Own Your Own Client Feeder System: Lessons of Trademarkia

In both the first, and now second edition of Solo by Choice , I recommend the solo option as a way to “own, not loan” one’s talents. Yet the choice between ownership versus loan-ership isn’t unique to law practice.  It’s also one that lawyers increasingly confront in an era of crowdsourcing, a practice which at its most basic has users loan talen in exchange for “exposure.”

Crowdsourcing isn’t always a negative when the user reaps real value from participation.  Google, after all, is the great-grandaddy of crowdsourcing, giving away a robust search engine or free phone numbers (through Google Voice ) to gather user data.  Likewise, some social media platforms – LinkedIn, Justia, JDSupra and Avvo – don’t charge for the cost of participation and offer users a clean, professional web presence and some SEO juice. That’s a reasonably fair trade.

But other sites require more commitment. Sites like Quora rely on user contribution of knowledge, while sites like Huffington Post and 99Designs built entire business models on free labor by journalists or graphic designers.

So – should you give away content like guest posts or legal advice — at crowdsourced sites in exchange for exposure?  O keep it to yourself and build your own presence, even though it may not have as much visibility?  Although once, these two choices once posed a real dilemma for solo and small firms, with the declining cost of technology, it’s now feasible for solo and small firms, either independently or in collaboration with others to build a robust platform that will deliver clients as effectively as any crowdsourced or pay-per-click solution.

That’s the lesson of attorney Raj Abhyanker, recounted in this a former solo who’s grown his trademark practice to a firm of eight full time employees in three years by creating Trademarkia, an online search engine stocked with free information from the US Patent and Trademark Office, that helps small business owners run easy trademark searches. As described in the NYT’s You’re the Boss Blog, Trademarkia drives visitors who seeking legal assistance with trademarks to Abhyanker’s law firm, and in addition, offers other fee-based services such as domain registration, logo design and automated alerts to notify trademark holders when similar marks are filed. Though Trademarkia’s traffic, roughly 500,000 a month isn’t as high as the million captured by more general sites like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer, that doesn’t matter since it attracts a more targeted audience, i.e., visitors interested in trademarks, who are more likely to convert to clients.

Relatively speaking, it didn’t cost much to get Trademarkia up and running – just $25,000. Considering that some small law firms spend that much annually on online advertising, that’s not all that much. Moreover, solos needn’t develop this type of site alone. Even if five solos had kicked in $5000 each, they’d have collected 1/5 of the whopping $5 million in legal fees that Abhyanker says the site helped to generate for his firm.

Bear in mind that it’s not just solos who are generating their own lead machines. Perkins Coie is the latest entrant to the freebies for start ups party, with its slick Start Up Percolator, offering a suite of free tools, including online Delaware incorporation formation. Again, something like this may be out of an individual solo’s budget, but feasible if accomplished through cooperation.

So rather than dream of the day that you can pay between $72 and $107 for leads, or that you have enough time to offer free advice to start ups on someone else’s site why not generate your own lead machine like Raj Abhyanker? Not only does owning beat loaning, it also beats be-moaning your plight as well.