by H. Jude Boudreaux, CFP®
H. Jude Boudreaux, CFP®, is the founder of Upperline Financial Planning in New Orleans, Louisiana.
As somebody who has recently started his own financial planning firm, I regularly get questions about the difficulty of finding the right technology and making it all work together easily, without spending a fortune. Technology can be a key differentiator for you and your firm, or it can be a deep black hole into which you drop valuable time and money in the hopes of greater returns.
I don’t think the point of technology is to make your firm appear artificially larger than it is. That’s ultimately going to lead to an overworked owner and disappointed clients. The goal should be to show that you can accomplish everything the “big boys” can while still retaining the personal touch that comes from working with a smaller firm—and maintaining some sanity for you in the process. There are a lot of real advantages to being a smaller firm, so don’t be afraid to identify those and market those as competitive advantages.
Website—and More Importantly, Email Addresses
It’s a given in 2012 that you’ve got to have a website. It can be as basic as a digital version of your brochure, but it can be so much more. There are compliance challenges and concerns, but it’s worth the effort to address these and make your website a hub for your digital presence. The websites I find myself most attracted to are those that allow for a company to share its voice and perspective on the marketplace. Adding a blog can give your clients and prospects a reason to keep coming back to your website and learn more about what your company values and represents. Attracting prospects is important, but attracting the right prospects is more important. Don’t be afraid to show your voice and let your views be known.
One quick note on email addresses: please get your email set up to come from your own domain. I cringe every time I get a business card with an email address that has Gmail, Hotmail, etc. in it. Companies like Rackspace provide easy-to-use email hosting without costing a lot of money. This one step alone can make a big difference in how you’re seen in the marketplace.
And keep them coming back—creating new great content is the first step in the journey; now you’ve got to let them hear from you more regularly. Mark Silver, founder of Heart of Business Inc., talks about there being multiple journeys with clients. There’s a first journey where they sign up for your e-newsletter and a second where they choose to become clients. An e-newsletter is a great way for clients to start that first journey and become comfortable with you. Services such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, or AWeber allow you to create forms where clients can sign up for your newsletter right from your website.
By now you’ve heard hundreds of different takes on social media, and many of you are still skeptical about its value. Think of it this way: your website is your base, and social media provides outposts where you can reach out to new people and get them back to your base. Pick one or two social media venues that you want to learn more about, and explore them. Focused effort in one or two social media venues will provide you better return for your time than limited efforts spread over several sites.
Part of the perceived hassle of social media is having to go to multiple sites to update them and track what is happening. Tools like HootSuite provide you the ability to post updates to several social media sites from one place. You can also reply to messages, see what others are talking about, and interact with them. Even if you’re not comfortable putting out a lot of information in social media, the sites can still have great value for you and your firm in keeping in touch with friends, centers of influence, and clients. Michael Kitces has written eloquently about this in a recent Nerd’s Eye View blog post, “The Latest Trend in How Advisors Are Using Social Media (with No Compliance Headaches!)” at www.kitces.com. Just checking in on something like Facebook to see what has been going on in your accountant’s life before a meeting can help you reconnect to that person and what is important to him or her. If you want to get really sophisticated, social media monitoring tools like Radian6.com can help you listen to what is being said about your firm or your industry in your geographical area on social media.
So do it—and be compliant. There is not enough space to cover the compliance issues here, but know that tools such as Arkovi, Socialware, and more can track and archive your social media activity. And if you really want to learn more about this space, read Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. It’s a good, quick read that can get you comfortable with and focused on social media.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
It’s incredibly easy to have the convenience of a “business” phone number, without adding the expense and limitations of a landline. For incoming calls, Line2 (line2.com) is a brand-new service that gives you a dedicated, separate phone number that can ring through to your smartphone anywhere, while still routing calls. Google Voice also offers a similar (free) service that provides you a local phone number you can “forward” to a landline or mobile phone.
Want a toll-free number? I used a service called Grasshopper (www.grasshopper.com) to set up a toll-free number and automatically direct those calls to my iPhone. It’s a low monthly subscription with no long-term contract. After having that phone number for six months and finding nobody had ever used it, I was able to drop it easily.
We’ve all heard of Skype for video calls, but for any outgoing calls, it’s possible to dial all numbers in the United States from your computer using Skype’s monthly (or annual) subscription service. If you’ve got clients overseas, the international calling packages offer a lot of value as well.
For Pete’s Sake, Password Protect Your Devices!
I’m sure you’ve got a smartphone, and I’m sure you use it to access your email. You might even use it to interface with your CRM, social media, and other places that you would have client information. I’m often surprised at how many people don’t password protect their smartphones. A recent study recounted in the blog post “Introducing the Symantec Smartphone Honey Stick Project” by computer security firm Symantec should be a wakeup call for everyone. They dropped 50 smart phones in cities around North America and tracked their usage by the people who found them. Almost all of the phones (96 percent) were accessed by those who found them, and 8 out of 10 finders tried to access folders marked HR Salaries or HR Cases.
This doesn’t just apply to smartphones—if you’ve got a tablet you use for any business purpose, put a password on it. I’m certain your laptop has a password on it, but if you can go the extra step of encrypting your laptop’s hard drive, it can provide great peace of mind for you and your clients if it is lost or stolen.
Don’t Skimp on Business Cards
And now for the “low tech” side. It has been said that marketing is a hand-to-hand sport, and if there’s any truth to that, don’t go to that networking event with business cards you printed on your home printer. Sites like Moo.com offer high-quality business cards you can order in quantities as small as 50, on high-quality paper that really stands out.