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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!

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

4 Apps to help Financial Advisers deliver Great Content

Financial Advisers often ask about the challenge of coming up with a constant stream of content for blogs, newsletters and other online activities. They often ask me about how to come up with topics to write about, to find good content on the web to share and then how to manage all this content effectively.

So to help you with this challenge, here are just 4 apps that I use, that help me hugely in developing a constant stream of content for my own activities. At the end of the day, I think that being organised is such a huge element of successfully addressing this challenge. The other good thing about these Apps is that they are available online, as an App on your PC or Mac, on your tablet and on your phone. As a result they are always with you and they stay synced across all of your platforms, so as you update a note in your phone for instance, it then carries across automatically to every device.

In terms of coming up with topics of original content to write, you need to keep your eyes and ears wide open, all of the time. As you have conversations, attend presentations, read material etc., you need to constantly be thinking, “Is there anything in this that I can write an interesting short article about?” or “Is there anything in this topic that I can write an alternative angle / opinion about?” And once there is, this is where the first App comes in.

 

Evernote

This is a great app for capturing ideas, thoughts, notes etc. You can type notes into Evernote, copy in web addresses, copy webpages, attach documents & presentations and even record audio files. This is particularly useful if you have a load of thoughts in your head and just want to capture them – record them as an audio file and tidy it all up later…

I use Evernote all the time for a whole range of reasons now, apart from this content challenge. You can set up different notebooks within it for personal use as well as business use and you can attach tags to every note to keep any related articles together. The days of forgetting great ideas are behind you if you get into the habit of using Evernote.

 

Slideshare

This is a great source of ideas and of little pieces of “colour” for articles. It is basically an online presentation forum, where users upload copies of their presentations. There are now over 10 million presentations uploaded on Slideshare so there is no lack of ideas there… So if you have the germ of an idea, it is a great place to get some different thoughts about a topic for you to develop out some alternative perspectives in your article.

Also, the content is free to use. The content is shared on Slideshare for the use of everyone, so help yourself if you want to reuse or remix some of the slides on it.

The next 2 apps are the two that I use to sift through a potentially vast amount of content, in order to find articles that I think are relevant and interesting to my target audience (in my case financial advisers). The aim here is to become a trusted source of useful content, helping my audience with sales, marketing and strategy challenges by sharing good articles, and saving them the bother of having to go searching for these articles themselves.

 

Feedly

Have you seen the little orange buttons on web pages with 3 little 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 a reader, which gathers all of these articles in one place. Think of a reader as an enormous in-tray or magazine rack for online articles, waiting for you to go through them. Sounds a bit daunting I know…

Except when using a reader (my favourite is Feedly) you can flick down through hundreds of articles in minutes, reading only the headlines if you want, dipping into an introduction if your interest is piqued or indeed the full article if you think it is actually worth reading. And you can mark them all as “Read” very easily as you go along, ensuring those particular articles don’t appear again. You can categorise the different feeds into groups, which can further help you speed up the process too. The benefit of Feedly is the time it saves you in getting through huge numbers of articles.

 

Pocket

If Feedly is your magazine rack, Pocket is your scrap book of articles that you have “cut out”. As you quickly scan through all of your articles in Feedly, some will catch your attention for you to read later when you’ve a bit more time on your hands. So with 2 clicks, you put them in your Pocket! Again you can tag articles for different purposes – it might be to share out later, to rewrite with your own perspectives, to help you develop a new angle for your proposition etc.

You can then go back into Pocket when you want to carry out an activity (for example share some content through LinkedIn), and simply click on the article that you’ve saved for that very purpose.

These 4 Apps are simply invaluable to me. Without them, I’d struggle for a constant stream of content, would forget ideas I have and would never find again great content that I’ve found on the web to share or write about.

With the help of these Apps, my challenge is having a few too many ideas and being in the fortunate position of trying to decide the better ones to use. This is a result of organisation, not creativity!

Are there other good apps out there that you are using to address your content challenge?

Is inbound (or content) marketing relevant for financial advisers?

You bet it is!! In fact inbound marketing, often called content marketing has become one of the key elements of the marketing mix for financial advisers today.

First of all, to explain what is meant by inbound or content marketing… Most importantly it is not about selling, instead it is about creating engagement with your target audiences. Marketing has evolved, the days are over of only trying to hit people over the head with a constant stream of sales messages through advertising, sales campaigns and other traditional sales methods. While these methods still have a place, consumers today want to be engaged, to be warmed up and to be made aware of why they should deal with you. This is where inbound marketing comes in.

The aim of this engagement is that your audiences will view you as someone worth listening to and in time, will ultimately seek you out for your professional expertise. This is done through inbound marketing – providing your target audiences with insights, ideas, tips and commentary in relation to personal finance matters. In time, this will make them far more open to your sales messages that will follow at the appropriate time.

This approach delivers a number of benefits for financial advisers. First of all, it enables you to stay in touch with existing clients by putting interesting insights in front of them and keeping them aware of the breadth of the product range that you can advise them about. It also helps you to establish yourself as a thought leader and someone to be listened to, among both prospective clients and the wider public at large. Finally fresh content on your website is a critical component of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy.

So what are some of the elements of a great content marketing strategy?

 

Know your audience

Know who your target audience is. Is it local business owners, particular occupations or particular age groups? Who are you actually writing that new website page, blog or email newsletter for? Write for this audience about topics of interest to them. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think about what they will want to read. If your audience find it interesting, they’ll view you as someone to listen to and will seek out your content…and hopefully in time your advice in relation to their personal finances.

 

Make sure it looks good

First of all, your content has to look engaging. Use a solid design and layout. I always tell financial advisers to “Think Apple”. For any of you who have bought an Apple product, you’ll know what I mean – the excellent quality, yet simple packaging that really impresses you as you unpack your phone or iPad. Your blog / newsletter should have the same impact. It should look very professional, enticing people to read it. At the end of the day, you want to portray the professionalism of your business in every single touch point with your clients, both online and offline.

 

Have a plan

I know from talking to some advisers (and from my own experience too) that lack of time to update the website or write a newsletter is often just an excuse for a lack of structure or ideas. There’s nothing worse than relying on your brain kicking into action every month or so when you’ve no idea what you’re going to write about! So what happens is you find something else to do and satisfy yourself that you’re just too busy to write the content.

The way to deal with this is to develop a content calendar for the year. Spend a few hours at the start of the year brainstorming ideas that you’ll write about, either as new pages on your website or as newsletter articles. Once you get a few ideas down, I promise that the creative juices will start to flow and more topics will come to mind. As potential topics come to mind now and at a later stage too, drop them into the calendar with a few bullet points of what the article might cover.

Now you’ll have a structure to ensure you don’t lose potential content ideas as you go along and it will also give you a starting point every time you sit down to write that article. You’ll actually find after a while that you’ve too much content and now can actually start being selective in what you write about.

 

What do you write about?

You’ll be glad to know that everyone sees this as one of the biggest hurdles! However, with a bit of thought, you will quickly realise how relatively easy it is to overcome this particular challenge. You absolutely need a helping hand to come up with the topics to write about. So here are a few sources that will help prompt some ideas for you.

First of all, listen to your clients. Probe them about areas of interest to them and areas where they they’d like more information. Are there particular challenges they face in relation to their personal finances where they would like some general advice? If you ask a number of customers, I’m confident that themes will start to emerge for you.

Secondly, keep your content schedule at the back of your mind when you go to a presentation, read the newspapers or indeed just go online.  These are each great sources of ideas, which can be used by you as prompts for you to develop your thoughts and position on – not to copy and paste but for you to set out your viewpoint and flavour on these topics.

Some financial advisers take a short cut and rather than writing their own content, they only share out links to other websites through LinkedIn and Twitter. This type of shared content has its place, however I think it can only sit alongside some original content that you are writing yourself. It’s great to share content that is of interest to your audience but they also want to know what you think! Using the content of other people, while better than doing nothing, is not enough on its own.

So yes, content marketing needs to be an integral part of the marketing plans of financial advisers today. Once you start to really engage your prospective and existing clients, they will soon realise your expertise and the added value you offer. In time, some of your audience will hopefully want to talk to you about their wider financial affairs…and their product needs.

Have you any thoughts in relation to content marketing? If you do, please leave them below.

Email Marketing

Email Marketing by Financial Advisers

I’ve been really impressed over the last few months by the excellent use of email as a marketing tool by some financial advisers. While some “digital experts” suggest that email has been replaced by social media, I’m not an advocate of that point of view. I firmly believe that email should play a leading role in the marketing mix employed by financial advisers. This blog post sets out a few general observations and thoughts to enhance your email marketing activities.

 Data Quality

To start, for the purpose of this article I’m going to assume you have a valid email database under data protection rules. The next important point is to ensure that every opportunity is taken to improve this list. Every customer contact should include a quick check to ensure you have the client’s correct email address. Email offers a low cost and effective route for financial advisers to reach their customers, so maximise the opportunity! Good data will help you do this.

However email is not for everyone so ensure you respect your clients’ wishes. If someone wants to unsubscribe, make sure you have a robust process to manage this. Otherwise you risk really undermining your relationship with these clients.

You’re Ready to Start…..

Get organised and get going! Otherwise you run the risk of what has been described as “The Bad Relative Strategy”. This is where you seek permission from your audience to send them great content……and then do nothing. For ages. Until you’re looking for something – for example to make them aware of a really great product opportunity. This is compared to the distant uncle who only turns up at Christmas looking to be fed and watered! If you say you’re going to email your clients, be ready to do so. Have a plan.

When you’re ready to go,  launch your email campaign. Tell your audience what to expect in terms of how you want to add value to them, the type of content they can expect and the frequency of your communications. And then have a plan to deliver as you promised.

I’m always asked how frequently you need to be communicating to be effective. Personally I think you need to be communicating at least monthly with original content. You can then supplement this with interesting content that you curate from the web. That is, interesting to your audience! And don’t fall into the trap of only sharing other people’s content from the web. Your audience want to read your views and opinions too!

Some financial advisers easily achieve this. I receive a brilliant email blog from one financial adviser every Friday. Very well written, interesting to me, a bit quirky and I always read it!

It’s all about the Content

As mentioned in the last paragraph, it’s the quality of the content that will engage your audience. And this is what it’s primarily all about; engagement, not selling. If you start just pushing product sales messages out there, expect your unsubscribes rates to soar. No-one wants to be constantly sold to. If you over-sell, you’ll lose your audience forever.

However you want a return from your email marketing. Your best chance of achieving this is by engaging your audience, making them aware of your expertise and how you add value, with a view to ultimately positioning yourself  for when those sales opportunities arise.

So what’s the secret to developing engaging content? Well it starts by putting in the hard yards at the outset. And this means spending time at the outset planning out your content for the next couple of months at least. This will take the pressure away of trying to dream up a new topic each month. When this happens, inevitably you’ll struggle and eventually your communications will stop happening.

Having a schedule of content takes this pressure away each month. You’ll find then that your problem is finding room in the schedule for your latest, interesting topic. A nice problem to have.

More good news in relation to email marketing is that less is more! Links to blog posts or short newsletters with one or two articles are best. Frequent & short content rather than seldom & long content is the way to go.

And finally, read your content a few times before you send it. Tweak it, make sure there’s no typos and best of luck. Give it a year and then survey your audience to get a feel for whether  you actually are engaging them or not. I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Effective Newsletters for Financial Advisers

I know that quite a number of financial advisers like to communicate with existing clients through newsletters which can be effective if the required level of commitment is put into them. I’m going to start by pinning my colours to the mast….. I’m not a huge fan of them as too often they fall by the wayside.  However for those out there who are ready and committed to making a success of their newsletter, here goes on 5 tips to maximise their impact.

 1. Be Clear on your Objectives

Why are you sending out the newsletter? Unless you’re very clear about this, it’s unlikely to have the desired effect. Often newsletters are used as a tool to reconnect with existing clients – a good reason for doing them! If this is the case, don’t oversell. Focus on the reader and what will engage their interest. Are they worried about protecting against a life event or are they concerned about how they will fund their later years? Focus on these types of needs, the approach that you take to helping clients plan to deal with these events and the benefits of your approach. Only after this stage do you talk about your product as the solution to addressing the need.

Too many newsletters talk only about products. This won’t be of interest unless the reader can make the jump themselves to the need that the product provides a solution for.

 2. Make sure you’ve enough Content and are Committed

Hands up how many of you have had plans to send out 3 or 4 newsletters a year and ended up sending out just a single edition a year……or a single edition ever? This is a very frequent occurrence and usually is down to 2 factors.

Often it is because there is great enthusiasm to produce the first edition and this energy then wanes after the effort of producing the first one. Don’t start with newsletters unless you (or someone for you) is going to put the effort into producing the future editions.

The other factor is that all the good ideas go into the first edition and you end up stuck for good content for future editions. The way to avoid this is to plan at least 75% of the content for the first 4 editions before you start at all. This will help you avoid “writer’s block” with future editions.

3. Have a time sensitive article

It’s a good idea to have an article that is based on very current analysis or relates to a current issue. This will show the timeliness of your newsletter and usually will be of interest. The challenge that this creates is that once this article is written, you’ve got to quickly swing into production and also to get the newsletter in front of the reader quickly.

If you’re not going to be able to turn the newsletter around quickly or indeed want to use the newsletter over a long period of time, leave out the time sensitive article.

 4. Have a Call to Action

Make every effort to get the reader to engage in some way with you. Obviously encourage them to ring or email you as a follow-up. Find a way to encourage them to visit your website – maybe there’s more detail on one or a number of the articles on your website? Ask them to send in their email address to allow you send them more, relevant information by email. Maybe consider a competition? Use the newsletter to start an ongoing engagement.

 5. Use all Distribution Channels

Many financial advisers will post out their newsletters as they don’t want to exclude clients for whom they don’t have email addresses. However also post the newsletter on your website. When you’ve done this, send an update to your LinkedIn connections, pointing them to your website. If you use Twitter, tweet the link too. Finally, email all your clients too, encouraging them to read it. Online distribution costs nothing so use all these channels!

Newsletters take effort. If you’re willing to commit and produce excellent content, they can be very effective. If they under-deliver in terms of frequency of issue or indeed quality, they will turn your client off and should be avoided. It’s up to you which camp you’re in!