Do you feel that (now, more than ever) your potential clients only care about your price? Does your practice feel more like a gas station than the money-making machine it should be?

I was talking with an attorney and he remarked how amazing it is when gas stations charge two cents less than everyone else — people will wait around the block and waste significant time waiting for their gas, when the cumulative difference is less than $1.00!

He wanted to know why the same holds true in his (general) practice. Why is it that people will skimp every penny with him and will go somewhere else when the “other guy” doesn’t have the same experience and isn’t as effective?

The answer is simple, yet profound.

People will pay extra when they feel they are receiving great value. Your clients will come to you, and they’ll even pay you more, when they know and feel that you’re worth it.

If you are just like everyone else, then no one is going to care. You are a commodity. If you are the cheapest, they will like you today. A week from now someone younger, hungrier, making the same mistakes you did, will come along and offer a lower price and your clients will leave you.

But if you offer (and can convey) special, different, superior value, then prospects will pay your extra fees and your practice will be what you have always wanted it to be.

In that there are two questions you must ask yourself every moment of every day:

First: How can you stand out? How can you distinguish yourself from everyone else?

Second: How can you communicate your difference? What can you do to convey your value?

“But I have such great experience!” you say. No one cares.

“But my customer service is really good.” What does that even mean?

“Well I’ve been doing this a long time — so I know what I’m doing.” Better — but it still does not mean anything.

In order to understand how to answer these questions, we must understand the theory. Your potential clients (especially today, since there is so much noise associated with the Internet) do not retain experience, they retain expertise. People want to work with experts. If you can position yourself as an expert, then you will have a leg up on everyone else.

To explain this idea, let’s get into the head of a potential client.

Pretend for a moment that you (the client) are a businessperson and you just learned that your partner was stealing from you. You have to protect yourself, and fast.

You ask your friends if they know of any attorneys, and you find two people who are in a general practice. Neither charges an initial consultation fee. When you talk with both of them, you get the feeling they are being disingenuous when they say they have done this before. When you ask for examples, they tell you, “I’d rather not say, confidentiality.”

You see their offices — they are messy. Very messy. But you think, all attorneys I know are messy.

One attorney quotes you a fee of $2,500 as a retainer and $400 an hour, the other is $2,000 and $350 an hour. What do you think you will say to yourself when you get those numbers? You will say, “They were both OK. The first guy had more experience, but the second guy is cheaper. I’ll go with the second guy.”

And you wonder why, with all of your experience, people treat you like a gas station?

Back to the example. Right before you are about to retain the second attorney, you find out about another attorney who works on partnership disputes specifically. She’s an expert. You call her office and you find out that she charges a $125 consultation fee, just to talk with her! You can’t mess this up, so you pay it.

When you talk to the attorney/expert she gives you great ideas, and she knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s done this before, she’s good at it, she can give you examples of people with whom she has done great work. You see her confidence and you can tell it’s not bravado — this is real. You also see her office, it’s immaculate. She asks you for a $5,000 retainer and she quotes you $500 an hour. That would stretch you but it’s doable (barely).

Even though she’s more expensive, who do you think you’re going to go with? Who do you think your clients go with?

That’s exactly my point. Even though the expert is more, they will go with the expert. Every single time.

Because the expert knows how to distinguish herself and she knows how to communicate that difference. It’s not about price — it’s about value.

If you are a general practitioner, or even if you are a great attorney but you have not developed an expertise, then people will not come to you (unless you’ve been at this game for years). And the ones who do will be some of your most annoying clients. You know them. You know them all too well.

That’s why building an expertise is so important. People do not buy your experience — they buy the value you can generate for them, and you do this through creating expertise.

Let’s get back to our questions: How can you stand out? How do you become an expert? How can you communicate that value?

There is no angel who comes down from Heaven and bestows upon you the moniker of “expert.” It’s up to you to position yourself as the expert.

I was communicating with someone on Facebook yesterday (through her firm’s Facebook page), and I asked her if any clients retained her as a result of her Facebook page. She told me that she did not get clients through Facebook.

But, and this is a huge “but,” she uses Facebook as a way to, in her words, “position herself as an expert.” Brilliant. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), blogging and public speaking are all great ways to position yourself as the expert in a particular area. In fact, I spend a lot of time working with clients to help them understand how to do all of these things — it’s that important.

One caveat on blogging — do not blog just for the sake of blogging. Have a point, a purpose.

When I first started working with one of my clients, he told me he thought blogging was a waste of time. I asked him, “What are you blogging about?” He told me that he was blogging about anything that came to his mind. The last blog he wrote had to do with the legalities of tsunamis. I asked him (he works in Los Angeles) if any of his clients were worried about tsunamis. He told me, in his words, “absolutely not.” I asked him, simply, “Then why are you wasting your time blogging about things that your ideal clients don’t care about?”

Make sure that if you are blogging, you are speaking directly to your ideal client, and you are communicating on a specific problem that he or she has, and you are giving (free) advice on how to solve that problem. Do not blog on tsunamis.

Another important way for you to distinguish yourself is through specialization (or concentration). If you begin to focus on a particular area of the law then you will get more clients, assuming you develop a sound strategy. It sounds counterintuitive, but it is absolutely true.

By now the case for concentration should be clear. By concentrating, you do a number of things: (1) You learn an exact solution to a specific problem; (2) by doing something over and over again you start systematizing the solution, and so you can take yourself out of the equation and still make money; (3) you learn how to powerfully communicate to your clients that you are the expert in something and you know the answer; and, therefore, (4) you establish value, as opposed to price.

People will pay for your services because you are the expert. You are the “go-to resource” and so you get more clients. It’s that simple.

Similarly, when you do something over and over again, you learn the language. When you learn the language, you learn how to communicate in the language of your ideal clients. You develop a confidence that a generalist will never have — that’s why you concentrate.

In sum, no one cares about your experience. They never will. If you want to distinguish yourself, you have to position yourself as the expert in a certain area, and you must stand out. Create value. People will always pay more for value. You position yourself as the expert and communicate to your ideal clients by talking to your ideal clients (through social media, speaking, blogging) and concentrating/specializing.

You are a great attorney. You offer much more than a gallon of gas. Learn how to create and convey value and you will have the money you deserve. •