For financial advisors who want to get clients through digital marketing, blogging to demonstrate your expertise to prospective clients is a cornerstone of the strategy. The challenge, however, is that creating blog content - like saving for retirement - can be a slow and arduous process, with good habits and consistent actions repeated for a long, long time before there are any material results to show for it.
In this week’s #OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces, my Tuesday 1PM EST broadcast via Periscope, I share my top five tips for achieving blogging success as a financial advisor, based on my own experience in building this Nerd's Eye View blog.
The first key is to create some structure for yourself with an editorial calendar. Having systematic deadlines that you've committed to meet on a regular basis is crucial for creating the self-accountability necessary for follow-through action, and can help you get into a steady rhythm of producing content.
Second, create a standard template for your actual blog posts. Whether you adopt a 3x3x3 structure akin to what I use here on Nerd's Eye View, or something else that fits your own structure... a formal template for how you organize your thoughts can greatly expedite the writing process for your next article.
Third, have a system to capture content ideas, based on the conversations you're having with clients and prospects. If you're sitting down and trying at that moment to figure out what to write, you're doing it wrong. Write down the ideas as they come up in conversation (or at least, jotted down immediately after the discussion ends), so that by the time you need to write, it's simply a question of which article topic that's already on your list will be the one you write up next.
Fourth, recognize that you don't have to make your writing perfectly polished alone. Your job is to demonstrate your expertise; freelance editors are very affordable, and can be hired to review the article later, fix the typos and grammar, and help make the final product a little easier to read. There are even editors who specialize in working with financial advisors and investment writing.
And last but least, realize that results - in terms of new clients - aren't going to come right away, so you need to measure what leads to future success, which is reader activity. Many advisors, when failing to see any immediate new client results from their efforts, get frustrated and give up too quickly. Fortunately, Google Analytics is an excellent tool for measuring what's going on when it comes to your website, and help you track how many people are visiting and signing up to receive your content in the future. If the readership is growing, the new clients will follow as the trust builds over time.
Ultimately, blogging can be an effective way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise with prospective clients, but because it takes time and consistent effort, adding some structure to your process is crucial to sustain blogging until it produces real results as a digital marketing strategy!
(Michael’s Note: The video below was recorded using Periscope, and announced via Twitter. If you want to participate in the next #OfficeHours live, please download the Periscope app on your mobile device, and follow @MichaelKitces on Twitter, so you get the announcement when the broadcast is starting, at/around 1PM EST every Tuesday! You can also submit your question in advance through our Contact page!)
#OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces Video Transcript
Welcome, everyone! Welcome to Office Hours with Michael Kitces!
This week, I want to talk about digital marketing and blogging as a financial advisor. As many of you know, I've been doing this for quite a while now, and so I get a lot of questions about what I've done, and what works for me.
The question actually came in this week was from Mark. And Mark asked:
"I've started a blog, but I'm finding the writing and publishing process to be more daunting than I expected. Can you share what's worked for you over the years?"
Great question, Mark. This is definitely a journey, and one that I've spent a lot of time going through already, as the Nerd's Eye View Blog's now over six years old. We've done more than a 1,000 articles.
But first and foremost, it's important to note that what you see on the blog now, is not the same as it always was. If you actually go all the way back to our articles at the beginning, you will see that they were not as thorough. They were less organized. There were no graphics and visuals. The schedule was very irregular.
Today's flow, and the pace of content that I now publish, is something that evolved over time. And I'll admit, there were some mistakes I made along the way, and so I'll try to share here today some of the lessons I've learned.
Specifically, as I look back, here are my top five tips on what actually works.
Create An Editorial Calendar, With Deadlines [Time - 1:44]
Tip number one: Create an editorial calendar, with deadlines.
An editorial calendar is really just a fancy label for "a schedule of what you're going to publish, and when." I've found over the years that having a schedule is crucial for having success in blogging and writing. The reason is, once you have a schedule with a targeted date that you're going to publish something, you have a deadline. And deadlines make stuff happen!
There's actually growing research on this. It's a concept called the "Goal-Gradient Hypothesis", which finds that the closer we get to a finish line or a deadline, the better we tend to focus and the harder we push ourselves. It's how racers somehow get that final burst of energy closing in on the finish line, even if it's literally at the end of a marathon. Perhaps you've noticed it in your own work. Especially if you're in a team environment. There's nothing like a good deadline for everyone to come together and make a collective push to get something finished!
Your editorial help calendar helps facilitate this, and create a system of accountability for yourself. It can start as something really simple, such as: "I'm going to publish twice a month." Now just saying "twice a month" may not be enough because that's very fuzzy – so perhaps say "I'm going to publish the second Friday of every month." Which means you're going to put it on your calendar. It's an appointment at the end of the day every second Friday, and you can't leave the office until you finish the article!
If you make that commitment to yourself, you know what's going to happen? You're going to do what you have to do to get it done, because you can't just say, "Well, I'll get around to it at some point." That happens with a loose goal. But when you have a concrete deadline - "I'm going to publish something the second Friday of every month" - the deadline forces it to be a priority, and making a priority gets it done.
Now, set a schedule that works for you. You might say every second Friday. You might say once a month. You might say once a week. You can set whatever schedule you think you can handle. But recognize that the point of this is to create a schedule for yourself and be accountable to it. So set something reasonable you can achieve – perhaps working up bigger goals (i.e., more frequent goals) over time if you want.
Now if you do start publishing more regularly, your editorial calendar may get more complex. If you look at Nerd's Eye View, we actually have an editorial calendar structure throughout the week. Monday is industry trends and practice management... Tuesdays I record this Office Hours segment... Wednesdays we do our technical articles on financial planning topics for IMCA and CFP CE credit... Thursdays we publish Office Hours to the blog... And then Fridays are our popular Weekend Reading series.
You don't have to go to that level of depth at first. You might just start out targeting articles once or twice a month. But even there, you can break it down further... maybe you're going to do it twice a month on the every second Friday, and commit that the first post of every month is you sharing your expertise on the technical topic in whatever your niche is, and then the second is a sample client case study scenario or an article where you interview some other expert that's relevant to your clients.
But whatever it is, have a structure with deadlines. It's how it gets done. It's how you hold yourself accountable.
Create A Standard Template For Your Blog Structure [Time - 4:43]
Tip number two: Create a standard template for how you write your blogs.
Basically, I'm talking about a standard outline format... the way they used to teach you in school when you were writing a term paper.
Now the irony, at least for me, is that I sucked at using outlines when I was in school! I was not a good writer. I did not have a lot of structure to what I wrote. I actually failed high school English my junior year, because I was that bad of a writer, and struggled figuring out how to structure my thoughts and get them down on paper. Now as I've learned a couple decades later in my life, outlines really do help give structure to what you're working on!
Again, this doesn't have to be overly complex. Almost all the articles you see on our site actually follow the same basic structure. I call it the 3x3x3 structure. With each article, I scribble down the three key points I plan to make, and I write those first. Then for each of the three points, I come up with three supporting points or supporting statements. For instance, if I'm writing about the benefits of doing a Roth Conversion, I might start by saying, "Well, it's driven primarily by changes in tax rates." And then my subpoints might be: "You have to figure out: (1) how to measure your current tax rate, (2) your future tax rate, and (3) how phase-outs impact your marginal tax rates."
Then I'd have two more major points, each with their own subpoints. By the time you go through that process and you give 3 sentences (which is typically 1 paragraph) to each subpoint, and you do it for each of those three main points, you'll find you've got a 3 x 3 = 9 paragraph article. Add an introduction or an executive summary at the top, add a conclusion at the bottom, and you've written a pretty sizeable full-length explanatory article demonstrating your expertise on the topic!
You don't have to use that exact structure – and I don't always precisely hold it because some topics just don't fit it perfectly – but having the structure makes it easier.
I think a lot of you, like me, don't like having structure forced on you. I really don't like having structure forced on me! But ultimately, this is one of those lessons that I learned the hard way. The structure actually helps, because it gives you a way to formulate and organize your thoughts, making it much easier to produce content. Especially if you're going to do regular articles over time... which you should, because blogging only works when you do it regularly!
Get Professional Editing Help [Time - 7:00]
Tip number three: People can help polish your writing after the fact – you don't have to get it perfect out of the gate. In other words, hire an editor.
A good editor can go through your writing very quickly and polish it up. They'll fix your typos... they'll fix the grammar mistakes... they'll figure out where you're supposed to put the apostrophe depending on whether you're using it's as a contraction for its as a plural possessive... they'll fix all of that stuff. Editors sometimes even help tweak the flow and the organization, fix your run on sentences, and clean up the content so that it's much more readable and has more of a professional polish to it.
The point here is not that you have to be the most amazing, perfectly polished writer, to be successful as a financial advisor blogger. Your goal as an advisor is to share your knowledge and demonstrate your expertise so that people are interested in doing business with you. The editor can make it polished and pretty at the end.
And there are actually a lot of editors out there who do this. Many even work specifically with financial advisors. You can check out folks like Wendy Cook, Susan Weiner (who also published a book on financial blogging), Robert Henderson, Stephen Crowe, and Roger Wohlner – all of whom do editing or even full writing for financial advisors.
And that's an important thing to note - you can actually find people who will help you with the writing as well. It's up to you which route you choose. But recognize that while editing is generally very affordable, hiring someone who will actually write for you tends to be much more expensive. You're going to have more of a financial commitment if you want to, say, just voice record your key points and have someone else write the article, versus you taking a first crack at writing them and having someone else edit them. But to each their own in terms of style for creating content.
Find Inspiration From Your Clients And Prospects [Time - 8:45]
Tip number four: Capture the questions your clients and prospects are asking you.
Pay attention to what you talk to clients and prospects about, because those topics can become your next article.
This is a big one, because I know one of the biggest roadblocks that I often hear from advisors who are trying to blog is that they can't figure out what to write about. And the answer simply is: You write about whatever your clients and prospects are asking you about!
And I mean that quite literally. If you get a lot of year-end tax questions about Roth Conversions, take the most common question, write an answer, and publish it! That's your article on end-of-year Roth Conversions. And then you have the added benefit that the next time another client or prospect asks you that same question, you can steer them to the expert content you created that answers their question (which is faster, easier, and gives them something to share with their friends to refer you!).
Again, this doesn't have to be overly complex. I'm not saying you literally walk around with a tape recorder to capture everything your clients and prospects say. I write down the ideas in Evernote. I've actually got a note in Evernote called "blog ideas". And so anytime I'm having a conversation with someone and I think, "hmm... this is a question I've been asked before..." I'll take a moment at the end of the conversation, and jot it down in Evernote. Since I have Evernote on my phone, I can jot it down immediately after the conversation so I don't forget. And then when I'm back in the office and it's time to actually write, I load up Evernote, and there's my list of article ideas! Then I just have to skim through the list, see which one I'm in the mood to cover that day, and off I go.
As a result, I never actually sit down and have to come up with what to write! I sit down and just look through the list of things I have to write and decide which one I'm going to do that day!
Measure The Right Outcomes (With Google Analytics) [Time - 10:21]
Fifth and final tip: Make sure you're measuring the right outcomes.
One of the biggest challenges I see for financial advisors who try to get started with blogging and social media is that they do it for a little while, they don't see any immediate new client results, and then they get frustrated and want to quit.
Now obviously as an advisor you're trying to grow your business. You're doing blogging to get clients, so ultimately that is the outcome you're looking for. But remember that it's a slow compounding process, even at best. If you look for results too quickly, it's kind of like the client that says, "Jeez, I've been saving a couple hundred dollars a month for a while now. Why can't I retire yet? Where's my million bucks?"
The answer, of course, is that the client may be engaged to the right savings habit, but it still takes time for the savings to compound into material wealth. And the same is true for blogging.
So what do you measure if you're not going to measure clients? You measure activity. And in this case, activity means how many people are coming to your site and reading your content, and how many people are signing up for your mailing list to get more of your content. And if you look at those numbers, are they trending higher over time?
Now the good news is this is pretty easy to measure. Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for measuring what's going on in your website. And it's entirely free. You just have to install it, log in, and take time to look.
Similarly, there are also lots of either free or very cheap tools that you can use to build an email list. Solutions like MailChimp start out free and then charge you a little bit only once your list grows. And again, once you've set it up, log in from time to time and see whether your number of subscribers going up over time.
On a related note, I have to mention... please be certain that you are actually doing something on your website to try to get people to sign up for your mailing list (and not just counting on them to show up and come back from time to time to check out your expertise and maybe do business with you). That was one of the biggest mistakes I made early on – not building a mailing list. Don't make my mistake. You need a call to action on your website that encourages people to sign up, because that's the primary way you turn a one-time reader into a regular reader, and regular readers are the ones that develop enough trust in you to actually become clients!
So as you create articles for your website, those are the metrics you should be tracking. How much activity do you see in terms of visitor traffic? And is your mailing list growing? If that continues for 6 or 12 months and you're creating content that shows your expertise, eventually you'll find that activity turns into business. But the odds that one of the first few people who come to your site will read your article, say, "You're brilliant. I want to give you my life savings," are incredibly low. Building trust takes time. Building trust online takes time. This is a compounding effort, so you're not going to see the results immediately, but you can measure the activity to ensure you're on the right track.
The bottom line here is just to recognize that if you're going to try to build a financial advisor blog, having some structure can help. An editorial calendar so you know what you're publishing and when (with a deadline to get it done!); a standard template for your blog so you know what you're writing and what you're trying to fill in; a list of ideas from client and prospect conversations that you capture in real-time so you're not stumped with writer's block when the time comes; getting an editor to help clean up the final articles so you don't have to worry about polishing it all yourself; and measuring the activity of your readership and your mailing list so that you can confirm that you're making progress.
I hope that provides some food for thought around financial advisor blogging, and how to get some traction with your own blog. This is Office Hours with Michael Kitces, 1:00 p.m. East Coast times on Tuesdays. Thanks for hanging out, everyone! Have a great day!
So what do you think? Have you been thinking about getting started but something is holding you back? Would adding structure and deadlines help you maintain a consistent writing process? Have you had success blogging, and have your own tips and lessons learned? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!