The law firm of Frederick & Frederick handles probate and estate-planning issues for individuals and families in and around Livonia, Mich. James Frederick has been in business with his father, Paul, for 22 years.
The GoPayment Blog recently asked Frederick about the business side of running the law firm, including internet marketing and referrals, and about overcoming his biggest challenges.
GoPayment: Tell us about the areas of law your firm practices.
Frederick: It’s really mostly estate planning and probate, so I do a lot of wills and trusts, and I deal with a lot of people who have just lost a loved one and need to administer the probate estate.
Who are your typical clients?
The statistics show that about 70 percent of the population has no estate planning. So, most of the time when I’m dealing with someone if they’re planning ahead, it’s because they had someone just recently passed away and they’ve had a very negative experience with probate. They’re trying to avoid that for their family members and trying to simplify things.
The people who are doing the estate planning tend to be either senior citizens or children of senior citizens who are concerned that things are not taken care of. With the probate side of things, it’s usually after someone has passed away and they need to get the estate taken care of, maybe property transferred out of the decedent’s name and into the beneficiary’s name.
How do you reach those clients?
Most of my business at this point is referral-based. I do some marketing. I’ve cut back on my phone book advertising, because a lot of people just don’t use those anymore. I’m gearing things more toward internet marketing. But a lot of it’s just word of mouth and referrals, which is the best kind of business to get.
Do you get referrals from past clients or other professionals, such as financial planners?
Both. Just this week alone I’ve met with two people who were referred to me by a financial planner, and I’ve met with two other people who were referred by clients.
What are your biggest business challenges? How have you overcome them?
With my type of business, I usually see people once. If they’re planning their estate, I meet with them, talk about what they need, and then I prepare their documents. They sign everything, and then I don’t hear from them again. If I do hear from them again, it might be 10 or 15 years down the line, when someone’s either passed away or enough has changed that we need to update things.
So, I’m constantly needing to bring in new people in order to keep things going. Fortunately, it’s always kind of worked out, but I never could feel secure in that, because if people aren’t calling and I’m not getting new business, then my business is not going to last.
How has the business evolved over the past 22 years?
There have been a lot of things, because the country has changed so much. People’s attitudes about money and about planning have changed. Most of the time in our economy, when people pay for something, they want to get something in return. And what they get in return for estate planning … it’s kind of intangible. They get a sense of peace of mind, but they don’t actually get anything else.
The past few years, you know, have been really hard for people. Now that things are starting to stabilize a little bit, I’m seeing more people decide that they want to take care of things. It’s been somewhat cyclical with the economy, I guess.
Has using GoPayment impacted your business?
In my practice, I might get one charge every two or three months, and to be paying out every month for something that you’re not using, to me didn’t make sense. I get sizable transactions but not as many transactions as someone else might have. That’s really the main reason I switched to GoPayment.