North Chattanooga resident Fil Manley, has created a new dot-com business in Chattanooga, Chattanooga Attorney Finder (chattanoogaattorneyfinder.com).
He said it started out as a simple idea based on his experience designing websites for attorneys in Chattanooga.
We talked about the new business and what brought it about.
JW: What is the website, and what does it do?
FM: It's an online directory of over 1,200 attorneys and law firms based in the Chattanooga area, broken down by areas of practice.
JW: How did you come up with the idea?
FM: I've been a website designer since 1998, and in 2012, I was hired to create websites for three different attorneys. In the course of the work, I found that a lot of Chattanooga attorneys were paying huge fees to a big national corporation for cookie cutter template websites, with the understanding that the company was spending a lot of time increasing their search engine rankings. I monitored some of the sites and didn't really see much movement in their standings. I realized that they were overpaying for sites I charged a lot less for, only mine had almost the same functionality, but looked better. I was astonished at how much the attorneys were paying, and I couldn't really figure out why they were willing to shell out that much money. As I looked into it more, I realized that the big company got their legitimacy from a big national attorney directory they own. I realized then, that I could create a similar directory, but give it a local spin, that only someone who actually lives here can.
JW: So, what makes your directory different than the big corporate attorney directories?
FM: The differences are subtle, but important. First, we collected more data than they have. We've manually collected every scrap of information on every attorney we could find who practices in the area. By more information, I mean we decided that we could one up them by trying to gather a wider range of information on each attorney. Our database includes 32 practice areas, education, bar memberships, court admissions, certifications, association memberships, board memberships, awards, community legal service, community activities and notable cases. It gives prospective clients a more rounded view of who the attorney is. We've also tried really hard to create a really attractive website that's very user friendly. One problem with a lot of the national database sites is that they look super generic, the text is small, they're kind of confusing. In everything we've done here, we've tried really hard to be the opposite of those things.
JW: You say local, what kind of work have you done locally?
FM: I was Henry Luken's art director at Covista Communications (Long Distance). In that position, I learned a lot about business websites, how they function, and how Internet business works. At Covista, I did web design for Microsoft, The National Organization for Women, The National Wildlife Federation, Real Networks and a lot of other big companies doing partnership websites. I learned a lot working near Henry. Henry has a tenacity and focus that's uncommon, and it's brought him a lot of success. I've tried to learn from that and translate it into my work on this site. In addition to the work for Henry, I did a website for a Tennessee Governor Candidate, and a Congressional candidate. I also spent four years managing a large corporate site and online shopping cart for a large avionics company.
JW: You designed the site yourself?
FM: Yes, the concept, and the design are all mine, but I had a lot of help from my business partner, Brad Kyle, gathering and collating the data, which is really important. I started on the website in October of 2012, and published it this past Monday. As near as I can tell, I have over 1,000 hours in the site. It's the biggest thing I've ever done in my life, and a lot of the time, I thought it would never be finished. There was so much I didn't know how to do that I had to learn on the fly, so it was not only a lot of design work, it was a lot of studying.
JW: Do you charge for listing attorneys?
FM: No, we offer a free listing to any attorney or law firm practicing in the Chattanooga area, including some North Georgia areas that are considered part of the Chattanooga metropolitan area. As long as they're licensed to practice in Georgia or Tennessee and practice in this area, we'll give them a free listing.
JW: So, how do you make money on the site?
FM: We're going to be selling ads to a limited number of attorneys. We're going to offer 40, first come, first served ads, based on a one-year contract. Once those are sold, we're full and won't be selling any more ads until next year. It's a small number of ads compared to the number of attorneys in our directory, and amounts to only 3.24% of the total listing. By keeping the number of ads small, we're going to make sure that each ad gets a lot of exposure on the site. We also have the nine most commonly searched categories on top of our home page, and our paid clients' photos will rotate through those, giving everyone a lot of exposure. We're also going to offer paid listings to 10 bail bonds companies, and four ads for law firms.
JW: Do you also design websites for the attorneys?
FM: Yes, that's going to be a big part of our business. I have experience now doing specialty websites for attorneys. I started out originally replicating the functionality the big national listing companies put in their sites, and realized it wasn't that hard. On top of that, I think our websites look better. I really go out of my way to make sure the SEO and the features of the sites are top-notch, as well as charging half the price. We will also be offering video production services, and photography, for attorneys who need portraits for their website or for their profile on our site.
JW: So, now that the site is done, what's next?
FM: Right now, I'm just kind of in shock. Developing the site was such a huge task for one person, and I can't believe the site is finally done, and I really need a break, but there's a lot to do. I need to do the business licenses, a lot of marketing, a lot of one on one calling. There's a lot I don't know about business that I'm going to have to learn, but I have some smart people helping me, so hopefully I will be able to avoid a lot of the pitfalls. Other than that, I just want to keep pushing until every attorney in town realizes that this is the best tool available to them to meet new clients in Chattanooga.
Fil Manley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The site is located at