There's a reason advisors like so-called content marketing strategies: Blogging, newsletters and writing guest articles can be an inexpensive way to speak directly to prospective clients. But creating copy for your company can also be time consuming, and requires both communication skills and a deliberate strategy.
Whether writing for your own website, for quarterly newsletters or for occasional marketing pieces, the words you use can engage and attract your ideal clients - or repel them - and the topics you discuss can determine whether a prospect will consider doing business with your firm.
So how do you write great copy and attract your ideal clients?
Start by being topical and timely: Write about the topics that your niche cares most about, and do so when it's important and relevant.
One example from my own practice: Illinois recently voted through an unprecedented pension reform bill. Private sector workers cheered, while teachers were furious about it.
I work primarily with teachers - I'm also married to one - but even though it negatively affects my own family and my clients' finances, I thought the legislation was solid.
I decided when the measure was passed that I would read it and provide a summary on my blog and social media channels. The bill was 327 pages long, so reading it and putting together an analysis took about four hours.
In the middle of this review, I noted to my online followers that I was going through it, that it didn't look as bad as projected, and that people could expect a blog post the following day.
At just past midnight, I finished my blog post and then shared it with fellow advisors and teachers. Over the following three days, more than 1,300 people saw the review; it got shared more than 100 times via Facebook, and generated a lot of feedback and questions.
My followers, it turns out, were appreciative - saying my post was easy to understand, noting my timely response and thanking me for avoiding spin in the analysis. Most important, the majority of this feedback came from my target market: the teachers themselves.
All of my blog posts are written for teachers - mostly about their financial lives, but also dealing with issues related to the classroom, students, available technology tools and reviews of conversations I see teachers having on Twitter.
I want teachers to be able to learn something from every one of my posts so that they will look forward to future updates.
If you have a target audience or niche, are you writing for them? Or are you writing generic blog posts that apply to everyone and anyone? Determine the planning issues that your clients face and zero in on these topics.
OPINION IS TRICKY
There was, in truth, one thing missing from my review: I didn't really disclose my full opinion about the measure. I didn't explain that while I thought this change was a great way for the state of Illinois to start protecting its long-term financial security, the pension calculation is still the main problem with the teacher pension system, and it needs to be changed.
Neither did I mention that I still think teachers get a fabulous pension based on their lifetime income and savings rate - maybe too fabulous.
Why didn't I share this part? For one thing, I wanted to be sensitive to the concerns of my audience. While I believe these things to be true, I was afraid that my viewpoint would make me unpopular with the people I am trying to prospect. And in truth, they didn't actually need to know my full opinion - they needed to know how the pension changes would affect them.
As part of your communication strategy, understand how much you want to communicate publicly. Knowing the line between personal opinion and useful analysis can be tricky. Expressing your own take might help you stand out to readers, but be careful that your opinion doesn't alienate them.
Only by truly understanding your target market do you know which topics fall into which camp.
Once you understand your niche, make sure your website communicates directly to them. Anyone who visits my company website can plainly see who I want as a client. From my company name (Finance for Teachers) to the detailed "About You" page, it's obvious that I only want to work with this group of people.
But what about your website?
*If consumers were to visit, would it be easy for them to understand whether they are a good fit for your firm?
*Does your company name or tagline specify an ideal client?
*Do you have an easy-to-find area where people can find out what your typical clients are like, and what you can offer them?
You not only want to attract the right clients - you also want to gently discourage the wrong ones. You don't want to waste time taking initial meetings with clients who are a poor fit, whether it's because their assets don't meet your minimums or because their needs aren't a match with your specialties. It's not the best use of your time and the clients may not get the service they require.
Both the articles and the other messaging on your website should be dedicated to your ideal clients, their problems, how you solve them, and what would qualify a prospect to be your client. Whether you serve landowners with mineral rights, women going through divorce or corporate executives, be sure you reference the financial issues these specific people face.
Your phone probably won't ring as often, but you should be able to sharply increase the percentage of prospects who become your clients.
NEWSLETTERS & UPDATES
Many firms send out regular newsletters, whether quarterly, monthly or even more often. Every time you send one out, your clients have a chance to judge what type of firm you operate and whether the relationship is still a good fit.
What does your newsletter include? For many, it tends to focus on market commentary, some projections for the future and discussion of investments. Even better would be timely, engaging commentary about current events that affect clients. I've also seen staff updates, easy-to-implement financial tips, even seasonal recipes.
I subscribe to a digital newsletter from SRQ Wealth Management, based in Sarasota, Fla. Not only is it well designed - with clear, bold titles and access to previously posted articles - but the content is engaging, with minimal jargon, easy-to-read content on tough topics, smart planning tips and investment commentary. SRQ also mentions Sarasota community issues, as well as updates on the firm's staff and recent stories in the press. It is one of the best financial planning newsletters I've seen.
One note: Unless you're an experienced, natural writer, you may not want to write your website or marketing materials yourself. Consider hiring a professional who can work some magic for you; if you do it yourself, hire an editor for a second set of eyes. Explain what you are looking for, what emotions you want the readers to feel, and what next steps you want them to take.
Understand that the same ideas communicated by a professional writer can make the difference between having your ideal prospect pick up the phone or continue looking.
Dave Grant, a Financial Planning columnist, is founder of Finance for Teachers, a planning firm, and Fee Only Consulting, in Cary, Ill. He is also the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young, fee-only planners.
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