Are you punching your weight on social media?

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.

At StepChange, we are firm believers in the power of social media for Financial Brokers. But it has to be used consistently and relatively frequently, and therein lies the challenge. So here’s our starting point.

  • 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. Twitter is second.
  • I’m not a fan of using Facebook pages to engage with friends and followers. I 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 (looking for a laugh, sharing photos etc.).
  • 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.
  • 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.

How StepChange can help you

We work with Financial Brokers looking to build a social media presence. We help you develop an effective profile, demonstrate how to build a relevant network of connections and we then show you how to actually use the platform effectively.

However the big challenge is content. We develop content for Financial Brokers to share and also find other excellent content online for you to share, to increase the engagement with your followers. We provide the A-Z of social media for Financial Brokers.

 

Is it time for you to talk to us about how you can develop and leverage your social media presence?

8 great apps I use nearly every day

Every summer I give one of these articles over to the subject of apps that I use regularly. This year I’m mentioning 8 apps that I use regularly and that make my work / financial life a little easier to manage. In the list, there are 2 apps in each of the following categories;

  • Banking
  • Finance
  • Content management
  • Every day apps

 

Banking App 1: Stripe

Last year an adviser asked me could he pay me for a service by credit card. This prompted me to go looking for solutions. Literally an hour later I had a Stripe account set up (which receives credit card payments) that was fully integrated into Xero (see below). So now I can receive payment on any invoice by credit card, and my accounting system knows about it. The Stripe app is great, providing notifications when money is received and giving me all of the information I need to manage this new form of payment.

 

Banking App 2: Curve

Curve is a bank card, linked to an app on your phone. It’s clever because it becomes an umbrella card for all of your other cards, both debit and credit cards, giving you access to all these cards using your single Curve card. I hate a bulky wallet and as a result of Curve, I only now need to carry one card – my Curve card. Using the app, you choose the account / card that you want your transaction to apply to (e.g. personal debit card, personal credit card, company credit card). You can change cards easily between transactions. It also has a natty feature that if you apply a transaction to the wrong credit / debit card when using your Curve card, you can “go back in time” and reapply a transaction to the right account later.

Details of all of your cards are not stored on your Curve card which is important if it falls into the wrong hands. Also you get immediate notifications (if you want) every time the card is used, which is a great security feature, and you can block your card yourself via the app too.

 

 Finance App 1: Xero

I was introduced to Xero, an online accounting system a couple of years ago. It has had a transformational effect 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, a great overview of business bank accounts, invoices and purchases is provided. 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.

 

Finance App 2: Revenue

Am I serious? Yes I am! I think the Revenue app (RevApp) is great, allowing you to log a whole range of expenses throughout the year (health expenses etc.) which makes completing your tax return very easy. You can also log a whole range of other tax relievable expenses (e.g. the home improvement tax relief scheme) and you can get lots of useful information about your tax records.

 

Content App 1: 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 enables me to track blogs / news feeds that provide content I don’t want to miss. Rather than receiving an email every time there’s a new blog post or news article,  instead the new content 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 further speeds up the process too. The benefit of Feedly is the time it saves me in getting through huge numbers of articles.

 

Content App 2: 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.

 

Every day App 1: Ring

This is an app linked to the doorbell at the front door of my house. What has this got to do with work you may ask… Well my office is in my back garden and gone now are the days of missing couriers, missing bulky post deliveries or having to work inside the house while waiting for a caller. Now when my doorbell rings, it comes through to my phone. There’s a camera , microphone and speaker in the doorbell so I can see who it is and talk to the caller as necessary from my desk. It makes life easy. The doorbell itself has no wiring and can be installed quickly and easily yourself – trust me, I’ve no reputation for advanced DIY skills…

 

Every day app 2: Parking Tag

This app has been around for a good few years now, but it still amazes me the number of people who drive around Dublin during the day and who don’t use the app. They waste time looking for loose change and feeding parking machines. Then when meetings run over a bit, they need to run out and top up their parking. With the app, all of this is simply done from your phone. This app originally only worked in the city centre, but now covers most if not all of Dublin. Again, it makes life easy.

 

I hope there’s an app here for you to try to make your life a bit easier.

When did you last refresh your website?

This is the latest instalment in our series of “12 StepChanges to a better business”, where we explain some of the services that StepChange brings to our financial adviser clients. This month it’s the turn of websites.

 

Creating a world class website is within the reach of financial advisers. 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 an old website or haven’t revisited your content in a while, it just might be time for a refresh.

At StepChange, we assist advisers and planners in establishing top quality, effective websites that portray a very professional look for your business online. In doing so, we follow a couple of basic rules.

 

We 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. We focus on simplicity and getting your message across quickly – long explanations and technical details about every product available will just bore users. We help you refine your messages in as few words as possible.

 

We Make it Easy to Navigate

We make sure it is very easy for a user to find their way to the specific information they want, while also enticing them to “have a look around” the site. A coherent site navigation approach is critical to retaining the user’s engagement with the site for as long as possible.

 

We Focus on Financial Planning

Too many adviser websites talk at length about products, while not focusing on the real value that you add – helping your clients to make sense of their financial circumstances and to plan effectively for their financial future. This is the focus of the sites that we develop.

 

We Like Nice Design

While simplicity sits at the heart of the websites we develop, this is not a substitute for nice design. We’ll deliver an attractive site layout, will help you source beautiful images and we’ll give your site that wow factor!

 

We Demonstrate your Credentials

Client testimonials, particularly where the name (and better still a photo) of the client is included, are a very valuable asset. We’ll help you request these in a professional manner from your best clients and get maximum visibility for these much-valued endorsements of you and your business.

 

We Identify Clear Calls to Action

You want to make it easy for users to “do something” when they visit your website, rather than simply leaving. This may be connecting on social media, signing up to your newsletter or picking up the phone to you. We’ll identify a number of different Calls to Action and will include them in an effective way.

 

We Know Mobile is Key

The number of views from mobile devices is rising all the time. We develop sites that reflect the importance of the user experience when viewing your site on a mobile device. Mobile users are often looking for different information than desktop users. Our sites recognise this and provide that key information at a glance.

 

We Keep it Fresh

For many of our clients, we continue to work with you after your website is developed. We help you communicate effectively with your clients on an ongoing basis, and as part of this we help you to continually add fresh content to your website. This ensures that users of your site will see that you are an active business, looking to add value to users on an ongoing basis.

 

For some of you, these changes will mean a few hours work. For others they might mean a new site. For everyone though they are worth it. Is it time to give us a call to discuss how we can help you establish a great presence on the web?

6 financial apps I use all the time

Every summer I give one of these articles over to the subject of apps that I use all the time. This year, I’m taking a slightly different slant on it, and am looking only at apps that I use in my financial life. These cross over both my business and personal lives, as some of the apps are used in both.

I’ve excluded my online banking app from the list below as everyone has different banking relationships. As it happens I bank with Ulster Bank and I think their online banking app is excellent – it is extremely easy to use and has a number of really clever services within it such as accessing cash from an ATM when you don’t have a card with you etc.

So here goes on the big 6 apps that I use regularly.

 

1. Curve

I started using Curve about 12 months ago. It is effectively a bank card, linked to an app on your phone. What is clever about it is that it becomes an umbrella card for all of your other cards, both debit and credit cards, giving you access to all these cards using your single Curve card. I hate a bulky wallet and as a result of Curve, I only now need to carry one card – my Curve card. Using the app, you choose the account / card that you want your transaction to apply to (e.g. personal debit card, personal credit card, company credit card) and you can change this in seconds between transactions. It also has a natty feature that if you forget to apply a transaction to the correct credit / debit card, when using your Curve card, you can “go back in time” and reapply a transaction to the right account later.

Details of all of your cards are not stored on your Curve card which is important if it falls into the wrong hands. Also you get immediate notifications (if you want) every time the card is used (which is a great security feature), and you can block your card yourself via the app too.

 

2. Xero

I was introduced to Xero, an online accounting system a couple of years ago. It has had a transformational effect 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, a great overview of business bank accounts, invoices and purchases is provided. 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.

 

3. Expenses

I use this app to manage my expenses. When I pay for something in cash and want to be refunded by my business, I simply photograph the receipt and let the app get to work. It extracts the information from the receipt (supplier name, amount, date etc.) and updates Xero, so that everything is accounted for. It’s not always 100% correct so needs to be monitored, but it does the lion’s share of the work. It also recognises similar payments and “learns” how similar bills should be treated.

The days of filling out expenses sheets are long gone. The app is also very effective where there are multiple team members submitting expenses and makes the whole process of authorising expenses much easier.

 

4. Stripe

I’m a relatively recent user of Stripe and this came about when an adviser recently asked me could he pay me for a service by credit card. This prompted me to go looking for solutions. Literally an hour later I had a Stripe account set up (which receives credit card payments) that was fully integrated into Xero. So now I can receive payment on any invoice by credit card, and my accounting system knows about it. The Stripe app is great, providing notifications when money is received and giving me all of the information I need to manage this new form of payment.

 

5. Revenue

Am I serious? Yes I am! I think the Revenue app (RevApp) is great, allowing you to log a whole range of expenses throughout the year (health expenses etc.) which makes completing your tax return very easy. You can also log a whole range of other tax relievable expenses (e.g. the home improvement tax relief scheme) and you can get lots of useful information about your tax records.

 

6. Bloomberg

Completely different to all of the others as this is one I use for information only. It provides great information on the markets when I’m simply looking for a snapshot over a particular time period. I find their business news notifications to be really good – they tend to be very interesting and are not so frequent that they become annoying. I’m particularly enjoying their daily Brexit Bulletin – but this is turning out like a movie car crash in slow motion…

 

These are my “go to” apps. Why not try one or two of them out and see if they can make your life a little easier too.

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!

 

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.