I have been working on the web for a long time. I set up my first website in the 1990s and my membership site, Landlord Law, which I set up in 2001, is my main source of income now.
So what have I learned over the years? And how can my experience help you?
People don’t think of lawyers as being creative, but having the freedom to create things is one of the things I love about the internet. For example you can create:
Membership sites. Mine is Landlord Law. Membership fees go from £20 per month to £180 per annum and members get access to tenancy agreements and other forms, guidance on dealing with unpaid rent and eviction and can ask me questions on the forum. Most of the content is members only but there is a certain amount of free content – the most popular being the free Which Tenancy Agreement Guide.
Ebooks. It’s easy to publish ebooks yourself, either via your own site or Kindle. Free downloadable ebooks are great for marketing
Podcasts. I do a monthly webinar interview which is then edited down and published as a podcast on iTunes.
Blogs. My Landlord Law Blog now gets up to 3,000 unique visitors per day and is my main marketing engine.
Information products. I have created several information websites and kits.
You’re probably thinking, “Blimey, how can she do all that and still earn a regular income?” The answer is Landlord Law. The wonderful thing about a membership site is that although it is very time consuming to create, once it’s done, it’s done.
Of course there is still constant updating, admin and customer support and I have to do a lot of marketing and promotion. But what I don’t have to do is explain the same piece of law to people over and over again in real time. They join Landlord Law and read about it on a page I wrote a year ago, or in some cases, 10 years ago.
So that leaves me time to think and to develop new projects. Most of which, I have to say, have not been anywhere nearly as successful as Landlord Law. But even the duds have contributed to the kitty.
I am always surprised that so few law firms (if any) have followed me by creating similar membership sites in their own areas of practice.
Escape from legal practice
I last wrote for the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers at the end of 2011 (see A sole practitioner in the internet age). At that time, I was a solicitor, but no longer. Not, I hasten to add, because I have done anything naughty. It’s just that Landlord Law has been doing so well that I didn’t need my solicitors practice any more.
This has saved a lot of money (PI insurance, practising certificate, accountants fees) and I no longer have to worry about jumping through the SRA’s regulatory hoops. Closing the law firm has not adversely affected my business either; membership of Landlord Law has gone up by 16 per cent since then and is still rising. However, …
You have to work hard to keep up
The internet is constantly changing. New technologies burst onto the scene and have to be investigated. New social media platforms threaten to suck up all your time while you try to get a grip on them to see if they’re worth bothering about. New, more innovative services threaten to take away your business unless you up your game.
I am constantly needing to learn new things. It’s good for the brain and it may, in the long term, help keep me alive, but it’s a lot of work.
A good training site is lynda.com. There is a fee but it is worth it and I wish I had found it earlier. It has hundreds of online training videos covering a wide variety of different topics, from software (eg MS Office and Adobe Photoshop) to various business and internet related topics. I also enjoy the marketing training provided by the American company IttyBiz.
You have to keep creating new content
Or at least refresh old content so it looks new. A constant stream of new things gives you more to write about and publicise, and increases your exposure.
Google loves regular new content. The reason why my Landlord Law Blog is now getting over 3,000 unique visits per day is that I have published new posts to my blog at least five times per week for the past five years.
To do that you have to love writing, which I do. But it also gets easier over time. I always do the blog post first thing in the morning, and they are usually online by 8.00 am. Often they are written in advance, and some (but not many) are written by colleagues.
You may wonder why I don’t have more guest bloggers. The reason is that the blog is chiefly there to promote my services (and sometimes those of people who have helped or sponsored me). I have not spent years developing the blog for it to become a vehicle for promoting someone else.
That is also why there is no advertising (apart from my own). Why spend years developing a popular blog only to encourage visitors to pop off somewhere else at a squillionth of a pound per click? You have to have a huge readership to make advertising worthwhile.
If you have a blog, it’s important to make it attractive and easy to read. If you want to use it to promote your business, it’s best to write in a chatty and unstuffy style. You also need to ensure that it is physically easy to read. This means:
- big font (so people with older eyes can read it – older people are often profitable clients);
- the main text in dark type on a white background;
- lots of short paragraphs with white space around them – no one (not even your Mother) is going to read big blocks of text in small font online
- pictures – it’s surprising the effect this can have – they immediately make your page more approachable;
- clear and easy navigation;
- finally, if you want to sell something, a clear call to action, telling people exactly what they need to do to buy your thing.
It’s so easy for people to click away from your site and out of your marketing reach. If they are faced with dreary blocks of text in small font and no pictures, that’s what they’ll do.
Marketing is crucial
I seem to spend more time studying copywriting and marketing than I do on legal work nowadays. It is so important. If you have an office on the high street, some people will at least see it when they walk past. However no-one is going to know about your website unless you tell them.
Google is of course, the biggie. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure you have a Google+ account and use it to promote your site. I was initially reluctant to do this (after all I already did Twitter and LinkedIn) but my visitor numbers have gone up considerably and it undoubtedly helps with visibility on Google.
- Link your websites to your Google+ – this helps authenticate your work. You will find a useful guide at boostblogtraffic.com.
- Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and register your site there.
- If you use WordPress, get the free Yoast SEO plugin to optimise your posts for SEO (search engine optimisation), or the rather more expensive Scribe software (which can also be used for non-WordPress sites). Search engines “read” pages differently from us and these programs can help you adapt your post so that it has maximum visibility.
Other marketing things you can do:
- Write a regular newsletter – this keeps reminding people you exist so when they need you, they know where to go
- Develop free courses for potential customers so they can see what you do
- Write a blog (but only if you can commit to writing regularly).
- Write for other sites and services
- Promote everything you do by social media – that is how people, and crucially Google, find out about your content. For Twitter I am now increasingly using buffer – this is a little program (or app) which lets you tweet a link to any page you are reading right from your internet browser and then schedules them to be sent out later. It makes the whole twitter thing a lot easier.
Is working on the web worth it?
I love being in control and I like the creative side. However I think the most important thing is that it has allowed me to stay in business. Had I continued with my law practice as it was, I suspect I would have shut up shop long ago.
Business is changing and lawyers will have to change too.
The future beckons
The genie has been let out of the bottle. Most people have broadband at home (certainly most clients) and they expect to be able to instruct lawyers online in the same way that they buy their groceries and other services.
We are in a time of transition. The internet is a hugely disruptive technology; it has only been around (for most people) for the past 10-20 years and we are still working out how to use it.
If you don’t like change and innovation, bad luck. But if you enjoy developing new things, these are exciting times. The new service you develop could change the industry.
Give it a go.
Tessa Shepperson qualified as a solicitor in 1990 and set up in sole practice in 1994 as TJ Shepperson. Tessa developed an expertise in residential landlord and tenant law which she then used for her online services. She is passionate about the internet and as well as her popular membership site and blog, has developed many other online kits and ebooks. She is also a director of training company Easy Law Training Ltd, which provides online training, workshops and an annual Landlord Law Conference. Tessa writes about working on the web (including a blogging guide) on her blog Working on the Web.