How to get prospective clients off the fence and onto your client list

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Over the weekend I was looking at a piece of software I was considering. I’d seen a few reviews and watched some videos. I liked what I saw but the developers didn’t provide a lot of information and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money.

Do I really need this? How much would I use it? Is it as good as it looks? What if I get it and find something better?

They offer a money back guarantee and I was leaning towards buying but decided to sleep on it. See if I could find more reviews, maybe write to the developer and ask some questions.

Today, I went to the website from another computer. Lo and friggin behold, the software was available for one-third of the price I saw last night.

Not one-third off. One-third of the original price.

I saw nothing about a “sale” or promotion. Were they price-testing? Did I somehow load an old page?

Who cares. I bought the sucker.

It really wasn’t that expensive at the original price. But at one-third the price, it was a no-brainer. Take my money.

Two lessons for you my young Padawan.

First, don’t scrimp on the info. Make sure your website and other marketing materials show prospective clients as much information as possible. Make sure you have lots of reviews and testimonials. Answer every question a prospective client might ask about you and your services. Do your best not to give them any reason to “sleep on it” because they might not come back.

Second, don’t lower your “prices” but do offer lower-priced alternatives. If a prospect sees your full-priced package but isn’t sure they want to go ahead, your lower-priced package could be just the thing to get them to take the plunge. Get the client, even at a lower fee. You can sell them on buying additional services later.

When it comes to pricing and the perception of value, context counts. A $3,000 fee may seem expensive when that’s all the client sees, but a bargain when they are first presented with your $9,500 package.

Increase your income with effective billing and collection strategies: click here

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What to do when a client says they can’t afford your fee

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What do you do when a prospective client tells you they can’t afford you? You have three options:

(1) Help them to see the light

Many clients who say they can’t afford you have the money, they just don’t want to spend it. Others can borrow the money, liquidate a retirement account, sell something, or otherwise find the money to pay you and they will do that, but only if they want to.

Point out the greater expense and/or dire consequences that may arise if they don’t hire you, or the immense benefits they will get if they do. Help them to see that hiring you isn’t an expense, it is an investment in their better future.

You can also show them that while you may be more expensive than other lawyers, you’re worth it. You have more experience, offer something others don’t offer, and provide more value and better “customer service” than other lawyers.

Most of this can be done before you speak to them, that is, via articles and posts on your website and in your marketing documents.

(2) Offer to “work with them”

That is, suggest that they hire you for part of the work today and the rest at a later date. You can make things more attractive for them by allowing them to “lock in” the fee they would have paid had they hired you for everything at once. You can also allow them to use a credit card or other financing options.

(3) Let them go

Tell them, in essence, “I’m sorry, let me know when things change for you”. When they want what you offer enough, they’ll find a way to pay for it. Stay in touch with them and remind them that you can still help them.

You can also offer to refer them to another attorney who charges less, which often helps them to decide that no, they really want you.

What you shouldn’t do is cut your fee.

Quoting fees (and getting them) starts with an unshakeable belief in the value of what you do. You can’t possibly expect clients to see this value if you don’t see it yourself.

Remember, there will always be people who can’t afford you and people who can. Target those who can and you won’t have to worry about the ones who can’t.

How to quote fees, invoice properly, and get paid. Go here

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How to double your income in five years or less

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There is a very good chance that you’re not charging enough for your services. By enough, I mean the amount your services are worth and what good clients would be willing and able to pay.

Why do I make this assumption? Because when I consult with lawyers and we talk about their fees, almost all of them are on the low side. That, plus recent surveys which show that two-thirds of solo lawyers earn a gross income of less than $200,000 per year and 28% earn less than $100,000 (again, gross income), tell me I’m right.

If you have been following me for awhile and have moved away from offering the same basic, “commodity” services most lawyers offer, in favor of higher-level, better-paying work, you’re offering more value and you should be paid for it.

How much more? Perhaps double or triple.

It’s exciting to think about doubling your income without doing anything more than increasing your fees. But you might be afraid to do it, thinking that most of your clients would leave.

Don’t let that fear stop you.

You can minimize the risk of a wholesale exodus by doing it over a period of years.

If you increased your fees 20% starting next year, yes, you might lose some clients. My guess is that it would far fewer than you imagine, perhaps very few or none at all, but if you do lose some clients, two things would happen:

  1. No matter how many clients you lose, if the rest of your clients pay you 20% more than they had been paying, your net revenue for the year would increase, and
  2. Any clients who leave would make room for new clients who will pay your higher rate.

If you increase your fees by 20% per year, in five years your income will double, not including compounding.

Too much? Too soon? Okay, start by charging new clients the higher rate. Once you’re comfortable with this, once you see clients are still signing up, you can begin phasing in higher rates for existing clients.

(For contingency fees, you can “raise your fees” by increasing the minimum size of the cases you accept.)

Look, I’ve seen lawyers (and accountants) who haven’t increased their fees in ten years. That’s not a professional practice, that’s a charity. You are entitled to charge what you’re worth and what the market will bear. You don’t have to settle for less.

How to ask for, and get higher fees

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Is it okay to charge some clients less than others?

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Is it okay to charge some clients less than others? Why yes it is, thanks for asking. Here are some situations where you might want to do that:

  • New clients, to encourage them to sign up with you instead of another lawyer
  • Returning clients, to encourage them to come back or to hire you for something else
  • Old clients who have been with you a long time, to reward them for their loyalty
  • Bigger clients, who give you more work or bigger matters
  • Clients who are easier to work with, pay on time, never complain
  • Clients who send you lots of referrals or who go out of their way to promote you
  • Clients who do something you support, as a way to help their cause
  • Clients who give you a big retainer up front, especially if it is non-refundable
  • Clients referred to you by some of your better clients or referral sources
  • Clients who are family or friends (yeah, sometimes you gotta)

In fact, sometimes it makes sense to give some clients free services, but that’s a subject for another day.

Be careful, though. You don’t want your other clients to find out that some clients pay less than they do. Unless you do want them to know. If you want all of your clients to know they’ll pay less if they always pay on time, for example, then spread the word.

Another way to look at this subject is to charge more for clients who aren’t on this list. If they are slow-payers, for example, they pay a higher rate.

The point is, you don’t have to charge every client the same amount for the same work (unless there’s a law or a bar rule that says you do, in which case you should think about moving).

Go through your billing records and client list and see who might warrant a lower or higher fee.

The lawyer’s guide to stress-free billing and collection

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Would you rather have more clients or higher-paying clients?

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Yesterday, I did a consultation with a lawyer who has a high-volume/low-fee practice. I asked him, “Would you rather have 50 new $1,000 clients each month or two $25,000 clients?”

I wanted him to upgrade his practice towards the higher end of the client spectrum. You have less overhead, less stress, and less work to do to produce the same income. And you don’t have to compete with everyone and his brother because there is no competition at the top.

I pointed out that he already had a suitable niche market, a certain group of business owners who could provide him with referrals and introductions to other professionals who serve that market.

He said he would need to take CLE classes before he could do this. I suggested that until he was proficient, he could associate with another lawyer who has the experience.

He also said he would need to hire another attorney to handle some of his current caseload, and he’s willing to do that.

So he has a plan.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Niche marketing is smart. Here’s how to do it

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What would it take for your clients to say bye-bye?

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What would it take for your current crop of clients to leave you? What would make them say “enough” and hire another attorney?

Ponder on this for a bit. How might you offend them? What promises would you have to break? To what level would your standard of care have to fall?

It’s good to know these things so you don’t do them. And so you can work on strengthening what you do in each of those areas.

One area to consider are your fees. If you’re doing things right, fees aren’t the most important consideration for most clients. In surveys I’ve seen it’s number four on the list of factors for hiring an attorney, after things like “keeping them informed/availability” and other service-related issues.

If fees aren’t the number one factor, you have to ask yourself how much more you could charge before clients start to leave.

Could you safely raise your fees by 20% without losing clients? How about 30%? Could you double your fees, or triple them?

If you increased your fees and lost some clients, what percentage would be tolerable? Consider the added income you would bring in from the clients who didn’t leave and from new clients who signed up at the higher level?

When it comes to fees, surely even the most loyal client has a breaking point, right?

Maybe not.

I mentioned in a prior post a conversation I had with an attorney who was spending thousands of dollars a year on auto insurance for the family’s three cars. I asked her if they had shopped other carriers to see how much they might save. She immediately told me that she would never do that.

They like their agent and have been with him for years. He provides them with good service and they would never consider going anywhere else.

“What if you could save $2000 a year?” I asked her, and pointed out that this was entirely possible.

“No,” she said, they wouldn’t switch. They’d had other agents before and were disappointed with them, so they really appreciate (and are loyal to) their current one.

It didn’t matter that they might be grossly over-paying for something they might never use. It didn’t matter that if they did file a claim, the agent has little or nothing to do with whether or not that claim is paid, or how much.

Most people, myself included, look at auto insurance as a commodity. There are lots of places you can buy it. A few phone calls or online applications might allow you to save as much as two-thirds for the same coverage.

But this didn’t matter to her.

Granted, auto insurance isn’t purely a commodity. There is a service aspect to it. But how much is that worth?

Apparently, more than some people think.

Now, if this is true for auto insurance might it also be true of legal services? Something that isn’t a commodity (or shouldn’t be)?

I say yes. Which means that if you do a good job for your clients, you might be able to safely charge significantly more than you do now.

Especially if your clients have had other attorneys and were disappointed with them.

Fees, billing, and collection made simple

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Too hot, too cold, or just right?

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If you give prospective clients too many options for hiring you, you risk confusing them, and a confused mind usually says no.

If you only give them one option, however–hire you or don’t–you may lose them for other reasons.

The objective is to find a balance between too many  options and not enough.

Take a look at each of the services you offer. Are there too many choices? Are you confusing them with variables, add-ons, upgrades, and optional services that make it difficult to choose?

If so, look for ways to simply those options. Aim for clarity. Make it easier for them to decide.

If you don’t offer any options, however, if you give them a choice between “A” or “nothing,” look for ways to provide them with a second option. Something that adds value without adding confusion.

Let them choose “A” or “B” because whichever one they choose allows them to get the benefits they seek, and allows you to get a new client.

Sometimes, a third option is warranted. Should you offer it as option “C” along with the first two options? Should you hold back and offer it later? Or should you include it as a free bonus for choosing your higher priced package?

The answer is: I don’t know. And neither do you.

You could look at what other lawyers offer. You could conduct surveys and see which option prospective clients say is the most attractive. You could “go with your gut”. But the only way you’ll know for sure is to offer different options it to prospective clients and see how many sign up.

If you’re still not sure, start with two options. Price the second option higher than the first, but not a multiple of the first. $3,000 and $4,000, but not $3,000 and $10,000.

If you charge by the hour and you don’t offer any flat fees or packages, look for ways that you could do that because more clients will sign up when they know in advance how much it’s going to cost.

Master the art of successful billing and Get the Check

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Solve problems by asking “why?”

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Toddlers are experts at asking “why?” Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I have ice cream? Why are you and daddy wrestling with your clothes off?

They ask why so they can better understand the world around them. When they get an answer they don’t like or don’t understand, they ask why again.

Adults also ask why. But unlike our little tykes, we often accept the first answer and fail to dig deeper.

If you realize that you’re not going to have enough money to pay all of your bills this month, for example, and you ask yourself why, you might look at your accounts receivable and solve your problem by sending out “late” notices to clients who owe you money.

That might be a good idea, and it might solve the immediate problem, but it doesn’t help you to get to the root problem.

So next month, you might again have a shortage of cash.

Asking “why” you have a problem helps you find the solution, but asking once may not be enough, as this post explains.

In Japanese, Kaizen roughly translates to “continuous improvement”. One of the discipline’s techniques for problem solving is to ask “why” 5 times. This helps you find the root problem.

Here’s how you might apply this to your money problem:

  1. Why don’t you have enough money to cover this month’s bills? Because I don’t have enough clients.
  2. Why don’t you have enough clients? Because I don’t do enough marketing.
  3. Why don’t you do enough marketing? Because I’m not good at it.
  4. Why aren’t you good at marketing? Because I haven’t found enough strategies that I am comfortable using.
  5. Why haven’t you found enough strategies? Because I haven’t spent enough time learning about the available options or how to use them.

The root of your money problem, and the solution thereto, is thus revealed.

If you stop asking “why” after your first answer (not enough clients), you may not discover a solution other than sending out late notices. If you stop after your answer to the third “why,” (you’re not good at marketing) you might conclude that things are hopeless for you in this department and give up.

Ask why 5 times and see where it takes you.

Why? Because I said so. Now go play with your toys. Mommy and Daddy are busy.

Avoid having to send out late notices with this

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Time is money. Unless it’s not.

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If you bill by the hour, time literally is money. You get paid based on how many hours you work. If you offer flat fees, contingency fees, or anything other than hourly billing, however, time isn’t money. It’s just time.

When you bill by the hour, there are only four ways you can increase your income. You can raise your hourly fee. You can work more hours. You can lower your overhead. Or you can hire people to do some of the work and pay them less per hour than you bill your client.

Unless you use one or more of these methods, you can’t increase your income. Bringing in more clients won’t do it because there are only so many hours you can bill in a day.

If you want to earn more, instead of selling your time, you should be selling your advice or your problem-solving solutions. Not only will you earn more per client, the more clients you bring in, the more you will earn.

If you charge $400 per hour and bill out $2000 per day, you’re earning $10,000 per week, which is nothing to sneeze at. But you’ll never earn $30,000 per week.

I know it’s “hard” to come up with an alternative to hourly billing that protects you when you estimate too low or when contingencies occur, but it’s not impossible.

First, you need to stop thinking like a lawyer and start thinking like an entrepreneur. Instead of trying to eliminate risk, you will intelligently manage risk and use the law of averages to your advantage

If you take on twenty hourly-billed clients who each pay you $5000 to $20,000, or an average of $10,000, you take in $200,000 in gross fees. If you charge flat fees, however, and twenty clients each pay you $15,000, you gross $300,000. Now, if one or two of those twenty clients or cases wind up costing you more than you expected, even double what you expected, you’re still way ahead of the game.

I know I’ve said this many times before but I thought it was time for a reminder. Because time isn’t money. Unless it is.

How to earn more per client: here 

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Cheap legal services are too expensive

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I don’t buy a lot of clothing but when I do I favor quality over quantity. One reasonably expensive suit not only looks better than its cheap counterpart, it lasts longer, too. The same goes for dress shirts and shoes.

An article I read this morning agrees with me. It says that cheap clothes ultimately cost more and recommends buying quality instead.

The same can be said for cheap legal services.

You don’t want people to hire you because you’re cheaper than the other guys. You want them to say, “He costs a bit more but he’s worth every penny.” And you want them to know why.

You want people to understand the risks of hiring an attorney solely because they charge less and the benefits of hiring a high quality albeit more expensive alternative.

Like you.

Most people have a difficult time discerning this difference so it is important that you educate them. Help them to understand that cheap legal services are usually too expensive.

On the other hand, the smart play in marketing your services isn’t to target the masses and educate them about this difference. It is to target that segment of the market who already know this and are willing to pay more to get more.

Target the top 20% of your market and show them a lawyer who costs more and is “worth every penny”. Most attorneys don’t do that. They target the bottom 80% of the market and while they might not overtly compete on “price,” it’s obvious that being competitive on fees is baked into their essence.

You don’t need to be the most expensive lawyer in town, but you should at least be in the top one-third. And make sure you’re worth it.

How to write an invoice clients want to pay: click here

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