Rob Rosasco of Sundown Legal Marketing Shares His Wisdom: The SMB Marketing Agency Podcast

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In this episode of The SMB Marketing Agency Podcast, ZyraTalk's Chief Revenue Officer Jeff Cook chats with Rob Rosasco, CEO of Sundown Legal Marketing. Rosasco has some invaluable advice for small-to-medium firms that might be on the fence about marketing. Plus, some words of wisdom for prospective entrepreneurs keen to start their own business.

Listen to the full episode here, or keep reading for a summary and abridged transcript.

Key takeaways:

  • Build a solid foundation: a robust, quality website that makes the Google algorithms happy.
  • But remember, the sites that get the most traffic don't always rank at the top of Google. And even the highest-ranking sites don't always convert prospects into clients.
  • Firms that believe they don't need to invest in marketing are making a big mistake. While the legal industry once frowned upon marketing, firms that embrace change will stand out and win more clients.
  • Law firms shouldn't “shy away from intelligently and effectively approaching the business applications of social media."
  • Don't underestimate video — Rosasco predicts it will be most innovative medium in the legal digital marketing landscape 5 years from now.
  • Develop solid processes so the business can keep running smoothly no matter what happens.

This just scratches the surface — this conversation is packed with actionable takeaways! Want to take a deeper dive? Keep reading for an abridged transcript of the full episode. (We've edited it for length and readability.)

Episode transcript

Jeff: Tell us a little bit about your story: how you started, when you started, why legal?

Rob: The genesis of Sundown Legal Marketing is taking advantage of an opportunity, for lack of a better phrase.

I've been sort of a closet entrepreneur for many, many years. But, as with more entrepreneurs or people who want to eventually get into starting their own business, there's always a good reason not to get comfortable in a job.

I sort of hit a perfect storm. I was a long-time employee of LexisNexis's Martindale-Hubbell. I was there for about 10 years. When LexisNexis sold Martindale-Hubbell to a third party, it presented me with a great opportunity. Number one, it put me in a position where I needed to find another professional opportunity.

Because of a severance package I was afforded, when I left, I had the financial resources to be able to do that. And 6+ years later, the business has grown from literally nothing. We had no clients. We had no infrastructure in place. We've grown to a full-service digital marketing agency that has approximately 75 clients across the country.

Jeff: Good, congratulations. So tell us a little bit about the types of clients you serve.

Rob: Actually, asking that question, you just sparked another comment. In response to your initial question, why the legal vertical, having worked at LexisNexis provided a natural transition into the legal space. Over the course of the last year, we've expanded our reach to move into other vertical markets, but the lion's share of our clients are law firms.

We focused our time and attention on law firms in varying practice areas. Our target markets are those that invest money into internet marketing, like personal injury firms, criminal law firms, family law firms, bankruptcy firms.

But we have a number of insurance defense firms. Those firms typically don't invest a great deal of money into marketing, but we built websites for them. We host their website and perhaps do a little bit of social media work for them. So our client base sort of runs the gamut in terms of practice areas.

Jeff: So if I'm a PA firm, a family law firm, or any of the other practices that you just described, what should people be paying attention to or what shouldn't they be paying attention to right now?

Rob: Well, there's a number of different avenues. Internet marketing is sort of a blanket phrase that encompasses a lot of different areas that one firm can invest their marketing spend.

We focus our approach on building a good solid foundation: building a robust, quality website, one that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also meets Google's search algorithm guidelines. And then we build on that. 

The website is the foundation, the starting point. But we also work on creating a social presence for the firm, creating a video presence for the firm, making sure we update their website with content on a regular basis. We focus on a holistic approach when it comes to marketing our firms.

Jeff: So maybe you've talked to me a little bit about specific pitfalls that clients find themselves in and mistakes that have been made. What if you were a PCI firm, a family practice law firm, and you're looking at your overall business or the landscape of the industry or the marketing channels? What are some things that you think these types of companies should be wary of?

Rob: Good question. First and foremost, the firms that believe they don't have to invest money and marketing are making the biggest mistake. I've knocked on a lot of doors both literally and figuratively speaking. 

I can't tell you how many attorneys I've spoken with, or law firms I've met with, that have shared with me that they feel they don't need to invest money in marketing. That's just unbelievably, extremely short sighted, I guess.

Those that do invest their money into some sort of internet marketing — the pitfalls, the mistakes that I've seen made is focusing on one aspect of internet marketing and not taking that marketing spend and investing it in different types of internet marketing. 

So for instance, taking their entire spend and investing it into pay-per-click or paid advertising only. Paid advertising can certainly generate some excellent returns, especially for those firms that are in oral practice in a particular area where those keywords are very valuable, like injury attorneys with car accidents. But paid advertising is really only a piece of the puzzle. 

If you don't have a good-quality website to drive those pay-per-click clients to, then you're missing out on a huge part of a conversion: that conversion rate video, having a program that is void of video. There's also a huge mistake, especially when you consider the growth that video enjoys year over year in terms of consumption online. There are countless reports out there that say that video has increased exponentially over the last several years and will continue to for the foreseeable future. 

So I guess those few things: one, avoiding marketing altogether; two, focusing too much on one aspect of internet marketing; and three, start paying attention video.

Jeff: Nice. So what would you say to a small to medium PR DUI firm? Maybe they don't have the domain authority to get on the first page of Google. Maybe they don't have the budgets on the PPC side to compete with some of the keyword prices that exist in those particular keywords. What's your advice? What are some other channels they can invest in? Video could be one of them. What are your thoughts for someone whose best strategy isn't necessarily to go after page one of Google?

Rob: Again, a really good question, one that we asked ourselves and I ask our team on a regular basis. As a small business within the legal inner marketing vertical, we have to do just that. 

We can't necessarily go toe-to-toe with the FindLaws of the world. So we need to be creative in terms of the the proposals or the business ideas that we put in front of not only our current clients, but also prospective clients.

So I guess one of the things is being creative in terms of your use of video — not only recorded video, but also live video. Also being creative on social media. Obviously Facebook is the behemoth, but there's a lot of different avenues that businesses can pursue when it comes to social media. 

Being creative in that area is certainly something that helped. And honestly, it's something that most law firms don't take advantage of. They shy away from intelligently and effectively approaching the business applications of social media. 

Lastly, I guess it's trying to trying to take the available budget and looking within your particular geography and your particular practice area where you can be most effective. Because the use of certain tools does matter based on where in the country you're located and what practice area. 

Your marketing for an injury firm is a little different than marketing a criminal law firm, which is a little different than marketing a family law firm. So where a lot of aspects of internet marketing apply across the board — regardless of the type of business or the particular practice area, based on geography and your products — this area, you may want to focus on one thing more so than another.

Jeff: So I'm putting you on the spot. I want you to put your Nostradamus hat on and make a couple of predictions. So five years from now, what do you think the legal marketing landscape looks like? What do you think it's getting from either from an innovation perspective, from a channel perspective, from a business practice perspective? Give me some predictions for the next five years.

Rob: Well, I come back to video, I think video is going to continue to grow and it's important. And again, just to be clear, not only recorded video, which we've we've found many uses for both in terms of utilizing the website or a firm's website, but also placing that video on social media and using it in paid advertising. 

I think live video is also going to play an important role for firms and attorneys that are prepared to break out of what the typical marketing constraints are within the legal vertical. I mean, it wasn't that long ago that marketing a law firm was just simply unacceptable. In fact, it was against many of the ethical guidelines that most state bars had. 

So, in the grand scheme of things, marketing a law firm is still relatively new. And sadly, most attorneys still abide by at least in terms of the willingness to be creative. They still abide by those older philosophies, hence their lack of interest in growing and social media. So live video and utilizing that in social media is going to play an important role. 

Voice search, you know, that's something obviously that we're sort of now just wrapping our arms around. You mentioned it a few minutes ago, but being able to apply the very things that we do every day in terms of marketing, the technical SEO surrounding the work that we do for our clients, and the tasks that we'll need to complete in order to convert what we're doing now to effectively work within voice search.

Jeff: One of the common denominators in a lot of the categories we serve — home services, legal, medical, etc. — is that they're antiquated industries, right? There's resistance to change. Sometimes they're less than formed, per se. Tell me a little bit about how you use data. And if you were giving a recommendation or you were running a law firm in those practices, what are the KPIs that you would really pay attention to as you're running your business?

Rob: Again, a really good question, Jeff. We measure a number of different KPIs. And as a part of our regular reporting to our clients, we try to humanize that data as best we possibly can.

When we review our quarterly reports with our clients, we show them some key data like, obviously traffic is is an extremely important KPI. We want to make sure that we're increasing traffic to their site. But we all know that traffic doesn't necessarily convert or convey results when it comes to ranking.

The site that's getting the most traffic doesn't necessarily always rank at the top of a Google search. And to take that a step further, there are sites that rank at the top of Google searches don't always necessarily convert the most, in our case, prospective clients to actual clients.

We talk with our clients about what we're doing to drive more traffic. Then we're going to talk about data storage mistakes, like bounce rate, and time-on-site. So we want to show that not only are we driving people to their website, we're keeping them on their website longer. And they're actually diving 2 to 3 pages, sometimes 4 and 5 pages deep into their website. 

We're creating better content, we're adding more content so that we can get not only people to their website, but we can also get them to engage with their website, which makes increases the likelihood that they'll pick up the phone and call the firm or fill out a contact form and submit that form to the phone. 

Lastly, conversions. And that really requires us to partner with our firms so that we can make sure that they are keeping track of clients and how the client found them.  And then we have the ability to compare data got to make sure that the prospective clients we sent their their way did actually convert into actual clients.

Jeff: So you kind of detailed it out from a competitive landscape perspective, right? If I'm a firm and I'm looking for a marketing services partner, there's some behemoth out there — The FindLaws, the Martindale-Hubbles. There's no good and bad to maybe the size of those organizations. Can you pinpoint one or two reasons or differentiators or commonalities as to why those 75+ clients choose to work with your company?

Rob: That question hits at the very reason we exist and the very things we try to focus on to make sure we're doing things the right way, in the best interest of our clients.

First and foremost, we provide a level of service that's unmatched by anyone in our industry. That's our perception, but most certainly better than the Martindale-Hubbells and FindLaws of the world. Having worked at Martindale-Hubbell for 10 years, I have an understanding as to how they do business. 

And this isn't necessarily a knock on Martindale-Hubbell or other companies that are similar to them. It's just a fact. When you have hundreds, sometimes thousands of clients, it's difficult even with the the most impressive infrastructure to provide each client with the same level of service. 

And that's one of the things we pride ourselves on. We want to make sure that whether you're client #1 or client #75 — either in terms of your longevity with us, or your spend with us — that we're providing you with the same level of service. We want to make sure that when a client has a request, we address that with a response that we've received the request. Then we want to make sure that we we put that into place as quickly as possible. 

Thankfully, we've been able to successfully do that over the course of the past 6 years. And we're constantly getting feedback from our clients that life is so much different working with us than it was dealing with their former vendor. The reason it's different is because we are there — we answer the phone, we do the work necessary.

We're providing them with quality customer service. But also we provide them with good results. At the end of the day, what really solidifies that vendor-client relationship is results. So even though we want to make sure we provide good quality customer service, if we weren't generating business for the firms, they'd be forced to look elsewhere. 

And we would completely understand, of course. So we start with that good quality customer service. That's the foundation of our business. But we also put forth the effort, work with the tools, eep that forward-thinking mindset so that we're constantly innovating. To make sure we provide our clients with results as well.

Jeff:  I want to focus more on general business philosophies. You're an entrepreneur, you started a successful business. Walk me through maybe just a couple pieces of advice, whether that's process, or culture vision. What advice would you give other business owners or aspiring owners either in general or in the legal space?

Be prepared to work hard. I know this sounds cliche, but it is genuinely true and it's been my experience. I went into this with my eyes wide open and fully expected to invest time, blood, sweat, and tears, sometimes literally. But even with that mindset even with that,I still didn't realize just how much time and effort I was going to have to put into building a successful company. 

Also, don't give up. We've all heard the statistics about new businesses, some ungodly percentage of 80% to 90% of businesses fail in the first year. Don't allow your surroundings, your environment, the people around you, the business climate, your competitors to get to you. To quote Jim Bell's ESPN speech, don't ever give up.

And it really holds true as an entrepreneur. When you start a business, it's going to seem tough, especially in that first year, 18 months. It's gonna seem like you're you're climbing a hill. That you just simply can't get over. But don't give up, keep your head down, keep working, keep doing what you know you can. 

The very reason you decided to start a business within the vertical that you're working is because you had a mission, you had a goal. Keep working towards it. If you work hard enough and you work smart, it will eventually come true. 

And finally, Jeff, you asked about process. I'm a firm believer in process. And we tried early on in our company to make sure that we created process with virtually everything we did, from communication with our clients to communication internally. We created systems using third party tools to develop those processes. 

If anything ever happened to any of us — myself, the people that I work with — someone else could start at the end and sort of pick up and continue that process forward. So we could focus more time on improving the product we were delivering to our clients and/or increasing our client base, rather than worrying about the the underlying systems and whether they were working or not. 

There's only so many hours in the day, only so much time you have to invest to certain tasks. It really helps to focus your time on your clients and running your business with the knowledge that your underlying systems are working and functioning properly. Creating those processes early on, and making sure that they work efficiently and effectively is an important element of growing your business.

Jeff: Great, Rob. Awesome. Well, that's the last question I had for you. We appreciate your time. We know you're a busy guy. Thank you for the insight and the value in your answers on the legal community. Best wishes on continued success.

Rob: Good deal, Jeff. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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