Over the past several years, the technological capability for financial advisors to implement dynamic, interactive websites has evolved dramatically. Gone are the days of needing to publish static brochure-style webpages with images of lighthouses, compasses, and winding roads, and instead, advisors are able to publish robust portals that allow them to share content that demonstrates their expertise, provide information about the advisor(s) and their team, communicate directly with those they hope to serve, share the details of their pricing and the value they provide, and (if everything goes to plan) have visitors become a lead or even outright book an appointment. Yet the end result is that the advisor’s website becomes a sort of Swiss Army knife… chock full of little tools that can do a lot but don’t necessarily work nearly as well as a tool with a singular purpose. Which, in turn, raises the question: Are advisors asking their websites to do too much?
In this our 52nd episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss the one important thing that all advisor websites should do, ways to create awareness and become relevant to a specific audience over time, and why some advisors have unrealistic expectations from their website.
At its core, the key to marketing success as a financial advisor is learning how to solve the specific problems of a specific group of people better than anyone else (rather than trying to be ‘everything to everyone’, and in the process, not actually being especially relevant to anyone). Because having a clear focus on a clear target market niche clientele allows the advisor to differentiate themselves in a crowded and competitive marketplace, by being able to clearly stand out to the clients they are best able to serve. Which also means moving away from having a website that tries to be everything to every visitor, and instead simply gives a clear statement about who they serve… and an obvious next step for those prospects to actually move forward with the advisor.
Which, in almost every instance, isn’t going to be a newly minted client deciding to hand over their life savings. Because, outside of referrals who are doing their last bit of due diligence before reaching out, most visitors to a website simply aren’t ready to do business with an advisor upon their first visit.
Instead, by simplifying a website’s design and ‘just’ having a well-defined audience and clear next step, advisors can build a targeted mailing list that they can use to share out relevant and actionable content, so that when someone who’s been on that list realizes they have a problem that needs solving, they will remember that the advisor who serves ‘people just like them’. In other words, an advisor's website should have one purpose, and that’s to gain permission to communicate with a visitor again. And use those subsequent communications to build the trust relationship necessary to actually do business with them whenever they are ready.
Ultimately, the key takeaway is that advisors should shift their mindset around what their websites are meant to do, and recognize that it’s extremely rare that a first-time visitor has arrived ready to do business. And that, unless it’s clear who the advisor serves and what the next step is, the odds are that all those first-time visitors will also be last-time visitors as well (even if they are exactly who the advisor serves in the first place) unless there’s a simple way (and a reason) for them to give their permission (by sharing their email address) to hear from the advisor again. While advisors who can find a way to stay in front of people in the future after they come across the advisor’s website once have at least a fighting chance of being top of mind when that one-time visitor eventually needs to actually hire a financial advisor!
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
- Kitces & Carl Ep 51: Fighting The Fear of Focusing When Trying To Select A Niche
- Kitces & Carl Ep 43: Discussing Financial Advice Fees And Value To Help Clients Better Understand The Benefits Of Financial Planning
- Why It’s Easier To Market To A Financial Advisor Niche
- The Society Of Advice
- Alt Group
- Ramit Sethi - I Will Teach You To Be Rich
- Ric Edelman - Edelman Financial Engines
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Michael: Greetings, Carl.
Carl: Hello, Michael. How are you?
Michael: I'm doing well. How are you?
Carl: Fantastic. Yeah. Things are super good.
Michael: Excellent. Well, I wanted to follow up on our last episode where you had kind of thrown this comment out there that I feel like we have to come back to. You had said, as we were kind of ranting on the problems of having overly broad, overly general websites that aren't specific enough to anybody, to motivate to action, you had made this comment of, "We ask our websites to do too much."
Michael: And I'm curious to go a little bit deeper on this, what you meant by that. Obviously, I've got a few views of my own around websites and marketing because I kind of live in that world as well. But I am just wondering, where are you going, exactly, with, "We ask our websites to do too much"? What does that mean?
Why You Should Only Ask Your Website To Do ONE Thing [01:52]
Carl: Yeah. So I think of them as these poor beasts of burden, like some sort of donkey that we're just layering...so that we feel like there's so much pressure around if someone shows up, if I say exactly the right word, and then, I have a pop-up, and then I have this, and then I have that, and then we can say ‘about’, and then we can say ‘firm’ and ‘services’ and ‘fees’, and we can get everything in there.
And I think that's too much. I think we should ask our websites... Now listen; I know I'm wrong about this. I know it's an opinion. I know I'm wrong. Never in doubt, but this is my opinion. I think we should ask our websites to do one thing. I think a financial advisor should ask their website to do one thing, that one thing is to get permission to communicate again. That's it. That's the one thing.
And there's nothing, there is nothing you could say on your website that would get even 15%, not even 10%, probably not even 3% of the people who visit it, to call up and go, "I want to hire you." It's not going to happen in one... Think about what we're asking people to do, like money, talk about money, personal, scary, like all those things.
I think what we could do, what we have a shot at...if we're really clear, a clear statement about who it's for, and a clear call to action, a clear next step. And to me, that next step should be something like “learn more about me”. Right?
So it could be, "Download a white paper I've written." I think the easiest one is, "I work with entrepreneurs with a successful exit of over $10 million, and I write something every week that's relevant to their lives. To get to that in your inbox, sign up here." I think getting signed up for a weekly email, and again, an opinion of mine, but it could be...
Don't get hung up on...I know there are people out there that they want to fight about the artifact. It could be your podcast. It could be your YouTube. Any way that you could just communicate again. And so, that to me, and I was struck by this because most of our websites look desperate, like we're throwing everything. “That didn't work. Try this. If that didn't work, try this. That didn't work. Try this.”
And I think the most important thing we can do is just get permission to communicate again. So that's what I mean by, "We're asking them to do too much."
Michael: So the idea being if we're trying to close someone off of our website, "You came to my website. You read all the information. You think I'm the most amazing financial planner now, and you can't wait to give me your life savings and want to just click here on that button to get started," like it's just unrealistic. It's not even what we should be trying to do.
The only goal here is, well, in essence, don't assume this is a highly motivated prospect ready to buy who just needs to learn the last few steps of information before they give you their life savings. Assume this is a total stranger, has no idea what to do, and maybe in 6 to 12 months might decide to actually work with you once they warm up to you. So, what can you do to do the first step of a 12-month prospecting process? Not "what can you do for the last step to close them?"
Carl: Yeah. I mean, so a couple of things. Number one, it's never going to happen, and by never, I know I'm exaggerating. But we all know the numbers. Like how many people that visit your website call and go, "I want to become a client. Where do I sign?" I can pretty confidently say 'never', but I might be wrong.
Michael: Well, even the ones where it's right, it's probably because someone referred them to you and they already came in interested, and then they went and looked at your website, the last bits that they wanted, and then reached out to you to work with you. But it's not because they came to your website cold. It's because they came to your website warm.
Carl: Yeah. So, for those people – those few people that do come as a referral – we can accomplish the same thing by just being confident. Of course, there's a little contact information down in the corner. Of course, "Here's how you can get in touch with me." But how confident is it?
If I show up at your website and it says, "I work with this sort of person. To learn more, you can download my white paper I wrote. You can get a copy of my book. You can get my weekly email," whichever one. “You can listen to my podcast”, whichever one. I'm trying to be artifact agnostic, so we don't get any fights here. Let me just say this. I'm artifact agnostic. I'm going to use email as the example.
"I work with this sort of person, and every week I write something really valuable. If you're that sort of person, to get that into your inbox, enter your email here." Like, all those words are specific, by the way: "to get that into your inbox". I'm not saying, "Sign up here or give me your email." This isn't a trick. It's like, "I write this thing."
So if you show up and that's what's there, like I could show you examples. There's a great firm in – and I didn't know this stuff was allowed, but it speaks so clearly to me, and so confidently – there's a website called Alt, A-L-T, group.net. Altgroup.net. This is a design and marketing firm in New Zealand. Now I know, "Oh, New Zealand. This works in New Zealand, doesn't work anywhere else." No. They're a design firm that does a bunch of business all over the world, and their website has been like this forever...I mean, I've been looking at it almost every day for five years because I am just so enthralled by it.
If you go there, it's a white page – and it'll be in the show notes – but for those of you listening, it's a blank white page, and in the middle of the white page, it says, "this page intentionally left blank." And in the bottom left-hand corner, it says "Alt Group" with their mailing address, email, and phone number. That's it.
Michael: Like their whole website is not just blank, but literally, a blank white space that says, "this page is intentionally left blank" and some contact information.
Carl: Yes. I love it. Now, you wouldn't want to go that far because you're really... Well, maybe, you would.
Michael: Well, in the world of, “we ask our websites to do too much”, that certainly is the opposite end of just having them do nothing.
Carl: This is one of the most successful design firms on the planet. It's a design firm. Where's the portfolio button? Where's the “who we work for”?
Michael: Okay. But is that because they live in a world where they're now so wonderfully established, having been known as the best design firm in the world, that they can get away with this because they're actually just doing word-of-mouth referral marketing at this point?
Carl: They obviously are doing other stuff, obviously, right, or maybe? I mean, somehow, people are learning to go to the website. And then I think I would hire them in a heartbeat because they're that confident.
Let me give you another example that may be even better. Go to Ramit Sethi's website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com. Forget about the name. Forget about the bias you already have against Ramit, maybe, or against a website called “I will teach you to be rich”. Just let all that go, and let me tell you, I know Ramit, pretty well, and I know every single element on that website. He has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars learning.
So you can go there and be pretty confident that somebody spent, well north of a million dollars at this point, on a website that gets things done. And right now, there's a quiz up there, and I'm not suggesting that, but forever there was, "Download a paper I wrote here. Download my free guide. Download chapters of my book." So it's still pretty clean. It's got a couple of social proof logos, like “I show up here, here and here”, and a clear call to action and a clear statement of who it's for.
So I just imagine if I had my way, like if I had a magic wand and I could find 1000 of the best financial planners in the world that needed to grow their businesses, and they were really good ones, I would – without hesitancy – I would encourage them to write a white paper or a weekly email. I would take everything off their website, and I would put a clear statement of who it's for and a clear call to action. And the call to action, the only thing we're asking people to do is give me permission to communicate again so that, as a client – a prospective client – I can stalk you a little bit. I can see how you’re thinking. I can understand your thoughts.
So that when I have a problem – I'm drawing now, for those of you just listening – imagine two lines coming from opposite corners of a piece of paper. When I have a problem and I become aware that I have a problem, it intersects with me thinking, "Oh, that's right, I've been hearing from Michael for two years. Every week he's been dropping things in about me, an entrepreneur with a successful exit of over $10 million. Every week, I get an email from him."
Because two things have to happen – my last bit of this rant – two things have to happen for somebody to go from prospect to client. They have to know that they need your help. I used to say they have to know that they're sick. And number two, they have to believe you have the medicine. And often, what we think that means is that we should run around telling people they're sick. Nobody likes that, and you don't like doing it.
So all you have to do really is say, "I'm going to play in traffic often enough that when people discover that they're sick, they think of me as the person that has the medicine." And so a better way to say that would be, they have to know they have a problem and they have to believe that you understand the problem. In other words, you have the solution or that you could solve it.
Michael: So if I go down this road or my website doesn't have my fees and my ‘about me’ and my services and all this other stuff because I'm, in the logical stream, like just drilling down to, "I'm super awesome at entrepreneurs who had $10 million exits and if you want my weekly tips, click here and I'll put them in your inbox." How do we actually make them into a client later? Where do they get all the stuff and information that presumably, at some point, they kind of want to know about before they actually talk to us?
How To Convert Prospects To Clients By Keeping Your Solution In Front Of Them [12:34]
Carl: I know I'm wrong about this, but I've seen people do it, and this is exactly what I would do right now. Because the alternative, to me, is just like blah. It's no fun. So this is what I would do, I would literally say, "I work with this type of person”, as specific as possible. “I've written a white paper. You can download it below." Or, "In fact, every week, I send out as little as possible." That's the other thing I would say, "I work really hard to send you less. It'll take you three minutes to read. It comes every Friday. It's about you." Right?
Then, at the bottom, it would have the contact information. Then when somebody is like, "Do I need to know...?" At this point – and I know you and I probably disagree a little bit about this, we don't have time to talk about it here, but we've talked about fees and having fees front and center, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Right? But I don't have any context for that discussion right now. As a prospective client, I don't even know. But if I learn over time that you solved my problem, and assuming your fee is reasonable relative to the problem you're solving, I don't care. It solved my problem.
And, of course, "When am I going to get that information?" "Well, you're going to get the information at the end of the first meeting before you ever decide to be a client because that's how I do business. Here is what it's going to cost you. Take that home. Think about it." But you didn't need to read about it before you had any context for even understanding what that means to your life.
Because if I'm just like every other financial advisor – if I'm just like every other one – who cares what it costs? You're not worth anything if I'm just like every other one, which points us back to our niche problem, right? That's how you become relevant. So, to me, it's too early in the discussion. And I know I'm wrong, and I'm pushing the edge a bit here, but the alternative is to look like everybody else. That's my thinking.
Michael: Well, to me, the distinction isn't necessarily, "I want to look different than everybody else. Since everybody else has all their information on their website, I'm going to be the anti-information thing like Alt Group. I mean, again, I get it once you're actually world-renowned and have lots of word-of-mouth and referrals, I don't feel like a lot of us can, in the individual advisor world, maybe we're not big enough to quite get away with that. But the underlying piece of that is just, let's not kid ourselves, they're not giving us their life savings when they show up on our website.
That's why virtually every firm that's even put a 'robo' thing on their website, like "Click here and you can give me all your money, and you don't even have to talk to me." It doesn't work for anyone. All the advisors put robos on their website. It doesn't work for anyone. I think even Ric Edelman, with the freaking huge platform and presence that he's got, they had put information on because they were one of the early ones that added a robo advisor to their website in addition to their – whatever it is – 100+ human advisors. And I think their numbers were up to like, after three years, Edelman had grown something like $3 to $5 billion, and their robo had done less than $100 million of it. It was like 1% or 2% of their growth.
Even as a huge growth machine with the radio shows and the books and all the stuff in the Edelman marketing machine, it hardly moved the needle because people just aren't showing up on the website being like, "Oh, I can give you my life savings, and I hardly have to talk to you."
Carl: "I've been waiting for you."
Michael: "Awesome." If you assume instead that they're at the other end of that spectrum, "I kind of think maybe I've got some financial planning issues that I need help on, maybe at some point. Not even sure if it's today or if I'm ready, and I'm kind of starting my journey of checking this out. But I'm really not sure who to work with on it, and I've never worked with an advisor before. I'm just trying to figure out who's who and figure out if any of these people really understand me and my problems, so I know if they can help me or not." If you assume someone is that, that early stage and that timid, and they show up on your website.
Carl: Yeah, which is most. That's the only reasonable assumption to make.
Michael: Which is probably most. What's just the smallest first step that you can do? Which I love how you frame it: just get permission to communicate again. My only goal with that person is, "I want some way to stay in front of you so that in 3 or 6 or 12 months, whenever you actually decide to deal with whatever it is that's going on in your life, I'm still top of mind and connected to you because you're not going to remember that website you went to 3, 6, 9, 12 months ago if you only went there once and moved on."
But if I can convince you to give me an email address, so I've got some way to stay in front of you, then maybe I've got a chance when you're actually ready to do business at some point in the future.
How To Provide Value So That Prospective Clients Will Want To Hear From You [17:31]
Carl: Totally. And I think one fine-tuning on that, I think if we get the mindset that, rather than convincing somebody to give them my email address, if I can just make it easy for you to see the reason you would want to, right, like, "Oh, my gosh, this is clear. It's me. It's different." By 'different', I just mean it's relevant rather than non-relevant. It speaks confidence, right? Like it doesn't have to do all this other stuff, and I'm clearly called out. I think, to me, then you're saying, "Let's make it easy on people to understand why we can change their lives, right?" Rather than, "Can I convince them? Can I trick them? Can I put a pop-up? Can I do this? Can I do that?" Let's make it as easy as we can.
I would love, I would love...I almost want to fund them. I'm like, "Look, I'll pay people to put up websites like this." But that's how strongly I feel about it because here's the other thing, and really quickly, as you dive into the niche, right? "I work with entrepreneurs with successful exits over $10 million. I write something each week that is valuable to them, to get it into your inbox, put your email here."
Now, I start doing research with those entrepreneurs. Right? I start interviewing them. I start writing a white paper. I can take snippets of all that research. I can do those research interviews recorded. They could become podcasts. I can take snippets of those podcasts, and I can put them all over the socials, and the snippets say, "If you like this, you would love my weekly letter." Or "If you like this..." and then when I write the white paper, it could say, "If you like this, oh my gosh, you'd love the white paper. To get a free copy, go here." It just becomes this massive engine.
And now, suddenly, your social media work has purpose. We're almost out of time here, but here's the sneaky way, cheap way to test this. Create a landing page. Keep your website the way it is. Do all the things that all the people tell you, right? All those snake oil salespeople that are coming around and telling you how to build a website? Just do those things. Do those things. And then quietly ask them if they would just create a ‘/name of niche’.
Michael: So ‘CarlRichards.com/entrepreneurs’.
Carl: On the ‘/entrepreneurs’ page, build a landing page, a simple, clean landing page, ask for permission to communicate again, have that connected directly to your MailChimp account and start pointing it out and just see how much fun you have. That would be my test.
Michael: But, I think it's a powerful point of just recognizing that A) the number of people who are really actually ready to hire us and do business based on that initial visit to the website is almost none, and, frankly, if they are, you know, they're also likely to reach out to get their questions answered, anyway.
Most people who are coming to your website are not in any way, shape, or form ready to do business yet. They're people who surf the internet. For whatever reason, they're looking for information. They're trying to find out who might be right for them. They're just sorting through their financial future, whatever it is.
If you assume they're not ready to do business yet, your only chance is to make one small connection to stay in front of them. And so, if your website is set up for, "Click here and give me your life savings" or "Click here to get started and work with me," you're probably asking too much. If you've got, "Just enter your email address here to get my tips for people just like you," if it's really for people just like them. You've got a chance.
Carl: It makes me so happy. Even hearing you say that last sentence. You know, "Get my tips for people just like you." If it's really just for like... Yes, please. That's exactly what I'm saying. Please.
Michael: Awesome. Awesome. All right. Well, we'll see if anybody cues up an experiment from this and can let us know in the notes here or reach out to us directly through the podcast if you've got results to share. If it's good, we want to hear it. If it's bad, we want to make fun of Carl.
Carl: Yes, please. Please.
Michael: So either way, let us know how that landing page test works out.
Carl: For sure. Thanks, Michael.
Michael: Awesome. Thank you, Carl.