The Tools of the Trade

I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past year about how I get my websites, blogs, emails, and other practice management tools to work the way I do.  It’s like a search for some secret sauce.

Sadly, there is no secret sauce.  But there are a bunch of tools I use everyday to make this business happen, automate mundane tasks, and essentially free up time for ultra high profitability activities.  In this post I’ll share some of these tools and how I use them.

Blogging:

All my blogs (4 of them currently) are hosted via WordPress.  WordPress is a free blogging platform that also can be used to completely run any website.  In fact, all of my websites are also running WordPress for content management.

This makes is super easy to change content, add videos, and have a super polished, professional online presence without forking over huge dollars.

Website Design and Hosting:

As mentioned, I power all my content with WordPress.  But WordPress can’t design your sites and make them all pretty and functional by itself.  If you need an domain name (like www.AdvisorControl.com) but still want to power your site with WordPress you’ll need a couple tools to make that happen.

For hosting I use Bluehost.  Bluehost allows me to buy domain names (over 50 at last count) and host them for super cheap ($7/mo).  What’s really cool is I can literally have hundreds of different websites running on my Bluehost account and the price never goes up.  Plus it has a push button integration with WordPress so after I buy a domain it takes me only 5 minutes or so to actually have the site up and running with content.  Click here to check out Bluehost.

For the design part I use two different methods.  When I want something truly custom I turn to my friends Andy and Jon at Concept A Studios.  They are world class designers and do awesome work.  But if I don’t want to pay the extra price of 100% custom work I just use something called a theme.  A theme is a ready made design that can be used with WordPress with just a few clicks of a button.  There are thousands of great themes out there and I get all of mine from ThemeForest.  ThemeForest allows me to see exactly how my sites will look and function before spending a dime.  Plus most themes cost less than $50.

So it is possible to have a killer website for about $60 upfront and around $10/year.  Just don’t tell all those fancy $50/month financial advisor website design companies.  How’d you think they actually make money (uh, ripping you off).

Automated Email:

I’m sure you’ve gotten emails before that are all sequenced out.  They sort of look like personal emails, but in reality they are part of an autoresonder sequence.  So if someone signs up for something on your site you start to get a string of automatic emails over the course of days or weeks without the sender actually ever having to touch a button.

This is super easy and very effective for financial advisors, yet almost none of them actually do it.

To automate all my follow up, as well as send out “blasts” to my email lists I use a tool from Aweber.  Aweber is easy to use and even has a “plugin” to WordPress.  So again, just a few clicks and I can have a great web form on my site for visitors to “opt into.”  This allows me to build a list, nurture it, and convert those visitors into clients.  Simple, cheap, and ultra effective.

CRM:

I’ve been a user and raving fan of Redtail Technology for about 2 years.  Since I have a background in coding in my early years I used a custom build Microsoft based CRM system.  But eventually it got old, and companies like Redtail came along with better technology for super cheap prices.  I use Redtail everyday.  It manages my calendar, keeps track of all my clients, automates follow up, stores all my electronic documents, and archives all my email.

It’s one of the most vital things in my practice and allows me to work effectively from any location on the planet just like I’m in my main office.

Portfolio Reporting:

If you’re a smaller shop you’ve probably only ever used the regular statements provided by your custodian.  Well, in this day and age that’s just not enough.

You need to offer consolidated reporting of all your clients holdings and do so with simple, easy to understand reports and/or online portals.  Currently I use 2 services for this, 1 that is somewhat costly, and another that is uber-cheap.

For print reports and in-depth analytics (GIPS compliance, etc) I use Orion Advisor Services.  Orion is truly a turnkey solution that works like a champ.  I would highly recommend it for firms that manage at least $50 million or more.

For online portals I’m using a newer service called Blueleaf.  Blueleaf could be a complete game changer for our industry.  The pricing is absurdly low for how sophisticated the software is.  It’s a web based application that basically allows advisors to offer a “mint.com” to their clients.  This means the clients can see everything they have, including held away accounts (like bank accounts, CD accounts, 401k plans, Schwab, Fidelity, etc.).  It also allows the advisor to see all that information and really puts you in the drivers seat as the one and only financial advisor your client will ever need.

Blueleaf works very well for larger firms like mine, but also is priced so that even a startup independent can offer billion dollar firm technology without breaking the bank.  They’re still a fairly new company so I’m sure as time rolls on there will be more developments to the platform – but it’s already rock solid, easy to use, and at the best price point in our industry.

Online Video:

I believe online video is already crucial to advisors success.  Whether you want to admit it or not your clients are online right now and finding financial advice videos.  Don’t you think they should be your own?

The cool thing is that making videos is super easy and very inexpensive.  Plus it allows you to educate your clients, gain trust from prospects, and control mis-information.  All you need is an easy way to record the videos and a simple place to upload them.  Here’s how I do it.

To record videos you basically have two options:

  1. Screencasts – where you record what’s on your screen while narrating the audio while doing so
  2. Live video – where you record yourself and whatever content you feel the need to share

For Screencasts I use Camtasia for Mac (there’s a Windows version too for PC users).  It’s simple, cheap, and works.  You just open up the program, select the part of your screen you want to share, then record.  When you’re done you can upload directly to YouTube if the video is less than 15 minutes or you can host the video directly with Camtasia (for a few extra bucks per month).

For live video I either use a simple Flip HD recorder or the built in camera on my iMac.  Once these are done I just import the video (trust me, super easy to do) to iMovie (for Mac users) and then upload directly to YouTube.  If the video is longer I upload to Vimeo.  Either way once the videos are online I can easily post them on my website or just provide links directly to my YouTube or Vimeo channels.

If you want to get all fancy you can do that too.  You’ll just need some additional education on using video online.  Here’s some easy, cheap e-books to build up that knowledge:

Video Traffic Academy – a dude from right in my hometown created this training program that shows how to use YouTube within your business.  A little cheesy, but effective training if you know nothing at all about using video in your business.

Education:

I’m a big believer in always advancing knowledge as both a business person and a financial advisor.  Here’s some of my favorite books on the topics –

The Ultimate Sales Letter – Dan Kennedy.  This is a must read intro to effective copywriting.  If you want your letters opened, your seminars attended, and clients calling you looking for help then this is a great place to start.

Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill.  An old standby in getting in the right frame of mind and surrounding yourself with the right people.

The Millionaire Messenger – Brendon Bruchard.  The definite expert in spreading your message as an expert of any topic, including financial advice.

The Four Hour Work Week – Tim Ferris.  A little out there, but rock solid advice on managing your time and getting more out of each ounce of effort you put into your business.

Purple Cow – Seth Godin.  One of my favorite authors and a cornerstone of why I do what I do.  Basically calls out everyone who is shipping average products/advice when it should be great.

Tribes – Seth Godin.  Want to build a raving fan client base that eliminates your need to ever spend a dollar on marketing?  Read this book, then hustle.

More to Come

I hope this helps you out.  If there’s more you want to know about how I run a muti-million dollar business from over 2,000 miles away from most of my clients just ask away in the comments section.  Wonder how to do that with literally only spending 8 weeks in the office all year?  Again, just ask.  I’ll expand this list as a working resource checklist of the essential items.  For now this should give you a pretty good start on the tools of trade to a highly efficient and profitable financial advisory business.