Turning the "No Money" Client Into the "Mo’ Money" Client

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I’m getting calls from these people with “no money,” the lawyer told me. “They can’t afford me,” she continued.

In fact, there are plenty of people who can’t afford you.

But, and this is a BIG “but,” there are plenty of people who can afford you and who aren’t hiring you.

Let’s look at the “can’t afford” people:

  • Can they afford housing?
  • Can they afford cable TV?
  • Can they afford a vacation?
  • Can they afford a $2.50 cookie at the mall?
  • Can they afford a restaurant meal?
  • Can they afford a car?
  • Can they afford holiday gifts for their children?
  • Can they afford a space filled with possessions?
  • Can they afford hobbies or illicit or illegal activities?

You get the idea. Many people “can afford” the things they want. They “can’t afford” the things they don’t want.

Unfortunately, you may not be perceived by these prospects as something they want. That’s a problem with you, not a problem with them. “Can’t afford” is our way of rationalizing our inability to create value for the person on the other end of the phone call or on the other side of the table.

“Can’t afford” is an excuse. It’s denial. It’s rationalization. It’s comfortable. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it from you. It’s not them; it’s you.

If they don’t want you, then they can’t afford you. If they don’t think they need you, then they can’t afford you. If they don’t see the value you deliver, then they can’t afford you.

Clarifying the Problem

So, is the problem you’re having with these people:

  1. That they don’t have the funds, or
  2. That you don’t deliver the value?

Over the years, I’ve represented many, many people who clearly “couldn’t afford” me. But they paid in full. Somehow, they came up with the funds.

Sometimes it was a young person who convinced her family to pay. Sometimes it was an older person who got help from his children. I’ve had my fees paid by a church. I’ve had fees paid from a bag full of cash the person had clearly hidden away somewhere for a long time. Some clients have sold possessions. Some have borrowed money. I’ve had fees paid by the girlfriend or the boyfriend or the spouse-to-be. When they really want what I’ve got, they figure out a way to buy it.

Every lawyer has had the experience of a “can’t afford” client showing up with the money. There’s no objective reality to “can’t afford.” You can’t judge it. You can only use “can’t afford” to make yourself feel better. Clearly, I’m not in the business of making you feel better.

So long as you keep telling yourself the “can’t afford” story, you’re going to be stuck in that hole. You’re a lot better off getting out of the “can’t afford” hole and getting up on top of the hill where value is created. They’ll never want to hire you unless you demonstrate value.

Breaking the “Can’t Afford” Cycle

When they want what you’re selling, they’ll figure out a way to afford it. That’s true even when they “can’t afford” what you’re selling. I’m sure you’ve bought things you couldn’t afford. We all have. That’s how I ended up with a $100 pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses when I was 12. I couldn’t afford them, but I didn’t let that stand in my way.

But your “can’t affords” are different, right? You’ve got objective evidence that your “can’t affords” are legit. You’ve checked, and they really can’t afford you. I get it. You’ve got a really good story, and you’ve built yourself a solid case to explain your difficulty attracting good clients.

The “can’t afford” story hurts you with clients rich and poor. The value issue is an issue with every prospective client. What I’m telling you is that the “can’t afford” folks can find a way to get what they want much of the time. They can afford you if you’ve got what they want. And the “can’t affords” aren’t just people living in tents under the highway. The “can’t afford” need for value extends to every client. It’s not just about people at the lowest asset levels. You’ve got to find a way to create value and desire across the board. That’s true for clients at the low end as well as at the high end of the economic spectrum.

My experience with lawyers who say they’re getting calls from people who “can’t afford” them is that they also struggle to get hired by clients who can afford them. They just aren’t good at communicating their value.

Those folks who can’t afford you simply don’t want you. What are you doing to make them want you? When you offer more value, the “can’t affords” become your clients. Now is the time to stop telling yourself the “can’t afford” story and start telling your prospective clients the story of the value you deliver.

It’s only after you stop believing your “can’t afford” stories that you start figuring out how to help others understand and appreciate the value you provide. It’s only after you stop protecting yourself that you start changing yourself. It’s only after you see what’s really happening that you can take action that turns “no money” into “mo’ money.”

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