Welcome back to the 141st episode of Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Kristen Luke. Kristen is the founder of Kaleido Creative Studio, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in multi-advisor fee-only RIAs with $100 million to $1 billion in assets under management, doing financial planning for individual clients.
What's unique about Kristen, though, beyond her clear focus on her target ideal client, is the kaleidoscope wheel of advisor marketing activity she's created, and the steps that advisors can take in each area, from basic to intermediate to advanced, in growing their own marketing channels.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about Kristen's marketing wheel, including the six core areas of client referrals, COI referrals, online marketing, thought leadership, community awareness, and conversion, and what it takes to improve in each of those areas, from refining client profiles by first concretely defining the triggering events that bring your target ideal clients in, to the starting steps of online marketing, from various "find an advisor" websites to refining your local SEO, to the reason why you shouldn't write books or try to appear on TV until you have a blog first, and why podcasts are replacing webinars as the hot new advisor marketing channel.
We also talk about what it takes to build the right marketing foundation. Why defining an ideal client profile really is absolutely essential to differentiate and build a successful marketing funnel, how to identify the right target client for your firm if you've already got a wide range of clients and aren't sure where to go next, and the key data that you should start tracking in your advisor CRM now so that you'll be able to measure the results of your marketing efforts properly once you begin to invest into them.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Kristen talks about how she's lived the advisor marketing path in her own consulting firm to advisors, from making a decision or find the focus of her own ideal target advisory firm to work with, how she's been able to grow her own marketing reach without actually spending a lot of money on marketing, and how she followed the path of many advisors in growing her own firm to the point that she had to spend more time than she liked just managing the people, and the reason she ultimately decided to right-size her own firm to better focus on the types of clients she enjoys working with the most, and got a lot happier in the process.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- Challenges Financial Advisors Face Around Marketing [05:03]
- The Distinction Between Sales And Marketing [11:34]
- Kristen's Consulting Business And What She Does [22:28]
- How Advisors Can Identify Their Target Market [26:42]
- Data Points That Advisors Should Be Tracking (And Why) [34:52]
- What It Means To Have Good Messaging [42:43]
- Kristen's Seven Core Areas Of Marketing [56:08]
- How Kristen Thinks About Referrals As A Marketing Channel [1:03:37]
- Marketing Channels That Advisors Are Currently Using [1:08:30]
- How Advisors Can Build Community Awareness [1:25:19]
- How Kristen Provides Ongoing Marketing Support [1:28:20]
- Common Marketing Mistakes Advisors Make [1:35:08]
- What's Surprised Kristen Most About Marketing Her Business [1:43:08]
- What Success Means For Kristen [1:52:23]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Kristen Luke
- Kaleido Creative
- Kaleido Contact Page
- Kaleido Marketing Wheel
- The Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors by Bev Flaxington
- 6 Types Of Niches For Financial Advisors To Differentiate Themselves
- FPA PlannerSearch
- NAPFA Find A Planner
- XYPN Find An Advisor
- Fee Only Network
- FiComm Partners
- Crystal Marketing Solution
- Small Giants by Bo Burlingham
- Tracy Beckes
Michael: Welcome, Kristen Luke, to the "Financial Advisor Success" podcast.
Kristen: Thanks, Michael, for having me. It's such an honor to be here.
Michael: I'm thrilled to have on the podcast to have the ever-challenging discussion of financial advisor marketing and differentiation. And this world where I feel like as advisors, marketing is just getting harder and harder, or I guess I should actually say, I think differentiation is getting harder and harder, which makes it harder to market when you're not clearly differentiated in the marketplace.
And so much in our advisor world I think for people who've been doing it for any period of time, 10, 15-plus years or longer, you almost certainly came into this in a sales world, where it was much more about product sales, maybe insurance sales or investment sales or mutual funds or universal life or whatever industry era it was that you came up in. And so we have this, to me, self-selection sort of bias in the industry, that if you've been doing this for 15-plus years, you're probably a pretty darn good salesperson. You often got the training upfront. You kind of had to be or you wouldn't have survived long enough to get to the point where you still ended after 15-plus years.
And so I find we have a lot of firms that have a reasonable sales muscle, at least for some of the founders or senior partners of the firm, but almost no marketing muscle. We don't seem to know how to do anything in marketing aside from get in front of people, however you can get in front of them, because once I can get in front of them, I can sell them and close them and convince them of our value. But it feels like it's almost all sales and no marketing to the point where sometimes firms seem like they can't even explain what their marketing is or define what marketing is. It's only kind of viewed as an extension of...not even an extension of sales, but just like, marketing is sales. Marketing is sitting across from someone and getting them to buy from you. Seems to be the mentality for a lot of the industry, and I think has really probably just amplified this whole crisis of differentiation challenge that we now face when suddenly, we actually have to market and no one seems to really know how to do it very well.
Challenges Financial Advisors Face Around Marketing [05:03]
Kristen: Yeah, I think marketing is definitely a challenge for all firms. And I started in this industry about 14 years ago. And just in that time, just seeing how much more complicated marketing has become. In the beginning, when I was first starting, pretty much all of marketing was around workshops, radio shows, and client referrals. That seemed to be the key, other than obviously going out there and just kind of pounding the pavement and bringing in clients.
And then there was a while there where there was this opportunity with social media, because there wasn't that much...there weren't many people participating. And this is about 2008, 2009, maybe till about 2012, that there was this real opportunity for people to get out there and be seen as thought leaders and really just kind of break out from the crowd. And then everyone else got involved in social media and online marketing. And now we're kind of back to a place where it's just very challenging for firms to one, break out of the noise, and two, just know what to do with marketing. Because there's just so much out there and there's so many people competing in the same space.
We often see you're talking about that sales and marketing are pretty much linked. A lot of the firms that come to us are usually in a place where the principal advisor has been the sole rainmaker for the entire length of the firm. And then from there, they're starting to...one of two things are happening. Either they're trying to bring in other advisors to then bring in business, and so those people need marketing support because they don't have those same kind of relationships and sales skills that the owner has, or what we're seeing more of in the last couple of years, which we hadn't really worked with in the past a whole lot, is actually second-generation firms where the owner is either...has left or is leaving in the near future. And so those firms are looking at how do you build a whole marketing platform to be able to then market as a firm instead of just relying on, again, pounding the pavement, making sales, going one-on-one with people? I think any advisory firm out there that feels like they're struggling from a marketing perspective should just feel like that's totally normal in this industry. It's just very much a challenge.
Michael: Yeah, I feel like it's very much normal to the point of kind of literally being the norm, that, as you said, so many advisory firms, even with quite significant success, are often so driven by the sales and business development of kind of one to three founders who just pick up the firm, kind of carry all the growth on their backs. You go get clients, you build up a firm, you get too many clients, you hire a junior advisor, you hand your clients off to that advisor, then you go out and get more. And just if an advisor kind of wash, rinse, repeats that, I see a lot of individual advisors who over the span of 10 to 20 years can build up a firm that's a few hundred million dollars. If you get $10 million of new clients every year, hand them off to a junior advisor, go get more, get a little bit of compounding market growth on top of that, suddenly you build a $200 million to $300 million firm on your back. If you get three partners who do it together, they build a $1 billion firm just off the sheer sort of perseverance of their ability to do sales and business development for the better part of 20 years.
And then for so many firms, I see the same thing, which is as long as they can do that, it works, because they do that and it works. And a lot of firms that have a natural business development leaders carried a long way. But then you either hit these blocking points where suddenly the firm is too big for them to carry on the back on their own. They have to diversify their business development and growth efforts. And then they look at all these advisors they've hired who are wonderful at service but have no sales skillsets, no marketing skillsets, or the founder is leaving entirely and retiring or successioning out or whatever it is, and there's a bunch of second-generation owners who again, might be great at the service but don't necessarily have the sales and business development skillsets. Because ironically in our industry, if they had a really good sales and business development and market skillset, they probably would have gone and built their own firms in the first place and not be working in someone else's.
So there's kind of this selection bias of who chooses to be your employee. It's often someone that's not necessarily the strongest in sales and marketing. And then when the founder leaves or is even just can't carry the firm themselves anymore, suddenly there's this discovery of, "Oh, my gosh, there's this giant void in how the firm is going to market itself going forward when it can't just do it on the strength of a founder's individual business development skills."
Kristen: Yeah, I found the exact same to be true. You couldn't have said it better myself. And there's actually some firms that I've seen that there's really no leadership potential behind them that they're going to...even though they might have a team of five or six advisors, they might have to sell to another firm because there just isn't the people behind them to be able to take on the marketing. Because even if the firm is bringing in new prospective clients, they just don't have the sales skills to convert those prospects into clients.
So what you said is right, where the advisors are seeing success and they're bringing in all these clients and then they just hand off the work to these other advisors. But there needs to be some sort of training for those advisors about how to take people through the sales process. Now, that's outside of my expertise. I don't have a sales background. But if you can provide them with some tools, especially when I think about or like marketing communication tools that they can use to help in that process, then at least you're setting them up to be more successful in at least beginning to take on the responsibility of converting those prospects into clients.
Michael: So maybe in, I don't know, just setting some of the foundation here. So can you distinguish for us, how would you make the distinction between sales and marketing in the first place? Because you kind of made the comment that you're really not on the sales training side, you're on the marketing side. I see so many firms that kind of mash those together into one big blob. So how do you distinguish sales versus marketing so that as we're talking about marketing, we're thinking of it in the right frame of mind?
The Distinction Between Sales And Marketing [11:34]
Kristen: I think that's really a challenge. And in fact, we actually tend to get into some aspects of sales, not because we have expertise in sales, but there are things that are a part of the sales process. So when you think of like sitting down and meeting face-to-face with a prospect or being on the phone or emailing back and forth, there are still aspects of marketing that impact that. So for example, it could be just making sure you have all of the email communication in place from the point that someone reaches out to you before they come in for a first appointment. So technically, that's starting to be the sales process, but those are marketing tools that help you make sure that you're getting all the information you need. You're starting to create a really positive experience and a good first impression so that when they come in, it's helping with the sales of persuading that prospect to sign up as a client with your firm.
Like I said, sales and marketing is very...it's hard to really divide where it starts and ends. In fact, one of the things that we do is we work with firms to get their sales pipeline report together so that we can start tracking what marketing is working and what's not. So that's like sales that falls into marketing. So the line is blurred, but I always think of sales as when it's really kind of the one-on-one communication to persuade a prospective client to sign on board.
Michael: Yeah, I have heard someone once that kind of framed it as like, sales is persuading them in the meeting to sign on as a client and marketing is making the phone ring so that there's people to schedule meetings with in the first place.
Kristen: I would agree with that. But then I think there's also another side of marketing, which is, when they're not on the phone or when they're not in front of you, what are you doing to help convince them to sign up? So things like drip marketing campaigns or staying in touch, inviting them to future events. Because some people in this industry, one of your other guests said this, there's more incentive to sign up when they're in more pain. And I can't remember the exact words that your guest used, but I just thought that was right on, right? The reason why most prospects won't sign up right away, unless they're choosing another firm, is that there's not enough pain yet to really take action. So the marketing after the fact, after they've been to your office, if they haven't taken action, you need to keep marketing to them to then be top of mind so when the pain gets so great that they do need to make a move, that you're the one that they contact.
Michael: I love the point that you make there and the way that you frame it. I think there's a tendency for us, I know I was certainly guilty of this early on in my career and probably still have a tendency to fall back into this habit or mentality, that when someone contacts us to learn more about our services to potentially do business, that it's game on, it's time to get them to choose us. Hopefully, they're not going to pick whoever else they're talking to, because usually, they talk to more than one person at once. But even when it's not a competitive situation, I don't know it's competitive situation, so the impulse, at least for me, is it's a competitive situation. They're probably talking to other advisors. We have to show that we're the firm that they should work with. And we're trying to get them to choose us over someone else.
And don't always realize or recognize that sometimes they're really just in a preliminary phase. They're kind of thinking about the fact that maybe someday they're going to hire an advisor, but they're literally not actually in enough pain yet to do something and make a change. And that even for someone who reached out to contact us to start the conversation, often a key part of this process is just staying in touch and connected with them. Kind of nurturing that prospective client relationship so that when they have enough pain and they're ready to overcome inertia and do something, they will follow through and hopefully do it with us. But that it's not an automatic thing that because they contacted you about potentially working with you, that they're literally ready in this moment to make a final decision about it.
Kristen: Right, absolutely not. And that's why marketing goes beyond just them reaching out to you. It's all the future communication that you have with them till the point that they are ready. This happens a lot in my business. I have people who reach out to me and they say, "We talked three or four years ago," or, "I was at your presentation two conferences ago." And it just takes people a long time before they're ready to move forward. But by having that contact, making sure that they're in your marketing funnel, even beyond converting just in a drip phase, that you're going to stay top of mind so that when they're ready, they think of you first. And that also gives you opportunity to keep educating them, having more time to educate them actually than they probably had beforehand about what you do and the value that you bring.
Michael: Well, and I'll give her credit this, Bev Flaxington has a book out there called, I think "The Pocket Guide for Sales for Financial Advisors." And she makes this interesting point in the book that just I'd never really thought about from a sales and marketing perspective before. I grew up in this world where kind of sales is bad and icky. And we've all had horrible experiences with bad salespeople. And she has this wonderful way of framing it, that a part of sales is just, even when you're sitting across from someone who wants to work with you and whose problems you can solve and is a fantastic fit for you and everything is right and well-aligned, people still have to overcome their inertia and decide to just go through with the process of what it takes to do something and work with you. Particularly in our advisor realm, because there's a lot of work when you're changing advisors or starting with a new advisor.
And that a part of the sales process in sort of the very positive way is just helping people understand why now is a good time to actually get up off their duff and work with you and do something. And that it's not an icky part of sales, it's just helping people to make the decision that you know they should make and deep down they probably know they should make. But most people actually still need help. Because if you only wait for people that are in such miserable pain that they're willing to just up and buy and put themselves through that process, you're probably actually missing a huge amount of business development opportunity of people who would have gone with just a small nudge. Not that you're supposed to push the people who are a bad fit, but it's actually pretty normal that you have to push people a little, even if they're a good fit, or you have to nurture them over time with ongoing marketing until they're ready to come across that line with you.
Kristen: Yeah. And I think it's even more challenging in this industry because it's such a personal topic. Money is such a personal topic. And so it's really hard for people to make those quick decisions. And also, it's terrifying. All the news over the last couple of decades about people, there are financial advisors who have stolen money from them or put them in products that weren't inappropriate for them. That's very scary. And so taking their life savings and entrusting it with a financial advisor is just more reason for them to delay. Or they've made bad decisions and they're afraid to really face that, face the reality of what they're going to be told. So I think there's just a lot of fear that prospective clients have that makes selling in this industry so much harder.
And especially if you're an advisor who looks at more of a comprehensive approach, full-on financial planning, not just trying to sell an insurance policy or an annuity, but actually trying to provide real value to a client, it's even harder. It's much easier just to sell somebody a product and say, "This is what you need." But when you're exposing them to all of the decisions they've made and the ramifications of that, that's very deeply personal, and it's very scary for prospects. And so when someone comes and reaches out to you, you want to realize that it may take them several years to be able to finally become a client, and just be there to make sure that you are educating them and developing that relationship as long as you can till they either tell you no, or they're ready to move forward.
Michael: I think you make a really interesting point there as well that ironically or perhaps not, this whole selling personal financial planning, comprehensive advice relationship is actually a much, much harder sale than just selling a good old-fashioned product. I think for some people, though, sort of the assumption is, "Oh, well, this should be easier because everybody's got financial challenges. I can work with anybody that I meet if I've just got this comprehensive thing, where if I'm just selling one product, it's hard because not everyone needs it." But I think you're right that there really is an opposite effect. That a simple product sale is just a bit simpler, a complex service sale is just more complex. There's more moving parts, there's more things to evaluate. Who knows what things the client is evaluating and weighing against what you think is more or less important.
At least with the product, just like, "Here's the list of features and the benefits they provide." I can work out those talking points pretty quickly. It's why even when you look in a lot of large firms that are still heavily product-based, you'll see in a lot of those large firms like, "Hey, sell our company's product. And if you do that well for five years, then we'll let you start doing financial planning stuff." Because I think they've recognized that it's hard enough to do a simple sale when you're getting started. It's really hard to do a complex one like, "I'll help you with your entire financial life in a comprehensive financial planning relationship."
Kristen: And I also think people feel like if they take some sort of action, they feel good that they're making progress. I see this a lot with financial advisors that come to me, or where they'll just say, "I just want this one thing." And because they think they're doing something, that they're somehow making progress full circle. And that's not really the case. So it's a lot easier though to sell a product and satisfy that need to make some sort of progress than it is to say, "Okay, here's the whole picture, and here's what you're dealing with, and we need to look at a big solution," because not everyone really wants to take a look at that.
Kristen's Consulting Business And What She Does [22:28]
Michael: So help us understand a little bit more about your consulting business and what you do. I want to talk a bit more about kind of your marketing process, how you consult with firms, what you do, what you take them through in sort of understanding how to look more holistically at financial advisor marketing. But I think as a starting point, just paint us a picture of the consulting business that you have as it exists today.
Kristen: Sure. Well, really to understand where my business is today, it makes sense to look at where I came from.
Kristen: So I started in the industry 2005. I was finishing up my last semester in graduate school, where I was getting an MBA with a specialty in marketing. And I was looking for a job, and just through networking, I was put in touch with a wealth management firm in San Diego. And it was holistic. We even had an estate planning firm under the same brand, a CPA practice, insurance, retirement planning, investment management, kind of all the different aspects that go into wealth management that are usually referred out to other professionals, we had in-house. So I did that for three years. And since I was the in-house marketing person, when I decided to start my business in 2008, I really wanted to take that same comprehensive approach with my clients. So instead of like an agency world where you look more at maybe certain campaigns or brochures and websites and kind of all these different components that go together, I was really interested in being the marketing department for independent RIAs.
Michael: It's an interesting way to frame it. It's like, you didn't want to be a marketing consultant, you wanted to be an outsourced marketing department.
Kristen: I did, yeah. And that's how I really initially developed my firm. And that's still pretty much the core of what we do. But over the years, I've realized that there are some standard things. After doing this in my own business for 11 years, I've really documented every possibility of different marketing strategies. And so we really developed a framework now of saying, "These are the seven different areas of marketing that an advisor needs to think about, and then here are the different tactics and components within that." So we do look at seven different areas. The first is what we call framework. And that's really the foundational items. So that's things like your branding and your messaging and just like your basic online profiles, and just having things like stationery and business cards. I know a lot of people don't use business cards anymore, but it's good idea to think about that.
Michael: Are you counseling us, if we don't have business cards, we still need to go get business cards?
Kristen: No. I don't have business cards.
Michael: Okay. Okay. So we're in the clear if we don't have business cards. Okay.
Kristen: Yeah. Well, and we don't actually have...we're not so strict or we say, "Every firm needs to have all of these things." We just create a framework to say, "Every firm needs to have a discussion on whether these things make sense for them." So a lot of people, just as a really basic example, a lot of people just don't want printed stationery, but they want stationery for Microsoft Word. It's no problem. That makes sense. But we should at least have a conversation of whether or not you need stationery. And then it gets more complicated from there, which I'll hit on later. So framework, so that's really all the basic things that you need to support your marketing.
Michael: Are there particular things that you see most often as gaps that firms don't do in their foundational framework that they should?
Kristen: Yeah. The very first thing that we always look at is the one where usually people are breaking down, which is target market. That's the absolute very first thing you need to do before you do any marketing is just identify who you're trying to target. There's different terms out there, like ideal client profile. You can use personas, which are fictional representations of clients. It doesn't really matter exactly how you go about doing it, but you have to have a clear idea of who you serve, because otherwise, it's going to be impossible to differentiate yourself from any other firm out there.
How Advisors Can Identify Their Target Market [26:42]
Michael: So I feel like this is, I don't know, something to go deeper on. Because I find for so many firms, this is where we get stuck, right here. Like, "Who is your target market?" "Well, I don't know. Who do you think I should be going after that's good to market to?"
Kristen: That's so true. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to firms and they say that, "Who should I market to?" And if you're in that situation, the best thing to do is to do an analysis of your existing client base. List out everyone that you work with, what their characteristics are. You can look at things financially, like investible assets and net worth, income, things like that. But then also look at life stages, maybe jobs and careers. It can even be like, what is their mentality about investing and about money? So there's lots of different things you can look at, but I think that's a good place to start if you have no idea. And then pick out the clients that you think you add the most value to, and use that as the baseline for your target market. So that's a good place to start if you have no idea.
Michael: Yeah. A couple of months ago, Steve Wershing did a piece on our site that he framed like "the six different types of niches or ways that you can define your target markets," which I thought were really interesting, because he sort of frames them up in a wide range. Like you can do it targeting some standard thing like doctors, lawyers, someone with a professional vocation where I've got expertise to help people like this. Some people do it based more on a values-oriented target. I'm a faith-based advisor. I really actually enjoy working with faith-based clients. So I'm going to move, join Kingdom Advisors and move towards doing faith-based financial planning. Some just do it out of...around like hobby affinities, clients that like golfing, sailing. We had a very popular podcast episode a couple of months ago with someone whose niche is bass fishermen. And that's his world. His marketing events are doing hunting and fishing expedition trips. That's how he markets because those are his people. That's his area of focus.
So you can carve it up a lot of different ways. I find some of the framework that Steve helps just as useful to think about how you want to group them together. Because I still find even for some firms, they look at all their clients and they say like, "Well, I've got a few like this that I like and I've got a few like that that I like." And then they come back to, "Well, which one do you think is the best?"
Kristen: Yeah. Yeah. And I refuse to make that decision for people because you have to really have an affinity towards your market for it to work. And so no one can really tell you who your target market is. You have to really discover that for yourself. But when firms are really struggling to narrow down who they're looking for, then I'll usually look at things that like life transitions. "Is that something that tends to be something that all of your clients have?" Which is the case, right? Money in motion is why people make a decision to hire a financial advisor. So maybe we'll look at some things like that. And that's actually not a terrible target market because those are the people who are moving money.
So if you can identify a couple of life transitions. Retirement is obviously the most popular one. But across the board, what I've seen, we've worked with lots of different markets, retirement is the one people most need financial planning and financial advice. So even if that's what your target market is, I know that doesn't differentiate you from pretty much anyone else, but saying you have an expertise in retirement planning, at least will communicate to your audience that you're there for their need. And it's better than just saying, "We help you reach your financial goals" or whatever. Something a little bit more generic.
Michael: Yeah, I love the framings around life transitions. Mitch Anthony has this great line that "money goes in motion when life goes in transition." And so if you're looking for opportunities, like how do I define a target clientele? Who should I go after? I usually think of it as, you need some group that has enough financial wherewithal that they can work with you in the first place, they have to have some common pain points, a thing you can solve, and they have to have some kind of common transition or catalyst event so that you know how to find them when they would actually be willing to make a change and work with you or anyone or some new advisor. Like, what kind of transition events may be relevant for them that would cue them up to actually start doing business with you in the first place?
Kristen: That's actually something that we've been asking our clients to track. So in their CRM, when they're tracking new prospects, is to include a field that says, "What is the triggering event? What is the reason that they came to you?" And that way you can start seeing trends, too, to be able to identify that and help narrow your market or at least help narrow your channel of where you're going to go to reach these people.
Michael: Yeah, it's actually become one of my favorite questions. Just anytime I'm sitting across from a prospect in a potential client meeting is just asking like, "So what brings you to the conversation in our office today?" Right? Like, "Why today? Our firm has been here for 25 years. You've been doing this for a while. Why today are you here in our firm?" Because that usually pretty quickly gets to some kind of life transition, some kind of life event. Something has happened that's becoming their triggering event or their catalyst. And understanding that gives you context for the entire meeting and process with the client of where exactly is the pain point they're trying to solve that made them come in today?
Kristen: Exactly. And I actually think that by tracking those triggering events, that actually helps in your other areas of marketing. If you're starting to see trends, then use those triggering events for blog topics, or for different marketing materials that you write or presentations that you give. Because if that's why people are coming to you, that's their pain point, just use that information, because it's going to be the same pain point for a lot of other people.
Michael: The comment that you made about just tracking it so you can see the trends in the first place. So few firms I see do anything to actually track their business or even their inquiries and where they're coming from in the first place that it's hard to figure out who their target client is. I feel like for a lot of us like, "Well, I sit across from all these clients and prospects, I know them. I don't need a tracking sheet because I do this all day, all week, all month of the year." And so few, I find, are actually really able to spot the trends, because we're so mired in the moment as we go from one to next, that until you're tracking some of this as data so that you can sit down and look at it, you start missing things like, "Oh, we actually have like 40% of new clients this year that came to us from a particular place or had a particular need, or were focusing on a particular issue. And I didn't realize it because they only came up every month or two scattered throughout the year. But hey, this was actually a really big trend in our business. Maybe we should be doing more to capitalize on this."
Kristen: Exactly. One of the biggest challenges we have with clients is getting that data from them, from their CRMs. And that's one of the things that we request pretty early on in our relationship is for them to start putting that together. And it sometimes takes them six, nine months to get it all together to a point where the data is accurate and it's tracking information we want.
Data Points That Advisors Should Be Tracking (And Why) [34:52]
Michael: So out of curiosity then, what data do you ask from them? Like if I'm coming to you fresh and saying, "Kristen, help me, my firm's marketing is a mess," and you say, "Well, where does your business come from right now?" And I say, "Well, I have no idea because we don't track that stuff. But I guess you're going to tell me that we should." What are the starting data points or things that you tell firms to start tracking so that they can come to you with the numbers or the constructive conversation that you're looking for?
Kristen: Yeah. And we don't necessarily look at it from the past. We do it as a way to say, "This is what's happening now from our engagement going forward," so that we can take that data and make more informed decisions.
Michael: Okay. So they don't have to go reconstruct their old books. You just say like, "Here are some things to start tracking over the next few months." Then we're going to talk about what you're seeing a few months from now.
Kristen: Exactly. We actually look at it monthly once it's in place just to see trends. And it helps bring up any concerns that we might have. So some of the data points that we're looking at, obviously, we look for the name first to begin with, but when did they first reach out to you? And so I create a date. And that can really be in a couple of different places or different ways of looking at it. So it can be the day that they reached out to you for the first time. Or if you have more sophisticated marketing campaigns going on, like let's say you have a download that people can enter their information from the website and they go into your system on that date, we use that as the created date.
And then from there, we look at the first contact date. So when did they actually reach out to you to express interest in your services? We look at the first meeting dates. Some firms have multiple meeting dates. So we'll include that as well. What stage they are in their sales cycle. And this seems to be a real issue or a real challenge for a lot of firms. They haven't necessarily defined what their sales process looks like to be able to even group them by stage. So that's usually one of the reasons that it takes people a while to get that in place. Because then they realize, "Oh, we don't have that." Now we need to define that.
Michael: So how would you typically define stages?
Kristen: Yeah, it's pretty simple. I define it...basically, the Salesforce CRM has it defined pretty similarly. And I think that's where I originally picked it up. It's like initial contact, so initial contact, usually like a discovery meeting. We have more and more clients who are doing just a quick phone call to make sure they're qualified. And if they're not qualified, then to send them to another resource. Then an in-person meeting, then follow-up, and then closes won, closes lost. And we also include closed and qualified, and then closed nonresponsive. So that way, we're starting to see a little bit more trends from that standpoint.
So after stage, we look at lead source, where did they come from? And then we do some calculations on how long was the sales cycle? And we look at what is your close rate? Because that information will help in future years. If we can gather a whole year of that information, we can start predicting, okay, how many prospects do you have to talk to to eventually get to your client goal? And how many are going to be unqualified versus qualified? And once we start having all that information, we can really dig down deeper. So clients that I've been doing this with for more than a year, we even looked at what is their close rate from online marketing channels versus referrals? Online is generally much lower close rate and usually a lot more unqualified. But we can take that information and try to figure out what should be the goals for each of these different channels to be able to reach the goal or their overall client or asset goal?
Michael: Yeah, it's striking to me that so few firms are tracking numbers to even know things like, "Well, what's your close rate with prospects?" "Well, I don't know. It's pretty good. I close most of them." Like, "Okay, but what does that really mean?" Because we tend to remember the good ones, and then kind of mentally discount the bad ones and shuffle them off out of our brains pretty quickly. So like, do you close half of them? Do you close a third of them? And as you said, then it gets really powerful when you start segmenting them by source to say like, "Huh, you're closing a third of your clients from online leads and a third of your clients from referrals. So hey, that's actually a pretty decent overall close rate, but that's actually only because it's a really high close rate for an online and actually kind of a low one for client referrals. So we actually have some things to diagnose here about why your online stuff is so good and why your referral stuff isn't better." That you just don't get until you start tracking the data.
Kristen: That's exactly right. You're just guessing when you don't have that information to rely on. And you also have to think, too, you're spending this money, right? And let's say maybe a quarter of your business is coming from online, but you're spending so much more money on online than you would be from client referrals. Maybe it makes a lot more sense to think about how to generate more client referrals. Now, I actually believe in diversifying your marketing channels. So that's not necessarily what I would recommend. But there's things to look at like that. I have a couple of clients who have radio shows, and analyzing like, "Is the cost of this worth the amount of business that's coming in?" And if we reallocate that money to another channel, then we might be getting more business for the same amount of money.
Michael: So it sounds like it's core. There's sort of three groupings of data points that you end out picking up. One is essentially the timeline of the prospect, like first contact date, first meeting date, when they ultimately close so you can start tracking how long your sales cycle is. Tracking of the stage that they're in so you know how many prospects you've got, and at least on a postmortem basis, you can then go look back and say, "Well, how many were closed business that we won? How many were closed that we lost? How many are closed but they weren't qualified? How many are closed because they just never responded to us?" And you can start getting a sense of like literally, "What are my close rates? What's my frequency that leads are actually qualified? Do I have a funnel problem?" So there's kind of this grouping of dates. There's a grouping of stages so that you can ultimately figure out what happened with all this flow. And then there's a lead source tracking. Like, where are your prospects coming from in the first place?
Kristen: Yes, exactly. And on top of that, we also look, if it's a referral, we will track who was the referral source. So that way if we're starting certain to see trends, that there can be special activities for those people who've been referring. Or you might start to see trends among a certain type of person who refers, and then you can use that information to then target your efforts towards similar types of people.
Michael: So I get it now that this is kind of the framework, foundational end. It feels like there's sort of two anchors here. One is, do you track your data enough that we can even understand what's going on so we can diagnose what's working, what's not working? And who is your target market and do you know actually who you're going after? And that these really become the foundational elements. Like, if you can't clearly articulate your target market, if you can't clearly track your data, not much that comes after is really going to matter or help. Because if you don't know who you're going after and you don't know what your results are, we won't really be able to measure the ROI of any marketing that comes later. So these seem to be your foundational pieces. Do you know who you're going after and are you tracking how it's going? Then there's some collateral pieces around that. Do you have your business cards and your stationery and such? And that seems to kind of be the foundation for how you actually do marketing in an advisory firm?
What It Means To Have Good Messaging [42:43]
Kristen: Well, I think one piece that hasn't really been talked about that's really important is your messaging. A lot of firms come to us and they just tell us they don't know how to differentiate themselves. And so once you know who your target market is, you really have to be able to sell them on a message. And that can be challenging among firms because there's so many firms that look so similar. Now, we only pretty much work with fee-only RIAs. So we can differentiate them from other types of firms out there. But among different fee-only RIAs, it can be challenging to differentiate themselves from another one.
Michael: So can you give us an example of just what this looks like? What does it mean to have marketing messaging or good marketing messaging?
Kristen: Yeah, it can really be a number of different things. One can just be really showing your expertise with a very specific target market. So going back to the target market, the importance of that. There's plenty of examples out there of advisors who have picked niche markets, for example, doctors, and that's their entire focus. That's a really great way to differentiate yourself from every other advisor out there is you say, "This is my expertise. This is exactly what we do. We work with people just like you. We've done this over and over again. We know what we're doing." So that's one really easy way to kind of differentiate yourself.
Most firms don't narrow down their markets that much that I've seen over the years. So then you have to think about other options. Some of it can be real touchy-feely. So I have firms that I work with that are very like multi-generational, very family-focused. And so the differentiation for them is really the feeling that clients get, that family is important to them, it's important to the client, like, this is a good match. So even though they're very similar in a lot of ways to other firms, just providing that emotional connection can differentiate them from their competition.
Michael: And then I feel like the inevitable question that then comes is, so what happens when you say like you're this firm really focused on supporting families and family-friendly environments, and then your next prospect comes to you and they're single and they don't have a family and you lose the prospect because you put it this messaging of a particular thing and they don't care about it?
Kristen: Yeah. I really haven't found that to be...that's a common fear that just doesn't seem to be true. I've worked with some advisors that were just focused on women. Now, women make up more than 50% of the population. So it's not really a niche market. But that's been their emphasis, right? But men will come to them because they're concerned about their wives after their death. And so even though that this firm was really focused on women, it was still attracting men. So it's better to talk...I always say it's better just to put out there exactly who you want, because that's who you're going to attract. And if you try to be everything to everybody, you're not going to attract anyone. So just be very clear on who you want, because that's who you'll end up getting. And you might lose a few here and there that don't appeal to your message, but that's okay because that's not really who you want anyway.
You should be so clear on who your target market is that if your messaging doesn't appeal to that person, you know they weren't the right fit for you anyway. That's something we've done. I put on my website exactly who we work with. And I had a friend of mine who does websites for a living and he said, "Well, aren't you worried about all those people who are going to drop off your contact page because they don't meet that criteria?" And I said, "No, those aren't the people that we're meant for. We're meant for this very specific type of firm. And by putting it there, I'm not wasting their time, and we're not wasting our time. So there's nothing wrong with that." So you want your message to speak exactly to who your ideal client is.
Michael: Yeah. I love that you have this right on your contact page, "We're specialized in working with one type of client..." This is literally the contact page. "We are specialized in working with one type of clientele, meaning we aren't the right specialist for everyone. Kaleido Creative Studio is designed for fee-only RIAs focused on financial planning, serving individual mass affluent and high-net-worth clients, with more than one advisor or an associate advisor looking to take a team marketing approach, with between $100 million and $1 billion of AUM, give or take a little." That is incredibly specific.
Kristen: But that's who we work best with, right?
Michael: Multiple bullet points and specificity there.
Kristen: I know. People tell me from a...like, I'm a marketing...that's my job, but it's like, I only want to talk to people who are ideal clients, that we do our best work for. But then those people who read that, they know that we're the firm for them. And if it doesn't apply to them, I actually invite them to reach out to us and I'll give them a referral to somebody else. But there's nothing wrong with speaking exactly to who you want to attract.
Michael: Well, because if that's literally you, if you're sitting there and listening and you are a fee-only RIA focused on financial planning, working with individual clients that is now multi-advisor trying to figure out how to do team marketing approach and you're somewhere between $100 million and $1 billion, your ears are probably now perked up to listen to everything that Kristen has to say for the rest of the podcast because she is for you, she speaks your language. And that's part of the point. That yeah, it may turn off a few people, but by definition, it's turning off the people you didn't actually want as much.
And I feel like that's often the first and the primary blocking point for firms is like, if your firm is so light on clients and revenue that you're just desperate for anyone, you'll kind of take anyone and this gets really hard. But at some point in most firms, eventually you're done with the just trying to be everything to everyone, or you're kind of drowning in it because it's really inefficient at some point when you have a lot of clients, and you say, "Okay, I think I'm ready to get a little bit more focused." And then suddenly, all of this begins to matter more when you just have the realization like, "Oh, so this basically means the people I'm going to turn off are actually the clients I hate working with the most anyways, that's probably okay if they don't call."
Kristen: Right. And when firms are usually more desperate for clients, it's in the beginning years, right? And so it's just all about... In the beginning years, you have plenty of time to weed out everyone. But as you become more successful, time is your most valuable asset. And so it's better to just put it out there so that the only conversations you're having are ones with clients that are really well suited for your business and vice versa. And it helps your employees as well, right? Now you're communicating a message to help attract the people to your website or to your firm that then are going to be handed off to your employees. And so they're not having to try to have those difficult conversations with people who aren't qualified and to say, "You're not qualified, move on." You attract what you put out there, without trying to sound too New Agey. But it is true when it comes to messaging, what you ask for is what you get.
And sometimes you'll get people who don't even fit that, but there's something about your firm they still like. I worked with a firm that really only focused on dentists, but it even said in their messaging, "While we have an expertise in working with dentists, just because of the natural network and friends and family, we do work with people beyond just dentists. But that's our specialty. But just because our clients respect what we do, there's this natural instinct to refer other types of people." So you can weave that into your messaging if you want. But you should really focus on one market or one transition, whatever it is that your specialty is, and then just keep reiterating that message.
Michael: So what happens for firms that, as your marketing page notes, you actually tend to work with multi-advisor firms, because of course, that's where marketing gets a little bit more complex and you have to start systematizing more because it's not just one founder-owner kind of driving the whole train. So what happens when you're in a multi-advisor environment and different advisors have different clientele and client bases and you're trying to figure out target market or this like, "Who are we going to go after with the marketing of the firm?" And different advisors want to do different things because they've got different clientele when they look at their own ideal clients?
Kristen: Yeah, that can definitely be challenging. What we usually try to do is to find some general theme that applies to all the clients. So I mentioned earlier life transitions. So if we can get all of these different clients into life transitions, and that can be an overall theme you have in messaging. And then you can have in your website different pages for maybe the different types of clients that you work with, or you can have different marketing collateral for the different types of clients. If they're just all over the place, it's really a struggle. Kind of the best case, the best solution I found so far with firms like that who they're just not quite ready to say, 'This is our specialty," is to message it as, "We'll work with you throughout the different life stages." And that way, we can usually try to get all the different types of clients in there. But then we'll usually have separate pages on the website where it talks about the different specific types of clients.
But it's important to have one overarching message. It could be even like, "We're locally owned and operated," because, for some people, that's really important. So you need some sort of theme, and then try to then go a little bit deeper into the different targets. However, the more specific you can be, the better off you're probably going to be. It's just scary. It's scary for a lot of people to focus. So that's usually a transition that we make is let's do one more general theme, then we can talk directly to these different markets within the website or the marketing materials. And then if they get more comfortable and they see more success within a certain area, then they're more likely to start narrowing in on just that market.
Michael: Yeah, it reminds me. One of my favorite firms doing this is SignatureFD down in Atlanta. That they've got this kind of anchor message, "Real wealth is about more than just accumulating it. And it's not just about your net worth, but is your net worthwhile?" Which they've tagged and trademarked around. And so that's this top-level message that they've got. But then they have this series of solutions, SignatureEXEC is their niche for executives and SignatureLAW is their section for lawyers and SignatureENTREPRENEUR is their section for entrepreneurs. So they have all these different specialization solutions, but it's under one commonly themed umbrella of messaging at the top.
Kristen: Yeah, they've done a good job with that. And the way I look at it is that they took...their role model, basically, is like a law firm, where you'll have a law firm that'll have different practice areas. And so firms that do want to work with many different markets, I think looking at law firms for inspiration is a good way to figure out how you're going to message that.
Michael: Yeah, law firms and accounting firms have done this for, I don't know, decades, for a century or two, right? You've got some parent-level law firms and then you've got all these different practice areas. Like, a group of niches and specializations under one law firm umbrella, and they figure out how to brand the firm at the high level, and then the specializations under that umbrella.
Kristen: Yeah. It's a really good way if you're not ready to just commit to one type of client to divide out the different areas that you work in. The key is to have enough areas that it makes sense to someone who's going to the website, and you don't have just like, "We work with athletes and doctors." Then that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But if you have...
Michael: Yeah, at some it's kind of like oddly specific. It's like, we couldn't decide if we were going to work with doctors or athletes, so we just wrote "doctors and athletes."
Kristen: That's right. Exactly.
Michael: Whereas by the time you get about six of them, it's like, "Oh. Oh, okay, you actually have like six different areas. I get it. I get it."
Kristen: But a firm like SignatureFD can implement that because they have a very large team. If you're a firm with three or four advisors, that's going to be much harder to pull off. My understanding with what they do is that they actually have an advisor who's responsible for each of those practice areas. And so that's like their...
Michael: Right. Like a lead.
Kristen: Exactly. And so if you're a smaller firm trying to do that, you're just not going to be able to pull it off with the same success that they've been able to.
Kristen's Seven Core Areas Of Marketing [56:08]
Michael: So we've talked about this kind of foundational framework piece you've got in the core with ideal client profile, your marketing data, then sort of some of the supporting collateral that goes around that, but you ultimately said there are like seven different areas of marketing. So what fills in around this core foundation then?
Kristen: Sure. And I'm going to give my website a little plug real quick because I have an image on the homepage on kaleidocreative.com, which will be a visual that helps reinforce what I'm saying. So if you just go to the home page, you can see it.
Michael: Right. We'll include some links out to it as well. So this is episode 141. If you go to kitces.com/141, we'll have links out to Kaleido Creative, the website, and what I think you're going to talk about, which is your marketing wheel of how you look at the whole range of marketing activities.
Kristen: Exactly. So outside of the framework, which we talked about, we look at really six different areas. Client referrals, center of influence referrals, online marketing. So that's everything from like search engine optimization and ads and social media. So those type of campaigns. We look at thought leadership, which can be everything from more traditional presentations and articles and newspapers, but also things like podcasts or webinars, blogs. So basically any area where you're demonstrating your area of expertise. We look at community awareness, and then we look at conversion. Which we talked about a little bit with the sales already, but it's basically every marketing touchpoint from the point someone reaches out to your firm to the point that they become a client or tell you no.
So when we're working with a firm, we're really looking to figure out what is their marketing formula for success, because every firm is completely different from another. And there's a lot of different factors that play into this. It could be just geographic area. It could be what type of target market you're going after. It can be the personality of the advisors. So there's so many different things that can impact what's going to work and what's not, that we've created this framework in order for people to have a systemized way to say, "I want to try these things." You try them, experiment, if it doesn't work, you just move on.
Michael: And so the idea is kind of literally you'll pull out this marketing wheel and be like, "So where do you want to start on the wheel? What do you want to try or experiment with first?"
Kristen: Not so much that. We do guide people. Because the way it's set up, when you're looking at the wheel, basically we start from the inside out. And so the things that are on the inside of the wheel are things that we know are just a little bit more basic, tried and true, things you should just do. And then as you get farther out in the wheel, it becomes more complicated and things that are more likely to kind of be hit or miss on success.
Michael: So for folks that are listening and maybe haven't gotten to go and look at the supporting material yet, so if you imagine like, I don't know, like a wheel or a circle with a series of concentric circles. Like, there's a small ring in the middle, which is your foundation, then there's a slightly bigger ring, which is your first tier of tasks, then there's a bigger ring, which is your second tier of tasks, then there's a bigger ring, which is your third tier of tasks. So that's part of the context. As Kristen says, you'd be working from the inside out. There's sort of a ring of foundational marketing strategies you might do first. So in online marketing, it's do your SEO, in thought leadership, it's have a blog. And then there's outer ring activities that are kind of the more complex ones you build up to. Like in online marketing, it's pay-per-click display ads, and then in thought leadership, it's write a whole book, which is obviously way more complex than just penning a blog article. So you've got this layering effect in each of these different areas from simpler stuff to really complex stuff.
Kristen: Yeah, exactly. And I showed this to somebody one time and they're like, "Oh, I get it. It's like building a net. You build from the outside. And so the bigger the net, the more clients you're going to catch." Right? But you don't necessarily need that big of a net to catch them all. It's just a matter of starting on the inside and then slowly building it. Yeah.
Michael: So talk to us about how firms typically, I don't know, like, walk through this or what they do with this as you start looking at it. Because there's a lot of stuff here. It's not hard to me to imagine someone looks at this and like, "Yeah, it looks awesome, let's just do all of that."
Kristen: So we like to take people one by one, or at least try to focus on one thing and maybe one or two areas. I'm definitely a believer in just focusing on one thing at a time, because then you're going to do it...you only have so much time and energy, so do it right with the one thing that matters. The framework section or the foundation section that we talked about earlier, those are things that all pretty much need to be done. And then beyond that, it's really having conversations about what makes sense for firms. So we never tell a firm, "You have to do this." For example, I have a client in Florida who happens to be married to a CPA. So centers of influence, at least around CPAs, is pretty much off the table because no one's going to refer to him.
Michael: Because they're afraid that the business is going to go to a spouse anyways or that you're going to bust up the relationship.
Kristen: And that's not uncommon. I've worked with firms that have CPA practices. They have a very close relationship with a CPA practice. Most likely they came out of a CPA practice, or they have similar ownership or whatever. So those are areas where it's just not going to be conceivable to do that. But we use this as really having a conversation and saying, "These are the areas that we see that people are going to have the most success. And let's make sure that you've got this in place." Or we've had a conversation to say why this doesn't make sense for you. A really good example is like community awareness. That's one of the sections. That is one that more often than not, we probably will skip for a lot of firms, because a lot of firms we work with are in really big metropolitan areas.
Michael: Because it's hard to have impact.
Kristen: You can't have impact, right? So a firm in San Francisco or a firm in New York, that's just not going to be a good option for them. But we have a form we work with in Topeka. That's much more viable for them. So really, like I said, our goal is to figure out what is the right formula for each firm, and then by using this, we can systematically start to discover what works and what doesn't.
Michael: Okay. And so are there particular areas that you find most firms are doing or that tend to work? I have to imagine there's trends in what's popular and less popular. And in a marketing world, as you said, 10 years ago, there was a lot of seminar marketing and radio shows. Like, where do you find a lot of the marketing focus these days for firms?
How Kristen Thinks About Referrals As A Marketing Channel [1:03:37]
Kristen: Well, the thing that I still see that's most successful are referrals. And I think that's actually going to be more important going forward, because when there's so much noise out there. People are going back to personal relationships for advice. So that's never going to go away. And it's always worth thinking about what your process is and making sure you have the right touchpoints in place and things like that. But that's not very exciting. People don't really...they don't come to me wanting to talk about client referrals or center of influence referrals.
Michael: Can we talk about it a bit more, though? So here's the thing that I'm wondering, is, for so many firms I see in the client referral domain, it basically falls at one of two extremes. Either, "This is how we get clients, but it's kind of an icky thing to do. So we just wait for the client referrals to come in, but hopefully, we'll be a good enough firm that we get a whole bunch of client referrals." And it may be a driver of business, but it's an extremely passive inbound one. Or firms that are at the other end of the spectrum, and it's all about like, ask your client for a referral at every opportunity. You always have to be pushing the referral conversation because you've got to kind of extract these referrals from clients. Whether you're just outright asking for referrals or...
I still remember back to my sales training days, we used to get trained to explain to clients like, "I get paid two ways. The first is the business that we do together, and the second is the opportunity to be introduced to other people like you who have the same problems you have that I'm here to help solve." And it was meant to set up the conversation every meeting. And it was a very outbound, you asked for referrals, but to me, frankly, it was much more of a proactive networking approach. Like, "Who do you know that I can network through you too to reach out to?" as opposed to referrals. So how do you look at referrals from a marketing perspective? Do you look at them in one of these two directions in particular? Do you frame it differently? How do you think about referrals as a marketing anchor or channel?
Kristen: So our approach to marketing in general and for our clients is that marketing is about two things. It's one is about education and one about relationships. So on that spectrum that you talked about, we're definitely more on the passive side. But there are things that can be done to help educate and build relationships, right? So we go back to the idea of triggering events, right? So if you know why people are coming to you, it's not a bad idea to educate your clients on when they generally should refer, what type of events that their friends might be going through. And that's something you can just include on your newsletter. Just say maybe in some section, "If you or a friend is facing one of these situations, please contact us or give us her name." So it can be a little bit more passive, but still in a way where you're educating clients. I think one of the things that's hardest for why clients don't refer is because they don't really know everything that you do, right? They're only aware of whatever that one thing that they came to you for. Let's say retirement planning.
Michael: Right. Like, you helped me with an insurance policy, so you're my insurance guy. You helped me with an IRA rollover, so you're my IRA rollover gal. And we get stuck or clients get stuck on the one thing and don't necessarily view you through the whole lens.
Kristen: Exactly. So if you can use some of your other marketing to show all the other things that you do and just reinforce that and educate them, then that's one way to help referrals in a more passive way. Because I'm not a firm believer either of, "Write down the names of people you know and I'll reach out to them." And I don't work with clients like that. The people that we attract aren't like that either. But it's also looking at things like what are you doing for campaigns for the next generation of clients? That money is going to walk out the door. Are there things that you're doing to start maintaining those relationships? And then that's not technically a client referral, but it is keeping assets and bringing in assets based on one client relationship.
And also, how you onboard a client. Are you educating them from the beginning that these are the types of people you can help? You're always here to help their friends and family. And just positioning it in a really supportive way, versus, "We get paid in two ways." And then creating opportunities for people to refer. I'm not a huge fan of client events. I think that there's a time and a place for them. And there's appreciation events, and then there's ones that are more meant for referrals. But they can be a way for people to introduce their friends and family to a firm in a softer way. So those are the ways that we look at it, are just creating opportunities, thinking about ways to deepen relationships with potentially good referral partners, and yeah, just educating.
Marketing Channels That Advisors Are Currently Using [1:08:30]
Michael: Okay. Okay. So client referrals becomes one anchor with couple of ways that we can try to do this more proactively. What else are you seeing that are common and active business development channels these days?
Kristen: Yeah, I think the real emphasis right now is on online channels. A lot of people come to us still about social media. And I do believe that social media is an important part of your overall marketing strategy, but as a lead generation in itself, it's really a tough way to go. So when we're looking at online marketing, we're trying to hit the channels of people who are farther down the funnel. So if you think about the lifecycle of a potential client, they start where they're completely unaware that they have a problem, then they discover they have a problem, then they research options to solve their problem, then they start to evaluate their options, then they make a decision, right?
So with social media, to me, a lot of it is you're trying to make people aware of what they're not aware of yet. And that's a long, slow process. So if we can focus on the part of the funnel where people are researching their options, that's where you want to be, in evaluating. So while many people do want to go on social media, I absolutely agree, it's important, because when people are researching you, they will look at your social media profiles. Social media helps with search engine rankings. So it is an important part. But when someone comes to me and says, "I want social media to get leads," I just know that in general, that's a long road ahead.
So we try to look at things from online. Some of the first things we do are just making sure you're on like the basic "find an advisory" sites or advisor sites. So like NAPFA, FPA, I believe XY Planning Network has one where you can be listed.
Kristen: So all of those. Get onto all the ones that apply. Now, not all of these will produce a lot of leads, but if someone's on that site looking for an advisor, they've already made the decision that they need a financial advisor. So that's where you want to be. That's worth your time a whole lot more than trying to convince people that they have a problem around their finances on social media. Not just that you don't want to eventually get there, but that's not where I would start.
Michael: Yeah, you can start with where they're actually already going to look for you. Now, I guess the only caveat or question I have, like, are you finding advisors are actually getting business there? Because I continue to talk to a lot of advisors who say like, "Yeah, I do all these online lead generation things." There's a whole bunch of...there's some of the established group sites out there, FPA, NAPFA, XYPN, Garrett Planning Network, groups like that, then there's all these new third-party startup sites. And candidly, I hear a lot of negativity from advisors about these, particularly the newer crop, at least some of the association sites do have 10, 20 years of brand equity working with the media. So there seems to be some flow. It appears to be even harder when it's newer sites. Are you finding particular channels in this way that have traction? Is it just, "Hey, you should be on all of them just for the sake of being visible?" What works in this space?
Kristen: Okay. So I agree with you that there are a lot out there that are not worthwhile. Anyone that, it's like has an association, that's usually part of your membership. So there's no reason why you shouldn't be on that. And in fact, it provides a credible link back to your website, which is one strategy around search engine optimization. So anything that's worthwhile, any association is definitely worthwhile setting those up. It's not necessarily worthwhile having an upgraded profile. I don't know if FPA still does that, but I know for a while they had an upgraded profile version. And I would be hard-pressed to advise people to upgrade on that. But the one that comes with their membership, it's definitely worthwhile.
Kristen: We don't really recommend the pay per lead ones at all. We've had a couple of clients that are trying that out, and they just haven't seen a lot of success. You get a lot of leads, but then they're talking to other advisors, or they don't respond back. So not so much those sites, but the association ones that are legitimate and linking back to your website.
The one exception I would say is Fee Only Network. I like that one for advisors that are fee-only and can be on that site, because they come up so much in search results that your company might come up sooner on Fee Only Network's website than you would just searching let's say "financial advisor Sacramento." They might come up farther up those search results than your company will if you're in Sacramento. But otherwise, generally, I would just stick to the ones that are either free just to have links back to your website, or ones that are part of your membership.
Michael: Okay. So what else in the online marketing realm are you doing or active with or finding traction aside from claim your "find an advisor" portal on the various sites?
Kristen: Yeah. So just doing some basic on-site search engine optimization. Making sure that you've done some keyword research, you're incorporating those words throughout your website, that your website is technically in good shape.
Michael: So can you explain what on-site SEO and keyword research is for folks who aren't familiar with the online marketing lingo?
Kristen: Yeah, I'll try my best, because I have a specialist in my office that does this and then she just reports back to me. So generally it's, we always start with looking at what...we have special software. We use a software called SEMrush. And we put in initially your website to see how are people finding you. I used to be able to do this through Google Analytics, but you really can't do that anymore. They hide all the keywords. So you have to have special software. And so it shows us all of the keywords that people are using to find your site now. So the search terms that they're using when they go on Google. And then if there's some decent ones on there, we try to make sure that we're including those words on other pages on your site, on your blog so that way it just continues to build.
We also will look at your competitors and what...some of the search terms that people are using to find them, and then start including some of those words as well. Google is smarter than most people, so you can try to game the system. What we find is if you just have good content and you're aware generally of what people are searching for and then trying to include that into your content, that's going to be your best strategy. Because anytime you try to game the system, they figure that out, and then they change the algorithm, and then your rankings drop.
One of the best things you can possibly do for a website, though, is just have regular content. It used to be that more content was better, but now it seems to be shifting towards longer content. I happen to know that your website, Michael, is just like...when I look at keywords that I'm competing with people for, you seem to blow me out of the water because your content is so long and you have so much of it. So you're clearly being successful.
Michael: Yeah, it's something we found for a long time. There's this attitude out there of, people have short attention spans and they won't read long articles. And what we found is, to be fair, generally, that's true. And the only people who really read long articles, particularly on some of the like the technical retirement stuff that we write about, are people who have a lot of money, and the decision about what they're trying to figure out is so high stakes because they have a lot of wealth that they really want to dig in and do the research and figure out what decision they should make, and they're willing to read through a long article. Which is basically a nice way of saying like, almost no one reads really long articles on our website, except extremely affluent, highly qualified prospects. Which is...
Kristen: And those are the people you want.
Michael: ...exactly the people we want to talk to. So yeah, we actually get a material amount of very high-quality business development that comes through the site by writing ginormously long, dense media articles. And what really happens is there are two types of folks, the people who are going to read it and take that information and go off and do it themselves. And frankly, those people were never going to work with us anyways because they're do-it-yourselfers. And the rest have some complexity, some affluence, a high-stakes problem. They're digging around doing research because they're trying to get answers, then they realize the complexity is over their heads and they need help. And where do they go for help? Well, they go to the place they just spent all this time reading and going like, "Okay, well, this person really knows what they're talking about. So now that I've realized I need help, I think I'm going to talk to this firm." And they do.
Kristen: I have a client in Silicon Valley, and when he first started blogging, it was definitely more of the trend was shorter articles because people don't have much of an attention span. But he's a little bit wordy and very technical, and so he's been writing these really long blogs for years. And now when you look at how many keywords he ranks for and how much traffic he gets from it, it's just like off the charts. And then we've actually looked at the articles that are the most popular, and then we've actually put in like a form on those article pages for people to reach out to schedule an appointment. Because if they got to the bottom of that, they've done their research.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There's a filtering, a very positive filtering mechanism that actually comes from having that kind of in-depth content, that for people who aren't really that interested, they're not going to slog through it, but they probably weren't good prospects for you anyways because they're really not interested. The ones who really are interested go all the way through it. You get to demonstrate your expertise, they get really interested in what you're doing, and you know they're qualified because they spent all the time going through the article. So there really is this striking kind of self-selection mechanism that happens with just trying to put out long, high-quality content and let the people who want to read it read it, because those are actually usually the ones you wanted to reach anyways.
Kristen: It goes back to what we were talking about about your messaging on your website. It's that, speak to who you want to attract, because that's who you're going to attract. And don't worry about turning off everyone else, because they probably weren't the right prospect for you to begin with.
Kristen: Yeah. One of the things we've been doing, you were talking about short attention spans, is on, articles that we know are going to be more in-depth, we'll actually put like a table of contents at the top so people can click on the topic that they want and jump down to that section. And we'll break it up, too, with visuals or charts to try to get people to not just...their eyes roll back in their head when they see it because they just can't handle it. So there's different things that you can do for long content to make it more visually interesting for people.
We're also doing a lot of Google Search, like pay-per-click. And that's usually in the beginning when people are just starting to blog and they haven't really established a presence yet for some of the local words. And we've tried lots of different things. But again, going back to where people in the funnel, you want people who are in research mode. So we are really just focusing on words like "find an advisor near me" or "advisor in San Diego." So words where people are like, "I'm looking for a financial advisor." We don't worry too much in general about other topics that people might be interested in. We're trying to find people who have made a decision, they need to find a financial advisor, and make sure that they're there.
Any, I talked about this earlier, any online, from what we've seen, any online lead, usually, the amount of qualified people can really range. It's usually not as much as like a lead from a center of influence. And because they're doing research online, they're probably looking at four or five other different firms, so the close rate can be lower, too. But that just goes to the point of like, if you can differentiate more, then they're going to be more bought in if they're doing that through the website and the blog, and then your chances of closing them are going to be higher. So it goes back to differentiation.
Michael: Yeah. So what about some of the other pieces of the wheel here that you're engaged with around thought leadership and community awareness and conversion? What kinds of marketing activities or engagement are you finding there that's actually getting traction for you?
Kristen: Yeah. So blogs, if I had one thing that I would tell people to do from a thought leadership standpoint it would be blogs. Not everyone has the ability or have the discipline to write blogs on a regular basis. So videos, there are a lot of people who are better at using...just getting up and speaking. And then, in that case, we would recommend videos. Even in that case, what we're usually doing is with the videos, there'll be one or two things we do. We'll either have the transcription of the video created and then we just post the video. And then on the same webpage, we'll have the transcription. So that way there's some written content on there as well.
Michael: We do the same thing. All the video content, all the podcast content as well that we do, we get transcriptions for it as well. There's a bunch of external services you can send out to now to get it done. We use Speechpad. There's also rev.com and a few others.
Kristen: Yeah, we use Rev. That's a good one.
Michael: It's pretty inexpensive, particularly if you don't need it on superfast, 24-hour turnaround or anything. And when you post the transcription, you get...that's how you get a nice, long article. If you're not writing-inclined, just talk for 10 or 20 minutes if you're good and passionate at doing the talking stuff, and then get a transcription of it. And now you've got a full-length blog post as well. And you can always have an editor, whoever on your team is really good at grammar can go through and just kind of clean up the language a little so it reads as well as it sounds in the video. And I know a number of advisors that just, they don't like writing, but they're completely comfortable in front of the camera. And so they just make the content that way and someone else converts it into a written thing later.
Kristen: Yeah. And if for some reason the videos are too short, what we'll end up doing is we'll just write an article that's a little bit longer on the same topic and just build it out a little bit more. But then have the video as the main piece, and then more of the content text underneath it. Because usually for a webpage, you really want at least 300 words per page, otherwise, I guess you get dinged with SEO. So always keep that in mind as well.
Podcasts are another one that we're starting to see more people interested in. I like podcasts. I think it's very hard to build an audience, but it's great content for your website. Again, what we talked about, the transcription, if you're doing 20 minutes podcast or a 30-minute podcast, that's fantastic content to include on your website.
And we're seeing some clients that have radio shows that are trying to move their audience from radio to podcast, because they're pretty aware that radio is going to be...radio, as it is now, is a dying medium. So if they can get people to go to their podcast, that's going to be a more sustainable way in the future. Challenge with podcast is that's just one more thing for you to have to market. And especially if you haven't built an audience through some of these other things in the past, it's just a long road. But it can still be worthwhile just from the standpoint of the content you can then put on your website and share on social media. We're not seeing as many people do webinars anymore as in the past. I don't know if it's just because it's become kind of saturated. If firms have a very specific niche, then they'll usually do that a little bit more, but not nearly as many as we used to see back even like four or five years.
Michael: So webinars was kind of a phase thing? People did webinars for a while and then now it's kind of petering out?
Kristen: Now it's podcasts. Everyone wants to do podcast.
How Advisors Can Build Community Awareness [1:25:19]
Michael: Interesting. Interesting. And so for the firms that are in some of the other domains, I am curious about what you're seeing that works in the realm of community awareness. As you said, probably not if you're in a major metropolitan area where it's really hard to make a dent in a dense area with lots of folks. But obviously, many advisors live in more rural areas and smaller town communities and more distant suburbs, and there's at least a potential to really get visible in your local community. So what are advisors doing that are living in that space?
Kristen: So usually when we're dealing with community awareness, for the most part, firms are already involved. So we're usually trying to optimize what they're currently doing. Rarely do firms come to us and say they want to get involved in the community. They've probably already sponsored 20 different organizations and different events. And so what we're usually looking at is, okay, what are you getting for all of these sponsorships or the different organizations you're involved in? Does it make sense? Is there more you can be getting out of it? And should you be reallocating your resources?
So I was talking to a firm who's pretty involved in the community, and they were a sponsor in this golf tournament. And they just think it's kind of a waste of money to do. And I talked to them about and I said, "Well, when you sponsor your hole, do you even have anyone there at the hole greeting people?" "No, we just pay the money." I'm like, "Okay, well, why don't you go sit...have someone sit at that hole and greet every single person that comes by and then see if it's still a waste of money?" So usually, it's more around that, because they've already...usually in smaller communities, they've already been involved because everyone asks them for money. So it's just having focus.
The main thing I see is that people are sponsoring things that don't target their ideal clients, right? So going back to why target markets, the very first thing you should do, you shouldn't be giving money to an organization. Unless it's really your true passion, you shouldn't be giving money to an organization that is not...the audience is not your ideal client. Now, that could be board members, though. That's always something to consider. But board members, that's a small audience, usually six to eight people, but that could be more of a part of a bigger networking strategy. But you should really be thinking about, are you getting in front of the right people when you're involved in these different community aspects?
Now, that's only from a marketing perspective. Obviously, people feel very passionate about different organizations they're involved in. And I'm not talking about that. I'm just saying if you're using this from a marketing perspective, you need to one, make sure the audience is there, and two, make sure that you're actually taking advantage of it. Because most people just write checks, and that's the end of it. And those checks are not cheap. That can easily be $10,000, $20,000, $50,000.
How Kristen Provides Ongoing Marketing Support [1:28:20]
Michael: So talk to us about how you look at supporting firms in these ongoing marketing relationships. I feel like we're talking about all these different areas of the wheel. And they're interesting areas that we look at as we kind of, well, literally rotate around the wheel of all the different marketing strategies. But again, there's so much stuff here. You've got six core areas. Each of the six core areas has nine different strategies in it because you've got three sets of three as they get increasingly complex. So there's 54 different things you can do on here. There's only 52 weeks of the year. And I can't do most marketing strategies in a week before I move on to the next one. So what does it look like as firms are just trying to figure out like, "What on earth are we going to do or what are we going to do first? How do I prioritize this now overload of marketing strategies that we're suddenly talking about?"
Kristen: Yeah. And it can be overwhelming. And this is really where it makes sense to talk to a marketing expert who will hear the individual story and be able to guide them. I always think it makes sense to look at what's already working and optimize it as much as you can. So like maybe client referrals or center of influence referrals, optimize that, and then move on to some of the other areas. That being said, usually, we'll tend to start with things like blogs or some of the online marketing, because that takes a while to build up. So from our engagement standpoint, it makes sense to start those earlier rather than later so that you're starting to see results three or six months later, versus...while you're building out some of these other aspects of it that are a little bit more intangible. So the things that are more time-sensitive is where I would start. So like the sooner you can get content on your website, the sooner you're going to get more traffic, and so forth. So that's where we tend to start.
And then we focus on the areas where they're already doing things to optimize it, and then we look at new areas. Because a lot of times people are doing too much marketing. And I have firms that come to me and they're doing everything under the sun. And my job in those situations is to go and start getting rid of stuff, because it doesn't all work, and they're spread too thin, and the resources are spread too thin. And so it's like, "Well, we've got to get rid of some of these things." And looking at what's working, what's not, and reallocating.
Michael: And you make a really interesting and striking point there to me, that, yeah, that for a lot of firms, I think part of the challenge is, we heard about this marketing strategy, so we did that, and then we heard about this other thing, so we did that, and we heard about this other thing, and we did that. And you end out with this kind of shotgun-style approach of, we do a bunch of different things, we get a bunch of clients. Like, we do "marketingy" things, we grow. But that doesn't necessarily mean where they're spending their time and energy and resources is actually a good ROI for what they're doing, right?
As you said, like, "Well, we do a bunch of community things, and we got some local clients." Like, "Oh, cool, so let's talk about what you do." "Well, we sponsor this golf tournament but we don't go, we don't show up. And there's no one standing there." Like, "Maybe that's not actually the thing that's driving the results. You might need to dig deeper to figure out where this is actually coming from." "Oh, it turns out all your local business was one CPA that referred it all to you. Maybe you should focus more on the local COI end than the community awareness part."
Kristen: Yeah, exactly. And that goes back to the initial part of our conversation, which is, it's so important to track what you're doing and the results of it all, because otherwise, you're just guessing.
Michael: Yeah. But I like kind of this framework that like there's a foundational piece with a lot of, do you know who you're going after? And what are your metrics that you're tracking so you know what's working or not or how to measure ROI? Then you start setting up some of your online foundation, because things like clear website and blogs take a while to seed, no matter what. Then you're kind of reviewing all the other marketing stuff they're doing and trying to get a handle on what's working, what's not, what drives a good ROI, what doesn't. And then you get to the new stuff, which I'm going to imagine for...where firms come to you particularly because you're working with established firms that already have a presence and some growth and $100 million-plus and the rest. Does it take you like a year or two just to get through the old stuff before you even get to the, "What are we going to do that's new?"
Kristen: Yeah, it does. It takes about a year. I'd say that the framework stuff usually takes about six months to do, and then to start doing all the rest of it takes about a year. And then after that, it's a lot of tweaking too to see like okay, what's...testing, what's working, what's not, A/B testing different messages. In the beginning, we're usually just establishing these things, so we're not spending as much time testing as we do in year two. And then from there, then we start to see...from there it's really hard to say exactly where they should go next until we see the numbers and say, "Oh, look, we're starting to see some real traction around this business owner market. So let's think about, how can we do more around that?" And then we start to get more innovative, starting in year two, because all of the basic things you need from marketing perspective are in place, and you're starting to have the data you need to see okay, this is a good market, or this is a good source, what can we do to even improve beyond that?
And then at some point, you really shouldn't be doing too much more. I believe you can be doing three or four things really well, general areas, and you should be fine. You shouldn't have to do everything that's on this wheel. Unless you're a really big firm, that's just too much. You just don't have the time for it. So just optimizing the things that you're doing, continuing to test it, and just keep improving your results. That being said, one of the challenges of marketing is that it changes all the time. This is my entire job, and I still find it hard to keep up sometimes with the changes. And so for an advisor, I can only imagine that it's even that much more difficult. And so that's why we actually...this will get updated in January with things that we've seen that have changed. Every January we'll update this with new ideas just based on what's working and what's not. So yeah, it's hard. And marketing is hard.
Michael: So are there common mistakes or like issues that you see most commonly as firms come in? What are the most common challenge or blocking points that you see as firms decide their marketing is so problematic that they're coming to you and say, "Kristen, you've got to help me with this?"
Common Marketing Mistakes Advisors Make [1:35:08]
Kristen: I think the biggest challenge I see is that people get caught up in the small details or things that are not as important as the bigger...some of the bigger picture things that they may see as boring or just not as important for some reason. So like for example, someone will come back from some conference they went to and they heard about this one particular new campaign idea, and then want to jump on that, versus thinking about, "How does that fit into the overall strategy?" For example, let's say someone comes to me and they're like, "Oh, I should do marketing on Instagram." Well, why? We haven't even...what are you going to do on Instagram? Right? It doesn't fit your target market. Like, you haven't finished even doing blogs yet. Establish a blog system or anything like that, what do you think Instagram is going to do? And it's because they saw one presentation where somebody who's probably targeting millennials is killing it on Instagram. So that's a thing. We call it random acts of marketing, when people just come up with ideas that don't...
Michael: I love that. People commit random acts of marketing.
Kristen: Yeah. Or they'll buy software that they saw and they're like, "Oh, this is going to solve all of our problems." And it goes back to again, what we said initially when we were talking about financial products, where it's sometimes easier to buy a product because you think it's going to solve your problem. It's easier to buy a software, marketing software that you think is going to solve your problems versus really facing the fact that you have to look at your overall...your entire system of what you're doing, your platform.
Michael: So I'm struck as well that... One of the things that always jumps out at me when we have folks in your role that are in a consulting role on the podcast is that the nature of building a consulting business working with advisors is actually really similar to the advisory business unto itself. Like, you sell your knowledge and your intellectual property to help other people through their problems. When they have particular pain points, they're willing to hire an expert to come in and help them with it. Like, pretty much the same kind of pitch we make to clients and just a slightly different context around subject matter. So how do you look at and manage marketing for your firm as someone who runs a marketing business trying to market to other advisors?
Kristen: Oh, wow. Well, we definitely like a case of the "cobbler's kids have no shoes" situation, where... We pretty much do some limited marketing at this point. I'm very passionate about educating people on marketing topics in this industry. And so when I first started my business, and I really...I think I had one client when I first started, and I thought, "Well, how am I going to get new business?" First thing I did was I started writing articles. And this is late 2008. And I thought, "Well, now, who's going to read these articles? I don't have really a list or anything." And I wasn't known in the industry at that point. So this is where I started using social media. And I said, "Okay, I'm going to use my website, I'm going to take this article and put it on blog," which I barely knew what a blog was at the time. And then I said, "Well, I need to get people to go to my blog." So I started posting it on LinkedIn Groups, and then from there, Twitter, and then...well, those were pretty much the two at the time.
And so I actually ended up...I think I started around the same time you did, where there weren't a lot of people using that medium, and so I picked up fairly quickly by other print media out there and just some of the different conferences. So then from there, I started writing for other magazines, and then started presenting at different conferences. And then it just got to a point where it's like, we just had really good word of mouth. And I was doing a conference here and there. But now, we basically have our website. We do do a newsletter every week. We call it The 52. It's basically a 30-second tip to read each week. This year, we're structuring it around this wheel quite a bit. So we do that. And we post that on our blog as well. And then we do some work with Google too. So people find us either through Google or through referrals, or word of mouth. And I've really cut back on all the other marketing because that's what works for us. I don't really blog a whole lot anymore. I would like to, I just don't have the time. So we just focus on that.
Michael: Well, but it strikes me as well that there's...there's two things that jump out at me around that. One is, marketing channels and strategies and what makes sense for your firm can and do evolve and shift over time, right? Like early on when you wanted to set a foundation, you were active in blogging and articles and social media and things that generally fall into your thought leadership with maybe a blend over to the online marketing end. Now that you're an established business, you have a mailing list, you have some visibility already, you have probably a much clearer refinement about who your target market is anyways, because those things tend to tighten up a little as we just find who we like to work with and don't over time and the target market gets a little bit clearer.
And then over time, you get to a point of, okay we found a few things that work for us, that get us to our growth goals, the marketing that we need, and start to recognize like, "I don't actually need to do everything, like, literally everything, we're doing the things that are getting us to the growth that we want." That's marketing done well. You can kind of sign off at that point, or at least just keep iterating on the thing you're doing that you found works.
Kristen: Yeah. And that's a real argument for, again, having a really clear target market and building an expertise around that. Because when you become such an expert in one target market, you really don't have to do much marketing, because people will just come to you because you have that reputation. And that's kind of to the point where we're at. And in fact, I don't think there are other firms that do exactly what we do. And so people come to us and they either want we want or they want something else, but they're not usually comparing us for what we do compared to what somebody else is doing. It's something completely different.
And we refer to a lot of other consultants in this industry that we just know are going to be a better fit when people reach out to us. Because if they're not looking to build a whole platform for their marketing, it's just...we're not the right fit for that company. Or if they're a firm that's over $1 billion, we refer out to...we have one specific firm we refer out to a lot because they're just more appropriate for that. They're more of an agency that is meant for a big firm with the marketing department in place already.
Michael: And who is that, if I can ask? Who works mostly in that space?
Kristen: So we refer a lot of the bigger firms to FiComm. And then sometimes smaller firms come to us as well that are just not ready, usually like individual advisors, and we'll refer them to Crystal Butler at Crystal Marketing Solutions.
Michael: Okay. And so again, that's part of the point, that like you know exactly where you want to be in this, I guess classically what our industry calls mid-sized firms, like $100 million to $1 billion firms. So if you're smaller than that, not a great fit for us, but go to Crystal. And if you're bigger than that, you have different internal resources, so you need some different things, so go talk to FiComm.
What Surprised Kristen Most About Marketing Her Own Business [1:43:08]
Michael: So what surprised you the most about trying to market your business as a marketing business? Sort of theory versus reality when you have to do it yourself?
Kristen: Yeah, I actually think marketing my business is a lot easier than marketing a financial advisory firm. And I don't think that's true of all marketing businesses, because I do see... I'm on all those mailing lists for companies that will do lead generation for marketing businesses. And I just think that's funny. Because if these marketing businesses can't get leads, how good of a marketing firm are they, right?
Michael: Yeah. It's kind of the proverbial like, I'm a social media guru with 72 followers kind of thing.
Kristen: Exactly. So I've always been surprised by how easy it is for me to market my business with very little effort. But I really attribute that to being very clear on who our market is, and we just focus all of our energy and not that much money on that market. And that's it. And so we've been able to be very effective. But I also don't have these really lofty growth goals of having 100 employees. That's just not for me. So for what I want in my business and the market that I've chosen, it's very easy for me to market. And I don't have to do very much of it. It was hard in the beginning when I was establishing myself as a thought leader and really figuring out who my target market was, but after I got, like, the flywheel going, if you will, it's been very simple.
Michael: Well, and I'm struck by your comment that like, "I don't want to build a giant firm that has 100 people. I just want to do what we do well for our target group, sort of the small giants business model." So do you have that set as like a capacity target for your firm overall? Like, "We want to be working with 20 advisory firms on an ongoing basis at any time. That's our capacity. When we're there, we're good. And if we lose one, we'll replace one. But that's where we want to hang out?" Do you actually view it that way or are you just aiming for, "Hey, we want moderate growth but not huge growth, so we'll adjust our marketing volume accordingly?"
Kristen: Yeah. So it's definitely more the first way that you described it. And it took me a long time to get here, when I first started my business, and I was seeing success fairly rapidly. I got caught up in achievement. I was a good student, and I liked to be teacher's pet. So I was very excited about the idea that I could grow this firm to be a really large firm, and how wonderful that would be. And then I realized the stress that that put on me. And I was chasing revenue. So it was like, I'd bring in all these clients, but then I'd have to hire behind that. And sometimes that meant taking on debt. And it definitely meant having reduced cash flow. And that stress was just way too much for me to handle.
And I think an agency, marketing agency is very complicated in that you can't just hire one person at a time. So like, we almost have to have a team that we're hiring to support a firm, clients. Because you get out of whack with how many...you hire one writer, then you have too many writers for design, or you have too many designers for writers. And so it's not easy to like just scale one person at a time. So I read that book, "Small Giants," and it was transformative to me. I was like, "It's okay to be small." And actually, when I made the decision that, "This is the size firm that I want," I actually ended up having more free time, less stress, and more money. It's like, why is this a bad thing? And I think we're doing better work for our clients because of it.
I have a similar challenge to a lot of advisors out there is that I can't replicate myself. And even if I hire staff, like I have this amazing project manager, and she's great at logistics, but, she'll admit this, she doesn't have the capability to look at the big-picture strategy that I have, and also just be able to listen to a client and then provide instant feedback based on all my years of experience. I haven't been able to find that person. I'm sure they're out there. The 2 people I have seen that are out there, that come from custodians, they probably cost $300,000 a year. That doesn't fit my pricing model. So yeah, I've just kind of...I've really shifted my goal in my business from growth to mastery. And so that's what I think about. Like, how can we just continue to master the art of RIA marketing?
So I do kind of have a limit on how many firms I'll work with. And sometimes firms will graduate out and we'll do some maintenance work for them on the side. And so we don't have like a limit of how many clients we'll work with overall. But I have a limit of how many I'll work with on this wheel, the picture strategy. But beyond that, I do have this goal of trying to find a way to teach all the fee-only RIAs out there how to market their businesses on a larger volume or on a larger scale. But that won't necessarily be me having more staff to do that. And that's what I'm still figuring out.
Michael: So what was the low point on the career journey for you?
Kristen: Oh, gosh. I've had a lot of ups and downs. There's that picture of how people think of success, and it's a straight line, and then how success really is, and it's a squiggly line. And that's so the case. The first couple of years were very hard because I was starting it in the middle of the recession in the financial services, which was not the best industry to start a marketing company.
Michael: Yeah. Because marketing is usually one of the first things that people cut when times are difficult, right or wrong. And it is a flexible discretionary budget that tends to get chopped first.
Kristen: Exactly. In an industry that was getting hit the hardest, it was definitely not an easy time. But the momentum of having those day-to-day successes of bringing on new clients and starting to see revenue grow, that was exciting. So that got through the fact that I made $12,000 the first year in business. Then it got really successful. And I had I think up to like12 employees, and I was bringing on clients pretty quickly. But I was having to hire quickly as well. And that's not really my skill set. Management is not my strong suit at all. And so I started to feel burned out. And I thought to myself, "Okay, well, I can grow myself out of this burnout somehow. If I just make more money and bring on more clients, then somehow I'll be able to afford management, and I can just not do any of it."
And I think it was that combination of burnout and this desire to achieve more that made me make a decision to merge my business, which ultimately was not a good choice for me or for my former business partner. And so that happened for about two years, we were together. And I did make that decision because I wanted to grow something beyond what I had, but I also just didn't want to be responsible for everything. I needed someone to help share that burden.
Michael: And I think that's a common thing for a lot of people who find a partnership. Like, "I want to grow it bigger and do more, but there's things I don't want to be responsible for. So I'll go find a partner, and they can be responsible for those things, because hopefully, that's what they're good at, and I'm going to do my thing."
Kristen: And that's exactly what I was thinking. It became very clear pretty quickly that that was not the right fit for me. I can only speak for myself. And so that partnership ended.
Michael: So in retrospect, what didn't you see upfront in the partnership? What did you miss that you only got to figure out after the fact?
Kristen: I think the biggest thing, and I guess probably everyone around me could have told me this, is that I'm very particular and I want things my way. I like to be the one in charge. And my business partner at the time is also like that. And we both think we know what's best. And you can't have two captains of one ship. And looking back...that's obvious to me now. And it should have been obvious to me then. I'm an only child, I know this about myself. Everything is my way or the highway. So that's just...it just didn't work out. And I think part of it was just this desperation of like, "I just need someone else to help. And if we can grow out of this and this person can help me grow out of this, then life will be better."
So after the breakup of that partnership, it was very difficult for at least a year, probably two years, it's now been three years, it was financially devastating for me. It was so much stress. And so it was very difficult time. But one of the things that came from it that I'm so grateful for is that it allowed me to restructure my business to be what it is today. Doing what I like with the people I like and not worrying about chasing growth anymore. And I've just been so much happier.
And I had to give up the idea that success was about winning awards or being recognized or speaking at prestigious conferences. Because all of that just creates more stress on me and then creates more business than probably I need. And then I have to hire behind it. And it was just this cycle that I just needed to get out of. And so at this point, yeah, not to say it's not going to change in the future, but I'm really focused on just mastering what we do and doing the best job we can, and then figuring out how to grow in a more sustainable way in the future that doesn't impact my financial stability, doesn't impact my stress level, and doesn't impact my personal time that I value so much.
What Success Means For Kristen [1:52:23]
Michael: So in that context then, one of the themes of the podcast is around success and all these ways that success means different things to us, or, even as you've kind of talked about in the story, different things to us at different stages of life or points in our career. Like, you were shooting towards one image of success till you went maybe further down that road, then you were happy, and that didn't go well. And now success is getting redefined in different ways. So how are you defining success for yourself at this point going forward?
Kristen: Yeah. For me, it's just really having...living my life that's true to myself, which it's a little hard to define. But I know what my values are. Like for me, having really meaningful work and getting to have deep relationships with people is important, having plenty of free time. As some people know, I love my hobbies more than most people, I think. So having plenty of free time to do those hobbies is really important to me.
I need time to be able to be creative. I've actually started a new hobby of doing some pottery, just to promote my creativity in a way that then I can then translate into my business. So for me, it's really like, I live a life that's true to my values and the things that are important to me, versus the things that generally people would associate with success, like being recognized or having a big company with lots of revenue coming in or lots of employees. Not that that's not successful, it's just not successful to me. In fact, when I think of a situation like that, I always have like a panic attack, because it's like, "Oh, my gosh, what are all the things I'd have to give up that are important to me to make that happen?"
Michael: I love the journey, though. I think that's...I don't know, it's part of this thing that a lot of us just have to, I don't know, grow or build our careers or build our businesses over time to figure out. For so many advisors, I know it's not until their second or third or sometimes fourth iteration of the business or their model or their structure of what they're doing before they really kind of find their stride and the thing that they really like doing and the right balance for them in the business. I think part of it is just sometimes we don't even know what we want until we do it for a while and go like, "Yep, that's actually not fun. Not enjoying that, need to take my career and my business another direction." And then we just have to iterate on it another few times before we find that right balance that you seem to have found now.
Kristen: Well, one of the things I did about two years ago is I hired Tracy Beckes to be my coach. And I just loved her message, which is basically like, "You design your business around the life you want. And everything that you do should be about that." And so she's been really helpful from that standpoint of, "How do I want to live?" And let's design the business around that lifestyle. And that's not for everybody, but that appealed to me.
Michael: Well, amen. I love the message for it.
Well, thank you, Kristen, for joining us and sharing the journey here on the "Financial Advisor Success" podcast.
Kristen: Well, thanks, Michael. It's been a real pleasure.
Michael: Thank you.