A remarkable number of marketing resources are now available in the advisor ecosystem.
This issue highlights marketing resources that are available to financial planners—but before we get to the profiles, let me offer a preamble to fit these challenging times. Whenever there is great uncertainty in the markets and our cultural environment, the very best financial planners have a tendency to pull back their marketing efforts, and to focus exclusively on helping their existing clients maintain their composure and sometimes their sanity.
Not only do they not want to dilute their time during a crisis, but they also (understandably) believe it’s somehow insensitive to be pushing a marketing agenda when much bigger issues are affecting their client families.
As you read through this issue of Inside Information, I’m going to ask you to rethink that decision. One of my readers, Randy Brunson of Centurion Advisory Group in Duluth, GA put it very well, when he said:
“During times like these, this profession is not for the faint of heart. It requires the ability to be an anchor of stability in the storm, the voice of reason in panic, the heart of empathy when others are fearful, and the spirit of engagement when others believe all is lost.”
Another advisor recently told me:
“These are the times when we earn our money as financial professionals.”
Today, millions of people desperately need that anchor of stability in the storm, and many of them are not going to get it from their existing advisor relationship. You and I both know that the majority of “advisors” are here for the good times, and the money. When difficult markets crop up, they’re nowhere to be found.
Marketing professionals will tell you that this is the perfect time to gain new clients. I will tell you that this is the perfect time to reach out and help people, in a professional capacity, as they struggle to control their anxieties and avoid making disastrous financial decisions.
In this environment, you should not view an outreach as marketing yourself; you are offering to provide an important and potentially financial-life-saving service to your community, and step up where others will not.
I would also, selfishly, ask you to take market share away from the sales agents, brokers and touts who masquerade as financial advisors and in many cases do more harm than good in our financial landscape. This is the time when their lack of professionalism—and often lack of empathy—is fully exposed. The more of their clients become your clients, the better off the world is by any important measure.
What are you going to see on the following pages? Not long ago, there were very few marketing resources for financial planning firms. It wasn’t hard to find marketing firms and ad agencies, but virtually all of them had no expertise or even experience with financial planning, which means that they struggled to understand the value connection between professional advisors and people in need of advice. What they did not understand they could not communicate—unless you spent hours, days and weeks educating and coaching them, which is not a productive use of your time, and certainly not of your money.
But in the most recent ten years, quietly and remarkably, the marketplace has developed a surprising number of firms that offer quality marketing services and advice to our profession. Part of the dynamic is the disintegration of traditional news organizations; writers who might once have specialized in personal finance columns are now crafting customized articles for financial planning firms. In addition, we’re seeing a new cohort of digital natives entering the marketplace at a time when many planning firms are still trying to figure out how to share their expertise, educate the community and reach out through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
The bottom line is that in this environment, there are many and varied services that you can choose from to outsource your marketing efforts, your writing to and for clients, your social media outreach, your website design and your branding—at a variety of different price points. The firms profiled here know what you do for a living and the value you provide. They can help you help more individuals, in this dark period of our lifetimes, live better financial lives—if you will allow them to.
I believe the best time—for you and for prospective clients—is now.
I’m going to start with the firms most-often-mentioned in my survey of Inside Information readers, which tend to be the larger and more established organizations, and which tend to work with advisory firms with larger budgets. From there, we’ll move to firms that are more appropriate for smaller advisory practices with more limited budgets—and in most cases, top to bottom, you’ll be able to see the marketing firms through the eyes of actual advisory firm users of their services.
Turning the Battleship
George Whitmore, Executive VP at Anchor Capital Advisors in Boston, MA, is an example of a large ($9.5 billion AUM) firm that went shopping for comprehensive marketing assistance. “About four years ago, we woke up and saw the need for a marketing initiative,” he says. “My goal was to develop a consistent messaging strategy across three client divisions.”
This was not a small challenge, since the three divisions operated semi-autonomously, providing wealth management for private clients; asset management for institutions and pension funds; and management of separately managed accounts and UMAs that are marketed through BD and TAMP platforms.
After a comprehensive search of the marketplace, Anchor developed a monthly retainer relationship with FiComm Partners (http://www.ficommpartners.com/) in Los Angeles and New York.
In step one of the process, leaders of each of the divisions sat down with a team from FiComm to create what Whitmore calls ‘legacy messaging.’ “In financial services, we talk in jargon way too much,” he says. “And in our messaging, we tend to talk about how good we are, rather than what good things we’re doing for our clients.”
The brainstorming ultimately led to a tag line that seemed to fit what was a core philosophy across all divisions: “value seekers.” “FiComm came up with that terminology, and we really like it,” says Whitmore. “It talks about how we approach everything we do, from investing to how we engage with private clients.”
FiComm applied the new message to a complete redesign of the firm’s website (you can see it here: https://anchorcapital.com/), and then to a digital strategy that starts with “perspective pieces” that are co-developed by Anchor’s staff and FiComm. “You can think of them as mini white papers,” says Whitmore. “They can be related to things about the capital markets that we find of interest, but they never talk about how we invest.”
The perspective pieces are teased about on LinkedIn, with links back to the content housed on the company’s website. FiComm also helped develop analytics that track prospects from the first time they click on a link to how they’re nurtured toward becoming a client.
How does it work procedurally? “My marketing manager is in direct day-to-day contact with FiComm,” says Whitmore. “We have weekly tactical meetings where there are five people from my side and an equal amount from FiComm, making sure that we’re staying on task with the content development projects.”
The relationship is now five years old, but Whitmore believes that his firm is becoming more self-reliant as time goes on. “FiComm is not doing all the work for us any more,” he says. “The relationship was front-loaded, where they helped us develop the messaging on the creative and production side, and helped us learn best practices in terms of how we deliver the messages. The relationship has evolved,” Whitmore adds, “so that they’re no longer considered a vendor to us. They’re a partner.”
FiComm’s founder and CEO, Megan Carpenter, started her career building marketing support for advisors at two of the largest OSJs in the John Hancock Financial Network career agency system. “I very quickly learned that what works for one advisor absolutely doesn’t work for the next,” she says. “Today, I still believe in the need for customized strategies for each individual advisor.”
Carpenter acknowledges that her firm is not for everyone. “Our pricing is exponentially higher than many service providers in our space,” she says. “We work really well with firms that are spending six figures or more on marketing”—which parses out to a firm with at least $5 million of annual revenues that is spending at least two percent of its top-line revenues on marketing initiatives.
What is her advice to the advisor community? Carpenter recommends that you look for a marketing partner who knows the advisor/planning business. “I have had so many people tell me, I want to work with an agency from outside the industry, so they’ll have a fresh perspective,” she says. “But the reality is that you should want to work with someone who has developed domain expertise in your business. It is very difficult to provide value to firms when you don’t understand their value or service.”
Beyond that, Carpenter says that many advisors have a blind spot around their marketing discipline. “Somebody might read an article or go to a conference and hear about the latest, greatest marketing idea that will bring them three new leads in a week,” she says, “and they will blindly go into it, because everybody in this business is hoping for a magic marketing answer.”
The alternative? “Before committing to any marketing strategy, and especially any agency,” says Carpenter, “you need to define your business goals and objectives for the year. You need to identify the strategies you’re going to implement to meet those goals and objectives. You need,” she adds, “to apply the same discipline to marketing as you do to the other areas of your business, and certainly around how you work with clients.”
For larger firms, each advisor on the team should develop a marketing strategy around his or her strengths. Everybody should be on the same page with a consistent message about what the firm does and how it serves clients. But the medium can be different.
“If an advisor is terrified of public speaking, would you try to put that person on a podium?” Carpenter asks. “Maybe they’re more comfortable analyzing data and writing research on it. Whatever you do,” says Carpenter, “will be more effective if it reflects the authentic you.”
Raoul Celerier, co-managing partner of Austin Private Wealth in Austin and Corpus Christi, TX, faced the classic dilemma that every breakaway team would recognize. “We had been with Ameriprise for 14 years, and in 2019, we decided to move to independence,” he says. “We had the name ‘Austin Private Wealth,’ but didn’t have much more than that. No marketing, no branding, no logo.”
The firm’s staff includes six advisors across three generations, and all of them had their own (very different) ideas about how to present the new firm to the public. “I got in touch with Impact Communications,” says Celerier (https://www.impactcommunications.org/, in Leawood, KS), “and they flew out here and set us in a room downtown. We locked ourselves in the whole day with them, all the advisors, and at the end of the day we had a consensus tag line: Austin Private Wealth: For a Life of Growth.”
What does that mean? “We realized that, at the heart of our service, we want to inspire our clients to grow in their financial and personal life,” says Celerier. “So growth was really the main idea for our identity.”
But that wasn’t the whole of the branding. Celerier said that a sub-theme that came out of the meeting was being ‘open to the world’—important because the firm’s advisory team and staff are multicultural, and they work with a significant cross-border client base in the Austin tech hub.
“Being open to the world doesn’t just mean who we serve,” Celerier explains. “It also means understanding what’s going on outside of our boundaries. Too many times we’re just thinking about our city, our state or our country, or our own challenges and not looking up and paying attention to the bigger trends.”
The solution? Create a second competing tag line? “Impact helped us develop a logo which communicated the ‘world’ message,” says Celerier. The logo looks like a planet, with rough latitude and longitude lines, tilted on its axis—and of course the ‘For a Life of Growth’ tag line is under it.
Meanwhile, Impact sent a photographer down to take the pictures that went on the new website. (You can see the logo and photos on the company’s home page, here: https://austinprivatewealth.com/.)
More recently, Impact’s team has helped Austin Private Wealth create the first podcast broadcast from its office, and the website now includes a video that helps people understand about the firm’s services and philosophies, filmed on different locations in and around Austin. A blog is in the works. The firm even features its own customized birthday cards.
A different Impact client, Optima Asset Management up the road in Dallas, TX, was facing a very different challenge. “When our founder passed away,” says Optima president Paul Lightfoot, “we were wondering: how can we retain our clients when he was the primary relationship? And how would we attract new clients when marketing was his responsibility? We had never spent any money on marketing or advertising,” Lightfoot adds, “and we needed somebody who knew how advisory firms can enhance their credibility.”
Lightfoot contacted Impact Communications on a recommendation from a Schwab relationship manager, and immediately started telling the Impact team what he didn’t want.
“Everybody in this profession tries to sound different,” he says, “but everybody ends up sounding pretty much the same. You can say ‘trustworthy,’ or ‘working for your interests,’ but everybody else is saying those things.” His firm, Lightfoot says, wanted to stand out in the sea of sameness.
After a one-day ‘message mapping’ process with Impact’s team, the firm found the tag line: “Partnering with families to ensure smart decisions about their wealth.” Optima’s website notes that “Wealth is more than just money;” it is the key to financial security, to leaving a legacy and, more immediately, to the freedom to enhance life experiences. (You can see the website here: https://www.optimaassetmgt.com/.)
Impact helped Optima develop a social media presence, and Optima leans on Impact’s staff to brainstorm content ideas. Once an article is roughed out by the firm’s advisors, the Impact team will help wordsmith the final draft.
The result? “When people look at our website, and see our materials, they can see, okay, this is a legit firm,” says Lightfoot. “Does that make us completely different from everybody else?” he adds. “No. But our website has more personality and a clearer message for what we do and how we do it. We could not have done what they did for us on our own.”
Marie Swift, founder and CEO of Impact Communications, began her career in this profession more than 30 years ago, handling the marketing work for one of the top ‘producer groups’ in the country. “I really found my groove in marketing, doing corporate communications for a group of 40 people, including 20 advisors,” she says. After five years, she left to start her own company and have a child, and her former firm became her first client.
Today, Impact has 13 staff members, some of whom work remotely (the locations include London, Dallas, Sacramento and Miami), and their capabilities are augmented by outside consultants and professionals who are called in as needed. “We have two service lines,” says Swift; “one for independent advisors, and the other for allied institutions who are helping to innovate and bring solutions to advisors.”
For advisors, the service menu includes the initial brainstorming and branding process, plus public relations, content marketing and a speciality in creating custom content for advisors who are too busy or lack the composition skills to write their own. Swift divides the ongoing process of attracting prospects and clients into four parts, what she calls ‘the four Cs,’ which are, in descending order of marketing power: Credibility (public relations and facilitating journalist-written pieces about the firm or quoting staff members); Custom (written by the firm with Impact’s assistance); Curated (forwarding interesting pieces from other publications); and Canned (material you buy from third-party sources that other advisors also have access to).
Clients range in size from two-partner firms up to very large ones; what they have in common is a desire to grow rapidly. Swift cites one client firm that has been growing at a 50% annual rate for the past three years. Fees range from $2,000 a month on up to $6,000 or more, and the initial on-site consulting is usually a separate charge.
Her advice to advisors? “Pick one thing to start and do it well,” says Swift. “Then pick another thing, and just keep building out.” She mentions a good blog, podcast or video series, or webinar series—and notes that Impact is actively working with advisory firms in all of these media.
Moving into the scary space
Isaac Presley, president of Cordant Wealth Partners in Portland, OR, hired Claire Akin of Indigo Marketing (https://indigomarketingagency.com/) to start the firm’s marketing campaigns, manage its email newsletter, create webinars and handle the social media postings for all of these things. “I’m not a marketer or copywriter, so we felt like we needed some outside expertise,” he says.
Sharlee Cretors of SC Financial Services in Scottsdale, AZ is another client of Indigo. “Moving into marketing is kind of a scary space for me,” she says. “We went to Claire and bought her full marketing package, which includes a custom article every month.
The articles are sent to Cretors or the firm’s two other advisors to modify as they see fit. “Once I’ve customized it, they take it from there,” she says. “They take care of all the social media links, making sure they are emailed out using MailChimp, and I can call or text them for anything that has to do with marketing.”
Recently, SC Financial Services engaged Indigo to create a webinar package. “That can be a huge distraction for me as a small company, figuring out the best way to do it and promote it,” she says. “Claire will go from writing the script to getting it done on video and then she’ll post it on your website and link to it through social media.” Of course, Akin also reviews an advisor’s website content.
Indigo has writers and marketing specialists all over the country who are on call for the firm’s advisory clients.
“I think the biggest thing about outsourcing marketing is: you don’t have to be afraid of it,” Cretors concludes. She says that it took about six months of consistent messaging before she started to see results. “But now I’m hearing from clients more and the people I want to get to know are hearing from me.”
Akin started her company after working as an advisor for her father’s planning office in San Diego, and for FMG Suite, which creates a content library that advisors and brokers can access.
“What I learned from that experience is that there are many advisors out there who need more help than that,” she says. “I really believe in the power of custom content,” she adds. “If you’re an advisor who wants to show your own personality, or you work with a specialized group of clients, that really demands content that is unique to you.”
What can advisory firms expect when they sign on with Indigo? “Typically, we start by taking over their website, do the search engine optimization and set up their social media profiles,” she says. “We want to make sure their website is responsive, that it reflects them, and that it has an easy calendar scheduler button so that people can schedule a call with them. We create a 30-minute webinar and put it on their website and their social media profiles, and for some firms, we buy LinkedIn and Facebook ads to get them in front of people they don’t already know.”
Then, on an ongoing basis, Akin and her team develop content for the advisory firm, trying to keep the messages topical to reflect what’s going on in the world or the markets.
Indigo’s target market is smaller advisory firms with one or two partners. “When you get to the bigger firms, with 10-20 advisors, they usually have a marketing person on their team who can do this kind of thing,” Akin explains. She also experiences demand from firms whose founders are baffled by social media and who just want somebody to do it for them. “They know they should be marketing,” she says, “but for some reason, they’re not doing it, and they’d like to start.”
What advice would she give the advisor community? “My very first advice to all advisors is to embrace a speciality,” she says. “Because we all want to work with specialists, whether you’re looking for a doctor, or if you have a big tax problem. By embracing a specialty,” Akin adds, “they can charge a premium for your services, and create marketing messages that will be more compelling with your audience.”
Second, Akin says that advisors should not totally replace referral marketing with social media outreach. “Most of their new clients are still going to come from referrals,” she says, “so it’s important to maintain that referral marketing pipeline, which comes from educating your existing clients, staying in touch, reminding them who you serve and how you help, and making it easy to share your information with people. That,” Akin adds, “is our primary focus with the materials we provide.”
Beyond that, advisors should recognize that it takes time for any marketing activity to get results. “The average person may get onto your email list and watch a webinar, but they may not set up an appointment with you for six months to a year,” says Akin. “This is a relationship business and it takes time to build that relationship online.”
Pricing? Akin and her team charge $2,000 up-front, which includes the website setup, optimizing the social media profile, creating a marketing calendar for the first year and search engine optimization. “We also connect them to the technology called Databox,” she adds, “which gets your metrics. It sends out an emailthat compares this month to last month, numbers and traffic to their website and traffic from social media and how many people are opening the messages they send out.” The ongoing articles service costs $625 a month.
When Janice Pierce, of Achieve Financial Partners in Garden City, ID left her broker-dealer, she suddenly had a lot more marketing options than she’d had before. I was looking for somebody who understood the compliance side of being on LinkedIn,” she says, “and as I was looking through the LinkedIn platform, Sara Grillo’s name kept popping up. I reached out to her, and she was amazing from the start.”
Grillo (https://saragrillo.com/) started by asking Pierce about her natural market and who she wanted to target as clients. The answer: business owners and firms that need someone to manage their 401(k) platforms.
“Then Sara did a survey of our LinkedIn profile and set up our profile and bio so that it would attract those people,” says Pierce. “Instead of a profile photo like everybody else has, she said I should show myself as an advisor in action. My profile now shows me being interviewed, it shows me volunteering, it shows me in my office setting. I’ve gotten several comments about that,” she adds; “people are noticing.”
From there, Pierce signed up for Grillo’s monthly group coaching calls. “You can log on to hear her speak live, and ask questions,” Pierce adds. Pierce writes her own blogs, but sometimes asks Grillo to help with the wordsmithing.
“The educational benefits from the group calls are terrific, and I’m getting prospects that I wasn’t seeing before,” says Pierce.
Karen Melo Ticas, of Planning for Good in Riverside, RI, learned about Grillo from her articles on the Advisor Perspectives site. “I wanted to be more active online and do more social media marketing,” she says. “Sara keeps me motivated and engaged by sending out regular reminders, and I always get good tips and ideas from her.” Ticas also likes the fact that she is regularly getting the perspective of 20-40 other advisors on calls. “I might learn something from someone else who is struggling with something,” says Ticas, “or somebody who had a success that they’re willing to share.”
Ticas says that the key to successful marketing, for her, is accountability—having somebody remind you to look up from your desk and reach out to the community in a systematic way. But on a more mundane level, she also learned how to embed links into posts, the importance of putting spaces between paragraphs and the effective use of tags. Her blogs are now posted on LinkedIn, and at Grillo’s suggestion, some of them talk about her work as a Big Sister in the community, and her volunteer work for the local city zoo.
Ticas has even started including more family content in her messaging, which has led to more hits.
“It was Sara’s idea to make it personal with my family,” says Ticas. When her husband won an award at work, she took some pictures while attending the ceremony. “I posted that to LinkedIn, and created a profile for my husband—which also was Sara’s idea,” says Ticas, “and tagged him, and it caught on fire. His boss, his boss’s boss, everybody saw it, and I got to interact with people I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to talk with.”
Another idea that Ticas took from Grillo was to repost messages from prospective clients. “I work with a lot of medical professionals,” she says, “and Sara’s idea was to follow them on Twitter, get to know who is in their network, follow the people in their network and then repost interesting articles about their industry.”
Ticas says she’s now getting at least two new appointments a month through her social media activity.
Chance Butler, of Pacific Landfall in Queen Creek, AZ, is also accessing Grillo’s social media system. “When I started this firm, I had never worked in the industry before,” he says. “My wife and I moved to Arizona and started from scratch: zero clients, zero prospects, zero assets under management. I quickly discovered that if you don’t have marketing, you don’t have anything.”
The relationship with Grillo has helped Butler jump-start from zero to profitability. “Her online system gives you everything you need to figure out how to get clients and onboard them,” he says. “There is a huge library of videos, and you can work the system at your own pace, step by step, on how to meet people, get LinkedIn connections, how to have them grow from strangers all the way to clients. She gives you techniques, tactics, scripts to use, and then it’s up to you to use the information and skills that she’s shown you.”
Taking Grillo’s advice, Butler is now creating YouTube videos—in a particularly creative way.
“When I reach out to a prospect, I use a little script,” he says: “Hey, thanks for checking; I thought you might enjoy my series on—if they are veterinarians, it will be videos on veterinarian finance. Then,” Butler adds, “I’ll make a one-minute YouTube video that is specifically addressed to that individual prospect. Sara has a video on how to make the videos, what scripts to follow, and I just customize it based on the prospect’s business and interests.”
One of the best parts of the service, says Butler, is learning how to respond to new connections on LinkedIn. “When someone reaches out and wants to connect with me,” he says, “I follow a little script, copy and past, which says: Thank you for connecting. How did you find me? From my website? From my articles?”
Butler is now averaging three meetings a week with prospects. “It is sometimes more than I can handle,” he says.
Grillo’s YouTube channel now has 6,000 followers, and her readership exceeds six figures through the Advisor Perspectives columns. “I love how these messages have helped so many people,” she says. “I tell it like it is.”
How does she like to work with advisors? “Two ways,” says Grillo. “I will go on retainer for them and act as their chief marketing officer, where I write the blog for them, post to social media, and help them talk with prospects over social media.” Cost for that is $1,000 per month.
The other way is the virtual coaching program, which costs $35 a month. “People get three new videos a month, they can ask me questions and participate in the group webinar,” says Grillo. “It allows advisors access but doesn’t tie up a lot of money. Basically,” she adds, “I am teaching people how to meet people over social media.”
The emphasis is on LinkedIn. What does she recommend that advisors do on that platform? “In general, you do not want to act like every other financial advisor acts on social media,” she says. “If there is one thing that I impart to people, it is: you cannot pitch the meeting right away. You cannot act like those people who are trying to sell insurance.”
For instance, if you have a LinkedIn connection with a CPA, find out what the CPA is involved in. Has this person written articles? What do you know about her practice? Grillo recommends that you read the articles they wrote, and when you connect, ask them about the article, and how did they become interested in that field. Know who their clients are.
“If you ask those questions, they’re going to talk your ear off, because it is meaningful to them,” says Grillo. “Look for ways you can help them. “Don’t come at people with a marketing pitch,” she adds. “Come at them like a normal person who tries to understand other people. The key to marketing,” she adds, “is making flourish what it is that you love about your life, in a way that connects with what other people love about theirs.”
Rick Phillips, of Phillips Financial in Fort Wayne, IN has engaged Jennifer Tolman of Second Summer (https://www.secondsummer.net/) for over 20 years. Among other things, he credits her with developing his Careful Conversations meeting with clients, which determines whether his services fit their needs. “I would call her a wordsmith,” says Phillips. “She has the ability to take my words and put them into an introductory talk, a fact finder, and a conversation we call ‘disturbing tracks,’ and somehow she manages to make my words sound magical.”
Most of his prospects come to Phillips through centers of influence referrals. “I’ve nurtured them through a conversation that Jennifer designed,” he says. “I will periodically remind accountants, estate planning attorneys and existing clients who are raving fans of what I do, why I do it, and why my clients like it. And then I ask them to consider people that they come in contact with who might benefit from what I do.”
All of this comes from the customized ‘playbook’—a 55 page document where Tolman has written the purpose and vision of Phillips’s firm, his unique story, his brand summary, his rainmaker talk, his elevator pitch, disturbing tracks, a right fit filter, an opportunity filter, a client exit interview, the reciprocity message, plus mentor exercises. “She continually tweaks these for me,” says Phillips. “Now that I have two other people who are starting to become rainmakers, we’ve changed our careful conversations so that they fit their words also.”
Tolman and Philips meet monthly over the phone for an hour. “If you miss one, that’s too bad; she doesn’t reschedule,” he says. The cost (up to $30,000 a year) means that any call Phillips misses is financially painful.
Tolman also counts among her advisor clients Bill Glubiak, CEO of Cedarbrook Group in Cleveland, OH and Bloomfield Hills, MI. Glubiak is no stranger to marketing; in his former life he worked for the largest marketing firm in Cleveland. Even so, when the 2008-9 Great Recession crisis rolled through the financial services industry, Glubiak realized that his firm really didn’t have a strong identity in the marketplace. “We had a name but not a brand,” he says.
In Glubiak’s mind, the brand is a rallying cry internally (What do we stand for?) and a way of explaining your firm externally. “I meet somebody at an event, we ask about our families, and they say: What do you do?” he says. “If I say, I have a financial planning firm, their response is going to be: there are so many of those people after me and I’m not in the market for buying insurance.
“The problem I was looking to solve with Jennifer was: how do we engage in that first five to 15 seconds before I’m turned off?”
The first result of those initial meetings was something that Glubiak calls The Humanity Factor. “Humanity is a state of human kindness,” he explains. “Factor is one who contributes to an accomplishment or result. And so it is our job to help you, Mr. or Ms. Prospect, whatever your humanity is, whether it’s your family, or your community, or your church or synagogue, whatever it is. And we help you discover that and lead you down a successful journey.”
Phillips concedes that Tolman’s services are not inexpensive, but says that she is involved in every part of his firm’s marketing program. “We’ve grown tremendously in terms of assets and clients, if that is the measuring card,” he says.
Another prominent voice in the financial planner marketing community is Kristin Harad (http://kristinharad.com/), in San Francisco, who has some very definite ideas about how advisor marketing is changing. “In the old days,” she says, “you would network, build your referral base and follow a sales strategy of followup and nurturing through phone calls,” she says. “But that’s not easy to scale.”
Today, she says, advisors should augment their referral marketing with shared content. “If you get in the habit of sharing your expertise, whether it is a blog, podcast or through video,” she says, “people can decide to engage with you at a light level, by following you on social media, or sign up for a free report or download, and slowly get to know you.”
So how does she work with advisors to facilitate that? The most inefficient way for a referral to pass from client to prospect is to require the client to give someone your phone number. “The name and number could be forgotten within a minute or two,” says Harad. “But if I send somebody a link to your blog, I’ve created a permanent way for that person to connect with you. They can look at the blog, and whatever other content you’re sharing, and check out your website.”
As an example, imagine you’ve helped a client start a business. And you created a podcast on the topic. The client might tell a friend, ‘I listened to my advisor’s podcast about how to leave a corporate job to start your own business, and you should check it out. I find it really interesting.’
“Now the friend can say, I want to do the same thing she did, and I need somebody to help me with the financial element of it,” says Harad. “But before calling you, the friend might sign up for a free report that you offer, offering ten ways to prepare your finances before you jump ship from your corporate job. If she likes that, she might schedule an appointment to see if you’re a good fit.”
Harad will help the advisory firm create a schedule for producing content, and she’ll email out a link to clients and prospects whose contact information is in the database, and also to link it to the social media channels.
Instead of saying that you’ve produced a podcast, she will instead ask a teaser question. Do you really believe that 29% of your employees are on the verge of leaving in the next two years? “One mistake I see frequently,” says Harad, ‘is advisors putting up social media links to the article, and there’s no insight or context or tagging or hash tag or anything. They just put this link up and think somebody is just going to magically want to read it.”
Better to pull out a little blurb from the blog or podcast, and a week later share another blurb, each with a link. Using a social media aggregation platform, you can schedule the same blog several times if it’s evergreen, and you can schedule different blurbs with links.
“That’s the baseline,” says Harad. “If there is one thing you do, it is writing, publishing and sending out to your list.
After that? Harad helps advisors create social media content campaigns, where there will be several blogs around a theme. “Let’s say you’re sharing content around designing your ideal retirement lifestyle,” she proposes. “You can come up with 25 tips to share on the topic. You can say, up front, I’ll be sharing 25 tips in 25 days on how to design your perfect retirement lifestyle; things you may never have considered. Then you break it down into small posts: Tip one. Then tip two. And you schedule it across a period of time.”
Of course, each of these will link back to your website, to content you’ve already developed. At the same time, you can amplify your reach by linking to influencers, and referencing some of their content. “You’ll be piggybacking and shining a light on content from other people who have the same target audience that you’re trying to reach,” Harad explains.”
Finally, you can mix in third party articles. When the New York Times writes a piece about something of interest to your audience, you can highlight that.
Harad says that the key to productive content is to define, as tightly as possible, a target client niche. “Any content you write, you don’t just write about what that niche needs to know,” says Harad. “You drill down to the specifics related to either the area where they live or what you know about these people. What are the details of your most valuable clients? Then you speak to their fears and concerns and aspirations. If you write too generally,” she says, “you don’t stand out.”
Harad will also offer advice on decentralized branding; that is, for larger firms, allowing different advisors to have their own niche, and their own voice, within the larger firm. “Each advisor can use the firm’s platform to present an individualized message,” says Harad, “sharing opinions, telling a bit of their personal story, what they’re passionate about. When the advisor can start to reveal some of that realness behind who they are,” she says, “clients will be more comfortable to open up about where they feel fear or anxiety.”
What is her target market? “The firms that I really enjoy working with have a founder who has recently retired,” says Harad, “and the Gen X next-level people have been handed the reins. The founder built the business the old-fashioned way, and now the next person has to figure out how to start attracting clients. They realize that marketing needs to be more than sales, and now that they’re responsible for the growth of the firm, they become serious about marketing in a more modern, leveraged way.”
Honing in on your audience
I myself am working with Jessica Lyonford and Ryan Peebles of Great Brand Parents (https://www.greatbrandparents.com/welcome) in Kansas City, MO, on the recommendation of Dan Danford at the Family Investment Center. “She built our website and oversees our promotional activities,” Danford wrote.
For Inside Information, the firm has revamped my web page and signed me up for social media accounts. I’m taking the advice I started this article with, trying to take my message of comfort, support and substance during this downturn to reach a wider audience of advisors.
Lyonford is the former creative director at Bernstein-Rein advertising and Global Prairie in Kansas City; her new firm has a niche specialty in small businesses and financial planning firms that have a fiduciary orientation. “We start with revamping their websites,” says Lyonford. “The key is building your brand. What is it about you as a firm that is different from the firm across town? What makes you, the financial planner, a better option for your customers than that other firm? If it’s about financial freedom after retirement, then everything should be about that on your website. You would have elements that are on every page of your website: the headers, the navigation pages, all of the trails that add up to the bigger picture.”
After the website and brand defining process?
“Then what I really focus on is digital marketing and building a social strategy,” says Lyonford. “It’s a low-cost alternative for targeting your messaging to the specific parties and individuals that you’re looking for. You can quickly integrate what works and what doesn’t,” she says, “so you can really hone the messages that are going to your specific targets.”
Of course, this presupposes that you know who you want as clients, and Great Brand Parents helps you define that. “Your blog posts are more effective if you target a very specific niche group of people,” says Lyonford; “say: retirement planning for people in a certain age range, or planning for college or starting college funds for younger families. You can track and see what ads or units are pulling in the most and what messaging is working the hardest. Then you stop putting money behind the ones that aren’t working as hard and more money into the ones that are.”
Many advisors have little interest in Facebook, but Lyonford actually thinks that it could be the best social platform for many fiduciary planners. “Financial planning’s sell is a lifestyle and life enhancement sell,” she says, “whereas investment management is a money sell. People spend time on Facebook for lifestyle purposes, so it can be the perfect insertion point to get into those story lines. And as long as it is not a hard sell, as long as it’s more of a conversational message, then you can position yourself as an advisor who they can talk with like a person.”
The firm works on a project basis, with a retainer anywhere between $1,500 and $5,000. “I like to spend a lot of time up-front,” says Lyonford, “building up the strategies that I think are going to help them in the digital world that they’ve created. Then, once the strategies are in place, you can tweak and iterate as needed, and it becomes more about execution, which is easier,” she says. “They can go into more of a maintenance mode.”
You might also see Lyonford associated with something called “Project More Happy,” which is a social media strategy aimed at boosting the level of human happiness in communities.
Come again? “In the advertising world, we have all this knowledge and expertise around how to sell products through mass communications,” says Lyonford. “Instead of using this amazing knowledge that we have to push people into buying things, why can’t we use them instead to elevate the human good and happiness in the world?” Lyonford is buying social media messages, creating workbooks and selling t-shirts that encourage happiness and self-compassion—funded out of the firm’s own pockets.
Keeping it risky
One of the most satisfying marketing engagements you’re likely to read about came from David Armstrong, president and co-founder of Monument Wealth Management in Alexandria, VA. After a string of unsatisfying marketing relationships, Armstrong hired Terri Trespicio (territrespicio.com) of Brand Manifesto in New York—who also moonlights, interestingly enough, as a standup comedian. “She used to be an editor at Martha Stewart magazine,” Armstrong explains. “She runs writing workshops, and she’s really adept at taking the safe and making it risky in a way that really works.”
The engagement started with a discovery meeting. “She asked a lot of questions, and also educated us on the difference between messaging and branding, and what a brand is,” says Armstrong. “She told us that a brand doesn’t imply or convey any sort of messaging; it is nothing more than a symbol, or a logo, or a face, something that allows somebody to say, oh, yeah; I know this firm.” Think: Nike swoosh.
Then Trespicio focused on the Monument brand in a very intense way. “She asked me: how did your brand come into existence? Tell me the genesis and history of that logo.” Monument, as the firm name implies, has a logo that looks a bit like the Washington Monument. (You can see it here: https://monumentwealthmanagement.com/wealth-advice-start-here/.)
“We said, we picked the name and chose the logo because we’re based near Washington, D.C.,” says Armstrong. “So then she said, tell me how you came up with the name ‘Monument,’ because if you can answer the question of how you came up with the name, then I’ll understand how you came up with the logo. And all of a sudden,” Armstrong adds, “we were in a really interesting conversation.”
The punchline is that Trespicio helped Armstrong redefine the brand so that it stands for something all by itself, and that ‘something’ also drives the messaging. Specifically, monuments are purposely built, rather than created by nature like rivers or mountains, and they are built to last forever. They represent something that is of value and importance to us as a culture. What Armstrong and his team were doing for clients was purpose-built, and built to last.
Step two was Armstrong answering a lot of questions about who he serves, the problems that he solves for them, how he solves those problems and why, and which clients are a good fit and which are not.
That led to a marketing document which includes these words:
Monuments are a part of our landscape. As a D.C.-area firm, monuments are part of what makes our home distinct. They mark pivotal points in history and celebrate people, moments, achievements and victories, and have and always will stand the test of time.
We like to think we’re doing that too: building something that is not just sizable, but significant, memorable, worthy, and something that you cannot just be happy about, but in awe of. Something that may very well outlast you.
Monuments don’t happen by accident or by chance.
But what about the messaging? Pre-Trespicio, Armstrong was describing himself as a best-of-breed financial planner, offering great service and functioning as a fiduciary for clients. “She listened patiently to that, and then told us that those are service-level items,” says Armstrong. “They are not part of messaging or differentiating, any more than a baker hanging on his front door a sign that tells customers we use the freshest ingredients, and the best butter, the best flour, the best sugar, to make the cakes. You would expect that just walking in the door of the bakery,” Armstrong adds. “It’s nothing more than table stakes. Your messaging has to be deeper than that.”
Trespicio then gave Armstrong a choice. “She said: Dave, if you want me to go right down the middle of the road, and give you messaging that sounds like everybody else’s, then you don’t need to hire me. Just go out and plagiarize somebody else’s website. But,” he adds, “she said: if you want to have some messaging that’s going to resonate with people, it’s probably going to sound more risky than what you’re comfortable with.”
Armstrong gulped and gave Trespicio the go-ahead, and the result was a 15-page messaging document.
“I felt like very word of it was pure gold,” Armstrong says. “She just nailed it.”
One part that he particularly liked: “Many other firms and so-called teams inside of big Wall Street firms are nothing more than a collection of individual advisors and their operational support. Instead, we are a team of razor-sharp, innovative, collaborative and creative thinkers with seasoned financial experience, a renegade spirit and zero commitment issues.”
That, says Armstrong, is not down the middle of the road.
Whenever Armstrong writes a blog, he will pull out the messaging document and incorporate some of Trespicio’s phrases. “It’s designed to be an a la carte messaging document that you can go in and see exactly what we need to say,” he says. “It’s broken down into different sections, like who we serve and how we solve problems.”
Trespicio is not holding Armstrong accountable, like many of the ongoing relationships you’ll read about in this issue, and he is creating his client videos on his own. His ‘hub and spoke’ blogging process, where five big themes are defined each year and blogs are centered around that theme, was his own idea. But Armstrong still finds inspiration in Trespicio’s TED talk, which you can find here: https://bit.ly/3bBlAEm. “She really encouraged me to take risks, get out there, and not be afraid of having an opinion,” he says, “and now we try to push the envelope as much as compliance constraints will allow me.”
Key word marketing
Adam Cmejla, of Integrated Planning & Wealth Management in Carmel, IN has benefited from one of the more out-of-the-box marketing services in this compendium. “Taylor Schulte, of Define Financial [https://www.definefinancial.com/] in San Diego (a fee-only planning firm)] is a marketing whiz who has developed a couple of side projects to help advisors focus on their marketing efforts,” he says. “He’s helping advisors create targeted SEO and keyword-friendly websites, and an ‘Experiments in Advisor Marketing’ podcast that has received a lot of positive feedback from advisors. (The podcasts are available here: https://www.taylorschulte.com/my-podcasts/.)
“The podcast really blew up in the last year,” says Schulte, not just among younger advisors who are in the XYPN world, but older advisors who are thinking about marketing for the first time. Topics include how to structure your website, where to put the calls to action, how to build a landing page, whether you should be posting messages on YouTube or podcasting.
In one podcast, Schulte talked about a disastrous experiment with snail mail marketing, and how the outcomes might have been improved. Another was an interview with Matthew Jarvis, of Jarvis Financial in Federal Way, WA, about his marketing experiences. And of course, Schulte explores and dissects his own experiments over the years. “I bought a small practice several years ago, and the podcast is about the lessons I learned from the experience,” Schulte adds.
Schulte is also working one-on-one with a small number of advisory firms, and he finds they typically offer one of two immediate challenges. “Either they have a website with no content,” he says, “or they have a website with a bunch of content that is not optimized correctly for search.”
Either way, Schulte will start by defining some key words that are important to the advisor. Do they work with clients locally or nationally? What kind of clients are they targeting? What are their favorite services to provide?
Then, working together, Schulte and the advisor will come up with five topics for blog posts that are relevant to them and their business, and ghost-writes those posts for them.
Only five? “That is the foundation of their website content, but they need to continue to develop content on their own,” Schulte explains. “You want to include longer pieces, almost like white papers, with the right key words included,” he adds, “because Google rewards you for quality over quantity these days. For advisors who have messy websites with a lot of content, we’re going to consolidate maybe ten articles on Roth conversions into one giant awesome piece on Roth conversions, and get that optimized for search.”
Now that he has his own social media, blogging and SEO systems working, Schulte estimates that he gets three leads a week—defined as people who schedule a phone call with him to learn more about his services. “Google views us as a high authority local website,” he says, in part because of the way he’s organized his site, in part because he writes for kiplinger.com, and links back to his website. “I’ve done a lot of guest posting for other people, and guest podcasting, and those links have all added up,” he says.
But… How does he know his authority level on Google? “An organization called Domain Authority (https://moz.com/domain-analysis) gives every website a number, and the higher the number is, the more credible of a website and business you are in Google’s eyes,” Schulte explains. (Check out your own website. forbes.com gets a 95 rating; bobveres.com is ranked a lowly 36.) “Most advisors are like a 2 to a 9,” says Schulte.
Schulte is still working on his pricing for helping advisors raise their SEO visibility and ghost-writing their posts, but he says that he has charged anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 so far. The podcasts are a good way to get to know what he’s thinking and get YOU thinking about your marketing efforts.
“Most marketing companies out there for advisors are not financial advisors,” he says. “One of the reasons why my podcasts have gotten so much traction is that I’m actively doing this stuff, and sharing my real-world experiences. I think,” says Schulte, “that advisors are starting to realize that they need to learn from other advisors what works and what doesn’t.”
Niko Finnegan, of Delta Wealth Advisors in Hinsdale, IL sent me a message recommending Crystal Lee Butler of Crystal Marketing Solutions (https://www.crystalmarketingsolutions.com) in Franklin, VA. “For us, she’s done a great job of explaining the ‘how-to’s of marketing funnels and lead captures,” he says.
In a previous life, Butler worked with a financial planning firm as director of business development before branching out on her own and providing her marketing expertise to a broader array of advisory firms. “Today, we have two types of engagement,” she says. “One is managing an email marketing calendar, managing emails, social media marketing, coordinating the printing and design and basically enhancing and executing.”
More recently, she’s recognized a need for a broader type of engagement, where she works up-front with the advisor to create a marketing strategy to a particular target client, before she shifts shifts to managing the various components.
Does she do the writing for advisors? “I have a team of contractors,” Butler says. “There’s a ghost writer, copy editor, project manager and graphic designer who all help to support me as I execute the strategy.”
Advisors may come up with their own ideas for blogs or podcasts, but Butler is also involved in developing ideas. “We do key word research to see what’s popular out there at the moment,” says Butler, “coming up with the terms and seeing what is actually something they could write about. We typically write two ghost-written articles for advisors per month, that they can send out and put on their website.”
Some advisors like to write their own content, so in those cases Butler and her team will proof and optimize it for them. Others might choose articles from a voluminous content library that Butler has developed.
Cost? If the advisory firm needs strategy work, the fee will be $2,000 a month in the first year, and also the second year if the work stretches out that long. Then it drops to $1,000-$1,200 a month.
What is Butler’s best advice to advisors who are starting to get serious about marketing themselves? “Don’t do it just for the sake of doing it,” she says. “Make sure that you have a strategy, something written down, even if it is just a one-page document that says, I want to do X, Y and Z, and this is who I want to work with. Have some sort of structure in place, so it is organized,” she adds. “If you just start doing something, it takes more time to revert back than it is to have a structure in place and a plan.”
As an XYPN member, Paul Sydlansky of Lake Road Advisors in Corning, NY, has access to a pretty broad array of resources through the network, which is where he ran into XYPN in-house marketing consultant Carolyn Dalle-Molle (https://www.xyplanningnetwork.com/member-benefit/executive-coaching-marketing-support/). “As a new advisor who worked on Wall Street,” he says, “I attended some of her webinars on marketing-specific topics.” He hired her on an hourly basis for project work, and the engagement has completely transformed his marketing efforts.
This started with a refresh of Lake Road’s website, and with an exercise that helped Sydlansky hone in on his target market. “We spent some time thinking about my goals for my business, and who are the people I want to help, and defined what the perfect Lake Road Advisor client would look like,” he says. “Out of that, we built an avatar. I gave him a name: Jim. I named his kids, and his dog, and his job. I wrote down all the things he likes and doesn’t like.”
Sydlansky is a diligent blogger, but he says that his efforts pre- Dalle-Molle were not focused or coordinated with each other. “Now, whenever I create a blog or a white paper or send out a post,” he says, “I am always speaking to Jim. When I think about new services, I always ask myself: What would Jim think? How would this help Jim with his life?”
The blog marketing is supplemented with occasional meetings with centers of influence in the Finger Lakes area of New York and also in New York City, where Sydlansky also has a cluster of clients. “Carolyn was able to give me some really good ideas on how to spark good conversations, and make it meaningful to them,” he says.
Social media outreach has also been expanded. “I’ve started really spending time on LinkedIn, because my niche market is working with mid-career professionals, and that is their preferred platform,” Sydlansky says.
Dalle-Molle helped Sydlansky see that the blogging and meeting centers of influence was ‘top of the funnel’ work, and that he needed more emphasis on the middle of the funnel: helping prospects learn more about him and his firm, and deepen their interest. “Now my website takes a prospect through the flow and experience of what we do, and how that experience can be important to them,” Sydlansky explains. “Whereas before I had a lot of information on the site, but there wasn’t a method to the madness.”
Other improvements to the middle of the funnel include digital webinars and a resources page with white papers, infographics and links that help explain financial concepts.
“People often get confused about expense ratios,” says Sydlansky. “So I now have a white paper on how you can look it up on Google.”
The biggest thing Dalle-Molle does for Sydlansky is help him focus on the bigger picture of marketing, and hold him accountable for following a coherent marketing plan.
“She has given me structure,” he says. “I’m the person who sees the shiny object, or reads an article and wants to try that new idea. I didn’t have a focus or an overall strategy. But she makes me take a step back,” Sydlansky adds, “and say, okay, who are we aiming for? Who do we want to help? How do we want to help them? How are we going to get in touch with them? How are we going to nurture them? Carolyn,” he says, “helped me bring all that together,”
David Little, CEO of Eclectic Associates in Fullerton, CA, has been building up his firm’s marketing efforts with the help of Kristen Luke, of Kaleido Creative Studio (https://www.kaleidocreative.com/) in San Diego. “I became concerned that we were experiencing slowing growth, and wanted to do something to combat that,” he says. “We are a classic advisory firm, in that I think we’re good at the work that we do for clients, but we’ve neglected the marketing side.”
Kaleido updated Eclectic’s marketing materials, website and social media profiles, but the biggest difference, post-Luke, is focusing the firm’s advisors on regular and routine marketing chores, like writing weekly blog posts and sending out material to prospects who have clicked on links or otherwise expressed an interest in planning work.
“Kaleido picks the topics [of the blog posts] and gives us the key words,” says Little. “They tell us how long the article should be, and then our advisors rotate writing an article every eight weeks.”
Finally, Kaleido helped refine the Eclectic’s process of tracking prospects in the pipeline, using Junxure’s CRM capabilities more fully.
The effect? “We know we have been seeing more prospects,” says Little. “But I can’t totally draw a line between this or that client and Kaleido’s work for us. I have to believe the work we’re doing allows clients to refer us more easily. What I can tell you is that we needed this stuff updated.”
Cost? $3,500 a month initially, and in maintenance mode $1,000 a month. “They hold us accountable,” Little says, “and they make sure we don’t stop marketing.”
Luke also worked with Bob Rall, of Rall Capital Management in Rockledge, FL. “Ten years ago, I was trying to expand my marketing by taking advantage of social media as much as possible,” he says. “She helped me get set up,” he adds, “and then three or four years ago, we reconnected, and now Kaleido does pretty much everything for me from a marketing perspective. Even when we put on client events, she’ll put together the email invitations and post cards, and help us get the graphical stuff in place so it looks nice.”
Rall now has an ‘opportunity dashboard’ in spreadsheet format, which keeps track of prospects, including where they came from and where they are in the marketing cycle, from lead to prospect to client or not client. “Kristen uploads the data from our spreadsheet into her portal, and compiles the results,” says Rall. “Last year, we didn’t have as many client referrals as we had the year before. So this year, we’re going to focus on building that back up. There was some question about my closing ratio year over year, so we talked about how to make that better.”
This is in addition to a website refresh and handling email blasts that go out to clients and prospects. And, of course, the social media. “I go through my news sources, gather articles, make a comment and then publish them on Buffer,” Rall explains. “And Buffer sends them out to my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds automatically.”
Luke also helped Rall create a pitch book, which is basically a set of Powerpoint slides that go up on the big screen in the firm’s conference room, which helps explain the firm’s planning process and investment philosophy to prospects on the first interview.
Rall says that he can’t measure the return on investment of his $2,000 a month relationship with Kaleido, but he’s happy with the service. “The big picture result is that we are getting people in the door,” he says. “In fact, right now we’re pretty close to capacity.”
Ginny Hudgens, of The Strategic Implementer, will sometimes include Olivia Luper at Lexicon Content Development in Stuart, FL (www.lexiconcontentdevelopment.com) in her engagements with fee-only advisors who need writing services.
Luper is a relatively recent addition to the advisor landscape, having started the firm two years ago. “I started doing articles for some advisors,” she says, “and then I found out that they were having trouble figuring out what to do with them. So in addition to content writing services, I now offer automated email campaign work, print and digital newsletters, and even seminar pamphlets. It really depends on what the advisor is looking for.”
The service might include a website refresh, plus setting up Google Analytics to understand how prospects are interacting with the messages that are sent out. “My number one measure of success for an advisor website is a low bounce rate,” says Luper. “We want people to be spending time on the site. We build internal links within the website, so that it is not a ‘show up and leave’ situation.”
Google Analytics will also show Luper which pages are getting the most visits, and which content is getting the most engagement. To facilitate internal movement, she likes to include links to other articles with each blog, and have ‘contact us’ links on every page.
In Luper’s experience, advisory firms tend to fall into a couple of categories. There are the advisors who have been around for 30 years, who are comfortable with a communication process that evolved in a very different era, who are having difficulty adjusting to the digital era. “They were mostly engaged in networking at the Rotary Club or local meetings,” she adds. “They aren’t sure how to handle social media or whether they want to add it to their marketing efforts.”
This group will have a very clear message, and know what types of clients they’re servicing. For them, Luper will handle the social media and email messaging, and do some of the writing. “It depends on their social media profile, but we’ll put them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook,” she says. “I’m getting some of my advisors to move toward the Instagram space, but we are in somewhat of a transition there.”
Another category of advisory firm has been in existence for ten or 15 years, and its principals are accustomed to living digitally. Luper will help these advisors clarify their brand and target clients. “I say, let’s do some digging and figure out where you want to go,” says Luper, “and streamline your message so you can build the business that you’re envisioning. After that, they mostly need me to do some writing for them,” Luper adds, “because they want to spend their time on their clients.”
In almost all cases, Luper has to refocus the way advisors present themselves to the world. “I tell them, let’s not lead with ‘I’ or ‘we,’” she says. “Instead, talk about the value you’re adding. That’s what the prospect cares about: how can you benefit them?” Everybody falls into this trap, she says, because advisors work hard to get their credentials and gain knowledge, and they want to highlight that. “At the end of the day,” says Luper, “what will get people interested is how they can be served, rather than any kind of self-promotion.”
Gwen Garrison, of LifePlan Financial Advisors in Atlanta recommends the services of Lynn Donham of Donham & Associates in Decatur, GA. (No website, but you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.) “I’ve spent 15 years in marketing, advertising and public relations, and owned my own agency for several years before becoming a financial advisor,” says Garrison. “So I know something about the field. As far as I’m concerned,” she adds, “Lynn is one of the best in the business.”
Donham helped Garrison streamline her firm’s messaging and social media planning. “She has redone our website and helped us with news release planning and development,” Garrison adds. She has also set up press breakfasts and helped develop relationships with local media.
“The thing that makes her unusual is that she is a thinker and a doer and a connector,” says Garrison. “When we created our team, she was able to bring us to a consensus understanding of what our company is about, what the mission is, how we can help fulfill this mission and how much fun it is to do that for clients. She can really get excited about what we’re doing.”
Garrison says that advisors should not be intimidated by professionals of Donham’s stature. “People in our profession tend to have smaller businesses,” she says, “and they think that they can’t work with somebody with this much expertise because they can’t afford it, or that the work has got to be way more complicated than it is. But,” she continues, “the best marketing people are very good at meeting people where they are, and they all give respect and consideration. That’s what you need to expect, and there is no reason to work with anything less.”
The One Plan
Gary Gardner, of Life & Wealth Advisors in Walnut Creek, CA, has been working with marketing consultant Wayne Cerullo, of B2P Partners (https://www.b2ppartners.com/) in Clayton, CA. “I took him through one of my favorite questions: What is the single largest issue in your life right now?” says Gardner. “He put that through his branding filter, and came back with the idea of The One Plan, which is a one-hour free consultation.”
Cerullo revamped Gardner’s website and created a description of The One Plan for business and life, with some questions for clients to ponder and a button to schedule an appointment.
“He also helped me drill down to who I really want to work with,” Gardner adds. “We came up with the term ‘independence.’ My target market is highly-compensated people who work almost in an entrepreneurial role for corporations and business owners;” people who seek independence in their roles and, at the same time, who want to achieve financial independence.
What is different about Gardner’s current messaging, vs. what formerly appeared on his website? “Two things,” he says. “My concept has always been to serve like a river guide, and we retained that. But now it’s focused on independent people and the independent theme. He put into words what I’m really doing,” Gardner adds, “and The One Button approach for The One Plan gives people a chance to get to know me and see my service offer.”
The other difference, Gardner says, is that his prior website was 20 years old, while the new one reflects the 21st century. (You can see the new version here: https://lifeandwealth.us1.advisor.ws/.) With Cerullo’s guidance, Gardner is now doing short podcasts on different topics. “People say I have a good voice to listen to,” he adds.
Alise Kraus, of Mercer Global Advisors (Walnut Creek office), is a big fan of marketing and business development specialist Susan Danzig (www.susandanzig.com) in Moraga, CA. “She is the go-to person in the Bay Area for advisors looking to grow their practices,” says Kraus. “People have used her to get more comfortable asking for referrals, or having her review their marketing materials. For me, she’s a personal development coach.”
Danzig has also helped Kraus find more speaking opportunities in the local community, and role-played with her to hone the referral conversation. “I work for a big national firm, and we have our own marketing department,” says Kraus. “But Susan is great at helping me with my own individual marketing efforts.”
Stephanie McCullough, of Sofia Financial and American Financial Management Group, both in Berwyn, PA, is juggling two brands and two firms at the same time.
Why? “As of January 1, I now own what was my father’s RIA, as well as my own,” she says. “I have my father’s clients and the clients I built up for myself. Two advisors and two name brands,” she says. “It’s very confusing.”
For now, the two brands are necessary, since Sofia Financial focuses on working with professional women, while her father’s firm, and the legacy advisor from that firm, services a more general clientele.
Fortunately, McCullough has marketing consultant Barbara Kaplan, of BSK Strategies (http://clickcanyon.net/bsk/) in Penn Valley, PA to help her sort through her unique marketing challenges. “We would meet twice a month, and she helped me redo my website and my positioning and target market,” McCullough says. “She encouraged me to go to events where I’m the only one in the room who does what I do, instead of always hanging out with other financial planners. And she helped me follow up with people.”
In particular, McCullough remembers how Kaplan helped her realize that there were many ways to reach out to potential clients. “One time,” she says, “I told her, I don’t think we can meet. My broker-dealer was just purchased, and we have to send a letter out to all our clients, and they have to sign a form. She came back and said, you know, that’s a GREAT marketing opportunity! She helped me craft this amazing letter with a graphic that explains the value of what we do, and we got a very good response rate. I would never have seen that as a strategic opportunity.”
Kaplan also helps McCullough stay focused on marketing when she would be inclined to devote her time only to client work. “Instead of peeking out from the planning activities, I now put time and energy into marketing,” says McCullough. “She gives me homework and deadlines. She’s having me be more active on LinkedIn.”
Even bigger picture, Kaplan gave McCullough some perspective on how rare she is as a client-focused advisor. “I tend to hang out with folks like me, who think like I do,” says McCullough. “She kept telling me how different I was. You have to be reminded sometimes that there are a lot of advisors out there who are a lot less client-focused.”
Amy Jo Lauber of Lauber Financial Planning in West Seneca, NY was already on a marketing journey when she met Cathy Wilke of Freedom & Fulfillment (https://freedomandfulfillment.com/) in Yonkers, NY. “I read a lot about marketing,” she says, “and Clay Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck made me completely change my website. Now I get loads of business from it as well as tons of compliments.”
Wilke doesn’t specialize in financial planners; her focus is on holistic practitioners, which could include women running yoga studios, female massage therapists—and women running financial planning practices, who are holistic healers of peoples’ finances. “She also focuses on The Empowered Feminine,” says Lauber, “and offers advice on how to run a business as a woman.”
Wilke started the engagement by helping Lauber deal with the rejection that sometimes comes after you’ve invited a prospect to become a client. “She told me, when you’re offering your services to somebody,” says Lauber, “if they decline, this has nothing to do with you. She said it’s like offering a plate of chocolate chip cookies you just made. Most people are going to love them, but maybe this one person is diabetic, or is trying to go Keto. It has nothing to do with you or your cookies. I hung onto that,” says Lauber. “Whenever people say no, I say, okay; you don’t want my cookies. That’s fine. Because there are plenty of other people who definitely want my cookies.”
From there, the engagement moved to what Wilke calls the Niche Clarity Pack.
“She had me go through a bunch of questions,” says Lauber, “like: Who do you believe you are here to serve? What is the problem that you are most passionate about solving through the work that you do? What is it about what you do that makes your heart come alive? What are the types of questions that your ideal client would be asking you, that you would be most equipped to answer? Once I got clear on that,” says Lauber, “it became so much easier to tell my story.”
This helped Lauber focus on two interestingly different demographics: engineers who come to her for validation of their investment approach (she charges a planning fee and does hourly work) and people who are very confused about their financial picture and are seeking clarity about where they stand.
For each, there was an additional exercise that many planners can go through on their own. “Cathy said to me: describe your clients’ or prospects’ experience with you in their own words,” says Lauber. “I had to pose as one of my clients, learning what people are feeling when they come in my office.”
In response, Lauber found herself saying things like: I’m confused about what I should be doing. Should I be saving more? How am I supposed to do that when I’m spending everything I earn? What should I be investing in? How am I supposed to know what’s right for me? I’m anxious. I’m afraid of making a mistake.”
Through that exercise, Lauber realized that every prospect she sees seems to have that one thing in common: they’re afraid of making a mistake. “And if they make a mistake,” she says, “what is that going to mean to them and their family?”
Once again, it’s not easy to measure Wilke’s impact in dollar terms, but Lauber feels like she interacts with greater clarity and understanding in client meetings, and she now has a good feel for who she works best with. And, she says, she has stopped attending networking meetings in hopes that somebody will throw an occasional client her way, and is relying more on her own personal brand. She created a client advisory council, and now says that she loves marketing.
From survey to referrals
Randy White, president of TriCapital Wealth Management in Charlotte, NC celebrated his 20th year in business with a complete website redesign, a new client newsletter, a more regular blog and mailings to clients. The consultant who helped her with all of this is Anna Shea of Illuminated Advisors (http://www.illuminatedadvisors.com/) in Pawtucket, RI.
Shea writes the blogs and mailings, though not without consulting White. “Typically we’d talk about a topic, and then she’ll put together an outline or a draft article,” says White. “She’ll send it to me, I’ll add, subtract or change, and then she’ll send it directly to my compliance department.”
Once approved, the blog is posted on TriCapital’s website and Shea will manage the LinkedIn and Facebook posts.
White says that he also uses Shea as a consultant for his marketing efforts; she answers his questions and helps keep him accountable for a consistent messaging process. “We moved into a new office recently, and have some events planned, and Anna helped us with that,” he says. “We did a client survey last year, and we’re going to use those to create referral opportunities. She’s been helping me come up with a strategy for those.”
All in the family
When Jackie Goldstick of Core Wealth Management in Jupiter, FL needed outside marketing advice, she called… her husband.
Larry Goldstick is the principal and founder of Capture Digital Marketing (https://www.capturedm.com/) which has a variety of niche markets, one of which is fee-only financial planning firms.
“I actually went out and talked with different people who specialized in different areas,” says Jackie Goldstick. “We weren’t getting people to our website. We were writing great things and nobody was reading them. Nothing was optimized because nothing was working together.”
Capture’s main value, Goldstick says, was drilling down into the key words that best ‘captured’ the profile of the clients she was looking for. “Now we write articles with those words in them,” she adds. “Capture will send them out on social media, and we only get contacted by our target market.”
“The best part of it is that everybody who comes in is somebody who would be appropriate,” says Goldstick. “Our marketing is not about quantity of getting a bunch of prospects in; it’s the quality, and you get that quality,” she says, “by being up-front about who you are and what you’re looking for.”
My own marketing consultants would chide me if I didn’t at least mention in passing that Inside Information (www.bobveres.com) writes articles that advisors can send to clients, at a relatively modest cost of $449 a year for people who aren’t subscribed to my Inside Information service ($298 if you are). As you can imagine, I’ve been writing and sharing a lot more material for our advisor community these days.
And in my original request for the names of marketing consultants, I talked about the graphic design services of Audrey McGimsey, who happens to be my daughter, and who also has won significant awards for her work. (http://www.audreymcgimsey.com)
Most importantly, I want to repeat what I said earlier: that this is the time for the real professionals in the planning/advisory world to reach out to their anxious, suffering community, and make them aware that you’re available as a resource during very difficult times. Please don’t think of it as marketing; the more people you bring under the wing of your advice, the less damage this current pandemic and market volatility will do.
I would not even think of marketing yourself as a public service; it’s more important than that. It’s an act of generosity to extend yourself to the people whose non-fiduciary advisors have abdicated their client obligations, or who have never entered into an advisory relationship and are now wondering what to do next.