HelpSelf Legal built an online legal tool that got to 1,400 monthly active users in 3 months. Now, we share learnings on how to market a consumer legal app.
Let’s start with three stats on why you’re probably thinking about building a consumer legal business:
Perhaps you care because of your legal version of the Hippocratic Oath. You want to impact the people losing their homes, experiencing financial exploitation, going through domestic violence, or being denied benefits after becoming a veteran or after a natural disaster.
Or is it the entrepreneur in you? You see opportunity in building legal services the way people want to consume them - in the same digitally convenient way they shop online or get prescriptions.
Either way, there is a huge demand for legal products. Consumers have disposable income to spend on legal services that are packaged in an affordable, accessible way. Legal professionals can deliver them these services in the form of the legal app.
A legal app is an online tool that gathers data and generates decisions and/or documents based on rules embedded in the system.
Examples would be TurboTax, Clerky, and DoNotPay. Many legal apps are #BuiltOnDocumate. For examples, check out JusTech, Hello Divorce, Landlord Legal, Colorado Name Change Online and FixMyRental, to name just a few.
By now, if you’re using Documate, you know that the technology is at your fingertips to build these tools yourself with very little financial investment. So, the tech exists. The demand exists. How can you connect those two? That’s where legal consumer marketing comes in, and it’s everything we’ll be covering below in 6 major lessons.
Before we get started with the lessons, we want to share some context around the metrics our consumer legal tool achieved. (Skip to lesson 1 if you already know the HelpSelf product and story.)
In a prior life, we built HelpSelf Legal, the “TurboTax” for domestic violence survivors in California. Here’s a screenshot of what the platform did.
We sold to consumers, into legal aid organizations, and to law firms. We got countless heartfelt and moving messages about the impact we had on people's lives.
And it wasn’t just heart-warming messages. We had real numbers and metrics to back it up. In the first 3 months, we got to 1,400 monthly active users. We charged about $15/user (not including enterprise users like law firms and legal aid grants which were more profitable). And we were growing double and triple digit percentage points each month.
Looking at our consumer customers only, they came from a few sources:
When we started HelpSelf, we were selling to anyone who would pay. Consumers, legal aid organizations, law firms, court self-help centers. Some of these became great referral partners, but in the meantime, we were spread too thin.
I was the only sales and marketing person, our messaging wasn’t clear enough, and we weren’t able to optimize. (Note: this is the opposite of what we’ve done at Documate, where we’ve homed in on small law firms and we target areas of law we know have been uber successful on the platform.)
As the reader of this article, you may decide you don’t want to build a consumer legal business at all. For example, maybe you don’t want to sell your estate planning legal app to consumers. Instead, you want to sell it to other lawyers. Those are drastically different markets, and the type of product and level of support you’ll provide will vary dramatically.
Whatever you choose, be clear about that path and stick to it.
The two most important high-level decisions to make about your ideal customer persona (ICP) or target audience are:
If you lose money on each sale, you can’t make that up on volume!
Picking up from the metrics above, at HelpSelf, we didn’t think carefully enough about customer acquisition costs (CAC).
Google Ads were costing us about $25 to acquire a customer, for a product we were selling for $15, not to mention my time fielding questions and driving to the post office to mail someone’s filing to a court that didn’t have e-filing (yes, that’s how much we did things that didn’t scale!)
CAC is the number one most important metric in your business, even before revenue, and we should have monitored and adjusted this number earlier.
We eventually solved this disparity through careful and iterative pricing and packaging. We created different tiers of service and landed on a 3-tiered plan . ⅓ of our customers chose a high-touch subscription for us to help with filings, service, and connecting them to attorneys for their hearing.
Meanwhile, forget about vanity metrics. I see so many founders looking at the number of impressions and bounce rate. These can be incredibly valuable metrics when you grow and the people landing on your site are mostly potential buyers, but early on, eyeballs don’t matter if they’re not your target customer.
Have you ever searched for something business-related online and gotten a Hubspot article for it, even when it has nothing to do with Hubspot? Hubspot is notorious for this. They’ve established their brand through truly valuable content. They draw you in at the top of the funnel, and then you slowly move to the bottom of their funnel and become a customer.
Content is a long game. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not ranking #1 on Google on Day 1. Keep building, cite your sources, and make sure your site map allows Google to track the content and see it as valuable. The landscape of both paid and earned search in consumer legal marketing has changed dramatically, but here are a few timeless tips:
1. Do the hard work to prepare content people actually need.
Our single piece of content that drove the most conversions was a set of articles we did on the domestic violence restraining order rules in every county in California, down to the filing and service requirements, local forms for each county, info on self-help centers and legal aid orgs, and the judges who presided over these cases. We built a template of the information we needed on each county, and then I built out the pages myself, but we just as well could have handed it over to an intern or law student to call around and ask about the unwritten rules from each court clerk.
2. Giving things away for free can be powerful.
Not all tools you’ll create will generate revenue. Some will generate leads, and that may be more valuable from a revenue perspective. At HelpSelf, we created a tool that generated a fee waiver for free. So many people came to our site to use this, and realized they could afford the $15 to have us help them through the rest of the process.
3. Use tech tools to support your marketing efforts.
We could do a whole workshop on this, but there are so many tech tools out there to help you scale marketing. To understand the keywords you should be optimizing, use Moz, Semrush, or Ahrefs keyword tools to understand how many people are searching for these terms, and more importantly, how hard it will be for you to rank.
Surfer SEO and Frase give you stats on the top ranking articles, their word counts, and how you can make your articles the most comprehensive, valuable, and high ranking.
Google Search Console will alert you to any technical issues.
And Canva and Jasper.ai are your graphic designer and very junior content marketing associate.
4. Turn every piece of content into multimedia.
If you spend the time to create a white paper, turn it into a podcast, a tweet, a webinar, and a video. You never know your viewers’ preferred way of consuming information.
Let’s talk about search engine marketing and press. They are both hard. The competition is tough and they require constant fine-tuning. But if you can get it right, they will pay dividends.
At HelpSelf, we iterated until we got these both right. Initially, we handed over a fortune to Google for zero conversions. Speaking of vanity metrics, we were getting tons of leads per day, but they were terrible leads. They had no intent to buy, and they were incredibly expensive since we were competing against lawyers banking on huge retainers. So we narrowed our scope and used search terms like “domestic violence fee waiver” and “domestic violence restraining order not married” instead of broader catch-alls. The cost went down and the quality went up.
Similarly, press is competitive. Journalists are being bombarded by article pitches for every new startup, but at HelpSelf, this is one of the things we did best. We sent targeted messages to journalists who cared about our topic. We flattered them and made it clear that the message was meant for them and only for them. As a result, we received coverage in mainstream media like Mashable, on legal tech sites, and on startup sites. The press coverage itself also led to more press coverage - a virtuous cycle. My advice on this one: reach out to media, but be targeted. Think about where your audience is reading and consuming media. Post on Hacker News, bother Bob Ambrogi, email Tech Crunch.
You may be operating in an area with no competition. But most attorneys have competition online, either from other attorneys or from tech tools that are not backed by anyone with legal expertise.
If you have the legal background and subject matter expertise, put that front and center when you’re marketing your legal services or legal apps to consumers online.
With HelpSelf, we tested two different landing pages, one that emphasized my background as a pro bono lawyer working with domestic violence survivors for years, and another that focused on the tech (like a LegalZoom or TurboTax experience). We A/B tested these landing pages and found that people were slightly under 50% more likely to purchase with the first landing page, and that purchasing decisions were made 2.5 minutes faster.
With so much content online, some consumers may be wary of software without the credentials or experience behind it. We capitalized on that, and we recommend you do, too.
So you have a good product, your customers are loving it, and you've put the marketing engine in place. How can you increase word of mouth? Customer service can go a long way when you’re starting. Your customers are always talking to your prospective customers. Response rates and just plain friendliness to your early customers can increase your NPS scores and be the reason you win the game, even in a competitive environment.
Author: Dorna Moini (creator of HelpSelf Legal and now, CEO of Documate)
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