Can you realistically expect to get great results from inbound marketing if you have a shoestring budget and no dedicated marketer?
Just about every marketer I've ever spoken with has cited "lack of time" as their biggest challenge, followed closely by lack of budget. That's why I was so excited to interview Conor Malloy of Chi City Legal for this week's The Inbound Success Podcast.
Conor and his business partner operate a two person law firm in Chicago and in addition to his full time job as an attorney and partner in the firm, Conor serves as the firm's marketer. With almost no budget, and with very little time or marketing experience, Conor has managed to generate extraordinary results for his law practice.
Want to learn how he does it?
Listen to the podcast to learn exactly how Conor has set up Chi City Legal's marketing systems and get helpful insights on building a lead generation machine that requires minimal time and budget to deliver big results.
Kathleen: Yeah, I'm excited to have you. As people who listen I'm sure know, the objective of the podcast is really to talk with practicing marketers who are getting great results from their inbound marketing, and surface actionable takeaways - the actionable part being the most important.
I've definitely interviewed a wide variety of people in the past, all the way from CMOs of large global brands, huge teams, and six figure budgets, down to agency owners and people with small teams.
You are, I think, my first one man marketing team, if you will, and probably one of the smallest businesses that I've spoken to. I'm particularly excited about this because it's a huge testimony to the fact that you don't need a giant budget, a giant team, a ton of resources to do this well.
All that being said, tell our audience a little bit about yourself, and your company, as well as what you do.
About Conor and Chi City Legal
Conor: Sure. As you said before, I'm a partner at Chi City Legal, so we're a Chicago law firm that dedicates our time to representing landlords in eviction litigation.
A lot of these landlords, we have some clients that are larger property management groups, but the vast majority of our clients are people would probably otherwise go self represented to court. So we're trying to provide them with either legal solutions or legal representation.
After I passed the bar exam, I ended up in the incubator with the Chicago Bar Foundation. The incubator was designed to be able to help people develop law firms and practice models that would meet what I would refer to as the justice gap. So it's people that are either priced out of your regular legal services, or they're essentially too rich for legal aid. Surprisingly enough, even though people own property, a lot of them fall within that. That's the background from a legal standpoint.
Kathleen: That's real interesting. I didn't realize that. I mean you and I have obviously spoken before, and I know a little bit about company, but I love that idea.
Let me back up, I don't love the idea there's this gap in representation, but I love the idea that there are programs in place to try and shore that gap up, and that's where your company kind of sprang from. That's really neat.
Conor: We are two attorneys, essentially no support staff except for we have an artificial intelligence that does some of our call routing and scheduling.
My partner and I each have an artificial intelligence that schedules those. Then we use SmithAI as our virtual receptionist.
Other than my kids coming in from time to time and doing a little bit of work, that's it.
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Kathleen: That's awesome. For everyone listening, that is a two person company in which both of the two people in the company are full-time doing something that is not marketing. In your case, you're practicing law. Marketing is their thing that they do on top of all that.
You've been very successful in building and growing your business with the marketing that you've undertaken, just the two of you. Could you talk a little bit about exactly what you've done, what you've put in place in terms of your marketing?
Inbound Marketing on a Shoestring Budget
Conor: Sure. I would say the more traditional route, we have a Facebook page, we have a Twitter account, we have Google Ad Words and things like that.
But with the type of people that we're targeting, and it's a very targeted marketing, it's landlords that are going through the eviction process, or about to go through the eviction process, or just fresh out of the eviction process. So there's a life cycle that we had to unpack and do which we're best at.
In doing so with those three segments, we have a mixed bag of direct mail with solicitation. Otherwise, email and then a newsletter.
Each one of those is targeted to specific stages in the eviction life cycle. For example, one of the things that you're able to do on our website is create an eviction notice, which is the foundational document to start an eviction matter. You go on our website, generate that document for free. Within a few seconds, that document then gets sent, after filling out a form, that document then gets sent to your email with a little bit of instructions on what to do with it next.
Once we get you on our website, and being able to get involved and essentially getting data, we can turn that around and do something a little more actionable on our side.
Kathleen: I'm not sure how big your geographic reach is, and are most of your landlord clients, what percentage of them are finding you through an organic search because they're looking for a way to create an eviction notice versus how many are coming because you have reached out and contacted them?
Conor: Here is what I can say. Ever since I put in the ability to create that notice, which was towards the end of last year, I can say that off of our website, people have generated 934 eviction notices.
Conor: That's people that for one reason or another, they're not getting paid, or they otherwise don't want somebody to be their tenant anymore, generating something. Some of those are repeat performers, but the data that I gave you is largely cutting some of those few repeat visits.
Kathleen: Yeah, and that's interesting because you do have a very specific clientele you're going after.
Clearly, you know that by the nature of what you do, eviction is central to the pain or the need that they're feeling and the notice document is required by law.
What made you realize that creating that tool on your website would be a great marketing opportunity. Did you stumble into it, or was this a part of the plan?
Conor: A little bit from Column A, a little bit from Column B. The big thing is being able to get something out there on our website that was very easy to use, and then when somebody goes on and they create it, they get something of value. They can do it for free if they want to.
We also have some additional services that we offer where if you want somebody to serve on your behalf, you can plug in your credit card information and send that off, and so there are some premium services involved.
But the big thing is you're putting data from visitors onto our database, and onto our marketing database, and there's also a consent to people to have us follow up with you.
Once I get your information and I know that if it's a five day notice well, guess what? Most times I'll be reaching out to you within about five days to see what happened with that, and being able to help you out with the next steps, whether you use our services, or we also offer document generation and things that for some people are a little more budget oriented. That's the big thing for us is to provide some sort of value because we need to build trust with our potential clients and also because if you do a legal search for eviction notices, they're all not created equal and a lot of them we've noticed from self represented landlords, that they're deficient.
You're going out there, you're downloading something that is intended to do something, but it's very deficient under the law, and it jeopardizes your case.
Kathleen: So you have this tool on your site. It's getting you great results. As a two man law firm, neither of you I'm assuming is a web developer. How did you get the forms set up on your site? Do you have a company you work with that does your web work, or did one of you figure out how to build it? Was there a tool or a service you used to create this self-completable eviction notice form?
Conor: As you said earlier in the podcast, we have to lawyer for a fair portion of our day or we don't get paid. I do have a bit of a tech background, mostly self-taught. I've done web development, I've done database development and things like that. But what I need to be able to find are very accessible, off the shelf tools that I can implement into our WordPress site, and reduce the friction.
I visualize the endgame, and I just need to get there in a very, very accessible way.
Like I said a second ago, we use WordPress. It's a very easy platform to work with, and then we use a service called Gravity Forms. There's a bunch of online forms that you can use, and then those Gravity Forms connect with a service called Zapier, which takes data from point A to point B to C to D, and those documents get pumped out through another service called WebMerge, which is an online-document assembly service.
Kathleen: Zapier is the most amazing thing ever. I'm sure some people listening know about it, but if you don't, it is incredible.
It lets somebody with a completely non-technical background, like myself, essentially integrate two completely different software platforms that do not have out-of-the-box integration. It's awesome.
Conor: Yeah, I can say that we use it in marketing, we use it for our day-to-day functions in our law firm, and I'm looking at my analytics from Zapier right now, and it's saying that three weeks into my billing cycle, we automated 13,245 tasks within those three weeks.
Conor: Yeah, so-
Kathleen: That's incredible.
Conor: Yeah, and it's not just little tasks that you don't want to do, but it's also tasks that might breed error, so it makes life a whole lot easier.
Kathleen: You said something really important that I just want to underscore. What you said was even though you have a lot of technical skills and you could easily go down the rabbit hole of trying to build this all yourself, because you have to do your day job, what you do is you look for out-of-the-box tools that are somewhat plug-and-play and let them, essentially, do the work for you?
I love that and I feel like some of the best, scrappiest marketers that I know are the ones who go out and find ... so, there are so many tools out there. There are tools for everything, and if you can identify the right solution, it really can take a lot of the work out of building things like this, so that's great.
So, you got WordPress for your website, you've got Gravity Forms to collect the information from the landlord, you then send that information via Zapier to, did you call it, WebMerge?
Conor: WebMerge, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kathleen: Okay, and then that produces the final form, correct?
Conor: Correct. Yep.
Kathleen: That's great. Now, do you have any sense of how many people are landing on that page of your website? How are they finding that landlord form?
Conor: A lot of them. They're either calling us because they find an ad for us or word of mouth seems to be a lot more common now based on that we've been doing this ... at least I've been doing Chi-City Legal stuff for about two years now.
The word of mouth is definitely growing a little more organically, but when I run Google Analytics or the AdWords, I could either see where people are directly hitting that page because we do have a forms-generation ad that sits out there.
Kathleen: Okay. That's also I think a great point, which is a lot of people think about email marketing and they think they have to just somehow get found organically, but what I've noticed in the course of all these interviews is that inbound marketers are combining the content of the tools they've created like your eviction notice generator, and they're combining that with a boost from paid advertising, whether that's paid social or Google Pay-Per-Click or what have you, to help it get found.
It sounds like that's really worked well for you. How do you determine what kind of a budget you put towards your pay-per-click?
Conor: Well, as far as the pay-per-click, when it comes to doing the online forms, we're looking at something that isn't very popular out there because we're competing with online legal forms, and the pay-per-click is not very high. We're just generally looking for exposure.
One of the things that's really helpful, especially with Google now, is they love having these advisors contact you and help you be able to develop your AdWords and your keywords, your other words that you don't want people to connect with.
I probably speak with them at least every couple months to keep refining and keep tweaking our site. I just have an idea of what we want to spend on it because I do have some information based upon what our return on investment is, and there's a lot of wiggle room to throw money at it because it definitely pays dividends.
Kathleen: Yeah, so you're doing all of your pay-per-click yourself, correct?
Kathleen: And that's another thing I want to just emphasize because a lot of times when I interview people they talk about having an agency do it or sometimes I interview people who are agencies, and all they do is paid advertising, but this is something that is accessible to anyone, to any company of any size and of any budget because you can start with a tiny, tiny budget.
I love what you said about really taking advantage of Google's advisory services. That's something they don't charge for, correct?
Conor: That's right. Yeah, because there's ... you can read certain articles out there because they save a nice chunk of the money that Google makes off of the ads is their stupid tax, because it's people that just think, "Oh, I'll create a whatever ad, put it out there," and then they'll give a few hundred dollars as credit to be able to start up your ads. You will burn through that so fast if you have no idea what you're doing out there. It's best to start small, incremental change, consult with these guys, and they'll at least put you in a better spot than when you started.
Kathleen: Yeah, so take advantage of that if you're thinking about playing around with your own pay-per-click. Be the squeaky wheel with Google.
Conor: Yeah, it'll get the grease.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's great. Now, when you look at your pay-per-click spend, are you evaluating it as, "I don't want to spend more than X overall in terms of a budget," or are you looking at it as, "I want to keep my cost per lead acquisition under a certain amount"? There's different ways you can come at this whole budgeting question.
Conor: I believe on the forms we generally sit around 20 to $25 a day for our budget. Usually, we come in fairly low because, again, even for the clicks that we're getting on there, you're looking at less than a dollar per click.
Kathleen: Wow, and you've 900-some-odd conversions on the forms since you put them up late last year?
Kathleen: And what percentage of the landlords that fill out the form wind up becoming any kind of a paying client for you?
Conor: Something else that I ended up starting, because we started to notice where a lot of them were creating these notices, and then the notices were just ... the data was just sitting there as this ... just sitting out there alone, and we were re-keying the data from the notices into our content management system for active cases. So in late January I developed a new system to be able to convert that data. Then that way I could track it. So since January we've had right on the dot, up until about maybe about a week ago this was accurate, 100 cases that went from the notice creation to filing.
Kathleen: Wow. That's great. So, that's what? About just slightly over 10%?
Kathleen: That's a great conversion rate by any standard. That's a great conversion rate. Are you doing any kind of lead nurturing in between when they fill the form out and then when they hire you, or is there any sort of like automated email or any other touch points that you have with them?
Conor: The other thing that happens - and it's not exactly automated at the point that I don't see a need for it yet, I don't want to over-program a solution - but when they create that notice, the creation of the notice also sends data to a Trello card that sits on my marketing board, and I'm able-
Kathleen: Through Zapier?
Conor: Through Zapier, yeah. So, I have a couple columns, whether it's a five-day notice, so I know ... assuming that they serve the five-day notice within a day of getting it, I know what the due date is on it, and I'll follow-up about then, and I have formatted email. I just click on a thing in Zapier, and it essentially does a canned email.
Then for the 30-day notices, I know when those are coming up, so I can send out a canned email to see if they need any assistance because sometimes they get it and they have a hard time serving the person, and then maybe they need the more premium services off our site to be able to take it to the next step, or they're ready to go.
Kathleen: That's great. Trello is a great project management platform. If you're listening and you haven't checked it out, essentially, it's what they call in Agile terms a Kanban Board, but it's a got a great interface.
You basically just move these cards. They're structured like cards and you move them across the workflow. It's actually a very simple, streamlined, really elegant project-management tool if you don't have a very complex business, and it's very low cost, so great solution.
Conor: The other part of it is too, so I use that for the marketing, and Trello, it's free, so we actually use it as our practice management system. All of our active cases are handled through it because it can be very robust. It can run everything from a household project to our firm that has nearly 100 active cases at any given time, so it's -
Kathleen: Oh, that's great. Yeah, so you don't need to overcomplicate things and buy enterprise software to run your projects. It's amazing what you can do with Trello.
We have a lot of different software at my agency, but we still use Trello just for tracking our blog-editorial process because it's so easy and user-friendly and people love it.
Conor: Oh yeah. If you like Post-it Notes, Trello, yeah, it's just moving digital Post-it Notes through.
Kathleen: So true. It is exactly the concept behind it. Well, that's neat, so you said you can go in and just click something in Trello, and it generates a canned email?
Kathleen: Another is the Zapier connection?
Conor: Yep, so when it creates that card based upon a notice, it's going to create a list of potential canned emails. It's going to be everything from the initial follow-up to, "Hey," you're just reaching out again. Then, just for ethical purposes because I have reached out to people, I want to be able to also send non-engagement warnings.
So, because sometimes people think just because this happened or that happened then I'm their lawyer, and so it's nice to be able to have some sort of a built-in system that makes that very easy to do.
Yeah, Trello creates these checklists. I just check off the list on the cards, and that queues Zapier to create a draft email in my inbox. If I need to tweak it at all I can tweak it, and then otherwise it sends out.
Kathleen: You are the master of scrappy automation. It's so cool. I love hearing this because it really is such a great example of what you can do as just one person who isn't even a marketer.
Like, you've figured it out, and you've kind of hacked this system together, and it sounds incredibly low cost because you're using your regular email inbox, you're using Zapier, which certainly has a paid version, but yeah, it's not expensive. You're using Trello, which also has a paid version, but you don't even ... it sounds like you're not even up to the paid version?
Kathleen: You're just using the free version.
Kathleen: I mean, I love it. This is amazing.
Conor: As far as what you just mentioned, Zapier, I'm using the highest-end plan, because it's the backbone of our company anyway, so I could also use it for sort of other stuff. That's $115 a month.
Webmerge costs us now, because we've risen up to do the plans, costs us a couple hundred bucks a month, but again, it's generating other documents that we need in our practice. So we're already eating that.
Kathleen: And if there's ROI there, that spend is totally worth it, though. That's great.
So a little over 10% of the people that fill the form out become your clients. You mentioned when we first started talking that you use an artificial intelligence program to serve as your virtual receptionist. I'm intrigued by this. Can you talk a little big about how that works?
Conor: Sure. A little while back ago, I just follow certain legal blogs or tech blogs, just general things like that and I found out about something called x.ai. At the point I saw them, they were still inviting people on a case by case basis to be able to test out the software and I was just one of the early invites. What's great about it is it already sits on something that you're using. It's not a different calendering software, things like that.
Amy (the x.ai virtual assistant), she's sitting out there in the ether and any time I need to schedule something, all I have to do is cc her, reference her and then give her a ballpark based upon some sort of back end instructions on when to schedule something.
So you can go on our website and click, I Want a Consultation. It's going to say, hey how do you want to do this? Do you want to be emailed for a follow-up time? Or do you want somebody to call you?
And if you want to schedule your own time, Zapier is going to send out an automated email with Amy cc'd and then she's going to schedule something so I'm not involved in that process. If you want a call back, again Zapier is going to kick something off and it's going to email our virtual receptionist and say, hey, reach out to so and so and it's got all that data plugged in there to schedule for a consultation. Maybe even give some information about our practice.
Kathleen: Wow. That's really cool. And you said the original program was called x.ai?
Conor: Yeah, that's right.
Kathleen: And is that what you're still using today?
Conor: That's right.
Kathleen: That's great. And that routes calls to you and your business partner, correct? As well?
Conor: I do all the onboarding for potential clients.
Conor: When we have active cases, Amy comes into play ... There's Amy and there's Andrew Ingram - "AI" - so when there's an active case, if somebody ... We'll give you case updates and if you want to schedule a follow-up to flesh out something that we talked about in the case update, those get routed to my partner because he manages the day to day case loads.
Kathleen: Got it. So you have this incredibly well-oiled, automated machine going in the background that's fueling your lead generation, your follow-up, your call and appointment setting. Anything you're looking at adding into the mix?
You've been doing this a little while. You seem very plugged into how the tools work. Do you have anything on your wishlist that you want to do next?
Conor: I did up until this morning. Because we're so intimately connected with active cases and things like that, we're constantly plugged into the data.
So when you file a case, certain things need to happen along the course of your case in order to advance it. So one of the milestones is somebody has handed your tenant a piece of paper to say come to court on a certain day. One of the things we're listening for is for that event to happen and then essentially an automated email goes out at that point where we can offer you the court forms you'll need in court that day. And that's free for people to be able to download. If you want a consultation along with it, that will be an additional sum, but capturing the pre-litigation, you're in the midst of litigation, whether you want an attorney or not, it could help.
Conor: And then after the litigation, people are added to our newsletter by accepting the terms of service so when it comes to post eviction compliance issues or it might happen again, we're always on people's radar.
Kathleen: What do you put in the newsletter? What kind of content?
Conor: It's a mixed bag, obviously. There's self-promotion there, but sometimes there is a pending bill that might affect our clients. We're letting people know about something that's actually going to pass in about three days now, concerning notary stamps in Illinois. It might not be necessary for a lot of the court forms that they need. And then just being able to sign up with our services and different coupons, I guess you could say, to try us out.
But a lot of it is just legal information that we're passing along. We just give people value and we hear from people and we see them sometimes that they love our newsletter. We have opposing counsel that subscribe to our newsletter.
Kathleen: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, right?
Conor: Yep, but over time, what we're looking at is a market of between 20 and 25,000 evictions are filed in Cook County every year. Out of those evictions, between about 80 and 120 are from self-represented landlords, and we are soliciting nearly every one of those self-represented landlords.
Kathleen: Wow, I love your whole system because I think a lot of what you're doing really embraces the true spirit of what inbound marketing is. It's about giving away information and helping people and using that to naturally attract that person who needs what you're selling at the right time.
And the fact that you're giving away the eviction notice, you're giving away some of these other court forms, it sounds like it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do, which is it's bubbling up those people who naturally need your service at the time that they need it. That's fantastic.
Conor: Sometimes with lawyers, these eviction notices, these aren't works of art. They're forms and we're automating them and you don't have to lock this stuff up. And you're actually doing people a favor by putting something out there that's actually compliant with the law. So the service that we provide is standing next to you in a courtroom, not creating some sort of document that's a dime a dozen.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's great. Well that is the attitude, I think, that some of the more successful marketers I've interviewed have. And it's surprising how many people do not have that attitude. So kudos to you.
Conor: Thank you.
Kathleen: And I love hearing these stories from somebody who isn't a marketer by trade. I think those are the most exciting stories. You're an attorney and you just figured this out because it's what makes sense. That's one of the coolest parts about this.
Kathleen's Two Questions
Kathleen: So, I have two questions that I always ask all of my guests and I'm curious, you come from outside of the marketing world, company or individual, who do you think is doing inbound marketing really well right now?
Conor: What I see ... From the company where we don't use their software or anything else like that and I've never used their software or anything ... I like the stuff that I get from Rocket Matter. It's a content practice management system. Some of the stuff that they're pumping out, a lot of the contributors that are creating content for them, it's really neat. It's helpful and it spurs things with me, too, to be able to think, "Oh wait, people are hitting at that angle. That's really cool." So that's big for me right now. Those are one of the few emails that come in that I actually open when I see it in my inbox.
Second question, with the world of digital marketing changing so quickly, how do you as a non-digital marketer who has kind of been forced to become a marketer through this business, how do you stay up to date and educate yourself and keep abreast of all this?
Conor: A lot of times, and it's just an aggregation, I have the Feedly app on my phone and one of the things that you can select to come through on your Feedly is marketing stuff.
But then I checked off marketing and I'm starting to develop a vocabulary and just a way of getting at that's non-traditional because I'm just piecing this stuff together.
At first, you're treading water, but I feel like I'm doing some laps. I'm no Michael Phelps or anything else like that, but I'm moving along with it and that's really, really helpful to just be able to go through my Feedly in the morning and some of the stuff is just going to catch your eye.
Kathleen: Yeah, that's great. Feedly is really ... It certainly makes it easier to consume all your different content in one place.
How to Reach Conor
Alright, well this was so interesting. I'm sure that lots of the listening audience will be either having questions about some of the specific tools you mentioned or might want to see your stuff in action on your website.
If somebody is looking to contact you or find more information online, what's the best way for them to find you?
Conor: They can go on our website. They can hit up Amy. She'll set something up regardless. Or they can contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org or I'm actually setting something up right now. It's not out yet, but a Zapier consulting arm to help people to be able to connect the dots with it. So the website is sort of up. It's saoi.io. It's a little bit Irish for the Irish speaking audience, but yeah that's something that I think could help small firms to be able to connect these dots and make it a little bit easier on themselves.
Kathleen: That is very cool. I love that you're going be on Zapier. Zay-pier, Zap-pier I never know how to say it. But it's an amazing tool. I love that you're going to be a consultant.
Conor: I think that it will be fun.
Kathleen: That's awesome. Alright. Well, I will put those links in the show notes so that everyone can find them. But thank you so much. This has been so much fun.
If you are listening and you got some value out of this, please consider giving the podcast a review on iTunes or Stitcher or the platform of your choice. And if you know somebody doing kick ass inbound marketing work, tweet me @workmommywork because I would love to interview them. Thank you, Conor.
Conor: Thank you.
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