Marie Swift of Impact Communications On: Building a Strong Online Presence as an Independent Financial Advisor
Many people – including journalists and prospective clients – find new sources and service professionals by stumbling upon them, not searching for a business or person by name. Time and time again we hear stories of advisors who can directly attribute new client activity and business growth to their online efforts – and some have even received surprise television appearance invitations and media requests from journalists seeking qualified experts to help with their stories. The lesson: have a good website and LinkedIn profile, and then add other digital assets over time (for example: a YouTube channel, Facebook page, Google+ profile and/or Twitter stream). After reading this blog entry, be sure to use the Diagnostic Tool (newly updated for 2018) to see if there are gaps in your online presence.
Here’s a real-life story that makes the point:
Pete Alepra, a senior vice president with RBC Financial in Cedar Rapids, was sitting at his desk when the phone rang that day.
“Hi, Pete. I’m a part of the news team at KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids. I found your name in a quick Google search for financial advisors in Cedar Rapids. I need your help. As you probably know, 20 shipping department co-workers at the Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids will on Wednesday be claiming their shares of a $241 million Powerball jackpot – the largest lottery prize won in Iowa since the state lottery’s inception in 1985. We’re doing a story on how this will change their lives and are hoping to get some advice from you as a financial advisor. Is now a good time to talk?”
Remembering the media training sessions he’d recently completed, Alepra took a deep breath, composed himself and said sure thing; he’d be happy to help.
“The absolute first thing they have to do is slow down,” he said with a deep authoritative voice. “They’re probably in a state of shock and the long-term decisions they need to make, they can put off a month, two months or six months. Any decision they make now will be from an emotional perspective rather than a long-term perspective. I’d encourage them all to take a step back and enjoy the moment because I am guessing the next 24 hours will probably be one of the most incredible days of their lives.”
Alepra passed the journalist’s initial test and was invited into the local television studio for an interview. An article with his advice also appeared on the television news site.
“The amazing thing is,” said Alepra in a subsequent telephone conversation with me, “that until very recently, I really didn’t even have much of an online presence. I had a website, but not a very good one. People couldn’t even find me unless I gave them the URL. Basically, I was non-existent on the web.”
“I’m very thankful now that I took steps to improve not just my website but my overall online presence. The fact that this journalist just called me out of the blue – and that a number of my clients and people in the community have been saying “hey, I saw you on TV”—is amazing to me. It’s really created a snowball effect for my business,” Alepra said.
“The television appearance has been a nice supplement to the articles I’ve been writing for The Gazette newspaper,” he explained. “It really improved my clout and visibility, creating a kind of allure and buzz in the community.”
What made the difference for Pete Alepra? Pete worked with a marketing consultant who helped him write and place carefully worded news releases on news aggregation sites. In addition, Alepra also engaged an Internet-focused marketing consultant to analyze his website titles, keywords and metadata.
“We added a number of essential keywords to my website and have been cross-linking to other relevant sites. So that’s been driving up my search engine rankings,” Alepra said. “And I learned that I should always ask for – or put into the content I write and place on news sites – a link back to my site. Now when you search for ‘investment advisor cedar rapids’ I come up on the first page on Google.”
“What I’ve learned over the past few months is that when it comes to building your online presence, two plus two equals six. Everything you do multiplies. It’s not just putting up another piece of content, it’s creating a viral effect online.”
Alepra’s story is not surprising. This type of happy “stumble-upon” event happens all the time.
CLIENTS ARE SEARCHING FOR SOLUTIONS ONLINE
Sometimes it’s not a journalist that calls. Prospective clients are looking for solutions online, too. Many times, they are not even looking for a financial advisor – but then end up hiring one because they found good information on the advisor’s website, blog and on other digital outposts when they were doing an online search for a particular piece of advice. If that person’s information can be captured and the “lead” nourished until there is a triggering event, such as a new job or an inheritance, then the advisor may find their business growing due to that initial online visibility.
“I suppose the largest client I can attribute to my online presence is $1.5 million,” said Rick Kahler, CFP®, at during conversation at a NAPFA conference. “I can’t really give you a firm count as to how many new clients have come from my online presence, but I can say last year my client roster grew by over 25%. I cannot attribute any other activity to this increase other than doing what I’ve always done—having a strong online presence,” Kahler said.
In addition to having a rich and engaging website that includes audio, video and lots of graphics, Kahler is active on top social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn—but not so much to market and promote his services but to touch current clients.
“I learn much more about what is happening in their lives—like my client who is touring Italy this week or another that is leaving for Germany in a few days. I learn about their kids and often learn of events that we address in reviews that impact their financial plan, like the client who recently announced on Facebook that they have listed their home for sale. Where was that in their financial plan? It wasn’t.”
Kahler, who is a NAPFA Registered Financial Advisor and president of Kahler Financial Group, Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota, believes that financial planners who don’t use social media or establish a strong online presence are ceding potential clients to those who are.
Lou Stanasolovich, CFP®, has been building his online presence for some time now. During roundtable conversation at an FPA conference he stated that over the past 10-12 years his firm has been receiving approximately 50% of all new client inquiries due to web searches. In fact, the firm received two $4 million account inquiries in the same week, and when the firm was profiled in the Wall Street Journal they brought in over $50 million in new assets.
“People will use the internet to search before they call you. Typically they see you somewhere, do an online search, or were referred in to you,” Stanasolovich said. “Working with the media and improving our online presence more organically really has worked for us.”
Stanasolovich is using more video in all of his firms’ communications and believes so much that video should be a key element in his communications campaigns that he is building a professional video recording studio right in his office building.
Stories of other advisors who can directly attribute new client activity and business growth to their online efforts continue to trickle in. The lesson they always share: have a good website and LinkedIn profile, then add other digital assets over time (for example: a YouTube channel, Facebook page, Google+ profile and/or Twitter stream).
ARE THERE GAPS IN YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE?
Are there gaps in your online presence? Use this Diagnostic Tool to reveal deficiencies and create a prioritized Action Plan to maximize your online presence now.