Making It

MASTERMIND: Ben Glass's savvy marketing skills turned into a profitable side business.
MASTERMIND: Ben Glass's savvy marketing skills turned into a profitable side business. (Keith Barraclough - )
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By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ben Glass liked being a malpractice lawyer, but he didn't like the way his profession advertised its services. "Most lawyer advertising is pretty bad and in fact hurts the profession," he says. "When lawyers run ads that show fistfuls of cash and gory accident scenes and the jurors see these ads {lcub}hellip{rcub} they think of us as ambulance-chasers, as people trying to get money for nothing, as people trying to exaggerate claims." He decided to do something about it, and in the process created a lucrative side business for himself.

Ben, 50, grew up in Annandale, attended college at William and Mary and law school at George Mason University, and clerked for Bill Artz, a well-known medical malpractice lawyer. "It was interesting to help people who had been hurt {lcub}hellip{rcub} and I really liked to go to trial," Ben says. He worked for Artz for a while before opening his own practice in 1995 in Fairfax City. "At first it was a struggle," he says. "I didn't have too many cases and didn't have a significant budget to market, and I really didn't know how to market besides copying what everyone else did."

There was another way, Ben decided: marketing "good-quality information for consumers." He started giving potential clients facts and tips -- later collected and put into book form -- about personal injury cases, dealing with adjusters, how to find the best lawyer for their situation and spotting deceptive advertising. He also told them they might not even need a lawyer. The approach helped Ben's legal practice grow. Other lawyers started coming to him for advice, he says, and he realized that he had a potential side business. He named it Great Legal Marketing and promised an "effective, ethical and outside-the-box" approach.

In 2006, Ben created the first product for his business: a toolkit for building a personal injury practice including sections on how to craft the right Yellow Pages message, how to build a Web site attractive to Internet search engines and to potential clients, and how to write consumer books. He sells the packages for $3,995; they are free if lawyers join his $497-a-month coaching program. He also offers membership in a "mastermind" group, where, for $15,000 a year, 25 lawyers convene three times a year (and by conference call the other months and on an e-mail discussion group) to work on their businesses.

Malpractice lawyer Sharon Christie of Towson joined the coaching program last summer and soon after upgraded to the mastermind group. Ben "really opened my eyes to the whole idea of marketing that was beyond what lawyers typically talk about," she says, and the mastermind group provides a welcome sounding board, which is especially important for a small business without a marketing department. "I've definitely seen growth since I've been involved in this program," she says.

In 2007, the gross revenue from Ben's marketing business was $300,000, about 60 percent of which was profit, and he anticipates grossing $450,000 this year. He jokes that the side business is mainly "helping to fund Virginia's education system at the higher level," as he has seven children, ages 6 to 25. He lives with four of them and wife Sandi in Fairfax Station.

Though not as lucrative, Ben's side business is fun and less stressful than his legal work. "Everything a personal injury lawyer does, the other side is telling you you're wrong," he says. "In the marketing business, if they don't like me, they just don't become a client or customer. They're not, like, yelling at me."

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