You're proud of your practice and are ready to share your credibility and expertise with more clients, prospects and, possibly, strategic partners. But how do you make the move to the next level? In the Internet era of the Information Age, tell your story in the media.
One way to establish your credibility is by offering your expertise to reporters working on stories. This approach can be effective - but it also means that you are at the whim of other writers.
A better option: Take control of the process by becoming the writer and getting an article published. Not only will clients and prospects see that a publication found your ideas valuable enough to print or post, but a published article can also serve as a powerful marketing tool, immortalized on the web.
"Being a published author creates great credibility and keeps me sharp on current trends and what's on the minds of the high-net-worth market," says Scott Mahoney, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, who's had 12 articles published over the past two years in Worth, Business Owner and Management Today. "It's led to us getting calls from investors with significant wealth who would not have known about us otherwise, and to a national news appearance that resulted in a new client."
Becoming an effective author doesn't have to be a painful experience. Editors are always looking for fresh angles or for experts to help them create great stories. The key is to understand what you need to do before you head to the keyboard, as well as what you need to do to navigate the publication process successfully.
You can divide your tasks into three steps:
• Turn your process into a story. In a world full of choices, the difference between one service or product and another may be its emotional appeal. Appealing to your clients and prospects means reaching them in an emotional way. One way to do that is by engaging them through a story about your process. This story communicates how valuable you are as a financial advisor and how your clients rely on your expertise to reach their goals. The story has to be told effectively to engage clients and attract prospects. And you, the storyteller, have to become the most important part of that strategy.
Those who create the best story - and those who tell their story the best - will prevail. Your stories should demonstrate your value by showing, not merely by telling. In other words, don't say that you are an effective financial advisor. Instead, show how you are an effective financial advisor through examples and details.
You should look for themes that help prove the value of your process, or some recurring events that helped define your work as a financial advisor. Recall particularly good or bad results of your past efforts and think about how they contributed to your process. "To create articles that are engaging, I regularly use client case studies and examples, and show how I served those clients' needs," Mahoney says.
• Write and edit an article. Your first step is to choose your topic. Start writing about something you know - for example, how to solve a particular problem or how working with a client led to an especially successful outcome. When you solve a problem or present meaningful information in a new light, you will be regarded with high esteem.
"Article ideas often come from experiences with clients, meetings I've attended and trends I'm seeing," Mahoney notes. "I try to stay with ideas that are evergreen and will have a long shelf life. For example, my most recent article came after I saw a speech on artificial intelligence and investing, which will be a growing trend for some time."
Try to keep it simple. Instead of tackling an entire complicated subject, target one specific area. Also, look for ways to connect with readers. Use dialogue and quotations when possible. Readers will identify or become involved in a story because they recognize parts of themselves or someone with whom they are familiar. (For additional perspective, check out my article on the Elite Advisor Forum about Larry Chambers and his "7-Minute Article" process at financial-planning.com/EliteAdvisorForum/news/-2668654-1.html.)
Once you've completed your article, go back to the beginning and edit. Editing will be just as important as the initial writing. Start with a quick review with an eye toward these questions: Does the piece lead logically to the point you intended to make? Does it have a clear story, problem or question? Do the steps relate in some way to the story, problem or question? Do the steps follow in logical order? If the answer is no to any of these questions, look for solutions to the problem.
Next, go through the piece again very carefully. Eliminate peripheral points and details, no matter how interesting they may be. If they don't support your story or move it forward, delete them. Also weed out wordy phrasing, awkward sentence construction, clichÃ©s and spelling errors. In particular, avoid jargon and other dense, industry terminology so that you make it easy for the average reader to fully engage in the material.
• Publish your article. Your articles will have little impact on your business unless they are being printed by a publication in your market. It's these niche magazines - special interest periodicals and trade publications - that give you the best chance at getting published. Obviously, trade publications that focus on wealth management and investing are good avenues to pursue. But don't forget to look outside that area. For example, if one of your specialties is serving doctors, you may find that a publication dedicated to physicians is perfect for an article about specific wealth planning challenges in this community.
"My niche markets are business owners facing liquidity events and front-office executives, so I target publications that cater to those niches," Mahoney says. "It's important to take time to read the publications thoroughly and find areas where you can add ideas on important topics that aren't currently being covered in them."
Take note: One necessary element of this part of the process may be to obtain compliance approval for your article before submitting it for placement. As long as you stay away from investment discussions, testimonials and promises, you should be able to work with compliance to develop a powerful article that demonstrates your depth of financial knowledge.
Once you've identified the right publication, written a good article and gone through the compliance process, it's time to sell an editor on your story. Keep in mind that editors are typically swamped with deadlines and loads of other tasks.
When you craft your pitch to an editor, keep it short. Use common language that everyone can relate to and stick with only the most interesting points of the story. You want to interest the editor in your topic, not overwhelm him or her. Whittle your idea down to the bone, so you can summarize it in one or two sentences and communicate what a reader of the publication will get from your article.
Explain to the editor that you are a top financial advisor who's written an article that you think would be of great interest to that magazine's readership. Offer to let the editor read the article under no obligation to determine if it's suitable for publication. Most magazines are hungry for material, especially written by experts such as you.
If you get the brush-off from the first publication you contact, don't be discouraged. It takes only one "yes" to place an article. And once that relationship has been established, it becomes much easier to get subsequent articles printed.
I know the idea of writing and publishing an article may seem overwhelming at first. But as the example of Mahoney shows, the benefits are considerable. An article will establish you as an authority and build credibility with your clients, prospects and others who can be hugely important to your success.
John J. Bowen Jr. is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.