3 Reasons Financial Planning Firms Might Consider a Blog

Posted by Michael Kitces on Thursday, March 22nd, 1:16 pm, 2012 in Practice Management

As financial planning firms increasingly incorporate the internet and their websites into their marketing, more and more practices are considering the use of a blog. Yet many are doing so without a clear understanding of why the blog is being done in the first place, beyond "everyone else seems to be doing it, so I guess I should, too!" In practice, it seems there are three primary reasons that most financial planning firms consider a blog: drip marketing for prospects, a communication tool for existing clients, or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) enhancement for your overall website. Fortunately, once you know which of these reasons matches the purpose for your blog, you can figure out what kind of content to create for it, to whom the blog updates should be distributed, and whether having a blog even makes sense for your firm in the first place! 

The inspiration for today's blog post is a conversation I had recently with a fellow financial planner, who noted that it seems like "every" financial planning firm these days is starting a blog these days. "Am I missing out if my firm doesn't have a blog?" he asked. "I feel like I'm 'supposed' to have a blog and I don't even know why! What's the reason?"

The first reason to consider a blog is that it can be a mechanism to keep your name in front of your prospects. Think of it as a drip marketing newsletter, in electronic form. The goal is to put forth content that is relevant to the target market of people who might to business with you - which means they will hopefully be reading it from time to time! - and send it to them regularly enough that your latest blog post may make you top-of-mind at the moment your prospect needs help. For instance, if your target market was new parents, the blog would include articles relevant to that group, ranging from how to figure out the right amount of life insurance, to starting a college savings plan, to childproofing a house as the baby starts to crawl. Notably, the content doesn't have to be "all" financial; it's about being relevant to the prospective readers who are potential clients. In the ideal world, your prospects (and clients) are sharing your useful and relevant blog information with other people they know, increasing your pool of potential new prospects as a form of inbound marketing without any direct outreach from you!

The second reason to consider a blog is as a communication tool for your relationship with your existing clients. In this context, what you write about on the blog is targeted more directly at your current clients, and their interaction with the firm. For instance, the blog might have information about how current events affect the clients of the firm (for instance, planning for new tax legislation), or what trades are occurring in client portfolios, or announcements regarding the firm (new hires, weather closures, updates to the client vault, etc.). Rather than sending this type of information as a blast email to all clients, it's simply hosted on the firm's blog instead, allowing clients to come and read it as they wish, rather than filling their inbox with emails that aren't really client-specific anyway. An occasional email might go out to all clients simply highlighting the list of recent updates to the firm's blog.

The third reason to consider a blog is somewhat more technical in nature - adding regular new content to your website can help your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What does that mean? It's about having your website come back high on the list when someone enters a search into a site like Google. Old, static sites that have no new content and few links to their pages are presumed to be less relevant than other websites; conversely, sites that regularly add fresh dynamic content and have other sites linking to it (e.g., referencing your blog posts!) are presumed to be more relevant. Accordingly, sites that run a blog with regularly updated content pages are likely to come up higher in the search engine results. Why does this matter? Because the last thing you want is for someone to type your name, or your firm's name, into Google and still NOT be able to find your firm because you don't come up on the first page (or better yet, as the very first response) in the search results!

So if you're considering a blog for your firm, the first step is simply to understand why you would use the blog in the first place, as that can impact everything from the content you produce, to how often your produce it, to who you communicate it out to.

For instance, if your goal is to use your blog as a tool to help generate new business, it needs to have regular new content that is relevant to your audience - once a month is a bare minimum, but twice a month or even once a week is preferable (and the more frequent blog posts can then be consolidated into a monthly newsletter!). The content should have actionable tips and guidance - material that people who aren't otherwise very familiar or engaged with your firm would be interested in reading, and might share with others (especially in today's age of social media). The content should be targeted at issues relevant to your clients' lives; if you're not sure what kind of content is relevant, that may be a sign that you need to take a step back and do a better job defining your target market in the first place. And perhaps most important, you should have a way on your website, and as a part of your general marketing process, to add people to the mailing list for your blog updates, so that you can occasionally push the content out to them, turning a one-time visitor to your website into an ongoing drip marketing prospect who may eventually become a client!

On the other hand, if your goal is to use the blog to communicate relevant news and updates to the firm to your existing clients, the content may be more irregular, as it's really only necessary when there's something to actually communicate! The content may or may not be actionable; it might simply be informative. It's likely not information you would communicate out to prospects at all (at least, not all of it), but you should have a process to regularly distribute it out to your existing clients from time to time (e.g., once a month) so they're aware of both the content itself, and that your blog is the place to go for updates.

In terms of SEO, the reality is that any of the above types of blogs will certainly help your rankings in search engines like Google. However, if the sole goal is to add some occasional fresh content to your website to help it rank higher on search engines, you might even consider using some pre-written articles that are not specifically about your firm or written exclusively for your target market, as long as they are generally relevant to your prospects and clients, such as the content from Forefield Advisors or Bob Veres' Client Articles. In other words, the more you want to use your content for proactive marketing outreach, the more it should be written in your words for your target market; the more it's just about getting some better SEO, the more you can incorporate some outside content.

The bottom line is that if you're going to invest time, effort, and perhaps a little money into a blog, you should know why you're doing it, so that you can craft the blog accordingly, from the content you create to the people you distribute it out to. Alternatively, if the reality is that you're not concerned about SEO (e.g., your site is already easy to find in search engines), you have other means to communicate to your existing clients, and you don't want to use a blog as part of a drip marketing approach, you may not need to have one at all. Although at some point down the road this may become a standard practice for most firms, the reality is that right now, inbound marketing for financial planning firms is still in its nascent stages.

So what do you think? Do you use a blog as a part of your firm's marketing to prospects? Do you use it as a communication tool for existing clients? Is Search Engine Optimization a concern for you (or has it become one now that you've read this!?)? Are you considering establishing a blog for the future?

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  • http://www.investmentwriting.com/blog Susan Weiner, CFA

    Naturally I agree that blogging is good. But it's not for everyone.

    If an advisor can't commit to blogging regularly, he or she is better off not blogging. It looks pathetic if your blog hasn't been updated in months or even years, as I sometimes see.

  • http://onlineadvisorcentral.com Kevin Condon

    I just blogged on this topic, too, Michael. Inbound marketing sounds foreign to many advisors, but it is what many are already doing in their non-virtual worlds and it is actually the foundation of many practices. The secret to success in social media is good content and proper tool use, that complies with regulators' requirements for good practice. Wanna see how it's done? Look at Roger Wohlner, John Buerger, Mike Wilson and Kim Gaxiola online. Wohlner is all over Twitter, Buerger and Gaxiola are all over everything, Mike Wilson is producing videos from a tiny town in Northeast Indiana, where there are no people! All establish their brand with authority. Inbound takes awhile to catch on, but it is magic. A target is great, but each of us has the primary market of the people who know, like and trust you, too.

  • http://www.investmentwriting.com/blog Susan Weiner, CFA

    One clarification: It isn't necessary to blog multiple times/month to turn your blog into a monthly e-newsletter. There are still plenty of folks who won't visit your blog or follow you online who will happily read your blog post when it's delivered to their email inbox as an e-newsletter. One article may be enough for this purpose.

  • http://www.humblesavers.com/financialplanners Colin Williams

    Hi
    A good common sense article. Just a couple of more points - The blog can become the foundation of your marketing. Once you have a good series of blog posts it becomes so easy to create newsletters that can be emailed (I still see email as social media and important). You can attach blog posts as links to twitter and Linked In posts and of course very quickly upload links to a Facebook business page.

    I was with a couple of planners last night and they kept telling me that they simply don't get social media. However, they had just put on a great little seminar event for prospects. I told them that all they need to do was now to put the seminar slides on line, (very easy through slide share)and link it to your website and Facebook page. Encourage clients to like it.

    Their eyes lit up when I reminded them that in the old days (we go back a while!), we were always told to give out several business cards to the client in the hope they pass them onto their friends. Now given that 50% of clients will have a Facebook account and each will have around 200 friends, every time they 'like' or 'comment' on your seminar slides, all of their friends have a chance of seeing it. How good is that!

    And one last point - Planners should never forget that they only have on chance to make a good first impression and these days it will most likely be through their website. An old fashioned static website looks lazy compared to planners who have interesting material.
    Cheers

  • http://www.wiredadvisor.com/ Stephanie Sammons

    Establishing a professional blog driven by high quality, unique content that is relevant to your target markets is critical for financial advisors and firms who want to evolve their practices in a wired world. It is hands down the most effective tool for building client loyalty and acquiring new clients, if done well. We know this because we have the largest financial advisor blogging population and have studied their habits and results.

    Remember, blog content can come in any media form you are comfortable with; text, video, audio podcasts, presentations, etc. As Michael mentions, you can invest in content solutions but content that is more customized to who you are, and who you help is much more effective than canned financial articles. Getting help with your content planning and development is perfectly acceptable. (Susan Weiner is also a great resource here)

    "Inbound Marketing" is currently a buzz word in the online marketing industry, but it very much defines the way financial professionals need to think about changing their businesses today to meet the experiences and expectations of their clients. Inbound Marketing includes not only blogging, but content development, social media, and email nurturing programs that all tie together!

    If you don't invest in producing fresh, educational content for your target markets that is accessible 24/7 from any device, you will put your business at risk.

  • http://www.mannacapitalmanagement.com/ Best Financial Planner

    Before new technologies unleashed a plethora of real-time market data into mainstream investing, advisers served more as gatekeepers to financial data for clients, says Rich Romey, president of ETF Portfolio Partners in Leawood, Kan. Those days are long gone, he adds.

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