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?

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!


6 Steps to better Networking

Networking is a really important business activity, but it’s one that fills a lot of people with dread… They think of standing around in crowded rooms with no one to talk to, or being pinned in the corner with somebody talking endlessly about some mind-numbingly boring topic. And so while most people recognise the importance of networking, very few people do enough of it. In fact, I find it’s the one activity that causes the most discomfort when it ends up on the marketing plan for a Financial Broker!

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

Recognise that it isn’t easy

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

You must have a strategy

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

Be a first mover

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

Be interested

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

Hone your own pitch

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

Follow up brilliantly!

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

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

The Lessons of a 4 year old SME Owner…

4 years go, I took the foolhardy / brave step of following my career dream. I left a secure, well-paid job with a brilliant employer and set up my own business. Ever since I did an MBA 10 or so years ago, this was something I’d wanted to do. In this article, I’ll set out a few observations of what it’s like being a “newbie” SME owner, and next month I’ll set out a few observations about the people who have enabled me to put bread on the table over the last 4 years – the Financial Broker and wider Life & Pensions community.

There’s loads of goodwill out there

This was the first sentiment that hit me like a welcome breeze – the amount of goodwill out there. From the off, I received so much encouragement from all quarters. Some Financial Brokers hired me straight away, even when there was possibly a level of risk involved! Others, even though they weren’t in a position to engage me at that time (remember we were in the teeth of the recession at that stage) helped in so many ways; an introduction to someone, some free advice, business ideas, sometimes a cup of coffee and some encouragement. All very much needed and very welcome!

You learn lots of new skills

One of the biggest challenges and also one of the most enjoyable aspects of running your own business is the array of skills that you suddenly need. Apart from developing my strategy and marketing (which I felt I knew a little about…), suddenly I realised I was also the IT department as I tried to set up desktops, printers and devices and the finance department as I tried to make sense of managing cashflow, invoices and VAT and understanding financial accounts. And on top of that were the admin and sometimes the office cleaning…

You need courage and to back yourself

I’ve learned that I could spend my life second guessing myself and getting nothing done; who should I be approaching, is my proposition right, is my pricing right, are the suppliers I’m dealing with the right ones? Yes, I’ve made mistakes in all of these areas, but hopefully I’ve learned from them! Navel gazing and doing nothing is a luxury I just cannot afford, as doing nothing doesn’t move you in any direction…

This was a big lesson, as in corporate life you tend to get more time to carry out proper analysis before a decision is made, there are lots of people to bounce ideas around and you still get paid during this time. Not so in your own business. So often I’ve found I just need to back myself and go for it!

You must never neglect business development

Ok hands up, it hasn’t been a constant upward path. In fact I had a pretty poor year in 2013 and it was all down to neglecting my pipeline of potential new business. I was really busy with lots of projects underway coming into 2013, I put the head down and delivered these as quickly as possible over the first few months up to the middle of May. I delivered this work this and then nothing… I had completely neglected business development and didn’t secure any new business until after the summer. Then I had to deliver the work and then wait for payment. It meant a poor year but a brilliant lesson. No matter how busy I am now, business development is a constant activity…

Social media really works

I believe 100% that without LinkedIn, I wouldn’t be working for myself any more. If used properly, LinkedIn is unbelievably powerful in helping SMEs to build effective networks and generate new clients. It has been a constant source of new clients for me. Do you want to know how? Please give me a shout and I’d love to deliver a workshop on it to you and your staff!

Get a sounding board

We’ve all heard it, ”Work on the business, not in the business”. Easier said than done when you’re busy. But one of the best things I’ve done in the last two years is working with someone in this vein, taking a few hours out and getting a second opinion on some key moves. This has helped me decide to take on staff, to manage some financial aspects of the business better and simply to bounce some ideas around.

The bottom line? I wouldn’t change it for the world! Yes, there have been (and I’m sure there will be more) bumps in the road and a consistent pay cheque certainly has its attractions. But the last four years have been the most exciting, challenging, enjoyable, uncertain and satisfying years of my career to date and I’m definitely looking forwards, not wistfully backwards!

Photo credit to Marvel Comics

Do Financial Brokers need to bother with Social Media?

Social media. Most people either love it or hate it! For some people, it has become a new way of interacting with friends, strangers, clients and potential clients. For others, it’s a lot of noise, impersonal and a poor replacement for the old ways of engaging with people.

So where does this leave financial brokers? Do they need to bother with social media? In short, I believe that the answer is a definite Yes. In fact I’d go further and say that it’s just not optional any more, for a number of reasons.

Prospective client research

Googling potential providers of any service has become an every day precursor to picking up the phone to that provider. The user will Google the name and check the results. This will bring them to the service provider’s website. However if a professional services provider (such as a financial broker) is being checked out, a LinkedIn profile will also be expected.

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 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.

Getting people 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 social media plays such an important role. Social media is a great channel to get your content out to your LinkedIn connections and your Twitter followers. 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!

And then of course there are LinkedIn Groups, where you can post your content and access a whole load of people who are outside your own connections.

Helping your search engine results

Over the last number of years, social media has played an increasing role in 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 social media that this happens – when you share your content and others then interact with it.

Providing great insights

Another benefit of social media 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.

The benefits of social media are huge and can’t be ignored by financial brokers. Embrace it, it offers so many opportunities and is not going away!

How do you get more PR Coverage?

With the huge attention being focused on social media these days, some of the more traditional marketing tools can get forgotten. Which is a terrible shame, as many of them continue to be extremely relevant for Financial Brokers today. One of these is coverage in local or national newspapers.

PR coverage is still an excellent medium for brokers. Many of the national newspapers and indeed some of the local papers still have widely read personal finance sections, with some very credible business journalists covering a range or topics that regularly feature in the advice given by Financial Brokers. These journalists are constantly on the lookout for original news stories and thought provoking opinion pieces, and there is a relatively narrow cohort of financial brokers who help them fill their columns, gaining really valuable coverage for themselves.

So how do you break into this group and establish yourself as a valued source of content by journalists? Well here are a few thoughts…

Think of the Readers

Don’t see PR as a sales route. That’s not to say there can’t be subliminal sales messages in there. But a journalist won’t react to an advertisement for your business! It needs to be “newsy”. Your pitch for coverage needs to be about a development in the market that will affect consumers, the impact of changes in legislation on consumers, maybe a new angle for consumers to consider about their personal financial affairs. Or maybe you’re about to hire a big team of advisers – now that’s a good story too!!

Know the journalist’s preferences

So you have a story that you’re very sure is interesting to the population at large. The next critical step is to point it in the direction of the right publication and individual journalist. Many a mistake has been made by just picking up the phone to the first national journalist that comes to mind. Unfortunately this may result in your story being taken and then given only a tiny feature, if at all.

Instead, start reading the business columns carefully yourself. Get a feel for the type of content that individual journalists write about and also use from outside sources. This should help you decide who offers the best opportunity of you achieving the coverage that your story deserves.

Make your story unique and interesting

Your news story or opinion piece needs to have a novel twist to it. It needs to pique the readers’ interest. You also have to make sure that it’s timely; it can’t be old news! So spend time working on communicating the real difference in your story – as this is your hook in getting the story placed.

Then add some colour to your story. Include some quotes from the leader / public face of your organisation  – these should be written in a conversational style, as if they were actually spoken and recorded.

Finally, think about the placing of your story. Are you going to issue a blanket press release and hope that a few publications will pick it up and use it? If so, your story had better be extremely strong! The alternative is to give the story to a single journalist, and aim to get them to cover it extensively as they were given exclusivity with it.

Be concise

No matter what, keep your story brief. Have a clear headline that will encourage the journalist to at least scan your article. Then get to the point quickly. Journalists are not going to have the time to sift through padding to get to the nub of the story. Help them get there quickly!

Make it Easy for the story to be carried

Once a journalist is interested, you then want to make it as easy as possible for them to use the story. Have ready any other information that they might want. Start by providing them with a short bio of yourself and your company. Make a photo available too – if this is a little bit unusual or quirky, all the better! Be available also for interview at a time of the journalist’s choosing as they might have some follow-on questions. Make sure to include all your contact details.

Be resilient

How do you best pitch a story to journalists? There’s no doubt that building up relationships over time is extremely important. At the end of the day, this is where a PR agency will add value, as they will have already built up strong relationships with the relevant journalists and know how best to approach them. But that’s not to say you can’t do it yourself… you’re just going to have to be willing to put in some hard yards, building up relationships with individual journalists. And this might take time, so resilience is needed! But there are many Financial Brokers who have proved that this can be done!

A journalist may not bite now – but if your name keeps cropping up in front of them in relation to interesting stories or angles, you just may be someone they’ll contact when they’ve a slow news week.

So “traditional” PR can play a really important role in your overall marketing mix and can really help you to become recognised as an expert by your clients. It takes a lot of work, but if successful will deliver a really valuable dividend.