As I chip away at developing XY Planning Network’s marketing plan for the new year, it occurred to me that independent financial advisors should be doing the same thing about now to formalize their marketing plans for the next twelve months. Of course, I realize marketing is just one of many hats firm owners wear, so the average advisor may be stretched a little too thin to put much effort into this task. Perhaps a little inspiration would be appreciated by our readers.
As a way to procrastinate on writing my own annual marketing plan, To help as best I can, I’ve sketched out a basic twelve-month schedule of RIA marketing goals for you. Accept each of my monthly challenges or use them as a jumping-off point to develop a plan of your own. Either way, your practice is sure to benefit when you spend time wearing your marketing hat.
January: Understand What Works
Use the beginning of the year to dig into your data to understand what works and what doesn’t. If you’re not sure where to look, look at everything. Explore Google Analytics, the dashboards of your social media accounts, and stats available to you via your email provider. The upside of relying on technology: so much data!
If you’re not tracking marketing metrics monthly, the beginning of the year is a great time to get started. By this time next year, you’ll have a full year of data. Create a spreadsheet of the data points that interest you and that reflect the health of your marketing. At XYPN, I track 65 data points each month. I have two additional points I track and report on daily. I have over a dozen other reports that I rely on to inform strategy. (For example, I’ll check to see which blogs are most popular/highest converting, then I’ll plan supplemental marketing to dive deeper into the same hot topics.)
A good place to start to track the health of your marketing is your web analytics…page views, users, sessions, bounce rate, etc. These numbers may not seem intriguing until you have a couple of months under your belt. When you start seeing significant month-over-month growth, trust me…you’ll look forward to pulling these metrics. Adversely, if the numbers suddenly tank, you’ll know something is broken on your website and you can fix it before too much damage (missed opportunity) is done. Set a reminder on your calendar for the start of each month to complete your marketing report.
On my monthly report, I have a row at the top of each column with a hyperlink pointing me to where I need to go to retrieve that datum. Not only does that save me a ton of time each month as I pull numbers, but it ensures data consistency. There are often multiple ways to quantify data. By clicking right into each dashboard from my report, I know I am gathering the numbers the same way each month. Also, anyone on my team can easily jump in and help with the report if necessary.
When it comes to marketing your RIA, the first step to ramping it up is assessing what works and where you have weak spots. Your data will tell you what you need to know.
February: Assess Your Profiles
February is a short month, so I suggest a modest, yet important, goal. Review all of your online profiles to be sure the information is relevant and presented in the best possible way. This includes social media accounts, your bio on your website, and profiles on professional sites like XY Planning Network’s Find-an-Advisor portal. Since creating these profiles, have you added new services or refined your niche?
Ask friends, colleagues, and/or your study group for feedback. As the author of these profiles, you may be too close to the content to determine if your tone translates well or if it comes across as condescending, rambling, or unfocused. As every job applicant knows, it’s uniquely difficult to market yourself. You may be omitting some of your greatest strengths or being too ambiguous about the value you can provide. Also, a small typo may be a big turnoff to someone sizing up your aptitude.
While you’re working to refine your profiles, consider new headshots. I’ve written before (in my blog, Marketing Dollars Well Spent As An Independent Financial Advisor) about the importance of quality professional photos. You only get one chance to make a first impression, as they say. It goes without saying the impression you want to make is one of quality and value. A blurry, shadowy headshot will not serve you well.
And finally, set a reminder to review and refine all of your profiles at least once each year.
March: SEO Clean-Up
Use this month for the tedious work of SEO clean-up and optimization of your website, blogs, and landing pages. Maximize the potential of your content by following best practices. I’ve put together a checklist for you to use to review each page:
- Meta description: Each page should have a meta description of 180 characters or less.
- H1 tags: Each page should have up to ten H1 tags for best results. Be sure to use relevant keywords in your H1 tags as much as possible.
- CTAs (Calls-to-Action): Every page of your website, including blogs and landing pages, should have a CTA to drive visitors deeper into your marketing funnel. Examples include an opportunity to schedule a call, join your mailing list, or download a “freemium”.
- Page title: Each page should have a unique title under 70 characters (that’s the max length visible in Google). Remember to use keywords in your page title.
- Images: The Google gods want your images to have alt text, and they don’t like to see more than 50 images per page.
- Internal links: First, be sure there are no broken links. It’s important to include internal links in your content, but don’t go too crazy. Fewer than a hundred is acceptable. When including internal links, hyperlink relevant keywords like so:
Wrong: Download XYPN’s free First-Year Budget Template here
Once you get through this exercise, you can sit back and watch the organic traffic roll in! Luckily, you now have your marketing report set up so you can see if the effort was impactful.
April: Schedule Social
Use this month to lighten your load for the next twelve months by scheduling a year’s worth of social media posts. Should you set it and forget it for a year? No, of course not. You will want to engage on social media as usual, but this legwork will cover you on busy days when social media falls off the bottom of your to-do list.
How do you write a tweet for twelve months into the future? Dig into your archives and recycle some of your best content. Start with the lessons learned from your data report. That blog that got you a lot of traffic in February can be promoted again in September, November, and April (or whatever schedule you choose). Were you mentioned in the media? Get as much mileage as you can from that exposure (“Now that tax season is upon us again, see my comments in The New York Times about itemizing deductions.”)
There are several tools on the market (check out Hootesuite or Meet Edgar) to help you accomplish this task. This project also lends itself nicely to outsourcing; consider tasking a marketing student with writing your social media posts.
May: New “Freemium”
Challenge yourself this month to create a new “freemium”. I’ll break down the what-why-and-how for you:
What: A freemium, or lead magnet, is “gated” content that a visitor to your website can access only after entering their email address. The idea is to provide something valuable to them in exchange for the ability to market to them. Free downloads such as eBooks, templates and guides work well. Use your marketing data to inform your decision about what to create. For example, if the topic of budgeting resonates with your intended niche, consider developing a budget template.
Why: Everyone who accepts your offer (or converts) is now in your marketing funnel for you to nurture. Do you already have one or more lead magnets that work well for you? That’s awesome, but I’ve never met a freemium that converts at 100%. By building up your arsenal of lead magnets, you are casting a wider net.
Developing freemiums is also very rewarding because, if done well, they can deliver leads into your funnel in perpetuity. Aim to create timeless content and you will not see diminishing returns.
How: We’ve all gotten protective of our inboxes. To get your visitors to give up their sacred email addresses, they need to believe your offer has value. It should be helpful to your intended audience and be visually appealing. A nice cover image will go a long way. I love Canva for this type of work because their free version is sufficient and you don’t need to have any design chops. There are a gazillion fabulous templates available for you to modify. Check out the example pictured here of a recently released freemium by XY Planning Network, with Canva-created cover art.
Pictured: If you can benefit from a checklist of step-by-step instructions for launching a financial planning firm, go ahead and click on the image and let me be the first to welcome you to our marketing funnel!
June: Re-evaluate Automated Sequences
Automated drip campaigns are awesome, until they’re not. The benefit of automating email responses: saving boatloads of time. The drawback: not refining your messages on an ongoing basis. The ability to “set it and forget it” is liberating, but it’s not ideal to forget it forever. Set aside time at least once a year to review and refine these communications.
This task is another opportunity to use your data. Add a link or two to your highest converting content in your drip campaigns. For example, if a potential client uses your meeting scheduler to set up a call, the automated response may be something like, “Thank you for scheduling a financial assessment. I’m looking forward to visiting with you. In the meantime, you might enjoy my article, The First Steps to Taking Control of Your Finances.”
On that note, I’m a big fan of delineating the types of introductory calls you offer via your scheduler to get a feel for the needs of the prospect. This will also give your prospect calls higher perceived value. Your prospect might choose between a financial assessment, a 401k evaluation, college funding Q & A, or whatever speaks to your niche. Essentially, these are all prospect calls, but you will approach them differently based on the client’s need.
Then, you can use your automated sequences to convert prospects into clients like so: Prospect books a call specific to his or her needs…he or she receives a link to a blog (or web content or a media article you were mentioned in) addressing their exact pain point… you’ve just sold them on your expertise, before even speaking with them!
July: Try Something New
The year is half over and we haven’t challenged ourselves yet! By marketing the exact same way year after year, we don’t know what opportunities we might be missing. Use July to try at least one marketing experiment.
Need some ideas? Maybe some of these are new to you: Facebook Live. YouTube. Webinars. LinkedIn groups. Guest blogging. Podcasting. Referral program. eBook. Infographs. Online courses. Instagram. Pinterest. Public speaking. Tutorials. Community events. Pay-per-click ads. Email signature campaigns.
Pictured: If you’ve corresponded with an XYPN team member via email recently, you may have noticed a new marketing initiative we’re testing: email signature campaigns. We use a paid platform to manage this program, but a one-person operation could DIY it within their email program. Create a graphic promoting your top content, upcoming event, etc. (again, I like Canva for design), add the image to your signature and link the image to the corresponding landing page.
For inspiration, pay attention to what others are doing within the industry and outside of the industry. You might be able to modify a brilliant idea from another vertical and make it work for you. There may be something to learn from other businesses that charge a monthly fee, such as health clubs. Also, look at any businesses you follow on social media. How did they get your attention and keep you engaged?
Worth noting: members of XY Planning Network have the benefit of leaning on their fellow members and leveraging their experience. XYPN advisors are incredibly supportive of each other in our robust, members-only online forums. Members, this is a great place to bounce around new marketing ideas. With over 550 advisors chatting it up in the forums, you’re likely to find someone who has already kicked the tires on a marketing strategy you are considering.
Finally, measure results of your experiment and assess whether or not it’s worth doing moving forward. Keep in mind, it may take several months to truly measure effectiveness depending on the initiative.
The idea this month is to leverage your old, successful content in new ways. I spoke about this at XYPN LIVE 2017 in my session, Maximize Your Marketing Content. (ICYMI: the content is currently available via the XYPN LIVE 2017 Virtual Pass in XYPN Academy.)
In summary, repurpose the content that you’ve already poured your blood, sweat, and tears into producing to get more mileage from it. For example, bundle related blogs into an eBook. Or, design an infograph for social media based off of one of your top blogs (I swear I don’t have a side hustle doing marketing for Canva, but yes, they have free infograph templates). Create a roundup-style web page of your media mentions. Turn a recording of a live webinar into an on-demand webinar.
If you make recycling part of your annual plan, you’ll think about the versatility of your content as you create it throughout the year.
September is back-to-school month, therefore a great time to schedule some professional development. Challenge yourself to learn something new about marketing. This can be as simple as reading a book or taking an online course. Dig in on a topic and commit to putting your new education into practice.
It’s entirely coincidental, yet convenient for the sake of this blog post, that our annual conference, XYPN LIVE, falls in September. As usual, this year’s conference will include multiple sessions about marketing. I’ll be back in Coaches’ Corner as well to work with you in a one-on-one session. You don’t have to be a member of XY Planning Network to attend XYPN LIVE, and coaching sessions are open for non-members too.
October: Establish a Partnership
Get out there and network. Although many traditional marketing channels died in the digital age (anyone out there still buying phonebook ads?), this old-school marketing tactic stands the test of time because it works. In October, focus on building bridges and inroads.
This exercise is all about your niche. Make connections with other types of organizations who serve the same demographic. For example, are you looking for families with college-bound students? Do your local high school guidance counselors know about your college planning resources? Maybe they would like a stack of your helpful college funding worksheets to have on hand when they meet with parents.
For those coming off XYPN LIVE this fall, your October goal could be really simple. At the conference, you will likely meet awesome advisors who serve different niches than you. Agree to send referrals to each other and you can go ahead and check your October goal off the list.
November: Thank Your Clients
November is the month for gratitude, therefore it’s a good reminder to let your clients know how much you value their business. I love the idea of making this a habit in November. I get a holiday card every December from my financial planner…and my dentist, and my attorney, my hair stylist, and a realtor I worked with 18 years ago…you get the idea. There’s a lot of noise around the holidays. Getting a jumpstart will increase the impact. Another plus to doing this early: receiving your greeting may remind your clients about work they need from you. Give yourself extra time at year end.
There are a couple of different approaches you could take to express gratitude, depending on the outcome you desire. If you’re hoping your clients will say, “Aw, that’s nice,” then you can simply sign your name to a card. If you prefer your clients say, “Awwww, and THAT’S why I LOVE working with _________!”, step it up. I don’t have data to back me up, but I’d be willing to bet the latter results in higher retention and more referrals.
If you have room in your budget, a small gift of appreciation makes a big impact (nicely packaged gourmet foods, branded coffee mugs, a cozy throw blanket, artist rendering of a local landmark, etc.). If not, a sincere hand-written note is always appreciated. “I am grateful this holiday season for you and your family. It’s been such a joy working with you. I hope Bob & Sue get to travel home in the coming weeks with the new grand baby! Best wishes to all of you…”
Be genuine, personal, and thoughtful and you’ll nail it every time.
December: Editorial Calendar
You know content marketing works, so why aren’t you doing it more? If you find yourself agonizing about what your next blog topic will be instead of writing, spend some time this month developing an editorial calendar for the upcoming year. Whether you write weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, make a schedule of what to write and when to write it and stick with it. Of course, you can give yourself flexibility to modify your calendar as you go to address timely topics, but it will be helpful to have a plan to fall back on when inspiration doesn’t strike.
Remember the golden rule of content marketing as you brainstorm a year’s worth of topics:
- Content must speak directly to the needs of your intended audience (your niche).
If you’re blogging to go after organic traffic, you need to be strategic about your content. Put your ideas through this mental test: visualize your ideal client sitting at their computer googling the topic. For example, if your niche is professional women in tech, it’s feasible to imagine your ideal client searching for information about restricted stock units (shout out to the always-on-point Meg!). But does that blog you want to write about financial themes in an episode of Walking Dead pass this test? What are the odds that droves of ideal clients would google “financial lessons from Walking Dead” and find you?
On a related note, use this same test when writing the title for your blog. This is not the time to be intriguing. The title of your blog should clearly describe what the blog is about. Readers will determine if it’s worth reading (i.e. if the blog can help them) based off the title. Back to the golden rule: the title of your content should speak clearly to the needs of your intended audience.
Look for inspiration in your data. What resonates with your audience? Also, look to your CRM to recall some of the questions and needs of your favorite clients. Get more favorite clients by addressing favorite-client needs in your content.
Best of luck to you with your marketing goals! Remember to give yourself a break. You are not going to execute flawlessly every time. Every effort you make is better than no effort at all.
About Jennifer Mastrud, XYPN Director of Marketing
Jen Mastrud is tasked with sharing the movement at XYPN. Her expertise is in branding, marketing, and public relations. She’s as passionate about the XYPN message as she is about innovating new ways to share it. Before joining XYPN, Jen accumulated several years of experience representing national brands in diverse sectors including technology, gaming, TV, and education. She’s based in Minnesota, but travels frequently to warm up.
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