How Don Golden turned himself into a volume bankruptcy filer by firing himself as a lawyer and reinventing his practice
In this episode of Bankruptcy Law Success, I interview Don Golden, a bankruptcy attorney in Brandon, Florida who dominates his local Google “map pack” and files about 40 bankruptcies a month.
In this interview, Don is remarkably candid about how his bankruptcy practice was hobbled by Google’s Penguin update, and how he turned things around by obsessively tracking his numbers and building systems. These are my favorite kinds of interviews, because when bankruptcy attorneys “listens” to their numbers, they end up inventing all sorts of awesome ideas that we can steal…
Some of the highlights in this interview include:
- The exact strategies that has helped him build his bankruptcy filing volume to 40 cases a month.
- The so crazy you’ll never copy it tactic that has generated 71 Google reviews for his firm, and made Google list him as the #1 bankruptcy attorney for miles around his office.
- Why he decided years ago to spend $12,000 on software to track his leads–even though he’d just been Google-slapped and lost most of his leads–and how that software paid for itself almost instantly.
- Why he doesn’t offer “zero down bankruptcies,” and what he offers instead.
- And a whole lot more, including how he’s replaced himself for day-to-day legal work and precisely how he’s totally redefined his full-time job at his own practice…
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above, or read a full transcript below.
You can also subscribe to get an email when we release new episodes of the Bankruptcy Law Success podcast.
Bob: Hi, this is Bob Hiler of the Bankruptcy Law Success podcast where we introduce you to successful bankruptcy lawyers as well as powerful ideas that can transform your bankruptcy practice. Today, I’m speaking with Don Golden, the owner of The Golden Law Group in Brandon, Florida, which is 20 minutes east of Tampa.
Don, welcome to the podcast.
Don: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Bob: Great. My first question to you is, you’re 20 minutes east of Tampa, what’s going on with Tampa and St. Petersburg? Because I’ve already interviewed Christie Arkovich and Mike Zeigler, they both practice in that middle district of Florida. What’s going on there?
Don: Going on in what way?
Bob: Just there’s a lot of bankruptcy activity in Florida, I guess, right in that Tampa area.
Don: I don’t know why exactly. Bankruptcies have been down in our district consistently year over year, I don’t know, back since about 2010, which is rare for our district. Historically speaking, there are a lot of bankruptcies filed in our district. I think if you look back, typically, we don’t usually go more than two years down. Now, I’ve looked back as far as 2010 and I think every year has been down including 2018. Bankruptcy filings have gone down. I know you talked to Christie. Like you said there, she’s pivoted more to student loans and things like that, and away from bankruptcy.
Bob: Which is great. It’s a great way of jumping to a growing market of let’s say $4 trillion in student loans. Bankruptcy is still an important way of discharging student loan debt, is still a necessary part of it, so she’s still a member of the bankruptcy bar, but yes, that’s a…
Don: For sure. She knows way more about this than I do, but I think there’s definitely a trend to make student loans dischargeable a little bit easier. I think the standard’s softening a little bit. That’s not really my specialty. I definitely defer to people like Christie on that.
I don’t know exactly what’s going on. There’s definitely a lot of bankruptcy lawyers around though in this area for sure.
Bob: Yes, that’s great. Maybe we can start by just backing up. I’d like to hear how you got started. I read a little bit of your bio on your website, but maybe you can just tell me how you got started? Why you went to school in Maine and then moved to Florida, too.
Don: Well, I grew up in Maine. I grew up in Augusta, Maine, graduated from high school there. I ended up graduating from the University of Maine at Augusta right in my hometown. I really worked my way through college for the most part. I worked in a supermarket. Basically, I was working pretty much full time, I was working 30 to 35 hours a week in the supermarket. I paid my way through college. I had one small loan from a college I went to, a more expensive school, not a state school, that I borrowed. I owed $1,500 when I graduated from college.
Bob: That’s great.
Don: Yeah, I worked my way through school and I paid as I went. I spent my last two years of college living at home with my mom. That saved a lot of money there between that and working, just paying cash, it really helped me.
When it came time to go to law school, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pay my way through that, work my way through that. I knew I was going to have to borrow money and I just didn’t want to have debt really going into law school, undergrad debt, because that’d just be too much.
Bob: Well, Don, let me pause you right there. Your aversion to debt is interesting because you did go on to practice bankruptcy law. Where did that come from? Why were you so averse to debt? Was there a childhood experience perhaps or just values or what?
Don: Well, I was raised by a single mother. My father wasn’t a big part of our life. My parents divorced when I was six. It was my sister and myself. She is one year younger than me. My mom, she did really well raising us on her own with really no financial help. She worked really hard. I think that may have played a part in it. I really don’t remember my mother having much debt. I know that she had a mortgage on our house and a car loan and stuff, but I don’t really remember my mother having credit card debt and things like that.
I don’t know. I think I’ve just been fiscally conservative. Probably because I started working at the age of 15 or even a little bit younger than that, with a paper route at 10 or 12.
Bob: That was my route, I’m going to put a shout out for paper routes. I think I started when I was 13. My dad lost his job and so I started a paper route. That’s where my interest in bankruptcy law comes. I always thought my dad should have declared bankruptcy but he didn’t. We had a lien on the house and everything. Go ahead, I’m sorry.
Don: That’s fine. I don’t know, I just think just because I started working so early in life, that’s the only thing I can think of. I don’t know that I had a conscious aversion to debt back then, but I definitely do now, for sure.
Now I see the pain that it causes my clients. For some reason, I don’t know, I just was drawn not to borrow money, but I didn’t avoid… I had to borrow money to go to law school. I still worked in law school too, I went to school and they didn’t like you working that much. I just felt I had no choice, I felt like I had to work some.
I did not work my first term of law school, but then after that I got a job. I worked up until my last two terms, when I took a double courseload just because I wanted to get out of school, I just wanted to finish it up. Well, it was double. We took nine credit hours, we went to school year round. We had three terms a year, so we were typically doing nine credit hours a term I think, and I did 18 in my last two just because I really- it coincided with the bar exam. I was going to graduate in August or something like that, then there wouldn’t have been a bar exam until February, and so I really wanted to get out in time to take the July bar exam, but that didn’t work out either.
Bob: What happened?
Don: Well, although I wasn’t close with my father, he died two weeks before the bar exam.
Bob: I’m sorry.
Don: I had to go back to Maine and take care of his financial affairs up there and things like that, so I ended up putting off the bar exam until after that February anyway.
Bob: Okay. Well, at this point of your story you’re still in Maine, so how did you end up going to Florida?
Don: Well, first I went to Michigan to go to school. When I was in college, I took a business law class. At that time, I thought I was just going to stay in the retail business to be a manager at the supermarket and hopefully work my way up to be a district manager or something like that. I took business law and I really liked the business law class, and it rekindled a thought of going to law school for me.
As a young child, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and we went to church every Sunday. I’d come home and I would get up on this stool, we had this little step stool and I’d get up on that and I would start preaching. I felt like back then, when I was a real little kid, that I would either be a preacher or a lawyer because I just wanted to– I like to argue, I just liked to argue a little bit back then too.
When I was really young I said, “Yes, I think I would be either a preacher or a lawyer.” But being a preacher was not my calling. Then college though, the business law class made me decision for me. Like I said, I definitely want to go to law school. I spent six years getting my undergraduate degree just because I transferred schools four times my first four semesters, I kept having different goals. One minute I was going to be on Wall Street and the next minute I was going to be a business teacher and a football coach.
I was young and I couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I transferred a bunch of times and lost a lot of credits during the transfers. It wasn’t until probably my third year of college that I really decided to focus and settle down and get a degree. I majored in accounting. I knew I didn’t want to be an accountant. I felt that was a boring career, at least it felt like it to me.
Bob: That’s okay.
Don: Anyway, I took that business law class and decided I wanted to apply to law school, but my grades were not the best because I was working pretty much full time and I was also having fun as college students do. My grades weren’t terrific, so I applied to the one law school that I knew I could get into. I’m sure I could have gotten into others, but, again, here’s the fiscally conservative part of me. Again, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on law school application. I said, I know I can get into this school, I’m going to apply to this school and it was Thomas Cooley Law school in Lansing, Michigan . That was the only school I applied to, I got in and I ended up leaving to go to Michigan to go to law school.
From there, after law school, as I was getting close to finishing law school, my cousin had gone to New England School of Law in Boston, and she got her Massachusetts license and her New Hampshire license and couldn’t find a job in either state. She came down to Florida, got a Florida license and got a job right away. She was two years ahead of me in school, so I saw what her path was. At the time, I really didn’t want to go back to New England. I wanted to go to Massachusetts or Maine, but my mother was sending me articles about people not being able to get jobs.
Lawyers were coming out of law school and taking jobs as paralegals, just because the legal market was so bad back then. I felt like I had to have a job, just couldn’t imagine $60,000 in debt from school. I couldn’t imagine not having a job as a lawyer to be able to pay for that debt. I just decided I was going to Florida just because it looked like the job market was better here. And I also had two friends from high school that were living in Tampa at the time.
Bob: That’s great, so you’re graduating from law school in ’97.
Bob: I graduated from college in ’96, I remember that job market, from ’97 to 2000 it was booming, that’s a tough market for bankruptcy. Did you start in bankruptcy in ’97, what was that like?
Don: In ’97, so when I came to Florida, my friend’s mother introduced me to an attorney that she knew. I went to his office and met with him, just talked to him a little bit. He was here in Brandon. Brandon, it’s not a small suburb, it’s a big suburb of Tampa, but it’s not what I thought. I never imagined I’d be in Brandon. I thought I’d live in Tampa, but I was introduced to this attorney in Brandon and he and I hit it off. He hired me right away.
I hadn’t even taken the bar exam yet. It was the summer before the bar, or a few months before the bar exam. He hired me to help him with Social Security disability cases, so I was prepping his Social Security disability cases for him to go to hearing on. I was writing briefs, doing medical summaries and stuff like that for him to help prepare him for the hearings on Social Security cases. That’s what I started doing.
While I was in law school, I worked with a law firm and the attorneys there– It was all administrative law, they wrote briefs, that’s all they did is write briefs to regulate public utilities. They were working for the big auto companies and they were just trying to keep the rates low for the auto companies. That’s all they did all day is write briefs for the Public Utility Commission. They really weren’t that happy in their jobs. It was dull.
They were young attorneys. Talking to them, they didn’t really love what they were doing. One of them told me that he had a friend in Chicago that was doing really well practicing consumer bankruptcy law. I got the thought in my head, while I was in law school, that I would like to do bankruptcy work. I took bankruptcy courses in law school and wanted to do bankruptcy.
The attorney that I ended up working for in Brandon did do bankruptcy, but he had an attorney already that was doing that for him. So the only thing that he had for me was Social Security. I took it, but that attorney ended up leaving within a year of me being with the firm. Actually it was probably a little sooner than that, probably within six months. As soon as I got my license, I moved over and started doing the bankruptcy work for the firm.
Bob: Is it still fun?
Don: I love it.
Bob: That’s great.
Don: I worked for him for three years. Then I went to work for, at the time they were called Debt Relief Legal Centers. They were one of the bigger filers in Florida. All I did is go to court. I did all the court work. They were a big volume filer, so there was a lot of things that were getting screwed up in the offices, because they were just moving so many files. It was my job to go in and clean them up in court. That was a good learning experience.
I learned a lot about bankruptcy law and about how to act in court, and just how to represent our clients in court. One of attorneys at that firm, one of the owners of the firm, was a really good mentor to me as well. He was a really good lawyer and he taught me a lot about learning about the bankruptcy code. When you’re in a code-based practice area, you have to know the code, and he taught me that. He explained to me how important it was to know the bankruptcy code.
When I would be in 341 meetings waiting till my case be called, I had a code book and I was reading the code, because he told me to do that. I wouldn’t have known to do that. I wouldn’t have even thought of it, if he hadn’t told me that. That ended up being really good advice. From there, because I was in court so much and I dealt with all the creditor attorneys, the Chapter 13 trustee and the Chapter 7 trustees, it led to an opportunity to be a staff attorney for the Chapter 13 trustee.
I left that firm and went to work as a staff attorney for the Chapter 13 trustee. I did that for 11 months, but at the time, there was very limited room for growth as a staff attorney with the trustee. The Chapter 13 trustees tend to stay in that job for a long time, and there weren’t many openings.
Bob: Why? I’ve noticed that too. What makes that job attractive? Is it that financially remunerative?
Don: It’s a good gig. Yes, it really is. I don’t know exactly what they make. They make in the high 100s, but probably right around $200,000 a year I believe is probably what the salary is. Somewhere around there.
Bob: No stress.
Don: Well, I wouldn’t say there’s no stress, but you’re not technically part of the US Trustee’s’ office, you’re a separate entity. You run your own business. The US Trustee oversees your activity, but you’re not really run by the US Trustee, so it’s a good gig. To be honest with you, being a staff attorney for the Chapter 13 trustee was the best job I ever had. I loved it, but I knew that the income potential was limited.
Now, I know they’re paid a little better now than they were when I was there. Right after I left, they did a study to see how the staff attorneys were paid as in relation to other attorneys, like in the Department of Justice system that were at the same level and things like that. My understanding is that they got pretty good raises after I left. I left in 2002, and at that point in time, we’d had one child and my son was sick a lot. He had ear infections constantly. We knew it was because he was in daycare. My wife was a teacher, so I really wanted to figure out a way to replace her income, and I kind of said, you know what? I think the only way to do it is really if I start my own business.
We decide to give that a shot. My wife’s from Iowa, and I’m from Maine, neither one of were in love with Florida, so if this doesn’t work, we’re going to go, we’ll move somewhere else. I’ll get my license in Maine or Nebraska, some place like that so we could be closer to some family. It ended up working, we started in 2002 and ended up making it, so we’ve been in Florida the whole time.
Bob: One of the more interesting things that you told me in terms of– well, you told me about your volume before the podcast. Are you comfortable talking about the volume that you’re doing now, the volume of filings?
Don: Yes, sure. You want me to say what it is?
Don: Okay. Last year, we averaged about 30 cases a month (filing cases) and now we’re on track to do about 40, 39 or or 40 cases a month, that’s the goal for this year. That’s a combination of 7s and 13s.
Bob: That’s a lot.
Don: Yes. We’re not the top, I mean, we’re near the top but we’re not best– some months we’re the number one firm, but we’re not typically, we’re in usually number two in Tampa.
Bob: Who’s number one in Tampa?
Don: Most of the time it’s Robert Geller, but there’s another firm that’s really coming fast,and they’re called Debt Relief actually. So the firm I used to work for is Debt Relief, and this firm was founded by one of the former Debt Relief partners. It has the same name, it’s still Debt Relief something. I forget the exact title of it, he changed it slightly, and they’re coming pretty fast in the market for sure. I know why, I mean, they’re doing zero dollar bankruptcies, you know the zero down bankruptcy.
Bob: That’s definitely something I wanted to get into. One of the things that I was really impressed by when I was doing a little research on your practice is that you have 71 reviews on Google for your Brandon office. That is a lot.
Bob: So you must have a strategy for doing that.
Bob: Before you get into that strategy, how did you… I mean, having so many good reviews is a huge factor for ranking on Google maps, and you actually dominate the Brandon area and some parts of Tampa. So, first of all, congratulations, that’s amazing.
Don: Thank you.
Bob: Second, how did you know that reviews were important? What’s your strategy for ranking or getting reviews?
Don: Well, the strategy is we ask for them. You don’t get what you don’t ask for usually. Some people will, on their own, be so happy that they’re going to go out and leave a review for you, but we find that if you ask for them, you’re more likely to get them. We tend to ask for them when the clients are happiest. So when my staff is trained that when they’re speaking with a client, and they’re helping them solve a problem, and they’re showing that they’re really happy with what we’ve done for them, that they ask. They say, “Well, I’m really glad that you’re happy with what we did here, would you possibly give us a review on Google?” And we find that people are really more than happy to do it when you ask for it, most of the time.
Bob: So there’s two kinds of happy moments, the first one is at the 341 meeting right after they realize they never have to go to court again?
Bob: And the second one’s after the discharge.
Bob: When do you strike in terms of the maximum happiness moment when you find is best?
Don: Usually we do it when we’re on the phone with a client. The client’s called in with a situation or an issue, or we’re calling them to let them know that the case is finished or whatever it is. We usually do it over the phone at a point in time, we talk to them over the phone, and that we can hear the joy in their voice. When we know that they’re really happy, we usually go ahead and ask for that review.
Don: I’ve given a little incentive to the staff, when we get a five-star review on Google, I buy everybody in the office lunch. So we call it free lunch Friday, and the whole office gets rewarded when we get a five-star review, I just buy lunch for everybody and we celebrate that in the conference room. We all eat lunch together on Friday and every time we get a five-star review. It’s a nice team building exercise, and it’s just a good way to reward the team for doing the work necessary to keep the clients happy and make them willing to give us reviews.
Bob: That’s awesome. I do marketing for bankruptcy attorneys, and when I talk to my clients, I often tell them there’s nothing more important for your practice than getting more reviews.
Bob: I mean look, if you already have 71 Google reviews for your Brandon office, okay, getting to 72 is not going to be critical. But if you’re in an area where you’re trying to rank up and someone has 19 reviews and you have 6, if you get to 20 reviews, you’re going to own whatever suburb you’re targeting. It’s going to be hard to break in to Manhattan with 20 reviews, but if you’re in Brandon or some area like that, or even parts of Tampa, 20 reviews is a lot and so that’s what I tell people; don’t write dumb blog posts. If you have competitors that have more five-star reviews, really focus on that.
Don: I totally agree with that 100%. A long time ago, I forget what year it was, but it was a long time ago, I was introduced to a reputation company. They were telling me about reviews and everything. I just bought into it, and so created a strategy to get them. I don’t know. It was before it was really the thing. You know what I mean? I don’t know that it mattered as much when I started getting them, but I definitely recognize that it matters a lot now.
Bob: Do you realize that you’re in the top three as far west as Temple Terrace, Del Rio, Palm River-Clair Mel… I don’t know these places, these are places in Tampa.
Don: They’re pretty close to Brandon, to be honest with you. Those places are all pretty close to my Brandon office really. Temple Terrace is a 10-minute drive down the Interstate, probably 15 minutes maybe. They’re all driving distance now. They’re definitely Tampa, but they’re not too far from Brandon. I can definitely get folks from Temple Terrace to drive to Brandon. I looked at the map of where all the bankruptcies were being filed in the district, and I zoned in on this area in Tampa where a lot of bankruptcies are being filed.
We opened a small office over there, I don’t know, probably three months ago. We really haven’t done any marketing for it or anything right now. We’re just taking appointments as we need to over there. If they call in and they don’t want to come to Brandon, then we do have an option for them in Tampa. That’s my goal for this year, is to actually increase the Tampa location and have a little better impact on the Tampa market as a whole.
My entire strategy has been on Brandon. When I started in 2002, I got a website really quickly and the domain is brandonlawyer.com. There’s a lot of people out in this area, out in eastern Hillsborough County. I just decided I was going to try to own eastern Hillsborough County. The strategy worked. Now, it’s time to think about the next step, and for me, the next step is definitely getting more into Tampa.
Bob: What about Lakeland to the east of Brandon? Have you thought about that?
Don: Yes, absolutely. Lakeland’s a good market. The reason I wanted to do Tampa first was just because the office is pretty close to the courthouse, not really close but it’s a place for my attorney who can go in between hearings and stuff like that. It’s serving two purposes for us. It’s trying to draw more clients from Tampa, but also be in a place that she can go without having to drive all the way back to Brandon if she’s got something in the morning and something in the afternoon, type of thing.
Lakeland’s an option for sure. Here’s the thing, we talked about my aversion to debt. My business has no debt. My only personal debt is a mortgage. I will not go into debt for growth. I’m very opposed to debt for growth. The only way I grow is with profit. I reinvest my profit into growth. Until I have sufficient funds to grow, I don’t focus on a new market and I won’t focus on a new market.
Bob: Got it. One of the things that I noticed, I’m not 100% sure in this, but I’ll just mention this in case the other people out there. I think you’re using the same telephone number for your three different listings. You have one in Brandon, one in Bradenton, one in Tampa. Does that sound familiar? Or…
Don: You mean as far as the Google local or the maps?
Bob: Yes. I’ve just been doing a lot of stuff with Google Maps lately, and one of the things that you really want to do is you want to have a unique phone number for each office. I think that you have one phone number for all three listings.
Don: My website vendor is telling me that those should match, that they should be the same number because– believe me, I don’t know anything about this stuff. I rely on professionals to tell me. They’re telling me that Google gives you credit for having the same number in all listings.
Bob: That’s not quite my understanding. My understanding is that you’re going to have lots of citations out there. Citation is like a Yelp listing, right?
Bob: Every citation is going to have your name, address, your phone number and maybe the website. People call it NAP or NAPW. These citations that you have out there, you want the citations for a given address to be consistent. You want the phone number for your Bradenton office, your Tampa office to be consistent. You’re going to have three different listings on Yelp, and you want each of those Yelp listing, they’re called citations, each of this Yelp citation need to be consistent with your Google My Business listing.
Don: Got you, interesting.
Bob: What happens a lot is that people who have multiple offices and they use one phone number, and then what will happen is that Google will not recognize those disparate offices as unique locations that will show up because they share the same phone number.
Don: I see.
Bob: It looks to me like, it looks like– it’ll mark one or more of those locations as duplicate. We’re kind of getting into the weeds here, which is my fault because I spend a lot of time on the stuff. You might want to consider… I don’t think it’s a problem right now, but you may want to consider having three separate phone numbers, but you would need to make sure that your citations then for your Bradenton office and your Tampa office also change. For instance, you will need to go into Yelp and Justia and all these other places and you would need to update your address or rather your phone number for these locations.
Don: That makes sense.
Bob: Your review strategy is killing it, and the next area that really seems to have contributed to your success is bifurcated agreements or what people call zero down bankruptcies. When did you get introduced for that and how did you get started?
Don: It was in 2015 when I started doing it. Actually, the attorney that’s number one in Tampa right now, Robert Geller, he started it before me and he told me that he was doing it. He said, “You should do it, too.” [chuckles] I looked into it and I said, “Yes, that’s a pretty good idea.” The firm, Clark & Washington, was here and they were doing post-dated checks for post-petition fees.
The US Trustee brought them into court and the judge said, “You can’t do that,” but the judge did allow them to do something. They had a follow-up hearing and Clark & Washington came back at the second hearing, they said, “Okay, judge, here’s what we’re doing now.” The court said, “Okay, that’ll work.” Then they added a couple of other little things. The court basically said you could do a pre-petition retainer and get paid for the work that you do pre-petition, and then do a secondary retainer or a post-petition retainer after the case is filed for the post-petition work.
The court said you had to give them a 14-day window of opportunity to get out. After they sign the retainer, they have 14… The post-petition retainer, they have 14 days to change their minds. If they decide they don’t want you to finish the case for them, then you have to do a motion of withdrawal. You have to represent them up until the time that the court releases you from the case and you withdraw. Because US Trustee was worried that they’d get a lot of people filing bankruptcy cases, a lot of attorneys filing bankruptcy cases and then not have attorneys doing the post-petition work and it would flood the courts with a lot of pro se people.
They didn’t really love that idea. The court kind of addressed that and said you have to continue to represent them until you do a motion of withdrawal and get out of the case. That usually entails filing all the schedules and also usually providing most of the documentation for the Chapter 7 trustee. Most of the heavy lifting is done at that point.
Bob: It has to be done post-petition in order for you to justify your attorney’s fees, which if you’re going to turn those attorney’s fees into debt in order to survive the discharge, they have to be done post-petition.
Don: Correct. That’s correct. The problem is that with timeline the court puts us on, that work has to kind of get done between the time that we file the case and the time that we get out of the case. You’re kind of on the hook for the work anyway, if the debtor wants to let you loose. It’s a little risky and I think that might be wise. More attorneys have done it in our area, but we started it in 2015 and that’s really one of the things that’s gotten us to where we are now. Really, it’s the bifurcated agreement.
Bob: If people want to go back and look at the case law, the case is Walton V., Clark & Washington PC, it was in the middle district of Florida in 2012.
By 2015, the case law was pretty established by then.
Don: Right. It was. Still, not many people were doing it at that point. At the time, in 2015 there was only two of us that were doing it even though this case had come out. Because I think by then, it was right around that time that I think Clark & Washington actually folded up and left our area. They’re no longer in Tampa. I know they’re still up in Georgia and other places, but they left Tempa.
Bob: Yes. I know they’re in Georgia. I thought they were in Miami. Maybe in the Southern District. I’m not 100% sure.
Don: Maybe. I remember clearly when they closed out here because they had an office pretty much in Brandon. I had a lot of clients come to us that had formerly been with their firm and they no longer were doing business there.
Bob: Sure. You’ve been doing bifurcated agreements, zero down bankruptcies since 2015. Well, my first question is…
Bob: -a bifurcated agreement doesn’t necessarily need to be zero down, that’s not my first question.
Don: That’s right.
Bob: Did you do zero down to make people pay… What did you do? What was your offer?
Don: $499 for attorney’s fees plus the filing fee, the $335. It was $834 pre-petition basically, most of the time.
Bob: What kind of close rate would you see on your leads? I’m not asking for exact numbers.
Don: I can tell you the exact numbers because I track it.
Don: When I was doing the consultations, it was about 72%. I have replaced myself, I don’t do the consultations anymore, and we’re at 68% right now which is an acceptable number for me considering that I’m not doing them anymore.
Bob: That’s fantastic.
Don: I track all my numbers, leads, set, shows, hires. I can tell you percentages for every single one of those things.
Bob: That’s fantastic. That offer that you’re making of $499 plus $335, is that still the same offer that you’re using today?
Don: No. I know this is probably counter-intuitive, because back then when I was doing $499, there was really nobody else doing bifurcated agreements. Now, there’s multiple firms doing bifurcated agreements. A lot of them are doing zero-dollar down, but I actually went up. Now, we’re asking for– I forget the exact number, but we went up $190 on the pre-petition amount.
Bob: That $499 is for the pre-petition?
Don: Yes, correct.
Bob: That makes sense.
Don: Now, it’s a little over $600, $640 maybe or something like that is what we’re asking for pre-petition.
Bob: Okay. Did that change your close rates at all?
Don: Well, so far, I would say no because it’s tax refund time right now. This is a change I just made probably in the last 45 days, 30 days. It’s tax refund time and more people have more money that they can put down on a bankruptcy during this time of year. Sometimes they have to put it down or else they’ll lose it because there are exemptions.
Bob: Yes, if they have a ton of cash in the bank.
Don: Correct. I know Florida is considered this big debtor haven and stuff, but our personal property exemptions are not that good. We have a fantastic home exemption , but as far as personal property exemptions, they’re not that great. It’s actually fund money. A lot of times, the best thing they can do is use it to pay their bankruptcy lawyer really. It sounds self-serving, and I always tell them that, but it’s true.
Bob: I believe in bankruptcy as a way of improving consumers’ lives particularly when their back is against the wall…
Bob: To my mind, the more bankruptcies, the more we as an industry are helping people. You’re not going to get pushback from me.
One of the things that you had mentioned is that you are collecting the post-petition payments yourself, have you been doing that since day one? Or did you start with…
Bob: Wow. Tell me about that.
Don: Day one, I started with PayPal, which was not going to be a system that was going to be scalable. With PayPal, we were having to enter each payment every single time it came due. It was really cumbersome.
Bob: Also, with PayPal, you as the vendor have no control whether I use– Let’s say that I’m the debtor and I’m paying you, you have no control whether I pay with my debit card that’s attached to my bank account or my credit card, which I can imagine to be a big problem.
Don: We always made sure it was a debit card. It was part of the agreement that we had them sign, that they would only use a debit card. I guess we wouldn’t know whether they changed it and made it a credit card. Then again, it’s post-discharge. It’s not against the rules. They’re not paying for the bankruptcy. Well, they’re paying for the bankruptcy but they’re not trying to discharge that debt because they’ve already filed bankruptcy.
Don: Anyway, we made it clear that they had to use a debit card. The problem though was that as we got more and more agreements, it got pretty tedious. We had to keep a spreadsheet on what days the payments were due, we had to go in there and manually punch that in and collect the payments. It was going to get to be a lot. I ended up using this program called Infusionsoft. Infusionsoft is a client relationship manager.
They have a payment plan system in Infusionsoft that I got a LawPay account and linked it to the LawPay account. It has the ability to schedule and take auto-payments on a regular schedule. That made things a lot better and a lot easier for us. Then the other thing it did too is when the payment fails, Infusionsoft will automatically send an email out to the client to let them know, “Hey, something’s wrong, the payment didn’t go through.” We call but it’s a soft call. It’s a friendly call, “Hey, your payment didn’t go through,” and usually nine times out of 10, it’s because they got a new card or it’s expired or something like that. That’s usually what it is.
Bob: Sure, or sometimes maybe they didn’t get their hours but they changed jobs…
Don: It really is almost never because they don’t have the money.
Bob: Oh, really?
Don: It really is almost never because of insufficient funds, it’s almost always that the card expired or they moved and address is different or just something like that. That’s almost always what it is.
Bob: Sure. What kind of regularity or cadence view do you do your collections? It it weekly, biweekly? Do you match that to their pay?
Don: Yes, we do whatever the client wants to do. If they want to do it every pay period, we’ll do it every pay period, they want to do once a month, we’ll do it once a month. I just try to make it as flexible as I can to suit them, but also I try to get the fees paid in full within 12 months. The post petition fees I try to limit them to 12 months but if the circumstances require it I will go up to 18 months to pay the fees.
Bob: Okay, let’s say you’re doing weekly payments. Well, let’s say there’s two payments per customer over the course of a year. If you take 35 filings a month and you multiply that by 12 that is is 420…
Don: Well for something like that.
Bob: You could have like…
Don: We’re only doing about 70% Chapter 7, and then not everybody is doing the payment plan so some people do pay the full amount before the filings.
Don: I would say about 70% of our filings are on post-petition payment plans. It’s what the numbers are a little lower, but other than that your example’s good.
Bob: Well, I mean we could be talking about hundreds. I don’t know if we could be a thousand payments a month, that’s a lot. Now your automated platform is going to work. But how much work is involved and what kind of staff do you need? Do you have a specialist that just focuses on payments?
Don: No, not exactly. I have a staff person that sets the payment plan up with the client when they file and then she also follows up with them when the payment fails. She prints reports daily for the bookkeeper to put the information into Quickbooks. Really, it’s not that much time really. It really doesn’t take a lot of time to be honest with you.
Don: 10 hours a week I mean that.
Bob: Okay, are you kind of certified as a furnisher of information to the credit reporting agencies, do you file a Metro 2 report to someone?
Bob: Okay, if you do not do that…
Don: No, I don’t want to do that because I know that there’s an argument to be made that it would help them rebuild their credit. But the flip side of it is, I believe that if you report, you have to report the good and the bad.
Bob: That’s true.
Don: I most certainly don’t want to negatively impact somebody’s credit after they filed bankruptcy. I just can’t do it, I can just see the possibility of negative reviews because the client’s not going to necessarily– I don’t know how to explain this exactly but I would definitely worry about negative reviews from that.
Don: They get mad that you’ve impacted their credit negatively. I can just picture the review now where they say that they came with you to get out of debt and help rebuild their credit. Now, you’ve negatively reported them to the credit reporting bureau and you’re hurting their credit all over and now they’re right back to where they started from. I just see that as a big downer and could lead to negative reviews that I just don’t want to deal with. I don’t think very many of my clients will be listening to this, but when they don’t pay and we followed up with them 10 times, we just write it off and we stop and that’s it, the end of it. It’s just my loss and I’m okay with that.
Bob: What kind of credit underwriting do you do upfront in order to make sure that they’re good credit.
Don: None. How much underwriting, like do I see if they’re creditworthy and stuff like that?
Bob: No, well, not looking at their credit report but you look at their salary. You look at anything.
Don: Well, I mean if they don’t have a job, we can’t we can’t offer it, you know what I mean?
Don: Like if you’re an investor on Social Security, if they have a regular source of income, we will offer it. Typically the only way we won’t is if they just didn’t have source of income. If they don’t have a source of income then there’s really no way to do it, we have to get paid for.
Bob: Is there a cutoff like above, if they make $1,000 a month would they qualify?
Don: It’s a conversation that we would have with them to see. Typically my team, the payments are about $138 a month on my payment plans. Give or take a year. We kind of we kind of do the calculation with them and talk to them whether or not that’s something they can afford, and if they don’t think they can be able to afford it, then we start talking about other options, other options to pay for the case.
Bob: Sure. Do you allow them to… Like other people can guarantee,stuff like that?
Don: I haven’t, that something I’m considering. I went to a conference and somebody suggested that and it’s something that I definitely been thinking about, it’s adding again getting to the agreement, I think that might be a good option. Then again I don’t have any way enforce it though other than a lawsuit, I’m not trying to reporting.
The only way I can enforce it is a lawsuit, and just like I really wouldn’t want to sue my clients for the money, and I wouldn’t sue my clients for the money, it would be hard for me to sue somebody’s grandfather for the money too. It would give me an option or at least the appearance that could happen, but I would absolutely never do it. Because I would never do it, I don’t even know if I would offer it. I don’t know.
Bob: Well, let me just speak there on what would happen. Let’s say that I was supposed to make 12 payments of $100 if you just to keep the math easy, and then after 7 months, so I paid $700, I still owe $500, and then let’s say I stop making payments and I ghost you. Now, you’re saying that the next thing that you would do, is you would have to sue the guarantor, but what you could do is if you took that payment information from the guarantor, you could just start taking $100 from my guarantor whose payment information you have.
Don: Oh, I see, I got you. Yes, I got you, that’s interesting.
Bob: There’s no lawsuit there. I mean, I suppose you would call them up and say, “Hey listen, you’re a deadbeat, not deadbeat… Mr. so and so listed you as a guarantor, you sign this, but this guy is ghosting us, and so we’re going to take the money you.” If you’re legally allowed to do that, there’s no lawsuit. Normally, a lawsuit would be.. It would be indirect, it would be if the guarantor declared bankruptcy to get out of it, but why would they do that to get out of a small…
Don: Right, now I hear you. Yes, they wouldn’t. Definitely something to think about. Our collection is pretty good anyway, it’s good. I don’t have the exact numbers.
Bob: Are you open with sharing that?
Don: Yes, I mean it’s less than 10% default, for sure. We get about six failed payments a week, but at least half of those, 80% get resolved in the same week that they decline. We’ve only written off maybe 10-15 cases in the three and a half years we’ve been doing this. We do pretty well collecting it. People really do want to pay, I really feel they’re happy, and they’re happy to pay for it. If they can pay for it, they want to pay for it, because they’re happy with the result. I think that a big part of it. They think that we did a good service for them, and most people really do want to pay for the service that they receive. I think it’s important for them to pay for it. My clients have been, when I meet with them, they held on for as long as they could, and they’re proud of their credit score. Some people come to me, they’ve drained their retirement account, but their credit score is 800.
Bob: It’s so tragic.
Don: They just kept taking money, they just take out of their… They feel like they have this duty and an obligation, which is admirable, to pay their debt. They will drain their retirement account to maintain their good credit. It’s a pride factor for folks, there are a lot of people that are too proud to file for bankruptcy or to really want to file bankruptcy, and I get that.
When it finally comes time for them to have to do it, they want to go back to that person that they were before, and they take pride in paying in their debt. They want to pay their new debts, because they know that they want to regain that good credit. In their minds even though I’m not reporting it, to them it’s an obligation that they have, and I feel like they think that it’s important that they pay it, which I’m thankful for.
They’re really happy with our service and they want to pay it. I think that’s the reason why most people, almost all, end up paying us. We’re flexible, we call them regularly. Every time a payment goes through, this is something that seems weird, you would think we’d call before the payment, but we don’t. We call after the payment, we call every single client, every single time, to say thank you for your payment, your payment went through, is there anything going in that we need to know about, is there anything you need to talk about.
Don: Yes. Every…
Bob: That’s not 10 hours a week, that’s…
Don: I forgot about that. I have somebody else… I have a different person doing that. [chuckles]
Don: I forget to tell you that. [laughs] Every single payment, they get a courtesy call from us afterwards thanking them for their payments, going over the balance with them, even though they get this in a written statement every time. It’s just making sure that everything’s okay and that there’s nothing that they need from us.
Bob: Okay, so even if you have 15 Chapter 7 filings a month, it’s 180 clients and you’re calling them up to four times. That’s 350-400 calls a month so you have one person.
Don: Yes I do. I have a dedicated phone person. They do more than just those kind of call. They follow up on my leads too. They have an outbound phone rep that calls leads and makes these ”thank you for the payment” calls.
Bob: Wow. Where’d you get the idea for that because that’s…
Don: Yes. I have a business coach and that’s the other thing. In 2015 I hired a business coach and that’s also when I started turning things around and that’s when I decided to do the payment plans too. I told my new business coach about what my friend Robert Geller told me and he said, “Absolutely, you should do that.” I’ve learned a lot about running a law firm from Richard James. He has a program for entrepreneurial attorneys to learn how to run their businesses better.
Bob: Would you say that the reviews and the bifurcated agreements are the foundations of your success in bankruptcy?
Don: Correct. It is, but the other thing too is systems and stuff and the systems are what I learned from Richard James. I think before, you know how I told you I track everything? I didn’t track anything before. I didn’t know where my cases were coming from. I had gut feelings. Okay, I know we’re getting a lot of cases from the internet but because this is your business you know this better than I even understand it, but I did really well with the website with Findlaw. I started with a small site and I just kept growing it. My rep didn’t have to to sell me, I just kept calling him up and saying, “What’s next? What more can I do?” Because the thing just worked and then all of a sudden it didn’t.
I went from getting all the leads I could handle to getting none and I had no idea why. Actually, it took me a long time to figure out that that’s what happened. I went from the first page of Google for any search you could find for bankruptcy in these areas that you talked about earlier to not even showing up at all.
Bob: Is this September 2016? Is that when that happened?
Don: No, it was before that.
Bob: Oh, 2015?
Don: No, it was before that. I think it was the Penguin update or something like that and I think what it was, there was all this black hat SEO going on with backlinks and stuff like that I believe is what the actual issue was. It took me forever because I wasn’t tracking the leads. I didn’t even know how many leads I was getting. Say nothing about what source they were coming from, what was the lead source. When things started going wrong I didn’t have a clue where to even look to figure out what was going on.
I knew that bankruptcies, in general, were dropping and that the business was going down but it wasn’t just me, it was across the board. I think that I dropped hard and fast because of my website and if I had some tracking systems I would have figured this out a lot quicker and the pain wouldn’t have had to be as severe as it was. Now I track everything all the time. I know every day how many leads I get, how many appointments we set, how many people showed up for the appointments and how many hires we had, every single day I check it.
Bob: What do you use to track, is it Infusionsoft again? Or…
Bob: So you jerry-rigged Infusionsoft to be your practice management software?
Don: No, it’s not practice management. It’s solely client relationship management but the recording in there is phenomenal. I use PracticePanther for client management but the relationship manager I use Infusionsoft. I tried to use one solution for both and it just doesn’t work very well. There’s just no product out there that’s perfect for both but Infusionsoft, the reporting, and everything Infusionsoft is so good that that’s why I like it.
Bob: It’s hard to work with. I mean, you have to let go of your preconceptions. It’s like using the Force or something. You have to let go and just become one with Infusionsoft.
Bob: How’d you pick that up? Did you go to seminars?
Don: No. I’m a big believer and I know this is hard to do when you don’t have any money [laughs] . When things are going bad and you don’t have any money and you don’t believe in debt, you’re not going to go into debt for things, it’s hard to say, “I’m going to spend money on this.” But I did. It cost me $12,000 to get my Infusionsoft setup.
Don: I paid it because I was thinking long term.
Bob: That’s great. Yes.
Don: I sacrificed and used the money that I needed to at the time to get it set up. It’s going to pay dividends for me for a long time. I believe in hiring professionals.
Bob: Well, also I would probably argue you probably saved more than $12,000 just in turning off. . You were paying Findlaw some amount of money, and just turning off the lead sources that weren’t working, you probably saved $12,000 in a pretty short order.
Don: Definitely. Definitely.
Bob: A couple of other quick things is that I saw on your website that you had that Bankruptcy in Florida book. Is that a strategy that’s worked for you?
Don: Absolutely. Having a book is a good lead magnet really. It sets you apart a little bit as an author which creates a little bit of celebrity and makes people automatically assume you’re an expert. It’s known as ACE: Authorship, Celebrity, Expert. It definitely works.
Bob: Do you give that to prospects?
Don: Yes. Everybody that’s sets an appointment with my firm gets a copy of that book. It serves a couple of purposes. It’s a lead magnet number one. We do have ways for people to just request a copy of the book. Then that gets them into our funnel and they can– That’s what my outbound phone rep does is follow up with folks like that because not everybody is ready to set an appointment for bankruptcy just because they asked for a copy of the book. That person follows up with them on a periodic basis and tries to build a rapport and a relationship with them so that when they’re ready they’ll schedule an appointment with us.
Everybody’s at different points, different stages when they start thinking about this. Not everybody is ready right away. It’s important, I believe, to foster a relationship with them. That’s one of the ways that we do it. The book is good for that to get leads, get people into the funnel so that we can start communicating with them.
Bob: You’re using it as a lead magnet, you don’t have to break down your entire funnel… Are you sending them an ebook? Are you sending them a PDF?
Bob: Are you mailing them a copy of the book?
Don: Yes. Correct. That does a few things for us. It gives me a lot of their information. It gives us a reason to get their actual physical address-
Don: -which it gives me the opportunity to send– If the emails start getting rejected I can send something through snail mail to them.
Don: It’s just another piece of information that we can get from them and a reason to ask for it or a reason to explain to the client that this is why we need it because we’re going to send you this free book in the mail. Then the other good thing it does is every single client that sets an appointment gets a copy of the book. I think that it helps let them know that they’ve scheduled an appointment with the right person.
Once they get the book if they look at it– Not everybody reads it but a lot of them do read it. They come in and they feel at ease a little bit about the process already because we’ve talked about it in the book. We’ve given them a little bit of sense of confidence that we’re going to be able to help them and that things aren’t really as bad as it may seem. They’re a little bit more comfortable and I think that it makes for a little bit easier close at the end. Because I feel like they come in almost with their mind made up already just because if they’ve read the book they almost always retain.
Bob: Wow. That’s awesome. Another question I just want to ask you just because you’re in an area where there is a large Hispanic population.
Bob: Does anyone in your office speak Spanish? Do you do anything to cater to that market?
Don: We do have Spanish speakers and I have not marketed to them. I have not marketed to the Spanish population yet. That is definitely something that is on my agenda for this year.
Don: It’s something that I’ve planned to do for a while but haven’t had the time. I’ve already had all my stuff translated into Spanish… My bankruptcy package, all the retainers. I’ve done that stuff already. The next step is to just start marketing to the Spanish clientele. There are a lot of Spanish speaking folks in the area. Like I said, I’ve started the process but I really didn’t want to start doing it until I was ready. These are certain things that I felt like I had to do before I could get to the point where we’re really actively seeking Spanish-only speaking clients. I have four people on staff that speak Spanish. We’re definitely equipped to handle Spanish speaking clients.
Bob: Let me just throw a couple of ideas out there based off of my experience and the people I’ve spoken to.
Bob: The first ideas that you could take one of your offices– You could translate Brendan Lawyer to Spanish, maybe make it to bancarrota or something, Tampa banker or something like that. Then you could use that as the website for your Tampa office and you could have your Tampa Google My Business listing, put it in Spanish.
Don: That’s really good idea.
Bob: Have the name not be Golden law firm, but the Golden bancarrota, I can barely say enchilada. Tampa Bancarrota.
Don: I know what you mean, though. I love that idea.
Bob: You’re doing a full frontal attack, you’re sending in men to face machine guns and they’re just getting gunned down in Tampa because there’s a wall and you’re ranked 20th, you’re not ranked in Tampa.
Don: Right, I believe that.
Bob: But you take that Tampa office, you’re also making a classic… I won’t say a mistake but everyone gets an office that’s close to the courthouse, it’s not a mistake because there’s a benefit to doing it, but it’s very competitive.
Don: I get you.
Bob: This would be a way of getting in under the radar and not really having any competition, that’s the first thing.
Don: That differentiates us for sure.
Bob: The second idea is that in two different markets, I’ve used Adwords ads in Spanish to generate phone calls and they’re giving away those leads. I’ve clients that are paying less than $15 per lead for a phone lead in Spanish. For English ads in a competitive metro– in English I have people paying $35 to $60, but for the Spanish ads you can back up a truck for $15 a lead, they convert just as much and if you had a Spanish speaking staff you already have the system. Just put a Spanish speaking person into those same systems. That’s what I would do.
Don: I don’t have a Spanish speaking attorney and our attorneys do do the consultations. Do you think that matters?
Don: What we do right now is we bring in the staff member and then they translate, does that work or no for what you’re saying?
Bob: The first thing is that for a no-asset Chapter 7… What percentage of your leads would you say represent that scenario?
Don: I can tell you that probably 65% of the cases we file are no-asset Chapter 7s.
Bob: Okay, if they’re really no-asset Chapter 7s, that’s not a complicated thing, I could go in and do that.
Don: No, I know, I get you, you just need somebody to close it.
Bob: You would just hire someone smart who speaks Spanish and they can do the no-asset stuff and then for the Chapter 13, yes, you’d have to hire a Spanish attorney but you could also use a translator, that could work.
Don: Okay, does it have to be in person. Do you feel like the consultation has to be in person?
Bob: No, you can do it over the phone.
Don: Because I could definitely do that.
Bob: But there’s a whole thing where you’ve mapped out your front end marketing funnel to get to set appointments, but there’s a whole thing where there are trade offs between if you have a telephone appointment very soon after the lead comes in, you’re going to have a high show rate for your phone appointments and then you could say you could do that and then transition to an in-person meeting, that’s after you have the phone consultation and they’ve shown up for the phone consultation, that’s something that you could do.
My last question for you is I always do a search for bankruptcy attorney in whatever city of the attorney that I’m interviewing, I did a search for bankruptcy attorney in Brandon and I saw your Adwords ads and I want to ask how that’s performing for you and how you’re generating leads?
Don: Terrible. [laughs] That’s how it’s performing for me, terrible in my opinion.
Bob: Are you doing those ads yourself?
Don: No. I didn’t do anything myself. I believe in using professionals and I’m not a professional person at that ad copy or Adwords or anything. I have a website company that I pay a good chunk of money to do an ad campaign, a PPC campaign for me and I do not believe that it is performing because I track it.
Bob: The one thing that jumps out at me is you’re talking about “five star reviews from clients” in your headline (or at least in the headline that I saw) and you’re competing against people that are talking about zero down Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, that’s that’s hard to compete with “five star reviews from clients.”
Don: I hear you. The five star review is about me and what I need to talk about is about them and how to make it a bit more about the client and not about me. I see how that is not an attractive ad. I will say that my website vendor did call me and say: Don, we are definitely seeing a lot of these zero down ads and they asked me if I wanted to run them. I said no I don’t want to run.
I honestly in my opinion I have to read this opinion again. I printed it to read. I have to read this Clark and Washington case again. I don’t think we can do what the typical zero down people do which is file a skeleton petition and then do all the work at the back end. Really, I don’t think we can do that with our order. The way this order is written I think we have to do a good chunk of work before the filing award. We’re on the hook for it even if we get out of the case. I feel like I have to charge money on the front end even if it’s a relatively small amount of money. I’ve been reluctant to advertise zero down because I don’t want to file cases with no money down.
I don’t think I can really according to this order the way this order is written. I do need to read it again and it’s been a while since I’ve read it. I could be wrong. It could have just been a perception I had when I read it back in 2015 and I haven’t really looked at it since. I do need to read it again, but I am definitely going to follow exactly what the lawyer says and I’ve just been reluctant to advertise zero down. One reason I get it, that my ads aren’t probably performing as well because I have that competition out there and that’s something I do have to think about for sure.
Bob: Well, just not just for you but for everyone out there. You do want to focus on the benefits that you do provide. Like five star reviews from clients, that’s good. But as an example you do provide a payment plan for a big chunk of your Chapter 7. That’s something that you’re not mentioning in your current ad, here mentioning called the Golden Law Group in the body copy of your text. Who cares the name of your firm is? That sounded a little flip but…
Don: [laugh] It’s not, it’s true.
Don: It’s truth, it’s not flip, it’s fact. No, I take no offense for that. Marketing can’t be about me, it’s not about me it’s about the client. That’s what it should be about.
Bob: If instead of “our firm helping people work through their financial difficulties”, you want to be on the same side.
Bob: Well, if you’re saying we help you work through your financial difficulties, something like that I think would be a little bit more powerful. Those are some incremental changes that you can make.
Don: I could say I really appreciate you pointing these things out to me. I meet with my website vendor every single week and I’m not happy with my landing pages. You’re pointing out some very important things that I need to talk to them about now too. They may end up firing me just because I’m a pain in the neck.
I hold their feet to the fire because I know the numbers, man, and I know what we’re getting for. I know what it costs me per lead and I know what this stuff costs me and it’s too much.
Bob: I mean just looking… All I have are bankruptcy clients and this looks like a $120 per lead ad…
Don: It’s more than that.
Bob: Okay, competing against the competition that you have, it may be hard to compete. But there’s a lot of improvements. You shouldn’t be paying what you’re paying. But it’s an iterative process. At least you know your numbers, man, most of the people I talk to have no idea so I’m impressed by that.
Don: Well, it’s not me, it’s things I’ve learned some coaches. Like I said, I believe… I believe in coaches and I believe in paying professionals to do what they do.
For the month of January, it was $144.30.
Don: Which is about what you said right, but in October $376, November $203, December $494. Horrible. I didn’t start this part until October, for that three month average it was $342 a week in branding.
Bob: Why are you running ads, you seem focused on your numbers? Why would you shoot yourself in the foot every month and just burn money?
Don: I hear you. It’s something that we’re talking about right now. It’s a conversation that we’re having on a weekly basis. The first thing I want to do, I didn’t like the landing pages.
Don: I had them redesign and we redid the landing pages because I felt like they weren’t set up to convert.
Don: I wanted to give them time with the new landing pages and that just happened.
Don: The landing pages just got redesigned. I wanted to give them a little bit more time with the revised landing pages to see if that might work.
Bob: Also the one thing that I would say to you is that you meet with your clients, you meet with your vendor once a week. I meet with my clients once a week and I’ll tell you this: the clients who meet with me once a week, they make money. They double their filings.
The clients who are like hey… They’re just yapping about how their leads cost too much or they don’t talk to me about improving their close rates or they can’t calculate what their close rates are. Those are the clients that I get fired from, which is fine. The clients that I meet with weekly, those are the clients that make money, so I would not feel bad about demanding a weekly meeting.
On the flip side, I’m a vendor. I’m thinking about firing my customers that won’t meet with me once a week, or at least once every two weeks. Because if you don’t believe that marketing’s important and you’re not going to make changes based off of what the numbers suggest…
Don: In defense of some of your clients, it’s hard when you’re doing all the day-to-day work to get into this stuff. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to pretty much replace me myself for the most part in the day-to-day legal work. This is pretty much what I can afford. My full-time job really is this. [chuckles] It’s doing stuff like this, reviewing the numbers, talking to the vendors, trying to maximize our leads and trying to improve our set rates and all that stuff. This is what I do pretty much full time now.
For a lot of attorneys that are still grinding doing consultations, it’s hard to get into this. You’re tired. For me, I love this stuff. I have an accounting degree. I love the numbers. I have made time for myself because it’s the role that I wanted. That’s the benefit of being able to be profitable is you can hire people to replace you in the roles that you don’t enjoy as much and focus on the roles that you do like. For me, it’s the business side of the practice. It’s what I really enjoy.
Bob: That’s awesome.
Don: Now, I love helping people. I don’t think you can be a bankruptcy lawyer without loving to help people and wanting to help people. That’s important to me, too. I just am in a point in my life now where I don’t want to do with the day-to-day practice of law anymore. I still want to run a firm, that the main goal of the firm is to help people, but I want my role to be the business management side of the firm. That’s what really fills my fire right now, is building the business.
Bob: Have you read E-Myth Revisited?
Don: I haven’t read that. I’ve read a lot of business books lately, but I haven’t read that one.
Bob: That’s just a book about the importance of systems. That’s by Michael– let me see if Google can save me–Michael Gerber, that’s it. A lot of people, it’s their first introduction to systems, but you got that introduction from Richard James, your business coach.
Don: From my business coach, exactly. My go-to business author is Mike Michalowicz with Profit First. His latest book Clockwork is awesome.
Bob: I’ve read them both. Pumpkin Plan is the reason I specialize in bankruptcy attorneys.
Don: Nice. Right. You found your niche.
Bob: Yeah. This is a great place to end on. Before I end, I want to challenge you on one thing, which is that you’re being modest and you’ve said it several times… “You’ve been lucky with coaches,” and other things. But I talk to a lot of bankruptcy attorneys, and you’re doing a lot of things right. There’s no way that that happened by accident. You can’t give all your credit to your business coach, or you can’t give credit to this random vendor that you talked to about why reviews are important. You’ve given a lot of credit away in our call.
I just want to point out that your reputation vendor didn’t get you 71 reviews for your Brandon office. Your business coach didn’t decide to write a check for $12,000 for your Infusionsoft software so you could systemize the front end of your business. You’re the one who did that. I’m going to say hats off to you.
Don: Right. Thank you, I appreciate that. You have to take the advice that you get and implement it for sure. Sometimes that does take a leap of faith. I appreciate that. Thank you.
Bob: That’s a great note to end on. I want to thank you for joining us and for sharing so much with us.
Don: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Bob: Awesome. Bye-bye.