By Michael Kitces
In today’s increasingly competitive planning landscape, it’s becoming more difficult for advisors to differentiate. Yet as the advisory field becomes increasingly crowded, perhaps the biggest problem is being seen in the first place.
In his recent book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, author Michael Hyatt makes the case that the internet has created a unique way to be seen through building a platform that can showcase your expertise and create opportunities for prospective clients to find their way to you.
Notably, though, the biggest caveat to building a successful platform is to be certain it’s built upon a solid foundation in the first place. This means owning your own domain name, the site itself and all the content that’s on it — your digital real estate. And whatever you do, don’t just share your expertise on other websites — from LinkedIn to third-party Q&A sites — which ultimately just builds the value of their platform, rather than your own.
NEVER BEEN EASIER
Fortunately, it’s never been easier for the average advisor to build his or her own platform. Unfortunately, however, advisors are often not well-trained in marketing in general, and certainly not in platforming in particular.
Historically, radio, television and other traditional media channels were the leaders in marketing to the masses, and those who wanted exposure could earn their way onto those platforms — or, more likely, pay to advertise on them.
In today’s world, media channels are more fractured than ever before, but the reality is that the typical advisor doesn’t need to reach everyone in America. Most advisors will have an incredibly successful advisory firm with no more than 75 to 125 highly engaged “A” clients. This means it’s not even necessary to appear on a major broadcasting media channel. All it takes is building your own narrowcasting platform.
ART OF NARROWCASTING
What is narrowcasting? In essence, it’s nothing more than broadcasting a message or communicating something of value, targeted to a narrow and specific audience, rather than the mass market. With narrowcasting, you don’t have to pay for or waste time reaching an audience that isn’t relevant to you. Instead, the whole point is to only reach the group with whom you may someday do business.
As Hyatt notes, the whole point of building a narrowcasting platform is to have a platform stage — or at least, a virtual stage — upon which you can stand to communicate your message. And in the digital world, the real estate upon which you can build is your advisor website.
Please click here to see a sample checklist for building an advisor website.
In other words, just as you have an advisory firm office that is the professional, credible base from which you deliver your planning advice, so, too, do you need a website to form the professional, credible platform from which you can market your services.
In this regard, Hyatt’s Platform shines in its focused, practical advice regarding what you need to have on your website to truly make it credible, professional and able to attract clients. Key points include:
Have a professionally designed website. Your website is the base of your digital narrowcasting platform, and if you want to look like a credible professional, it needs to be professionally designed. The best advisor websites not only include the structural essentials (e.g., proper navigation, a mobile-friendly responsive design, etc.) but also visually convey your professionalism, featuring a clean, modern design with appealing graphics and fonts.
Just as you wouldn’t build your own office space by hand, you shouldn’t create your website yourself, nor should you just use a pre-packaged template. For most of your prospective clients, your website will be their first impression of you, so you need to make it a good one.
Avoid buying your website from a company that retains ownership of its theme and template, and uses their own proprietary content management system.
Doing this means that, if you want to make a change to your own website, you can only do so by getting their permission and having them do it for you.
More important, using another company’s proprietary theme and template, or their entire content management system, means that, if you want to change where your house is located, your only option will be to walk away entirely and build a new one from scratch.
Feature professional photos. People connect with other people by actually seeing them, which means that it’s essential for you to have your picture and pictures of your team members up on your website. And they should be real, professional headshot photos. Pictures of you from a family event with your significant other cropped out of the picture are not acceptable. Nor is having a photo so old and outdated that, if someone saw your photo and then met you, they wouldn’t recognize you.
Have a compelling About [You] page. Because people connect with people first, most prospects who visit your website will go first to the About [You] page to learn more about who you are. Then, if they decide they like what you have to offer, they will move on to read more about what you do. So tell your story on your About page, written in the first person, as though you’re talking with your readers, in order to really connect with them. And be certain to note not just who you are, but also whom you’re trying to connect with, so that if the reader really is a good prospect, your message will resonate.
Feature case studies. Your website should have examples of the ways you work with clients and how you helped solve a problem. Hyatt advocates that you include outright testimonials here, but unfortunately, as those aren’t permitted in the financial services industry, anonymous case study examples of what you did and the (non-investment-performance) results achieved are the best you can deliver here.
Have a blog. The purpose of a blog is to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, which helps show a prospective client what you do and why he/she should work with you, and also becomes a reason for that prospect to keep coming back to your website for more. A website without a blog is just a (mediocre) digital brochure, which doesn’t engage strangers who visit to become prospects or clients.
Notably, this discussion does not include anything about social media. The reason is that social media is just a means to broadcast (or narrowcast) a message, but getting someone to the website is ultimately the goal. So until you’ve built a quality website and have a place to send people from your social media channels, there’s not much value to trying to engage there.
Once you have the strong platform, of course, social media has value for your business. You can create articles and videos on your own website, or on social media platforms including LinkedIn or YouTube, or on new-media websites such as the Forbes and Huffington Post blogs. The more content these platforms get, the more visible they become, the bigger they grow, and the more visitors they attract to see that ever-growing volume of content, in a virtuous circle.
The challenge, as noted earlier, is that, as someone who is trying to demonstrate expertise by sharing content on those platforms, your ultimate visibility and reach to people with whom you might do business is entirely in the hands of the people who control that platform.
Sometimes it is valuable for you to be seen on someone else’s stage, as long as it creates an opportunity for the audience to find you on your own stage. This is called guest posting or content syndication, and it could also include doing selective Q&A on other platforms, participating on podcasts or radio interviews, etc.
The ultimate key to building your own strong platform is that, in the end, all roads must lead back to you. This is very necessary in today’s world in order to create the opportunity for people to find you, come back to you and form the relationship with you that leads them to eventually do business with you.
Michael Kitces, CFP, is a Financial Planning contributing writer and a partner and director of research at Pinnacle Advisory Group in Columbia, Md. He’s also publisher of the planning industry blog Nerd’s Eye View. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelKitces.
This article was originally published on Financial-Planning.com.