Pick His Brain!
I’d like to introduce one of our members, Jason Hennessey, for our next ‘Pick His Brain’ session and I want to thank him for the participation.
Jason built an agency specializing in legal SEO and is recognized as the #290 fastest growing private company in the U.S. in 2019 according to Inc Magazine, with 100+ employees and currently on target to do 8-figures in revenue.
His agency is currently working with some of the largest law firms in the country.
If you have any questions on agency building and SEO, please feel free to pick his brain.
Here are the rules.
1) I’ll let the thread go on until he asks me to stop. Theoretically, this thread can continue until the FaceBook stock value goes to zero.
2) Please, no snarky remarks. I will not tolerate any intentional negativity. We are here to learn from each other’s successes and strategies.
3) Please do not PM him and bother him. If you have a private question, ask for his permission on this thread when appropriate.
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What’s legal SEO?
The industry that most SEO’s avoid Back in the late 90’s , I was studying for the LSAT but then the SEO industry sucked me in.
Over the last 20 years I have mostly been doing SEO for law firms leveraging one case study to build another case study and the rest in history.
What are is the chances to make the channel successful and gain traffic from countries like US and UK while I am working from Nepal? I have a small team here right now but hope to extend it in the future if everything goes right.
My suggestion would be to just keep gaining momentum based on your current resources.
If you really believe in the project, continue to reinvest your profits back into the site (via smart people, content, links, PR, etc…) and with good technical SEO, and an abundance of content (all forms) the traffic will continue to grow.
And compound month over month, year over year, while increasing the value of the business.
(1) Should the SEO pricing for PI lawyers be completely different from that for the other general law attorneys? (2) Some of the law firms I worked with were very fussy about any changes on their site. Is getting approval for minor website changes one of the hazards of working in legal SEO or overblown in your opinion?
#1. Pricing should be based on how competitive the space is regardless of whether you are working with lawyers or landscapers.
Most of our monthly retainers start out at $8,500 and go all the way to north of $100,000.
#2. Most of our clients give us full control of their website and trust us with their strategy.
If they push back, there is a good chance that we won’t be successful, therefore we don’t take them on as a client.
We’ve turned clients away, even ones with large budgets, for this reason.
If we don’t control the website then we don’t control their strategy, so that makes it hard to get the desired results.
What data can I use for a lawyers directory?
Not sure if I understand the question, but legal directories are a great resource for prospecting new business.
Sites like AVVO, Findlaw, Justia, while expensive, are almost mandatory to have profiles and links from if you are in competitive markets.
(1) If you could travel back in time, what tips or advice would you give yourself about building an agency? (2) Do you have any business books you would recommend?
#1. Simple, don’t try to do everything yourself.
Hire people much smarter than you to do the things that you are just ok at, but they are amazing at.
But when in bootstrapping mode, you need to do everything, so get past that, then reinvest your profits into smart people.
I’ve learned this lesson, time and time again, throughout my career.
#2. Most of the books that I read are SEO books, but two of my favorite business books are Rework by Jason Fried (Founder of Basecamp) and Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseih (Founder of Zappos)
Reinvesting profits into smart people; do you have target percentage you reinvest for this or any kind of ‘rule of thumb’ for reinvesting? Always difficult to know how much to put by for that part.
More sales solves this problem pretty quickly, but my suggestion, when the time is right, would be to hire a CFO that can steer you in the right direction.
This is different based upon different circumstances, if you are just looking to grow quickly and sell, you want to watch these expenses.
If you are in this for the long term, you sacrifice short term profits for building a much larger valuation over a longer period of time.
As for me, I ain’t stopping until I build an empire worth $100M
I believe at the beginnings of the agency, you struck a deal with a PR agency to do some work for you, to get the brand out there. What work did they do and was it something you tried to implement yourself?
Yes you are correct.
Back in 2009, when I was building my first agency, I looked at our new office, saw a blank wall, and visualized having plaques lined up on that wall with us being featured in Inc Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, etc…
Later that night that inspired me to reach out to the CEO’s of some of the largest PR agencies in NYC, via Linkedin, and I set up 3 meetings.
Of those meetings, we ended up striking a barter relationship, where they would do our PR and we would do their SEO, and I made my vision for that wall a reality.
Visualization is very powerful if you take action to make it happen.
Do you do link building in house or do you outsource it? Do you just organic SEO or maps as well?
Currently we do both and are looking at acquiring a few other agencies that have Link building and/or PR as their core competency.
(1) How did you get your first big break? (2) How does SEO compare versus law firms traditional marketing methods of lead purchasing and client entertainment\word of mouth. (3) Will you typically work with one firm per practice area of law?
#1. I got my first big break being asked to speak at a small legal mastermind meeting, with a group of about 75 DUI lawyers from different markets.
I gave my presentation of how I was able to rank my Wedding Favor e-commerce website (at the time) #1 on Google for the keyword “Wedding Favors”.
That one 45 minute presentation was the genesis of my first agency and I ended up leaving there with about 7 new consulting clients and about $35,000 per month in reoccurring revenue.
Walking into that presentation, I was only there to do a friend a favor and had no clue that “SEO consulting” was even a thing.
#2. SEO if done right continues to grow and compound month over month with your investment unlike other advertising that is more of a sunk cost.
At first, the cost per case might be higher, using SEO, when you are first getting started but decreasing rapidly over time as your site starts to perform better in the SERPS.
#3. We used to do exclusivity when we were much smaller but recently decided to change our policy on that.
How did you scale your agency that big?
By giving up all of my black hair for gray hair.
Not everyone can look at good as Tim Soulo forever.
In all seriousness, we built a few really good case studies, leveraged those case studies to sell to new prospects.
And reinvested our profits into recruiting people much smarter than myself, replacing myself in every aspect of the business from technical SEO, link building, account management, accounting, HR, etc…
As for an SEO based question, when you were originally starting out with SEO services targeted towards Legal, what would be your key areas of interest to pitch to them?
To be honest, when I was first starting out, most of the prospects that I started speaking to were being taken advantage of by bad practitioners, so I was mostly just educating them on what good SEO looks like and what bad SEO looks like.
By doing this, I wasn’t really selling them anything, mostly selling by way of education.
For the lawyers that have the mentality of “set it and forget it” those are the ones that we either have to educate our value or not work with them.
As everyone on this thread knows, SEO is not Set it and forget it
When you were starting out, what did you do to get your first few clients in the space? How did your lead gen process evolve as you grew as a company?
I shared this story earlier in the thread, but basically I first got introduced to this niche by accident, being asked to give a presentation to a group of lawyers, by a friend, the night before.
We don’t really do much marketing ourselves, heck I still have a one page website
How do you deal with competing law firms? In theory you’ll be working for customers who all want the same terms?
I had that same mentality when I was first starting out but quickly realized that all other marketing channels don’t really offer exclusivity.
Back in the day if you opened the Yellow pages and turned to the L section, half the book was lawyers. Same with Billboards, TV, and even PPC (Google will be happy to take everyone’s money).
Plus if we are exclusive with a personal injury lawyer in Dallas, and one of my clients, in Florida, with a large budget, starts to show up nationally for a keyword like “Car Accident Lawyer” would that be a breach of contract?
This could get very nebulous, so we just decided to get rid of the exclusivity clause and put different clients, in different markets, on different teams, with different account managers.
Having said that, we are more of a premium service provider, and not cheap, so in most cases we will only be working with 2 clients in any given market.
What does your onboarding process look like?
If you are talking about on-boarding a new client (not employee) we have a lot of automation set up.
We use Pipedrive as our CRM, Panda Docs to send our agreements, once signed, that triggers a bunch of automation alerting different teams members from accounting, local, technical, content production, link building, analytics, etc…
Different tasks and tickets to get the strategy developed and implemented.
Our sales team introduces the new client to our director of client services, she then sets up an on boarding/discovery call to get all of the access that we need, and then an official kick off call is scheduled.
By the time the kick off call is scheduled, we have some much info to talk about with the client and work together on mapping out the strategy.
Then we have calls every two weeks with the client.
What advice would you have for one that wants to start as freelancing? Like lets say he doesnt know everything. He is still learning the insides. Would you day to do some voluntary work for portofolio? Or like 50% discounts comparing with the market? Or you wouldn’t advice someone starting till he is expert…
I would start out by working on a few of your own sites, testing things out, breaking things, all while watching a lot of good educational videos.
Ahrefs and SEMrush have some great courses and Yotube videos.
From there, I would try to get an Internship with an established agency and start building your career in the space.
When starting out in the law SEO space – did you use logic-based sell mainly? Meaning using tools like an RIO calculator and results of your work even though it wasn’t in the law space? Also, what was your USP?
When I first started, no, I basically used my charm, good looks, and some really compelling case studies to sell.
However, now we are building more forecasting tools based on all of the data and insights from all of our accounts.
As for our USP, to be honest, it’s mostly been reputation and being highly recommended by trusted influences in the legal space.
Today our USP is automation and the development of proprietary internal tools to help scale both our agency and our clients rankings, traffic, leads and revenue.
(1) What were your pain points as you grew your client base and what was your best investment? (2) As a niche specialist how do you deal with the potential of competing clients? (3) what was the worst thing/most unnessisary investment you made for the business? (4) I pitched you for vendor services back in 1866 will you ever take me up on that free trial?
#1. My major pain point was trying to do everything myself for years, keeping the team small and profits high.
I worked my ass off, in the morning I was doing strategy, then account management, then at nights I spent time reverse engineering link strategies. Oh and on the weekend I was accounting and HR.
That sucked. At the end of the year, I made a ton of money, but then I had to give 40% back to Uncle Sam. For what, alll that hard work.
That was when I said screw this, rather than work 12 hour days, every day, I am going to recruit the worlds best team, so what if I make less money, I will be building a larger company, working less, and the company value will continue to grow.
So at the end of the year, I won’t have to cut as big of a check, but I will have a team to offer white love services to my clients.
Best investment was recruiting this guy Scott Shrum, our president and COO, homeboy is wicked smart, MIT grad with an MBA from Kellogg.
Since joining, he has helped recruit his former CFO and CTO, forced me to write a book, pushed me to build our new podcast studio in Hollywood, CA and helps manage the day to day operations.
He is a true asset in every sense of the world and will eventually become the CEO of the agency.
#2. We used to worry about this when we were much smaller, but now, we are so good at what we do, in our niche, that we look at it as a luxury to work with us.
I don’t want to paint a picture that we are better than anyone else, but over the years I have built a very strong team and we get some serious results.
We make a lot of lawyers very wealthy, so we are less concerned about the exclusivity these days.
#3. Tough question, hmmm, probably hiring the wrong people for the job, earlier in my career, and/or not investing in properly training them.
As they say no bad employee only bad managers, so I will put that on me and not on them.
#4. For sure, let’s catch up privately and discuss.
For a $8500 monthly retainer, how many reports do you offer per month? Would it be possible to share a sample report via DM?
We don’t send any report, we meet with our clients on a screen share / Zoom call every two weeks and show them everything that we are working on while measuring the performance of the campaign while continuing to adjust the strategy.
However we do use Google Data Studios that the client anyways has access to and is updated in real time.
How long these reporting calls tend to be? (e.g. 1 hour)
1 hour calls and our team is 100% remote, has been that way before Zoom was cool, but we are building a podcasting studio in Hollywood California right now.
If you have $10MM to spend on linkbuiding, what would you do?
Easy, I would buy 40,000 guest blog post from Matt Diggity at a discounted rate of $250 per post with a domain authority of 20+.
Kidding aside, even though Matt has built an amazing company, I think with that type of budget you don’t really need a link building budget per se.
Instead, I would hire some of the most amazing developers, build a world class product, hire an army of in-house researchers and content writers, recruit an amazing PR team, and get them to tell our story to the media one pitch at a time, while also leveraging influencer to also promote the brand.
We would attract links naturally and then sculpt our rankings, for specific keywords, with internal links.
If you were to build an agency from scratch, would you go about creating case study and then leveraging those case studies to relevant prospects and acquiring clients or going with cold prospecting.
I built my agency doing exactly that, leveraging some amazing case studies in one niche, legal, and continued to reinvest my profits into more talented staff, eventually replacing myself in every aspect of the business.
We do 0 cold prospecting.
How to build own SEO agency with minimum investment? Where to start?
Find yourself one client to pay you $5,000 per month, build an awesome case study with that client, then go find 10 more clients to pay you $5,000 per month.
Which is harder- finding good employees or good clients?
For us it has been so much easier finding good clients.
We actually hired a full time recruiter, to work in house, to source good talent to keep up with new business and fulfillment.
If some clients ask you how long does your SEO effort take place? How would you handle such questions?
First you need to educate the prospect so they they understand SEO and what it takes to rank on Google and drive targeted traffic these days.
You do this by showing them their site and then comparing their baseline metrics with competitors who are ranking #1 on Google for their targeted keywords.
Once they are educated, and establish baseline metrics, they will value what you do and you will have the same goals.
It is very important to then properly manager their expectations correctly.
I have one client that had a great domain name, and EMD, but it was in one of the most competitive spaces in legal.
I am taking about one good lead being worth $500K – $2.5M.
I told the client that it was going to be a $30K per month investment and he probably wouldn’t see his first lead for 9-12 months.
He moved forward and we are starting to see some amazing results with that site and this will be an asset for him forever.
Would you say niching down from the very beginning is the only real way to have long term success in Client SEO?
I wouldn’t say that it is the only real way, but when you establish yourself as an expert, and immerse yourself, into a specific niche, you can build some great case studies along with a proven formula, which makes it easier.
Can you give me tips on a good case study or send me an example of one of yours?
A good case study is one that proves your strategy to be effective.
Show before and after of what the strategy looked like, before you got started, with clear baseline metrics, and what it looked like after three months, six month, twelve months, three years later.
Do you have a fave practice type? E.g Whistle blowing?
We work mostly with personal injury lawyers.