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How to Choose What Sara Grillo “No BS” Content is Best for You

This article talks about what content of Sara Grillo's videos, podcasts, and blogs about financial marketing is best for you.

By now you may have gathered I publish a ton of content on the internet. Honestly, it’s great stuff. I have a “No BS” policy and there’s a ton of value you can get if you want to know about financial marketing.

But with so much to choose from (podcasts, videos, blogs, etc.), where can you find what you need?

Here’s a quick guide.

YouTube

In these videos I discuss overall financial marketing strategies but do not provide actionable tips. These videos are highly entertaining and funny.

Click here to subscribe to my channel.

Membership

This is the only place in anything I publish where you can actually get practical and actionable tips about financial marketing.

For a monthly fee, I provide general guidance and advice in my other content, but to be honest if you tried to DIY based upon that it there’s not a high likelihood that you’d succeed. There are just too many details that I leave out.

It’s kind of like the famous chefs.

If Julia Child gave you her cheesecake recipe, it wouldn’t be enough – there’s no way your cheesecake would come out as good unless she gave you step by step direction and demonstrated visually.

To be real you would probably waste a lot of time trying to DIY on this.

You get three videos a month teaching you the mechanics of how to get online leads. You also get a private members webinar each month where I provide group coaching. These videos are short and to the point in my signature “no BS” style.

Click here to join my membership.

If you are the DIY type, then the Sara Grillo Membership is for you.

Podcast

On my podcast I discuss overall financial industry themes and interview thought leaders such as Michael Kitces and Ron Carson. I also post my rap songs about financial marketing here. Highly entertaining and humorous but again, no practical and actionable content.

Click here to subscribe to my podcast.

Blogs

I have written over 100 guest blogs for Advisor Perspectives magazine, mostly about marketing. These articles are extremely snarky. Examples: Advisor Bios Stink, How to Tell if your Website is Worthless.

Click here to visit my author page.

Which one is right for you?

If you have any questions which one is for you, please let me know and I can point you in the right direction.

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My Take on Michael Kitces’ Opinion of Investopedia Advisor Insights

The other day I was reading Michael Kitces’ take on participating in Investopedia’s Advisor Insights program. This allows advisors to post articles on Investopedia’s highly ranked website which supposedly puts them in front of a wider audience. The basis of his argument is that Investopedia stands to benefit more than the advisor because they get rights to the content, the content ranks, and they benefit from the SEO and hence the advertising dollars. Instead of “building someone else’s business for free”, as Kitces puts it, start your own blog on your own website (Kitces, 2016).

I love Michael’s analysis here and think the logic behind it is very smart. While I agree with Kitces’ point, I also see a few ideas that this article neglected to mention. These points are important for advisors to consider if they are creating a digital marketing strategy.

The Backlink Can Help Your Google Rank

When the advisor responds to the question, his or her name, picture, and website url are posted along with the response. This creates what is called a backlink to your website.

Why are backlinks important? Because the more backlinks a site has, the higher it ranks in Google. Google trusts websites that are highly backlinked because it shows that people pay attention to it. There are marketing firms dedicated to “link building” as this is called.

Link building works best if the site that is linking to yours has a higher domain authority than your own. Investopedia has a high score so any backlink you get from them is a worthy one.

It Helps The “Surround Sound” Effect

For advisors who are looking to build a niche, and if you follow other blogs I’ve written you know that this is something I strongly advocate for, it can be highly useful to appear in publications across the board that discuss a certain subject.

For example, if I were to position myself as an advisor for small business owners, I should create a presence with some regularity in several of the publications that small business owners read. For example, Small Business Digest, and maybe Entrepreneur, and then a few other trade rags.

And I could top it off nicely by responding, here and there, to a question on Investopedia Advisor Insights about how business owners can create a 401k plan for their employees most effectively or something.

So if you were to meet me and Google my name, you’d see that my website and I come up in several different places as an authority in finance for small business owners (that’s again because of all the link building).

Or, more importantly, do this enough and the people reading these publications will eventually start to recognize you. You want them to say to themselves, “Geez, I see this person everywhere I go. He or she must be pretty important.” Now, you’ve got to post up some pretty insightful content in order to do this. Commitment and consistent visibility along with well thought out ideas will get you noticed.

Most Advisors Don’t Have Substantial Website Traffic

While I have a great respect for all that Kitces discusses in this article, I feel that his recommendation that advisors start a blog on their own website could benefit from a few in depth insights.

The first insight is the fact that most advisor websites aren’t getting much traffic at all. Maybe it is just me and whom I am speaking with, but I find that the average advisor I know gets less than 50 views on his or her website per day. Much of the traffic is probably vendors, their own employees, or their own clients. With this level of visibility, you have quite a ways to go before you start drumming up business from your own blog.

Moreover, I find that most advisors are so pressed for time (and even moreso in a down market) that creating one blog post every two weeks is a stretch for them. It will be especially hard for them to justify spending this time in the beginning before they see the rewards.

So given both these factors, how can an advisor take Kitces’ idea (which is a great one) and translate that into practical reality?

Here’s where I’m going to advocate for participating in programs such as Investopedia’s or others, to some extent. Maybe Investopedia isn’t the one. As I mentioned, there are numerous publications that will accept guest articles. Publish awesome content that gets viewed on these websites and then redirect this traffic back to your own blog.

It would go something like this:

  • Publish article or blurb on third party site
  • Reader visits your site. When they do, make sure you have something on your landing page to direct them to your blog so you can build their interest further. Make sure that blog content is Good with a capital G!
  • On your landing page, have an email capture prompt that asks people to submit their email address
  • Send out a newsletter every few weeks directing these captured email people back to your blog. Again, feature Good content with a capital G!

Sara’s Upshot

Authenticity is what matters most in any financial advisor who wants to get new clients. Learn the no BS way to use social media to get new clients by joining my membership here.

Sources

Kitces, Michael. (2016, March 24). Investopedia Advisor Insights: Why Most Financial Advisors Should Skip It. Retrieved from https://www.kitces.com/blog/investopedia-advisor-insights-why-most-financial-advisors-should-skip-it/.

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How to Create a Financial Advisor Lead Generation Website

Sara Grillo - Puppies and bones

Most financial advisor websites bore the reader to death. Here’s how to put some zest into your website without stirring up the compliance demons and by doing so create a Financial Advisor Lead Generation Website.

Real Pictures, Please

Every single financial advisor feels the need to convey the idea of retirement through five images: a retired couple on a beach, a boat, a mountain, fishing on the lake, or toasting each other with champagne glasses.

Most financial advisors pride themselves on offering a highly customized service that is highly tailored to the client. How believe is that, may I ask, if your website is the same as the next advisor’s? You are leaving the visitor with the impression that you are generic and standard, quite the opposite of what you are saying about your service. This is the downfall of financial advisor lead generation and where most of the industry fails.

If you’re going to say that you take the time to do things in a personalized way, then show that you do with your brand, and that starts with a highly customized website. Remember that the public at large is skeptical of financial advisors as a whole and anything you do that is less than transparent or incongruent will turn them off in a matter of seconds.

If you want to end up with a financial advisor lead generation website instead of just a normal boring website, Snip those stock photos out of your website and make an appointment for a live photo shoot. Now, some advisors get hung up on the fact that they’ve gained a few extra pounds or have lost some hair. Or maybe they feel self-conscious because they are a one person firm, or the office furniture and rug are worn out and haggard.

Whatever the problem is, get past it. People need to see your face so they can feel as if they trust you. There is no way around that. The people who can’t get around it are the ones who end up saying things like “we need to upgrade our website” or getting sold on a million dollars of Google Adwords by marketing consultants who don’t know what they are doing. All the SEO in the world won’t help you with financial advisor lead generation if your images are bad.

Talk with the photographer and maybe even a branding consultant about how to make this work for you. For example, you can overcome the solopreneur issue by presenting yourself in interesting poses that captivate the reader.

Clip the Cliches

Not only are the images the same on most advisor websites, the language sounds the same. “Comprehensive financial planning”, anyone? Or how about a “customized portfolio”?

Nobody talks like that in real life.

Advisor websites are full of financial clichés, vague-o-nyms that convey nothing. Rule #2 of financial advisor lead generation: check that jargon at the door!

Give the reader the gift of information that is presented in an authentic and real voice. Get to the point, and get there quickly. Within the first 30 seconds, your website should answer the following questions:

  • What do you do? (spare the buzzwords here especially and talk in a real way)
  • What purpose does your firm serve?
  • What type of investment firm are you (RIA, broker-dealer, hybrid/dual-registered)
  • Who do you help? (geography, age range, wealth range)
  • Why do we need to work with you as opposed to the next advisor?

This messaging should be reinforced in your social media as well. Curious about how to get a bigger brand on social media through better messaging? Tools like this can help you create one.

Fill in the Information Gaps

These website faux pahs aren’t just boring, they’re annoying.

While advisors tend to go on and on about some things, there is a glaring lack of information about several other very important things, factors that can be highly differentiating. This is because advisors are uncomfortable with them, but remember that you can’t hide the truth. It always come out in the end.

The biggest place where advisors neglect to achieve the level of engagement on a financial advisor lead generation website is in regards to their fees and assets under management. Often it is believed that by presenting price before you have the chance to get the prospect to “bond” with you, you’ll ruin the sale.

First of all, the bargain shoppers will go to a roboadvisor or do it themselves using Vanguard ETFs. Let those people go. Chances are that six months into the relationship they would have fired you anyways because fee mongers are the first ones to leave the first time the market drops 10%. You don’t want those people because they make lousy clients.

Secondly, most advisors don’t significantly deviate from a range of 0.5 to 1.5% fees. We’re not talking about hedge funds (2%, 20% clawback) here.

Thirdly, a financial advisor lead generation website conveys enough value that the fees will be seen as justified. A financial advisor lead generation website shows the brand. If you are presenting yourself as a lower quality brand by using financial clichés and tacky stock photos as I’ve mentioned before, then naturally the prospect is going to balk at your fees.

Fee-based advisors also tend to shy away from publicizing their assets under management if they don’t feel that the amount is high enough. There is some validity to this view. If you’ve got less than $25MM, you may be viewed as a startup or people may question how much transaction business you do versus fee-based business.

Lastly, make it easy for interested people to contact you by putting the phone number and email address on every page. It should be pinned somewhere at the top so that no matter where your visitors are on your site, they can call you.

Scrap the Standard Downloads

Every financial advisor lead generation website seems to offer the same downloads and it’s quite blasé. Generic content such as “retirement readiness kit” can be purchased from content companies and it does seem that many advisors have done this. Blah, blah, blah, they all say the same thing.

If you want people to surrender their personal information and agree to be emailed by you for the rest of their life, at least offer them something unique and compelling. Take a few minutes and make something up.

Ask yourself, “If I were a visitor to my own website, what would I want to see that 99% of the other advisors are not offering?”

If you do this, you’ll find yourself coming up with ideas such as these which go way beyond the retirement kit:

  • 10 retirement gift ideas
  • Are you and your future spouse financially compatible? Take this quiz.
  • Tax checklist: minimize taxes this April by making sure you aren’t leaving money on the table in these areas.
  • Are you sure your will is in good order? Download this white paper.

Whatever the content you produce, it should reflect your brand and the core message that you are trying to deliver.

Summary of Financial Advisor Lead Generation Website Best Practices

There’s a huge opportunity for advisors who want to present themselves differently from the pack because 99% of advisors have little or no brand and their websites reflect that. Compliance will have little to say about it if you express yourself more creatively; in fact, doing so will probably take you away from “advisor speak” thereby increasing the integrity and transparency of your message.

Thanks for reading!

And if you like my ideas there’s more of them where they came from – consider joining my monthly membership here.

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What Rich Clients Really Want vs. What Financial Advisors Say = Total Disconnect

Sara Grillo - Cutting a phone cord

I interviewed a random group of affluent investors about what they feel they need from a financial advisor, at the same time as surveying a random sample of financial advisors about what they feel their clients need from them.

Shockingly,  there was almost a total disconnect between what the two groups said. The results imply that most financial advisors have a long way to go before they are able to position themselves as attractive to affluent individuals. Read on to learn if you are classified as the “out” group — and if so, here’s what you should do.

What Financial Advisors Think Clients Want

I asked a random sampling of financial advisors the question, “What is the #1 thing that you believe that clients want from a financial advisor?” Here’s what they said.

  • To listen
  • Trust and confidence in their ability.
  • They want trust an advisor is ethical and trust an advisor is competent.
  • People want leadership and direction.  They need to be told what to do – not given five different options to work over…We need to make an unusual effort to get to know them, their family, their business, their history, marriage, fears, dreams, etc.
  • Understanding their needs, goals and aspirations; trustworthiness; competence; unbiased advice.
  • Unfortunately, I would say the number one expectation of clients vis-à-vis their financial advisor is that the clients will make money…I would also say that secondly clients crave regular, ongoing money advice and contact from their advisors…I’ve found that short but frequent contact seems to be helping cement my advisor clients into more of an intimate relationship; a “personal moat”, if you will.

So what does this tell us?

While they sound so cute and sweet, you’ll notice that every single advisor gives a “spiel.” Almost all of them seem to be reciting some kind of ingrained marketing pitch that sells the relationship. The responses all pertain to the personal characteristics of the advisor and how they meet the emotional needs of the client. Only one discussed delivering tangible performance results and he appeared rather unexcited about it.

It was also interesting to see that although many advisors claim to offer a customized service, not even one advisor said that every client has different needs. They all seem to perceive clients as wanting the same thing.

What Affluent Individuals Really Want from a Financial Advisor

On the flip side, 8 high net worth individuals were asked the question, “What is the #1 thing you want from a financial advisor that you find that many are not willing or able to give you?” These affluent individuals were selected on the basis of either having $1MM net worth or more, or earning $200k annual income or more.

Here are their responses.

  • An individualized assessment that takes into account my particular situation.  I feel like most financial advisors have a boilerplate spiel that they trot out for potential clients.

Given the responses the advisors gave in the last section, would it be hard to believe that most of them are caught up in some “spiel?” You decide.

Many advisors don’t take the time to analyze an investor’s account during the prospecting phase because they are operating under a heavy quota, and have a certain number of meetings they must attend per week to meet their numbers. But as this example illuminates, affluent people want just the opposite. They want to know that the advisor is going to invest their time and that they won’t be viewed as another number. And the fact that many advisors see them this way – it shows.

  • Pushing me out of my comfort zone so I really think hard about objectives and risk/reward…I need to be made to think deeply as pressure of everyday life gets in way.

This answer reveals that most advisors aren’t asking the right questions. It’s easy to see how this could be true. Most financial advisors have a boilerplate risk tolerance questionnaire that they use when determining an asset allocation. But to an affluent person with sophisticated needs, risk tolerance isn’t a simple calculation. There’s alot more under the surface that the advisor has to work hard to uncover. Instead of checking a box, take the time to understand them emotionally.

  • Unique ideas backed by interesting research. Any monkey can tell me to buy an ETF or about a equity-to-bond mix for my portfolio. What I value is someone who can give or email me a portfolio of 20 or 30 equities that are diversified and that they have solid research on to support their investments. I would really pay in the 5% range to 1.5 and 15% range for a person who builds me a portfolio of interesting equities like a hedge fund except on the advisor side. Problem is most advisors are too busy selling and not busy enough making their clients good return, very average and not worth fees often.

This is a response from someone who seems to be frustrated by advisors who underestimate his intelligence. Most financial advisors are salespeople who offer generic products that won’t impress many affluent people who have had some exposure to investing on their own. Remember, these people don’t live in a vacuum. Some of them have worked in finance before or have been exposed to investment concepts through education or self study.

  • The most important thing from a financial advisor is to free my time. That is, I need to have the confidence and trust so that I don’t need to look at my financial as much as I do now. While in the past I loved playing with my portfolio and optimize it, I find it a total waste of time now. And time is the most precious thing I have.

This comment is directly at odds with the financial advisors who said that affluent clients want their attention. It would seem that this person desires the opposite; for the advisor to create, not consume, his time.

  • I would also need a financial advisor to be a fiduciary, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to trust their advice and then what is the point of that?! Most wormed their way out of that question without clearly answering, protesting that they always looked out for their clients.

This is a very tenuous point within the investment marketplace. If you’re paid in a way that potentially compromises objectivity in any way, for goodness sake, be upfront about it.

Most financial advisors who are not held to the fiduciary standard will claim to follow its guidance anyways. For the more legally savvy audience this destroys trust instantly.

  • The number 1 thing I want from my financial planner is a true “holistic” strategic plan for my entire portfolio. Meaning not just a bunch of graphs and charts about my ROI, but a plan of what I need to do year by year from not until my projected retirement to maximize me achieving my goals.

You’ve seen the yearly annual review packet, right? Unfortunately it’s better used as a cure for insomnia. This response is screaming, “Please don’t waste my time!” Spare them the “vanity metrics” and focus on what all the analytics mean to the client.

  • Information on new ETFs/mutual funds being formed in obvious hot industries such as AI & Robotics…sometimes you can make money on newbie funds that are gathering assets as also on upside of industry dynamics.

This echoes other comments we’ve heard. Most advisors aren’t coming to the table with solutions that clients haven’t already heard of or couldn’t put together on their own, hence making it hard to justify the fees.

  • Tools for coping with feelings of being financial overwhelmed

Yes, affluent people worry about money just as much as anyone else. Don’t assume that just because your client is a millionaire that it makes life any easier.

Bridging the Gap

It’s clear from the survey that there’s a large disconnect between what clients say they want and what advisors think they do. How can advisors narrow the gap?

Stop Trying to Be BFF

Financial advisors make the mistake of trying to be BFF, or best friends forever, with every single affluent person they prospect to. Give up trying to make them fall in love with you on personality. Assume that they don’t have time for more friends.

Acknowledge that affluent people have probably heard it all before. Don’t show up and try to make friends while showing them the same products as everyone else. This is going to make their eyes glaze over.

Financial advisors cringe at the idea of splitting fees with a professional money manager who can “white label” a solution for them. If this is you, hear the message that affluent people aren’t going to give you their portfolio just because they like you and appreciate that you sent them a birthday card.

Invest in Powerful Solutions

When you’re dealing with this level of wealth, it’s not just the charisma or personality; you have to bring some heavy technical expertise to the table. If you don’t show them better investment selection or better performance than what they could do on their own, you aren’t going to win the business. Or if you do win it, you aren’t going to have it for very long.

Split the fees with a solid, outsourced money manager with an outstanding track record. It’s better to have a smaller cut of the fee than no cut of the fee. You may whine, but what you lose in the fee split you’ll make up in volume of business won from all the advisors who aren’t willing to do this.

If you’re going to manage the money yourself by using Morningstar software or something like that, you should focus on investors with fundamental requirements such as the standard ETF, asset allocation, and mutual fund solutions that most advisors offer. Those people are most likely not going to be affluent individuals.

Stop Asking Bad Questions

Years back in my work history when I was a financial advisor, my training programs taught me to orient the presentation towards getting a second meeting or a referral rather than getting to the bottom of what the real problem was that the client was facing.

In retrospect, all I did was ask bad questions.

If husband and wife had no life insurance, the questioning was geared towards getting them to fill out an application. If they wouldn’t, I was taught to move on to the next prospect. I was never taught to probe into their emotions surrounding their finances or to try to understand why they had certain attitudes.

For example, maybe they were raised in a family where nobody had life insurance or nobody ever passed away suddenly, and so they grew up thinking it was unnecessary. Perhaps they were feeling worried about possibly getting laid off and were struggling to find a way to shell out the $50 extra each month for my fee. But it never got that far.

When you ask the right questions, the walls come down. Asking a bad question, on the other hand, makes the walls come up.

Examples of bad financial advisor questions include:

  • “Is it right to leave your family with a replacement stream of income if you were to pass away suddenly. No? Then how can it be wrong to do the right thing?” (shaming them into buying life insurance)
  • “What would be on your wish list if you had $1MM” (greed-inducing)
  • “If you were to go away on a weekend holiday, who would be the three people you’d ask to go with you” (too intrusive, also self-serving and obviously probing for a referral)
  • “If I could show you a way to get more insurance coverage for every dollar you’re spending in premium, would you do this?”
  • “If I could tell you three ways to reduce risk in your portfolio, would you do this?”
  • One trainer taught us to bluntly ask “why” every time a client voiced an objection. Now that I have a 3 year old child, I can see how this response is really agitating.

Bad questions turn conversations into a stilted dialogue that never goes beneath the surface because the client doesn’t trust you.

Ask Better Questions

The real value that an advisor brings is being able to connect financial outcomes with the way a client truly feels, a truth that the client himself can not access on his own.

This is a point that many advisors neglect, the process of discovery and understanding past what clients say and what they truly mean.

Good questions build trust.

Examples of good questions:

  • “What was your experience with your last financial advisor – what did you like and dislike?”
  • “What are the three words that come to mind when I say the words ‘investment performance’ ?”
  • “If there is one thing you are looking for me to provide to you that you can not access on your own, what would it be?”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of what I’ve said do you actually believe.” (this is a gutsy one, but if the person responds honestly then you’ll get to the real objection)
  • “If you were to wake up tomorrow without a penny to your name, what is the #1 thing that happened and wiped out your wealth?” (this tells you what they’re really afraid of)
  • “Who do you think is the person in your life most responsible for influencing your present attitude towards your money?”

You can see that here I’m making it clear that I’m trying to understand them below the surface, not in this situation of trying to sell them investment services. I’m making an effort to understand their holistic attitude towards money and how that is impacted by their overall life.

Summing It Up: How Financial Advisors Can Get Rich Clients

Financial advisor and client, and never the twain shall meet. Here’s how to break through the barriers, in a nutshell.

I’ve said before that most financial advisors struggle to create a big brand, or any brand, for themselves at all. If you want affluent people to look at you as different from every other financial advisor out there, then stop acting like every other financial advisor out there.

The two major ways that advisors fall short of wealthy people’s expectations is the lack of compelling investment offerings (that won’t waste their time) and failure to understand their unique situation.

Authenticity is what matters most in any financial advisor who wants to get new clients. Learn the no BS way to use social media to get new clients by joining my membership here.

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The Small RIA Firm Poverty Trap (and How to Escape)

RIA firm branding and RIA firm marketing

No doubt that being an RIA firm with $150MM or less in AUM in an unenviable position to be in. While many have the potential to scale their businesses, most will never make it there without significant investment in marketing. If you’re a small RIA firm, here’s the one thing you can do to escape the poverty trap.

An RIA Firm Profitability Sketch

The economics of being a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) firm simply aren’t made to work for small operations. The overhead, the cost of being in business, and the cost of complying with regulations take a huge bite out of profit margins.

The results?

Poverty.

Most small RIA firms struggle, are forever penny pinching, and can’t hire the quality of staff that they’d need to have in order to impress people with serious money.

A Small RIA Firm Income Sketch

Let’s take an example of an RIA firm with $100MM in assets under management. Let’s say there’s three investment advisors with $33MM each in their book of business who decide to pool their assets into one RIA firm. And let’s assume – and this is a big break – that they’re lucky enough to earn 1% off that $100MM.  So, conservatively estimating, it looks like this:

Revenue                      $100,000,000 x .01 =  $1,000,000

Cost of Goods Sold                                           ($450,000)

Gross Profit                                                         $550,000

What’s next? So now we have to pay for the operations of the firm and the staff.

  •  If they’re taking home the full 1% fee that means they have inhouse research staff because they’re not fee splitting with a subadvisor. So pay a Chief Investment Officer/Director of Research about $100k (again, this is conservative) and a Research Associate about $70K. Now, as far as research staff goes these people are way underpaid if they are performing all the diligence and research that goes into managing $100MM of assets.
  • Now you’ve got to keep the clients happy, and let’s say there are about 100 accounts with $1MM average. So there’s got to be at least one operations person, and if you want to really do it right you should have two because the trades have to go through even when sick days and vacations happen etc. So let’s say you pay them each $60k.
  • Then you’ve got to have somebody to manage the office, keep your calendar and answer the phone, so let’s say we pay him/her $35k.
  • And then you need to either outsource marketing or get someone to help you with the website, newsletters, and social media. Either way that comes to about another $35k.
  • You need accounting and compliance support as well, to make sure everyone gets paid and the clients get billed, and that you keep up with all the regulations, so let’s conservatively say that costs $1k per month for you to outsource.
  • Oh yes and then there’s IT support in case the server goes down, disaster recovery policy are followed, etc., another $1k per month for you to outsource.
  • By the way, you haven’t paid rent yet and in a place like New York you’re looking at a minimum of $2k per month for a facility to house all these people.

Trust me, this is by no means all it takes; there’s way more I’m not including like office supplies. Before this headache turns into a migraine and you all hate my blog post more than you do already, let’s pick back up on the income statement where we left off.

Gross Profit                                                       $550,000

Operational Expenses                                    ($460,000)

Net Profit (9%)                                                   $90,000

So according to this sketch, and my expense estimates were conservative, this small RIA firm isn’t at a healthy margin. When all is said and done, to end up with this little profit when things go right isn’t looking good for when things go wrong.

And what about for those small small RIA firms with less than $100MM in AUM?

The Small RIA Firm Poverty Trap

The model above illustrates that most small RIA firms are just getting by financially. In the above example, with partners at the firm being responsible for running the firm in addition to all their client duties, they aren’t doing much active prospecting. Marketing comes last, and in the scenario described you can see that the budget doesn’t create the resources to reach the highly lucrative clients they want.

Looking for a low cost financial advisor lead generation tool? Check this one out below.

There’s probably zero active lead generation. As a result, they “take what they can get”, accepting smaller clients that demand as much service as larger ones but barely cover the cost of sales and service when all is said and done.

This is why most small RIA firms don’t scale, or don’t scale the right way. The bigger the firm gets, the more financial strain they face. Mathematically that is what happens to a low/shrinking margin business that adds incremental clients. And this is what I call the Small RIA Firm Poverty Trap.

And then, when you least expect, the unforeseen happens. You didn’t see it coming and now you’ve got a mess to deal with.

  • You get hit with an audit and some exceptions come up. Now you’ve got attorney bills and the risk of going out of business, can’t focus on your clients and you’re running behind schedule every day.
  • The market dips and you lose 40% of AUM overnight. Now you can’t even pay your bills.
  • WannaCry virus hits and you didn’t update your firewall because your tech person is a novice 25 year old. You’ve got some explaining to do to clients.
  • Your top portfolio manager leaves and takes your three largest clients and because you didn’t sign a non compete agreement you can’t do anything about it. Now you’ve got to reassign accounts and cut back on the bonus pool this year.

So all this begs the question, how can a small RIA firm take care of its clients when so often it can’t even take care of itself financially? Ask most analysts at small RIA firms and they’ll say they’re happy with their level of responsibility but the pay is way lower than what they can — and will — get elsewhere after they pass their CFA® exams or get their MBA or get a few more years of portfolio track record. I knew one guy who was President of an RIA firm and he had to take two years with no salary just to avoid closing down his firm after the recession hit.

I’ve worked on the buy side for a company with over $2BB in AUM and I’ve also worked as a consultant to clients with as little as $40MM. Overall my experience working at/with small RIA firms is that while they put on a cheery face and have an optimistic attitude towards their clients, at the heart of it, the staff is overworked and underpaid, and the firm constantly operates in a state of vulnerability. There are no small risks; even a minor issue becomes a major one.

Is There Integrity in the Marketing Pitch?

So now that we’ve established that most small RIA firms operate in a poverty trap, what does this mean for clients?

Well first of all, why do clients work with small RIA firms rather than big ones? Most of the time it is a personality match. Most RIA firms haven’t built their brand and don’t actively pursue the cold market. Referrals and personal networking are where business comes from, and the reason people say “yes” to a small RIA firm is likely the promise of better service or the comfort of knowing the person that they’ll be working with.

While small RIA firms tout customized, responsive service, are they really delivering on this promise? Do they really have the resources to deliver what a mid or large firm could in all possible circumstances? Stepping back and seeing it objectively, I doubt it. Is a firm with all these vulnerabilities and resource constraints really going to be able to outservice even a mid-sized competitor? I’ve come to realize that this marketing pitch is a false hope that lacks true integrity most of the time.

Small firms stay small for a reason and usually it’s because they can only get small clients. The larger accounts ($10MM and above) are the ones you have to compete for. And I mean, compete with a capital C. It takes a tremendous amount of time, attention, focus, polish, branding, and customization to get through to these folks. Just one wrong word in a marketing pitch can blow the whole deal. Appearances matter and most small RIA firms look small and unsophisticated in the eyes of someone with serious money.

Sorry if I’m being too direct here. For all you small RIA firms, please hear me. This is the elephant in the room preventing you from scaling your practice.

So how do I know all this? I am uniquely suited to pull away and see it objectively. For many years I myself was a financial advisor (until I had two children in under two years which put quite a damper on having to meet my quota to my boss). Now that I’m not a practicing financial advisor anymore, I can see the industry as an insider and outsider at the same time.

If I won the lottery and was awarded $20MM, or even $10MM, would I go to my college buddy who lives down the street and has two people working for him, both twenty somethings? Or, would I go for the name brand  at Morgan Stanley with a credentialed staff to choke a horse? I don’t know that I’d choose the small RIA firm. It would just be too much of a risk. I would just see too many things that could go wrong.

The reality is, sitting here in the position of the consumer (and at the same time, having a deep knowledge of how the investment industry works), I would be more inclined to work with a financial advisor that had $500MM or more if my account size were $20MM or above. Or $10MM, or $5MM. I’d want to see 20 years in the business and seasoned, deep staff resources. I wouldn’t be that happy seeing a cast of twenty somethings. It would also be important to see top security to protect me from risk of theft and misappropriation. That means everything, from encrypted email to making sure someone locks the file cabinets every night.

While this wouldn’t necessarily lead me to Morgan Stanley, it would rule out most small RIA firms in favor of any mid or large sized RIA firm, just based upon these simple needs. And that’s why life stinks for small RIA firms.

Sound familiar? There is one thing a small RIA firm can do about it.

The Internet is the Great Equalizer

The way out of the Small RIA Firm Poverty Trap is to create a big concept that people associate you with. I’m not saying “fake it until you make it.” Exaggerating is going down the wrong path entirely. Lack of sincerity is exactly what created distrust of our industry in the first place.

Even the smallest RIA firm can create a big brand. It requires creativity and a laser like focus on what your unique strengths are. And then you apply it a million different ways in every presentation of your company. You’ve got to do it in a way that makes people attach to you emotionally.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to cost a fortune. With the Internet as accessible as it is, marketing can be done relatively inexpensively using tools like LinkedIn. For example, I have a program designed especially for financial advisors who want to learn how to get clients through LinkedIn and you can check it out here.

Gone are the days of expensive paper mailers and marketing brochures. The currency of social credibility is how big you look on LinkedIn (which you can set up for free, by the way). Even if you’re the smallest RIA firm out there, if you have a big following online it signals value to people, rightfully or wrongfully. In their minds, people will figure out that there must be some good reason you’re getting all this attention. They’ll at least check you out. See, it’s just like dating. First you have to get their attention, then you have to start a conversation…it’s the same way that marriages are made.

Use the Internet to Blow Up Your Brand

But just getting on the Internet isn’t enough. You’ve got to get a nice, big brand online. Now, many RIA firms think brand doesn’t matter. They don’t even know what branding is and haven’t paid much attention to it. But this is the elephant in the room keeping you from where you want to be. Here’s why.

Forgive me for sounding so brash, but I can’t convey this point without doing so bluntly.

99% of RIA Firms say the same thing in their marketing.

It’s easy enough to prove my point. Just go to Google right now and type the search term “RIA firm” in your local area. You’ll see the first 5 firms that come up are saying the same things on their websites. I mean, it’s that obvious. They even use the same exact wording: “customized asset allocation”, “20 years in the business”, “fee only, independent advice”, “objective.” Blah blah blah.

So how do you set yourself apart? For some concrete examples of good and bad RIA firm branding, read this blog.

To bring back the example of me winning the lottery (which I must admit, is quite pleasant to think about!), let’s suppose that I came across an RIA firm on LinkedIn that had $50MM in AUM, but was specifically targeting New York City mothers.

  • Let’s say that they had several blogs on New York 529 plans and seemed to know everything about them.
  • Let’s say that they had a conference call on working mothers and how to make sure your kids can access your investment accounts if you were to pass away (how DO they get the passwords, anyways, especially if you were a single mom?).
  • Now let’s suppose that they have 10k followers on LinkedIn, were featured at a seminar as one of the top firms in the country in women’s finance, and their logo and tagline were female-oriented. Well, in that case I might just overlook the drawbacks of their small size.

Since they’ve branded themselves as a financial advisor targeting women, there’s something about them that calls out to me.  See how brand matters? It enlarges something of value to me, it stirs up my emotions, it makes me take a second look and focus on what they want me to see rather than what I want to see.

Blowing Up Your Brand

Thanks for reading!

And if you like my ideas there’s more of them where they came from – consider joining my monthly membership here.

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Are Lead Generation Services Worth It?

Sara Grillo - Financial Advisor Fishing For Leads

Ask any financial advisor and they’ll say the biggest challenge for their practice is getting a reliable stream of high quality, qualified leads in the door. This article provides an analysis of the major lead generation services as well as the pros and cons of outsourcing lead generation for financial advisors, RIA firms, CFPs, and wealth managers.

Are Financial Advisor Lead Generation Services Legit?

We’ve all heard the incredulous statement, “Nobody looks for a financial advisor on the Internet.” The biggest question that most financial advisors have about lead generation services is about their legitimacy. The logical assumption is that if finding qualified high net worth individuals with money to manage is so hard for a highly credentialed financial expert, how could it be possible for some third party firm?

The answer, most of the time, is lead capture through the Internet. Many lead generation services target individuals seeking financial advice through what is called pay per click advertisements. When somebody types in, for example, “financial advisor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin” or “how to get 401k advice in Tucson, Arizona”, ads come up which refer the person to a lead generation website where they can search for a financial advisor. Once the lead is gathered, usually it is qualified and verified before being passed on to the financial advisor subscribing to the lead generation service. But do verify that before you sign up for the service.

Do people really seek financial advice through the Internet?

The times they are a’changin. With the digital boom, this is a huge opportunity for financial advisors serving the Internet friendly Millennial generation. They trust the Internet so much that they’ll go so far as to work with a Roboadvisor, for goodness sake.

My experience working with a lead generation service, when I worked in financial planning, was that some leads were true while others were not. Check for the refund policy before you sign up for the service.

If you were looking to create these leads on your own, however, you’d need to put a repeatable process in place.  Check out the system in the video below for ideas.

The Caveats of Lead Generation Services

One important thing to keep in mind about a lead generation service is the highly competitive entry point.

Think about the online buyer’s mindset.

By the time somebody has launched a financial advisor search, and especially if they’re doing this through the Internet search engines, they are “in the market.” The competition level has increased dramatically and it’s likely they’re already talking to a few other advisors, both online and through their own personal network. Everyone has that one uncle who thinks he knows how to trade stocks!

Then, the lead generation service itself sends the prospect multiple financial advisor profiles, not just one. You’ve got competitors coming at you from all angles. The analogy I would make is it’s like applying for a job on Monster.com. Once the job opening is posted, word is out and you’re competing with every qualified candidate on the street.

Now, that’s not to presume that you can’t successfully close the lead. It means that you’re not the only player in the game at that point. You’ll probably have to work harder to earn the sale than if you had come up with the lead organically.

The other aspect to consider is population density. If you live in a rural area, you might end up having to travel far to meet these leads if the conversation progresses.

Are Lead Generation Services Worth the Cost?

Most of these services render a subscription fee and some have an additional charge per lead. While many advisors cringe at the cost, consider this point.

If you had to create your own lead capture functionality on your own website, it would cost way more than a few couple hundred dollars a month. Consider the cost of an SEO consultant starts at about $400 per month at minimum, and that’s not even taking into account the amount of time your marketing person would have to spend producing content to place onto your website, as well as the thousands for your Google Adwords budget. And SEO isn’t immediate, either. It takes a few months before you typically see results. We’re talking about thousands upon thousands of dollars here, folks. If a lead gen service is willing to do the work for you, you’re probably not overpaying.

Looking for a lower cost way to generate leads? My membership is $35 a month with a one time sign up fee. Check it out here.

Analysis of Financial Advisor Lead Generation Providers

Let me start off by saying that I am not officially endorsing any of these companies; this rudimentary analysis is meant to inform and educate only. If you are interested, you should do your own research and contact the company directly. In the analysis below, I identify what I perceive to be what makes each financial advisor lead generation company different from one to the next.

Paladin

Paladin provides not only lead generation services but also turnkey digital marketing services for companies without the marketing resources to set up a website, create a branding campaign, etc. They even offer compliance support. Paladin has been in business since 2003. I like that the company offers several different levels of lead gen service (Platinum, Gold, Silver) depending on what the advisor needs.

WiserAdvisor

WiserAdvisor has been in the business almost 20 years, and from what I can see this is the longest track record in the game. WiserAdvisor is strictly in the business of lead generation.

What strikes me about Wiser Advisor is that there seems to be much more third party commentary on this company than all their competitors. Perhaps this is a result of the company’s long track record. You can read what investors and even other financial advisors are saying in the 50+ reviews on TrustPilot and several other Internet sites.

GuideVine

Started a little over five years ago, GuideVine is the new baby on the block of financial advisor lead generation providers. While it maybe doesn’t have the longest track record, it does come with a few more bells and whistles than the other options. For example, advisors can make a video to introduce themselves to prospects and include it as part of their profile. GuideVine even has a team that will assist you with creating this video. The video feature is pretty significant, considering that seeing is believing and being able to experience the financial advisor on video is helpful to building trust.

Right Financial Advisor

Right Financial Advisor has a unique video chat feature that enables investors to connect with an advisor before meeting. It’s a great way to ease the pressure and make the investor feel more comfortable with the advisor.  From the LinkedIn company page it appears the company been in existence since 2013.

Outsourcing vs. Organic

Outsourcing lead generation is one way to get new faces in the door, and for some companies it is the only way to get new faces in the door. While these service have their value, it can also be very hit or miss. As mentioned in the caveats section, I wouldn’t underestimate the fact that once the lead gets to you, you’re not the only player in the game.

A far less competitive way to get new clients before they consult the search engines is through organic, inhouse marketing. The cold market gives most financial advisors the shivers. The way to warm it up? Branding.

While brand is something that most financial advisors put last, taking the time to create a truly unique message will allow you to tap into underserved markets and drive leads to the sales funnel. Most financial advisors, however, lack the time and resources to dedicate in order to achieve effective branding.

Sara’s Upshot

To address the need for financial advisor lead generation, I’ve created a way to provide this expertise to financial advisors.

Please consider joining my monthly membership here.  It is specified for financial advisors and will teach you how to get leads from social media such as LinkedIn and YouTube.

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From Chaotic Picasso to Marketing Masterpiece

Sara Grillo - Messy Paint - Marketing Strategy

While Picasso didn’t attend marketing conferences with titles such as “Brand Ambassador” on his name tag, financial advisors can all take a lesson from his success in marketing his product.

Marketing as an Art Form

As business owners, and especially those with emerging brands, we’re all Picasso figures in some way. We’re all striving for the same goal as he was: to bring to life a business product or service and have it ultimately change the world. The great question is how Picasso and other monumental successes in history were able to gain the power that they did, while others just don’t quite get there.

What for many of separates us from Picasso is the way the collage comes together. For many firms, and especially those without resources dedicated to this, marketing presentation resembles more a thrown together sundry tools rather than a beautifully arranged assortment of symbolic ideas that represent the company’s brand.

This analogy is best served by an example. While the following refers to no one company in particular, to many it may sound familiar.

What is a Chaotic Picasso?

The Facebook page was created by an intern two summers ago, and you can’t find the password anywhere although updates are happening on a regular basis. LinkedIn hasn’t been touched in months, the website was created by a marketing consultant who has long since departed, and the logo and tagline are from your brother-in-law who is a graphic designer. Now your buddy from college whom you saw at last week’s reunion wants to come in and do some pay per click advertising but you’re not sure how effective it will be since you haven’t checked Google Analytics in over a year.

Or maybe you’re making some business card mistakes such as information overload, overly fancy font, or no space for notes. For more information on how to avoid this, check out this blog post by Heike Heemann of IdeaShare Business Coaching.

Recognize this picture? I call it a Chaotic Picasso.

The inevitable result of a Chaotic Picasso is that after some time of flustered sales and marketing success, management decides to execute what is called a “rebrand.” You’ve seen this before: redo the logo, upgrade the website, maybe add a blog or two every month. Most of the time this just adds weight to the pile. It seems that the organization has sorted its Picasso out, but it doesn’t stay that way for long and a few years later the company is in the same position.

So if you’re a Chaotic Picasso, how do you become a Picasso?

Said differently, how can a Chaotic Picasso be transformed into a marketing masterpiece? As one of my branding colors is purple, I’ve created an analogy called a “Sara’s Purple Book of Branding” to explain the solution to this problem.

Here are the parts of a Sara’s Purple Book.

Marketing Assets (Dark Purple)

Just like an asset, the marketing tools your company uses are expected to yield more value than what you paid. Treat these assets like cash in your bank account. Create an inventory of every single marketing asset, from logo to newsletters to sales people, and then rank them in order of potency. You’ll be surprised at how much you have to work with. This list changes as your marketing evolves.

Marketing Strategy (Pale Purple)

It’s in the background, but it’s always there. In essence, the marketing assets come alive through the brand. View my blog about business branding to learn how. It’s one of the hardest things for companies to develop when the Picasso is chaotic. That’s why a strategic approach to branding is key.

Marketing Execution Plan (Bright Purple)

This actually should be green, because that’s what brings the money in; but as this is a Sara’s Purple Book, green is excluded. Executing the brand is where you gain the value in the marketplace that you deserve. What many companies forget about marketing is that it’s supposed to create revenue. Most organizations assign that responsibility to the sales force. While it’s true that the salesperson is the one who ultimately gets the buyer to sign the paper, marketing is the language of sales. The greatest problem for most sales operations is a smaller than needed pipeline.

Solid branding and messaging are a powerful signal to the buyer that can make or break a sales effort. If something is wrong with them, the salesperson has to work that much harder to get to where your competition already is.

Here’s an example.

You meet a colleague at a networking event who tells you that she is in the market for your product. You exchange business cards and have a great intro call. She wants to move to the next step, but curiously your phone calls and emails for the next two weeks are ignored. Maybe she’s all of a sudden got a family emergency, or maybe she has taken up with one of your competitors. You’ll never know the truth so now you have to rely upon your brand to save the deal.

What’s critical in this situation to avoid being perceived as a valueless stalker is to have marketing assets to deploy in a way that drive home your value. That’s the difference between stalking and value added follow up. You won’t get much of her attention now that the communication has been broken. You need marketing assets that get her attention the right way and convey the value you are worth in the marketplace or else it’s phone tag and voicemail for the rest of your days.

Sara’s Upshot

Authenticity is what matters most in any financial advisor who wants to get new clients. Learn the no BS way to use social media to get new clients by joining my membership here.