What makes some financial broker websites world class?

Creating a world class website is within the reach of financial brokers. The secret to it is to follow some simple guidelines, put a lot of work into creating excellent content and then pay a very high level of attention to the detail. If you’ve a fairly basic website or one that hasn’t been revisited in a while, here are some tips that can help you get there.

 

Keep it Simple

The days are long gone of auto-loading videos, animated graphics and the latest technical fads. The best websites today are ones that guide the user quickly to what they want and communicate in concise, engaging content.

 

Make it Easy to Navigate

Don’t make the user have to “work out” where to find the information they are seeking, make the navigation as simple as possible. The main navigation bar, which should always be at the top of the page and not down the side, is really critical. It is through this that most users will enter the site from the homepage, so think this through very carefully. Think very carefully of what to include on this, as it typically will only cover 5/6 site areas. And then consider very carefully what you are going to call each section. Use standard terminology that makes sense to people, such as About / Our Services / Contact Us / News or Blog.

 

Focus on Financial Planning

I look at a lot of financial brokers’ websites. Probably the biggest bugbear that I have is the lack of focus on financial planning. This is the extremely valuable skill that you bring to your clients, helping them identify their financial objectives and then finding and implementing the best solutions to help them achieve those objectives.

However many websites talk only about financial products. This makes you appear as a hard-edged salesman, selling the latest and greatest products, not doing justice to your skill at all. I strongly suggest that you develop a very prominent, specific section in your website about financial planning and explain the value that you will bring to clients.

 

Reduce your Content

Long explanations and technical details about every product available will just bore users. Explain in very brief, clear language the services that you provide. An alternative approach is to identify some client personas and set out (again in brief, clear language) how you meet the needs of these different personas.

 

Use Visuals

Using images is great. There are literally millions of stock images for sale that you can use. However if you really want to stand apart, spend a bit of money, hire a professional photographer and get some original imagery. This can be a real wow factor!

 

Commit to your News / Blog section

This section is for regular and relevant blog entries that educate users and demonstrate your expertise and these play a number of valuable roles. First of all, they draw people to your site after you share a link to a useful article you’ve written. This of course in turn opens up the possibility of the user finding out more about you and the services you offer.

Also search engines (like Google) love fresh, original content. In fact new, authentic content that engages users and in turn is endorsed by them through sharing it, liking it or commenting is one of the most important drivers of bumping you up the search results. This is of course on top of the value that clients and prospective clients will get from knowing that you are a financial broker with a finger on the pulse and demonstrating your expertise and ability to solve their problems.

 

Show Authenticity

Client testimonials, particularly where the name (and better still a photo) of the client is included, are a very valuable asset. These give you credibility, as do links to any reviews etc. Having a social media presence also adds credibility, so have clear links to your LinkedIn profile and other social media assets. Obviously then make sure your social media profiles are of the same high standard!

 

Have Clear Calls to Action

Users will come to your site for a range of different reasons. Some may be simply browsing around, others may be looking for specific information, some may want to buy and may be looking for your phone number. Try and appeal to all of them by having a range of Calls to Action. The last group are easiest – make sure they can easily see your phone number without having to go looking for it! For the others, have Calls to Action that will enable them to stay in touch with your business, even after they leave the site. Do you make it easy for people to connect with you on LinkedIn from your site? Make it easy for them to subscribe to your newsletter. Maybe offer an online Chat facility to answer their questions there and then.

 

Mobile is Key

More than half of searches happen now on mobile devices. Your site simply must be responsive, ensuring that it is easy to read on a phone or other device. People today have lost patience with having to “pinch” the screen to go looking for the information that they want – this results in a terrible viewing experience. Responsive sites alter the screen layout to suit the device on which it is being viewed – a “must have” today.

Also in relation to mobile, if someone is looking at your site while out and about, very often they are simply looking for contact details. So again make sure your phone number is very visible.

 

For some financial brokers, these changes will mean a few hours work. For others they might mean a new site. For everyone though they are worth it. Research of financial brokers is happening more and more online so you want to make sure you are demonstrating why you are the best choice for prospective customers!

 

Just bought a business? Turning 2 into 1

So you’ve made the big move… Your business is in growth mode and you’ve decided to accelerate that growth by acquiring another advice business that’s for sale. The price has been agreed, as has the structure of the deal relating to the earn-out period and terms for the owner of the acquired business.

While this is a big step and great progress to get to this stage, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Because according to a 2017 Harvard Business Review report, the failure rate for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) sits between 70 percent and 90 percent! A very scary figure… Now of course this figure applies across all industries and you can argue that’s it’s different when buying another financial advice business. But there is still lots to consider if you want to integrate the acquisition successfully and maximise the value of the deal. So where do you start?

 

Have a very clear strategy

Of course you likely will have given this a lot of thought before you get anywhere near the integration phase. Hopefully you have a very clear vision of what you are setting out to achieve. Does the acquisition simply increase the number of clients of your business, or is it opening up new markets? Is it giving you capabilities in new areas of financial advice, or is the acquisition delivering significant cost savings when the two businesses are put together?

Know where you are going and what it is that you are trying to achieve, as your strategy should be the guiding “North Star” for your integration process.

 

Build a very robust plan

You need to have an integration plan for every area of the business. If you want the integration to be successful, this plan has to be developed carefully and thoroughly, building a clear roadmap for every key service area – your advice process, your service proposition, your compliance process and right through to your HR processes. You have to ensure that you have the required resources in place to actually develop and follow through on this plan.

If instead everyone just blindly “hits the ground running”, there is a strong likelihood of a significant fall-off in performance and even chaos a little bit down the road! To avoid this, give some thought to the following areas before you set out to integrate the two businesses.

 

Consider culture

This is an area that the leader of the business needs to consider carefully and be very involved in. Are the cultures of the two organisations similar or are they quite different? What is the desired culture of the merged operation going forwards and what are the main steps to help you to start building this culture? This will need clear leadership and involvement of all of the staff.

 

Good integration takes time and focus

It won’t just blindly happen. Your carefully developed plan will need to be delivered in a structured way. This will take the time and focus of some key people – maybe you, maybe members of your team. You need to recognise the cost of this as the focus of these people for a period of time will be on integration of the two businesses, rather than increasing the income of the business. However this short-term cost will definitely pay dividends in the longer-term.

 

Who are the right people to carry out this work?

If you want the integration to happen successfully, you need to have the right people carrying it out. There can be a temptation for the leader of the business to lead the integration work. However it may be that their attention is better spent elsewhere, for example leading the commercial focus of the business for a while and guiding the expectations and requirements of clients and business partners. The leader of the business should be close to the integration, but does not necessarily need to lead it. Sometimes there appears to be an “easier” solution and the integration process is passed to someone who “is not that busy”, but who may be completely unsuited to the role. This is a recipe for disaster.

The integration role is best carried out by someone who is very structured in their work and who is capable of keeping a project with multiple strands on track. If they have very high credibility in the office and strong relationships with colleagues, this again significantly enhances the likelihood of success.

 

Follow through

Finally, don’t get side-tracked by current business pressures, see the integration through to the end. That is not to say of course that you won’t change tack at times, but when this happens, tweak your integration plans rather than leave them behind.

 

A good integration process will help you ensure a successful result after your acquisition. Follow it through relentlessly and you can reach out confidently towards your goals.

10 tips for brilliant client seminars

Financial brokers are always seeking out different ways to keep your clients engaged throughout the year. Many of you send out regular updates and newsletters, you of course meet clients face to face and some of you use technology to deliver excellent webinars and conference calls.

A popular marketing tool is client seminars, as these offer great opportunities to interact and engage with lots of clients. When carried out well, seminars can be significant brand enhancers. On the flip side though, when they are not done well they can significantly undermine your brand. Quality needs to sit at the heart of every aspect of them.

Here are some thoughts on delivering high quality seminars.

 

1. Don’t make it a once-off event

The best events are the regular events (this being even once a year) that clients really enjoy, get value from and look forward to the next one. Not easy to accomplish! But if you spend the time planning a regular event from the outset and think through themes that will carry forward to future events, this will always be much more powerful that a once-off event that in reality will deliver little long-term brand value.

 

2. Focus on quality throughout

Focus on quality throughout – the venue, speakers, the messages, room layout, presentation template, food, invitations, takeaway packs etc. Every aspect needs to be high quality. Spend a little extra and really wow you audience. This will make your event memorable and will encourage them back again.

 

3. Choose speakers carefully, even better if they are unexpected

The quality of the speakers is of course a really important ingredient. This is not a time for sales pitches, you want to add value through informing and educating (see point 6 below). In a previous life in 2008, we hosted a seminar for Financial Brokers at which the CFO of Ryanair spoke about cost cutting. At that time cost cutting was the no. 1 challenge for almost everyone in the audience. We got huge kudos for this seminar, as it was seen as providing information that was really valuable to the audience, at no direct gain to the company that was hosting the event.

 

4. Cut down your number of slides, and then cut them down again!

The number one presentation killer…… You have a very good message to deliver but you can’t understand halfway through why people are starting to nod off! More often than not, it’s because your presentation is just too long. The audience has just got bored!

A rule of thumb I use is to allow at least 2 minutes per slide (excluding the cover and end slides). That means if your presentation is 20 minutes long, there definitely should not be more than 10 slides.

 

5. Reduce the content on each slide

Assuming you will present yourself, don’t have more than 5/6 lines of text on a single slide. The audience have come to listen to you the speaker, not to read your slides! Otherwise they could just have asked you to email them a copy of the slides the next day. You are the main act and your slides are simply a visual reminder of what you’re saying, not the other way around!

If your presentation requires the audience to be given every detail, give them a hand-out at the end – how bad is it if they ring you the next day with a question?

 

6. Make your presentation engaging and educational

As mentioned earlier, your goals are (or should be) to inform and educate. Ensure your message is crafted with these in mind. Then you need to make the presentation more engaging, both in terms of your spoken message and any supporting slides. Use simple visual prompts by bringing in graphs and diagrams to make points. A single video (no more) can add a lot but only if it is very relevant.

This can be a lot of effort but is really worth it. If you don’t have the PowerPoint skills yourself, use someone who does. You’ve gone to the bother of getting a room full of people together, it is so important now that you engage the audience fully. Oh and talk to your audience, not your slides! If there is an opportunity to interact with them by questions / looking for a show of hands, then this is even better.

 

7. Make sure everything works at the venue

Check out the venue beforehand and then on the day, get to the venue with loads of time to spare in case time is needed for any unforeseen problems. Nothing will damage your confidence and ultimately the delivery of your presentation more than rushing to try and sort out issues…. If possible, have someone there as a support to deal with any potential problems for you.

Is there enough parking nearby? Is the sound good enough in the room and are there enough chairs? What about the temperature in the room? Also, do a complete run through of the entire presentation with someone at the back of the room – not just the first few slides. Can they read the slides or is the typeface too small? Is the projector strong enough? Do all the links in the presentation work and will your video play properly? Once you see everything working perfectly, you will relax and can go and greet your guests.

 

8. Practice, practice, practice

I know, this is really obvious but so often ignored! The benefits of practice? Well first of all, the more prepared you are, the more confident you will be and the better your delivery will be! How many times have you finished a presentation and thought “I meant to say…… but just forgot”. This is less likely to happen if you practice. If you practice, you are more likely to stay on track in terms of the message and also your timings, so you’ll probably finish the presentation stronger.

 

9. Spend time thinking about the Q&A

What are the likely questions and how will you respond? What are the potential curveballs and how will you deal with them? How will you deal with any unexpected and very negative question – think how you’ll cut this off cleanly and quickly and enable yourself to move on. Listen to the news that day. If there’s a current and relevant story, develop a position on it. If you want an easy start to the Q&A, plant a question in the room to get the conversation going.

 

10. Close the event out well

As soon as people start to get up from their chairs, there is a temptation to get back to the day job. Now though is the time to seek feedback that will help you plan future events, either through a feedback form or via a survey. And follow up then personally with people afterwards. You might just have opened up a new line of thinking in their heads that will result in opportunities for you.

 

Quality throughout is the key. High quality seminars, particularly a series of them over a few years can deliver excellent long term brand value to your business.

 

How important is SEO for financial planners?

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation is a marketing tactic that divides opinion among financial planners and advisers. Some believe it is almost the holy grail and a critical part of the marketing mix, others don’t see it as important at all.

First of all (and just in case…), what is SEO? It stands for Search Engine Optimisation which effectively means getting your website to appear as high as possible on Google rankings for relevant search results.

How important do I think it is? Actually I don’t think it’s very important at all for financial planners. And I don’t say that lightly… but I say it for a few reasons. SEO is a critically important marketing tool for providers and sellers of many products and services, but I’m just not convinced that the provision of expert financial plans and advice is one of them. There are a few reasons why I think that SEO doesn’t belong as a core part of a financial planner’s marketing mix.

 

Do your target market clients make contact as a result of a web search?

Yes some people may make contact with you as a result of a Google search result, but from my experience they are rarely the type of client that financial planners are really looking for. They are not people seeking to build a long-term valued relationship with you (which is your target market), instead they tend to be looking for a transaction, and usually a discounted one at that.

 

What is the purpose of your website?

Most financial planners want to have a very informative and credible presence on the web. If an existing client refers a potential new client to you, your aim is typically that your website will demonstrate your credibility and professionalism. This is very different to building a website with the aim of generating leads. It’s important to understand what you’re trying to achieve, as this needs to clearly come through in the structure and content of your website. I firmly believe you are better off writing with your target audience in mind, seeking to establish that credible presence, rather than writing to appear at the top of search engine results.

 

 SEO is great for location-based services. How important is that for financial planners?

SEO is of course an extremely powerful tool for many businesses. For example, if I had a bike shop in Howth, I would want to appear at the top of the Google ranking when people search for buying bikes and parts in north Dublin. Those buyers will either want to buy online or will want to travel a short distance to the shop. SEO is great for location specific businesses.

How important is location for financial planners? You definitely don’t want to be driving to the four corners of Ireland, but at the same time most planners tend to have clients from a relatively wide geographical area – a county maybe, a province for some and for others maybe two centres of their own location and Dublin.

 

You need an expert in your corner for SEO

There is lots that you can do to get your site fit for purpose yourself to help you in the Google rankings. Talk to your web developer for a steer on what you can do in terms of indexing the site, correct page titles, use of keywords, tagging your images etc. However this really is only the start of it…

One of the challenges is that clever people keep “gaming” the system to get their website higher in the rankings than they deserve to be. So Google keep changing the rules and you need to understand technically what Google are looking for, if you want to be at the top of the rankings. Did you know that the speed your website displays on mobile devices is becoming an important factor in your ranking? As is the quality of links to your website and what people are saying about your business. It’s a minefield and you need specialist help.

 

Get ready to produce a stream of fresh, original content

This is probably the biggest challenge. If you want to appear high in search results, a minimum requirement is for lots of fresh, original content being uploaded on your site. And regularly means just that – weekly or more frequently than that.

Is that worth the effort for you? Do you have the time? I suggest that maybe your time, energy and money is better spent elsewhere.

 

Yes, SEO is a great tool for certain businesses. However for financial planners, I think that your energy and budget is better spent elsewhere.

How do you connect with today’s prospects?

Prospects will approach you with a wide variety of requirements in mind. This applies both to the type of advice or potential products they are seeking, and also at various stages of their “buying cycle.

We’ve previously covered the buying cycle of clients in more detail in a previous article here, however as a very brief reminder we set out the concept of AIDA. This is an acronym that is usually used in relation to advertising to describe a buying cycle, but can also be applied to the services offered by a financial planner or broker.

AIDA in this context stands for

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

Each of these steps is part of the mental journey that a client will embark upon, before he or she decides to use the services of a financial planner. However when they come to you initially, they can pretty much be at any of the four stages – they may have moved through some of them before contacting you. It is important for you to remain alert and capable of delivering on each of the steps, to meet the needs of each specific prospect.

Our previous article covered the key steps that you need to take with prospects at each of the four stages of their buying journey. The focus of this piece is on some of the conditions you need to consider to connect with a modern consumer throughout the buying cycle.

 

The importance of relationships

Of course building strong, trusted relationships sits at the core of the proposition of virtually every single financial planner. However not all planners seek for this relationship to extend to the partner of the prospect that reached out to you. Some financial planners still happily meet clients, without seeking the prospect’s spouse or partner to also attend.

Decisions about household finances are often not made on the spot by clients, instead they are made back in the comfort of their homes with the input of their life partner. Not having attended the meeting with you can result in the partner missing some of the nuances behind your advice, and also results in the partner not having the opportunity to ask questions that are bothering them. And the outcome is that action can stall… or issues can arise down the road. Where possible, always meet the client and their partner.

 

Research sources are far more accessible for prospects today

Prospects approach you far more loaded (with information) than before. Often when they speak to you for the first time, they know a lot about you, in fact significantly more at this stage than you know about them! If they have initiated the contact, this probably means that they were sufficiently impressed with what they read / saw / heard to still press ahead and make contact.

But are there prospects out there who hear about you, carry out some research and then not make contact? It’s critically important that you can tick the following boxes to connect with today’s consumer.

  • Your website must look very professional, be very engaging and must demonstrate your particular proposition and points of difference.
  • Today more than 60% of Google searches are carried out on mobile devices. Having a website that is not responsive to mobile devices is simply a business death wish.
  • Your social media presence is so important too. Just Google your own name and see how prominent your LinkedIn profile is in the search results. Your LinkedIn profile must impress.
  • All of the above require a constant, consistent stream of fresh content. Digital assets that are clearly not maintained say a lot of (not good) things to consumers…

 

Your “seller journey” must lead to a face-to-face meeting

Advisers today all have a common goal – to get the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with prospects who they have qualified as suitable clients going forwards. Then you get the opportunity to properly set out your proposition and how you can positively influence their lives. To achieve this, it is so important that wherever the prospect is on their own buyer journey, they must be gently encouraged towards this goal of meeting you. The benefit and value for them of actually sitting down with you must be positioned carefully within your messaging at every opportunity, so that the client also shares that goal of actually meeting you.

Simply asking to meet the client with no context or positioning can feel like a sales push to the client. Your chances of building a lasting relationship are far higher where you have carefully set out the value for them of meeting you.

Good financial planners today can transform the lives of their clients by bringing strategy, structure and sense to their financial affairs. However prospects need help to discover this value that you add. Help them do it!

Pleased to meet you…

Networking is a very traditional, but still a very effective and important marketing activity. It’s also one that fills a lot of people with dread… They think of standing around in crowded rooms with no one to talk to, or being pinned in the corner making small talk with someone who they frankly have little interest in meeting. And so while most people recognise the importance of networking, very few people do enough of it. In fact, I find it’s the one activity that causes the most discomfort when it ends up on the marketing plan for a financial adviser!

So what can you do to make it easier and more effective? After all, if it actually works and helps you generate new clients, you are much more likely to continue to do it.

 

Recognise that it isn’t easy

Networking isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally to lots of people… but it isn’t easy for anyone. So while you might think that it’s so easy for certain people, that tends to be because they’ve worked really hard at becoming good at networking.  However, while some people might appear to find it easier than others, everyone at least has a common purpose  – they are there to build connections. So approach it from the point of view that at least everyone has the same goal and are open to talking to you.

 

You must have a strategy

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be standing in the traffic if you want to get knocked down! But it’s not enough to wander blindly into a networking event without a clue of how you’re about to approach it. This starts before the event where you try and get a handle on who is likely to be there. Are there lists of attendees available in advance? Can you check out who members of the business group / conference attendees are? Once you’ve an idea of who will be there, you can start thinking about who your preferred “targets” are. And then you can start doing some quick research on them through their website and LinkedIn profile. And this research will hopefully come in very handy later…

 

Be a first mover

Don’t just head for your pals and spend your day in deep conversation with them! By all means, if they are in a group of people that you want to meet, take the opportunity to get introduced into the group. But be active and make the first move to start conversations. Others will thank you for this and it also gives you the opportunity to guide the conversation.

 

Be interested

And this is where your research comes in really useful! If you can show a level of interest in the people you meet – some knowledge of their business, some connections you have in common, it might even be that you know about some quirky interest of theirs, this will ease them into the conversation as you are opening the door for them to talk about themselves. And then be interested because your interest in them will come back in spades. Remember you’ve two ears and one mouth for a reason! People will naturally want to reciprocate and turn the conversation towards you, which of course is then your opening…

 

Hone your own pitch

When you get over the initial chit-chat and move on to talking about your reason for being at the event and what you have to offer, this simply must be interesting and must grab their attention. At the end of the day, they will be talking to many people that day so you must be in some way memorable. If you are pitching your wares, paint pictures of solutions, not saying why you’re such a great financial planner. Let people see how you can solve problems for them and enrich their lives in some way.

 

Follow up brilliantly!

Then when all the hard work is done, make sure you take the final step. Contact people after the event saying how it was great to meet them and thanking them for their time. Connect with them on LinkedIn and if you send out a company newsletter, suggest that they be added to the circulation list. Send them information if this makes sense. If there’s a favour you can do for them, maybe there’s someone else you can introduce them to – well then this is even better.

 

So yes, networking is not easy. But hopefully these few thoughts might make the task a little less daunting for you!