Work It, Richmond, interviewed Billy Ellyson

As published November 29, 2011 on Work It, Richmond, by Jacob Geiger:

Tell us the basics: Who are you, what’s your company’s name and how long have you been at this company?

Our company’s name originally, 20 years ago, was Metanoia PC.

Metanoia means change of heart or mind in Greek, and at the time I was a “recovering law firm lawyer” and very much in need of a change.

When we went to the Internet, we changed our name to EllysonLaw PC, and our information can now be found at Ellysonlaw.com.

Why did you decide to become a lawyer, and what drew you to focusing your practice on small business issues?

Years ago in Richmond there was a fortune-telling horse named “Lady the Wonder Horse,” and she told the future by tapping out answers on a large wooden keyboard. When I was 8 years old, she predicted that I would be a lawyer when I grew up, and I was depressed for days after.

As to why we do what we do: It gives us energy to help solve problems. Especially with new clients, there is usually some anxiety that can be quieted right away, often in the areas of business liabilities or taxes, and a good deal of positive energy comes from that exchange.

Our practice is a teaching practice, and small business clients pay attention, which is most gratifying for teachers.

If you could give a small business client just one piece of advice, what would it be?

A very small business owner should reflect who you are and (again) what gives you energy, so you will not run out of it in tough times. A “good idea” does not always make a good small business.

What legal issue causes the most headaches or problems for a small business?

Verbal “understandings” between owners, employees, vendors and the public are always ambiguous and debatable in times of stress, but much less so if an attempt is made to reduce these understandings to writing in the beginning.

How do you separate yourself from the competition?

We give free advice and charge flat fees, which means that we quote our fees in advance, and that our fees are not based upon time spent. We are therefore “cost predictable” and cheaper than most.

What’s a lesson you’ve learned during the recession?

The small retail shops, as we knew them from the neighborhoods, are dying; shoes and ships and sealing wax are now mostly sold on the Internet or in Big Box stores. “Specialty” shops can do well, but do best when grouped together.

Services are alive and well, especially when the service providers have formed their own independent companies. Employers do not want the responsibility and expense and liabilities of “employees” when “independent contractors” are available and independent contractors do not want to pay the high taxes and have the contractual restrictions of being an employee.

Credit cards are the main engine of the small business economy, and banks do not lend big money these days unless there is absolutely no risk.

Is there a secret to your personal success? Perhaps a piece of advice you’ve always remembered?

Always marry someone who is smarter than you are.

What, at your business, is the most effective way to connect with customers? Face-to-face, marketing, social media or something else?

Internet and word-of-mouth work best for us. We have a lot of content on our website and that also helps us connect by shedding light on the mysteries of the practice of law and our fees. You can schedule various kinds of appointments there as well.

What’s the part of your job you dread the most?

I “dread” naught, but I do not like billing. My paralegal handles that.

What’s the part of your job that excites you the most, the thing that makes you want to hurry to work?

New clients with unusual problems that we can learn from, and hopefully help solve.

Our monthly client lunches at our offices almost always give us new ideas and new energy.

In short: Learning. New ideas and new problems seem to mostly invigorate and expand our minds and let us see the new possibilities available to us.