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Financial communications during the coronavirus crisis

I wish I had a magic bullet for your financial crisis communications during a time of coronavirus and big market declines. I don’t. But I want to help you, which is why I jumped at the opportunity to watch a March 18 webinar delivered by consultant Nick Richtsmeier, whose presentation at the 2019 NAPFA Fall Conference had impressed me. The webinar was called “Mediocrity is Viral. Differentiated Marketing During Turbulent Times” (replay available with free registration at the link).

Framework for financial crisis communications

Richtsmeier explained that businesses struggle with what to say and how to engage during a crisis. However, the ways that we and our companies respond tell clients what we’re really made of.

Individuals and companies respond to crises in one of three ways: fight, freeze, or flight, said Richtsmeier. A “fight” response reflects a need to change the status quo. However, fight responses may be seen as “careless or cavalier,” he said. “Freeze” is the most common response in Richtsmeier’s experience, and the related lack of action can be seen as “unstable and fragile,” he said. Finally, the avoidance and “willingness to ignore the facts” associated with “flight” can be seen as “being out of touch with reality.”

None of these is a perfect solution. So, what’s a communicator to do? This is a time when knowing yourself, your audience, and your competency pays off, said Richtsmeier. He posed questions under the heading of “know your competency” that speak to what you should communicate. He asked what relevant knowledge you have that “can alleviate one or more of the five factors of trauma?” This translates into how can you achieve one of the following goals (also shown in the image below):

  • Reduce uncertainty
  • Minimize losses
  • Mitigate risk
  • Create connection
  • Inspire confidence
Doing the Internal Work

Posted with permission from CultureCraft. View the webinar at https://www.culturecraftagency.com/crisisbranding.

 

Crisis advice for financial advisors

Many financial advisors say to “do nothing” at a time like this, and that’s a problem, Richtsmeier said.

I struggled with that statement because “stay the course” is the classic investment advice during a crisis. After all, most advisors aim to position client portfolios so they can weather market declines. They also allocate portfolios in light of clients’ short-term cash flow needs.

I asked Richtsmeier, what can advisors do? He said that some use techniques that actively seek opportunities in uncertain times. They can communicate that information. Later, he shared a LinkedIn post linking to an audio clip recorded by Patti Brennan of Key Financial as an example of a good communication.

If financial advisors are not going to buy or sell client investments right away, perhaps they should mention tax-loss harvesting, a topic that came up in Brennan’s audio clip. Or, they might talk about how clients can manage a crisis-related unexpected loss of income. For example, clients might take advantage of a home equity line of credit, defer a planned IRA contribution, or do something else that they can discuss with their advisor. (Please don’t look to me for cash flow advice. I’d ask my advisor for advice in this situation.)

Another Richtsmeier suggestion for advisors was to schedule more meetings—not in-person meetings, of course. And, to make those meetings more about asking questions than delivering answers. That squared with other advice for advisors that I discuss below.

More perspectives on advisor-client communications

As Steve Wershing said in a recent blog post on The Client Driven Practice, “How you act now has a big effect on client loyalty. The guidance you provide during difficult times is more valuable (and more appreciated) than what you do during good times.”

Here’s one of his tips:

Ask, don’t tell. It is unproductive to tell people how they should feel. Like dealing with an angry child or a despondent widower, trying to talk them out of their feelings may not be helpful. Their feelings are what they are. Instead, ask them what’s on their mind. Permit them to talk it out.

In his blog post, Wershing referred to a post on “What Your Clients Really Need Right Now” by Julie Littlechild of Absolute Engagement. She suggested staying away from conversations about why everything will turn out all right. She also said not to ask clients how they feel about the current crisis. That’s because it’s obvious how they’re feeling.

Littlechild said:

Wouldn’t it be better to help clients articulate how they’re feeling about the future [instead of about the current crisis] and then use that input to start a different conversation? You can do that through one-on-one discussions, an informal poll or as part of a more structured client feedback process.

She suggested asking three questions:

  • Confidence: How confident are you that you will reach your primary financial goals?
  • Control: How confident do you feel that you can positively impact your own financial future?
  • Clarity: How clear are you about your plans for retirement?

These questions could be quite powerful in directing clients’ attention to their long-range goals instead of short-term turbulence.

Advisors can also check out a video discussion between Littlechild and Bob Veres of Inside Information. Veres says it’s important to acknowledge clients’ fears as the “lizard brain” kicks in.

On a related note, advisors should be ready for a shift in one-on-one interactions with clients. In a press release aimed at marketers, research group Gartner said, “Externally, marketing organizations should be ready for rapid changes toward at-home and digital delivery of products and services.” I imagine this may accelerate the trend toward remote meetings via video or screensharing.

Your suggestions for financial crisis communications?

If you have suggestions on client communications during a crisis (or if you’ve read a great article on the topic), please let me know. I always enjoy learning from you.

Relevant posts from various sources

Be specific about your advantages, or lose prospects

It’s hard to stand out among financial firms offering similar services and products. That’s why I agree that you should be specific about your advantages, as suggested by Marie Perruchet in One Perfect Pitch: How to Sell Your Idea, Your Product, Your Business—or Yourself. Learn and share your differentiators.

Perruchet says:

A key differentiator should be specific. All customers expect good value, fair prices, excellent customer service, and reliability, to name a few. You are bringing unique value to your market. You solve a unique problem for your customers. That’s the key differentiator.

 

Find your differentiators

How do you identify your differentiators? While Perruchet’s book is geared to entrepreneurs pitching to investors, some of her questions for uncovering uniqueness can help financial advisors, too. Here are some of them:

  • “Remember your last interaction with a client who loves your product. What made him rave about it?”
  • “Remember the last time a client, user, or partner told you about your product’s efficiency. What did the person say?”
  • “Who is the human resource who stands out and affects your product the most?”

After answering Perruchet’s questions, can you quantify the contribution that your differences make to the results or experience of your clients? If you can, that’s powerful.

Still struggling to find your differentiators? In an email interview with me, Perruchet suggested that you ask your clients why they’ve enjoyed working with you. Ask questions such as, “Why would you recommend me to your friends? Can you tell me of situations where I have really made a difference?” Push your clients to be as specific as possible. Next, share what you’ve learned with your leads to see how well it resonates with them.

Perruchet suggests that you tell a customer story. Create an imaginary character. Walk us through his painful day. Show him experiencing real problems that are solved by your (new) product features. Consider using client testimonials or case studies, if you work in an area of financial services where that’s allowed. Check with your compliance officer to see what’s allowed. However, you’re not likely to have much luck if you’re an investment manager.

Perruchet’s take on advisor mistakes

Knowing that Perruchet has worked with some financial advisors, I asked for her insights specific to that experience. She kindly shared her list of the top mistakes that financial advisors make when pitching to prospects. By the way, I love her tip about trying your pitch on your friends. I suggest a similar technique for testing your writing.

Here’s Marie’s take on advisor mistakes:

Mistake 1. Not simplifying the pitch 
Problem: A pitch should be simple enough that the person who hears it can remember and tell it to others in their own words. The leads you pitch to today may not become your clients, but they may have friends who are shopping for a financial advisor and are a perfect fit for you. What should they tell their friends about you? How can you give them the elements to pitch for you to their friends?

Solution: Practice with friends who are not in your field (or co-workers) and ask them for feedback on your pitch (for example, ask if it is clear and specific). Ask them to put your pitch in their words. You will spot the mistakes right away.

Mistake 2. Not discussing specific problems they enjoy resolving for clients
Problem: You need to discuss the main problem you resolve for clients. Generalizations don’t work.

Solution: Give examples as many times as possible and use simple English. For example, do you enjoy working with people who want to buy a house in the next three years, who have moved from a foreign country so they don’t understand the U.S. financial system, or who don’t know how to start saving in their first job out of college? Or maybe you prefer clients who just sold shares of their start-up and don’t know what to do with the proceeds, or who need to start saving for retirement? Be specific so people retain images in their heads. For example, make them visualize their retirement in Palm Springs.

Mistake 3. They have a great 15-minute script, but they don’t do their homework about their leads.
Problem:  Your pitch won’t resonate with your prospects if you repeat it by rote or fail to provide situations that are relevant to them.

Solution: Do research about your prospects before you meet them. A great deal of information is available via the internet or social media. Then you can refer to their specific situation. For example, you can say, “as you have a new kid,” or “as you have just changed jobs,” or “as you have just refinanced your home.” When you understand the struggles they face, you can tell them about clients who faced the same and similar situations, and how you helped them. People think they are unique but they are going through universal problems.

 

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of One Perfect Pitch from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it. Also, if you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

RIA blogs recommended by my Twitter friends

Looking for good blogs by registered investment advisors or financial advisors? An impromptu Twitter exchange in February yielded the following recommendations, with thanks to @QuonWarrene for providing the first reply to my question:

You’ve probably seen some of these names on my blog before, in the following posts:

How and Why to Use Sliding Pop-ups

Email lists are a key part of online marketing for financial advisors—and for me, too. I was intrigued when advisor Dave Grant told me on Facebook that he was using a sliding pop-up with a chat function to get more mileage out of his website. His guest post below resulted from our discussion.

How and Why to Use Sliding Pop-ups

By Dave Grant

One problem advisors have is building a credible email list in order to share their thoughts with a list of prospects to ultimately gain new business. The old way was meeting someone and then asking to add them to your mailing list. But in the age of more interaction online, you need a way to capture visitor information of those whom you may never meet in person. This is where pop-ups come in.

By offering a newsletter / free report / video series for visitors to your website, you can obtain their names and email addresses to add them to your list and, potentially, a drip marketing campaign. However, static opt-in boxes are often ignored, so how do you get that valuable information?

It may be time to use a pop-up. Pop-ups on websites can be annoying, but they have been proven by multiple marketing studies to increase visitor engagement through newsletter opt-ins because they are dynamic on the page. Instead of a pop-up in the middle of the screen, there is now an alternative that’s less annoying but still effective: the sliding pop-up.

Usually situated in the bottom left- or right-hand corner of a website, this box can transition in after a set period of time or when someone hits the end of the page, making readers notice the opt-in box. However, it’s not annoying like a traditional pop-up that blocks the reader’s view of the screen. When you use your company’s branding on these opt-in forms, they look like an extension of your site rather than a standard opt-in form. Many advisors find pop-ups increase their newsletter opt-in rates.

I’ve taken the pop-up one step further by adding a chat program.

While I still have static opt-in forms on throughout my site, I use the sliding pop-up on the bottom of my screen with a chat program. When people get to the end of an article, or after a set time period, the chat box slides up and I introduce myself with template text. From there, people can ask questions and interact with me in real time. Look at the image to see a screenshot of the initial view of my pop-up. Notice “Click here to get help” in the lower right-hand corner? That’s where you can start to chat with me.

finance for teachers

I’ve seen my conversations, not just opt-ins, with potential clients increase dramatically using this method. Now my website averages one good prospect conversation per week instead of the one per month I gained from the “Schedule an Appointment” button on my website.

If you’re wondering how to implement this strategy, there are many sliding pop-up options for advisors who use WordPress. You can download them as a plugin and adjust the wording yourself. To add your firm’s branding may require a web designer to write some code. Some options include AppSumo List Builder, Bounce Exchange, and OptIn Monster. There are also free options.

For my chat pop-up, I use ClickDesk. I like that it sends a chat transcript to my email once the chat closes.

____________

Dave Grant, CFP(R) is the founder of Finance of Teachers, a fee-only financial planning firm in Cary, IL, serving teachers, primarily in Illinois. He is also a columnist for Financial Planning magazine, writing about issues facing Gen Y advisors. His recent book “The First Year” discusses the challenges of the first year of running his RIA, tips on how to be successful, and is available on Amazon KindleiBook, and through The Mercato.

Financial advisor blogging Q&A: Michael J. Evans

Michael J. Evans of The Cogent Advisor in Chicago is the latest participant in my Q&A series with financial advisors who blog. Advisor Tim Maurer suggested Michael for this series, saying via Twitter, “@CogentAdvisor stands out as a recovering commodities trader serving traders through evidence-based investing.”

I was interested to learn how Michael manages the burden of regular blogging by mixing his own substantive posts with a strategy of highlighting other people’s content with his quick takes on that content. This is a technique more blogging advisors should consider.

If you enjoy this Q&A, check out others in this series, which started with a Q&A with Michael Kitces.

Q. When did you start your blog?

A. The Cogent Advisor Cogent Conversation blog grew out of my monthly e-newsletter. Clients and prospects had mentioned how much they enjoyed the educational information I was sharing in our monthly newsletters, and urged me to write a blog post and share insights more often. My first post was in March 2012.

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships?

A. It’s been an interesting and unfolding experience! I started to blog to further my passion and mission to educate investors in an additional forum. As I started to post ideas targeted to my niche of financial professionals and other high-end professionals, I found I was being contacted by followers from wider circles about a variety of subjects ranging from wealth management to money challenges in their relationships and more. While I appreciate the business connections, I’ve also enjoyed serving as a connector among intelligent and inquisitive people. Some of them have become clients, but all of them help me think and grow as a wealth advisor and a person.

In terms of specific business growth results, I’ve heard many anecdotes from clients who have shared specific posts with others they believed might benefit. I’ve also heard from prospects who have accessed the blog to learn more about me and my firm’s culture. By combining blog posts with related supporting tweets, LinkedIn announcements, and periodic e-newsletter “best of” distributions, our overall social media presence continues to develop as well.

In a report we compiled last year-end, our LinkedIn connections and e-newsletter open rates remained relatively consistent in 2013, but we found our Twitter followers and LinkedIn impressions were up 27.0% and 4.5%, respectively, between Q3 and Q4 2013. It’s admittedly difficult to directly connect specific social media stats with client growth. However, given the blogging benefits described above and the general health of our firm, we’re convinced that our blog plays an important and integral role in our overall business development efforts. Besides, it’s fun!

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. My mission is to educate successful professionals to build durable wealth. Everything in my blog relates to sharing content that my readers can use to enhance the quality of their lives and to Free Their Wealth for Something More®. To be effective and efficient with our mission, we aim to produce one more substantive Cogent-authored post each month (which is then republished in our e-newsletter), and then regularly serve as a “content curator,” by sharing others’ posts along with our brief take on them.

I try not to sell anything on my blog. If I do my job and produce or share others’ ideas that help readers visualize a better future for themselves and their families, I’ve accomplished my goal. I’m convinced that the business development will flow naturally from there as I share my Cogent content.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

  1. As an educator, I love it when I can write a post and elicit a response that creates an “Ah ha!” moment in the reader’s mind. For example, our recent post, “The Triple-Action Power of Donor-Advised Funds,” helps successful individuals consider how a donor-advised fund may enable them to best fulfill their charitable intents. How great that I can reach out to readers and help them advance a cause that matters to them.
  2. I also have teamed up with The BAM Alliance, whose experts share my passion for promoting financial understanding. One of my recent shared posts came from BAM’s Director of Personal Finance Tim Maurer: “Tim Maurer on College Spending: Planning vs. Procrastinating.” Sharing a lucid explanation of an intimidating but important subject like saving for your children’s higher education is just great for me.
  3. A subject vital to a family’s wealth but often overlooked is the critical need to balance one’s investment risks with the related risks a high-end professional may be taking in his or her career. I took on this subject in this post: “From 65 to Zero in 10 Seconds: Managing Your Human Capital Risk” and also as an article in the Spring 2014 Inside Advantage, a trade journal.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Write from the heart, on ideas of relevance to your audience (which assumes you have identified who your audience is)! It enhances the quality of your readers’ lives, positions you as a subject matter expert, and makes the effort more enjoyable and personally rewarding – financially and emotionally.

Blogging Q&A with James McDonald

James McDonald of Index Strategy Advisors, a Houston-based firm that manages ETF-based portfolios, has made social media a key part of his firm’s marketing. He has built his firm’s assets under management from zero to more than $50 million in a little more than two years.

This is part of a series of Q&As that I’ve conducted via email with advisors who blog. Previous interviewees included Michael Kitces, Jim Blankenship, and Carolyn McClanahan.

Q. When did you start your Insights blog?j2

A. December 20, 2011 — I launched my blog on my birthday to coincide with the public debut/announcement of my company on social media.

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships? Please explain and quantify, if possible.

A. My blog was crucial in growing my business from scratch. It helped by displaying my expertise and research to three main audiences:

  1. Potential clients
  2. Potential employees
  3. The media, colleagues and potential partners in the industry.

It’s all about showing people what you know and what potential value you bring to the table without logistical limitations! I’ve acquired clients, employees, and partnerships from all four corners of the United States and everywhere in between based solely on my online presence. Without my blog, I could never have grown my business across the country, let alone persuaded anyone to do business with me.

I can trace some new clients directly to my blog. In fact, there’s one blog post that attracted dozens of clients for me over the course of several weeks.

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. The two most effective blogging techniques for me have been the

  1. Presentation of timely, news-driven topics, such as the Facebook IPO, fiscal cliff, U.S. presidential election, and euro zone credit crisis—this works because it attracts pageviews from people trying to understand these topics

2. Integration of people I care about into my writing—for example, I’ve been thrilled to reconnect with friends from my high school in Bethesda, Md., from 20 years ago. I often remark about them or speak directly to them in my writing. In other words I usually make my narrative personal. This seems to resonate with my readers, who feel they’re getting to know me as a person.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

A. My three favorite blog posts:

  1. How To Invest Smarter: The 5 Reasons Your Portfolio Isn’t Growing — this post is a favorite because it demonstrates our core expertise directly. This is the blog post that attracted dozens of clients for me over the course of several weeks.
  2. A complex debate simplified by money — this post is a favorite because I learned something new (financial statistics about the gun industry) and was able to constructively get something off of my chest. After the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was a heightened gun debate in the U.S. I wanted to join that debate, but from the perspective of a parent and investment professional. This post attracted several new clients for me. It was also a catalyst for new relationships with journalists interested in the topic and my research skills.
  3. 4 reasons why I accept Facebook as a friend, but am ignoring the IPO request — this post is a favorite because I felt so strongly about the topic (opposing investment in individual stocks by retail investors) and the investment in question (FB IPO). It was a fun way to include my technical expertise and personal thoughts, while weaving in my friends on Facebook who I enjoy so much. In fact, I even dedicated the post to my FB friends and a hilarious video about a baby raccoon that I had just seen on FB.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. My best tip for advisors who blog is to track and measure your viewership analytics closely. If people don’t like what you’re writing you need to change it. If people do like what you’re writing, then you need to increase your emphasis on that topic or style of post

Google Analytics is a great free tool to measure how many have viewed your blog posts. The input from a good tracking tool will inform how you calibrate everything you do with respect to your blog. It will ultimately drive your ROI higher.

Blogging Q&A with Carolyn McClanahan

Carolyn McClanahan’s fearless sharing of her opinions across social media, including on her blog, spurred me to ask her to participate in my Q&A series with financial advisors who blog. She’s a great example of an advisor who communicates her passion about her topics, which include the intersection of medical and financial planning issues. Carolyn, who began her career as a doctor, is with Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla.

 

Q. When did you start The Quest for Simplicity, your blog for Forbes?

A. November 2011.

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships? Please explain and quantify, if possible.

A. Unlike most financial planners, whom I assume blog for business development, I’m blogging for my colleagues in the industry and opinion makers. The purpose of the blog is to educate other financial planners and the public about an area in which our firm, Life Planning Partners, excels—incorporating health conversations into all aspects of financial planning. The firm’s goal is to be an innovative financial life planning practice that is nationally recognized as doing great things for our clients and the profession, demonstrates a model other financial planners want to emulate, and serves as a base for us to make great change in the world.

Has my blog brought us new business? Probably not directly. Do our clients love my blog? Yes, they are very proud of the work we are doing to improve the financial planning profession. They participate in all our “experiments,” love when I share their stories (with permission of course), and refer clients to us readily. I think the referrals are not due to the blog alone – it is a combination of our great service and our ideals. Our business is so good that we had to close to new business for now. Our waiting list had grown to eight months long. I think we are doing something right. New business comes from a confluence of factors.

Q. How else does the blog affect your relationships with clients and prospects?

A. We actually share our business plan with our clients. By doing this, we’ve created a “tribe” of people who get what we do and are very supportive of the change we are trying to make in the financial planning profession. The blog is part of how we implement this change.

Most of the new clients who come to us have read the blog. My unbridled openness about some very controversial topics actually attracts clients to us. And the really good news—people who are uncomfortable with us do not come to us. Therefore, we have only ideal clients and our client retention is off the charts. We have authentic, deep, and difficult conversations with ease.

Q. How will you know if you’ve succeeded as a model for other advisors?

A. Our metrics are:

1. The number of people who read my blog.

2. The number of speaking engagements and type of topics I’m asked to provide.

3. The number of planners who ask about our business model so they can incorporate it in their practice. I will watch with interest how many firms move to retainers and hourly work over time.

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. I think our authenticity and unbridled approach in discussing real problems goes a long way. Storytelling is the most effective way to get a point across.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

A. My most popular post is “Five Quick And Important Facts On Health Insurance Through Obamacare.” I think this was popular because it was practical.

Cliffs Notes Version of the Affordable Care Act — Again, a practical explanation of the law.

Gun Owner Rights and Obamacare – Yes It Is In The Law — Although I received a lot of flak about this article from the gun lobby, clients were overall very proud of this article. It was written right after the Aurora massacre, and was the first article pointing out the National Rifle Association’s hand in Obamacare. A reporter from Politico told me this article was the start of President Obama’s executive order protecting health care worker’s rights to ask about firearms in patient care settings. It shows how powerful words and calling out the truth can be.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Writing a weekly blog is a lot of work, especially when you are running a small business. Over the past couple of months, I’ve run into a number of challenges. We are still reeling from the huge growth of our business, we are trying to hire additional help, and I spent some time taking care of loved ones.

A tip I read somewhere that I wish I would have followed? Have pre-written posts in place in case you run into a tight spot and have nothing to post.

Otherwise, only write about topics that you care about – your passion will come through.

If you enjoyed this post, check out this blog’s Q&As with Michael Kitces and Jim Blankenship. If you have a great blogging success story worthy of being featured in a future Q&A, please contact me. I’d like to hear from you.

Blogging Q&A with Jim Blankenship

I invited Jim Blankenship of Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill., to participate in a Q&A about his blog because I was struck by the depth of material on his blog. When I tweeted a question to him about his blog post explaining the file-and-suspend strategy for Social Security, he quickly tweeted back with a link to a blog post answering my question. I imagine it’s powerful to have this kind of information easily accessible.

This is the second in a series of Q&As with advisors who blog. The first was with Michael Kitces of Nerd’s Eye View. If there are other advisors whom you’d like to hear from, please let me know.

 

Q. When did you start your blog, Getting Your Financial Ducks in a Row—and how did you choose your focus?

A. When I started in April 2004, I was sending a paper newsletter to my clients (first quarterly, then monthly), so I just took the newsletter articles and blogged them.  In late 2008, I started specifically writing articles for the blog.

I focused first on tax laws and IRAs because my clients had specific questions about these areas.  A bit later, I added the Social Security focus. I have focused on these three areas since then, but always writing for my audience’s interests.  When they send me questions outside of these three areas, I write about them as well.  Sterling Raskie joined the firm in 2012, and one of his primary areas of focus is insurance, so he’s been writing about that quite a lot.

 

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships? Please explain and quantify, if possible.

A. It’s rare these days to have a new client come to me who has not read either my blog or syndicated articles from it. My articles are syndicated on sites including Forbes.com, TheStreet.com, Morningstar Advisor, and FiGuide. The great benefit is that folks who’ve read my writings already understand much about how I work, who I am, and my areas of expertise. In addition, from having read my articles, there is a level of trust already built into the initial conversation.

This has helped with long-distance relationships, which have increased significantly over the past two to three years.  We now routinely have clients that we exclusively work with long-distance. They account for something like 40% of new clients. In contrast, prior to starting the blog, long-distance clients only came about when someone local moved away.

 

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. The blog’s niche focus on taxes, retirement plans, and Social Security has reinforced the fact that we’re experts in these areas.

Keeping to a schedule has also helped. I started with a haphazard approach to blogging, without any schedule.  I soon recognized that I needed to be more consistent in my blogging efforts, so I set the goal of writing three articles per week, one on each of my focus areas.  Sticking with this schedule has helped me to manage the time to blog, as well as letting my readers expect a level of activity.  As with all things that take time, you will make time for the things that you put a priority on, and I have (since late 2008) always put a priority on keeping that schedule.

I maintain lists of topics to write about, spurred by reader questions, real-life client situations, and articles I’ve read, so I never run out of things to write about.  Sometimes the mix of topics differs week-to-week, but the primary focus areas are still represented in my writing.

 

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

A. I don’t really have any favorites.  Here are three of my articles that have had the most hits.

Charitable Contributions From Your IRA – 2012 and Beyond — this explains how the elimination of the Qualified Charitable Contribution option changes the tax effect of making contributions to charities from your IRA. Of course, the tax law was extended, so this now applies to 2014 now—until the law is extended again.

The File and Suspend Tactic for Social Security Benefits — as the title suggests, this is a straightforward explanation of the tactic.

A Little-Known Social Security Spousal Benefit Option — this explains the option where a higher-wage-base spouse files a restricted application to receive half of his or her spouse’s benefit at Full Retirement Age, but delays filing for his or her own benefit to age 70.  Not many folks understand this one, so I’ve written several articles to help explain it. I still get questions every week.

 

Q.   What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. Just do it.  It’s not rocket science.  Find your focus, be consistent, and put a priority on writing, even if it’s once a week or once a month.  Over time, this will build up to a significant body of work that potential clients can refer to, and it will make a difference in how you interact with people.

In addition, use all of the tools available — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest — to promote your blog posts.  Explore using various plug-ins to your blog to push out your articles, such as RSS, email subscription, and automatic tweeting.  These free tools are worth their electronic weight in gold, in terms of promotion and reaching out.  Answer questions via each tool, and strike up conversations.

Track your traffic – you can’t know if you’re getting through if you don’t track it.  I use a combination of Google Analytics, WordPress statistics, and Bing webmaster tools to track traffic.

Always respond to comments on your blog posts in a timely fashion — this keeps the conversation going beyond your initial writings.  It’s no different from returning phone calls.

Note: This post was updated on Jan. 14, 2014, to correct a typo.

Q&A with Michael Kitces of Nerd’s Eye View

Blogging can help advisors attract and retain clients. I’ve decided to collect stories from advisors that illustrate this.

I’m starting a Q&A series with a contribution by Michael Kitces author of the Nerd’s Eye View blog and Pinnacle Advisory Group. Blogging has brought him more visibility, which has “helped to bring clients and cement relationships with centers of influence,” as he explains below.

 

1. When did you start your blog, Nerd’s Eye View?

The Nerd’s Eye View blog first launched in March of 2008, at the same time that I launched my advanced educational newsletter for financial planners. My vision at the time was that the newsletter would be where I provided content eligible for CFP CE credit – which has a certain length requirement – while the blog was where I would publish “shorter” discussions of technical topics (that didn’t merit a full newsletter issue) and cover practice management ideas (ineligible for CFP CE credit) that I wanted to share.

However, the reality at the time was that the blog had no visibility and generated no traffic, and I generally found it very unrewarding! As a result, I actually stopped writing for the blog altogether after just a few months, and it lay dormant on the site for about two full years.

In the fall of 2010, I “revived” the blog again. The light bulb that had gone off in my head at the time was the rise of social media; in point of fact, Facebook and LinkedIn had been out several years already, and Twitter was almost two years old, so social media wasn’t exactly “new” even at that time. But I realized that, while the challenge of writing a blog is that it’s hard to build an audience, social media provides an opportunity to get the word out about the content. So at the suggestion of advisor tech guru Bill Winterberg, I started up on Twitter (and invigorated a LinkedIn profile which up to that point had been little more than an online resume), and the synergy of the blog and social media has just grown exponentially from there!

 

2. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships? Please explain and quantify, if possible.

The combination of the blog and social media presence has been absolutely incredible for business, though I will confess that one-to-one situations – “this tweet got me this client” – are almost impossible to track.

It’s important to bear in mind that the blog (and social media) started as something that was attached to my newsletter and then-nascent (in 2008) and growing (in 2010) speaking business, so I measure my business results first and foremost in that context.

My net newsletter subscriber count (plus growth, minus some natural attrition) has grown steadily at a pace of about 15%-20% per year for the past five years, and the only means I have for making the newsletter known is my website (which people visit via the blog and social media).

The speaking business has grown even more dramatically, and there I can often track new business/conferences directly to engagement via social media. I have been invited to speak at conferences through relationships I formed online, and have even been hired to keynote a conference through a series of a half-dozen Twitter direct messages (DMs)! Overall, I have more-than-doubled my speaking fees since I re-launched the blog and started on social media, and despite those price increases my speaking engagements are up 60% from 3 years ago.

Notwithstanding what was originally a focus on the newsletter and speaking engagements, my blog and social media presence has started to significantly “spill over” into marketing for Pinnacle Advisory Group, the financial planning firm where I am a partner. The blogging and social media activity has generated an incredible flurry of media activity; I’m typically fielding three to five media inquiries per week from industry and major consumer publications (and a handful of smaller publications), and my visibility on social media has helped cement several highly visible consumer media opportunities, including becoming a Marketwatch RetireMentor, one of the WSJ Wealth Management Experts, and a member of the CNBC Digital Advisory Council. In the end, we could have hired a media/PR firm for tens of thousands of dollars every year and still not gotten the firm the visibility that I’ve been able to generate “for free” through blogging and social media.

And ultimately all that PR visibility has helped to bring clients and cement relationships with centers of influence. It also bolsters referrals from existing clients; it’s one thing when a client says “work with my advisor, he’s great,” but it’s another when the client says “work with my advisor; did you see the article about his research in the New York Times yesterday?”

 

3. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business —either at Kitces.com or Pinnacle Advisory Group?

This varies a bit by which business I’m using to measure results. In terms of my core writing and speaking business, my technical articles on advanced planning techniques have been most effective at demonstrating and cementing my brand as a financial planning expert. This has helped generate newsletter subscriptions and speaking engagements.

Notably, though, my technical articles have also helped me to build a following of reporters who want to keep up on the latest material I’m studying, researching, and writing about. As a result, the technical articles also lead to a great deal of consumer media exposure.

The content I write on practice management and industry trends has been most effective for reaching our industry press, which indirectly helps to support my brand as a speaker. It has actually been so successful in building my credibility on these issues, though, that it now helps to support several related businesses, including our recruiting firms New Planner Recruiting and Experienced Advisors Recruiting, our investment outsourcing business for other advisors (Pinnacle Advisor Solutions), and what is now a growing series of technology firms I work with on a consulting basis about how to understand and reach advisors.

Overall, I’ve found that the key to success with blogging and social media is sheer consistency. Good articles come and go; I try to make every one a winner, but the data are very clear that… some are better received than others. Balancing content that I create with content that I share has also been key. On social media channels, less than 20% of the content that I share is my own, and I’ve grown a significant following with my “Weekend Reading For Financial Planners” series, where I highlight the best dozen articles I read for the week, with summaries of each and links to click on to view the full article.

Ultimately, the key is to be a resource. Yes, I hope that my content is a resource, but it can’t be the only resource. So I share as much as I can to be helpful to everyone in every way possible; and I hope it’s appreciated that some of it is content I created myself!

 

4. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

Whew, this is a tough question; I’d like to think that everyone I try to create is effective, and I hate to pick favorites!

In terms of overall results and impact, I’d say my top three are:

1) Financial Planning Implications Of HR8 – The Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. This article was a summary of the fiscal cliff legislation that passed at the very end of 2012. The Senate passed the final version of the legislation a few hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve, the House took it up on New Year’s Day, and the president signed it into law on January 2nd. Anticipating that the House was to pass the legislation and not push us off the fiscal cliff, I actually spent New Year’s morning reading up on the legislation and posting my own “first look” commentary. Despite the fact that article didn’t even post until the early afternoon, and it was a holiday, the post was so widely shared that January 1st of 2013 was the biggest traffic day the site has ever had; and the second biggest day ever was the follow-on traffic on January 2nd! It’s pretty amazing what happens when you publish timely content on an important issue!

2) Should Equity Exposure Decrease In Retirement, Or Is A Rising Equity Glidepath Actually Better? – This article was actually a write-up of some recent new retirement research I did with Wade Pfau. The article received such a strong reception that the blog post alone, and the buzz it created, resulted in coverage in several national publications, including the New York Times, Kiplinger, and AARP. Not only was this great general publicity for the firm, but I’ve been able to track several new business opportunities directly to the publication of this single blog post!

3) Weekend Reading For Financial Planners. About a year after the blog had launched and my social media activity was increasing, I started getting questions from other advisors, basically along the lines of “what do you read to keep up on information the way you do?” I got the question so much, I decided that perhaps I should just start making a list of the best articles I’d read each week. Modeled after the “linkfests” popular in the finance/econ/investment world – but recognizing that there just isn’t nearly as much “news” in financial planning every week – I launched my weekend reading column. Over two years and 100 weekly-reading-summaries later, this continues to be my most popular ongoing content on the blog.

 

5. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog? Personally, I would love to know the secret of how you manage to spark so many conversations.

I’ve got to give two tips here, as the answer to your question has two key components.

The first tip is that if you want to succeed with blogging and social media it requires consistency, and the only way consistency happens is if you make it habit, and the only way you can create a habit is to make a commitment to a schedule of how often you’re write, with deadlines, and hold yourself accountable to meeting it. I’ve varied my publishing schedule a few times over the years; for a while I was posting once a week, then twice a week, then three times a week, eventually five times a week, but then backed off to three times a week and have stayed there. I now have a pretty consistent routine to manage that consistent publishing schedule; I capture topics I want to write about in a never-ending Evernote list so I will always have lots of ideas when I sit down to write, and I’ve got a process for carving out the time to do it. Granted, I don’t think most advisors “need” to blog as often as I do, but the principle is the same whether you’re trying to write three times a week or just once or twice a month. Have a schedule, set deadlines for yourself, commit to keeping them, and make it a habit.

My second tip is that to be able to create a steady stream of compelling content, focus, focus, focus on your target audience. Think about what their issues are. Read the publications they’re reading. Talk to them constantly (they’re your clients, so hopefully you are, but make sure you’re taking the time to listen to what’s on their minds). Virtually all of the content I write is inspired by a conversation I have at a conference, a question someone emails me, or a question/issue that a client raises. The trap I see most advisors fall into in this area is either that they don’t keep a focus at all – they’re sharing everything from things that matter to their clients, to things that matter to them (which is not always the same thing!), to things that are just plain irrelevant – or they don’t have a clear focus on who their reader is supposed to be and how they can differentiate. Ultimately, this is why having a niche is so important; as financial advisors, few will be capable of differentiating themselves and creating unique content by publishing the same generalized financial information that can be found via Kiplinger, MarketWatch, CNBC, Money, etc. There are lots of generalized consumer financial sites out there, not to mention an already crowded personal finance blogosphere. But with a niche, you can truly specialize; you might be the only one blogging about the latest issues for executives at a particular technology or pharmaceutical company making options decisions, or about a new strategy to manage malpractice insurance costs for OB/GYNs, or about the latest tip for young upwardly mobile female entrepreneurs. Having a focus – having a niche – is a way to stand out from the rest; your audience might be smaller than “everyone” but you can be highly differentiated and clearly stand out as an expert for all the people in that niche. And given that most financial advisors “top out” somewhere around 100-150 active and engaged clients (if not fewer), the reality is that virtually any niche is capable of working when those are all the clients you need for a wildly successful practice!

If you have a great blogging success story worthy of being featured in a future Q&A, please contact me. I’d like to hear from you. If you’d like to write better blog posts, you’ll find step-by-step instructions in my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Marketing tips from referral expert Steve Wershing

These lines in Stephen Wershing’s Stop Asking for Referrals caught my eye.

I have looked at hundreds of advisor websites, and many of them don’t just say the same thing — they use the same words. Make sure that your marketing communicates what’s different about your clients and what’s unique about what you do for them.

I agree with Wershing about these weaknesses, and I was happy that his book offered advice about how you can differentiate your marketing materials.

Some of Wershing’s tips resonated strongly with me. I discuss them below.

1. Define your target audience narrowly

Focus on a problem that you solve for a narrowly defined group of people, so it’s easy for people to recognize your ideal clients. This focus will differentiate from other advisors and make you easy to refer.

2. Focus on benefits

Failure to focus on benefits is a common flaw in the articles and white papers I edit for investment and wealth management firms, so I’m glad Wershing discusses this. I like his before-and-after examples of elevator speeches. Here’s an example.

Before: We do financial planning for the suddenly single.

After: When people come into money, it is easy for them to lose their values and make bad decisions. I show them how to avoid those pitfalls.

3. Ask for introductions or advice

Ask clients for introductions or advice instead of referrals, says Wershing. This puts less stress on clients than referrals so it’s more likely to be productive. To boost your introduction request’s effectiveness, do research to identify people who fall within your target audience. LinkedIn makes this easier than in the days prior to social media.

On the advice front, consider trying the following question posed by Wershing: “If you were in my position, trying to do what I am trying to accomplish, what would you do?”

Wershing’s suggestions about introductions and advice remind me about the power of informational interviewing, which has been essential to my career development.

In an email exchange with me, Wershing said, “The most exciting thing I have discovered in working with advisors on these strategies is the techniques that will attract more referrals also end up providing the client better, more expert advice.  Advisors can improve the industry while growing more successful. I cannot imagine a better outcome.” I agree.

Your suggestions?

If you’ve tried the techniques discussed above, I’d enjoy hearing from you. Please add your voice to the conversation.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it.