Podcast: Hibu talks to Aaron Hall, Attorney for Business Owners

Listen to our conversation with Aaron Hall about digital marketing strategies that have worked for his law practice and his brand as “the attorney for business owners.” Aaron shares his experience with legal marketing, including:

  • Building trust online
  • Having an integrated web presence across platforms
  • The power of strong communication through video marketing
  • Leveraging social media marketing for law firms
  • How to properly handle online reviews
  • Additional marketing strategies for attorneys

[Podcast transcript]

Ian Messinger:
Thanks for joining us for this special episode of Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. I’m your host Ian Messinger here with my co host, Lauren Blackford. Here at Hibu, we’re dedicated to helping small businesses across America succeed and grow. And a great way to do that is to hear firsthand stories of how actual businesses have used digital marketing to be profitable, even in tough times. Today, we’ve invited Aaron Hall to speak with us about how digital marketing has worked for his practice, and his brand as the “attorney for business owners.” So welcome, Aaron.

Aaron Hall:
Great to be here.

Ian:
So we usually like to kick it off just by… tell us a little bit about your yourself, your background, and you know, how you’ve kind of come come to be where you are?

Aaron:
Well, I graduated law school in 2007. And prior to that, I was working at a law firm. And I asked the attorney there, “What does it take to be successful in the practice of law?” And he said, “Well, of course, you have to be good at practicing law.” But he said, “The big thing today is being able to get clients. And figuring out how you’re going to get clients determines how much control you will have over your law practice.” And I asked him, “Well, what’s working for you guys?” and he said, “You know, what has been working in the past was one thing. But what’s happening now is, the internet is really starting to have an effect and where we get clients, and even our website itself.” Now, keep in mind, this is close to 20 years ago. The internet has developed a lot since then. But I took that to heart and focused on creating good content for people online. And when I graduated law school, I enjoy working with business owners, so I started posting content that was useful to them. And that has helped develop my practice to where it is today. And over the years, I’ve worked at some different firms. But I always come back to representing business owners, whether in transactions or litigation. And personally, my wife and our four daughters and I live in the Twin Cities metro area, Minneapolis, Minnesota. And this is where I’ve lived most of my life. Creeping up on it…

Ian:
All right, that’s comprehensive. That’s great. I’m trying to get over the fact that 2007 was almost 20 years ago, but otherwise… Yeah, we’re getting real close. And that’s, and that’s interesting that even that many years ago, the attorney you were speaking to not only recognized the importance of, you know, without saying the word “marketing,” you know, marketing yourself building up a client base, reaching the right folks, and the idea that, you know, again, almost 20 years ago, the internet is a thing. It has happened, it’s arrived.

Aaron:
Yeah, I should clarify, it was in 2004 when I worked with this attorney, and that’s when he was realizing that something… we’re getting more and more clients from the internet. And he said, it’s even making us wonder if we should advertise in the phone book anymore.

Lauren Blackford: 
Wow. So even back then they were they were ahead of their time in terms of shifting from a paper advertisement to digital.

Aaron: 
And I think it was just more recognizing, like, wow, there is a shift underway. And I think the explosion of blogs, between 2005 and 2010, or 2012, was fairly significant. And so the attorneys and the other business owners who got into the blogosphere, at that time, rode the wave of getting a lot of organic traffic, because they were one of the few blogs out there. Obviously, now it’s gotten a lot more crowded. But now there are still opportunities in video and, and some more, some more cutting edge type of advertising and providing of content.

Ian:
Sure, sure. And actually, you you hit on video… if we counted correctly… it looks like you have upwards of more than more than 70 videos on YouTube. Has that been kind of your go-to channel? Is that where you’ve you’ve found your biggest audience and kind of that reservoir of potential business, or is that just one of one of many channels that you found to be valuable?

Aaron:
A number of things. For example, I tried Twitter, and that was kind of a waste of time. I spent a lot put a lot of effort in that. YouTube however, I have gotten some clients out of it. But I think it’s important to have an integrated a approach where you have a web presence, some social media presence, some videos. That way… for example, if somebody goes to my website, they can see a video of me and they can decide, do I want to work with this guy or not? I love video. Because it’s not just text on the page, it gives prospective clients an opportunity to decide, do I resonate with this attorney? Or not? And frankly, I’d rather have people not even reach out to me, if upon meeting me, they’re going to say, I don’t really resonate with that guy. And likewise, I love that video gives people an opportunity to figure out who I am in advance. And frankly, too, I take a lot of the frequently asked questions from clients, and I put them out on YouTube. And then when prospective clients reach out to me, I say, “Hey, thanks for reaching out to me with those questions. Here’s a video I did on that topic.” So now, instead of me having to spend 10 minutes on a call with them, I’m just sending them a link. And I have found that that works really well. Not only do they get a chance to know me, and it doesn’t take any of my time. But often they appreciate the fact that there’s that content online. And it seems a little more forward thinking than some of the old school attorneys.

Ian:
So it works as both kind of a… I don’t wanna say lead gen, almost a nurture, you know, kind of kind of planting the seed… and it saves you time and effort, you know, there may be a particular topic or a particularly challenging or in-depth topic that would take you you know, a half hour phone call that now you can say no, no, go watch my video, it has everything that I want to say on it. And then, you know, we can we can pick up from there.

Aaron:
Yeah. And it gets to the point where if you’re just grabbing a little iPhone and doing a quick shot in one take, it doesn’t take that much time. So yeah, it’s been a very positive experience. And I also see it as an investment in the future. There was a time in my practice, where I stopped investing in kind of the pipeline of new clients, and I just focused on taking care of clients. Well when those matters were resolved, I didn’t have a full pipeline of intercom and clients, and I had to let a great attorney go who was working for me. And I said, at that moment, Never again, never again, will I neglect keeping that pipeline of new clients nurtured, because you’re setting yourself up for some gaps in your practice if you don’t have that pipeline.

Ian:
I’m gonna forget exactly how you phrased it, but you talked about the the concept of something being integrated. And it’s interesting to hear you describe creating these videos where your intention or expectation isn’t, “I’m going to publish this video on YouTube and it’s going to get me three clients.” You’re understanding that it’s part of a bigger ecosystem of you know, it may only serve to…

Aaron:
I think they’re trying to figure out, can I trust this person? And one aspect of trust is being able to find information in multiple sources online, like you would a legitimate business. So in my mind, having a Facebook Page alone is not enough. Having a Yelp page alone is not enough for a web page alone. It’s having a variety of online locations where people can see oh, yeah, this is a real business. It has the footprints of a credible business. And then video goes to the next step where they actually can feel like they get to know you, and they can see how you talk, how you analyze issues, how you interact with questions people may have.

Lauren:
And it shows how knowledgeable you are. Because the vast amount of videos you have on YouTube of various topics just shows how in depth, your knowledge is in business law, which I think is a great attraction.

Aaron:
Yeah, it’s interesting decades ago, if you wanted to show how credible you were on a topic, you might look right legal publications or law review articles. But let’s face it, the public today is not finding those. And when I say the public, I’m even talking about businesses who hire attorneys. They’re not going and looking through law journals to see has this attorney ever written about someone? They hop on Google and they they read what has this person been doing recently? And so I have found that in a recorded format, providing that expertise and knowledge on topics is far more better for attorneys than spending hours grinding away on some big paper that gets printed in a law journal somewhere.

Ian:
Well, let me let me ask you this, because that’s a very “you-forward” approach to establishing credibility, you know, it’s really putting your face and in the case of videos, your voice and your knowledge front and center to vouch for your professionalism and knowledge. How do you find… or I should say, do you find reviews particularly useful?

Aaron:
Yes, I find them useful when they’re good and damaging. I previously worked with some attorneys and when our firm had some negative reviews from those attorneys work, it was rare, but it happened. That was… I heard from prospective clients that they read those and they would like those issues addressed, or they almost didn’t call because of that. Likewise, the good reviews are important. And I have heard from many clients who have said, “it is because of the positive online reviews and ratings that I felt comfortable calling you.” So I think that goes back to trust, prior to a prospective client meeting an attorney. Is that prospective client seeing badges of credibility or trust online, and reviews are an important part of that.

Ian:
It’s interesting, I’m glad you said that. And it’s interesting to me, because you obviously have a more thoughtful approach to creating content and getting it out there between YouTube and and even the fact that you said, you know, “a Facebook Page isn’t enough, a web page isn’t enough, you need to be in, in all these places.” So I would imagine that knowing how much you’ve put yourself out there, and you’re still saying, “Be that as it may 3 party reviews, you know, from real people are still important and can still you know, make or break working with a client”… I imagine attorneys who maybe don’t have the time or the resources to really put themselves out there, reviews are would be even more important if that’s the only thing you can kind of turn to as a consumer to gauge their credibility.

Aaron:
Because people are looking at spending a lot of money on an attorney. And they’re entrusting that attorney with significant aspects of their lives. In the case of a criminal attorney, it might be their freedom. In other words, not going to jail or prison. In the case of a an intellectual property attorney, they are trusting the attorney with their company’s copyright, patent or trademark. Whatever it is you’re hiring an attorney for,  you’re not only concerned about the money you’re spending with that attorney, but also, “Is this attorney going to protect whatever it is I need protecting? Or advance the agenda? I have the goals that I have.” So yeah, I think that when people are about to commit to that level of relationship, they often do research online, and that includes those client reviews.

Lauren:
Absolutely. And it’s interesting that you say, going back to your previous firm, where clients calling up wanted those negative reviews to be addressed. You know, that’s something that we talk about a lot is that you have to respond to any reviews, especially when they’re negative. So how would you suggest responding to a negative review and resolving those issues, you know, to be able to attract clients when you have them?

Aaron:
I found that the negative reviews fall into a few different categories. And the way you respond to them depends on the category. So I’ve found, for example, if a person was never a client of ours, but they posted a review, sometimes you can just challenge that with the review platform like Google or Yelp. The tougher ones are ones where somebody was a client, and they genuinely were frustrated. That frustration might have come from a misunderstanding. It might have come from a fact that something totally outside the attorney’s control happened to them. Like let’s say, for example, I don’t work in criminal law, but let’s say somebody hires somebody to protect their son in a criminal defense and the son goes to prison. So the dad hops on the internet and says, “I’m so mad at this attorney. He didn’t do what he could have done. He didn’t keep my son out of prison. He’s lazy, he’s a bomb. Don’t hire this attorney.” What do you do about that? And I think first off, you can run into some ethical issues or legal compliance issues if you disclose confidential client information in responding. So often you are not in a position to really respond to the merits of what they said. And so often, my recommendation is first, maybe reach out to the person who left the review and say, “Hey, how can we make it right? What can we do to resolve this?” And I don’t recommend even bringing up the review at the time. Now, this suggestion works when people are reasonable, but sometimes they’re not. And then, sometimes you just acknowledge on the review on the platform and just say something like, you know, “We acknowledge this. We’re constantly trying to make ourselves better. We appreciate the feedback. We’ll use this constructively to ensure our clients have good quality in the future” or something like that.

Lauren:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it looks a lot better from a readers perspective to see a very intelligent and positive response to say, “Hey, I’m so sorry, you, you know, had a bad experience, you know, what can we do?” I think that in and of itself is probably the resolution that those folks were looking for when they said, Hey, you got negative review, I’d like to, I’d like to see this result before I hire you, as my attorney.

Aaron:
That that sense of empathy is really important.

Ian:
I think it must be, you know, especially challenging for attorneys, because unlike… just picking an extreme example, you know, carpet cleaning… if I write a review and say, “Hey, they didn’t get the stain out” they have the option to say, “Oh, we’ll come back and try it again.” You don’t necessarily have that luxury if it’s a case that’s been decided… you can’t say, “Oh, we’ll do it. We’ll call the judge and we’ll do it again.”

Aaron:
I’ll admit to I think it’s natural for attorneys to have their ego get in the way and they just go, I didn’t do something wrong. And that was the merits of the case that lost that for them, or, you know, it’s natural to feel very reactive. And so sometimes a best practice is, go ahead, write up a quick, maybe even see the response, and then just set it aside, wait till you cool off, and then maybe get feedback from others, like what really will reflect as a professional would, in how you post this online, because that we all know, when something is posted online, it often exists forever in some form somewhere.

Ian:
I want to go back real quick to you had mentioned… and  we may have already gone back to it at some point… but you had mentioned the idea of or the experience of having clients that have spoken to you and said, “You know, I decided to call you based on reviews that I saw online, or or maybe I was thinking about it and that’s that’s really what pushed me, you know, to make that decision ultimately.” We’re actually right now working on we have a survey out to attorneys asking a number of questions about their their marketing, plans, practices. And one of the questions we asked was, “What’s your number one source of new clients?” and far and away, we heard “word of mouth referrals.” And I’m just curious, given kind of the the whole topic we’ve been mining here of, you know, that may not keep the fires lit, if you’re just relying on, you know, your last client to, you know, do a game of telephone to your next client. So what do you make of attorneys who may say “Yeah, my my number one source is, you know, word of mouth referrals.” What would you what advice would you have for them?

Aaron:
I think that when you’ve been in practice for a long time, it makes sense that you have a lot of word of mouth referrals. But it is often the newer attorneys who haven’t had a decade or two, to establish a reputation and demonstrate their high quality of work. It’s those attorneys who are more at need for new clients, clients who may not have heard of them through word of mouth. And then to the the attorneys who are getting clients word of mouth… it has at least been my experience that when somebody gets referred an attorney by word of mouth, the prospective clients still goes online and checks out what the attorney. They want to look at their website bio to see who is this and where they look like what are their credentials, and they might like to see what else is out there about this person. And either it’s what the attorney has put out there on social media or YouTube or something like that… or it’s whatever random stuff happens to be out there. And so attorneys generally find it more helpful to control what shows up first in Google, rather than leave that to happenstance.

Ian:
Oh, that makes perfect sense. And that seems to fall in line, I think with the way most of us behave when it comes to any sort of recommendation, whether it’s something as important as hiring an attorney, or a major purchase or even an impulse buy. Your first reaction when your friend, colleague, spouse, whoever says, “Oh, I really like this,” you may trust their opinion. But you’re probably still going to go Google that and say, “Well, what do other people think?”

Aaron:
Yeah, that’s a great point. I mean, magazines, like Consumer Reports have existed for years, because people want to know, what do other people think about this product? And what are those reviews like out there? So yeah, in my mind, reviews are becoming an essential part of an online profile for an attorney.

Ian:
So you know, on the topic of a lot of what we discussed — reviews, social media — do you find that a lot of attorneys you interact with today are using social media or actively asking for reviews or these kinds of… In the perspective of you first having a conversation around these channels in 2004, are you still finding that, you know, these aren’t necessarily waters that most folks are dipping their toes into?

Aaron:
Well, frequently attorneys are doing that. And part of the reason is social media companies are creating default profiles for businesses. So if you’re not on LinkedIn, with a profile, LinkedIn has a profile for you. Likewise, Facebook, likewise, Google Maps. And so I think it’s more and more important to control what that profile looks like. And so I’m seeing that attorneys are increasingly getting online. The challenge is attorneys by nature are not very technical as a group. Some of them are, some of them are come from IT backgrounds. But in general attorneys, they focus on the law, not technology, and so there’s a greater discomfort with social media. That said, as attorneys have assistants or family members, often they can find somebody who can at least set up a profile on these social media sites. The other dilemma that attorneys struggle with is there are now so many social media platforms, which ones do I need to be on? And what should I look like on those social media platforms? For example, LinkedIn, most attorneys can figure that out. It’s professional. But TikTok and Instagram and all these, you know, where do you draw the line? What should I be on? What doesn’t matter? What’s a waste of my time versus a good investment? Attorneys often, frankly, don’t know. Why? Because we don’t have the time to figure out which social media platforms are growing in the future versus shrinking, and which ones are right for our particular niche, our target market. For example, if you’re marketing to businesses, you’re going to have a totally different approach than if you’re marketing to consumers. When you’re a busy attorney, and your time is money. I guess, like everybody, time is money. But to the extent you turn down work in order to do marketing, it’s costing you something. And so one thing I’ve constantly been trying to figure out is, how can I minimize the time that I spend on the marketing while maximizing the benefit, and to some extent, that means hiring professionals or others to come alongside and help with all the non-attorney stuff, so I can focus on the attorney stuff.

Ian:
Sure. Which, you know, it’s funny to say that because you know, an attorney, assuming you have office space, you know, if there’s a leak in your roof, you’re not going to get a ladder and try to fix that yourself. You know, if the power goes out, you’re not going to “Well, I’m going to go to the fuse box and try rewiring this,” you know, but it does seem to be… and maybe by virtue of the fact that you know, all of these platforms, we’ve talked about… Facebook, Yelp, these are all you know, do it yourself platforms… there does seem to be almost a default of well, I should do my own market. Getting versus you know what, I don’t have time for this, my time is valuable. I should really, you know, just like I would pass off the leak in the roof to a roofer, just like I would pass off, you know, utility problems to the utility company, I should have someone take care of the marketing end of my business.

Aaron:
Yeah, a lot of attorneys start out trying to do it on their own. And they get so frustrated that they don’t do it. You know, figuring out the camera and the editing and all that. And it’s like, is this really worth my time? It tends to be the attorneys who are generating enough money, that they can outsource those logistical duties that tend to really do well on social media and YouTube, etc, because they’re able to delegate that which is not in their expertise to someone who is an expert, and then focus their time on their area of expertise, and generate the high rates that they’re able to generate for that.

Ian:
Well, Aaron, thanks for joining us today, sharing what you’ve experienced and helping us in our goal to help business owners like you across the country. And to all of you listening… whether you’re an attorney like Aaron, or any other small business… you need an effective digital marketing solution. If your local business needs a marketing partner who can deliver the kind of results you need, be sure to visit us at hibu.com If you liked what you heard on this episode, make sure you subscribe, and please if you can leave us a review. As we discussed, sharing great reviews is key to succeeding online, even for a podcast. This is small business small talk…out.

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