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To build your practice, think like a customer

MINNEAPOLIS – I got a call the other day, the same call I get once a week. It’s Ali or Bill or Chuck from ABC Corporation, which specializes in doing something you don’t understand but ought to spend money on.

Sometimes it’s managed marketing, where you aren’t really sure what your baseline is so you can never really say whether they have been unsuccessful. Sometimes it’s SEO, about which despite having researched and written three or four columns on I’m still not sure I have any clue. Occasionally it’s office supplies, which I at least understand.
This call offered assistance with maintaining online directories, something I know needs work but don’t feel like paying for at the moment. But Chuck, or Bill, or Ali from ABC Corporation didn’t want to take “no” for an answer.

It wasn’t bad; not Comcast Internet bad anyway, but it went on for about five minutes, and every time I told him I wasn’t interested he used it as a transition to try a different tactic. I could have hung up, I suppose, but I just played “Minesweeper” on my computer and waited him out. On about the fourth try he gave up and thanked me for my time.

It’s not that I don’t need online directory work done. For those who don’t know (and I didn’t for a while) Google Maps and Google Local rankings — among the top organic search results — are higher when online directories have a consistent location for your business. There are dozens of them. Of course everyone knows that most people use Google, or Bing or Yahoo to find locations, but your address may also be listed in the Yellow Pages online, Dex, Yelp, Avvo, and many others.

If, like me, you’ve ever changed your office address, you may find that different directories maintain different addresses for you, giving Google a lower confidence in your location and lower rankings on location-based searches. At least that is the prevailing theory, and I know, because I’ve heard it once every two months or so from a different company pitching it. The problem isn’t that I don’t need the work done.

I just don’t really know which is the best company for the job. I don’t have a good metric for where I am starting, or how damaging it is that some directories, four years later, still list my original home office as my office address. I don’t know what’s a reasonable price for that kind of work, or what the effect will be when they finish. So let’s assume I decide to find out (which may not prove correct but isn’t a really unreasonable assumption). How do I go about it?

First, I would probably go to other solos or small firm administrators and ask them about their experience. Do they think it’s necessary? How much did it cost, and did they notice a tangible benefit in proportion to the cost? Of course, many other solos will have similar experiences to mine: they may have never used those types of services, or have used only one and don’t have any basis of comparison themselves.

Next, I might do a Google search for the service itself. Who are the top returned companies for that type of service? Of course, it’s not necessarily true that a top rank on Google indicates quality, but when we’re talking about companies helping you with your online presence, a top Google rank is a self-proving metric. If they can help themselves, they can help you. I might then use the top few companies and search for them specifically, making sure to look for “ABC Corporation review” or “ABC Corporation problems” rather than just Googling the company itself.

As I’ve written before, a lack of information about problems with a particular company is more likely than anything else to indicate just that you misspelled the name. There’s nothing so good that no one on the Internet hates it. If you want to test this theory, try doing a search for “ice bucket challenge.” But consistently bad reviews, or a large number of them, are obviously a red flag.

Finally, if I have decided that I want to hire someone and I’ve liked what I have seen up to that point, I’ll visit their website and get in touch. Maybe I hire them, or maybe I have to start over, but at least for me a phone call is the last, not the first step I take. I think a lot of people are on the same page.

Of course, this column has nothing to do with whether or not I fix the old address on FindLocalBusinesses.biz. But for business owners whose business happens to be the law, we probably spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to do from the supply side, and probably not enough thinking about how we search for businesses ourselves.

After all, we are all consumers. We all face the same challenges that first-time clients face: not really understanding the service area, not knowing the metrics to measure success, and not knowing where to turn to find that information. By remembering how we search for services ourselves, we can both learn to build our business and, when that first-time phone call comes, remember where the client is coming from and how to help them understand why they should hire us.

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