Most financial advisers and investment professionals agree on the need for a well-designed website. It’s the virtual equivalent of a well-designed office. For better or worse, it makes a statement about your practice that influences the perceptions of clients and prospective clients.
Which is why it’s important to make your website reflect your brand. So when it’s time for a website refresh or re-do, should you outsource the project or do it yourself? It depends. The keys are to decide what kind of site you want, whether you have the resources to dedicate to the project, and how much you want to spend.
Form follows function
Website types range from a simple brochure template to a completely customized, highly interactive and content-rich design. Decide on the purpose of the website: Is it a marketing tool? An information resource? How important is it to distinguish you from your competitors? Who will provide and update the content? How often? The more you want from your site, the more customized it should be.
Even a brochure-type site should offer a choice of design templates as well as simple marketing tools such as contact links, map finders, information-request forms and limited site statistics. A step up from the brochure approach allows users to access dynamic content such as informative newsletter articles, financial calculators, stock quotes and other research tools. More sophisticated sites are built to reflect your corporate identity and may include custom-designed banners, backgrounds, forms and animation.
Examine your staff resources
Building a website from the ground up takes expertise. It involves strategic planning, project management, web design and development. It also requires database development, website hosting, domain name registration, online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).
Those things take time, too. You could spend hours doing things that a skilled web professional could do in minutes. That’s not only more expensive. It’s also time away from serving clients.
So unless you have a web development team on staff, your time is probably best invested by outsourcing from a professional website supplier.
Choose a vendor
If you decide to go the outsourcing route, your next step will be to choose a vendor. In your research, ask if they provide a range of choices, including budget-friendly options. Does the price include such things as hosting, domain registration, content, forms, maintenance and SEO? How long have they been in business? How many websites have they produced?
Websites are not a once-and-done thing. So it’s important to work with a vendor that provides good continuing service and an easy-to-use product. Updating the content should be simple, fast and intuitive.
Another consideration is financial-industry expertise. Instead of supplying generic website templates, some suppliers specialize in websites for the financial services industry. These vendors may offer online tools for investors to conduct research, access their portfolios and read FINRA-approved articles on investment and finance.
Set your budget
Prices vary depending on project size and functionality. At the low end, you can use online site-building services and get a professional-looking, if not unique, site set up for $300-$500. More-customized designs for small firms start at $2,000-$3,000. Factor in monthly maintenance fees, too.
Not surprisingly, most financial advisers and investment consultants choose to outsource. They’d rather pay an expert to do what they do best. And that makes sense. After all, that’s why your clients hire you.
More and more interactions with clients and prospects these days happen online. So, whether you outsource or insource, whether you choose a simple or more full-featured site, make sure your virtual office makes visitors feel welcome, engaged and maybe even a little impressed. Consider the money spent on a website not just as an expense but as an investment that, managed properly, will yield a return.
To see a menu of SEC- and FINRA-compliant website plans for financial professionals, check out Smarsh Sites, a service of Smarsh, a technology leader in the financial-services industry since 2001.
I was perusing my Twitter feed the other day when my eye caught a particularly off-the-cuff status. One entity I follow harshly criticized a rival. I couldn’t help but be put off. Friendly banter between competitors is normal and expected, but malicious conduct is not. A code of etiquette exists on all social media platforms—it mirrors what we would expect to observe in a face to face setting. The behavior I witnessed can result in a loss of followers, but more importantly, it can cost the trust of clients and partners.
As financial advisors, FINRA regulations add another layer of complexity to social media conduct. Here is a list of Top 10 Twitter Taboos for financial advisors:
1. Tweet Advice Twitter is great for establishing initial connections and maintaining those connections. It’s not the venue to transmit sensitive information such as stock tips.
2. Tweet Blindly Twitter is interactive and published content doesn’t require FINRA pre-approval, but every financial company should have its own social media policy in place. Always consult with your company’s policy before participating in any social media activity.
3. Ignore the dissenters. Twitter used for business is about respectful engagement. Don’t shy away from people who offer different opinions or insights. Use this platform to acknowledge them; you can always request offline time to address an issue.
4. Post when tired or otherwise not yourself Chances are, there’s a more opportune time to post on Twitter than before going to bed. If you’re tired, in an emotional state, or relaxing with a glass of wine after dinner, you may not be in prime Twitter form. There’s no harm in waiting to tweet.
5. Tweet someone’s product Posting about someone’s product or service may be viewed as an endorsement, which can cross the line with FINRA regulations.
6. Use auto-responses. Canned replies feel impersonal and sometimes they don’t accurately apply to the situation. Twitter is an interactive platform, intended for social connection. Bottom line: There’s no replacement for a human being.
7. Tweet whatever comes to mind. Akin to tweeting when tired or in an emotional state, tweeting from the hip can backfire. Carve out time in your schedule for social media so you can really consider your tweets prior to posting. Even though it’s a social forum, you’re still using Twitter to represent yourself as a business professional.
8. Talk to yourself. Twitter encourages dialogue, often with individuals or brands you may not have access to otherwise. Don’t make the conversation one-sided; take time to learn about the people you connect with.
9. Retweet if you like it. Know what and whose information you are retweeting. Retweeting is often seen as an endorsement of content. As the head of a company, if you retweet an article you and your company are essentially blessing everything in that article, even its speculative commentary. Investigate prior to passing it along.
10. Stir the pot. This may seem pretty straightforward but you’d be surprised at how often this gets people into trouble. Retweeting content can proliferate speculative or false information if you don’t have a full understanding of the information you’re sharing. Also, remember that sarcastic undertones are often missed via the written word. A joke can be easily misunderstood.
Here is one thing you can do, whether on Twitter or any other social media network to provide value to your followers and define yourself as an expert in your field: provide unbiased education about various financial concepts.
- What is a 529 or gift tax?
- What is the cap you can put into your 401k plan this year?
- Tips on financial budgeting
- What is the general economic outlook for 2014?
Finally, don’t forget to sprinkle in a bit of appropriate humor and personality so people can easily relate to you. Never lose sight of the reality that people buy from people. Your clients want to know there is a real person behind the tweet or status update.
Remember, if you’re interested in using social media, you’ll need a solid archiving & compliance solution in place. www.smarsh.com/socialmedia
Even on my best writing days, I may find myself staring at a blank computer screen; developing truly engaging content can be so challenging. I’ve learned that, although an editorial calendar can keep me on track, it’s pretty useless if it doesn’t have any content in it. Creating fresh ideas and content is important.
If I can grab ahold of even a general concept or topic, mind mapping is an ideal tool to develop that kernel into a complete body of work—because it mirrors the architecture of how our brains naturally function. (Though the human brain is still a mystery, research has identified that our brains search for information and process data in branch-like patterns.) The mind map method encourages and captures our organic thought processes in efficient and visual ways, flexing our right and left side of the brain. You can work out a map on good ol’ scratch paper or save some trees and use software instead. Working on a computer provides added benefits such as an endless work area and easy editing capabilities.
I’ve developed a quick how-to guide to get you started brainstorming on your mind map journey:
- Start in the middle of a blank page, writing or drawing the main idea you’ll explore. I suggest you work with your paper or screen in landscape orientation.
- Develop subdivisions, subtopics, and facts related around this central concept, connecting them to the center with broad lines.
- Repeat the same process for the subtopics, branching individual facts off subtopics when appropriate. Connect each of those to the corresponding subtopic, using thin lines.
- Let your right brain go crazy. Use lots of colors, drawings, and symbols. Be as visual as you can; the more effort you make, the more brain reward you’ll receive. Mind mapping awakens memory power and information processing, as well as cortical skills of logic, rhythm, lines, color, lists, daydreaming, numbers, imagination, word, and gestalt (meaning: seeing the whole picture).
- Keep idea labels short. Use a single word if possible—or better yet, just a picture. When you start mind mapping, it’s tempting to write blocks of text, but it will be much more effective if you represent your ideas with a single word or figure.
- Vary text size, color, and alignment. Draw connective lines in different lengths and widths. Provide as many visual cues as you can to emphasize important points.
Mind Maps: Colorful and Cool, But Useful, Too!
Once you have a mind map in place, it’s important to know how to transform all the sensational ideas you’ve developed into a cohesive piece of writing. The large center hub of your mind map represents the main idea of your article or blog post. Create a double-spaced bulleted list of each sub topic. Under your subtopics, incorporate indented bullets for any additional details and facts you may have included on your original mind map. In just minutes, you’ll have an ordered list of every point you’ll want to cover in your written piece.
The mind map is a replacement of the outlines we’re familiar with when we need to organize thoughts and ideas. Truthfully, we aren’t linear, left-to-right thinkers (though traditionally, we cultivate our ideas in these directions) and mind maps really push us to think in radial ways.
This process probably won’t feel intuitive initially, but push beyond the awkward in search of the reward of previously unconsidered perspectives. There’s no time like the present to try a new methodology. Now that you’re motivated with all this fractal brain talk, get mapping!