Here's the scenario: A prospective client has had a life event that changes his financial situation. He knows he needs financial guidance but is not sure where to turn, so he solicits feedback from family and friends; he also reviews professional organizations. Then he goes to Google to search for firms in his area, and starts combing through the search results.
Here's the critical question: If he found your website, would he give you a call?
An outstanding website can make a powerful first impression. Unfortunately, so can a bad one. Your website should tell prospective customers a number of things: firm services and philosophy, investment management methodology as well as blog posts about different financial planning topics. But it also shows whether your firm is on the cutting edge and how it values technology. Some of those issues are important to potential employees, as well - so if your company has an out-of-date and poorly maintained website, you risk losing not only clients, but also talent.
GEN Y'S GREATER DEMANDS
If you're recruiting new workers, remember this: College students of this generation have grown up with Web technology. They communicate via social media, get all their information from websites, and discover the latest trends by their friends' likes, tweets and YouTube recommendations. So it's only fair to think they will want to conduct business in the same manner.
Young advisors know that engaging marketing campaigns have to involve not just face-to-face interactions but also websites, multimedia and social media. They want a company that can and will support a marketing campaign that involves these mediums. If a candidate was weighing two firms - both with similar philosophies and approaches, but only one was on the cutting edge of Web technology and the other was stuck in the 1990s - which do you think she would choose to work for?
In a recent conversation with a Gen Y advisor, I asked about his firm's website. He hung his head. All the pages were static, he said, the company didn't have a blog and the ideas he had for an online-marketing campaign were limited by his firm's delay in implementing technology.
He was so disheartened, he added, that when he meets Gen Y prospects, he is too embarrassed to direct them to his firm's website. He also wanted to interact with prospects and clients using different methods of technology, such as video conferencing, but his company wasn't able to support it.
I asked if this lack of technology was a deal breaker for him: Would he leave the firm if another opportunity presented itself? His answer: "Many fee-only firms offer similar service, just with different methods of delivery based on different comfort levels with technology. How can I bring clients to the firm when I am not confident in either of those things?"
Let's go back to that prospect, still searching for nearby firms. Here's what he's found so far:
* Firm A has a template website and says the planner has been in the profession for 25 years. His bio photograph shows him to be about 40, though. Has he been practicing since age 15? And if not: Why is that photo so out of date?
* Firm B has the same template as the first one - instant turnoff. In addition, this site has numerous pages full of text, grainy shots of the team, and a "latest update" that is 18 months old.
* Firm C is something else entirely, though. The branding is appealing, there are dynamic graphics, blog posts are only days old and contain current topics. It also has videos, podcasts and other media, plus sharp, professional photos throughout the site - and there are fresh, interesting and concise bios, plus clear descriptions of what the firm does.
The prospect rules out two of the three firms by appearances. After all: If a firm cannot produce a good first impression online, who knows what quality of work it will provide? He calls Firm C to make an appointment.
Last year my firm, Vantage Financial Partners, went through a website overhaul. Moving away from a static page layout, we changed the site to allow for multimedia integration, social media widgets and a blog. Most important, new pages could be added from scratch in as little as five minutes and be tracked for marketing performance.
Dynamic website design is important for attracting and retaining employees, says Joe Polidoro, founder of the advisor marketing firm Marketeria, which designed Vantage's new website. "Regularly sharing your views on your website and on social media expresses who you are, what you believe and the impact you have on clients," he explains. "If a prospective employee reads your content and discovers that his or her views align with yours, you've created an engaged employee even before he or she is hired.
"This isn't the future of marketing," he adds. "It's the present. Advisors large and small will do well to embrace it."
7 RULES FOR CHANGE
How can you be sure your firm is positioned to attract Gen Y, both as customers and employees?
1. Be open to new technologies: Web conferencing and secure file-sharing have been the biggest business breakthroughs of the last decade. Not only can you provide a client in Asia with a sensitive file within minutes through a secure connection, but you can also "meet" with him face-to-face via a video meeting. Crisp video, audio and dynamic layouts have already pushed this envelope. Be open to new online possibilities.
2. Understand how Gen Y gets information: Forget print newspapers. Many of us in Gen Y get our information online, share it with our online community and pick up recommendations in the same way. I have seen numerous Facebook posts asking for recommendations for plumbers, doctors, dentists and advisors. Advisors are restricted from promoting or accepting online recommendations, but they should recognize that other people are discussing the profession (and its practitioners) online. How can you be recommended if no one knows about you? And if you do get a recommendation but your website is subpar, how many of those recommendations will evaporate?
3. Don't assume new technology is for younger people: My grandma just joined Facebook from her iPad and she's in her mid-80s. Here's why: Skype and Facebook let her stay connected to great-grandchildren 4,000 miles away. Your advisors could strengthen relationships with clients of all generations by implementing video chat technology.
4. Don't take yourself too seriously: Recently, someone told me about Dollar Shave Club, a company that schedules UPS deliveries of men's razors. I gave them a quizzical look but was told to check out the company's promo video. I did: It's full of humor and slapstick, yet it explains the concept of the company very well - and left me wanting more information. Here's the reality: Prospects are looking for people to work with, not financial robots. They assume every advisor has knowledge to help them; therefore they are looking for the service and personality that will benefit them the most. Let that shine through.
5. Multimedia wins the day: You don't have to be producing humor videos, but in today's age, your site must have a blog at minimum; videos and podcasts are even better. Prospects want to see your knowledge and your passion.
6. Keep it simple: No prospect will ever be won over by an idea buried three clicks deep on a website. Explain your approach and pricing, share some significant content, be personable and then leave prospects wanting to learn more. If they are engaged, they will call (or email) to follow up.
7. Go mobile: Clients may be viewing your website via a smartphone. If your site doesn't work on mobile, or some of its features are lost, too bad; your prospect may just move on to the next firm on her list.
Your website can make or break you. So leave that templated site behind, post a video of yourself and your team, and get blogging with a vengeance. Embrace technology now - before your clients and employees find another firm that already has.
Dave Grant, a Financial Planning columnist, is a financial planning analyst with Vantage Financial Partners in Arlington Heights, Ill. He's also the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young fee-only planners.