March is well on its way to being written up as a decidedly odd month; strangely dry, unusually warm, and replete with eccentric client requests – law school really does not prepare one for the question: “where can I get a good medical kit for disasters?” Now, from a client’s viewpoint, I suppose that a lawyer’s stock in trade does center around disasters – after all, when the average client walks through the door looking to hire a lawyer something in their life has really blown up in a big way – though I am not sure that there is a 1 to 1 mapping between being able to resolve disasters of a legal kind and being able to handle disasters mother nature throws our way.
Now, my search for a good medical kit lead me through the highways and byways of the internet and along the way, serendipity re-acquainted me with Don Lancaster (or at least a Don Lancaster inspired “nickel generator”). For those of you unfamiliar with the geek world’s paleolithic era (the 1970’s), Don Lancaster was an advocate for the concept of micro-scale businesses (at that time the tech world’s solo practitioner) arguing that it was only this type of business that was agile enough to recognize and react to the coming (remember, this is the 70’s) paradigm shifts.
The term “nickel generator” comes from Don’s concept that money should flow into a business from multiple parallel activities – the concept was that a small one-man tech firm could spin-off a product quickly and productize on the cheap without the overhead of a corporate structure, patents, etc. This way, one could hit a niche, make a few nickels, and get out if the big guns finally turn their attention his way. As Don points out in his book The Incredible Secret Money Machine, the concept of nickel generation can be applied to most areas of a business – one can cut overhead by reversing the flow of capital (keeping nickels from flowing out is just as good as getting them to flow in).
One of Don’s suggestions is particularly àpropos for the rural lawyer – don’t advertise, advertorialize. In a nut shell, advertising is a huge outward flow, you are paying someone else to get the word out about your service. Ads are largely ignored by one’s target market – they are the speed bumps that have to be endured as one waits for the next bit of context (song, article, scenic vista, etc). To get any impact, you have to have a lot of ads and present them to your market for a long time – that’s a huge number of nickels flowing out.
On the other hand, the advertorial (and I suppose its modern day equivalent the blog post) can stop (and if you can get a paying gig, reverse) that flow of nickels. The point of the advertorial is to give useful information to the target market and to link your name to that information. Most small town newspapers welcome free copy, some will even pay you for it (but if you are getting paid, you will be expected to provide that copy on a regular basis). The advertorial will only work if you provide quality, hard to find information – a short blurb about yourself at the end is OK, but if the piece reads like a 500 word ad, expect to find yourself, your advertorial, and a whole heap of good will booted out the door.
The whole things work, because you are leveraging free. You give the paper something it can use to its profit and you get exposure that you would otherwise have to pay for. You give the reader two things – a bit of useful information and something to act on (e.g.: now that you’ve read about [subject of useful information] and would like to [do something about useful information] you should contact an attorney). Now don’t make this call to action all about you – a generic call is fine; after all the paragraph that follows has your contact information and disclaimer in it. The reader in turn, should be giving you a call.