Blog: The Simple Marketing Trick That Exploded My First Business

Back in the day, when I was a young lawyer, I had the worst boss in the world. She wasn’t the second worst boss in the world, or even the third.

She was the worst. Clocked.

So, it should be no surprise that I longed to leave her employ and was actually relieved, albeit shocked, when, in a perfectly Dikensian move, she fired me on Christmas Eve, knowing full well that I had a pregnant wife and toddler at home. Yes, I had to work the day before Christmas, and yes, she let me go because I “didn’t write well enough.” I knew that was BS then, and now, 17 books later, we can definitely say that I have gotten the last laugh, but as I said, she was certified (or certifiable?) the worst of bosses.

Instead of looking for another bad, exhausting, stressful law job, I decided to live the dream and start my own business, a law firm. And so I did.

The problem, right from the start was, of course, how to get clients? The problem I had then was a problem many businesses still have today, and maybe one you have too, namely, how do you

  1. Get people to find you, and then
  2. Get them to choose you?

One of my blessings was that I had grown up in a small business family. My dad and his partner had taken a single carpet store and turned it into the largest chain in California at that time, so the idea of being an entrepreneur, taking a risk, and trying out different marketing ideas was in my DNA.

And try out different marketing ideas I did.

Not to date myself too much, but I started out by advertising in the Yellow Pages. Yes, I got some calls, but it was expensive and man was it crowed with, frankly, better lawyers than I. I tried putting ads in the local paper, but, problematically, I was just as likely to get lost at the back of the paper than show up in the front; one generated calls, one was a waste of precious startup capital. I tried networking. Nada.

And then I stumbled upon it. The lesson that skyrocketed my business and can do the same for yours.

I noticed that wills and trusts lawyers would put on public “informational” seminars, but no one did this for bankruptcy. And given that bankruptcy was one thing I actually had done quite a bit of at the firm, I thought, “why not”?

So I took a risk, rented a conference room at the Holiday Inn, created some radio and Internet ads (this being the nascent days of the Web), and crossed my fingers.

The day of seminars was a smashing success. Well over 100 people came through the doors that day, and what we now call my “conversion rate,” was well over 50%. For the next five years, every few months, the only marketing I did was those seminars and I had more business than I knew what to do with.

The seminars worked beyond all expectations for three reasons.

First, it played to my strength. I am a good public speaker. People listened to me, liked me, trusted me, and hired me.

Second, the ads gave me an X Factor – something different, unique, special. A brand that people could remember. I became the “bankruptcy guy.”

Lastly, and most importantly, the seminars were different too. No one was doing what I was doing, reaching people in the way that I was reaching them. And in a crowded marketplace, that was huge.

That is the real moral of the story. If you want to grow your business, you have to market it, but in a way that slightly tweaks convention, that is a little different. That is how you get heard above the din, especially today. That is what works.

Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is the senior small business columnist at USA TODAY, the Editor-in-Chief here at Small Business Connection, a speaker and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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