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Letting your communications drift

So you finally decided to start sending out a regular email newsletter or regularly updating the blog on your website. Well done to you! The first issue of your newsletter is full of promises about your new newsletter keeping clients and other contacts informed and educated. And then the newsletter delivers this in spades! Roll on to a month or two later and the next edition is due to go out. You’re busy, it’s the middle of pensions season and the markets are in turmoil. You just about manage to cobble the newsletter together, everyone moaning about not having enough time. And then that’s it, the next edition never see the light of day…

Unfortunately this happens a little too frequently among financial advice firms. So apart from a bit of a gnawing sense of failure within your own firm, what messages does letting your communications drift say to your audience?

You don’t have an opinion

Your clients and prospective clients want to hear your opinions about current events. Whether they are about how they should (or shouldn’t!) react in the current market turmoil, your views of any changing legislation that will impact the personal finance world or indeed developments within the life and pensions market. Your opinions may reassure investors, allow you to demonstrate your expertise and show that you have your finger on the pulse.

Of course if you’re not sending out these opinions, exactly the opposite applies. And then your clients don’t know where you stand on these topics. And of course then there is the very real risk that they will find their way on to the email database of another Financial Broker who provides them with this expert opinion all of the time. Who will they want to deal with – the person with their finger on the pulse or the person without?

You’ve run out of ideas

Of course email newsletters also offer you the opportunity to educate your clients and prospects. You can remind them of the value of getting advice from a Financial Broker, set out the benefits of having a risk appropriate investment portfolio, remind them of the importance of having the right income protection plan in place and how to ensure that their legacy on death is not a worrying tax burden for their loved ones.

But then when you stop, have you demonstrated all that you know, that you’ve shown the breadth of your knowledge? So what about the topics that are worrying your clients that you haven’t covered? You don’t want them thinking that maybe you just don’t have knowledge in that particular area…

At the end of the day, your clients can be a rich source of content ideas. Ask them for topics that they would like covered and then write about them!

You just don’t care

Of course this is the real worry… that your clients will think that you simply have lost interest and don’t really care about your marketing and your business. That you have simply slowed down a bit and are coasting…Of course this will set off alarm bells in their heads about your approach to your wider business, your clients and their personal financial affairs. Are you just punching in time there too?

At best, your clients might just see all of this as a bit unprofessional – starting a marketing initiative that you’re unable to continue. Is this how you want them to view your business?

StepChange provides content to Financial Brokers who don’t have time to write it themselves and a newsletter service to manage the whole process of sending out regular fully personalised and branded communications to your clients. And we’ll deliver these on time, every time!

5 Summer Sales Jobs

It’s that time of year again… The weather is 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 quite likely that you’ll have a bit more spare time on your hands over the next while; the question is how will you use this time? We all know how hours and days can just get “lost”; where you get to the end of the day and realise you actually haven’t done a whole lot that day! 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.

It’s easier to keep focused though 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

As you’ll know from previous posts of mine, I rate LinkedIn as a highly 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. LinkedIn will also help you edit your profile by prompting you to complete certain areas.

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 number of clients every day within your CRM system. While you may have all the data in the system to meet you compliance requirements, maybe 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 final four months of the year, from when everything “gets back to normal” on 1st September. Who are the prospects / clients that you need to contact in plenty of time before “pensions season”? What will this contact consist of? How are you going to get these prospects to engage on the subject of pensions, and equally importantly, how will you ensure they engage with you? Which other clients need to be contacted, either for a regular review or indeed because you’re aware of a change in their circumstances?

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!

Photo Credit: flickr

Bowl your Clients over with your Content!

One of the main marketing challenges faced by many of the financial advice businesses that I meet, is around the production of good quality content that will really help them engage their clients. Here are a few thoughts to help you overcome this challenge.

Be Organised & Committed

The secret ingredient! We’ve all faced that looming deadline for “my turn” to produce that article we’d promised to go into a newsletter or as an update on the website. It’s tough when you’ve no idea what you’re going to write about! The good news is that you’re not alone, this is the single biggest challenge faced by everyone tasked with writing content.

To avoid this, set up a “Content Calendar” for the year. Get all the potential contributors into a room for an hour or so and brainstorm loads of article topics. As potential subject areas come to mind, drop them into the calendar with a few bullet points of what the article might cover.

What will this achieve? First of all, it gets you started each month – you know what you’re going to be writing about. Secondly and as important, as new ideas come along over the year, they get inserted ahead of other articles that mightn’t be as strong. So now you’re driving up the quality of your topics. You’ll actually find after a while that you’ve too much content and now can actually start being selective about what you write. Hard to believe but it happens, every time you have a Content Calendar.

And once you start, stay committed to the process. Don’t stop now!

Be Relevant

Your audience are far more likely to engage with your content if it is relevant to them. So as you develop out your content topics, spend some time thinking about them from your audience’s perspective. The latest developments in investment software or some obscure technical point about pensions might be of interest to you. But your clients probably won’t give a hoot!

They want to know about topics that will impact their lives, so put yourself in their shoes and develop your content with them in mind. Of course you need to know who your audience is before you can do this. Are they business owners, professionals or are you focused on personal protection etc. for families? If you have very diverse audiences, you might need to target specific content at specific people. All pretty straightforward to do with the wonders of modern technology!

Be an Educator, not a Salesman

Your audience will switch off if you spend your time pushing sales messages at them. At the end of the day, they will see your content as simply an ongoing sales campaign and will disengage.  Add value by writing about financial issues or challenges that affect them in their lives, in which you can exhibit your expertise. Aim to be seen as an expert, an educator, someone with valuable insights that will help your clients, rather than a salesperson.

To make this easier for yourself, write about topics you know. This means that you won’t have to spend loads of time researching topics, and this familiarity with the subject will help you write better content too!

You see the world of marketing has changed. Rather than trying to constantly interrupt people with messages to sell, sell, sell; successful advice businesses are establishing themselves as thought leaders, as educators and as experts. So then when potential clients at their own time of choosing have a financial need, they will naturally gravitate towards these advice firms that they already see as valuable.

Be Alert

Great topics to write about will emerge from a range of sources. Presentations you attend, conversations you have, comments from other clients. Once your antenna is up, you’ll start to identify nuggets from what other people say – their challenges, their areas of interest, the issues they want to read about. So write about these!

Also when reading a newspaper or surfing the web, you’ll come across loads of topics of potential interest to your audience. Put your own spin on these topics and write about them too.

Be Brief

Be expert but also be brief. The purpose of your content is to engage your audience, not to demonstrate that you know every intimate detail of a topic. Typically an article of 750 to 1,000 words can be read (and written!) quickly and will perform well in search results. If you only have 500 (good) words though, go with that – don’t pad it out to get to 750 words.

Make your content easy to read too. Use headings and/or bullet points to make it easier for the reader. If the topic is just not capable of being explained in anything close to 1,000 words, break it out into a series of articles. And now the challenge next month has just got easier…

Be Found

What has this got to do with Content? Well, one of the key drivers of strong performance in Google search results is original, good quality content. While this might not have been a driver behind your efforts to produce a regular stream of good content, it’s a very valuable bonus!

At the end of the day, I reckon the initial thought of producing a lot of content is far more daunting than the reality! I hope these thoughts help you with your challenge.






image courtesy of Flickr / Mohammad ALNajdi

What can Google Analytics tell Financial Advisers?

Online marketing tools have changed the game in relation to marketing by financial advisers. These tools offer a number of benefits; immediacy, better targeting, cost effectiveness and fantastic insights through the analytics available.

 

Most advisers are pretty clear about these advantages, however many still run online marketing campaigns without really leveraging the power of the analytics available. Now there’s no doubt that Google Analytics is a bit of a monster, there’s a huge amount of data available, to the point of it being a bit overwhelming! So here are some of the most useful measures available to you, to help you really maximise the potential of your online campaigns.

 

Some basic trends

The following measures can give you a good sense overall as to whether recent marketing activities are working or not, when you look at the trends over the period of the campaign and compare them to previous periods.

 

  • Number of visits: This gives you a good sense of whether your activities are increasing traffic to the site or not. The number of page views is another measure of this.
  • Number of visitors: Are your activities driving lots of visitors, or are the same people tending to return on multiple occasions.
  • New v Returning Visitors: Are you attracting high numbers of new visitors to your site for the first time, or are you mainly only attracting existing users back? This might suggest your marketing efforts are not reaching new audiences and need to be reviewed.
  • Pages per visit: Once people are landing on your site, are they having a good poke around (as you want them to do), or are they leaving quickly?
  • Time spent on site: Similar to the last one – is your content actually engaging the user to spend time reading the content or are they leaving quickly?
  • Bounce Rate: The big baddie… are people leaving the site from the page they entered without bothering to check out any other content?
  • Number of views on devices: This is becoming more and more important. Where are people viewing your website and as the number of views increase on phones and tablets, how does you site appear on these devices?

 

Once you get a handle on these, you’ll start to get a sense of whether your efforts are moving in the right direction or not. And then you can start to get into some really useful analytics…

 

Where visitors are coming from

The acquisition section gives you great insights into the sources of your traffic. Are most people arriving directly by typing in your URL, is your website address memorable? Or are they searching for your site in Google and if so, what keywords are they searching for to end up on your site? Once you know the keywords that people are searching, you can make sure that they are included in your website content and in any blogs that you write.

 

If your traffic is coming from social media, you can drill down and see which channels are delivering traffic. Is it the post that you are sharing on LinkedIn or is it your Twitter feed that’s driving your traffic?

 

And then when they get there…

The Behaviour section in your analytics gives you great insights into what people are actually doing when they land on your site. Apart from some of the trends mentioned earlier, there are other really useful insights to be gained in this section.

 

You can identify which pages people are entering your site on. This will help you analyse the traction your blog posts are achieving (or not). You can also see which are the most frequently viewed pages; this will give you a sense of the areas of main interest to the readers. Of course when you then overlay the time spent on each page and from where people are exiting the site, you start to get a real sense of where content is strong and where it is weak. You can then ensure that you have crystal clear “Calls to Action” on these high performing pages, giving you the best chance of turning these readers into enquirers and hopefully customers!

 

You can then run the reports across multiple dimensions for some really useful insights – find out where your traffic is coming from and also where it is landing. This might demonstrate the success of your blog for example, and the channels through which people are finding your content.

 

You can also set goals for your site – for example how many people are signing up for your newsletter or are downloading your brochure, and keep track of your progress against these goals.

 

Check out the spikes

The spikes in activity, either in visitor numbers or page views can be very revealing. When you dig into these, you will usually find that a marketing activity or other event is behind these spikes. This can give you really useful direction for future marketing activities – a campaign that you are thinking of running, where to attract future traffic to the site or the type of content to be writing. At a minimum, it may well give you some confidence that your existing approach is the correct one!

 

These are just some of the insights that can be gained from Google Analytics. I’d suggest you go in and poke around; you’ll be amazed at the valuable information that can be gained!

 

Are there any other particular analytics that you find useful? If so, let us know through the comments below.

LinkedIn for Financial Advisers – Part 3: Driving your Business Forwards

This is the third of 3 articles about LinkedIn, and in this one we examine how you get LinkedIn actually working for you to help drive your business forwards.

In the first article we looked at how you build up an excellent profile, to position yourself to get LinkedIn working for you. In the second, we looked at how you expand your network to build audiences to allow you leverage the real power of LinkedIn. Now we look at how you actually use the platform.

 

Don’t Sell!

The key to using LinkedIn successfully is to realise that it is not a tool for selling. If you sell, you lose! Instead LinkedIn is all about building engagement… and this engagement in turn helps you build stronger relationships, establishing you as a valued expert, which in turn can lead to significant sales opportunities.

You see, as you build influence, you actually don’t need to sell. By positioning yourself as an expert and making people aware of the breadth of your services and the quality of your opinion, your audience will automatically gravitate towards you when they have a need in your space.

 

Add Value

To build engagement, you must add value. The value that you can add is through influencing your network, through the provision of expert, valuable content. By becoming the spokesperson in your network about all topics relating to financial planning, advice and personal financial services. By becoming the go-to person when your network has any query in relation to your areas of expertise.

 

Is that it? It’s all about content?

Well actually no, there are more opportunities than that. But content does sit at the heart of adding value through LinkedIn. There are really two types of content that you need to consider and both are equally required.

First of all there is original content. This is content that you write yourself. Like this article, you might not be the first person to write about a topic, but crucially you are putting your own spin on the subject and trying to make it relevant for your particular network. As a financial adviser, you could consider writing about market changes, developments in the investment world, helping your network to make sense of legislation changes that will affect their personal finances. You can help them improve their business, solve a problem or it may be as simple as helping them improve their personal financial habits! There are endless subjects to write about. You only need to write short articles, maybe 700 – 1000 words, house the articles on your website and then share the articles out via LinkedIn.

The second type of content is curated content.  This is content that you come across on the web, written obviously by someone else that you believe your network would be interested in reading. Sharing this content can make you a valuable conduit within your network, educating them, providing them with useful information, further establishing your position of value and positioning you as the person to talk to when they have a query or issue in the financial services space.

However a word of caution; I suggest you can’t have one without the other. There are many users of LinkedIn who only share curated content and never write anything themselves. While this is obviously better than nothing, their connections will wonder – what do these people actually think themselves, are they an expert or are they only good at spotting other expert writing? As a result, while their intentions are good, these people will struggle to build up a position of influence, as they are not really putting their own heads above the parapet at all…

 

It’s about more than content

Beyond sharing content, LinkedIn offers you lots of opportunities to engage your network and further build your role as an expert voice. There are a number of ways of increasing your visibility, while also adding value;

  • Comment on your network’s updates: When you see an update posted by member of your network that was particularly interesting or useful, leave a comment! So many people just don’t bother and miss a great opportunity. In the same vein, if you disagree vehemently with an update, don’t be afraid to leave a comment. Once you leave it respectfully, you are further positioning yourself as a person of opinion and your views worthy of consideration.
  • Introduce people within your network: An example – someone in your network is looking for a marketing specialist. Introduce them to me! I will be forever in your debt and will make sure I return the favour many times over. And the same will apply to others. These are referrals you provide without being sought, and will earn you significant engagement with people in your network.
  • Be visible in groups: There are approx. 1.8 million groups now on LinkedIn with over 4,000 of these in Ireland alone. Surely there is an opportunity in there for you to become an influencer?  Find a group that potentially will be fertile ground for you to build connections (and in time new clients) and then start participating in the group. Post content, comment on discussions, ask questions. Be an active participant.

 

These are some of the ways that you can use LinkedIn to build influence, create engagement, build stronger relationships and ultimately help ease your path to sales. LinkedIn offers huge opportunities for financial advisers, and more and more of you are demonstrating your commitment to this platform every day.  Consumers at the end of the day don’t want to be sold to all of the time and LinkedIn offers you that chance to build a relationship with them, with a view to developing sales opportunities in the future. Oh and don’t forget, it is free – all it costs is some of your time.

If you have any comments about this article or indeed the earlier articles about LinkedIn, please leave them below.

LinkedIn for Financial Advisers – Part 2: Building up a valuable network

 

In this second of three in-depth articles about LinkedIn, we take a look at best practices in building a strong connection base and set out some tips for financial advisers to develop a valuable network. This is a really important step in actually using LinkedIn to deliver value, the subject of the final instalment coming up in a few weeks time!

 

LinkedIn will help you!

To start building up your network, take all the help that is available. The bigger and better our LinkedIn networks become, the more we will use it as a platform and the more valuable LinkedIn as a company will become. So LinkedIn help you broaden your network in a number of ways.

First of all, you can download your email contacts into LinkedIn. This is very straightforward if you use Gmail, it can be a bit trickier to download directly from Outlook. An alternative is to download your contacts from Outlook into a .csv (excel) file and then upload this into LinkedIn which will then identify which of your email contacts have LinkedIn profiles. This saves you going searching for each of them individually. You then have the option of inviting each of these email contacts to join your LinkedIn network.

LinkedIn will also identify from your profile your school, college and previous employers. Using this, it will suggest alumni and ex-colleagues that you can consider connecting with.

On an ongoing basis, LinkedIn will examine your connections and your 2nd & 3rd level connections and will suggest people for you to connect with. This is extremely useful, in fact many people express to me how impressed they are by the intuition of this feature! This is on your homepage and well worth checking out regularly.

 

Think what you’re trying to achieve!

At this stage, start thinking about why you are going to all of this trouble. At the end of the day, you want to build up a valuable network of connections that ultimately may be helpful to one or both of you in a business context. You are looking to connect with clients, potential clients, business partners, introducers etc. And this works both ways – sometimes you are the client! Through your network, you are looking to provide value to your connections and/or indeed receive value from them.

So does it make sense if the lion’s share of your connections are other financial brokers? There is definite benefit in connecting with other advisers who you collaborate with or bounce ideas off for your mutual benefit. However I think that competitors should make up the minority of your connections, particularly where neither of you in reality will be looking to add value to each other. LinkedIn is not a glorified address book, it is far more valuable than that! But more about that in my final post on the subject of LinkedIn….

A question I’m often asked is, “Should I accept every connection request?”

There are many different views on this one. My own approach is to accept connections where I believe that there is some chance, even remote of one or other of us providing value to the other. I also consider how the approach was made, whether I think the person wanted to connect with me or was just spamming out invitations – see the section on manners below.

Groups are another rich source of potential connections as they offer opportunities to interact with people with common interests, challenges etc. Add value here and you will quickly build up a broader network.

If you have accepted connections in the past that you now want to remove, LinkedIn have made this very easy. You can now break the link with a connection, and the good news is, they are not even aware that you’ve done so. However, if you want to re-awaken this connection in the future, you will need to re-invite them to connect again.

 

Have a process to grow your network

It is really important to have a clear process for growing your network that you then carry out consistently. I think it’s all about striking while the iron is hot! After you have met someone who you would like to have in your network, you should straightaway check if they are on LinkedIn and if so, look to connect while you are still fresh in their minds. Once connected, you have opened the door to a value adding relationship in the future, even if you don’t see them again for some time. I encourage advisers to set aside even 10 minutes a day to reflect on who they met in the previous 24 hours, and then connect with them.

 

Don’t forget your manners!

My biggest bugbear with LinkedIn? This is when I receive a connection request where I don’t know the person, just receive the bog standard invitation request and I get a sense that the person was just spamming / firing out connection requests in all directions. So I’ve a few rules…

  1. Never send out the standard LinkedIn connection request. Personalise every invitation, even if it is just a reminder of where you met, a suggestion to meet for a coffee or some general business observation. The point is to show the person that you want to connect with him / her and are not just trying to drive up your connection numbers. Yes, this is slower as you have to send out each connection request individually, but definitely worth it.
  2. It is ok to look to connect with people in your connections’ networks, after all this is a key benefit of LinkedIn and what makes it tick! However there is a way to do it. As an example, let’s assume I’m connected to Joe who in turn is connected to Sam, who I don’t know. I want to connect with Sam to build a business relationship. Yes I can go directly to Sam and say why he should connect with me etc. However there’s a strong chance that he may just ignore me, as he doesn’t know me. Instead, do what you do offline. LinkedIn has a facility by which I can go to Joe and ask for an introduction to Sam. This is very powerful. Now Joe is doing me a favour (which I hopefully can reciprocate) and now Sam is much more likely to connect, both as a favour to Joe and also because of the professional approach used.

These are just a few thoughts on growing your network. In my final post on LinkedIn coming up in 2/3 weeks time, we get to the real meat of this series – using LinkedIn to add value.

If you’ve any thoughts on growing your LinkedIn network, please feel free to leave comments below.