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Make Yourself Scarce and You’ll Attract More Clients

Every night around 9 p.m., I go outside to feed our two horses a couple pounds of carrots. The purpose is to make sure they’re eating normally and feel well before we turn in for the night. (If they don’t want a carrot, that’s a sure sign something’s wrong.)

Gracie, our little-ol’-grandmother golden retriever, lines up for her carrots, too. Gracie has never missed a meal, bone, carrot, lizard—or opportunity of any kind.

On the other hand, Molly—our small American Eskimo Dog—doesn’t care much about carrots. You can offer her one and she might take it—or leave it.

But, if Molly’s in the yard near the horses at carrot time, she lines up for her carrots as quickly as Gracie. When competing against two horses and another dog, Molly sees carrots as a scarce and valuable commodity.

That’s the scarcity principle. It says people (and apparently dogs) value opportunities they perceive as scarce. And as the opportunities grow even more scarce, people perceive them as even more valuable.

I’ve written about Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence many times. Bob is a social psychologist and professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. A few years ago—actually 48 years ago—I was one of his students.

If you are not familiar with Bob’s six principles of influence and how they affect the subconscious mind, I encourage you to read his materials. (To see his offerings, go to a bookseller website and search for Cialdini’s book Influence, originally published by William Morrow in 1984.)

We see scarcity in marketing every day. In some cases, the scarcity is real, such as when moviegoers line up around the block for a limited number of tickets to the opening of a much-anticipated movie.

In other cases, the scarcity is manufactured, such as when Walt Disney offers a classic movie, like Bambi, recommending that you buy it now because the movie is going “into the vault” and won’t be available again for ten years. (Or until next year, when they want to increase sales.)

When you walk into a convenience store, you may see only a single candy bar left in a display box near the cash register. Often, the customer who sees only one left will grab it because it’s the last one. After the customer leaves, the clerk reaches under the counter and puts one more candy bar in the box, creating the appearance of scarcity.

For lawyers, the scarcity principle says, the more time you have available in your schedule, the less prospects and clients value your services. But as you grow busier and have less time available, prospects and clients will see your services as increasingly more valuable.

The scarcity principle goes further, too, because as you and your services grow more scarce, people use your availability as a shortcut cue to their quality. They draw two conclusions: The busier you are, the more valuable you are. And the busier you are, the higher the quality of your services and skills.

Scarcity is an even stronger motivator when two things occur: (1) when the opportunity has only recently become scarce, and (2) when we compete with others for the scarce commodity (recalling Molly and her carrots).

Another one of my college professors used the scarcity principle to sell his old cars. First, he advertised the car in the classifieds for a specific price “or best offer.”

When his phone started to ring, he made appointments with people who wanted to see it. To gain the most from scarcity, the professor scheduled appointments five minutes apart. The first buyer arrived and the professor spoke with him for a few minutes. Then the second arrived. And then the third.

Immediately, prospects saw they were competing for the opportunity to buy the car. This made the car more valuable in their eyes. Then the professor conducted a mini-auction among the three buyers, often finding the best offer was higher than his asking price.

Here’s the key: When you inject scarcity into your prospects’ decision to hire you, prospects feel they need to act quickly, before they lose the opportunity.

Here are ways you might profit from scarcity when talking with prospects and clients:

  1. Explain that your prospect will lose the opportunity to file suit because the statute of limitations will bar his claim.
  2. Explain that your prospect may lose the opportunity because of a pending change in the law.
  3. Explain that your prospect may lose the opportunity to buy (anything) at the current price because of an imminent price increase.
  4. Explain that your prospect is competing for this opportunity with other people or companies—and that if he doesn’t act quickly, someone else may seize the opportunity, leaving him with nothing.
  5. Explain that your prospect has a limited time to act or the other party will withdraw the offer.

When relating to your services:

  1. Explain that your appointment calendar is tight, but that you can meet with a prospective client at a particular time and date.
  2. Explain that your client roster is nearly full, but that you can make room for one more client based on your current caseload.

And so on.

If anyone asks whether you’re busy, don’t say, “Well, I’m killing time waiting for clients to walk in the door.” People will immediately conclude that your services aren’t worth much.

Instead, you might say, “I’ve never been busier.” Or, “I have so many clients, I’m starting to work nights,”—unless you own the firm. Then working nights is nothing new.

In summary, explain how a commodity or service is scarce—and why it’s important that your prospect act now. When possible, point out that only recently has the opportunity become scarce—and that your prospect is competing head-to-head with others for the same opportunity.

Often, scarcity will provide the urgency your prospect needs to hire you or take the action you recommend.

Trey Ryder

Trey Ryder specializes in Education-Based Marketing for lawyers. He offers three free articles by e-mail: 11 Brochure Mistakes Lawyers Make, Marketing Moves Most Lawyers Miss, and 13 Marketing Misconceptions That Cost Lawyers a Fortune. To receive these articles, send your name and e-mail address to and ask for his free packet of marketing articles.

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Filed Under: Business ManagementFeatured Stories

About the Author: Trey Ryder specializes in Education-Based Marketing for lawyers. He offers three free articles by e-mail: 11 Brochure Mistakes Lawyers Make, Marketing Moves Most Lawyers Miss, and 13 Marketing Misconceptions That Cost Lawyers a Fortune. To receive these articles, send your name and e-mail address to and ask for his free packet of marketing articles.

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