My 5 most important apps

In my annual look at the Apps that I get most value from in my business, I’m mainly going back to some old favourites, while also mentioning some apps that I’ve started to find irreplaceable over the last 12 months.

Here are the five most important apps that I use in my business today – I use these every single day and across a range of devices – my phone, laptop and desktop.

 

1. Xero

I was introduced to Xero, an online accounting system a couple of years ago. It has had a transformative on the financial management side of my business. I now have real-time profit & loss statements, balance sheet and a host of other useful reports that are available at the press of a button. All my invoicing and bank reconciliations are done through Xero, as is management of expenses. My accountant and I can both view the up to the minute real time information about my business, I’m saving hours every month with this software and have much better information available to me.

Specifically with the app, I now simply photograph my receipts and they are automatically added to my accounting records.  I’ve full view of my outstanding invoices in the App and other important information. I now have all the information I need, and the time spent on “the books” is now a fraction of what it once was!

 

2. Feedly

Feedly is an app that I use all of the time in seeking out useful content from the web to share, and indeed for content ideas to write about. It uses the little orange buttons that you see on many websites with 3 white lines in them. These are RSS (Really Simple Syndication) buttons, which enable you to have content sent to you as it is uploaded on the web – this might be from a blog, a news feed etc. However (thankfully) you’re not sent an email every time something is uploaded. Instead it is sent to Feedly, which gathers all of these articles in one place. It is like a magazine rack for online articles, waiting for me to go through them.

I can then flick down through hundreds of articles in minutes, reading only the headlines, dipping into an introduction or indeed the full article if I think it is actually worth reading. And I can mark them all as “Read” very easily as I go along, ensuring those particular articles don’t appear again. I’ve categorised the different feeds into groups, which can further speed up the process too. The benefit of Feedly is the time it saves me in getting through huge numbers of articles.

 

3. Pocket

And then there’s Pocket, which is my scrapbook of articles that I’ve “cut out” and saved for later. As I see articles of interest on the web or that come through to Feedly, some catch my attention to be read later when I’ve a bit more time on my hands. With 2 clicks, I put them in my Pocket and can also tag the articles for different purposes – it might be to share out later, to rewrite with my perspective, maybe to help me develop a new angle for my proposition etc.

I can then go back into Pocket when I want to carry out an activity and simply click on the article that I’ve saved for that very purpose. It’s all very easy and it means you don’t lose great articles that you’ve read.

 

4. Hubspot Sales

Hubspot are one of the leaders in marketing automation systems, which help you to better manage your sales and digital marketing activities. They offer a range of different priced packages. My introduction to Hubspot was through a product called Sidekick, which is now part of a wider Hubspot Sales package. The purpose of this (desktop) app is to alert me when someone opens an email that I’ve sent. It is fantastic in helping me to time when to follow up an email that I’ve sent. For example, I might have sent a proposal 3 or 4 weeks ago and suddenly see the recipient opening the email again. Might be worth a follow-up call while I know the recipient is considering the proposal again.

The broader Hubspot Sales package now includes a range of useful services – integration with a CRM package, you can save email templates, you can set up automated email follow-ups, allow clients to book available meeting slots and a range of other services.

 

5. Unroll.me

This is a great free app. I’ve ended up subscribed to lots of blogs, email newsletters and other regular communications from businesses and clubs etc. With all of these sources now sending out more and more emails, I was losing a lot of time through being distracted by these emails, which were pinging in throughout the day. Unroll.me has been a great solution to this problem. First of all by using your email address, Unroll.me identifies and lists all of the frequent communications you are subscribed to. It then gives you 3 options;

  1. To keep receiving the emails as before into your inbox
  2. To unsubscribe from individual communications – you’ll be amazed how many you’re happy to get rid of. Hopefully not this one though!
  3. To add the communications to a “rolled up” email. This takes all of the emails that you request to be rolled up, and presents them to you in a single email at a time of your choosing each day. If an individual email catches your attention, you can then just click through to the original. So now rather than getting maybe 30-40 emails each day, now I read one email while having my morning coffee

And there are others… I think Apple Pay is fantastic – it just doesn’t make the cut as it’s not a business app. But it’s great now to pay for items with my phone, rather than go digging for cards or cash. This also works really well with Apple Wallet, which is a great store for tickets of all sorts.

Are there any others that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about them.

Have you some spare time over the summer?

It’s that time of year again… The weather will (hopefully) be great and everyone is trying to spend a bit more time outdoors. The downside is that business may be getting just a little quieter for the next month or two.

So here lies the opportunity! It’s possible that you’ll have a bit more spare time on your hands over the next while and rather than sitting there thinking about the beach, how will you use this time? It can be hard to keep your focus when there’s not the pressure of constant phone calls and emails and achieving deadlines to meet client expectations. I suggest you either go to the beach (rather than think about it), or put the time into driving your business forwards.

If you want to put the time into your business, it’s easier to keep focused when you have a plan. So what sort of things might be in that plan for the summer months? Here are a few ideas;

 

Arrange to meet your key clients

This is a great time of year for catching up with key clients, outside of your advice process. This is not a business meeting; it’s a game of golf, a coffee, an early pint – whatever works best for them and you! This is an opportunity to show your interest in their business and lives without looking for anything back in return. The cost is small for both of you as you probably both have the time to meet. However there is real benefit in it for you, as the client will appreciate your interest without it being an “advice” or “sales” meeting.

 

Revisit your LinkedIn presence

I rate LinkedIn as a very important tool for financial planners and brokers. When prospective clients are researching you, they’ll check your company website and your LinkedIn profile. It’s really important that you’re putting your best foot forward through both of these.

In relation to LinkedIn, there are 2 areas to concentrate on over the summer.

The first is your profile. Go through your profile section by section. Are there areas that you can expand the information a little to make it more engaging? Are there new areas that you can add to your profile? Are there clients that you could seek recommendations from? All of these will provide prospective clients with richer information about you, hopefully making them more inclined to actually do business with you.

The second area is expanding your network of connections. There are 3 ways of doing this;

  1. Check the “People you may know” section to identify people suggested by LinkedIn.
  2. Check the connections belonging to your existing connections. Are there people here that you should seek an introduction to?
  3. Search for people using the search bar at the top. There are new people joining LinkedIn all the time. They just might not have found their way onto your LinkedIn radar as yet.

And then when you find people that you want to connect with, remember to personalise every invitation. Don’t just use the default LinkedIn invitation.

 

Update your CRM system

Rather than wasting an hour or two mindlessly surfing the web, set yourself a target to review the records of a set number of clients every day within your CRM system. While you may have all the data in the system to meet your compliance requirements, now is the time to populate some of the softer information that can help you build really rich relationships with your clients. Information such as;

  • Their stated life aspirations
  • Their financial goals and objectives
  • Their communication preferences
  • Their interests and hobbies
  • Wider information in relation to their families

 

Develop a plan of attack for the rest of the year

Plot out how you’re going to approach the second half of the year. Who are the prospects / clients that you need to contact in the next few months? What will this contact consist of? How are you going to get these prospects to engage with you?

While you have a bit of time, put a structured plan in place with clear actions and dates to make sure these contacts then happen.

 

Take a holiday & recharge your batteries!

The most important one of the lot! Nothing helps you get your focus and your energy back better than a well earned break. I hope you and your family have a great holiday and enjoy the summer!

Is your website punching its weight?

Financial brokers today recognise the importance of having a really effective website. After all, it’s the first touch point that many consumers have with your business. If you’ve a fairly basic website or one that hasn’t been revisited in a while, here are some tips that can double or more the effectiveness of your website!

 

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 so simple that a complete technophobe will find their way around it! The main navigation bar, which to my mind 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 6/7 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 the Amount of Content

Yes, this is not a typo! Obviously this may not apply to every website, but in the main, too many of them are packed out with superfluous content. While it might please you seeing lots and lots of pages with long explanations and technical details about every product available, frankly the user will just get bored. And boredom is fatal on the web as the user just leaves your site.

Use your Google Analytics to identify your poorly performing pages from where people are leaving the site. You will often see that these are long technical pages. Either shorten them or get rid of them!

 

Update your News Section / Blog regularly

This is one of the most valuable areas of the site for a number of reasons. I’m not talking about taking a newsfeed from some online source or sending links to other people’s content. 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.

Google loves 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.

 

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 one third 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!

Image courtesy of angus campbell king

I’m changing my mind (a bit) about social media for financial advisers

Most Financial Brokers today are using social media to some extent. Some are using it very effectively and view it as a core part of their marketing mix, others see it as a bit of a necessary evil and grudgingly engage with it to a much lesser degree.

Over the last number of years, I’ve been a real advocate for the opportunities enabled by social media. I still am a big fan, but my views are changing in relation to some aspects of using social media.

So first of all and very briefly, my views have not changed about the following,

 

  • A social media presence is so important to enable you to be found online, for people to engage with you and for you to connect with people and demonstrate expertise.
  • LinkedIn is still the most powerful platform for Financial Brokers, particularly if your target market includes professionals and business owners.
  • Email marketing is the most under-utilised tool in online marketing. How can you ignore a tool where you end up in the inboxes of your target market, a place they visit every day?
  • Generating a constant and consistent stream of content remains the biggest challenge, bar none. Everybody can produce a on-off piece, the challenge is consistency.
  • I’m still not a fan of using Facebook pages to engage with friends and followers (sorry!). I still can’t find examples of advisers doing this well, and who are not interrupting their friends and followers who are on Facebook for other reasons (sharing photos, looking for a laugh, sharing gossip etc.).

 

So what has changed?

 

I’m really struggling with Twitter

I’ve been a fan of Twitter, admittedly as a distant second in importance for financial advisers behind LinkedIn. However now I find I’m not really using Twitter at all. Yes, I still share my content on it and continue to build up followers as a result, but I find it’s now just information overload. I’ve loads of followers I know nothing about and have followed back a lot of these people. I’ve no interest in what a lot of them say.  It’s just not the same as LinkedIn or Facebook, where it takes both parties to build a connection.

The proof for me that I’m not alone in this is when I go through my Twitter feed. Apart from a few celebrity / high profile people’s updates, there is very little interaction with most of the content that people are sharing. It’s just disappearing off into the ether…

 

Facebook has a place (for advertisers)

As I said earlier, I’m not a fan of Facebook pages being used by Financial Brokers to interact with friends and followers. But it does have opportunities for advertisers in some situations, as a result of the capability to target specific groups of people by age, gender, location, interests etc.

But be careful, these ads need to be really carefully created in order to cut through your target audience’s browsing on Facebook. Remember that these people are generally on Facebook for social interactions, even a bit of escapism! Do they want to see financial services ads?

 

Sharing lots of links is not enough

Some people spend their time finding links to good articles and sharing these. Yes, this is valuable, but on its own is simply not enough. Your connections want to hear your views. So at a minimum, add your take on the article in the introduction to the article before you share it. But better still, write your own content and share that. Then your audience get a real sense of what you’re about.

 

Images are really important

To be honest I used to scoff at this one a little. But research shows time and time again that using images to accompany your posts really does matter. It’s worth spending that bit of time sourcing a good image to go with your post as that visual trigger increases the chances of your content being read.

 

A well thought out social media strategy is still a must for Financial Brokers. As is spending time on building an excellent LinkedIn profile. Social media still offers you lots of opportunities, but like all other marketing methods it continues to evolve. Watch this space!

Image courtesy of Samara Gerard

Is LinkedIn worth the effort?

A question I’m often asked! My answer is the same every time – A resounding Yes! I’d go as far as to say that LinkedIn is not optional for financial advisers any more, as the opportunity cost of not using it is simply too great to ignore now. You must have a presence on it and it must be a very strong presence.

Why? Well here are a few reasons.

 

Your professional profile

Your website tells people about your business and the services that you provide. Your LinkedIn profile on the other hand gives you the opportunity to tell people about you, the businessperson. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your career credentials, your skills and your experience. You also have the opportunity to include recommendations from happy clients. Your LinkedIn profile offers you the opportunity to connect on a personal level with prospective clients.

 

Give yourself a head start

It’s always great to have something in common with a prospect when you meet them, to get off on the right footing! Maybe you went to the same school, shared a common previous employer, are in the same sports club or have an unusual interest in common. This gives you a conversation topic for those first few minutes as you draw each other out into the conversation. LinkedIn is a rich source of this information and might help you to press the “happy” buttons from the word go!

 

A valuable research resource for prospects too!

We all use Google to check out potential suppliers before we contact them. The same applies to financial advisers. I think it’s safe to assume that almost 100% of prospective clients will carry out some research of you and your business before entrusting their money with you! Your search (Google) results hopefully will list your website and your LinkedIn profile.

If you’re not on LinkedIn, what does this say about you? To many people, it shows a lack of professionalism, not having your finger on the business pulse. Equally damaging is having a very poor presence on LinkedIn. A badly created profile, with a very small number of connections hardly sends out the message that you are the best provider in town to meet the needs of a potential client.

 

Driving traffic to your website

It’s all well and good having a great website, however you’ve got to ensure that people actually get to visit it and see your content. And this is where LinkedIn plays such an important role. You can share content that is housed on your website out via LinkedIn. And of course if any of your network interact with your content by liking it or sharing it themselves, your content then is highlighted to a whole new network of contacts, leading these people back to your website where they hopefully will learn all about you!

One of the hugely under-used nuggets of LinkedIn is LinkedIn Groups. These offer you the opportunity to reach out to people in your target audience who are beyond your own network. They offer the opportunity to build a presence among people that you don’t already know.

  

Helping your search engine results

Social media in general and LinkedIn as one of the main platforms now plays a significant role in achieving excellent search engine results. While of course it remains very important to have your website pages set up correctly, with well written content featuring your chosen keywords, that on its own is not enough. Fresh, original content that is endorsed by other people earns a lot of brownie points with Google and helps push your site up the search results. And it’s via LinkedIn that this happens for you in a business context – when you share your business related content and your insights, and others then interact with them.

 

Providing great insights

Another benefit of LinkedIn is the insights that you can get. You can a real sense of whether your content is of interest to people, and more importantly, who is actually finding it interesting. As people, like, comment upon or share your content, you learn who is reading and finding your content of interest, in a way that no other medium (except email marketing) will deliver. Maybe it’s worth your while reaching out to these people and suggesting a coffee?

 

The benefits of LinkedIn are huge and can’t be ignored by financial advisers. Is it time that you learned how to get the full benefit from it?

5 Apps I use Every Single Day

Apps, the relatively new way that many of us access services online, are now available everywhere and not just on your mobile phone and tablet. Apps are becoming ever more popular now on PC’s, laptops and televisions. Is the day coming where we will hardly use web browsers at all?

Of course apps come for all different uses and also of varying quality. I’ve covered this topic before and it was quite widely read! So here are the five most important apps that I use in my business today – I use these every single day and across a range of devices.

 

1. Xero

So, I’m starting with Accounting software and its attaching app! My accountant introduced me to the online accounting software Xero about 18 months ago. It has had a transformative on the financial management side of my business. I now have real-time profit & loss statements, balance sheet and a host of other useful reports that are available at the press of a button. All my invoicing and bank reconciliations are done through Xero, as is management of expenses. My accountant and I can both view the up to the minute real time information about my business, which speeds up the dealing with any questions I have. I’m saving hours every month with this software and have much better information available to me.

Specifically with the app, I now simply photograph my receipts and they are automatically added to my accounting records.  I’ve full view of my outstanding invoices in the App and other important information. I really couldn’t live without this now!

 

2. Sidekick (part of Hubspot Sales)

This is an app from Hubspot that used to be called Sidekick, and now is part of a wider Hubspot Sales package. The purpose of the (desktop) app is to alert me when someone opens an email that I’ve sent to them. While it’s not perfect (for example it can’t always identify who opened the email when you’ve sent it to multiple recipients), it is fantastic in helping me to time when to follow up an email that I’ve sent. For example, I might have sent a proposal 3 or 4 weeks ago and suddenly see the recipient opening the email again. Might be worth a follow-up call while I know the recipient is considering the proposal again… I was lucky with this one, as I was a relatively early adopter and have a very low cost package ($10 per month). Hubspot has now added a few more services to the package and has upped the price to $50 per month which will make people stop and think a little more before committing to it.

 

3. Unroll.me

This is a great free app I came across about 6 months ago and it saves me loads of time. Like most of you (I imagine), I’ve ended up subscribed to lots of blogs, email newsletters and other regular communications from businesses and clubs etc. With all of these sources now sending out more and more emails, I was losing a lot of time through being distracted by these emails, which were pinging in throughout the day. Unroll.me has been a great solution to this problem. First of all by using your email address, Unroll.me identifies and lists all of the communications you are subscribed to. It then gives you 3 options;

  1. To keep receiving the emails as before into your inbox
  2. To unsubscribe from individual communications – you’ll be amazed how many you’re happy to get rid of. Hopefully not this one though!
  3. To add the communications to a “rolled up” email. This takes all of the emails that you request to be rolled up, and presents them to you in a single email at a time of your choosing each day. If an individual email catches your attention, you can then just click through to the original. So now rather than getting maybe 30-40 emails each day, now I read one email while having my morning coffee!

 

4. Pocket

This is an app I use all of the time. Pocket is my scrap book of articles that I’ve “cut out” and saved for later. As I see articles of interest on the web or that come through to my content store, some catch my attention to be read later when I’ve a bit more time on my hands. With 2 clicks, I put them in my Pocket and can also tag the articles for different purposes – it might be to share out later, to rewrite with my perspective, maybe to help me develop a new angle for my proposition etc.

I can then go back into Pocket when I want to carry out an activity and simply click on the article that I’ve saved for that very purpose. It’s all very easy and it means you don’t lose great articles that you’ve read.

 

5. LinkedIn

OK it’s not very original… but it’s very useful. I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn (I might have said that before!) and really believe that when used properly it’s a rich source of new clients. The app is very useful for checking in on new connection requests, notifications and to flick through updates in your news stream. It’s a mini version of the full desktop version.

 

So these are my current favourites… I hope you find them useful. Are there any apps that you use that you think I’d like to know about?