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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:

4 reasons you shouldn’t write a white paper

White papers can be great marketing tools. Done right, they give web surfers reasons to join your email list and persuade them that you understand—and have solutions to —their problems. However, done poorly, white papers waste your time—and your readers’ time. To help you avoid pointlessly sinking your energy into white papers, I’m sharing four reasons you should not write a white paper.

Reason 1. You haven’t identified the right problem

White papers should solve a problem faced by members of your target audience, as I explained in “White paper marketing: Walk a fine line.” This makes them compelling to your readers. It also helps your white papers get found, as readers conduct online searches for “how do I…?”

A problem and a topic aren’t the same thing, as I showed in “Which investment white paper would you read?” “Small-cap stocks” is an unexciting topic, while “How to profit from small-cap stocks” solves a problem faced by readers who seek to boost their investment returns.

If you don’t know how to identify a good problem, listen to questions your clients and prospects ask you. You can also seek their input through social media, surveys in your e-newsletter or on your blog, or other methods. Identifying your reader’s problem is a key step in the writing process that I describe in Financial Blogging: How To Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.

Reason 2. Your white paper focuses on your company’s products or services

Your readers seek objective advice. If you inject your company’s products and services throughout your white paper, you lose credibility because readers view your piece as an advertisement. They quickly stop reading.

Respondents to my “Walk a fine line” survey agreed that references to your company’s products and services should be limited to the end of your white paper.

Reason 3. You lack data to support your points

While blog posts can be opinionated rants, white papers typically feature data or examples to support their points. This is an area where larger companies have an advantage over smaller firms because of their data generation and analysis capabilities. They’re also more likely to have a budget to license data from providers such as Ned Davis Research.

Larger companies don’t always win in this area. For example, I’ve seen some firms generate original content by interviewing members of their target audience.

Also, there’s good publicly available data. However, please be careful to credit your sources and observe the rules of copyright “fair use.” Not sure about what’s fair use? Check the resources in “Legal danger for financial bloggers: Two misconceptions, three resources, one suggestion.”

Reason 4. You can’t write in a reader-friendly way

Today’s readers are impatient. If you don’t write about a compelling topic in a way that’s easy for them to absorb, they’ll quickly stop reading. For tips on how to make your writing more reader-friendly, see “5 steps for rewriting your investment commentary.”

Anything else?

I’m curious. Can you think of any additional reasons why you shouldn’t write a white paper? For examples, do you think that the less formal approach of an e-book, which I discussed in “E-book or white paper: which is better?”, would better suit your audience?

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.

The silver bullet for attracting more readers

Media coverage can boost your visibility, helping you to attract more clients. Joanne Cleaver, a fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, suggests in her guest post that you expand your ideas of the topics on which you’d like to be quoted.

The silver bullet for attracting more readers

By Joanne Cleaver

If you know enough to write regularly about investing and financial planning, you know enough to be quoted. But how can you elevate your hand-built riser into a national platform?

The best way to gain expert status is to be quoted by journalists. Their responsibility is to present credible information in context. When your expertise adds clarity, insight and experience that brings an article to life, you will become a go-to source. That establishes you as an expert and builds your reputation .

That’s all well and good. But how do you get started? Here’s how to break the anonymity trap of not being quoted because you aren’t known, and not being known because you’re not being quoted.

First, sign up for HelpAReporterOut.com.

For $19 a month, HARO delivers to your inbox a daily list of requests from journalists looking for immediate sources for stories they are working on now. Simply reviewing the requests helps you detect what journalists need.

Your initial reaction will be to respond only to requests that seek financial experts. With 50 or more HARO requests daily, it’s only a matter of time before you find a request for precisely your technical and advisory expertise. And offering quotable, useable financial insight is a great way to win media mentions.

But you have more to offer than professional commentary. Your life experience—as a parent, a business owner, a volunteer—also is invaluable fodder. For example, you might respond to a reporter search for parents who have recently navigated the college application and financial aid process. Your pitch would pivot on your experience as a parent who’s better informed than most on financial topics, but you’d also be interviewed about your frustrations and feelings about financial aid.

Responding to a HARO request that appears tangential to your professional expertise does two things: it opens a relationship with the journalist, and it is a chance to showcase personal insight that rounds out your professional reputation and presents you as human, empathetic and approachable.

Both types of media mentions—professional and personal—build reputation and blog readership…as long as that silver bullet hits your target audience.

____________

A former daily newspaper deputy business editor, Joanne Cleaver helps professionals develop and deliver the right messages to the right audiences through media and communication training. Learn more at http://wilson-taylorassoc.com/media-training.

3 ways to add word images to your social media

I’m a word lover, but even I have to admit that images can punch up your written communications. I’ve written earlier about using photos, but sometimes word-based images can do the trick. Here are three techniques I’ve used to generate them, starting with the most sophisticated. But I’m no techno-geek. If I can use these techniques, so can you.

Is it worth your time to create and use images? “Content with relevant images gets 94 percent more views than content without,” according to “A Complete Guide to Visual Content: The Science, Tools and Strategy of Creating Killer Images,” which appeared on BufferApp.com’s blog. This is increasingly true even on social media such as Twitter. Sometimes those images can feature words.

1. Canva.com for images

Canva.com is a website for creating images at no cost to you in its most basic form. It’s not your only option for doing this, but “The Art of the Perfect Post,” a webinar delivered by Guy Kawasaki, Canva’s chief evangelist, convinced me that it might be simple enough for me to use. He positioned it as much easier than PhotoShop and similar programs.

To create an image in Canva, you click and drag the elements of background, text, and images. Canva provides some ready-made layouts for you. Some backgrounds are free; others cost $1. There is no cost to access Canva. I’m far from being a Canva pro, so I suggest you poke around the firm’s website to learn more.

Here are some images that I created using Canva.

Susan Weiner presents at NYSSA 20133Cs of investment commentary InvestmentWriting

One thing I wish I’d realized: Once you upload your images from Canva, they disappear from your Canva account. As a result, if I ever want to edit these images, I believe I’ll need to recreate them from scratch.

2. Wordle.net

Wordle is a website that generates “word clouds” showing the frequency of words that appear in text that you input. For example, here’s a Wordle word cloud that I used to illustrate my blog post on “Plain English and good writing.”

Wordle imageWordle image of Susan Weiner's MarketingProfs article about plain English and good writing

Wordle imageWordle image

3. Screenshots of text created by your word processor

You don’t always have to time to create something fancy. That’s when I take a screenshot of text that I’ve created in my word processing software.VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR For example, I created a text block to accompany my virtual book tour’s links, as in “Week 4 of the virtual book tour for Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.” It’s not pretty, but it’s better than nothing.

I use Microsoft Office’s Snipping Tool to capture the screenshots.

 Other tools?

If you have other tools that you recommend, please share.

 

 

Format your guest bloggers’ posts for maximum impact

When you go to the effort of snaring a guest writer for your blog, especially when the person is an influential “catch,” please follow some simple formatting tips. These tips will improve your readers’ experience and boost your guest’s visibility. This will reflect well on you.

Tip 1: Introduce your guest

Don’t plunge directly into your guests’ posts without introducing them. Your readers won’t always recognize the name or expertise of your guest blogger, so explain it. If you have a personal connection with the blogger or a reason why you care about the topic, consider mentioning that too. This helps to put your brand on the post. As a courtesy, I usually run my introduction by my guest prior to publication to avoid inadvertently offending them or writing something inaccurate.

Tip 2: Set off your introduction

Visual cues make it easy for your readers to know where your introduction ends and the guest post starts. I use two techniques.Guest post format example

  • Italicizing my introduction as you can see in the example to the right
  • Inserting a title and the author’s name in the centered type above the guest post

Tip 3: Add a headshot photo and brief bio

Displaying a guest author’s headshot photo on your blog sends a powerful visual message. It’s quickly evident that someone other than the blog’s host is taking center stage. I suggest a headshot photo because that’s what your guests are most likely to have taken by a professional. A polished appearance will enhance the credibility of their information.

A brief bio also helps your readers to appreciate the value offered by your guest author. I usually limit bios to two sentences, with up to two links to the expert’s website, blog or social media sites.

When you are the guest

Read “Simple tip for boosting your guest posts’ effectiveness” to get my take on the issue when you’re the guest.

May 13, 2014 update: I updated this post by adding another thought to Tip 1.

4 e-newsletter landing page tips from “Epic Content Marketing”

“10 Ways to optimize your e-newsletter landing page” is one tiny but useful section of Joe Pulizzi’s Epic Content Marketing. It’s important to craft your landing page—the newsletter’s signup page—effectively because, as Pulizzi writes, “your email database is a significant business asset.” Your email list is valuable because you control it in a way you can’t control social media connections.

Here are some tips from Pulizzi that will help you attract more people to your e-newsletter list because you convey the benefits of your content and make your signup easy to navigate.

Tip 1. Describe newsletter benefits

Explain how your prospect will benefit from subscribing to your newsletter, as Pulizzi suggests. For example, say how it’ll help them achieve financial peace of mind or otherwise improve their lives.

The benefits needn’t be limited to how your newsletter articles help readers. You can also offer a special report as an enticement for readers. That’s what I do with Investment Writing Top Tips.

Sharing testimonials or awards for your newsletter, another Pulizzi tip, also reinforces your newsletter’s benefits for the reader.

Tip 2. Make your landing page layout effective

Make it easy for readers to find your signup form on the page. This is why it’s important to “bring the signup above the fold,” as Pulizzi suggests, so it is visible without the reader scrolling down the page. You can view my newsletter signup page for an example of positioning.

Pulizzi also suggests that your signup should “include a button that says ‘subscribe’ or ‘sign up’ (not submit),” taking advantage of words with positive connotations.

Put less important information farther down the page. This includes a privacy statement, which is still essential. Pulizzi also suggests that you tell subscribers “what you will and won’t do with their information. This can go bottom of your page,” says Pulizzi.

Another design tip is to rid your newsletter page of anything that might distract the reader from signing up, says Pulizzi.

Tip 3. Show readers what they’ll getNov 2013 newsletter page 1

Pulizzi suggests that you show readers a picture of your newsletter. I think he means a small image of your newsletter’s first page (see example of my newsletter on the right) or maybe just a table of contents.

Also, link to a sample newsletter. Until recently, I’ve handled this by providing an archive of my monthly newsletters, instead of one sample that I’d need to update periodically.

Tip 4. Limit your newsletter sign-up form’s fields

Limit the number of fields in your newsletter sign-up form. As Pulizzi says, “ the fewer fields, the more likely prospects will be to sign up.”

When I started my newsletter I required only two fields, first name and email address. Now that I’m more confident of my newsletter’s appeal, I request, but don’t require, last names and company names.

Pulizzi’s book as a content marketing resource

If you’re new to content marketing, Epic Content Marketing offers a great overview of content marketing’s many components. It suggests steps that the reader can take to launch their content marketing strategy and manage their content process. There’s information for more experienced marketers too. I noticed some items for action, such as checking out the persona creation tool at upcloseandpersona.com. I’d also like to take a more analytical look at my content strategy.

As a writer, I noticed that some of the writing isn’t as tight as I’d like. For example, information that’s presented as a series of nine bullets screams for a rewrite. Too many bullet points exhaust the reader.

On balance, I enjoyed the book because it made me think.

Disclosures: I received a free copy of this book from McGraw Hill in return for agreeing to mention it in my blog. If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

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.