I’m a nonprofit lawyer. That doesn’t mean I don’t seek a profit, of course. It means I focus my practice on serving the nonprofit sector. Most of my work involves helping small- to mid-sized nonprofits with a host of legal issues both large and small. Like most small businesses, my clients are “frugal.” Someone (not me) might even call them extremely, cripplingly, shockingly, unflinchingly cheap. And they are particularly cheap when it comes to spending cash on the sometimes-intangible things they should have but choose to live without. Most of the time, that means me. It means legal services.
Life as a Legal Firefighter
I’ll confess, it can be rough sailing at times. My clients often wait until a critical emergency develops before they pick up the phone. Worse, their crisis inevitably crowds out other less-emergent projects, which then get shunted to the backlog, which means work doesn’t always push out the door in the lovely cadence I’d prefer. Cash flow can be… erratic—up, down, and sideways.
My lawyer life involves putting out a lot of fires. I actually think it’s fun work; I love parachuting in, problem-solving, and saving the day, all the while wowing my clients with my availability and unflinching helpfulness. But it’s an exhausting model, too. Being a firefighter means late-night calls, unexpected cancelations, missed kids’ concerts, and family time getting consumed by surprises. And I don’t get paid extra for work that sucks all the oxygen out of my life.
This status quo isn’t great for my nonprofit clients, either. Waiting until something ignites into an unmitigated garbage fire is a really expensive way to use resources. Emergencies take more time, involve more risk and uncertainty, and create emotional disharmony that we’d all be wise to remove from our lives. And, after the stressful time-suck of it all, clients revert to their old habits, quickly pulled back into other non-legal things long before we develop a good plan to avoid this all the next time around.
It happens. All. The. Time.
One Client to Rule Them All
But I have this pro bono client, you see. This nonprofit asked me to serve on their board when I first left the comforts of my in-house gig for the charms of private practice. I declined their board service offer, but I offered to make them my first private practice client. For free.
We’ve now worked together for four years. They’re a magnificent client. They include me early in anything they’re considering. Like, before it’s even real. Thinking about creating a paid internship? “Let’s talk to Jess!” A new grant funding source? “We should definitely talk to Jess before we apply!” Sometimes it gets old, but that client hasn’t had an emergency in four years. Not one.
What are they doing so right? And why are my other clients waiting so much longer to get me involved? So I had taken to brainstorming how to encourage them all to simply pick up the phone a bit earlier.
My shiny new subscription model is the perfect solution.
My Year-End Innovation: A Shiny New Subscription Model
I dove headlong into designing my subscription model. I designed the entire program to help clients run sustainably. Now they can create a projectable budget for their legal spend (which is, in my experience, super important for tiny nonprofit organizations), and their subscription legal services include as many calls as they need. Now they can call before they even smell smoke, not just when the beams are burning and the walls collapsing down around them. Plus, I can create a projectable budget on a steady revenue stream, which helps me grow my business and live my best life. Seems like a win-win, right?
I can’t tell you how it’s working yet. I launched it just a couple of weeks ago.
When you start something new, you never really know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes you just have to go for it and trust that something good will come. Expect an update from me in the future about how it’s going.