Welcome back to the 189th episode of Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Taylor Schulte. Taylor is the founder of Define Financial, an independent RIA based in San Diego, CA that oversees $76 million of assets under management for 60 families in or approaching retirement. What's unique about Taylor, though, is the way he's grown his practice by proactively spending on marketing, from hiring a branding and website design agency to a PR firm to running ongoing advisor marketing experiments, and everything from local SEO to email marketing automation.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about both the hits and the misses in marketing that Taylor has experienced along the way. From the initial $12,000 he invested into his original website that, in retrospect, wasn't focused enough to succeed, to the $24,000 he spent on a PR firm that was deemed valuable but not something he continued, how Taylor figured out how to turn podcast listeners into clients (but only after 3 years of trying), and the way all his marketing results accelerated once he decided to narrow to a more focused target clientele to pursue, even though it meant firing his mother and his grandfather from being clients, such that today, 75% of all of Taylor's new clients first reach out to him through his well-targeted website that speaks to his niche clientele.
We also talk about Taylor's own evolution within the business. How he hit the wall at $250,000 of revenue and got stuck, unable to grow further, not because of his marketing, but his operations limitations, the way he got through the blocking point by hiring an office manager to take over and focus on those operational aspects, the unique hiring process that Taylor used to find the ideal office manager, and the journal that Taylor now keeps to monitor what he should be doing and what he needs to start delegating.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Taylor shares how working with business coaches have helped him break through the key blocking points in his business, how he has come to rely on CRM workflows, even though Taylor in his own words is not operations-minded, and why Taylor's biggest regret is that he didn't focus on his niche clientele earlier, even as he recognizes that struggling without a niche focus for several years may have been the only way he could eventually accept why getting more focused would help the way that it has.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- Taylor’s Advisory Firm As It Exists Today [05:40]
- What Taylor Has Done From A Marketing Perspective To Drive Growth [10:03]
- The Mindset Changes Taylor Had To Make To Get Past A Growth Hurdle [19:38]
- The Iterative Process Taylor Took To Build A Website That Generates Organic Firm Growth [35:55]
- How Taylor Increased The “Visibility” Of His Website By Focusing On Local SEO [52:23]
- How Taylor Leveraged PR To Help Kickstart His Firm [1:04:36]
- Changes Taylor Has Made That Help Turn Listeners Into Actual Clients And How He’s Started To Leverage Email Marketing [1:11:14]
- What His Marketing Strategy Looks Like At This Point [1:24:53]
- What Surprised Taylor The Most About Marketing His Advisory Business [1:36:29]
- What He Would Have Done Differently And The Advice He’d Give To New Advisors [1:45:37]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Taylor Schulte
- Taylor Schulte LinkedIn
- Define Financial
- Stay Wealthy Podcast
- The Experiments in Advisor Marketing Podcast
- Define Financial Director Of First Impressions Job Description
- S.T.A.R.T. Here Process
- The AGC Advisor Community
- Limitless Adviser
- Ritz Carlton Leadership Center
- Gusto Payroll
- Tiny Frog
- Studio Press
- Yoast SEO
- Google My Business
- eMoney Advisor
- XY Planning Network
- Financial Planning Association
- Snappy Kraken
- OK Dork
- Pat Flynn
- Traffic & Conversion Summit
- Junxure Cloud
- Redtail CRM
- Erin Kincheloe
Michael: Welcome, Taylor Schulte, to the "Financial Advisor Success" podcast.
Taylor: Michael, happy Friday. Thanks so much for having me.
Michael: I'm really excited to have you on board with the podcast today and talking some advisor marketing. I feel like marketing is always kind of an ever-present theme for us in advisor world. So much of the advisor world basically comes down to either, get clients, find clients, your only chance is to get more clients, or if you want to move up in your career, you've got to figure out how to get clients. Like, this sort of dominant theme of, at some point in most of our careers, the pressure is there to figure out how to get clients and bring them in, sometimes out of the gate in our careers.
And I know you've kind of lived this varied advisor marketing world. You run a cool podcast called "Experiments in Advisor Marketing." You live this in your advisory firm and doing a lot of marketing experiments. I feel like a lot of it has only become all the more relevant in the world of coronavirus pandemic, and a lot of our...call it our traditional advisor marketing approaches, which frankly aren't always even necessarily all that marketing, it's just sort of like brute force, go out and meet a lot of people and talk to a lot of people and play the game of numbers and at some point, a few of them will probably turn out to be clients. A lot of that is broken down now. And I feel like it's really pushing us in the direction of saying we have to actually build and create a more formalized marketing structure around our firms, parentheses, that can work, even if we can't go out and do all that in-person networking we did once before. So a few of us really, I think, have much experience with that, but you've lived it for a lot of years now. And so, again, I'm just excited to talk like on the ground, hand-to-hand combat advisor marketing, how do you get this done?
Taylor: Yeah. Well, fortunately, I really love this stuff. I have just a true passion for marketing. When some people are spending their Friday nights binging Netflix, I'll be reading nerdy marketing articles and digging into SEO, working on our websites, and our processes. So like, I truly love this stuff, which makes it a lot of fun for me. And in turn, we have a lot of success with it.
Michael: Well, very cool. So I think to get started, I'd love to just give everyone a bit of an understanding of your advisory firm, the business as it exists today, like what do you do? Who do you do it for? What's the size of the practice? How long have you been running it? Like, just paint a picture for us of the business as it exists today. And then we can talk more about like, what have you built? How did you get there? What did this marketing process look like to get to where you are today?
Taylor’s Advisory Firm As It Exists Today [05:40]
Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. So we're a fee-only financial planning firm. We're headquartered out here in sunny San Diego. We specialize in working with people over the age of 50 who are focused on retirement planning and tax planning. We work with about 60 families. Most of the families we work with are here in Southern California, but we do have some families scattered around the United States. Our AUM or the assets that we manage, about $76 million these days. We have a team of three, myself, a lead financial planner, and an office manager. Yeah. And that's about what we look like today.
Michael: Okay. And so, how long have you been on this journey of the firm? Because I know you've had a few changes in firms that you worked with over the years. We'll probably talk about that a little bit later. But kind of building the $76 million, like, how long has that building process been for you?
Taylor: Yeah. Well, almost 13 years now, or just over 13 years. My career path is fairly similar to a lot of people. I got a job at a big wirehouse right out of school at age 22. I was thrown into the fire in 2007, and just started kind of growing my practice there. Like you said, I bounced around to a couple different firms and ultimately I started my firm in 2014. And since starting this firm in 2014, we've more than tripled in size since then. So it's been a lot of fun to have control over how we grow, the types of clients we work with, getting really creative in our marketing. And so, yeah, we can dig into as much as you want there.
Michael: So I'm just trying to kind of get a handle on sort of just growth trajectory, what it looks like. Like, just the whole nature of growth I know means different things for different advisors. For some, like, "Hey, I've gotten to a pretty good place in my career. Like, if I get one or two new clients this year, I'm feeling good." Others are like, "No, I need one or two clients a month in order to keep my pace going." So talk to us a little bit more about what the growth trajectory and path has looked like for you over the past, I guess, five or six years since breaking out on your own into the firm. And then I want to start understanding a little bit more like, what have you tried to get there? Like, $76 million is a fantastic number when you're working on your own with a team of 3, a lot of advisors take 20-plus years to get there. So I want to understand more about what you've done to get there, but just help us understand what this trajectory has been over the past five or six years.
Taylor: Sure. So when I launched the firm in 2014, I might have had around, or I know I had around $160,000 in annual revenue. We started to ramp up. I started to again, explore some different marketing paths to grow the firm. You mentioned one or two clients a year, like what the goal was in client acquisition. My goal has always been 5 to 10 really rock-solid clients each year. Some years is more, some years is less. And we can also talk about in the middle of kind of this growth trajectory, I hit one of these what you might call growth barriers, I just kind of really stuck in like 2016, 2017, where our revenue was sitting around $250,000. I just couldn't get over this hump. And so, yeah. So we've grown again since then. This year we'll do $500,000 or more in revenue. And like you said, we've just experimented with a lot of different things. I've had to go backwards a few times before going forward again. And so yeah, it's been a really interesting journey.
Michael: So talk to us then about some of what you've done in the marketing world. To go from $160k of revenue in 2014 to 3Xing that 5 years later is a huge growth path unto itself, particularly I think the pressure we feel in solo advisor world where you're chief cook and bottle washer all at the same time, right? Like, advise the clients and run the business and deal with compliance and the audits. Oh, and do the marketing and the sales and the client servicing and all the rest so maybe we can get large enough to get an office manager or someone to help, which I know you've gotten to now but I'm imagining did not have when you were getting started and had to do this building stage. So, what does marketing looks like for this growth cycle?
What Taylor Has Done From A Marketing Perspective To Drive Growth [10:03]
Taylor: Yeah. So right out of the gates there in 2014, and this is something that I picked up from you, I think you wrote an article in 2012 or 2013, and you've since repeated it, but you made this comment that the average advisory firm only spends about 2% of gross revenue on marketing activities. And I remember reading that and being like, "That's crazy when your average small business spends, I don't know, 5%, 10%, 15% of their gross revenue on marketing." And so I was very fortunate at the time. I didn't have kids. I was married. My wife was still working. I'd like to just highlight here before we go any further like, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did over the last six years if it wasn't for my wife working and supporting my goals and building this firm. Because I was able to, unlike most advisory firms, I was able to reinvest a large chunk of our revenue back into the firm and help fuel growth.
And one of the things out of the gates, and this isn't really the case anymore, but back in 2014, most advisor websites just sucked. Like, they were just terrible, right? And so it was just this low-hanging fruit where I could actually spend a little bit of money to design a better-looking website just to kind of initially stand out from my competition and just look a little bit different. So when somebody landed on my website and they were looking at a few other advisors, it just looked and felt a little bit different. And I was able just to easily stand out back then with just a really good-looking website. So that was one thing.
And then the other was just having online visibility. Unlike...we have some clients that are personal injury attorneys, and they have to spend $30,000 per month in Google paid ads just to stand out online and get visibility because there's so much competition in that space. But for us, San Diego is a highly competitive city. We have great firms. I sit smack in the middle of like two giant multibillion-dollar RIAs, but they don't really spend any money online to gain that visibility, which means just organically, just putting some effort and just like basic organic digital marketing strategies, I was able to become very, very visible in a very large, competitive city pretty quickly without spending a whole lot of money. I spent a lot of my money on just education and teaching myself these things rather than outsourcing a lot of it just because, again, I have this inherent passion for marketing. So yeah, that was kind of twofold there, just kind of building the online presence, building a website that really stood out, and then kind of, yeah, just going from there.
The other kind of big growth spurt that we're just seeing right now kind of after I was able to get over that growth barrier was getting really focused on exactly who we work with and who we do our best work with. That's just something that I've seen really work well. And in turn, it makes our marketing really easy when we only work with one single demographic. All of our clients look the same. But that was the other kind of big shift that we made. It was really, really, really hard, and I recognize in talking to so many advisors how challenging that is. I'd mentioned I grew up in the wirehouse world. My clients coming out of the wirehouse were...they all looked different. They were all over the place. They had all different-looking portfolios. I serviced them all differently. I was driving to their houses around town, like, it was a mess. So to get from there to where I'm at today has certainly taken a lot of work. But being able to just get really narrow and get really clear about who we do our best work with is working very, very well from a marketing perspective these days.
Michael: All right, so I've got a lot of questions there, but I actually just want to start for a moment with the last point that you made around focusing in clients and kind of this distinction between what you're doing now, like, "We work with those over age 50 who are gearing up for retirement. They need retirement and tax planning advice. That's who we work with." Versus what it was like in the large firm world of having lots of different clients all over the place, sort of maybe literally geographically and just in terms of their life stage, their careers, their business needs, their advice needs, which I feel like gets amplified in the traditional way we get brought into the business. Like, "Here's a suite of products, anybody you can find is willing to buy any of these things from you is a prospect." And the bigger the product quiver we get, the wider range of clients that we end out getting. Versus this more focused approach that you've taken of saying, "Well, I just want to go after one particular group because it makes my marketing easier and so much more focused when I'm just going after one group and trying to be awesome at them."
So I guess I'm...the first thing I'm wondering is just like, what led you to make that transition? Did you literally come at it from a marketing end of saying, "Geez, I've just got to pick one of these or I can't figure out how to market to all of them," or was there some other trigger for you to say, "Even though I've done it this way and I've accumulated a good-sized client base and several hundred thousand dollars of revenue, I can't keep going unless I take fewer of these and get more focused?"
Taylor: Yeah, it's a good question. So interestingly enough, I didn't come at it from a marketing angle. Like, I never was able to wrap my head around getting really narrow and niching down, being able to help and make my marketing easier. It seems so obvious now, but that's just not what happened. Again, in that like 2016, 2017, I was just stuck. I didn't know what to do. I remember telling my wife like, "I can't take on another client. I'm pulling my hair out over here." And she's like, "You're taking on more clients. You can't just stop here." And so, fortunately, I stumbled across Matthew Jarvis and Stephanie Bogan right around that time. I was in the first cohort for the Limitless Adviser Coaching program. And that gave me just this newfound clarity of just one, kind of acknowledging where I was at and why I was stuck, and then kind of coaching me through that process and teaching me, "Hey, if this is your goal..." My goal was to get to $100 million as quick as possible, "If that's your goal, here's a formula for success in order to do that." And just really kind of opened my eyes to kind of the "why" behind getting really specific about who we do our best work with, and then, more importantly, creating these systems and processes to properly service that target market, add a ton of value and just create a really good service model that allowed us to scale and grow.
And then kind of once I got to the other side of that, and we can talk through the really, really challenging conversations that I had to have with clients that weren't really a good fit, but once I got to the other side of that, it just kind of hit me, I'm like, "This makes my marketing so much easier." When you go to my homepage of my website now and it says, "We help people over the age of 50 plan for retirement," like, if you're under the age of 50, you're just...you're in the wrong place. And so nowadays, the people that come to us and schedule phone calls through our website, like, they are a very, very, very good fit. It just makes everything so much easier.
Michael: So help me understand more as you, like, hit this wall in 2016, 2017, a couple hundred thousand dollars of revenue but it's flatlining, "I don't have any more capacity. I can't take any more of this." And then your wife informed you that stopping wasn't an option. So like, what changed? What changed or what had to change in your business or in your mindset? What shifted? What was making you stuck that then made you unstuck once you had this aha moment?
Taylor: Well, like a lot of advisors, I never really had fully adopted a CRM system. I didn't have workflows, I didn't have processes. I don't have an operations mindset, like, I suck at that stuff. And so, that was a big part of all this. But the analogy that I often use, I play a lot of golf. And when you try to get better at golf and you take lessons, you'll often get worse before you get better. And that's kind of what had to happen. I had to go backwards before I could go forward again. And so there was a lot of cleaning up of the practice and kind of going backwards again, transitioning clients that weren't really a good fit, identifying who truly was a good fit, creating a service model, creating workflows and processes in order to service them properly and add value. And so it was just kind of going through this whole reorganization of the firm. And then the big one for me was taking the leap and hiring an office manager. Historically, I've been so bad at delegating. I'm your traditional, I want to do everything, nobody can do it as good as me, and just kind of letting go of some of these things.
And so just the reorganization, going backwards, transitioning out clients, getting really focused, hiring an office manager, and finally learning how to delegate, all those things, coupled with, again, niching down and getting really narrow really helped me get over that hump. And it just seems so clear and easy now, but I know, I talk to advisors all the time and how challenging it is when you're in that place. And I used all the same excuses I hear from other advisors, which is like, "Well, I love working with everybody. Such and such client doesn't really take up much of my time." I was saying all those things, but all those things were the reason why I wasn't able to grow and get over that hump. So it was just about 18 months of hitting pause, going backwards, having some really, really challenging conversations, making some really hard decisions, having some really good coaches on my side coaching me through it. And everything just seems so clear now. And today, we're just a well-oiled machine and ready to rock.
Michael: So help me understand more of like the hard decisions that you were facing. What were you working on that I guess like had to change or was hard to change or you couldn't decide if you wanted to change, that's what made it a hard decision?
The Mindset Changes Taylor Had To Make To Get Past A Growth Hurdle [19:38]
Taylor: Well, I think the hardest was the clients, right? Again, I started as an advisor at age 22. I had my parents as clients, my grandparents. I had my mother's friends, my...
Michael: Oh, like any good wirehouse recruit, you brought your natural market list.
Taylor: Oh, yeah, yeah. I started with mom's rolodex and worked through that. My biggest fear in this was these people who have trusted me for a really long time, and working out a plan to transition them in order to free up the capacity to kind of take the firm where I wanted to go. So I literally had to go through a process of firing my own mother and firing my grandfather and firing my mother-in-law's...
Michael: I was going to say like, did you literally have to fire your parents from the firm?
Taylor: I did. Not both of my parents, but I did. I had to go through a process of transitioning out my own grandfather, who was one of my first clients back in 2007. So it was those just really hard conversations. Like, I just hate letting people down, and so just that process was just a huge hurdle for me to get over. And so that was probably the hardest decision. It's also really hard to hire and find the right person. Again, just, I have a hard time delegating and letting go of things. I also have a hard time spending a lot of money on payroll. And so that was a really big decision in hiring Karen and bringing her on board, was a year and a half ago now. But again, having really good coaches on my side and coaching me through that process. Like, there's no way I could operate today without Karen. She is the glue of our firm. But that was a big decision for me. To go and put that on our payroll was a big one.
Michael: So first of all, like, just to be clear, why did mom have to be fired? Or I guess more generally, like, why did you have to fire this base of early clients? Was this like just clients not sizable enough to service in your firm? People who weren't a fit for this "I want to focus on retirees over age 50?" Why did you have to do all these client transitions?
Taylor: Yeah. So we drew a line in the sand. Again, as hard as that is, we drew a line in the sand. I said, "We're going to focus on people over the age of 50, focus on retirement planning, $1 million or more, set a minimum fee of $7,500 per year." And yeah, and so everyone who didn't fall into that. We had some awesome young professional clients that are in their 30s and 40s, some of which had millions of dollars and were fantastic people and fantastic clients that just didn't fit. And again, those are really hard conversations to have, but I learned, and I'm doing a disservice to those clients. Like the needs and goals of a 30-year-old, a millionaire 30-year-old are wildly different than a 60-year-old gearing up for retirement. We just couldn't do it all. So the folks that I had...
Michael: Even at people that have $1 million-plus and are paying you many thousands of dollars of fees?
Taylor: Totally. They have a totally different set of needs and goals. My 30-year-old millionaire clients are buying companies, selling companies. They're moving across the country, they're moving out of the country, they're getting married, like, there's so many life changes happening, it's just you can't...it's just not who we were doing our best work with, and again, just wildly different needs and goals than somebody in their 50s and 60s. And so I just kind of had to make this business decision. And at the time, I'd say about a third of our clients were these high-earning young professionals, your HENRYs, and two-thirds were your retiree baby boomer-type clients. And so I just kind of had to take a hard look at the practice and decide, "Who do I really do my best work with? Who do I enjoy working with?" I'm kind of an old soul. I've always just worked really well with an older demographic. I was always that young guy that's in the corner at my parents' party talking to their friends, and just, I always just really enjoyed those conversations. And so, yeah, as hard as it was, I just had some really challenging conversations with those people.
In the end, it actually all worked out very, very well. They weren't as challenging as I had thought. I went through a really detailed process. I didn't just kick them to the curb or anything like that. I actually transitioned most of them to another firm here in town that strictly works with that demographic. And in the end, I think we're all in a better place. Like, they're getting better service. They have an advisor that specializes in their exact demographic, and I'm able to get really focused on who we work with.
Michael: And out of curiosity, did you just like literally walk away from them and refer them out? Did you actually do this as like a partial business sale and sell off a portion of the client base? How did you transition away from what it sounds like was a non-trivial amount of actual revenue on the table, particularly as you're staring down hiring and payroll?
Taylor: Yeah, so a few of these clients were very, very good clients, very profitable clients, and fit a certain demographic. And for those clients, we did sell them to another firm in town. It really wasn't about the money for me necessarily, but I wanted to make sure that they got in good hands. And just the other firm that I'd spoken to, we just kind of agreed that this is the way we'd go about that process. But it really was only, I don't know, three or four households that we did that with. Most of them we just kind of went through this process of identifying what their needs were, who was a good fit. For some of them, it was just going to retail and kind of self-managing their accounts. But for others, we just provided kind of a list of a few different advisors that they might consider, helping them make that transition, and kept it really simple and easy.
Michael: And all of this basically drove around the idea of, "The reason I've hit this wall at $250,000 of revenue is there's just too many different clients that have too many different needs at once. The only way I'm going to get my head above water again is I've got to just pick one type I'm going to be awesome at because then I can do the same consistent thing, and this will make my life easier?"
Taylor: Yep, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I think that...you summarized it really well.
Michael: And then talk to me about the hiring end of this. You said like the other challenge was, "I'm not one for delegating. I don't like taking on payroll." But you did. So what changed? What led to that change or transition? How did you get over that hump that is I think still a challenge for a lot of us?
Taylor: Yeah, I guess just knowing that if I wanted to reach certain goals, we were going to need somebody in the firm to help with certain things. And I guess I was just learning that...taking note of the things that I'm really good at and that I enjoy doing, and how can I spend more of my time doing those things each and every day? There was just no other way around it other than to delegate. Like me answering the phones all day and processing paperwork and applications and opening new accounts and dealing with our service team, while also managing portfolios for clients and doing all the financial planning, like, it's just a lot. You just get to this point where you cannot do it all. I know you've talked about this, and I try to talk about it more with advisors just because I don't think it's talked about enough. But there's a giant difference between being a financial planner all day long and being a CEO. And you can do both for a certain amount of time, but then you just kind of come to this crossroads where you're just going to be pulling your hair out, and you're going to be working 15 hours a day, or you're just going to get stuck and you're not going to be able to grow. And so once that was just kind of brought to the surface for me, again, mostly through the Limitless Adviser program with Matt and Stephanie, it was just kind of a no-brainer to make that move.
I will say developing a hiring process is one of the things that really helped for me. And I'll just share something that worked really well for us. If anybody's out there looking to hire, whether it's a financial planner or an admin role, but we created a job description, and I'm happy to share it, Michael, if you want to share with everybody, but we created, much like my website back in 2014 when everybody else's websites looked terrible and I created one to look very, very nice, we did the same thing with our job description. We put a lot of time and effort into making it look really nice, really different, really stand out from every other job description you've ever seen, and then marketing that job description much differently than you might think. So instead of posting it on...I don't even know what you post it on these days, Indeed or Monster or LinkedIn or whatever, we skipped all of that, and we actually put the job description on Nextdoor. Nextdoor is that social media app for all the different neighborhoods.
Michael: Yeah, yeah, for neighborhoods. Okay.
Taylor: Yeah. And so we kind of wrote a post and posted the description or posted the job description as a PDF on Nextdoor. We had some people that we know share it in some different neighborhoods around San Diego. And that's how we found Karen. She wasn't even looking for a job. She worked for a competitor, and she saw it and it jumped out to her. A friend of hers shared it with her and we got matched up and it was perfect. So a nice little trick there. I think Nextdoor is just an underutilized place if you're in the market for hiring.
Michael: Very cool. Out of curiosity, do you still have the job description around? Are you willing to share it? I think some people will be just curious like, "What does a unique PDF job description look like?"
Taylor: Yeah, I'll share it with you. I have the PDF still. I share with people all the time. In addition to the basics of like, here's the job description and the amount, the benefits and the pay and all that, I have a little thumbnail there that's clickable that goes to a video, like a one and a half minute brand video. And it's just me talking and sharing my story of how I started this firm and my background. So that job applicant could just see who I am. It's just like a really creative piece to add to it. Again, it just looks very, very different than most job applications or descriptions you would see.
Michael: Very cool. Very cool. Well, we'll post to the site for those who want to take a look. This is episode 189. So if you go to kitces.com/189, we'll have a link up for the job description if you're looking for inspiration on how to hire a little bit differently to get...I guess to get different talent. It's an interesting point that you made, Taylor, that like, you got a great person who wasn't actually looking. Because if they're looking, they're on LinkedIn and Indeed and all the rest, if they're not looking, they're not going to be there to see it in the first place, but they might be on their neighborhood app. And once someone says like, "Hey, this is really cool, you might like it, you should check it out," you can get even someone who wasn't looking to suddenly be looking. And so how did you get comfortable with the actual, "Oh, I've hired an office manager, I guess I actually have to delegate and let her do things now?"
Taylor: Yeah, still one of the hardest things for me is to delegate. Even right now, I'm bringing on a virtual assistant. And it's just so painful for me to bring that person on and train them and start to hand off these tasks. Like, I still have this limiting belief that I'm the only one that can do these things. So it's really challenging. But I think for Karen, it was much easier because I was so happy to have found such a high-quality person with experience, not just experience in our industry, but she also had experience working with Fidelity, who is our custodian. And I just, like, I felt like I found this needle in a haystack. And I didn't want to lose her. So I had this motivation of making sure that she had enough work and she was energized and excited to come to work every day. She had stuff to do. I didn't want her sitting around twiddling her thumbs. And so that was the motivation that I needed. If I'm going to pay this person, I want to keep this person, I better really invest time and energy and even money actually in some situations in order to keep her and delegate tasks to her.
So yeah, so one of the things that we did in the very beginning was, and this came from Matthew Jarvis, I believe, and his team, is she went to...I sent and paid her to go to the Ritz-Carlton customer service training program as a way for her to develop her customer service skills and just, yeah, work on herself. And I didn't...it wasn't something that I forced her to go and do. I just asked her if it'd be something that she was interested in and she jumped up and went and did it. And just a really...
Michael: So Ritz-Carlton has a training program for how you do the amazing customer service experience that they're known to do.
Taylor: Exactly. They have a whole playbook that they run inside their organization. And they share that with other people through this very expensive training program. I want to say it's, I don't know, $5,000 or $6,000 for a couple of days. Plus you have to pay for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, of course. But it's a way for me...
Michael: Where else would you host it?
Taylor: Of course.
Taylor: Yeah. But just a way, again, to just invest in her and invest in the development of the office manager role. And it was a big focus of mine the last kind of year or so, is to improve our client experience and customer service. So, yeah, so just having her and knowing how high of a quality of a person she was and how lucky we were to have her is just motivation enough to make sure that we kept her and that we're...I was delegating things to her. And again, my whole thing every single day, still to this day, it's like, "What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing? How can I do more of that every day?" So every day, I have a little journal on my desk, and if I'm doing something I know I should not be doing, I write it down. And I revisit that on a weekly basis, figure, "Okay, how can I delegate this to somebody who's good at it, who's actually good at it and actually enjoys doing it?" So it's a process that I regularly go through now.
Michael: And that's how you like on an ongoing basis figure out, "What am I delegating and how am I going to get this off my plate?"
Taylor: Exactly. Yeah. Just recently, I noticed that...again, you don't even notice these things, right? You just fly through your day and you're just doing it because you've always done it. And you're the owner of the firm, and this is just how it's always been. But processing payroll, right? It's so simple. Like, we don't have...I only have one W-2 employee. It's not a complicated process, but one day I'm like, "Why am I..." We use Gusto payroll. I'm like, "Why am I in Gusto right now doing this and trying to figure this out?" Just one of those things that went on that list, worked with Karen to get her trained and now handed that task off to her. So now she manages all of our Gusto payroll and paying our independent contractors and paying our bills. And now she's actually in our QuickBooks and helping our bookkeeper and taxes. So just little things that just you don't think take up a lot of time, but for me, it's almost less about the time these days and more about the energy that I gain or lose from doing that task. Like, I just want to be doing the things that I'm good at and I really enjoy doing. I want to walk away with energy, not being drained by this stuff.
Michael: Interesting. Interesting. And so the write-down journal just becomes a running list anytime you're in the middle of something saying like, "I don't know that I'm actually enjoying this. And I could probably train someone else to do it. So this is going to be the last time I do it."
Taylor: Yeah, it's a great exercise. It came from Stephanie Bogan. She uses this term "above the line" or "below the line." She's like, "Every time that you feel like you're below the line, meaning you know you shouldn't be doing something or it's draining your energy, you're walking away with a headache, whatever it is, write it down. And on the flip side, anything that you enjoy doing, you're having so much fun with, again, energy-gaining, write that down." And is funny is you start to notice a pattern in all these things. And just writing it down becomes real life, and again, just gives me the motivation I need to delegate.
Michael: And I'm going to imagine it's one of those like, the more you do it, the more you do it? Like, as you got used to letting go of some things, it kind of gets easier for the subsequent ones?
Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. But again, I'll acknowledge, it's still a weakness of mine. I have a hard time letting go of things. I'm kind of a control freak. I am a perfectionist in a lot of different ways, and just kind of getting over that somebody may not do it the exact way I want them to do it, but just helping us, again, reach our goals and stay focused on the things that I'm good at and I enjoy doing. And I think if everybody does that and stays in their lane on our team, like, we're going to be much more successful. Our clients are going to benefit. They're going to get much better service, and it's just a better path going forward.
Michael: So talk to us a little bit more about this process that you said you had early on of like trying to build a good quality website, trying to get some visibility to get marketing going once you had gone out on your own. So I guess just starting even at the website, which I feel like is a pain for a lot of advisors. So like, did you literally build your own website and learned how to do that? Did you hire someone in order to do it? And if so, like, who did you hire or how did you find a way to make a website that doesn't look like almost every other website that as you noted are usually not very differentiated or just look the same as everybody else?
The Iterative Process Taylor Took To Build A Website That Generates Organic Firm Growth [35:55]
Taylor: Yeah. So I've made a lot of mistakes along the way, and that's why I started the "Experiments in Advisor Marketing" podcast. I wanted to share with everybody what's worked, what hasn't worked, what are the mistakes I've made to, hopefully, so others can learn from these mistakes. And I don't want to call this a mistake, but kind of knowing what I know now, I'm not sure I would do the same thing. But out of the gates in 2014, I hired a local kind of branding website agency. And I wrote them a check for $12,000 to help me bring this website and idea to life, to help kind of come up with the firm name and the logo and the color schemes and just everything, like, this huge, massive branding package. And again, I just didn't really know any better. And I was committed to spending money to grow the firm and do things a little bit differently.
So yes, out of the gates, I spent a lot of money to build the website. Since then, we've gone through a lot of different iterations. I've bounced around through a couple different agencies. But it still started with pouring good amount of money into building the website, building that foundation for the future, which has been really important. We haven't gotten there yet, but, I don't know the exact number, I just say at least 75% of our new clients come directly through our website organically. They find us, they self-schedule appointments with us. And that's how we grow these days. Like, our website is literally like our marketing machine. And without it, we just...we wouldn't be growing at the rate we are.
Michael: All right, I want to come back in a few minutes to kind of "75% of our new clients are coming to us organically through the website," but just this process of like finding someone to...finding a local branding, a website agency. I'm sort of drawing from your tone of how you're talking about them, that you felt like maybe you spent a little bit more than you should have, or didn't get the results out of it that you would have liked for the $12,000 that you spent. So I guess help me understand A, like, why the leap into $12,000 on a branding, marketing agency, and not some alternative lower-cost option for standing up a website? And what led you to or how did you pick the folks that you picked?
Taylor: Yeah, I just didn't know any better. I didn't really have anybody guiding me here. I was on my own little journey now I had my own firm. Again, I was committed to actually spending money on my firm. And spending money on my firm I thought that was hiring this fancy agency to help me put this together. But I did take it seriously. I interviewed a number of different agencies here in San Diego, kind of narrowed it down to this one group. It was just a small team of three, really fun, creative people. I didn't go through a super lengthy process. There were quotes that I was getting for $25,000-plus, and some quotes, I guess, were a little bit less. So I just kind of picked one that was in the middle and chose an agency with some people that I felt like I had a good relationship with and could get along with. And it was a lot of fun. We actually had a lot of fun going through that process. Every week we'd get together and go to the local pizza shop, have some craft beers and just get really creative and come up with different ideas for the firm and for the website.
One of the things that they helped come up with that still lives on my website today, although it's gone through a few different kind of graphic design iterations, but on our homepage, about two-thirds of the way down underneath my bio, there's these clever little icons with a little description about the name of my dog and my favorite golf course and my favorite restaurant, and then there's little blurbs that we tie back to finance and financial terms. And so that's something that's been on my website since day one that they kind of helped come up with. And it's still, to this day, is one of those things that most people comment on when they reference my website. So we just had a lot of fun going through that creative process. But in hindsight, I just don't think I was ready to go through that process. Like I just didn't know what I wanted my firm to look like, who our ideal client was, what our process was going to be. What happened if somebody lands on our website and they want to work with you, what are they going to do? I just didn't have any of that nailed down.
I talk a lot on the podcast about how I think us advisors, we tend to get ahead of ourselves. We think like we have to go and... I want to start a podcast. So I'm going to go spend $5,000 on a podcast launch package. That's another mistake that I made. I probably shouldn't have done that without first recording a few episodes into a microphone, which costs close to nothing, when all of us have an iPhone in our pocket. And so that was just a mistake I made. I think I was just jumping ahead a little bit thinking that money would maybe solve my problem or help me get to where I want to get. And in hindsight, just it wasn't necessary. Now, today, gosh, I have no problem spending $12,000 on my website knowing exactly what we needed to do, what our processes are, what exactly we want somebody to do when they land on our website. Like, I'm so clear on all of that. I don't mind spending money. But I think I was just getting ahead of myself back then.
Michael: It's an interesting distinction that sometimes we're not happy with the results, so there's kind of this almost literally like, "I'm going to throw some money at this to try to solve it." At the end of the day, the real problem is we're not actually clear on where we're trying to get in the first place. And if we're not really clear on where we're trying to get, then the reality is throwing dollars at it usually doesn't really actually help solve the problem because you'll hire an expert to come in and help you achieve whatever it is you're visioning. And the truth is you don't actually have clarity on what you're visioning. So they may not really know what it takes to get you there. But when you have the clarity, then going back and saying, "Hey, I want to spend on this or that" suddenly makes it so much easier and more straightforward because now I actually know what I'm shooting for.
Taylor: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it becomes so much easier. You'll have so much more success. Again, I think it's just really easy for all of us to get ahead of ourselves. I always say like, start...you have to do the hard work first. If starting a firm and building a website just seems really fun and easy, and there's no friction at all, and you're just having a good time, you're probably doing it all wrong. Like, when you go and start your firm, build your website and build your initial marketing funnels and strategies, it should be a lot of work. It should be really, really, really challenging. You should be working on those workflows and those processes and doing all the hard work behind the scenes first. And then once that's nailed down, then you get to do all the fun stuff and kind of bring it to life and build the landing pages and the logos and choose the colors, but just a lot of times we do things backwards. Again, I think the podcast is a good example. Like, "I want to start a podcast. I'm going to go spend $5,000 on a launch package." It's like, why don't you just record a few episodes into your phone, see if you even like podcasting, to begin with, see if you're even good at it and get some traction, and then you can go and spend some money and throw some gasoline on the fire.
Michael: I feel like the fear for so many of us is, well, I don't want to do it and put it out there and have it be crappy, have it be unprofessional. To me, part of the pressure, it's not just like, "Oh, I have an idea for a thing, so let's throw a bunch of money at it and do it," but, well, I don't want to just do it and have it be not good and then have it not reflect well on me. I've got to spend some money to make sure it's polished out of the gate. Is it just not a good way of thinking about it?
Taylor: I think that's fair. I think that's fair for certain things. You don't have to go spend $12,000 to have a good-looking website. My personal website, taylorschulte.com, I built for $200. I don't think you'd go there and say it looks unprofessional. It cost me $200, though. So you can build something that looks nice, especially a website that's your storefront. I'm not saying to go spend $200, but you could probably spend a couple thousand dollars and have something that looks really nice. But again, I just think you need to do the hard work first before really bringing some of this stuff to life and really spending a lot of money on it. Money is not going to solve the problem for sure.
Michael: And the hard work meaning, find a way to try it and do it for a bit and make sure...see if it works, if you get any traction, if you like it, like, whatever the marketing strategy is. And if it works and you like it and it's going well, by all means, like, roll out the money and start spending and amplifying and scaling it up.
Taylor: Yeah. You see a lot of great content creators go the same path when they're exploring a new medium or whatnot. Like, in the beginning, they're using their iPhone or using a cheap microphone or whatever it might be, like, it just doesn't look that great. But the content, as you know, matters more than anything. And so once they get rolling and like, "All right, this is a channel I really want to pour some money into, take the next level," then they can do that. But I think a lot of us, again, going back to the podcast world, the first question I get from people is like, "What equipment should I buy?" And I'm like, "Do you have an iPhone in your pocket? Why don't we just start there?" So yeah, I just think we have to be careful about some of the shiny objects out of the gate. Really prove to ourselves that it's something that we enjoy, something that we're good at, something that we can stay committed to before we go spend thousands of dollars on it.
Michael: So for our advisors who maybe still struggle with this, like just, "Okay, but how do I actually get a good, decent-looking website and pick a provider who will do a decent job?" like, is there a go-to person or provider at this point for you? It seems like you've gone the spectrum from, you stood up your personal brand website for 200 bucks, you stood up your firm's website for $12,000. Like, what should we be spending and where should we be going to try to find someone that does this appropriately?
Taylor: Sure, yeah. So I work with a company out here in San Diego called TinyFrog. So they took over from the last agency about three years ago. Candidly, if I add everything up that I've spent with TinyFrog and the previous agency, I've spent over $50,000 on my website easily. I'm regularly spending a couple thousand dollars here and there on little projects to improve certain aspects of the website. Again, I have no problem investing in our website today with the clarity that we have. TinyFrog is a great agency. I've looped them in with a ton of advisors around the country. They do a really good job. I don't want to quote them, but I feel like for $5,000 to $7,000, you can get a pretty good-looking website up and running, get that really good foundation going, and then you can build from there.
On the flip side, like I said, my personal website, I use a company called StudioPress. It's kind of a DIY service to build your own website. It's built on the Genesis Framework, which you might know is just a really good framework and foundation for building a website. Really fast, really easy to use, really user-friendly. So you basically install the Genesis Framework on WordPress, pick a theme, pick a template, get that installed, and then you're kind of on your way. So you are kind of restricted to a certain theme, but for, again, a couple hundred bucks, it looks pretty darn good and you save a lot of money. So for a lot of us, we can just start there, build a good foundation, get clear on really what we're trying to do, and then hire additional experts from there.
Michael: And I am struck just as you're talking through this that at no point are you mentioning, like, I guess just call them like industry advisor website providers. This is all like local agencies, local designers, local providers. Is that just a, you like to buy local and work with local, or is there something else to the dynamic of you prefer website designers not in our industry to providers and folks that are in our industry?
Taylor: That's a really good question. So yeah, so out of the gates in 2014, when I was looking for expert help in the marketing and branding arena, I was specifically looking for somebody who had never worked with a financial advisor before. I wanted them to look at this from a whole different angle, through a whole different lens. I wanted it to look and feel different. So that's what I did. Now, today, that's not really the case. Again, TinyFrog works with advisors all over the country now. But yeah, I've always tried to do it. And still today in how I learn and grow from a marketing perspective, at least once a year, at least pre-COVID, at least once a year, I would commit to going to a conference where no other financial advisor was there. I wanted to go somewhere and just learn from a totally different perspective. And so I'm always trying to read things that advisors might not be reading, just really think outside the box. And I've done that in hiring contractors and web agencies and all that stuff.
Not a knock on any of those companies that do focus on advisors. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But, again, I just wanted to take a totally different creative approach and have somebody look at it through a different lens. Now, that's worked for me, and it's also worked against me because there are certain instances where I hired a Facebook ad expert who had not really had any experience in working with a financial advisory firm, didn't really understand the sales cycle of a high-net-worth retiree, and we wasted a lot of money there. So I think there are certain circumstances where hiring somebody who has experience in working with financial advisors can really benefit you.
Michael: You're talking about the Facebook advertiser from outside of the industry, in my head I'm just thinking like, please don't say they did the testimonials campaign. Please don't say they did the testimonials campaign.
Taylor: No, no, no, no. No, it's just, again, the sales cycle of a fee-only financial planning firm looks much different than somebody selling a book or a course, or even an insurance agent that's selling transactional insurance. It's just a totally different sales cycle, and the lack of understanding there really worked against us and caused us to waste a lot of money.
Michael: And so out of curiosity, what drove you in the direction of...? Well, I guess I should say this way, what do you view that makes an advisor website good and unique that's distinct from the traditional advisor website that you're not such a fan of?
Taylor: Yeah, I think most advisors these days have great-looking websites, right? From a design perspective. Everybody has hired somebody, they've spent some money. Most advisors have great-looking websites these days. My critique these days is I think most advisors have too many things going on on their website. They have call to action buttons everywhere, they have "sign up here," they have "learn more," they have "click here" and "about us" and "contact us," there's just way too much going on. So nowadays, I think getting, again, really clear. I think one of the most wasted spaces on a website is the hero image area, which is that...when you go to a website, that very first image that you see at the top, and the content over the hero image, the hero text, that's the first thing that somebody is going to see. And it should be crystal clear. You've probably heard this statistic before, but a consumer might spend five to seven seconds on your website before they hit the back button. And so just getting really clear on exactly what you do and who you do it for, and then the rest of the homepage and the rest of the website really cleaned up and really reducing the number of things that you want the consumer to do.
And I talk a lot about how you could have the best marketing strategies in the world, you could have the most SEO-optimized website in the world, you could have tens of thousands of people landing on your website, but if you don't have a clear path for them to take, if they don't know exactly what to do when they get to your website, you could have just like tons of wasted opportunities. So you really have to think about the journey of the consumer, and when they land on your website, what do you want them to do? And if they do that thing, what does that process look like? What's the first step? What's the second step? What's the third step? And that's the hard part, right? Most advisors don't have that process nailed down. They don't really know what they want the person to do, or they work with multiple demographics, and every process looks a little bit differently. So that's where it gets challenging. But I think, yeah, these days, most advisors just have too many things going on on their website, and can really benefit from cleaning things up and getting really narrow.
Michael: So now talk to us as well, you said early on you kind of had this sort of two-step process of like, "I've got to build a good website so that if I can get people to show up, they will see it, they will be interested, they will feel compelled to contact us, we'll have an opportunity for doing business with them." So you put a big spend towards the design of the site and the brand. And then you said the second part was, then you put a big focus on getting visibility so you could get found or the website can get found. So talk to us more about the visibility stage. Because, as I think you noted earlier, even for some of us that put some time into our website or some kind of content we're marketing, whether blog, podcast, e-book, whatever it is were not always created at actually getting the visibility and the distribution part to get it out there once we made the thing. So, what was the visibility approach for you? How did you tackle this?
How Taylor Increased The “Visibility” Of His Website By Focusing On Local SEO [52:23]
Taylor: Yeah. So again, going back to my example of the personal injury attorney who has to spend $30,000 a month just to stand out from their competitors, the good news for every advisor listening to this is, you don't really have to do a whole lot to stand out online. Not yet. Like, it's getting maybe harder and harder by the day, but it's still not that challenging. And so one of the things that I spent a lot of time on was improving our local SEO. So when a consumer here in San Diego went to Google and typed in or types in "financial planner San Diego" or "financial advisor San Diego," we show up in the search rankings on page one of Google. So we have that visibility.
And the good thing, again, is it's really not that challenging. There's no real magic to SEO or local SEO. Like, Google just wants to know who you are and what you do and maybe who you do it for. And Google gives us that playbook. And they tell us what they want from us and how to help them connect the dots. It's just most of us, most advisors just fail to do that. So there's just some really, really basic things that you can do from an SEO level to tell Google what you're all about so that when a consumer goes to Google and says, "I'm looking for a financial advisor in San Diego," your firm shows up. And again, I told you I'm surrounded by very successful multibillion-dollar firms that don't show up anywhere on page one or page two of Google. So it just didn't take long in order to gain that visibility.
I guess I should also say I made a big push in kind of the PR and the media space responding to a lot of media quotes, just trying to kind of quickly build some visibility, not just locally, but nationally as well, just again, when we were a no-name brand and company that just showed up. And so trying to get some credibility that way was certainly helpful. But yeah, there's just some like really basic, basic local SEO, or just SEO stuff that you can do to your website to just tell Google who you are and what you do. And most people just fail to do that simple step.
Michael: So can you talk a little about just what some of those things were? Like, what did you do that turned on the magic juice?
Taylor: Yeah. So there's a great free tool out there that I think most people know about, at least I hope they do at this point, called Yoast SEO. And it's just a plugin that you can install on your website and it'll guide you through some of these basics. And again, one of the basics, 99% of advisor websites I go look up don't have this basic thing nailed down, which is adding a correct meta title and meta description to your website. So when you Google "Define Financial," the name of my firm, for instance, you'll see the title of my site isn't just "Define Financial," but it's "Define Financial-Certified Financial Planner San Diego." So I've included my target keyword, "financial planner San Diego," in that site title. So I'm telling Google, "Here's the name of our firm, but we're also, just to clarify, we're financial planners in San Diego." So that site title is so, so, so important. And most advisor websites I see and I go look up, it'll just say the firm name and it won't say anything else. Or in some cases, it'll just say something like "homepage," right? It won't even have the firm name. And it's just this really simple thing that you can go and do on the backend of your WordPress to again, just help Google connect the dots. And you can take it one...
Michael: And I think they're not even just sort of what you are, but you kind of worked in like, "We're a fee-only financial planning firm in San Diego," because there are people who may literally type "fee-only financial planner San Diego" if that's what they're looking for. So you want to own that for however many people type that in. It's a big city, you only need a few people to type in and come to your website to actually get some good flow of finds.
Taylor: Yep, yep, that's correct. Yeah. So you have that site title that you can manipulate, and then you have the description, the website description. They call it the meta description. And again, it's just a couple of sentences further explaining what you do and who you do it for, and trying to capture some of those keywords. And again, there's no like magic formula here. It's just Google wants to know who we are so that when a consumer is searching, they can put us there. Now, in a more competitive industry, there are some more challenges to work through and some more advanced techniques you can take advantage of, but for us, it was just the really simple, basic SEO stuff that really worked well out of the gates.
And the beauty of this is that when a consumer goes to Google and types in "financial advisor San Diego," that means like they're actively looking for an advisor. They're going to Google on their own saying, "I'm looking for a financial advisor in San Diego," and they see our website and they click on it, and then our website has a really clear journey for them to take. It's just like it makes it so much easier than me spending money on Facebook ads, putting it in front of people that may or may not be looking for an advisor. And so I know through some research that about 200 people per month are going to Google here in San Diego typing in "financial advisor San Diego" or "financial planner San Diego," or some iteration of that. To have 200 people per month, which maybe doesn't sound like a big number, but to me, that's plenty. And in turn, it leads to these days, because we have a higher minimum these days and we've gotten really narrow with our demographic, we get about one person per week that self-schedules an introductory phone call through our website. And they may not come just from organic Google search. There are some other marketing channels that we take part in, but that's certainly a big one. And again, it's just low-hanging fruit that most people fail to take advantage of.
Michael: Get Yoast SEO installed because it prompts you around things like, "Do you have a meta title and a meta description for your website and your homepage?" Are there sort of other low-hanging fruit areas in the world of local SEO that you focused on or that you encourage other advisors to be paying some attention to?
Taylor: Yeah, I think another easy one or a couple other easy ones are one, most people have claimed their Google My Business page. They keep changing the name of it, but I think it's...Google My Business is what they call it now. Claiming that page for your business and then optimizing that as well. So there's some different categories that you can choose for your business. And you can choose multiple categories, which most people don't know about. So you can put "financial planner," you can also add "financial advisor," you can also add "investment consultant" and a few other ones. So complete that Google My Business profile, add those keywords into there. Also, you can add images to your Google My Business profile. So take some nice pictures of your office, inside your office, outside your office, your team. You can title those images to include some of those keywords like "financial planner San Diego." So if I upload a photo of our office building to Google My Business, I'll name that file "financial advisor San Diego office," right? So I kind of slipped that keyword into the image title. I don't know if there's any like real data that says it's going to magically help us in terms of SEO, but I think just as much as you can do to, again, help Google connect the dots. And nothing stopping you from doing it seems like a no-brainer.
So claim that profile, get that thing optimized, get it updated, make sure all the information is relevant. I'm happy to dig into it if you want, but you can start to work on getting clients to leave reviews for you, which I know is kind of...you're walking a fine line there from a compliance perspective, but I can talk about how we approach it, or it's something that we're currently approaching right now.
Michael: Yeah, how do you approach it? I know for a lot of advisors, a lot of appeal to having clients leave favorable reviews, whether it's a Google My Business page, Yelp reviews as well, we still have this fine line of not soliciting referrals. The SEC has been clear like, look, if a client of their own volition leaves a review on a third-party website that you didn't create and it's not under your control, like, people are going to talk. You can't stop them from that nor are you in trouble for that. But that's still a fine line about like, "Well, how do I get them there? Can I get them to the site and then they just kind of figure out to leave their own review there?" How do you actually handle that in practice?
Taylor: Yeah. So obviously, a big disclaimer here, right? Like, go talk to your attorney and your compliance department. But this is what we've been advised, which is, as long as you ask everyone and you're not cherry-picking your favorite client, asking them to leave a review, as long as you ask everybody to leave an honest review online, you're covering your bases there. We can't manipulate what they say or what they do. We can't delete and control any of those reviews.
So every single quarter, when our quarterly reports go out to our clients, they get an email from us. It says, "Hey, client, your quarterly report is in your client vault." We use eMoney. Our entire life lives in eMoney. So it just goes straight to their client vault in eMoney. So, "Hey, your quarterly report is in your client vault, go check it out, let us know if you have any questions." And then what we've done in the most recent quarter is I added a couple paragraphs saying, "We really appreciate your trust and support." Something about like, "We lead with transparency, and on that, we'd love you to share your experience with other people online. Click here to leave an honest review of your experience in working with our firm." And so that goes out to all of our clients, right? We're not cherry-picking any of them, and they can decide whether they want to leave a review or not and what they say. So it's kind of a new venture for us. As you'll see on Google, we don't really have a lot of reviews, but it does help from an SEO perspective, so something that we certainly want to work on.
Michael: So are there any other major areas to be cognizant of in this world of local SEO? Yoast SEO for meta title, meta description, claim your Google My Business page, nudging clients to leave reviews, as long as you do it broadly for all of them in a consistent manner.
Taylor: Yeah. So I look at this...I look at our marketing activities like this marketing wheel, like, we want to do six or seven things really well, really consistently, and they all kind of work together to help us reach our growth goals. And so there's a lot of them that people have heard of, like creating high-quality content, right? And so we have a blog on the firm website. And at least every month, we're writing a high-quality blog post that's also optimized for SEO. And so we're keeping that up to date. And that certainly helps. We have a few blog posts that rank very, very high for some very big keywords. And so that helps with traffic to the website. And again, going back to our other conversation about having a process, we don't just write these blog posts and just throw them up there. We actually have a workflow, a process for how these blog posts get created. And it goes from one person to another person to another person to make sure that things are correctly optimized, that it's a high-quality piece of content, that it matches up with our firm and our philosophy and everything. Like, it is a buttoned-up process that every piece of content goes through. And I think you're a good testament to that as well. I know you guys have a process behind the scenes. So we take that really seriously. And we've worked really hard to build up the blog and build up credibility that way.
I'll say one thing on the blog, the world of SEO has changed quite a bit. It used to be frequency and quantity mattered most, right? If you just blogged every single day, just wrote something every single day, Google would reward you for that. These days it's more about quality than quantity. So you could literally have just 10 or 5 of the very best pieces on retirement planning or Roth conversions or whatever it is, just like five of the very best pieces of content on that specific topic, and Google will heavily reward you for that. And so what we've done recently is we've gone through a lot of our blog posts, and we've consolidated them. For instance, we had a few blog posts on cybersecurity, credit freezes, credit scores, and so we consolidated those into one giant piece on how to stay safe online, how to freeze your credit, what your credit score is, how to check it. And now it's just like one giant awesome piece on all those things. So that's one thing you can do too, is if you have been blogging for a while and you haven't had a lot of success, is you can go through kind of a blog clean-up process. And that's something that we delegated to a professional writer to help us do that and consolidate that content. And that's what really helped a lot.
Michael: And then you said you made a big push into the PR space as well. So like, what was the strategy there? How did you get PR opportunities? What was the path for you?
Taylor: Yeah, so initially, again, I wouldn't call it a mistake because it actually worked pretty well for me. I did hire a PR consultant. I found a woman that was leaving a large firm and starting her own firm, so I got a pretty good deal on her services. But again, I just felt like here I am, this no-name firm in a big city. I wanted to get some visibility and get some credibility. And so she really helped do that for me out of the gates, lined up some really good interviews, some guest contributions to some local newspapers. I got a writing gig with a local newspaper out of that and was able to build some relationships with journalists through that that I still work with today. So again, I don't know that it was really necessary, but it definitely helped give me a head start out of the gates. I only used her for about 12 months. And then again, I kind of realized I can just do this on my own. I can reach out to reporters, and I can kind of pitch myself on to different radio shows or podcasts or whatever else. But I did work with her for about 12 months. And then nowadays, yeah, I've got a handful of journalists that I work with that will reach out. So we're regularly trying to stay up to date.
One of the things that we have on our website is a press page. We try to keep that up to date. I think one of the worst things you could do is have a press page that hasn't been updated since 2017 or something. And so if you are going to have a press page, make sure it's something you keep updated. And so nowadays, we just respond to media queries from FPA, from NAPFA, from XYPN, and just try to kind of stay online and get some visibility. So, yeah, so that certainly has been helpful.
Michael: Interesting. And so curious, like, what did you spend and invest into a PR consultants as you were getting going?
Taylor: Yeah, I paid $2,000 per month for 12 months. And that's probably a fraction of what you'd pay if you went to a professional PR firm. But again, I was lucky, found someone who was leaving a large firm, was willing to do it at, let's call it discounted rate. And yeah, I learned a lot about a PR in the world of media and how it works and media training and how to prepare and how to talk to reporters. And so it was certainly really helpful. Did I need to go and spend $24,000 to do it? Probably not. But again, just one of the mistakes I made of thinking I could just go spend money on something to solve my problem.
Michael: And so, in retrospect, would you have done it differently or just, "Glad I spent $24,000 for the learning process, I just didn't need to re-amp it because at that point I felt I had traction?"
Taylor: I think I got lucky. I think I was able to find a very high-quality, experienced PR expert to help me at what I think is a fair price. But that's not easy to find. I think most people can benefit from doing this on their own. And again, it gets much easier if you have a niche or a target demographic that you work with. We only work with retirees these days. So I know where retirees live, what they read, what publications they read, and so now I can kind of zone in on those publications. And it doesn't really...I don't need to be featured everywhere, right? Like I can write for "Kiplinger," I've got a journalist that works with "AARP." And so it just becomes much easier when you have a really narrow niche. But yeah, I think with all the opportunities out there, again, through what you guys have done with XYPN, the FPA has a media query service that a lot of people don't know about. You have to go through a little media training thing. Drawing a blank on his name over there, but you have to do a media training thing with him.
Michael: Ben Lewis.
Michael: Ben Lewis?
Taylor: Yep, yep. And they send a bunch of things every single day. So I think, for the most part, I don't think hiring a PR agency is necessary. But yeah, after 12 months, I recognized we could just be managing this on our own and save some money and redirect that somewhere else.
Michael: So you mentioned there are kind of even other marketing channels floating out there as well. So what are...what else are you into from the marketing perspective at this point? You've talked about good anchor website, lots of local SEO that builds, building some of the PR visibility and credibility. So what else is in the marketing quiver for you?
Taylor: Yeah. So three years ago, I launched a podcast. It was initially called "Stay Wealthy San Diego," kind of a spin on the Ron Burgundy "Stay classy, San Diego." So again, I was going after this kind of hyper-local marketing strategy. I was interviewing...it was almost like a "How I Built This" but for local business owners and entrepreneurs. And again, this kind of falls back on, I just didn't really have a clear strategy. I just saw everyone else starting podcasts. So I thought I'd start a podcast. And I had a clever name that I dreamt of and just kind of went for it. I learned a lot by going through that process in the world of podcasting, but I learned pretty quickly that it really wasn't serving me in any way other than my intellectual curiosity. I was able to interview some really cool people, but it wasn't really supporting any of my goals.
And so I'd say after about 12 months, I decided to get more clear and build a strategy around that podcast and reach a broader audience. So I chopped off San Diego, I rebranded the podcast as "Stay Wealthy." And as we got more clear with our niche and exactly who we work with at my firm, I've started to cater the content directly to that person. So coming up with an actual avatar that we're speaking to and the content is created for just really fueled growth. So as soon as I got really crystal clear on who that avatar was and created content for that person and marketed the podcast around those people, it just really started to blow up. I shared with you before we started the show, the "Stay Wealthy" podcast has now crept into the top 200 on iTunes for investing podcasts. We've built up just a really, really fun, engaged audience. It's been a lot of fun building that.
It's interesting because a couple of months ago, I was interviewed on another industry podcast, and I was sharing with them how my "Stay Wealthy" podcast doesn't really generate any prospects for our firm, and that I'm just kind of giving away free information. And yes, it's grown, and yes, it's a top 200 podcast and it's a lot of fun, but we weren't really getting prospects from it. And so I changed a few things in the last couple months. I think just in the last month we've had eight potential clients come directly from the podcast. So I've learned some things there in the marketing space, I'm happy to share, but that podcast is certainly one of our marketing spokes and our wheel, along with a few other things that we can dig into.
Michael: So yeah, so I'm very curious, what did you do to turn just podcast listener into someone that's actually reaching out to do business?
Changes Taylor Has Made That Help Turn Listeners Into Actual Clients And How He’s Started To Leverage Email Marketing [1:11:14]
Taylor: Yeah. So here's the thing. We think that everybody knows what we do, that we're a financial advisor, that we're taking on new clients. We just think that people would assume that, but they don't. And so you have to draw this stuff in crayon for people and say, "I am a financial advisor, I am taking on new clients" or, "I'm taking on 10 more clients this year," whatever it is. "We work with people over the age of 50, focus on planning for retirement, that have $1 million or more in investable assets." Like, you have to draw this stuff in crayon for people and then tell them exactly what you want them to do. "We've designed a free retirement checkup. You can go to definefinancial.com, click on the purple button, and learn more." And so just getting really clear, drawing that in crayon for them, telling them exactly what I do and who we do it for and giving them an action plan just really got people out of their seats to actually take action. I heard things like, "Oh, I didn't know you were taking on new clients," or, "I didn't know you're a financial advisor. I know you used to be a financial advisor." And so sometimes we just make these assumptions. And so we just have to be really clear with that.
And do it in an authentic, non-salesy way either, right? I don't want to turn people away by doing that. Roger Whitney does a fantastic job at this. He kind of works it into his disclaimer, which I love. It's like, "Hey, talk to your trusted advisors before you take action. If you don't have one, I'm a financial advisor." And he kind of works it in really cleverly there. But we have to, again, kind of draw in crayon for people and make sure that they know what we do and who we do it for. So that's really helped a lot.
Michael: And I am just wondering like, how are you getting them to the action point or where are you telling them to go? Because I know the challenge for a lot of advisors that are doing podcasting is just the cool thing about it is that it's this audio medium that people can listen to wherever they are. I know for our podcast, at least, the primary channels are commuting to work, exercising, walking the dog, mowing the lawn, and cooking dinner. Those are the five primary places that people tend to listen to us. Not all of which are necessarily points at which someone can easily like type something into their phone or go to a website to do a thing. And then by the time they're supposed to do it, they've forgotten the podcast or what the link was. Like, how are you actually getting them to do something? What are you trying to get them to do when it's not exactly a seminar where you can tell them in captive attention like, "Okay, now pull out your phone and do this?" You're trying to capture them in a podcast world.
Taylor: It is really challenging. It's really challenging to get people to take action from a podcast because you're right, somebody is driving or they're at the gym. And if you have a free guide for them to download, they're just not really in a position to go to that landing page and download that guide right then and there and join your email list. So it is really challenging. I think it's important to highlight here how long I've had the podcast before things really started to work, right? It didn't happen on day one or year one or year two. So it's something that I've stayed committed to for three years now. And I've just gotten better and better at it. I've gotten clear and clear. I've made changes. I've made improvements. I've invested in it. I've hired people to help me with it, consultants and all that.
So I think it's important just to note that these things take a long time. Again, people like our good friend, Roger Whitney, like, I don't know how long he's been doing it, what, six, seven, eight years. So it does take time to build that trust with somebody. And then when, again, you're regularly being clear about you're taking on clients and what that looks like and who you do your best work with and giving them that action, you kind of just say that over and over again. When somebody is ready for something and they're ready to make a move, hopefully, you're just the first person that they think of. But yeah, it is a challenge, for sure, which again is like, it's just one of our marketing spokes. I don't rely on the podcast to feed prospective clients to our firm, it's going to go through waves. And right now we've had a big wave of people coming in, but it's going to quiet down and our other marketing channels will help supplement that and keep us afloat. That's why I encourage people to kind of look at their whole marketing plan, right? A good analogy would be a financial plan, you could go buy an awesome insurance policy, right, but it doesn't mean the rest of your financial life is buttoned up. So we might have a great podcast that works from time to time, it's not everything. And so we need to have a diversified marketing approach and kind of look at everything all together.
Michael: And so then what are the other marketing channels? You've said like, "At some point, the podcast won't be firing, but we've got other things that we're running as well." So what are the other areas that support?
Taylor: Yeah, so let's see. So local SEO, blog, the content there, the podcast. Email marketing has always been a big one for us. Candidly, it's been something that I've not spent a lot of time on or been very good at, but we have slowly built an email list over the years since I started the firm. So having a lead magnet or two on the website to get people to join that email list, and then having... Again haven't done a good job of creating any sort of like nurturing funnel. We do have a little bit of a sequence that they'll go through when they download that guide, but nothing that we've had much success with. So as you might know, we're recently now experimenting with Snappy Kraken to help take some of that weight off our shoulders and improve our email marketing efforts. And so that's been a really good experience so far. I think we've been up and running with them for two or three months now.
And I think I shared with you personally, we had a woman that was on my email list since 2014 when I started the firm. She has read every single blog post, she's read every single email, but she's never taken action. We brought Snappy Kraken on board and got, let's call it just a little bit more aggressive with our email marketing, which I was really uncomfortable with at first. It just felt a little too salesy for me. But again, I think sometimes you just need to draw this stuff in crayon for people and really put yourself out there. And so now six years later, she has taken action. We just had our second meeting with her a couple of weeks ago. So nice little success story that's come out of that. So email marketing is something that we're really focused on right now, in addition to everything else on that. We've also taken the next step with Snappy Kraken and we've engaged them for social media advertising. So we're pouring $500 a month starting to start to put some Facebook ads out there to try to get people into these email funnels.
Michael: For those who aren't familiar just can you kind of describe Snappy Kraken, what they do, what they do for you?
Taylor: Yeah. So they're what you'd call an email marketing automation service. I like to just highlight that I don't expect Snappy or a service like Snappy to generate leads for our firm. That's not their job. Their job is to create this automated email marketing platform, delivering high-quality content to prospective clients, getting them engaged, and ultimately trying to get them to take action. But as we know, Michael, it can take...well, in some cases, it could take six years for somebody to take action. And so Snappy will handle all of that for you. They'll write all the content, all the emails. They'll create the nice PDF guides that you see other firms have, "Top 10 tax planning things for you to take advantage of in 2020." They'll write all of that for you, brand it for your firm, and then create those email funnels so that when somebody downloads your free guide and gives you their email address, they're going to get a series of emails that are, again, crafted by Snappy and their team kind of guiding them through a little bit of a journey, and then ultimately asking them to take some sort of an action.
And again, it can seem a little abrasive or a little salesy at times, but I think if you do enough of that and you're consistent with it, again, I think it can create some new opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise had. And that's just something that, again, we're just too kind of soft with our email marketing thinking, "Oh, we'll just put really good information in front of people on a consistent basis. And if they want to work with us, they know where to find us." And it just didn't really work until we started getting a little bit more serious.
Michael: And when you say like you don't expect them to create leads, like, it's not that you're not expecting to get new client business from this. It sounds like the point is just, you still take it on yourself to have a good website and podcast and other things that make people show up on your site the first time so that they can hit a button and get onto the email list that Snappy Kraken administers. Snappy Kraken's job is then to take and manage this email list and what's being sent to them so that eventually this lead that you initially put into this funnel moves through a funnel and becomes a prospect meeting at some point in a few months or six years as the case may be.
Taylor: Yeah, it all hinges on us, right? We know that a potential client isn't just going to read an email and schedule a phone call and become a client, right? They're going to do additional research and due diligence. They're going to come to our website. They're going to look at what our process is. They're going to look at who we work with. They're going to get a feel for who we are. They might read some blog posts. They might listen to the podcast. There's going to be a lot of different touches before they actually reach out to our firm, in most cases. And so yeah, Snappy's job is to just create really high-quality, informative content, try to get people to take some action, but ultimately, it does hinge on us to create a good experience for somebody. And so it just goes back to, again, having that process nailed down so that when we have somebody that gets into our email marketing automation service through Snappy, everything else is buttoned up. Like if somebody wants to take action, it's a really clear path for them. At the end of every single email from Snappy, it's customized to say, "Click here to get a free retirement check-up." And they click there and it goes to a landing page that we built, Snappy didn't build it, we built it, that takes them through the exact step by step process for how they can evaluate our firm and potentially become a client. If we didn't have that, I don't know how much success we'd have, and it wouldn't be Snappy's fault, that's for sure.
Michael: You said as well that you've kind of shifted some of your dollars and resources over the years to like not just spending on providers to help with this, but also that you learning it yourself, like doing it and going to conferences and reading books around marketing. And granted, not all advisors are necessarily inclined that way. Some would like to hire external service providers to do that for them because they're focused in other areas. But for the ones that do actually want to go deeper in their own marketing knowledge and learning journey, are there particular like books or programs or...I was going to say events and conferences, maybe events and conferences might be back in 2021. Like, where should advisors go if they want to get deeper on this and think about it and look further?
Taylor: Yeah. So one of the first things that I always start with, and I think I just kind of have a natural eye for this, but whenever I respond well to a YouTube video that I watched, or a blog post that I read, or a billboard that I saw, or a magazine ad, or whatever, whenever I'm like, "Ooh, that's kind of cool," like, that really stood out to me, like, I opened that, I read that or I watched that whole thing, I'll ask myself why, right? Like, what are they doing differently? What really stood out? Why did I click that link? And I just really pay attention to other people and how they do things, and just kind of take what seems to work well, or what I respond well to, and try to apply that to what we do.
So, some of these names are going to be familiar to some of your listeners. One of my favorites, who has become a friend, is Noah Kagan. Noah Kagan is a brilliant marketer that has no business in the financial advisory space, but you can learn a lot from what he's done building his platform and his brand and taking what works and kind of applying it to our space. So he's someone that I've followed very closely for a long time. Pat Flynn is here in San Diego. I know a lot of advisors are familiar with Pat Flynn these days. But again, he's not in our space at all. He has little mastermind groups that he hosts and conferences that you won't see a financial advisor at. You can learn a lot from. I've gone as far as attending a conference that I don't really recommend anybody go to, but it's called Traffic & Conversion. There's like 7,000 people there selling trinkets and T-shirts and books and courses and all that stuff. And while there's a lot of kind of like slimy sales tactics and marketing tactics that go on there, I can still go to something like that and pick out the things that I think are high quality and that could work really well, and again, try to apply it to our space. I'm just kind of this constant like lifelong learner just trying to pay attention to people around me.
I don't really read many books. I don't really have any books to recommend. It's more of just kind of people and paying attention to what other people are doing online. Even you Michael, taking a look at how you operate and how you create content and what that looks like and what it feels like, just really pay attention to that stuff and try to think, "How can I apply that to what I do? What feels good and natural to me?"
Michael: Well, I appreciate that. Again, for folks who are listening, this is episode 189. So if you go to kitces.com/189, we'll have links out for Noah Kagan and Pat Flynn and Traffic & Conversion Summit if you want to go and explore some of these and dig further.
So, Taylor, you said like marketing at this point, 75% of your clients are coming through the website. So just help get us up to speed of what...I guess like what marketing looks like or how you think about marketing at this point in terms of like what you're doing, what's generating business, what's working. How do you describe your marketing strategy at this point?
What His Marketing Strategy Looks Like At This Point [1:24:53]
Taylor: Yeah. So I think it's a lot of the stuff that we just talked about. Let's call it five or six things that I think we do really well and really consistently. And these things aren't static, right? Like, every single day I'm looking at this stuff like, "How can we make this better?" I've spent countless hours with Snappy Kraken getting onboarded and get everything worked out, but that doesn't mean we're done. Like, every day I'm thinking, "Okay, how can we improve this process?" So those five or six things that we're doing really well, really consistently, trying to get better at every single day just all really work together, and our website serves as the home base. So when all these things are kind of working in the background and we're improving them and working on them, consumers are finding us online, right, through one of these channels, or maybe all of them, and they're coming to our website, which is our home base.
Even if somebody calls our office and says, "Hey, I heard Taylor on a podcast interview or something, I'm interested in hiring your firm," we actually have a script in our office that our office manager has memorized by now. But she'll say something along the lines of, "Great, thanks so much for considering our firm. Have you gone to our website yet?" "Oh, no, I haven't." "Why don't you do this? Go to our website, click on that big purple button on the homepage, read about our process for new clients that are considering our firm. You can actually schedule your first phone call there, or you can give me a call back and I'll help get you on the calendar." So even if they call our office, we're still going to send them back to our website, which means everything funnels back to our homepage and our website.
And so that's really where I spend a lot of my time now that we have these five or six things pretty dialed in at this point, is how can I create the best possible experience so that when I get...so when somebody actually lands there I'm not missing out on these opportunities? And again, I've spent over $50,000, multiple agencies, like, a lot of time, money, and resources have gone into our website, but to me, it's never done. And even during this pandemic and the world shutting down the last couple months, I used those two months to work on the boring stuff behind the scenes that a lot of people don't really want to work on. I hired a user design, a UX expert that again, no experience in our industry at all, that did a website audit, went through and showed me like six or seven things that we could significantly improve to improve the user experience on our website. So I went through that process. And then I worked with my web team to actually implement those things. And we're just continuing to kind of level up and get better there. So yeah, it all kind of goes back to the website being our home base. And when people land there, we have a very clear process for them to take. And yeah, just the journey has become easier and easier.
Michael: And so I've just got to ask like, now that you're $50,000-plus into the website, like, tips on what we can do if we don't want to spend $50,000 on the journey to try to get to where you are. Are there some learning lesson shortcuts at this point of where to focus time or energy to make the journey a little more expeditious for whoever comes next?
Taylor: Yeah. Again, I think simpler is better, right? You can have a lot of things on internal pages and landing pages, and you can have a lot of fun there, but I think, for the most part, everyone's going to visit your homepage, right? The homepage is going to be the most visited page. And so, again, getting really simple and really clear. We want to have, for me, one single call to action, one thing for somebody to do. There's just too many advisors out there that have 5, 6, 10 different things they want the consumer to do, and then they're just paralyzed when they land on that website. So it all goes back to identifying exactly what you do and who you do it for, writing that in giant letters over the hero image, having a prominent call to action that follows the user around. You'll see ours is in the menu that kind of sticks with the user as they scroll down. And it's a totally different color than everything else on our website. So it really stands out.
And then most importantly, it's just having a clear process. Like if you really pay attention to yourself and how you make decisions, we just...as human beings, we don't like surprises, and we want to know what the process is. And it doesn't need to be a six-step process like ours. Our process takes four to six weeks for a potential client to go through. It's long, it's robust, it takes a lot of time, but we've done that on purpose. But at minimum, if somebody is on your website and they want to work with you, give them some information about what that looks like and what step one, step two, and step three is.
One of the mistakes I see a lot of people make is a lot of advisors now have adopted online calendar tools, right, like Calendly or Acuity, and what they'll do is they'll just put this call to action button front and center on their website that says, "Schedule a call with me," and someone will click that button and it'll go directly to your calendar, right? And there's this middle step where I think most people should have a landing page that explains a little bit more about what that process looks like, what they can expect, what that first step is. If that first step goes well, here's the second step. We even include an FAQ, some frequently asked questions. We try to get ahead of everything that they might be thinking or wondering so that when we have that 15-minute phone call with them, we can really focus on just learning and listening and identifying if they're a potential fit or not. I just think having that landing page and getting really clear about that can make a world of difference rather than sending somebody straight from your homepage straight to scheduling a phone call with you.
Michael: Interesting. All just built around this recognition like, as you said, when there are several hundred people a month searching for fee-only financial planner in San Diego, like, you just have to make these tweaks connect with one or two more people who are like, "Oh, that extra page was helpful. I'm going to follow through now and actually do that call." One or 2 more a month is suddenly like 10 or 20 new prospects for the year. Like, that materially can move your business just by making those small incremental improvements to nudge people forward in the process.
Taylor: Yeah, and it works the other way too where we don't get...it doesn't happen anymore. We don't get people scheduling phone calls that aren't a good fit for our firm because we have these things in place to kind of weed them out. They kind of self-weed themselves out by going through that landing page and reading a little bit more about what we're about and what our process looks like and some of the frequently asked questions. So when they actually go to schedule a phone call, they have all the information that...most of their questions have already been answered. So in 2017, I've shared these numbers before, in 2017, we had over 100 people schedule introductory phone calls through our website. So over 100 people, so about 2 a week would schedule phone calls with us. But I think something like only 12% of those actually became clients. And so nowadays, we only get about 1 per week or about 50 per year. So we've been able to kind of weed those people out. And so that's why I think having that landing page can be really important. Making sure you're not wasting your time or wasting their time, giving them a little bit more information, preventing somebody from on a Saturday night just randomly scheduling a phone call with you, making it a little bit too easy for them. So adding some friction to the process can be beneficial.
Michael: And what does the conversion rate now look like when you're getting these 50 more focused?
Taylor: Yeah, so we've just started to really track that as we've gotten more focused. Our target right now is if they move forward after the initial phone call. So again, we have this six-step process that consists of an introductory phone call plus two office meetings. So if they move forward after the introductory phone call, our target is 80% or more will become a client. And so we're just starting to track that. I don't have enough data to say we're at 80% or higher, but that's our goal. If we're not, if 80% of them are not becoming a client after going through that process, then we're doing something wrong and we have to re-evaluate.
Michael: Well, and to me, there's something that's interesting and powerful around... I think step one for a lot of advisors is just like, "Oh my God, people showing up on my website and hitting a button and scheduling a prospect meeting with me," like, that alone sounds awesome. I don't have my phone ringing a lot right now. I would like my phone to ring. So the phone ringing, they call me or contact me for meeting sounds good. But then as you've noted, like, if you get that going and suddenly you find you're spending a lot of time with people who aren't qualified, just, when you lop off 50 prospect calls a year that weren't actually really a good fit that take 15 or 20 minutes for the call and 10 or 15 minutes for prep time, and probably cost you another 10 or 15 minutes for just sort of the mental switching of dealing with that, and you start adding it up, like, you probably cost yourself 40 hours of productivity through the year by needing to switch off and do that, like, that's a week, right? It's like you make your marketing a little bit more focused, you get a week of vacation back.
Just like to me, it gets really powerful. We don't often think about how much time we waste with people who just flat out aren't a fit, right? I'm not talking about the, "Hey, they were a good prospect but they, unfortunately, said no." Like, you won't necessarily have 100% close rate, nor do I think you want 100% close rate. Because if it's that high, you're probably not stretching yourself enough. You're charging too little or you're giving yourself too many grapefruits. But having really low close rates, I think the industry teaches us, particularly in the early days of cold calling, like, you're just supposed to do the volume, and it's a game of numbers, and some percentage of them will close, and that's the deal, right? And that's the gig. And we're taught, amp up the activity and the results will come.
And there's just this like new world of marketing thing, particularly around the digital realm because of all the ways you can manage the experience and target it, that you don't have to do marketing that way. In fact, it's technically a horrifically inefficient way to market. We all learn that way because they're paying us on commission. So if 90% of our time is wasted, they don't care because they don't pay for it. They only pay you to close. That's the whole sales-based from day one commission model. When you're running a firm and you're running a business and your time is much more valuable than that, that old school process that we learned that may be a fine thing for getting started when you have a lot of time and not a lot of clients is really a horrifically inefficient marketing process when you get to a certain stage. Like, playing that numbers game that way is no longer a good ROI on your time at all.
Taylor: Right. But I will say that if you're kind of venturing into this digital marketing landscape and working on generating, let's call it leads through your website, there is a benefit to getting more at-bats in the beginning. We learned so much from 2017 when we had over 100 people scheduling phone calls with us. It gave me the opportunity to really hear what kinds of questions people are asking, what information they want to know, which allowed us to further refine our process, refine our landing page, kind of get ahead of some of those questions, make a note about certain types of people we don't work with. For instance, we don't do hourly planning. We had a lot of people that were scheduling phone calls with us asking about hourly planning. So now we're able to kind of refine our landing page and answer that question up front so that those people aren't scheduling phone calls anymore. So there's some benefit to getting those at-bats and just paying really close attention. Even today, I pay really close attention to every single phone call and say, "Okay, what went well? What didn't go well? How can we improve the process?" So there is some benefit there.
Michael: As you look at this having been through this journey for the past 6 years of being out on your own and climbing up to $70 million-plus of assets under management, what surprised you the most about trying to market your own advisory business and build?
What Surprised Taylor The Most About Marketing His Advisory Business [1:36:29]
Taylor: Well, I think one of the things that surprised me the most, which we've already talked about a little bit, is just this giant difference between being a financial advisor, a financial planner all day long and being a business owner, right? I don't know, I lied to myself convincing myself that I could do both. And you just get to this point, you learn, I can't. And so that really was something that really caught me off guard a little bit and really surprised me was just this huge difference between those two.
In terms of marketing, I think I'm not going to say it surprised me, but I think what I've learned most is that the more personal and vulnerable you can be, the better your results are. Just some of the most engagement we've had are about like emails I've sent out talking about my 3-year-old son having his gallbladder removed, or the morning of...my wife was induced with our second son, and I was doing a podcast episode, ironically, on 529 plans and college savings. And so the morning before...the morning we're going to the hospital, I recorded the podcast episode like 5 in the morning, and I talked about us going to the hospital in a little bit, just got really personal and vulnerable. I think the more you can do that... I talked about those little icons on my homepage talking about my French Bulldog and my love of carne asada burritos and my favorite golf course, all those things work so well. And growing up in the wirehouse world and wearing a suit and tie every day and just being really buttoned up and afraid to be myself really, I think, worked against me. So the more you can just kind of dig deep and put yourself out there and get vulnerable and personal, the more success, I think, you're going to have.
Michael: Yeah, I think you make a good point that we get trained in this mentality of like, always exuding this air of sort of aloof professionalism and that we're not supposed to be too personal either. It's like who knows what other people will think or who knows who you'll offend, or like, why take a chance? Let's just keep the professional veneer going. When on the one hand, as you note, like, people often connect the most with the personal part, and just at a high level, I think. If clients didn't want to work with a human being with all the stuff that gets wrapped up in human beings, like, they could go actually find technology, an automated solution. Like, they pick working with another human being because we connect with other human beings. So it's okay to be human.
Taylor: Yeah. I was always so afraid of what somebody might think. I don't know why. I don't know if it's just embedded in me since I was born or just some of the experience I had in the wirehouse world, but I just always... I know for one thing, for a long time I was hiding behind my age, right? I didn't want somebody to know that I was 24 years old or 32 years old or whatever. And so that was something that, yeah, I hid behind until recently. I've just been very okay with sharing how old I am.
Michael: Yeah, that was a striking one for me as well. Similarly, I started straight out of college, was very self-conscious about my age, not having people know how old I was. It was even for a long time like tried to not...try to not have much out there about when I graduated so that people couldn't look up my graduation year and then realize that I was still a 20-something. And I remember being focused on that, and I remember this point not that many years ago when someone had asked me when I graduated and my voice kind of caught because that was something I wasn't really used to sharing and had usually kind of held back, and had...my brain had to go through this live processing of like, "It's okay to say you graduated in 2000. That's now 18 years ago." I was about to turn 40. I was like, it doesn't have the same connotation. My head was still stuck in the 15-plus years ago. I was like, "Don't say when you graduated because if they can count it was that many years ago on one hand, they're going to realize you haven't been doing this very long." And 15 to 20 years later, I realized like I was still carrying some of that baggage around of the fear of being perceived as too young when I was a young advisor.
Taylor: Yeah, I felt similar ways. I even...I forget the name of the document. The public document that the consumers can look up their advisor and see their background. And I think it shows your last 10 years of work history. And on there for a long time, I still had...early on, I worked for a frozen yogurt company, like I poured frozen yogurt, and the name of the company was funny is Frozen Yoghurt. And it was still on my...oh, was it your U4? Your public thing. And I just couldn't wait for the year that I crossed over and that would disappear from the database. So yeah, I hear you.
Michael: So what was the low point on the journey for you?
Taylor: Oh, gosh, I'm still experiencing low points. We talked a little bit before we started just some of the challenges we've had this year. I think the biggest low point was feeling just...I know other advisors feel this way, just feeling so stuck in that 2016, 2017. Like, I just couldn't imagine how I'd get over this hump. It just felt literally impossible. I just felt so stuck. I felt so out of control. My practice was so chaotic. Clients were all over the place. Everything was a mess. And I just couldn't wrap my head around how in the world I would get over this hump and kind of reach my financial goals. I had so much pressure on myself. My wife was winding down in the corporate world. We were having kids and just had this giant financial pressure on me to be successful and feed and take care of my family. And it just felt like it was all just kind of crashing down. And again, just worked really hard to get over that, and had some instrumental people in my life help me. Yeah. But it's just, owning and operating a business, you're naturally always going to have these low points and these challenges. And we've had a couple of those this year, and I just try to keep my head down and just do the right thing and know we're on a good path and know that this too shall pass.
Michael: And so just, again, like, what broke you through this like, "I'm stuck and I can't even think about how to get over the hump?" What was the breakthrough at the end of the day that changed it and you said, "Now I can get through this?"
Taylor: Yeah, and I've been through this a few times in my career. What I'm really good at is I'm really good at recognizing when I feel stuck or stagnant or I'm not growing. And I think a lot of people will just kind of settle with that feeling. And they'll stay at the same terrible job for 30 years. But I felt that way at the wirehouse. I felt that way when I was at a couple of the independent firms. And I felt that way in 2016 and '17, right? I just felt like stuck, like just things aren't working. And the one thing that I've always done consistently throughout my career is when I get that feeling and I know something's not working, I know I'm not on the right path, is that I don't let it drag me down. And I go out there and I try to find a solution. I put myself out there. And in some cases like this, I spent a lot of money on some great coaches to help me through it. So I don't know what else to say other than like, I took action. I worked really, really hard. I had to make a lot of difficult decisions. I had to have a lot of difficult conversations, but ultimately it was just like, getting up out of my seat, taking action, not getting down on myself, and just finding a way to work through it really. I don't know what else to attribute it to.
Michael: And any coach or coaches that you'd recommend for anyone else who's like hearing this and resonating with the same point of being stuck? Because just that threshold of $200,000 or $300,000 of revenue and 50 to 100 active clients is a common wall most advisors hit at some point. So you accumulate enough clients, you will eventually head into that zone, that wall that a lot of people hit. So are there particular coaches or people that you would suggest checking out for someone that wants to...is feeling this pain as well and wants to figure out how to get through it?
Taylor: Yeah, I think always having a coach in your life is super important, whether it's a mindset coach or just a career coach or someone to hold you accountable, whoever that may be. I always have somebody in my life, in my corner helping me out because, again, things are challenging. Yeah, like I said, I joined the Limitless Adviser program back in, I guess 2017 was the very first year. And that was just a big game-changer for me. It just really opened my eyes to just a whole new world and how to tackle some of these challenges that a lot of us see. So definitely check out Limitless Adviser, which I know you've spoken a lot here on the podcast and have had a lot of guests who have taken part in that program. So that's been really, really helpful for me. I don't know really any of the other coaches outside of that that I could recommend. There are some personal coaches here in San Diego that I've hired but probably wouldn't resonate with your audience.
Michael: So anything that you wish you'd done really differently on this journey? Like, what do you know now that you wish you could go back and tell you from six years ago as you were getting launched with this?
What He Would Have Done Differently And The Advice He’d Give To New Advisors [1:45:37]
Taylor: There are five or six things in my career that I can point to that attributes to whatever success I've had up to this point. One of those points, and I say this honestly, is coming across you and your blog in 2012 and opening my eyes to the RIA landscape. And at the time, I think you were just launching XYPN, and just like, it just set me on a whole different path, and just something that I had never...none of this had ever been talked to me about. And what I wish I would have done back then is I wish I would have listened to you. And I wish I would have gotten really specific and narrow and identified a niche back in 2012, 2014, and not had to go through all these different iterations and going backwards before I go forward and having to fire my grandfather and all this stuff. Like, I wish I would just listen to you way back then and got really specific, dialed in a niche, and just got really focused and didn't get distracted and didn't lie to myself about this client and that client. I just think I would have been so much better off. It would have made my life so much easier.
Now, I've had some fun going through all those different transitions and iterations. I love experimenting. We've tried all these different fee schedules and worked with all these different people, but ultimately, I think we'd be a lot further along if I would have just owned this niche on day one, stayed committed to it, kept things simple and just kept my head down, and listened to Mr. Kitces.
Michael: All right, so now I've just got to ask, like, going back, in retrospect, is, is there anything I could have said differently to get you on board? Just this challenge, this fear I think is so present for almost every advisor that's thinking about it, right? That just, it's hard not to be attached to the fear of all the people you'll be saying no to when you get focused, rather than seeing all the people that will say yes because you can connect with them more. Like, is there something that might have helped you change your approach or get that focus back then, or did you just have to live this journey at the end of the day?
Taylor: Yeah, it's something I think about a lot too because so many people are challenged with it, especially advisors like myself who they had built up a decent clientele, they have 50, 75, 100 clients and they just can't imagine having to go backwards and maybe get rid of some of these clients. So it's a real challenge for somebody in that position who's been working for 10 years and things are all over the place. I don't really know, Michael. I don't really have the answer other than I think you've done a great job of staying committed to that strategy and having phenomenal guests on your podcast and talking about their experience. And I just try to share that with other advisors. But I think once you try it and you see the benefit of it, just kind of this light bulb goes off. And so sometimes it's just a matter of getting a little bit uncomfortable, yeah, and giving it a go and having some of these hard conversations and making some of these decisions. But it's a tough one. I wish we had a better solution.
Michael: So maybe you'll tie it into this theme or go another direction, like, what advice would you give to younger or I'll even just say newer advisors because some are career changers coming in, not necessarily chronologically as young? What advice would you give to newer advisors getting started and launched today?
Taylor: I think if you can get as clear as possible on who you want to work with, exactly what they look like, right, their age, the challenges that they have, and then, more importantly, I think spending time in the early days, this is something I wish I would have done years ago, spending time in the early days creating processes and workflows for everything that you do. Nowadays every single thing that we do is backed by a workflow or a process, and it just makes things so much easier. And it improves the client experience and the value that you're able to deliver. But it just took me so long to just adopt a CRM system. So I know it's fun to go and try all these different marketing things and blog and podcast and have these introductory phone calls and stuff, but I would really encourage new advisors to do that hard work first, pin down these processes and these workflows, build those into your system. They don't need to be robust and perfect on day one but lay that foundation so that as you grow and as you kind of get over these different hurdles and you add team members, you can continue to improve and adapt. And it just makes your life so much easier.
And I know a lot of advisors know that these days. Again, in the wirehouse world, we didn't really have CRM systems, it just wasn't something that we were trained on. And I just don't have an operations mindset. But as much as you might hate it... And one of the things I guess I didn't mention is, because I suck so much at operations, I just don't have that mindset, we hired a CRM consultant to help come in and shape our CRM system and clean things up and teach us how to build some of these workflows. And we had her on board for a few months. So if you need to hire someone to help, don't be afraid to ask for help. It's so important.
Michael: And out of curiosity, I guess what's your CRM system of choice at this point and who did you hire to help with it when you needed help?
Taylor: Oh, I knew you were going to ask that. I will dig up her name and share it with you and you can throw it in the show notes. I always draw a blank on her name. So we were on Junxure Cloud for the longest time. My lead planner is just obsessed with workflows, and so they just have a really good workflow system. So we were on Junxure Cloud for a really long time. Junxure has obviously made some changes recently. And they haven't really made as many improvements as I'd like to see. So we went through a whole process of re-evaluating a new CRM provider, and we just recently jumped over to Redtail. So now we're on Redtail. We're really enjoying it. It's been a really good experience. I'm actually enjoying a CRM that integrates with other software, and integrates with Zapier, that allows us to connect to some other platforms as well. So we went through quite a bit of research to land on Redtail, and we're pretty happy with them.
Michael: So as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success, and one of the themes that always comes up is just the word "success" means different things to different people. And so, you've had this great success trajectory building the firm and up to $76 million in just a couple of years. And so the business is certainly doing very well now, but I'm wondering, how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Taylor: Yeah, again, I think you're a living and breathing example of my definition. To me, my definition of success is spending time doing the things that I love and that I'm good at, also while inspiring and helping other people. I really get a lot of reward out of helping other people. When I get an email from somebody else who's just like, "Thank you so much," it just...to me, that's more than a new client or making more money. So yeah, so spending time doing the things that I love and that I'm good at. If I can find a way just to do more and more of that every single day for the rest of my life, that's success to me.
Michael: Well, I love it. I love it. I appreciate you joining us to share the story around it. And again, for folks that are interested, I do encourage everyone, like, check out, Taylor has a podcast. He goes into even more detail about all of the like successes and foibles of experimenting in advisor marketing. It's literally called the "Experiments in Advisor Marketing" podcast. I enjoy listening to the episodes. So really appreciate, Taylor, your willingness to share both in your podcast and joining us here on ours.
Taylor: Thanks so much, Michael. Had a lot of fun today. I really appreciate it.
Michael: Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you.
Elliott Weir - III Financial says
Thank you so much, Taylor, for articulating so many of the challenges many of us face in trying to build a practice focused on helping others. I have lots of notes to incorporate tomorrow!
And as always, Michael, thank you for what you bring to the profession. You’ll probably never grasp the impact you have made on so many planners. ?
Jack Ekin, Nest Egg Financial says
Consistently, some of the most useful material for financial advisors I have read (and that’s a lot), both for small firms such as us, and for large. Thank you Taylor, and Michael for bringing us this content!
John J Bloomfield says
Really interesting when you talk about being embarrassed by your age as a young adviser…when I was 24 I was the youngest IFA in my part of England the average adviser then was 54 according to industry bodies as far as I knew. The MD of the small company I was working at sent me to see an elderly referral from a local accountant he considered a ‘wealthy time waster’ and told me it would be ‘good practice’ for me and not to beat myself up when it doesn’t go anywhere as he had seen her 3 times in the last 2 years and she just wasn’t willing to act. But because of the relationship with the accountants we needed to ‘show willing’ so he’d consider it a personal favour too.
So I went to see her she became my biggest client (at the time) there and then and is still with me 16 years later. She told me off the cuff in that first meeting she was relieved to see a young man that would likely still be working for the rest of her life, she was greatly concerned that all these ‘old men’ she had ‘interviewed’ would retire right when she needed them most! She probably never realised it but her just saying that was a total light bulb moment for me and I started to embrace my age as a strength when dealing with older clients from then on always quipping when they mentioned my age ‘at least I’ll still be here when you actually retire’.
I’m not that young now but the point is just embrace who you are, if you perceive something as negative think about how it could be viewed as positive, your evasiveness can be perceived as something more than just embarrassment so just be open and embrace who you are.