can break this down. For our average client, we’re adding 50 to 100 individual services, breaking down literally every single thing they do. We’re adding 100 words of extra context into the back of the profile, putting every single thing they do. Again, that gives Google more context of who you are and what you do, and it makes it easier for you to rank. The cool thing is when you do rank, if somebody did want a marijuana crime lawyer near me, Google literally would say, “Provides service: marijuana crime lawyer.” You’re more likely to get the call because not only did you rank higher, but you showed that you’re a specialist in that industry.
You can also do products. Products are basically a visual version of that. You get to do the same thing, but you put photos and you can link to a certain page on the website. It has a little more of a visual component to it, but again, it’s another way of telling Google who you are and what you do. We do all of that on the setup side.
Then you have the ongoing side. On the ongoing side, again, we do all this grunt work. We write a blog post every single month. Lesson learned; I now only work with J.D. holders to write blog posts for lawyers. I will never have somebody who has not gone to law school write a post for a lawyer. No lawyer likes that. I’ve never had a problem with a lawyer now that I only have people who went to law school writing it. I had lots of issues before, but we’ve done that for years now, no problems. So, we have an actual law student, somebody who went to law school, got their J.D., write the blog posts so the lawyer doesn’t have to.
Then we go further than that. We have posts on Google My Business. We’ll upload photos. If we have to, we have stock photos; even stock photos are better than no photos. We do send a little automated text asking lawyers, “Hey, send me a photo if you have it. If you have a real one, I’ll take it.” I make it as easy as if you just respond to a text, I’ll handle uploading the photo. So, we ask for those photos or we post our own.
We’re going to be uploading our own questions and answers. People don’t realize this, but you can actually ask yourself a question on Google My Business and answer it. You don’t have to wait for somebody to ask you a question. That’s a whole new functionality. A couple of years ago, Q&As didn’t even exist. Now Q&As will do this. Say I have a family lawyer. I’ll say, “Hey, what’s the process of divorce?” and I’ll ask myself that question. Then, J.D. holders will write a 300-word response and post that there. We’re adding 10 of those a month; we’re adding 3,000+ characters of words to the profile proving to Google that we’re an expert and know what we’re doing. Again, more and more grunt work, everything you can do.
Finally, on the review side, I can’t do it for you fully. People have tried completely outsourcing but your conversion rate will be terrible. If I do it for you completely, I’ll get one out of every 10 people to leave a review for you, which is a waste. What I have done—and I’ve gotten this up to a 40% conversion rate, so four out of 10 will leave of review of you. I set up a very simple flat automation for our clients, where all they have to do is give me a name, a phone number and an email, and we’ll automatically send three to six follow-ups by SMS asking them to leave a review. It’ll follow up over 10 days. It’s that follow-up that makes a big difference, because the first time you ask, they’re never going to leave a review. You’ve got to ask at least two or three more times, and they’ll do it on the follow-up. That gets about a 40% conversion rate. Most of our clients are getting two to five, sometimes 10 new reviews a month.
When you combine all that together, what we end up seeing is often between 20% and 30% lift month over month. By lift, I mean an increase. If they’re getting 30 calls now, next month I’d see maybe 40 calls. The next month I’d like to see 50, 60 calls. The next month I’d like to see 60, 70 calls, so that at the end of it, I have a lot of clients. Within six months, they’ve doubled their call volume. When you’re doubling your call volume, that pretty easily turns into quite a bit more revenue.
Sharon: Wow! But you’re saying, though, you still have to do all the stuff we used to do. It’s the stuff we’re talking about, just on your website. You’d come in and say, “Let me change the tags. Let me change this.” You still have to do that, even though people aren’t coming to the website directly; they’re coming to the ads or Google My Business. When you add, let’s say, 15 more services, is that behind the scenes? Like if they search “criminal lawyer in New York City” and then they click on that and see, “Oh, this guy does all this criminal stuff,” is it behind the scenes?
Ronnie: It’s completely behind the scenes. The customer will almost never see it unless it showed up on a very specific search. Here’s the thing: it’s in the profile of Google My Business itself. It’s not a thing anybody can click through to. It’s not a thing somebody can explore or open up. Products are a little different. Products you can click through and explore, but services are explicitly a backend thing, so Google My Business knows exactly what your services are. They sometimes use it where the customer can see it says “provides” and whatever the service is. That will sometimes show up, but you can’t control it. It’ll sometimes show up on the search, but there’s no clicking through and seeing all those services. So, mostly we do it for Google’s sake.
I love that you mentioned all that old SEO stuff as still being present. The way I think about it, Google My Business was built on the foundation of SEO. It’s not that they’re completely disconnected, but nowadays, SEO is a supporting tool to Google My Business. I don’t usually recommend SEO as a standalone campaign anymore just because of the numbers and profit. I tracked 200 campaigns and here’s what I found. I tracked every call, every form fill, every everything. I found that 60% to 80% of all calls a lawyer got over 200 campaigns could be directly attributed to Google My Business. They called straight from Google My Business. They didn’t go to the website at all. They just called from Google My Business without ever going to the website.
Sharon: Does Google My Business give you a separate phone number if you’re paying Google for ads? Do they give you a separate phone number to track this?
Ronnie: They do have some call tracking functionality. It’s not a separate number. What they do is behind the scenes. They have what is called call history in Google My Business. I don’t usually recommend it, and the reason I don’t recommend doing that is because, first of all, it’s bad data. It’ll lead you to believe you’re getting worse data than you are because it can only track the people who click it to call. It can’t track the people who type it in manually. Google My Business is still going to show your actual number, but when you click it, they run it through a different phone number on the back end. So, it’s only tracking 60% to 70% of your calls. It’s not tracking the many, many people who Google on their desktop and then call from their phone, for example.
What I do instead is set up call tracking, where we replace your office number or we import your office number and turn it into a tracked line, depending on if you have a vanity number or really old number you love. Either way, we either completely replace your office number with a new tracked line, or we’ll import your current one and make it into a tracked line, and then we put that on Google My Business. Then we have perfect data because it doesn’t matter how you placed the call. Whether it’s clicked on or manually called, I have that data. I know how that person called and I know where they came from.
Sharon: Is everything you’re describing the same on the phone, desktop, mobile device?
Ronnie: It’s all the same. They would see one phone number all the way through. It doesn’t matter where they come from.
Sharon: What happens if you have a vanity number? Let’s say I’m a client and I say, “Oh, I have to call John. I know his number is 1-800-LAWYER.” How do you separate those?
Ronnie: Yes, if you really care about running a vanity number, I understand. Like I said, we have the option to import that. We can import that number and turn it into a call tracking, which I think is best practice regardless. If you’re going to have a fancy number, at least know how many people are calling you. I think that’s the useful thing to do. So, we import that number and turn that into a call track number. Then that number stays the same. Nothing changes. It’s the same number. When you switch from T-Mobile to Verizon, you get to keep your number. It’s the same thing. We get to keep that number; we just turned it into a tracked one. It’s the same number, but you get all the benefits and now you can track all your calls.
Sharon: When you’re working lawyers, what are the top three mistakes you see, or the top three tips you have? What would you say?
Ronnie: I think as it relates to broad marketing, the biggest thing is not realizing what personally works for you as an individual. What I mean by that is the biggest thing I see lawyers do as a mistake—this is all business owners—is that it’s so tempting to follow the advice of everyone else who says, “This is the best way to succeed,” and they’ll do it regardless of whether or not it’s good for them as an individual. I’ll give you an example of somebody it’s not good for. Say you’ve got a very shy person, a very shy lawyer who doesn’t enjoy meeting in person. It makes them very nervous. It makes them very sickly and unhealthy and anxious. They’re having a bad day. Every time they go to a networking event, they’re miserable. But every lawyer they’ve ever met has told them the only way they’re going to succeed is if they get good at networking, so they grind their way through and force themselves to go to all these networking events. The reason I think that’s a terrible idea is because business is marathon; it’s not a sprint. This is general business advice separate from marketing. Business is a marathon, not a sprint. If you go do things that make you miserable all the way through, you’re not going to be able to sustain. You’re going to want to quit. You’re going to want to give up. You’re going to burn out. You’re going to shut down. You’re going to give up. It doesn’t work. So, the biggest mistake I see lawyers make is trying to do things the way everyone else tells them to, regardless of how it feels to them.
Networking for me is super easy. I’m very outgoing, very loud. I speak. I can own a room very easily. Great. What didn’t work for me was trying to force myself to run a lot of Facebook ads. I’m a very direct marketing guy. Cold email is how I do things. Meeting people in person is how I do things. Podcasting and talking, that’s how I do things. But everyone I met was telling me, “Do Facebook ads. Do Facebook ads.” That just freaked me out. If I spent $3,000 in Facebook ads, I was terrified all month, like, “Oh my god, I’m wasting money.” Then I’d be miserable the whole day, all day, every day. I never would have gotten this far if I kept doing what everyone else told me to do.
The same thing is true for most lawyers. Find the marketing path. Find the way to run your business that works for you as an individual, even if everyone else tells you it’s not the best way. Again, success is going to come from surviving over the long run, over the marathon, so you can find what works and find the thing that keeps building up rather than the short-term thing everyone says should work. That’s the biggest mistake with lawyers. Just find the path that works for you. If you don’t like making content, you don’t want to be on TikTok, you don’t want to network, you don’t want to whatever, that’s fine. There’s a way to do it; I promise. You’ve just got to find the way that works for you. That’s my number one tip there.
The second one, as it relates to Google My Business specifically, is that it’s not a set-and-forget profile. I’m going to say it again. It is not a set-and-forget profile. Five years ago, you were right; it kind of was. You would set it. It wasn’t even the thing that showed up first. It was secondary. Now, it’s the thing that shows up first. I’ve tracked 200 campaigns. The majority of your leads comes from Google My Business. Think about this: all roads lead to Google My Business. Here’s why. You run that billboard campaign. They’ll remember your billboard. They might remember your name, and what do they do? They Google your name. What’s the first thing that shows up? If you do a Google search for the business and you have a Google My Business listing, the first thing they see on the entire right side of the screen is a massive thing with everything about you, your reviews, you information. That is Google My Business. It’s literally massive. It takes up the entire right side of a Google search. It’s huge.
So, if you run that billboard campaign, you run that Facebook ad, you do that radio campaign, even if you get a referral, the first thing people do nowadays is they Google you and read your reviews and look at your profile. I’ve seen lawyers lose referral leads because they were Googling them, and they were like, “Hey, you’ve only got one review. I don’t trust you. Your Google My Business profile looks terrible.” All roads lead to Google My Business, so what I tell people is don’t set it and forget it. Put more effort into it than anybody else, whether you pay somebody or do it yourself. This is not stuff you can’t do yourself; it’s just a lot of grunt work. Get in there. Make the posts, add the photos, get reviews. Do the work. All roads lead to Google My Business. Don’t set and forget it. Make use of it. Find everything you can do. You’ll get paid for it in the end. It’s grunt work that pays. That’s what I tell people: it’s grunt work that pays.
Which brings me to my next thing, which is that when it comes to reviews, there’s a big myth. I get so many complaints about reviews. “I can’t get reviews. I’m a criminal lawyer. Somebody who just had a child sex case doesn’t want to leave a review. Somebody who just went through a divorce doesn’t want to talk about the divorce.” First of all, you don’t actually know that. There are a lot of assumptions. I know if you were going through a divorce, you wouldn’t want to leave a review, but you don’t know that about other people. I have met a lot of criminals who are pretty thrilled to brag about the fact that they were a criminal who got off the hook. They’re very thrilled to leave that review. They’re proud of it. You’ve got no idea what people are willing to do. Don’t assume you do. More important, the reality is that reviews are so profitable. Even the referral person is going to look at your reviews. So, you’ve got to get those reviews, and the number myth I see is that most lawyers think they can only get reviews from paying clients, people who have succeeded and paid you. That is not true. The only requirement for a review is that you gave somebody legitimate legal value.
Let’s think about that. What does that mean? I’ll give you an example that blows it out of the water every time. Estate planning lawyers, every quarter they’re going to host a local seminar at the nursing home, for example, and 60 people are there. Maybe they get three, four, five clients out of that session. They’re thrilled. They’ve just made so much money. However, here’s what they do next. After that seminar—they’ve just spent two hours with these people—the ask all 60 attendees to leave a review right then and there. They get 15 to 20 extra reviews in one day for a seminar they were already going to do and they already got five clients out of. At free consultations, you just spent 30 minutes giving legitimate legal value to somebody, even if they don’t become a client. I’ve got clients right now who get three, four, five reviews a month just from people they did a free consultation with. They didn’t even become clients, but at least they got a review out of it for that free consultation. So, there are lots of creative ways that you can get reviews. You’ve just got to think, “Did I provide legal value of some sort?” Friends and family count here. If you gave legitimate legal value, if somebody asked for advice or a thought or suggestion or direction and you gave legal value of some form, that’s cool; ask for that review. You’re safe to do it. It’s worth the payout.
My final thought for people, and I’ll close off here, is that I know you’ve probably had a bad experience with Google ads when you tried running them yourself. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There are a lot of lawyers who are like, “I’ll never do Google ads. It’s never profitable. I tried it once and I lost a lot of money,” especially after Google launched Google Express Ads. I don’t know if you remember those, but Google tried it for a while. Basically, Google wants to get rid of us agencies because we are really good at not getting people to spend as much money. We’re really good at getting our clients to reduce the budget with Google ads. Google wants a direct path to the client where they can work with the lawyer and the lawyer pays Google. They don’t want a middleman. However, the benefit of the middleman is that when you work with an appropriate middleman, you can get it to where we’re constantly telling Google, “I don’t want to pay for this. I don’t want to pay for that. I don’t want to pay for this.” What we’re doing every day and every week is finding out what’s worth paying for and what actually turns into money.
I’ll give you an example. If I work with a criminal lawyer, what I’ve found out—and we’ve helped clients make more money this way—is that if we just pay for DUI searches, we’ll get some cases that way, but a lot of people who are in a DUI, some of them don’t have the money or they aren’t very socially responsible people. They’re not likely to have the money or to pay out. What I found was if we go after nursing DUI or contractor DUI, suddenly the game changed. Now we were going after people who lose the entire livelihoods and licenses. A nurse loses her license for a DUI. Suddenly, those people have more money because they’re nurses, and they’re way more incentivized to make it work because they don’t want to lose their license. I have that context where I can pay money on Google Ads to find the leads that are most likely to make you money and actually convert. When you work with a professional on Google Ads, you can make your campaign a lot more profitable than anything you’ve ever done on your own. So, don’t throw out Google Ads. You’re literally getting to pay to put yourself in front of people who say, “I need a lawyer right now.” If you work with a professional, you can make a lot of money with it. Don’t throw it out. Consider it.
Sharon: You work with Google a lot. It sounds like Google would love to go to a lawyer and say, “Just buy my ads.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s a nurse. This is just off the cuff. What’s next for Google and you? Do you feel changes coming? It seems like every time one learns what’s going on, it’s changed. What do you feel is changing or coming?
I bring that up because when it comes to Google and why I love it and expound on it so much, it’s the index fund of marketing. It’s hyper-ingrained in culture. It’s not going to change very much at all in terms of the cultural side. It might evolve, but it’s going to be Google. It’s going to be the idea of searching for a solution. That may evolve in its format. It might be like a VR headset, where an ad shows while you’re searching for something on a VR headset. But fundamentally people are going to search for answers, and you can pay or put grunt effort in to show up in front of people when they search for the answer, whatever format they take. So, in some ways it’s changing; in a lot of ways it’s almost not at all. For me, I’ll probably be on the Google search world, because why would I not put all my effort into putting myself in front of people when they’re already looking for me? That’s where I want to be. It’s easier that way. Fundamentally that’s not changing.
Now, when it comes to actual platforms—which, to me, are on a micro scale compared to the macro we just talked about—there is some micro-stuff changing. The thing that’s going to keep changing is Google’s going to keep trying to find ways to get rid of agencies. I’m going to have to keep fighting. We’re going to fight that as long as we can. There’s going to come a day where eventually Google succeeds with that, but the agencies will probably still have a role because business owners have better things to do than manage their budgets or campaigns. There may be a human component forever, but there will probably be a point where Google succeeds enough where their ads actually perform at reaching their goals for the client. That is probably still many, many years off, because right now the reason Google Ads can’t do that is because they don’t know your business.
For example, right now with local service ads, which is probably the most they’ve ever succeeded at making it where they can go directly to the lawyer, they will run a campaign for an immigration lawyer, but they don’t know that business. So, if that immigration lawyer says, “Hey, I don’t do deportations and I don’t do asylums,” Google has no filtering for that. You can’t turn that off, so you get all immigration leads. Right now at least, there’s no customization to that individual business. That’s the kind of filtering I can do as the human saying, “Hey, I only want these types of cases. I don’t want any of these cases.” I can put that kind of thinking into it. Google may one day fix it up, but they haven’t done it yet.
What they’re trying now is an improved version of all this called Performance Max. It recently came out. Basically, it’s the same idea as Google Express Ads, but with the lessons from local service ads. It’s like version 3, but now it goes on all of their Ads platforms. They’re trying merge into one giant ad platform where you pay one budget to advertise on Google ads, display ads, YouTube ads, Gmail ads, on all their platforms all at once. Of course, in theory that sounds great, but if you just give it to the bots, it’s going to spend money. It has no context of who you want to target, what types of cases turn into money. Performance Max might have a role to play. I don’t expect it’s going to take over the agency role anytime soon. I probably need to keep fighting them for a long time to make sure we’re only spending money when it makes money. But what we’re going to keep is a trend where Google tries to find some new way where we don’t need an agency. They’re going to underestimate and still not understand what the individual business actually needs, so we’re going to keep going back and forth until one day they figure it out. I don’t know how long that’s going to be, but it’s probably at least five, 10 years.
Sharon: You’ve given us a lot to think about. It’s not your father’s Google, I should say.
Ronnie: Yeah, it’s changed a lot.
Sharon: I want to thank you so much. It’s been very, very interesting. We greatly appreciate you being here.
Ronnie: Absolutely. I had a great time. Thanks for having me.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Deborah Shames
Deborah is passionate about speaking and training. That’s why she wrote or co-wrote four books on communication and public speaking, including the business best-seller “Own the Room.”
And because Deborah ran a successful film company in Sausalito, CA. for fourteen years, she knows how difficult it is for women to stand out and succeed. Her latest book is “Out Front: How Women Can Become Engaging, Memorable and Fearless Speakers.” She walks the talk by speaking regularly across the country to motivate and inspire professional women.
Deborah has coached and trained thousands of professionals from all industries to communicate more effectively. Her work has supported A-list performers in television and film, CEO’s of major corporations, gold-medal Olympians, and political candidates. Her clients also include professionals in finance, law and insurance.
Deborah ran the successful Calabasas group of a national business organization and was awarded “Consultant of the Year” by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Deborah uses her experience directing over sixty award-winning films to make her business clients more genuine, effective, and successful. It doesn’t matter whether they are delivering a keynote address, speaking to a Board of Directors, or pitching for new business. Deborah donates her time training MBA candidates in presentation skills at UCLA, Pepperdine, USC and Cal Lutheran. Her personal goal is to prepare women, from Millennials to seasoned veterans, with the skills they need to be out front.
Although communication is a daily part of the job, lawyers aren’t immune to the fear of public speaking. With practice and intention, however, it’s possible to evolve from an anxious speaker to a confident, fearless one. Deborah Shames is proof: she has helped thousands of professionals become strong communicators through her speaking and training company, Eloqui, and she has overcome a fear of public speaking herself. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about her top tips to become a skilled speaker; how to identify your intention when communicating; and why persuasion is more effective than education. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to The Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Deborah Shames, one of the founders of the speaking and training company Eloqui. She is author or coauthor of four books on presentation training. Her latest book is “Out Front: How Women Can Become Engaging, Memorable and Fearless Speakers.” The company’s training has made a difference in the careers of thousands of professionals across the country. Today, Deborah will tell us about her career path and how we can become better presenters. Deborah, welcome to the program.
Deborah: Thank you.
Sharon: So glad to have you. I love the word fearless in your title. How did you get where you are? Tell us about your career path.
Deborah: I was a film and television producer and director for many years. I found that the qualities and traits I used with actors could be used with business professionals. When I met David, my partner, who was in front of the camera as a presenter, we combined forces and translated performance techniques for the business professional.
Sharon: Did you find that actors were listening to you when you were talking?
Deborah: I produced and directed over 60 films and videos. Actors have all of these issues—not the best ones. Not the good ones like Danny Glover, Angela Lansbury and Rita Moreno, who I loved directing. But so many other actors were insecure and constantly needed reinforcement and feedback, and what I found when we switched to business professionals is they have the same issues. They had anxiety; they needed to know how to engage an audience. For me, it was so much easier because they didn’t have to memorize lines. So we translated the techniques from the entertainment world for business professionals, and I was thrilled never having to work with actors again.
Sharon: Did you decide after film and television producing you were going to teach people how to do this? How did you get to this stage?
Deborah: My partner, David, had an executive at a tech company. She needed to do media, and her handler said, “We need a woman to work with her.” David said, “I can be a lot of things, but I can’t be a woman,” so he asked me if I wanted to do it. When I went in and trained this woman on how to get her message across, how to engage, how to put herself in her answers rather than doing canned, generic ones, I asked David, “You get paid for this?” From then on we started to develop our business, first with workshops, then training, then one-on-ones.
Sharon: How did you name your business Eloqui?
Deborah: Eloqui is the Latin to speak out. It’s also a form of the word eloquence, and we wished we could bring back eloquence to the way people communicate today.
Sharon: It’s a form of the word eloquence?
Deborah: Yes, and the Latin version, eloqui.
Sharon: That’s a great name. Tell us about your business. I know you’re always very busy with your training. You do one-on-ones and groups?
Deborah: Eloqui primarily does training for teams, no more than 12 people, ideally six to eight. We also give keynotes. We give public workshops that everyone from your company has gone to that are half-days, and we do one-on-one. During the pandemic, all the one-on-ones were done virtually, but we’re thrilled that starting last fall, companies were saying, “Come back in and do in-person trainings. We’re sick and tired of Zoom and Teams meetings,” and we said, “So are we.”
Sharon: Did you find it was harder to teach people via Zoom, to teach them how to speak?
Deborah: We found that one-on-one works great virtually. It’s almost impossible to do group trainings virtually because of the distraction factor. People are looking and listening to everything else. It’s very hard to get them to be interactive. We’ve done some, and it was the most exhausting experience I’ve had. Keynotes and webinars are O.K., but again, people don’t pay attention the way they do if you do them in person.
Sharon: I’m sure that’s true. I think I would have a very hard time listening when the dog comes in or whatever.
Deborah: When people are on a virtual session, they check web browsers; they check email; they tell you they’re listening, but their eyes are darting back and forth and you know they’re not. I don’t blame them. Now, one-on-one, like we’re doing right now, that’s fine, but the others are tough. When people tell me they’re exhausted after a virtual session, I say, “Of course you are. You’re on camera and right up close, and that can be exhausting.”
Sharon: Do you still do Zooms?
Deborah: I do, but I really limit them to one-on-one sessions like I have later this afternoon.
Sharon: And you teach all over the country, right?
Deborah: Yes. We just got back from New Jersey with a new client where we taught IT managers. In two days, we fly back to Costa Mesa near L.A. to do a group of immigration attorneys. In late July we return to Glidewell Dental to train female dentists who come in from all over the country. I love the variety of clients we have. It makes it fun for me.
Sharon: It sounds like a variety. When you talk to certain groups—let’s say attorneys—do you find them more resistant than CPAs or dentists? That’s a leading question.
Deborah: I don’t find lawyers more resistant, but there’s a huge difference between practicing law, no matter what your practice area is, and being a networker or bringing in business. That’s what lawyers have the biggest difficulty with. They will tell us, “We didn’t go to law school to do sales, but you have to do sales if you want to be made partner.” One of the most difficult things when we train attorneys is to move them away from the belief that they’re supposed to educate people about what they do. They need to persuade someone or a firm that it’s valuable to partner with them because the attorney has their best interests at heart. Moving attorneys from being educational and informative to persuasive is the biggest difficulty we have.
Sharon: That would be very hard. Part of me wants to say, “Are they still thinking they didn’t go to law school to be a salesperson?” because that is what you hear all the time. They didn’t go to law school to be a salesperson, and nobody taught them how to do that.
Deborah: One of the things we teach attorneys is an exercise called active queuing and listening, how to delve for specifics, how to feedback what they’re hearing so that, instead of promoting themselves and their firm, they’re answering the questions people have and they’re gaining trust. For attorneys, gaining trust is everything. We’re not buying the name of their firm; we’re buying that particular attorney because we need his or her influence. We need their ability to solve our problems. That’s what we do when we train attorneys, but it’s the same in the medical community; it’s the same in IT and with engineers. It’s moving people away from showing you how the sausage is made to showing you how much they enjoy and care about what they do and that they will tailor it to your needs.
Sharon: That would be very difficult, but I understand. It seems so important for a professional to be able to gain that trust, like you’re buying me as opposed to—I don’t know; I’ve never worked with IT people—as opposed to an IT person who has to explain something. To me, it seems a little bit different. Am I wrong?
Deborah: I don’t agree. Chris Brew is our IT person. I don’t need know how he fixes my computer, like today when my Google changed the password and I couldn’t send out invoices. I want to know that he’s available to me, that he is nonjudgmental and not going to make me feel foolish because I couldn’t solve it myself, that whenever I need him he and I can communicate, and then I turn it over to him. It’s the same with attorneys.
You asked for three tips for attorneys to become better presenters. Here’s what I thought about. Whenever attorneys speak, let’s say at a conference or a TED talk or they’re pitching for business, they need to always tailor their content to the audience. It sounds simple. It isn’t. Two, they need to learn how to tell stories, case studies, because they could tell me all day long what their services are; it’s not the same as telling me how they solved the problem for another client. Lastly, they need to put in more “I” statements. Even though they’re part of a team, when we hear why a project, a case, a transaction was important to them, we start to think about how we could partner together and they would do the same for us. Those “I” statements are really important, and it’s not the same as being self-aggrandizing and taking credit. It’s saying what they enjoy or what they enjoy doing.
Sharon: How do they figure out, or what are the questions to ask before they give a presentation to know who the audience is?
Deborah: Great question. When lawyers give either a pitch or a presentation, there’s always a contact person. I know when we have a new client, we’ll say, “What’s your goal for this training? What do you want to achieve? What are the challenges your people face? If you’ve hired—and this is for attorneys—a lawyer or lawyers before, what did they not do, or what did they do, that has encouraged you to find someone else?” Lawyers need to be better questioners and better listeners. Too many times lawyers will tell you the history of their firm, why they’re the best and all these things that do not make us decide in their favor.
Sharon: You wrote the book about how women can overcome obstacles. What obstacles are you thinking of, and how do they become engaging and memorable and fearless?
Deborah: It took me nine years to write the book “Out Front.” Not only were we busy, but I wanted to share my own personal journey as a woman professional, as a woman executive, and it was hard to put that down on paper. The reason I was motivated to write the book is I have trained, coached, and spoken to hundreds, maybe now thousands of women, who are afraid to speak up, who believe that if they’re not an expert, they don’t deserve to speak on a topic, who will put themselves last and are afraid to do things like tell a good story or tell why they enjoyed a project. They believe if they’re not an expert or perfect or if they haven’t been doing the job long enough, they don’t deserve to speak. That’s simply not true.
I help give women the confidence to find their own voice and to speak up before everyone else has spoken, because when a woman waits to speak last, she often will not be heard. I also encourage women to have mentors and other people who say, “Excuse me, I’d really like to hear what Sharon has to say now,” and to build that team and have women mentoring other women. I see women finally breaking the glass ceiling, but it still is not common and it’s not easy for women.
Sharon: I’m just thinking. It seems that it will be very hard to be the first person to speak out.
Deborah: One of the first. You don’t have to be first.
Sharon: O.K., I’m one of the first.
Deborah: Yes, one of the first. What I do with women is identify your intention. What do you want to come from this meeting? Is it to get a second meeting? Is it to qualify to see if it fits right if you’re interviewing for a job? If it’s to achieve buy-in? Keep focused on your intention no matter how much pushback you get. When you show up, when you are confident, that confidence is more important than your content, interestingly enough. The way we deliver material is worth two to three times our content, so women have to show up and be excited about what they have to say.
Now, on the flip side, Sharon, women can sometimes affect negatively how they’re coming across, meaning they speak in long, run-on sentences; they have an uptick at the end of a sentence like, “I believe in this,” as opposed to I believe in this.” If they’re not specific about a point they want to make, people tune out; they don’t listen to them. All of that is in addition to a woman being brave enough to speak up when she has something important to say.
Sharon: Deborah—I’m thinking of what you used to do in terms of producing—do you think you were doing the same thing you’re talking about and you got past that? I presume now you see it with other women, but did you face the same things, do you think?
Deborah: That’s so fascinating. As a director—well, first I started out with actors and then I directed corporate professionals. I had to read who my subject was and give them the advice that would move them past the block with the obstacle they had. I’m still doing the same thing. I’m still directing. You’re absolutely right, and one size does not fit all. That’s why we keep our groups small when we do a training, so that everyone is up on their feet. Nobody learns from being lectured at. You have to do an exercise, get feedback and then, if possible, do a take two in order to change behavior. I’m really happy that we have a business model that works with small groups, sales teams, executive teams, engineers that now have to do sales. These groups, these teams we work with, sometimes we’ll say, “We’ve eloquied you. We’ve become a verb, and now you can coach each other; you can rehearse with each other.”
Sharon: Do you think they do that?
Deborah: I do. I think they absolutely practice these new skills. As soon as it gets stressful or a lot’s riding on it, you will go back to the way you always did it, the way you always spoke. The most talented women I see have impostor syndrome. They have anxiety. They don’t sleep the night before a presentation. They believe they’re going to be outed somehow. So my job and our job—because we have other trainers as well—is to give women the confidence and the tools and the safety net, so when they forget where they are, they know how to recover. When someone interrupts them, they can get back to achieving their intention. When they have a success, we tell them focus on it; don’t focus on the one thing you left out or what you consider a failure, which it wasn’t. Focus on how well you did, and it will be easier the next time.
Sharon: I’m thinking about board meetings, meetings with the managing partner and five other attorneys or something like that. Same principles?
Deborah: Yes, you can call it communication or presentation. Whether you communicate to a board or to your team, or you want to get a promotion or interview for a job, first, that’s your intention. Then have no more than three talking points. If you want to convince or persuade someone with a talking point, give an example. If you say, “Our team is very collaborative,” that’s a generality. There’s no evidence until you tell us when you were collaborative, when your team achieved something by counting on each other. With these kinds of tools, any woman can be successful.
Sharon: I can see how giving the examples would make a big difference, as opposed to saying, “We’re collaborative,” because everybody’s collaborative, right? In addition, I wanted to ask you: You firm has a newsletter which I think you write, and it has come out weekly for, what, 12 years or longer?
Deborah: Our newsletter, the Eloqui Tip of the Week, started 18 and a half years ago. It was because Jim Freedman from—it was then Barrington; it’s now Intrepid—said, “You give so many great speaker tips. Why don’t you put them out to your clients and colleagues on a regular basis?” We said, “Why not?” Sharon, we now have 5,000 readers. We have an average 27% open rate. Every Sunday morning, it comes out at 7:30 Pacific Time. It is a great marketing tool for us. I can’t tell you how many people have written with a tip embedded in the bottom and have said, “It’s time for me to come in and do another training,” or “I’ve moved to a new firm, and I want to bring Eloqui in.”
We have missed—because consistency is everything—one Sunday in 18 years because the donkey died. This is my favorite story. We were on our honeymoon on the island of Lesbos. It was pretty constant contact. We had a thousand names. We went to the one internet café on the island, and we said, “We need to use your computer. Deborah’s going to enter the names and send it out.” He said, “Internet closed. The donkey died.” We said, “What?” He said, “I put a harness on the donkey. It runs around in a circle. It generates electricity. That’s how I have the internet working, the computers working. Donkey died. Internet closed.” I looked at David and he goes, “Don’t even think about it.” So, we missed one Sunday.
Sharon: I’m thinking how I would be, because you do it every weekend. I always imagine that Friday or Saturday night, you’re going, “Oh, my god! I’ve got to go write the newsletter.”
Deborah: No, my personality is such that if I waited till Friday or Saturday, it would drive me crazy. Starting after the last tip on Sunday, our ears are tuned to everything going on with our clients, with news in the world, with what we’ve seen or done personally, trips we’ve taken. Because as humans we all speak, we’ve somehow never had a problem of coming up with a new idea. At some point very soon, we will take either 500 or 750 tips, organize them in categories like managing anxiety, telling a good story, engaging an audience, and we will publish a book with those special tips.
Sharon: That would be a great book. It’s already written in many ways.
Sharon: I’m sure firms ask you, “What do I need to do?” Our experience is that they can manage one newsletter a quarter for three quarters and then it dies. What are your secrets to success in the newsletter?
Deborah: First of all, you have to make it readable in under a minute. People have no attention. A lot of white space, short paragraphs. Here, too, you’re persuading; you’re not educating. You’re telling stories. That’s why the tip also has a word and a quote. I have some people that say, “I never read your tips, but I read the word every week, and I forward it to my kids in high school who could use a better vocabulary.”
Then you have to make it consistent, whether it’s quarterly, whether it’s a bi-monthly. Ours we can do every Sunday, but most people can’t. Make people count on it and look forward to it, and always tailor it to what your clients’ needs are. You notice we never in our tips talk about how wonderful Eloqui is or who our clients are, except at the very bottom we just list them. I started to add a testimonial every week or every other week if I could, because I believe people hire you when they see the experience that somebody else has had. We put our tip on both our websites, Eloqui.biz and OutFront.biz, so there’s a conversation people can join and say what their experience has been. They know they can count on us, which is the same in business, Sharon.
You always, in my opinion, have to have a value-add. The tip is a value-add. If someone’s trained with us or I’ve coached them, they can contact me anytime for 20 years and won’t be charged if they have a presentation coming up and need to know if their opening works, or they can’t figure out what their intention is. That way we never advertise. It’s all word-of-mouth referral. The training we had last week in New Jersey—I didn’t realize this until we talked to our contact who brought us in—he said, “There are two people in this room who did a training with you eight years ago, and when we were looking for someone to teach our IT managers better communication skills, they said, ‘See if Eloqui’s available.’” You can’t buy that kind of advertising.
Sharon: No, you’re right. Deborah, I’m backing up here, but did you start out as an actor? Did you know you wanted to go into communication? How did that happen?
Deborah: David was an actor and a theatre director. I hated and I was terrible at any kind of acting. In fact, I had the anxiety our women clients face. If I knew I had to stand up and talk about my production company, for weeks I didn’t sleep the night before. But I have been a director and a producer, and many of the modules we train with, David knew them from being a performer, and then I translated them into modules that were trainable. Again, no one learns from being lectured at; you have to get up on your feet and do it.
So, we have a module in our longer training. In Santa Fe, we do an emergent workshop over two days. We work on how to open, how to close, how to tell a story, how to pick a role like a seasoned veteran and motivator. Because if you don’t use it, you lose it, they have to take all those skills overnight, and first thing the next morning they do a make-or-break presentation using those skills. So, I’m still directing. After that, we do more fun things: how to read your audience, how to move in a space, how to rehearse to keep it fresh, because the bar is so low for great speakers. If you do one thing well, like a great open or a great close, the audience is so appreciative. They’re so bored to death with PowerPoint and boring presentations and presenters who are bored with their own presentations.
Sharon: You said you do keynotes, then.
Sharon: Do you get nervous before those? Do you agonize over, “Oh my gosh, how do I say it,” or “I don’t want to bore them”?
Deborah: I used to get terribly nervous, but then when I wrote “Out Front,” I went on a speaking tour of Vistage and ProVisors and other groups of women, and I had to take my own advice. Now, Sharon, I look forward to keynotes because I love being able to change women’s lives. If I can do that and give them confidence—and I’ll bring up volunteers. Even when I was at CUNA Mutual a couple of years ago and there were 1,000 people virtually calling in and 500 in the audience, I still brought up volunteers, or I would volunteer people, and I worked with them on their material. It is so satisfying. It’s one of the things I enjoy most now. So, I know you can go from being anxiety-ridden to enjoying the process.
Sharon: Would you say that’s true because you are talking with women’s groups, or do you feel the same about talking with the general business population?
Deborah: We do speak a lot to the general business population, but I personally have a love of encouraging, supporting and advocating for women professionals. In fact, with groups of young women in high school and college, when they reach out to me and I do a webinar or an in-person talk, I not only volunteer my time, I make sure every young woman has a copy of my book.
Sharon: Wow! I’m going to go back to the word fearless in your title. You talked about women. How do presenters, how do lawyers become fearless presenters?
Deborah: First of all, most people are still following a 1950s template for how to be a great speaker: gesturing a certain way, telling a joke at the beginning, telling the audience, telling them again, telling them again, that old mantra. That doesn’t fit who we are. In order to be fearless, you need to find your voice, what’s important to you and speak about it. Let us know why you enjoy marketing, why you enjoy IT, what failures you had, what setbacks you had and how you turned them around. I also wrote an article recently about immigrants. Five, seven years ago, about 80% of our clients were white males. Now, 70% to 80% of our clients are either first-generation, people born in another country, or women who are now in a position of power. When I give these women support, I tell them their accent is a plus, not a minus; that what they’ve overcome by coming to this country or going to school or learning English as a second language is to be admired and is something that the audience they’re speaking to will appreciate. They don’t have to hide it. So many women, Sharon, were taught by fathers in Afghanistan, Iran, Japan that women should be seen, not heard. I have to change that, and that’s a thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction.
Sharon: That’s not easy to do. Deborah, thank you so much. This was very interesting. Good, good tips. I hope everybody takes them to heart. I’ll just throw this in. I’ve taken some of your trainings and I found them very helpful and effective. It’s been a while, but I would highly recommend them. That’s my testimonial. Thank you so much, Deborah. We appreciate it. Great to have you.
Deborah: Thank you, Sharon. You ask great questions.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Diane Braverman
Diane has more than 20 years of corporate human resources experience assisting businesses with varying human resource needs. She is the founder of YourHRedge, a human resources consulting company with expertise in developing robust infrastructures, crafting comprehensive policies and procedures, employee handbook and spearheading special projects to secure continuous improvement.
Diane’s professional experience spans a broad range of industries – automotive parts and products, venture capital, hospital, marketing and public relations, architectural, real estate and more. Her professional experience is complemented by her undergraduate in business, certifications in human resources management and strengthened by specialty training in emotional intelligence and targeted selection (behavioral based interviewing).
Prior to founding YourHRedge, Diane was appointed as an operations manager for a start-up nonprofit organization to establish infrastructures achieving the goal of becoming fully operational. Additional projects included writing company policies, creating job descriptions, designing a performance management process (performance review, performance development and performance improvement).
Diane has also served for six years as a hands-on board member for a non-profit organization. As a board member, Diane played a key role in the successful merger of two local non-profit organizations with similar program and services. Succeeded in establishing a new functional organizational structure with enhanced and expanded programs, identified staffing deficiencies and opportunities, developed job descriptions, implemented pay increases for equity and consistency, and crafted a series of communications to help acclimate employees to their new work environment.
Like many other industries, professional services firms are struggling to find and retain qualified candidates in the wake of the “Great Resignation.” It’s a challenging hiring market, but that doesn’t mean employers are totally out of luck. Recruiter Diane Braverman has helped numerous professional services firms find the right talent, even when it seemed like a qualified candidate would never appear. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about what employers need to change to attract and keep top talent; why a flexible work environment became job seekers’ number one request; and why sometimes companies should take a chance on an imperfect candidate. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today I am pleased to welcome Diane Braverman. Diane is a recruiter who’s successful not only because of her personality, which facilitates understanding people, but also because she puts the experience and knowledge she gained in the corporate world to work, which enables her to see her clients’ perspectives from both sides of the desk. As we know, recruiting employees is one of the biggest challenges employers face, and recruiting candidates who have the characteristics for their positions is even more of a challenge. Today, Diane is going to tell us about her journey and give us tips about what we need to know about recruiting. Diane, welcome to the program.
Diane: Hello, Sharon. Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your background and how you got into recruiting.
Diane: Certainly. I have been in the human resources space for over 20 years in large corporations, and my expertise ranges primarily in employee relations. I did performance management, performance improvement, HR processes and talent acquisition. Over the past four years, recruitment has been the most requested service.
Sharon: We’ll talk more about that. It’s been such a challenge for everyone, for all employers. Tell us about what you do as a recruiter. Do you get calls from people? How does that work?
Diane: Basically, what I do is speak to the management of the firm—if it’s a law firm, I’ll speak to the managing partner—and I try to get an understanding of not only the position they’re looking for, but I also want to know about the culture of the company. I need to understand all the details of the job, if in fact the responsibilities are exactly what they want. I talk about qualifications, education and the culture, which is really their shared set of values, their goals, their attitudes, their practices. That gives me a better understanding of finding that organizational fit.
Sharon: When you ask about culture, what kinds of things do they say? I wouldn’t even know how to answer that.
Diane: For some culture, I would talk about management style. Are they a hands-on employer, meaning they need direct oversight? Do they let their staff function autonomously? Do they come to them when they really need assistance? Is it a collaborative environment, so working in teams versus working in silos? Things like that can determine what kind of culture it is and if it’s a high-stress type of job, too.
Sharon: When I think of culture, I also think of whether it’s collaborative, like you mentioned. Do they go on picnics together? Do they have Christmas dinners or holiday dinners, or is it “That’s it; you come to work”?
Diane: Unfortunately, in most cases it’s work, but I would say individual departments may do a lunch together for a camaraderie event. Sometimes doing it corporate-wide is more difficult. For managers of their particular group or department, it’s a little easier to get together and do those kinds of events. Basically, it’s team building. It’s getting to talk to each other, interact with each other separate from business, and that really goes a long way.
Sharon: I bet it does; it’s just hard to do those kinds of things when you’re meeting with the big poobah. They may say one thing, but the people working for them may say it’s something totally different.
Diane: Yeah, and if you have all the top executives attend, staff employees may feel a little intimidated. There’s that. You want them to feel relaxed and be able to freely engage. I know sometimes executives can pose a different dynamic when they’re with the group. So, I think it’s nice to do it with small departments.
Sharon: It must be very different today after Covid. Talking about professional service firms, law firms, CPA firms, even marketing firms, what do they have to offer today in order to entice people?
Diane: What I’ve noticed lately—this is post-Covid—it’s a very different talent pool right now. It’s a very different attitude. I think the number one commodity an employer needs to address is a flexible work environment. Too many people have gotten accustomed to working at home and they like it. It’s cost-effective for them; they get more work done. So, I think that is a consideration.
While I understand there are some positions you just can’t work remotely, if that’s the case, maybe try to create a hybrid. You’re in the office three days; you can go home for two days. That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ve even talked to candidates who will say, “No, I want completely remote.” If the employer cannot accommodate, then you move on to somebody who can.
Sharon: What really surprised me, and what shows how the world has changed, is when I’ve been looking at law firm marketing positions with large firms, five years ago, before Covid, they never would have entertained a remote person. Now the position describes, “This is a hybrid position for two days” or whenever. It’s like, “Wow, that’s fabulous!”
Diane: It’s a great opportunity to have that. I interviewed a couple of attorneys for a client, and they did ask if there is any flexibility. One of them mentioned it to me, and I thought her explanation was very good. She said, “It’s about being efficient. I could spend an hour in the car driving to work, or I can time my commute, work early in the morning, make my preparations for trial or whatever I have going on, and then when the traffic slows down, I can commute and get there more reasonably.” So, it may not be totally working from home but adjusting their hours. I think employers have to be flexible. That’s number one.
Number two, I think a lot of companies need to recognize that they need to treat all their employees with respect and consideration in giving them feedback and treating them like you’re glad they’re working for you. That’s a big thing, too, that I hear.
Sharon: Do you find resistance among management or partners, or people who will just say no? In terms of culture, do they say, “No, I need my people at their desks. I need to see them.” Is there some resistance?
Diane: Yes. There’s a lot to be said for being at your workstation and doing your work. Attorneys are very busy, and it’s not that they don’t want to take the time. It’s just that a lot of time, they don’t have the time. Let’s talk about recruitment and time. When I talk to potential employers, especially a law firm, I say, “You’ve got to be engaged in this recruitment process, because if I send you a candidate I think is a good fit and you’re too busy, that candidate is gone.”
I have a current client that lost a couple of really great candidates. They just couldn’t give the attention. That’s something I try to talk about on the front end, their commitment to following up with candidates, because they have multiple offers on the table, which is indicative of what’s going on today.
Sharon: I read in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal another article about the “Great Resignation.”
Diane: It’s interesting; you would think the “Great Resignation” would be that people are resigning. Not necessarily. I think a lot of people are staying put because they’re insecure about moving on, but we also have the baby boomer generation leaving their positions. They’re retiring, and it’s hard to replace those positions so there’s that big gap. Replacing them requires having the years of knowledge that this generation acquired working in these organization.
Sharon: The history, yes, you can’t replace that. I’m thinking about the fact that we often said to departing employees, “We will be calling you because you know what we did last year for this,” and you lose all of that. There are things that just can’t be replaced with a new person. As good as a new employee is, you can’t replace that stuff.
Diane: It’s not good or bad; it’s just different. Employers need to be really nimble at making those adjustments. It’s a whole new generation of workforce coming in. They’re highly technical. They like their technology, and employers need to make sure they have technology in their organization for a workgroup to function well and be successful.
Sharon: It seems there would be younger managers now coming on who are not so—maybe baby boomers have retired, and the new managers get it in the sense that they understand they need the latest version of Microsoft.
Diane: The generations that are in the workforce now, they want the latest technology because they’ve been working with it. It would slow them down to have anything less than that. Technology is getting stronger and stronger, and staying current is a challenge.
Sharon: It is for anybody. It is amazing in terms of how fast it changes.
Everybody puts their best foot forward when you go for an interview. How do you get behind that façade? I always feel like it’s a façade. How do you get behind it? How do you see the other side? Do you ask questions?
Diane: You’re saying what do candidates need to do to prove themselves?
Sharon: No, what do recruiters need to do? If I’m going for an interview, I’m going to show you my best side and say, “Yeah, I can do this job, no problem.” How do you get behind that? How do you penetrate that, I guess is the word?
Diane: You’re saying that candidates are very good at interviewing and they’re well-rehearsed.
Diane: There are a couple of ways you can try to challenge that. When you have interviews, you need one person to look at their résumé and challenge them on their work experience, why they left, what they did, their skillset, all the information that’s on their résumé. Then, there should be another group of people—maybe one or two, not a lot—who talk about something different, because if you keep asking the same questions from one person, you’re going to get the same answer.
It would be important to determine what competencies would be best suited for a particular position. Is it decision-making? Is it leadership? Is it adaptability? Ask questions around those competencies so they don’t get so well-rehearsed around their résumés. In this way, you can really hone in on who they are.
Sharon: That’s a good idea, the unusual question. What’s your role in terms of what I call “playing the numbers”? You’re going to LinkedIn, and you have people saying, “Call me.” Besides saying, “Are you interested? Can I talk to you? Do you have any interest in hearing about this?” what are the other things you ask before you turn somebody over?
Diane: At the first initial screening, I look for deal breakers. In a phone interview you can only garner so much information. So, I listen to how they communicate, number one. I do challenge them on their résumé. If there are inconsistencies and they can’t discuss what’s on their résumé, that’s a red flag for me. If they talk too much and can’t really answer the question, and you ask a follow-up question and they still can’t, that’s another red flag. One of the big things I notice, I ask them, “Did you research the company? Do you know the company you’re applying for?” If they say no, it puts them at a disadvantage, because they’ve already shown me they’re not interested enough to prepare for an interview.
Sharon: Do you make a note on the résumé you’re going to pass on—I’m thinking of paper, but let’s say it’s an email—do you say, “This seemed like a good candidate who has the qualifications, but here are my red flags”?
Diane: Well, if there are too many red flags, I don’t even push them forward. I take notes during the interview, and usually the interview is 20 minutes; it could be half an hour long. If there are some flags, I will note them. For example, there was this one attorney I interviewed. I thought this candidate was fabulous, great skills, great communication skills. We were almost done, and she said, “I just need to disclose this.” About six years before, she was going through a divorce. She got caught in a DUI and they suspended her license for a month, but she’s back practicing. She explained, “That was a different part of my life. I’m in a much better place, and I just want you to know that.” I sent her forward to the second interview, and the law firm still wanted to meet with her. In that case, you give people the consideration that, yes, we all make mistakes. She had a good response on where she was at, and it was the fact that she was honest.
Sharon: I was going ask you, did she win brownie points because she told you that right up front?
Diane: No, it was at the end of the interview.
Sharon: But before you passed her?
Diane: No, we would have found out anyways. When you do a background check, if you don’t disclose it on the front end, own it and talk through it versus getting to the second interview, they make you a job offer, then they find this. That doesn’t look good, and that would tend to make an employer say, “You know what? She had the opportunity to talk about this and she didn’t disclose it.”
Sharon: Yeah, those surprises are not what you want, but it seems that something like that would be—if it was six years ago, it could be different.
Diane: Today, Sharon, running a criminal record is not allowed, at least in California. A lot of states are subscribing to that. It’s a double-edged sword. The fact that they disclose it voluntarily, I have respect for that. Then I let the employer decide from that point on where they want to go. If somebody was embezzling, I wouldn’t hire them in the finance department.
Sharon: If I’m considering a potential employee, what should I ask, or what do I want to know before I get into something?
Diane: First, talk about the culture and see if it’s a consistent message. I’m sure this candidate is going to talk to more than one person, so make sure the people that are interviewing this person have a consistent communication about the culture.
I would ask how performance is evaluated. How will my performance be evaluated? What are opportunities for growth? Is there growth in this position for me, and if there is, what are the steps? You and I know about career ladders and how important they are. To have a formal career ladder, I think, sends the message to an employee that this is a place they can grow. One of the biggest reasons why people leave employers that I have heard lately—mind you, there’s a whole list of reasons why people leave—but one of them is lack of opportunity. So, asking those questions about opportunity is very helpful to retain a candidate.
Sharon: Lack of opportunity, I can see that being a big one. Or saying there is opportunity, but when you get into the position, you find out that the last person spent 20 years here before they died, and then there was opening.
Diane: That’s right. That’s why as a recruiter, you need to be honest. You want not only the company to find the right candidate, but you want the candidate to find the right company. Being honest, placing a body just to get somebody is not doing your job. As much as you want to place somebody at the company, you want to place the right person, because recruitment is very costly.
Diane: It’s become more costly. Then there’s a whole other set of things companies can do to retain them. Getting them in the door is one thing. When I talk about new hires, I always try to encourage employees to have a solid onboarding program, which can be 30 to 90 days. Actually, onboarding starts with recruitment. You really need to court these candidates because they have many people seeking them. So, you court them. You have effective onboarding. There should be a mentorship program. Once an employee comes on board, there should be somebody assigned to them to help them navigate through the internal processes, what’s required to make them feel comfortable. It really gets them to be acclimated quicker. Then there’s compensation and those other incentives, but that’s more of a recruitment tool than anything else.
Sharon: Do you think employers are paying more attention now post-Covid or because employees are so hard to find?
Diane: They’re very hard to find. I am seeing that when I post positions on a variety of sites, I used to get inundated with résumés. Literally hundreds would come in, and a lot of them were qualified. Now, less than a third of the résumés are coming in. A lot of them, I don’t even know if they read the job description; they’re just applying randomly and they’re not qualified. When I finally get a good candidate, they will say, “I’m on my second interview with two other companies.” The competition is tough.
Sharon: I know it’s been tough with lawyers. Do you see it being tougher with any particular profession?
Diane: I know the professional services are struggling big time with recruiting paralegals and lawyers. I’m having a hard time finding those types of folks who have three to five years’ experience in whatever the law firm specializes in. If a law firm specializes in litigation and I end up with contract lawyers, that’s not what they want. They want people who know how to litigate.
It’s a strange market. I’ve had clients say, “You know what? Just take down the postings for now because nothing’s coming in.” I get it. I wish I could get them more, but there’s nothing out there to help them. I talk about trying to provide incentives in terms of offering flexible time, generous paid time off, parental leave, things like that. That resonates with the younger generation, having that work/life balance. If you tout that, you can maybe attract more.
Sharon: My understanding is you do both. You sift through the résumés and contact the qualified candidates, but you also look at LinkedIn or Monster or Craigslist, whatever.
Diane: There’s a whole other subset of recruitment, and it is something I typically don’t do, and that is passive recruiting. Passive recruiting requires you to search Facebook, Instagram, all these social media sites and literally invite people who are not even looking for jobs to apply. It takes a whole other subset of skills and time to do passive recruiting.
There are some recruiting organizations—let’s say they work for law firms. They know the people; they even know their org charts. Let’s say they need an associate attorney. They locate an attorney at law firm A and call them to see if they’re interested or if they are happy in their current job. They ask, “Would you be interested?” That’s a whole other subset.
Sharon: But you raised a good point. If you’re doing more active recruiting—I mean, everything’s active, but if you are responding, let’s say, do you check references as part of your process?
Diane: I do not. That is up to the organization, the company, because there is a waiver all new hires need to sign giving permission to conduct background checks. I don’t get involved. That’s more of an internal company process.
Sharon: What is your belief about references? Do you think people just call their former best friends?
Diane: I think they do. A lot of people don’t even have current references because they move a lot, and they don’t even know where their last manager works or where they are. I don’t think references are valuable anymore. They used to be. It used to be a very integral part of the recruitment process, but I don’t think it is now. If you can find a legitimate former manager of an employee, that’s different. Managers and prior employers are instructed legally to just give basic information.
Sharon: I was thinking that, yeah. You can’t say anything. Nobody can say anything because you’re going to get sued. Do you find that employers are looking at a person’s social media? What should we know about that?
Diane: I think people need to be very careful about what they put on social media. For example, the candidate was ready to be hired, and one of the staff members at this organization decided to look at her Instagram account. She presented herself not only unprofessionally, but it was questionable. They never made her the offer based on that. So, I always caution, especially when I worked in the corporate world, the information you put out on social media is there forever. You need to be very careful. This is representing you, and many employers will check Facebook accounts.
Sharon: I’m thinking of the fact that there are professionals I work with who have two Instagrams, and they won’t tell me the other one. I don’t want to know, but if someone wants to put a picture of himself that they wouldn’t want their employer to be looking at, O.K., fine. What about that? And then they have their more professional one.
Diane: With social media, you can access anything. So, if you are in the market looking for a new job, I would be very mindful of what you put out there on social media. It’s just a rule of thumb. In the corporate world, I used to give advice to be careful what you put in emails because it’s all discoverable and traceable. It will bite you at the end of the day if you’re putting something out there that is inappropriate.
Sharon: Yes. We all think about that when, “Yeah, I’d rather make a phone call.”
Diane: Yes. If there is something really sensitive to talk about, don’t put it in an email. Just say, “Listen, let’s talk about it.”
Sharon: My last question: Do you find that employers—I’m thinking of lawyers because I know it’s such a difficult or a tight market in general, but it could be CPAs, financial people—are they willing to say, “O.K., I can’t find the right litigator, but I’ll take that contract lawyer who I really liked and teach them what they need to know”?
Diane: That’s a great point. Just recently we were looking for a certain position and a superstar came through. She was fabulous; she was above and beyond the job I was recruiting for. I called the partner and said, “Is there a position for her? She’s someone who is so capable,” and he hired her in a heartbeat.
Diane: The good news is he recognizes that talent is hard to find, and when you see it, you need to act on it. Get them engaged with the employer, develop a position and say, “Listen, this is the position today, but we have opportunities for you that we see.” I think people are excited about that.
Sharon: Yes, that’s a very good point. It’s the talent. It doesn’t matter if somebody went to Harvard or they went to a trade tech. If they’re talented, you can’t teach certain things.
Diane: That’s right. Especially if they communicate well, they have that emotional intelligence, that social skillset, they’re smart, they’re willing to learn, they have enthusiasm, I’ll take that any day, because there are many skills you can learn. Obviously, there are some credentials that are required for some positions, but the rest is what the person brings to the table.
Sharon: Yeah, I think that’s the bottom line.
Diane: That’s the bottom line.
Sharon: Diane, thank you so much for being here today. It’s always interesting to hear about the market and what we should be thinking about as an employer and an employee. Thank you very much. We greatly appreciate it.
Diane: Thank you Sharon. It was nice to be here.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Evon Rosen
Evon is a strategic and creative marketing professional specializing in financial and legal services, healthcare, and real estate. Her highly-creative and fresh ideas help develop brands, increase market share, facilitate client retention, and improve processes. Evon has held executive marketing positions at both public and privately held companies that include City National Bank, First Federal Bank of California, Celtic Capital Corporation and the Peak Corporate Network.
Evon is the first two-time recipient of the Commercial Finance Association’s Essay Award and has had numerous articles and white papers published. She was a featured speaker at L.A. Direct Marketing Day, and received the U.S. Festival Association Award for Creative Excellence. She received both her undergraduate degree and California Teaching Credential from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
About Lori Berson
For over 20 years Lori has developed break-through strategies effectively integrating marketing automation, demand generation, sales enablement, branding, interactive media, advertising, email, social media, print, outdoor, video, events, and promotions, for many of the country’s leading marketers, including Anthem, Charles Schwab, Disney, Dole, Lexus, Seinfeld, and Coldwell Banker. Her remarkable business acumen, creative talents, and knowledge of emerging technologies have contributed to the success of these organizations and more.
Lori began her career at a variety of advertising agencies, including Diener, Hauser, Bates, Needham, Harper and Steers, and Asher/Gould. She established the in-house creative department (servicing the automotive industry) at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Lori then went on to create advertising for the major studios (Paramount, Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers), entertainment public relations firms, and celebrity management companies, at The Hollywood Reporter, and designed for Seinfeld, Lilo and Stitch, Oprah, The Wheel of Fortune, Entertainment Tonight, The Disney Channel, Cheers, Family Ties, Fantasy Island, Beethoven, Charlton Heston, Shirley Jones, and Martin Sheen.
As a member of the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Art Center College of Design (her alma maters), Lori teaches Advertising Concepts, Design, Email Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Video Marketing, Landing Page Design, and How to Manage a Photo Shoot.
Lori Berson LinkedIn: Lori Berson
BersonDeanStevens LinkedIn: BersonDeanStevens
Evon Rosen LinkedIn: Evon Rosen
The pandemic may have left many small businesses with limited marketing support and budgets, but that doesn’t mean marketing is out of reach. That’s what marketing experts Evon Rosen and Lori Berson wanted to prove with their new book, “Ready-Made Marketing For Business Owners, Business Professionals and Independent Contractors.” The book features hundreds of templates and technology recommendations that professionals with little time and budget can easily leverage for immediate results. Evon and Lori joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about their motivations to write “Ready-Made Marketing”; how to use the book effectively; and why even professionals with no marketing experience should learn how to market their businesses. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, we’re talking with Evon Rosen and Lori Berson, coauthors of the recent book, “Ready-Made Marketing For Business Owners, Business Professionals and Independent Contractors.” They are marketing experts and have worked with businesses in a range of industries, including law, and have helped their clients grow their brands, increase market share, facilitate client retention and, most importantly, increase profits. Today, we’re going to hear more about their book and how it can help all of us be better marketers. Evon and Lori, welcome to the program.
Evon: Thank you, Sharon. It’s so nice to be here.
Sharon: So glad to have both of you. First of all, I want to know how you ended up where you are. Evon, why don’t you go first? What was your career path? How did you end up working in marketing for a variety of different industries and professions?
Evon: My career in marketing has been focused on business development. I’ve been helping companies and business professionals in financial and legal services, as you said, as well as healthcare and real estate to develop and enhance their brands, grow market share and increase profits. I started in marketing research, and I moved into product management along the way. Then for 20 years, I helped senior and executive-level positions in both public and private firms. One of my longest stints was with City National Bank, where I created the brand positioning “The Way Up.” The bank is still using that today, I’m happy to say.
Sharon: Did you develop that?
Sharon: Oh, wow!
Evon: It started off with a blue ladder. It’s now a white ladder, but it’s “The Way Up” campaign they’ve been using for many, many years.
Sharon: Yes, for a long time. I forgot that’s where we first met. I totally forgot about that.
Evon: Yeah, that is where we first met. I think you introduced me to Lori at that time. That’s how Lori and I met.
Sharon: I first want to ask you, Evon, what did you study? What would you recommend that people study? Lori, the same question when we get to your background. What would you recommend people study for marketing?
Evon: It’s interesting; I studied sociology and I got a teaching credential, both from UCLA. I think what was so great about both of those areas in terms of marketing is that sociology is all about people and all about behavior, and that’s basically what marketing is about too. Teaching helped me focus on being up in front of a group, being able to write business plans and marketing plans and things like that. It all works to help in marketing.
Sharon: Lori, what was your path?
Lori: I actually started my marketing career over 23 years ago. I’ve been creating revenue-generating strategies in branding, demand generation, advertising, interactive media, email, social media, print, outdoor—a myriad of things, including sales and marketing automation, for many of the country’s industry leaders in consumer package goods, financial and professional services. Some of those companies include Anthem, Charles Schwab, Dole Food Company, Fisher Investments. That was in addition to working for entertainment clients like Seinfeld. I did it for many, many years. Actually, I started in entertainment.
I’ve also had the pleasure of teaching advertising and marketing at UCLA, and email marketing and video marketing at Art Center College of Design, which are my two alma maters. To answer your question about what I studied, I started studying in the design area, graphic design. From there, it morphed into more of the marketing side. A lot of it comes from not only from the college education, but from when I was very young and did internships, and from taking online courses throughout the years and then teaching. Like Evon said, that teaches you a lot as well. I’d also say what’s really important these days is to continue learning and to stay up to date, especially with the rapid change of what’s going on with new technologies. Now it’s NFTs and crypto and Web 3. There are so many exciting things happening that it’s important to stay up to date continually and to keep learning.
Sharon: I didn’t know there was a Web 3.
Lori: We’re in Web 2 now, but Web 3 is the metaverse.
Sharon: Oh, O.K. Lori, you have your own company; it’s Berson Dean Stevens, correct?
Sharon: Evon, you’re independent, and you also work with Lori a lot. You both started in traditional marketing. How did you segue into marketing automation and video? How does one do that?
Lori: That is a great question, Sharon. I remember about seven or eight years ago—I always like to keep up with technology. That’s part of what we offer in the book, a lot of technology resources, which we’ll get into. But as I was looking at things, I thought, “O.K., what seems to be the trend? What is important to learn going forward?” So, I dove in around 2013, 2014 and started learning. I got together with one of the first animation software companies and learned as I did it and got clients involved. It was all very new, and we all jumped in and learned as we did it.
Sharon: There’s so much to learn. Evon, you were going to add?
Evon: It’s kind of the same for me. When I was with many companies in a senior position, I had a staff. I had a lot of people working for me that had a lot of the tools and knowledge that I didn’t, so we would all jump in and do things together. As Lori said, marketing evolved, and we had to evolve with it.
Sharon: There’s so much to learn when you say to keep up with what’s going on.
Lori: It’s overwhelming.
Sharon: Yeah, it is overwhelming. That’s a word for it. Evon, you and Lori wrote the book. What was your impetus? To me, there are a million and one books on marketing and how to market, and there are a million and one podcasts. What was your impetus for writing the book?
Evon: The original idea came out of Covid, because during the worst of the pandemic, as you know, firms were forced into doing new ways of business. Everybody started working remotely. In-person meetings were no longer an option. It was unfamiliar territory for everyone, and a primary concern for both firms and their clients was financial. Cost-cutting led to layoffs and people quitting, which left many professional firms and professionals with no internal marketing support and no budget to hire external expertise. Lori and I had seen so many people struggling with how to reenergize their businesses and jumpstart sales, so we wanted to make marketing accessible and help people bounce back from Covid setbacks.
You’re right, Sharon, there are a million and one marketing books out there. Most of them deal with developing business or marketing plans, or they’re specific to using social media as a marketing tool, or they speak to building brands. They’re planning oriented. We wanted to write something that was action oriented, which is exactly what “Ready-Made Marketing” is. It provides the words and the tools to enable business professionals to start marketing themselves immediately. It addresses an unmet need that the business community has, and I’m happy to say it’s resonating.
Sharon: It’s quite a successful book, and it’s a very hands-on book.
Sharon: Lori, tell us how the book was constructed. How did you write this book? What was in mind when you wrote it?
Lori: “Ready-Made Marketing” was constructed in two sections. The first part includes over 70 customizable email and video templates and scripts that can be used in a variety of business situations. It also includes step-by-step instructions and screenshots for using proven and effective marketing tactics like LinkedIn, podcasts, webinars, video and text messaging, just to name a few. The second section of the book is where we’ve included over 400 technology resources that are free or affordably priced. This was key because we wanted it to be not only simple, but cost-effective for people to be able to use. All of the technology resources have been vetted, and we have the top two in each category, which are our recommended options.
The bottom line is that we wrote the book to be handy and easy to use, with everything laid out so you could quickly get to what you need, when you need it. It starts with a chart that is entitled “How to Use this Book.” If you want to write a sales email, you go to the customizable templates. If you want to host a webinar, there are ideas to develop content and step-by-step instructions for production. Basically, the book takes the guesswork out of marketing.
Sharon: It’s a very up-to-date book.
Sharon: It sounds very different from so many marketing books with everything you’re talking about, the video and podcasting and all of that. You don’t find that in many traditional marketing books. When you say you’ve vetted the resources, how did you vet them?
Evon: I’ve researched and used all of the resources with clients. Both Evon and I have used all of the resources, whether it’s both of us or one of us separately, with clients.
Sharon: So, they’re tried and true.
Sharon: That’s great. Evon, it seems that the teacher always learns something from the student. Tell me what you learned from writing this book about marketing, things you didn’t think of before.
Evon: It’s interesting because I was thinking about that, and I think the difference is no other books are like “Ready-Made Marketing.” You can hit the ground running with this book, and that was our goal: to use marketing to help people generate sales as fast as possible. That can be done. Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be a time suck. It can be done relatively easily. Not everything, but there are things you can do to jumpstart your business, and that was great for people to see.
What I learned is not so much about the book or marketing itself, but the impact the book has had. When I hear from business professionals and read the amazing reviews on Amazon, it’s heartwarming to see how appreciative people are. They have something that’s really made a difference in bouncing back from the pandemic and beyond. Even if a business didn’t take a big hit, they love the fact that they can do so much marketing themselves without spending a lot of money. In fact, the book has a testimonial from an attorney who says it’s a game changer. That’s amazing to hear.
Sharon: It sounds very gratifying. Do you think the book would have had the same impact if we weren’t coming out of the pandemic?
Evon: I’m not sure the book would have been written had there not been a pandemic.
Sharon: O.K., that’s a good point.
Evon: We’re hired for our marketing expertise. Marketing is a lot more than what’s in the book, but the book is a wonderful place for people who need to do some marketing who don’t have a budget, who don’t have a lot of time, but still need to get sales and have their brands out there. That’s what this book does. We were happy to make it something that people can use themselves.
Sharon: Lori, what do you think you learned from writing the book?
Lori: I learned that I didn’t realize the need out there. From talking to other business owners and even from some of the testimonials and reviews that Evon mentioned, a lot of people don’t know where to go to find information on how to market themselves. They don’t have the time. It feels very onerous to a lot of businesspeople and professionals. They’re focusing on their business, so they don’t have time to get into the growth of it as much as they should. They’re going along with a certain amount of clientele, but we all need to grow business to stay alive. I was quite amazed at the response to the book and to the tools that we presented, how people have said it’s made their lives so much easier. We knew there was need, but we never realized how much of a need and how broad-based it is.
Sharon: It seems there’d be such a demand for something like this. This is for both Evon and Lori. Do you think people were skeptical when you said this book is going to be a hands-on, how-to book? Do you think people said, “Yeah, tell me about it”?
Lori: I’ll take that to start. I think people were confused a little bit, because typically what they see is the strategy and planning, which doesn’t get to what they need as quickly as possible. Granted, strategy and planning are important. But I think it’s so new and so different from what they’ve seen from other books that it was a little bit confusing. Then, once they got into it, they thought, “My god, this is so easy. It’s super simple.”
Evon: I didn’t think that people were particularly skeptical. I think what’s interesting is that many people don’t really understand what marketing is or what they can do themselves. I think when they started looking at the book and saw what was in there, it was more of a revelation, like, “Oh, my gosh, I can do this, and it’s right there. This is what marketing is. That’s great.”
Sharon: Looking through reviews on Amazon—it is on Amazon, and the reviews are glowing. Something interesting to me is that it’s on Kindle also. There’s a Kindle version, which I was surprised to see. Is that something you thought about or planned for when you were writing this?
Evon: We did. We wanted to do the different versions, the Kindle version, the hardcover, the paperback. We wanted to make it accessible to anybody’s needs. However they access it, we want them to have it.
Sharon: It’s widely available, it seems. Lori, who was your target market for the book as you were writing it?
Lori: The target market is business professionals and their firms, other small businesses, independent contractors, people with limited or no marketing expertise and those with no marketing staff or, as Evon mentioned earlier, those with limited or no marketing budget, which we find is a majority of the small businesses out there.
Also, we found out that people who have some marketing experience are especially appreciative because of the distillation of those 400 technology resources in the book. Working with other marketing professionals, I found that they may know a couple of the really well-known technology resources, but many times those can be super expensive. One of our primary focuses was to get stuff as much for free as possible in addition to really inexpensive technology resources, something like $5 a month and at most $15 a month, to give them some of those automation capabilities to help them save time and focus more on their business. Basically, “Ready-Made Marketing” is perfect for anyone looking to start or enhance their marketing, whether they have no experience or they do have some but need extra resources.
Sharon: I was thinking about the fact that in marketing today, even more than 20 years ago, you have to be an expert in a certain area. What you wrote is more broad-based as opposed to, “I’m a web developer” or “I’m an SEO expert” or “I do videos.” Do you think people embrace that, or did they say, “I got to find somebody else,” meaning, “I’ve got to find an SEO person for my SEO”?
Lori: I think it’s a little bit of both. In this particular case, because we’re focusing on people that don’t have expertise, we wanted to give them tools to be able to do some of the basic stuff themselves. There’s always going to be a need to hire because you’re right; everything is very specialized. There are agencies that just work on each of those sections. They’re going to want to eventually hire those people once they get the budget and once they get to that level. But as a starting point, this gives them some basic things and demystifies a lot of it so they can decide, based on what we give them, “O.K., I want to focus on SEO. Maybe I’ll go hire an SEO agency,” or “Webinars are going to generate a lot of leads. I’ve got the tools to be able to do that on my own for very low cost. Once I get to a certain level, then I can bring in some of the specialists with more expertise.”
Sharon: It sounds like a great resource. Evon, if I’m an independent lawyer alone in my office and I don’t have a marketing staff or a marketing professional to advise me, how should I use this book? I envision tearing it apart and copying the templates. How would you say we should use it?
Evon: The book is truly a desktop resource. We have it organized by marketing tactic. There’s a section on email communications, on using video, on podcasts and panels, on webinars. Within the email section, for example, there are templates for emails in a variety of situations. We have cold communications, which you would send to someone you don’t know, a prospect. There are follow-up emails to send after a meeting or sales call, emails to reengage with people you haven’t heard from recently. When situations arise, you just refer to the book and use whatever you need. The technology is there to help bring some of those tactics to life. As Lori said, the book takes the guesswork out of marketing.
To go back for a minute on what you were asking about the research of it all, we wanted this book to be something of a starting point for people who don’t know much about marketing or don’t have a budget for marketing. Marketing is about getting the right message to the right people, and there are a number of ways to do that. This book deals with the basics. If you start with the basics, you can build from there.
Sharon: Was the catalyst for the book that you were both talking with clients, and you just looked at each other and said, “These people don’t have a clue”? Not to knock anybody, but if you spent your career studying finance or healthcare or law, then you didn’t study marketing. Was that the impetus? Was it like, “We’ve got to show people how to do this. You can do it if you apply yourself”?
Evon: I think for me, I felt so badly that people were coming back into a world of business and they really didn’t know how to start with marketing. They didn’t have an internal staff anymore; they didn’t have money to ask anybody. They were floundering. We found that out within our client base and outside. For me, it was the pandemic that got it going. It’s not that they didn’t know what to do generally; it’s just that they didn’t know what to do in this new world.
Lori: To add to that, Sharon, Evon and I also had interactions with clients who hired us to revitalize their website and their branding and everything else. They really wanted to get into automation and help their sales team, but they were restricted by budget. I encountered several clients like that. That was another reason for the book, too: to help people who didn’t have the time to even bring on staff or to hire an agency. They knew they needed it; they just didn’t have the tools. We thought, “O.K., between Covid and these other people who weren’t hurt by Covid but do need these extra services, how can we help?”
Sharon: Did you think about putting in a section about marketing via Zoom? Let’s say we backtrack or there’s another outbreak of a different kind of strain. Is there something about marketing via Zoom in there?
Lori: Absolutely. We have a section called “Video Messaging” that talks about sales calls. I’ll let Evon talk about some of the scripts with that, but it not only covers how to connect with people via Zoom or Webex or whatever else, but also how to connect via LinkedIn and audio and video message via those channels.
Evon: And we have screenshots for the how-tos. We show them how to do it. We write the scripts for them, and we show them step by step how they incorporate the technology to do these things. The book is really do-it-yourself. It literally provides thousands of dollars of marketing expertise for less than the cost of a week at Starbucks or, more relatable, it’s less than half a tank of gas.
Lori: Or a quarter-tank nowadays.
Evon: It’s all there.
Sharon: Are the templates fill in the blank?
Evon: Yes, they’re based around various scenarios. They all have a subject line to deal with the issues they’re trying to address. Then it gives you the template itself and what you should say with blanks to fill in certain things about you or the situation. It’s very easy.
Sharon: It sounds like a great resource, whether you’re a marketer within a marketing department or on your own.
Evon: A lot of people look at a page and don’t know where to start. They want to write something, and they can’t do it; they don’t do it; they don’t know how to do it. With the book, the words are right there.
Sharon: That’s a good point, when you’re looking at a blank computer screen and you don’t know what to do.
Evon: Right, right.
Sharon: I want to mention again that the book is “Ready-Made Marketing.” It’s for business owners and independent professionals of any stripe. Tell me if I’m leaving something out. It’s a do-it-yourself book. It’s on Amazon in a variety of formats. It’s gotten fabulous reviews, so please take a look at it. Evon and Lori, thank you so much for being here today and telling us about this book.
Lori: Sharon, thank you.
Evon: It’s been our pleasure, Sharon. Thank you so much for having us.
Lori: Yes, thank you, Sharon. It’s been great. We appreciate it.
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