Leverage Technology to Maximize Your Business Now and in Retirement
By Maria Lizak, Ph.D and Randy McCord
If you’ve ever said…
“I HATE Facebook. I don’t want to know what you ate for breakfast.”
“I will NEVER put a profile on LinkedIn – I enjoy my privacy.”
“I couldn’t CARE LESS about Search Engine Optimization. Technology is a BIG TIME WASTER that just makes Samsung, Apple and Microsoft rich.”
…then this article may not be for you. Stop reading now, turn off your smartphone, unplug your computer, shut down your tablet and find a dark quiet room in which to meditate.
If, however, you realize that technology is not only an unavoidable necessity, but a tool that can be leveraged to grow your business and better serve your clients, then read on.
Many of the same people who disparage technology, use it in their everyday lives. We communicate via email, texts and messaging applications and use the internet as a knowledge and research base. For advisors, technology powers our businesses. Most Dealerships and Managing General Agencies (MGAs) have back office systems, webpages, and marketing personnel who manage the social media messages and the branding associated with an online presence. The regulators use online portals for license renewal and CE credit updates. So there is no escaping technology. Google, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and are not going away. Even Grandma has learned to use technology to keep track of the grandkids.
Despite our reliance on technology, many advisors insist that our value comes from the relationships we build. We agree that in the financial services industry, high touch is important. People tend to do business with people they know, like and trust. However, we maintain that technology can be used to help prospective clients to get to know us (via social media profiles), like us (via the content of our posts and our interactions on social media) and trust in our ability to help them with financial matters (by establishing ourselves as experts in our field, and helping us to do what we said we would do). If executed correctly, our use of high tech tools enables us to be high touch, responsive to our clients’ changing needs.
"If executed correctly, our use of high tech tools enables us to be high touch, responsive to our clients’ changing needs."
If you want to move your business forward, then looking at technology based solutions is a must. Technology can assist in several key areas: branding and lead generation, client service and referral generation, team building, and succession planning. In this article, we are happy to share our experience and recommend tools to assist you in maximizing the value of your business now and in retirement.
#1: Branding and Lead Generation
There are two big reasons to go high tech when your business is in growth mode: Brand Building and Lead Generation. Brand building contributes to people feeling that they know, like, and trust you. In the financial services industry, branding helps establish your role as a specialist and an expert.
Advisors can leverage the corporate brand of their Dealership or MGA as well as building a personal brand. A significant online presence will help when potential clients search for you on the internet. If you have not ‘Googled’ yourself recently, we suggest you do so. If your name does not occupy as least half the entries on the first search page, then you need to get to work. Just opening a business Facebook page and completing a LinkedIn profile will probably be enough to get you all over page one.
Consistency is important in building a brand. Make sure that your message, logo, motto, vision, and mission all appear the same in each of the social media outlets as well as on your website and your blog. That way, whenever you do post, and your followers see your brand, they will know to open your message if they see you as an expert. Also, it allows them to quickly share your posts or information with their network. Consistency of brand is vital to ensure your message does not get lost in the depths of the web.
Another key to building a well-respected brand is to provide interesting and valuable content to your online audience. If you only ever post content that is self-promoting, your audience will eventually lose interest. If, on the other hand, you educate, entertain, and elucidate with most of your posts, your audience will forgive the odd shameless self-promotion. For instance, you can offer a white paper (educational document) or eBook to your subscribers who provide their contact info. This allows you to follow up with them and find out if their interest might translate into an appointment and perhaps a sale.
Videos that provide value are viewed time and again. Videos do not have to be high quality; they just need to be honest and sincere. Make them short and to the point, maximum five minutes, and have your own YouTube channel so they can be found later. You can make a video on your smartphone in a matter of minutes. Usually you know what you want to talk about anyway so a script and many takes is unnecessary. Just speak like you would to anyone who is interested in your topic. If you want a company video that is more professional, you can get them done today for less than $1,000.00. Note: you will want to check with the compliance department of your MGA and / or Dealership before posting both written and video content.
To help establish your brand, there are several technological tools we recommend. Written content can be typed in Word or dictated in Dragon NaturallySpeaking and edited with Word or Grammarly. Visual content can be created simply on your laptop with Paint, or quickly on your smart phone with apps like FontOver, or professionally with Adobe Photoshop. Programs like Piktochart and Adobe Ilustrator can be used to create infographics. Your smart phone or laptop with a camera can be used to record video content which can be edited with Windows Movie Maker. A program like Wistia can provide tracking analytics to see how many, and which people, click through to watch your videos and how far into the video they have watched. All this content can be put to good used on a website, a blog, or even a simple landing page with a call to action.
Once you have created some content consistent with your brand, it is time to let the world know about it. This is easier than it sounds. Simply set up a business-related presence on the major social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google will help you to become well known in the cyber world. Social media management platforms like HootSuite or Buffer allow you to organize and automate your social media posts. These tools will help you disseminate your content across multiple platforms. We usually post 3-4 times a day but we can prepare all the content in advance and then schedule the posts at various times of the day.
All these activities will help build your brand and potentially provide leads if you have set up a proper online funnel to accept new business. In order to convert brand recognition to lead generation, each piece of content posted should include a call to action. Organization, automation and delegation are the keys to not letting the technology overwhelm you.
"Organization, automation and delegation are the keys to not letting the technology overwhelm you."
#2: Client Service and Referral Generation
The next step in building out the technology that will expand your business exponentially is to implement programs to automate client service, follow-up and referral generation. To properly serve and retain our clients, we need to stay in touch with them on a regular basis. Some experts recommend monthly touches at a minimum. In a world where we are bombarded with information, our communications had better be interesting and valuable to our clients and prospects.
Back office systems allow us to record interactions with clients and record Know Your Client information and document Client Suitability for compliance purposes. Many issuers and administrators like Olympia Trust have online portals for clients and advisors to get up-to-date information on their accounts. Issuers are required to provide clients with annual audited financials and EMDs are required to provide quarterly transaction reports.
The ultimate tool for managing customer retention is a customer relationship management software program (CRM). Most CRM programs are a combination of a client database, a follow-up calendar, an e-mail system, and a sales funnel automated to make sure no client is left behind when it comes to follow up. If you have never used a CRM program, it may seem daunting. Setting up a CRM program with high level software will take a lot of time and energy but if you have a large client base or you are running a small agency it is a vital component in your marketing plan. The cost for a CRM program can vary depending on your needs. There are basic cloud-based programs that are inexpensive but limited in their features and there are full-service packages that will cover all the bases for a more significant monthly fee. However, it may be possible for you to get away with a few simpler programs that can work together and emulate the power of a CRM program.
At the very least, you should have some digital format to save client contact information and notes. Even if you just use Microsoft Outlook you can retain enough information about your clients and prospects to easily sort them and provide you with reminders in your calendar for follow-up. But Outlook will not provide you with an automated e-mail service. For that you must look elsewhere. There are several free services on the internet that will allow you to import upwards of 2000 contacts. Mail Chimp is our favourite program as it is easy to build bright, visually appealing emails that may be personalized for your clients and provides analytics on the number of opens and click throughs. Automated e-mail services can be programmed to send out specific e-mails to specific clients or prospects depending on where in the sales funnel they exist. You can program these automated email services to send a series of introductory e-mails. For existing clients, follow-up e-mails can be developed that will send out monthly newsletters, seasonal tips, birthday greetings and calls to action that relate to life events.
In today’s high tech world, some advisors believe a written letter or physical greeting card sent in the mail is a much more personal approach and has more impact. Guess what? There are automated software programs for this too! Send out Cards is a perfect example. Subscribing to this service will allow you to automate greeting cards that are highly personalized. It will even emulate your written script to further personalize the automated cards. We like to take photos with clients and prospects and use this program to send them a personalized card with their picture on the front. These cards tend to stay around for a long time on their mantle, countertop or fridge. Once again, high tech enables high touch.
Another tool that allows for efficiency and greater responsiveness to our clients is an online appointment scheduler like SuperSAAS. It allows clients to book their own appointments during pre-specified hours of operation, from a link in our email signature. This link is also included in newsletters and on websites and landing pages.
No matter which programs you decide to use, it is vital that you hold true to the old axiom; GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). The information in these tools must be kept up to date and purged regularly if you are to maintain proper and timely communication. And remember the CASL laws. Make sure you have permission to send information to your contacts and then double check if you plan send regular follow ups. Clients and prospects must always be allowed to opt out of your email communications. Also, check with the no call lists if you plan to follow up with a telephone call.
#3: Team Building and Succession Planning
We believe that a culture of teamwork and collaboration is the key to maximizing the value of our business both now, and when the time comes for succession planning for several reasons. Firstly, teamwork allows us to use our different strengths to support each other in growing the various aspects of our businesses, including marketing, financial planning, and administration. Secondly, teamwork allows for specialization. Specialization, when coupled with referrals to and from other specialists in our network allows us to maximize our income potential.
There are several ways in which technology assists with teamwork and collaboration. File sharing programs such as Dropbox, Box and Google Documents allow everyone in the team access to the latest versions of documents that can be used by all members of the team. When it is important to coordinate the efforts of a team of individuals, project management software like Asana allows us to assign tasks and track progress toward a goal. Screen sharing programs like Join.Me, Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts allow us to have conversations and do presentations and live demonstrations for each other. Close collaboration among specialists works best with when commission splits can be automated and delegated to an administrative accounting system like the one custom designed for National Best. We receive consolidated commission statements, business development reports, and income tax statements.
Teamwork and technology also aid in Succession Planning. Many senior advisors find technology to be challenging, daunting, frustrating, and overwhelming. However, by teaming up with other advisors, some of whom may enjoy testing out new technology platforms, you may be able to pick up technology tips and tricks and/or have a junior advisor implement technology solutions in your business. There are even advisor connection platforms such as FindBoB that allow advisors to connect professionally around the topic of Succession Planning (think LinkedIn meets eHarmony for Financial Advisors).
Maximize the Value of Your Business Now and In Retirement
Beyond all the opportunities for growth and systemization of your business by leveraging technology, the biggest benefit will be the valuation of you book when it comes time to select a business continuation strategy. Some advisors will decide to sell their book (or be forced to sell because of illness, litigation or other circumstances). Others will prefer to gradually transition their practices to a colleague or junior advisor, remaining active. Still others with more energy and a desire to leave a legacy will choose to grow their practice, build an agency and mentor advisors, increasing their revenue from multiple sources.
No matter which Succession Plan you choose, the role of technology in organizing, automating and delegating cannot be overemphasized. We recently purchased a small book of business from an advisor who was largely paper-based. This meant that there was a lot of extra paper that did not add value to the files and we were missing key contact information for the clients. The purchase price was not as high as it could have been if he’d had a fully functioning up-to-date CRM program with a full-fledged marketing plan that generated business, as well as a system for follow up, regular client contact, automated appointment booking, automated greeting card production and all client information available at the click of a mouse. We think it would have cost us quite a bit more to purchase that kind of practice.
Our advice when it comes to technology and succession planning: Leverage technology and teamwork to maximize the value of your business now and in retirement. Start with small steps that help you stay organized and compliant and build from there. Automate whatever you can to allow you to stay in touch with your clients. Delegate the tedious stuff and stay on top of the input. Before long you will have a system that is both high tech and high touch. Create the dream business that you have been planning all along – and that we might want to buy someday!
Maria Lizak and Randy McCord are co-founders and Executive Business Directors with National Best Financial Network, a network of independent insurance advisors and financial services professionals working collaboratively to empower advisors and their clients to succeed. This past summer, they negotiated a successful exit for an advisor with a client base across Western Canada.