The proliferation of social media websites and search engines have made it possible for niche financial advisors to succeed like never before, simply by creating content that demonstrates their expertise and allows prospects to find them.
Yet this strategy works only if an advisor actually creates the content.
For many, the ultimate challenge is thinking up topics to write about, and yet there is a remarkably easy way to do this. Similarly, once advisors do have a topic, there are some simple ways to construct an outline to give organization to their presentation.
But if, even with these tips, writing is still a blocking point, there may be another option: not writing at all. Instead, a video, podcast or hired writer might be a better way to go. Ultimately, the key is to commit to a regular schedule of content, whether it’s writing one article a month or penning a rotating series of articles every week.
Creating a blog may seem daunting at first. But by following some straightforward guidance, many advisors will find it both easy and rewarding.
Coming up with content is one of the greatest challenges for advisors looking to start or grow a blog. Yet finding inspiration for content can be simple: Just write about the questions your top clients are asking you, or the issues they are facing.
If, for instance, many of your clients work for a particular company and have questions about their employee benefits or stock options, write an article that highlights their questions (without disclosing the company’s name), and then give your analysis of how you would answer them.
If you have a lot of older retired clients who are asking questions about how to evaluate a continuing-care community, write an article about how you helped them analyze this particular situation.
If your clients want to know what they should do about charitable giving from their IRA, given that the rules for qualified charitable distributions have lapsed, write an article to reflect the advice you would give.
The point is that, if your best clients have a question, then other people who are not your clients probably have this question as well, and they might be searching online for an answer.
The goal is simple: You want your answers to come up as the response they find in Google. If you achieve that, you’re demonstrating yourself to be a valuable and relevant source of information.
Any time clients ask you a question, recognize that it’s an opportunity not only to answer them directly, but also to craft an article about it. I maintain an ongoing note in Evernote that is just a list of blog ideas, based solely on questions asked to me by the people I do business with. By keeping this content in Evernote, I can access it from my smartphone wherever I am.
Once you’ve written some articles for your website, the next opportunity for finding blog ideas is to look at your website’s Google Analytics results to see which articles are already popular and producing results. Then, write content that tackles other issues that might be relevant to a similar audience.
OVERCOMING WRITER’S BLOCK
For some advisors, the only thing more terrifying than coming up with a topic for a blog article is actually starting to write it. There’s nothing quite like the looming fear of tackling a blank page.
As a person who faces this challenge regularly, I’ve formulated what I like to call the 3x3x3 style of blog writing. The idea is to break down an entire article into a series of smaller steps.
The starting point is simply to come up with three key points you want to make about your topic.
If you’re writing about long-term investing, for instance, you might talk about the power of compounding, the tendency of volatility to smooth out in the long run and the virtues of long-term equity returns.
If you’re giving end-of-year tax advice, your three points might be about doing end-of-year Roth conversions, capital-loss harvesting and IRA contributions.
Once you’ve got your three key points, come up with three concepts to explain each issue. For the tax advice article about Roth retirement account conversions, your three key concepts might be the tax treatment of conversions, the end-of-year deadline to complete them and the steps to take for executing a trustee-to-trustee transfer of the assets.
Your three key concepts for capital-loss harvesting might be explaining wash sales, the cost to execute the loss harvesting and an estimate of how much it’s worth.
Ultimately, each of the three key concepts will become a paragraph. You’ll have three key points, and each of the key points will have three paragraphs explaining the key concepts. And, in truth, all you really need to formulate a paragraph is three sentences. Your ultimate goal is just to write three sentences about each concept.
Once you’re finished, you can round your blog post out by adding one more set of three — an executive summary at the top, consisting of three paragraphs to briefly explain each of the three key points.
The 3x3x3 financial advisor blog template is a sample outline you can use for yourself. Just fill in the main subject, the three key points and the three key concepts in each area. Then all that remains is for you to write three sentences about each of the nine key concepts you’ve listed in the outline.
It’s important to note that the key part of blogging is not the writing, but the content. And content has many forms.
For instance, if you would rather make a presentation to a group of people than write an article for them, consider recording yourself in front of a camera talking through key concepts. YouTube is now arguably the second-largest search engine, and, as educational video content becomes more popular, the frequency of “how to” searches on YouTube are up over 70% in the past year alone, according to a recent report by Google, which owns YouTube.
If you are more comfortable standing in front of an audience to deliver content, then do that, and YouTube can help the audience find their way to you.
If you’re not one for standing in front of a video camera but are happy to talk and be recorded, consider creating a podcast instead. Podcasting is on the rise, and over one-third of all Americans have now listened to a podcast, according to Pew Research. Yet podcasting remains a relatively untapped realm for advisors.
If you aren’t interested in podcasting or video and would like to be an author, but the writing remains the challenge, there are other steps you can take. For instance, you can record yourself talking through the key points and concepts you want to convey, then hire a writer to turn your ideas into a written article demonstrating your depth and expertise.
There are a growing number of outsourced content-creation services for advisors. This can be very cost-effective if you can record an article idea in just 15 minutes that would require many hours if you were writing it yourself.
Or you can hire an editor inexpensively and have that person take a rough draft that you created quickly and refine it into something that’s ready to be viewed by the world (pending your review).
MAKE IT A HABIT
Once you’ve figured out your strategy for producing blog content, the last key is to produce it regularly and consistently. Blogging has to be something you do more than just when the mood strikes. Instead, you have to make it a habit.
The easiest way to make this happen is to commit in advance to a regular schedule of creating content. It doesn’t necessarily have to be done very often; a consistent habit is more important than a high-frequency one. If it’s daunting to produce blog content any more often than once a month, commit to doing it just once a month. But you must follow through on the commitment.
To further tackle the fear of writer’s block, a related strategy is not only to commit to blog content on a regular basis, but to plan in advance what kind of topic or content you’ll produce.
For instance, if you were going to blog monthly, you might decide that, in even months, you’ll do an article about a technical planning question your client asked, and in odd months you’ll do an interview with a center of influence.
If you blog weekly, you might decide that you’ll do three articles on issues raised by client questions every month, and on the last week of each month, you’ll produce a mailbag-type article, in which you invite readers to submit questions and you respond to one of them.
Regular readers of my blog, Nerd’s Eye View, might have noticed that I operate my own editorial content calendar.
On Mondays, I always write about an issue related to practice management, personal/career development or industry issues. On Wednesdays, I cover technical planning topics, which might range from investments to retirement to tax-planning issues. On Fridays, I offer weekend reading columns. And occasionally, on the intervening Tuesdays or Thursdays, I’ll fill in with a mailbag article or a guest post.
Ultimately, the goal of creating your own editorial content calendar is to create an accountability mechanism for yourself. If you just plan to create content whenever you have a moment, you’ll never find the time to do it.
A content calendar creates a deadline, which in turn helps to make it a priority, ensuring that you actually get it done on a regular basis.
And, notably, you may find that, once you have regular readers, knowing they are awaiting your content can be the greatest accountability mechanism of all.
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.
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