LinkedIn – Part 1: Building an effective profile

This is the first of a series of 3 articles on the subject of LinkedIn for financial advisers. These articles are going to cover the following;

  • Building an effective profile
  • Developing your LinkedIn network
  • Using LinkedIn to engage existing and prospective clients

Here are the steps to build an effective profile!

 

Introduction to LinkedIn

For those financial advisers not familiar with LinkedIn, now is the time to change that… Basically LinkedIn is your own personal website where other users can learn about you as a business person and connect with you. In my humble opinion, a strong presence on LinkedIn is no longer optional as more and more clients research financial advisers on LinkedIn and use it as an important source in determining the professionalism and credibility of advisers. If you’ve no presence, potential clients will wonder why.

LinkedIn was launched in 2003 as a social network for people in professional occupations. It has experienced explosive growth, now with over 225 million users worldwide in more than 200 countries, with membership growing at the rate of 2 people every second.  It underwent an initial public offering (IPO) in May 2011, with its shares opening at $45. These are currently trading at well over $200 per share, the company having a market cap in excess of $21bn. I fully expect that with this membership growth rate and the financial value of the business, it is here to stay…

While I’m not personally convinced that many users in Ireland are using LinkedIn to actually find a financial adviser, it is being used more and more by people to research an adviser before contacting you. So it is critical that your profile does you justice. The question is; how do you achieve this?

 

Take the help available

LinkedIn wants each of us to have as rich a personal profile as possible. To help us, it has a very useful feature called “Improve your profile”. This is a big blue button, up near the top of your profile, beside your photograph. Use this. It is LinkedIn’s way of guiding you through each section of your profile in turn and encouraging you to complete every section.

Your aim should be to fill that blue circle called “Profile Strength” in the right hand column as much as possible!

 

It’s not “once done, forever forgotten”

Your LinkedIn profile needs to be kept current. So if you change jobs, get a new qualification, pick up new skills or join any new networking groups etc., you should update this on your LinkedIn profile.

I encourage people to take 10 minutes every month or so to quickly read down through your profile. Is there anything to add or indeed just some language that could be strengthened?

 

Put up a photograph

There is no good reason not to put up a photograph! Any prospective client will want to know what you look like. The photograph should be a professional headshot, not one from a night out! Using a good photograph further enhances your credibility.

 

Your headline is very important

Apart from your name, this is the first section that people read so it is very important. You’ve 160 characters to say what you do. This is not “Managing Director of ABC Financial Services”. Instead it should explain what you do, particularly if you have a target market in mind, for example “Expert financial planner & retirement adviser for professionals and business owners in the Fingal area”.

 

The summary section is your elevator pitch

This is the first section below your photograph so again it is very important. I believe these are best written in the first person, as it makes it more personable and “from the heart”. The summary is your opportunity to set out what makes you different to other financial advisers, so to my mind this is where you talk about the expertise you offer, the client-focused approach that you use, the value gained by your rigorous advice process. This is where a prospective client will think (or not) that you are the type of person they want to work with.

 

Recommendations are great!

LinkedIn recommendations are hugely valuable as they come from real people, offering strong feedback on your services. Value these as they are a great endorsement for you personally and are a great asset in attracting potential clients.

Less valuable are endorsements, which are simply “one click” endorsements of particular skills that you have. These are much easier to give and get and so are much less valuable than recommendations. However I don’t discount them totally, as they offer a bit more colour to your LinkedIn profile.

 

The rest is important too!

And then it’s a case of filling in the rest of fields, giving other LinkedIn users a real sense of your experience, your interests and why they should have you in their network. Make the content as rich as possible, adding links to your website, other social media assets and now you can also add presentations, videos and publications. All of this makes your profile more engaging.

 

And what about search results?

Having a content rich profile will help you to show up higher in LinkedIn search results. In fact by including keywords such as “financial planner Ireland” in as many fields as possible on your profile, this will help you achieve a higher position in search results for those keywords. As mentioned earlier, I’m not convinced as yet though that people in Ireland are using LinkedIn to find a financial adviser. In my view they are using it more for research purposes of advisers that were recommended to them.

In any event, having a strong profile is worth the effort and is a cornerstone of optimising your presence on LinkedIn. Over some upcoming blog posts I’ll look at building your LinkedIn network and using LinkedIn to engage people.

If there are any specific questions that you have in relation to LinkedIn, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below.

Treat the first meeting like a first date!

Let me start by saying that none of my friends ever took dating advice from me! So while I certainly can’t be considered a modern oracle on the art of dating, by going back in the depths of my mind I can just about remember some of the golden rules. And the funny thing is, many of these rules apply to that all-important first meeting with a prospective client which is central to one of the most common challenges that financial brokers ask me for help with; turning more prospects into clients.

So going back 20 years to when this innocent twenty something year old was doing his best to even get a first date, what were the important things to remember and how are they relevant to the first meeting of a financial broker with his / her client today?

Be Prepared

Starting with the old Scouting rule, this was always very important. Having a plan and trying to stick to it. Thinking ahead and trying to work out what were the most important buttons to press to ensure that the date went well and would potentially turn into something more…

Equally with the first meeting with a prospective client, you need to have a plan. This will normally be an agenda or a finely tuned process that you use at these meetings. And in relation to the buttons that you press, you’ve got to recognise the main challenges that you face in this first meeting. The potential client is internally asking the questions;

  • Is this broker the right person for me?
  • Do I trust him/her?
  • Is he/she going to add value to me, and address what I think my issues are?
  • Do I think he/she is being open with me, do I understand what I’m getting into here?
  • What does this office say about the broker?

They are not thinking about products – so nor should you at this stage. You’ve got to mentally tick off the above listed questions to ease your client into a relationship with you. So don’t start with a barrage or personal questions (the factfind) – this never worked on a first date either…

Be interested

I found out to my cost (more than) once that a sure-fire way of destroying any potential interest that my date had in me was to spend the first hour wittering nervously on and on about myself. Instead there was more to be gained from letting her do the talking, and as a result learning about her values, her interests and her expectations.

Back to the business meeting the same is true. You don’t really know at this stage (you might think you do) why the potential client is in front of you. So now is the time for gentle but strong open-ended questioning. You want to find out what the client wants, what their values are and their expectations of a business relationship with you. Indeed this helps you decide whether they are potentially a client for you. Letting people talk about themselves will help to put them at their ease, once you don’t probe too deeply at this stage.

Win some trust

Back on the dating scene, this started by putting the lucky lady at ease in my company and convincing her that I wasn’t an axe murderer, or that I was going to leave her with the bill at the end of the night – I had to win some trust.

So in the business meeting the same applies. You need to convince the client firstly that you can be trusted, that you are in the business of making them money and not losing them money, that you are indeed someone that they would like to work with and have a follow-up meeting.

To me, a short visual presentation of how you advise clients is at the core of this. Demonstrating a robust advice process builds trust, gives an understanding of what you do and how you do it, and helps the client recognise why you are the right person to manage their affairs. And still products don’t come into it yet – that’s because the client just expects you to be fully knowledgeable in that area and product knowledge will rarely be a means of differentiating yourself from your peers.

If you want to use any support material to strengthen your case, show some real testimonials and case studies of innovative advice solutions you used in the past.

Remember, your aim at this stage is to build rapport with the client, rather than problem solving. You are trying to demonstrate your capability as an adviser and your suitability as the right broker for the client.

Then demonstrate that you are the only person in town for them

On the date, the wine was now hopefully starting to flow.  Then it was time to show that I was actually quite a likeable and interesting guy, before eventually convincing her that I was definitely worth seeing again! This usually entailed being willing to discuss & confront some tricky issues… Openness in this regard always helped.

This comes through in the first meeting with a client. Once that initial trust is won, don’t lose it by skirting around some big issues. For example if the client raises this the question of how you are paid. Be crystal clear and open, discussing with clients at this first meeting the value that you will be bringing and how your remuneration will be based on this.

Get the location right

The choice of restaurant was always crucial. However if my house was going to feature at all at this early stage, it was very important that it was at least clean!

The same applies to your office as this will help form that first impression. Will the client think that this is a really professional outfit that they’ll happily trust their affairs to, or does it all look a bit all over the place? They will perceive the environment as a reflection of how you manage your clients’ affairs.

What about afterwards?

So the first date has all gone swimmingly. Now it’s important that you get the follow-up right. Not too pushy but at the same time you want to move things along a notch. Well the same applies to your business meeting. Hopefully you’ve got off on the right foot so now it’s time to follow through with the professional approach you outlined at the first meeting.

Trust me, I failed more than once at the dating game! However I hope that some of my lessons bitterly learned will help you in your first meeting with your clients.

If you’ve any thoughts on what’s important at the first client meeting (I’m not looking for dating tips!), please leave your comments below.