Author: Chris Hamm

Tampa, FL, 07/17/2019Independent Financial Partners (IFP), an independent broker-dealer and multi-custodial registered investment advisor with more than 200 advisors nationwide, has hired Melissa Loner as the firm’s new Chief Compliance Officer. Previously serving as the RIA Chief Compliance Officer and Vice President of Fiduciary Services at Cambridge Investment Research, Loner is transitioning from one of the largest broker-dealers in the country with more than 4,000 advisors to one of the industry’s newest and most dynamic wealth management and retirement plan consulting broker-dealers where she will be responsible for driving compliance and supervision strategy for IFP.

“I very much enjoyed my time at Cambridge, and I wish them the best as they continue to be one of the most successful broker-dealers in our industry,” says Loner. “For me, though, it was time for a change. I’ve been following IFP’s journey for a little while now and was inspired by the change in approach they have been championing in the industry. After meeting with their team in Tampa, I knew I wanted to be a part of that disruption.”

Melissa’s hire adds more broker-dealer and RIA experience to an executive team that last year added Bill McCauley as the firm’s CFO. McCauley, formerly the CFO at Transamerica Financial Advisors, also arrived at IFP with highly valued industry experience.

“We’ve conducted more interviews than you could imagine trying to find the right person for the CCO role,” exclaims Bill Hamm, CEO of IFP.  “When Melissa came down to chat with us, we knew we had finally found the person we were looking for. I can’t wait for us to get started working on the growing list of initiatives we have.”

Tim Moyer, previously serving as IFP’s interim CCO, will be transitioning to a lead role overseeing the firm’s supervision unit and will be working closely with Loner as she looks to build out IFP’s already robust compliance team.

About IFP

Independent Financial Partners (IFP) is a registered investment adviser, broker-dealer, and insurance agency providing technological, compliance, marketing, business development, and operational support to its network of more than 200 financial advisors. Founded in 2000 by William E. Hamm, Jr., IFP operated as a hybrid RIA and OSJ for 19 years before launching its own broker-dealer in 2019. IFP offers a platform for truly independent financial advisors, one built on choice, transparency, and advisor feedback.

Officially launches independent broker-dealer

Tampa, Fla. May 22, 2019 – Independent Financial Partners (IFP) has announced the official termination of their contract with LPL Financial (LPL) today, and that the firm has begun the process of transitioning to its new independent broker-dealer entity.

Leaving LPL with more than 200 advisors and thousands of client accounts, IFP now faces the process of repapering those accounts and transferring the assets to Pershing, IFP’s chosen clearing firm and custodian – a welcome final step to becoming truly independent.

“Everyone at IFP is excited that this day is finally here,” Bill Hamm, IFP’s CEO, exclaims. “We’ve overcome so many obstacles to get to this point, and to be able to finally start moving accounts and getting our advisors transitioned is a relief. We’re nearing the finish line of true independence, and I can’t wait to cross it.”

The past 12 months haven’t been smooth sailing for Hamm’s firm. Prior to announcing they’d be leaving LPL, IFP’s hybrid RIA and OSJ supported 460 producing financial advisors around the nation. As a broker-dealer and RIA, IFP will be starting out with half that number.

Bill Hamm explains further, “When we decided to go down this path, I told our advisors that we weren’t going to announce a big move and only give them 30 to 60 days to make a decision like most firms do in this type of situation. We told our advisors that they’d have a year to do their due diligence, knowing that many of them would either take the path of least resistance and remain at LPL or find a more niche firm that was more suitable to their needs. We also expected that during the year, other LPL OSJ’s would poach and recruit our advisors. However, that didn’t matter because we knew we had to take one step back to take two steps forward. We had to disrupt our business to become a disruptor in our industry.”

And that disruption starts now. In a world where broker-dealers continue to increase admin fees on advisory platforms, the new IFP model provides an option without them. In a world where broker-dealers don’t allow advisors to text clients, IFP is providing the technology to do so. In a world where broker-dealers are driven by stock price, IFP will be owned in part by advisors who will have a say in the company. IFP was built on transparency, honesty, and accessibility to firm leaders, tenants that are surprisingly novel to many advisors, and the firm will continue to evolve based on that foundation.

Chris Hamm, Bill’s son and chief operating officer of IFP, is excited to help build and grow the firm on top of that foundation. “Our advisors are with us because they trust Bill, and as an extension, they trust our firm. Trust in leadership what our advisors care about most, and that’s why advisors are attracted to our platform. And now that we’re in full control, we can grow our firm as we see fit and with our advisors’ needs in mind. We were capped on growth potential at LPL, but now our potential is unlimited. And, now that we’re on an even playing field, we can’t wait to have the ability to recruit from our competitors.”

Speaking of recruiting – more than 30 new advisors are set to join the firm in the coming months. And as a result, Bill Hamm is excited about this next chapter.

He concludes, “IFP has been around since the year 2000, but it feels like this is just the beginning.”

About IFP

Independent Financial Partners (IFP) is a registered investment adviser, broker-dealer, and insurance agency providing technological, compliance, marketing, business development, and operational support to its network of over 200 financial advisors. Founded in 2000 by William E. Hamm, Jr., IFP operated as a hybrid RIA and OSJ for 19 years before launching its own broker-dealer in 2019. IFP offers a platform for truly independent financial advisors, one built on choice, transparency, and advisor feedback.

2018 was a watershed year for IFP. At the beginning of the year, we made the decision to do something exciting and risky — leave our current broker-dealer, LPL Financial, and create our own. That meant informing LPL of our intent and hoping they would work amicably with us. That meant informing our clients, the financial advisors in our network, of our intent and hoping they would follow us as they have for 18 years.

That meant going against the grain of the entire industry and doing something a hybrid firm of our size had never done before. That meant disrupting our profitable business, and possibly taking a step back, in hopes of taking 2 steps forward down the road. So here we are 12 months later, with our funding secured, awaiting FINRA’s approval of our broker-dealer application, and it’s never been a better time to reflect on the big year we’ve had. Let’s jump right in.

February 2018

Back in February, a few members of our executive team drove down to Ft. Lauderdale to inform Dan Arnold and Andy Kalbaugh, LPL’s CEO and Managing Director, respectively, of our intent to form our own broker-dealer. Being one of LPL’s larger hybrid RIAs, we weren’t sure what to expect, but both gentlemen were cordial and authentic during our discussion. Everyone left the meeting with an understanding that both sides would work together on a mutual separation agreement.

March 2018

A March regional meeting with our west coast advisors in San Diego, CA was the first of 6 regional meetings we held in 2018. With 25-30 advisors in attendance at each meeting, we announced our official intent to launch our own broker-dealer in the first quarter of 2019. What’s unique here is that many firms like us, when they decide to make such a change, do so abruptly and give their advisors little time to make a decision whether to stay or leave.

In every meeting we held, we made it clear to our advisors that they had almost a year to make a decision and that it was their choice to stay or go. That also meant our competition would have months to recruit our people, but we believe in what we’re doing and we knew it was only fair to give our advisors ample time to consider their options.

April 2018

After a few months of back and forth, we signed a mutual separation agreement with LPL in April, allowing us to move forward with creating our own broker-dealer and seek capital infusion to do so, if needed. In addition, we started a hiring spree of sorts, understanding that an influx of talent would be necessary to properly run our new firm. As fate would have it, LPL had recently acquired a broker-dealer based in Tampa, so we had a reservoir of experienced talent come available just as we needed it.

July 2018

To launch a broker-dealer you must file what’s called a new member application (NMA) with FINRA, our industry’s regulator. The approval of this application takes approximately 180 days and involves a very in-depth back and forth between FINRA and the firm. Interestingly, a few days after our nation’s Independence Day, we submitted our NMA to FINRA with the hope of making the first step toward our own independence as a firm.

August 2018

In the midst of preparing for our broker-dealer approval and launch, hiring new staff, and taking on over 50 different projects to implement technologies, processes, and workflows, we decided we also wanted to launch a proprietary technology platform. So, in August, we released the first beta version of Advisor[X], IFP’s proprietary digital interface for financial advisors. We’re now several iterations ahead of that initial launch and will have a fully baked product ready for all of our advisors when the broker-dealer is live.

December 2018

A few weeks ago, IFP’s executive team drove to Boca Raton to interview with FINRA, one of the last steps in the new member application process. We had a great conversation with the FINRA team members we met, and they told us we were one of the larger new member applications they had seen in a long time. We couldn’t have been happier with the meeting, and we’re currently working with FINRA on some final items to close out the application process.

What’s Next?

We anticipated receiving FINRA’s approval of our application at some point in January, so we’re very much on track for the transition date we agreed upon with LPL, which is April 1, 2019. From now until then, we’ll be finalizing the systems, processes, and infrastructure that will allow us to move hundreds of advisors to our new platform.

One of the more important items we will also be finalizing is the equity ownership we’re sharing with our advisors. At other firms, advisors either have to purchase equity or not participate at all. We understand that the advisors who transition with us are the reason we’re in business, so we want to reward them with a piece of the firm. 15 percent of our equity shares will be divided among our advisors and gifted proportionally to those who transition to us in April.

Disruption Is Coming

Contrary to what our competitors are telling our advisors, we’re not creating a broker-dealer just to make our pockets fatter. We’re creating a broker-dealer because we have a vision of what the broker-dealer of the future should look like. Many of today’s independent broker-dealers are slow to evolve, ineffective when communicating, and out of touch with what financial advisors and their clients need and want.

Everything we do is with the advisor in mind. We’re providing 4 different custodians for advisors to choose from for their client accounts, which helps to drive down trading costs on each platform. We’re obtaining enterprise pricing for software and passing those discounts through to our advisors. We’re building a technology infrastructure that makes it easier for advisors to interact with our firm and conduct business.

And this is only the beginning.

I don’t expect anyone to believe or care about any of this just because I’m typing it. All I ask is that you keep watching. We will continually strive to build the financial advisor utopia, find innovative solutions to new and old ideas, and listen to what advisors want.

So, to the industry, our competitors, and our advisors: Keep watching. Disruption is coming.

We’ve all heard the same spiel from a self-proclaimed marketing expert at a conference. There, engulfed in dim, fluorescent lighting, a person on stage casually ran through their PowerPoint presentation where you may have heard the acronym SEO accompanied by the words “Content is King”. The marketing world is filled with these individuals, often claiming to be ‘gurus’ or ‘experts’, with lots of charts and statistics at the end of their industrial-grade laser pointer.

Based on what I’ve seen, financial advisors seldom act on the advice of these speakers, and why should you? You’re busy people. That’s why I want to cut to the chase with some extremely quick and easy things you can do to promote your business online. Let’s get to it.

Citations

Although they were made more popular in the 1970s by AT&T, the “yellow pages” have been around since 1883. While that inch and a half thick business directory continues to get slapped on your doorstep once a year, the Internet has its own approach. Today, there are many websites that operate in this capacity – some are free and a number of them have price tags. Let’s look at a few in each category.

Free

The best things in life are free. Sometimes. This is just a sample of the free citations I personally use for financial advisors we work with. If you want the full list, check out my working document.

  • Bing: Owned and operated by Microsoft, Bing now accounts for 24.2% of all desktop searches according to recent numbers. That’s a lot of eyes.
  • Google My Business: Have you ever searched for a business and seen something like this? You can control, or at least have a say in, some of the content that appears for your firm in that area.
  • Facebook Business Page: Facebook has become a giant and while there are reports of some folks bailing on the platform, it’s probably not going anywhere.
  • The Real Yellow Pages®: Who knows if it’s actually the same people that kickstarted the whole yellow pages thing in Wyoming all those years ago, but that doesn’t matter. It’s still here and it’s free (to an extent).
  • Local.com: I can already hear you yelling at the screen. “He wants me to enter my information dozens of times into multiple websites?!” No, absolutely not. Some of these are citation aggregators. For instance, Local.com will take the information you enter and send it to dozens of websites on your behalf.

Paid

Paid citation services are actually a decent investment for some financial advisors. It’s exhausting work, especially if you plan do it without help. FYI, none of these are endorsements; it’s just so you know your options.

  • Yext: With an outlandish number of partners in their network, they can pump out citations far faster than the average human.
  • Moz Local: Moz has been doing this service for quite some time now. If nothing else, it might be useful to do until you feel like there’s an adequate number of listings.
  • BrightLocal: They can build new ones or repair your current citations on your behalf.

What do I need?

It’s pretty simple: name, address, and phone number. That’s it. You’re welcome to upload a logo, write a brief description about your business, pick your favorite color, or offer up any other erroneous information you feel like providing. However, only the name, address, and phone number have any real use when building citations.

Why am I doing this?

You may see immediate results and have a flood of new customers at your doorstep. You may not get anything at all from it. That’s the Magic of the Internet™. Jokes aside, if you’re doing something with citations, you’re doing better than (probably) 90% of financial advisors. Also, in extremely competitive markets, you might need to go a step beyond and build links from various publications. I won’t burden you with the details of that right now, but I’ll cover it at a later date.

Building a Better Website

Based on the IFP marketing department’s observations, the majority of advisor websites are wildly outdated. We recommend that advisors update their website every year in some capacity. Here’s why.

Security

Imagine your entire job revolved around hacking into websites, placing hidden ads for male enhancement pills, then reaping the cash from people looking to spark some excitement in their relationship. Yep, hackers do it – more than I’d like to admit. An updated website will give you the newest code base and, ideally, the best security that’s currently on the market. Search engines will also discourage users from visiting your website if it’s been compromised. Lastly, you might want to consider SSL encryption to further ensure the safety of your website and the visitors coming to it.

Web Standard Compliance

Web standards change multiple times in a year. I mean, sometimes they’re big changes like Google’s decision to display websites without SSL encryption as unsecure. Other times they’re small quality of life improvements, like Bing’s decision to support JSON-LD through Bing Webmaster Tools. Don’t worry about what that last sentence even means for you. The point is, standards change all the time and unless your website is updated frequently, you’re falling behind.

User Experience

User experience (or UX as you might see it called) is the core of search of engine optimization. Google, Bing, and the other search engines all want users to find exactly what they’re looking for. That should be your goal as well. Website content delivered to users should be concise and reachable with a minimal number of clicks.

Conclusion

This all sounds pretty complicated, right? You’re a busy person and all of this seems like it’ll take some serious time. That’s why I recommend finding a professional that can help. Keep in mind that if you pay someone to do a full overhaul once, you or an administrative assistance can do edits down the road. On a similar and final note, make sure the website is built with a user-friendly software package. Make sure you feel comfortable enough to make edits and, most importantly, MAKE CONSISTENT UPDATES.

‘Til next time, advisors.

In an industry driven more and more by technology, automation, and artificial intelligence, success still hinges on something very tricky: ?humans.

Ugh, humans; we’re a mess. We bounce back and forth in a never-ending cycle between failure and success, mediocrity and greatness, logic and delusion, and just about every state in between. We come in all shapes and sizes and, when we mix with other humans, the result is sometimes brilliant and sometimes disastrous. However, we need humans to run a business.

You can deploy all the technology and automation in the world, but the success of an enterprise starts and stops with the people you hire. Since I began working for my parents (around 6 years), we’ve gone from about 15 employees to almost 50, with another 15 or so on the way in a few short months.

We’re celebrating this growth, but it’s also a trying process for everyone involved.

Finding the Perfect Employee

Many employees at IFP have come and gone as we’ve ramped up from 15 to 50, giving us what feels like a more educational experience than any MBA curriculum. Did you know that some people aren’t driven by money? Some prefer a healthier work-life balance or a simple pat on the back every now and again. Sometimes a single bad seed can put the operation of your business into jeopardy. Employee and management egos can singlehandedly run a company into the ground. I didn’t understand these lessons 6 years ago, but I do now.

With so many different types of people in the world, picking the right ones for your business can be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, you never become perfect at it, but you can put some precautionary steps in place to mitigate hiring mistakes and increase the odds of adding valuable team members.

An Example

IFP is currently hiring for a few different roles, but this week we were conducting final round interviews, led by one of our divisional presidents, with candidates for one specific role that will report to him. After all the interviews, we decided that one of the candidates was the clear winner, and I believe our divisional president is preparing a job offer for him as I write this. As I reflected on how we found him, I wanted to share a few tips that got us to this point in the process.

Tip 1: A Dynamic Job Posting

If you peruse the various job posting sites like Monster or LinkedIn, you’ll see that many company job descriptions are boring and fail to reflect why candidates should be excited about the role and the company. A dynamic and unique job posting with a bit of personality helps the position stand out from the crowd. During our recent job description template revamp, we did this in a number of ways.

Providing Some Background

First, we wanted to create a succinct and engaging ‘About’ section for the company. In that section, we concisely explain:

  1. what our company does in layman’s terms,
  2. what our vision is, and
  3. why the candidate should be excited for the opportunity.

Here’s our updated job description based on those parameters:

We are a financial advisor support firm that provides services for financial advisors in all areas of their business: compliance, technology, marketing, operations, practice management, and more. Our goal is to be the easiest and most frictionless firm to work with for financial advisors and we are looking for creative and talented people to help us perpetually strive toward that goal. At IFP, innovation and user experience drive everything that we do. We are growing fast, and as we grow, we are excited to provide current and prospective employees new and exciting opportunities.

A Q&A Session

Beyond the ‘About’ section, we also wanted to concisely explain the job responsibilities and expectations. So, we created a sort of Q&A format for our job postings wherein we ask and answer questions that candidates might pose. Instead of providing canned answers, our goal here is to be as authentic as possible. Check out some example questions from our job postings below. The text in brackets would be the hiring manager’s answers.

What exactly is the job?

[Brief general description of the job and what department the position falls under.]

Who does the employee report to?

[Name of their direct manager.]

Why is this position needed?

[Give specific details explaining why this position is currently needed and how the position fits in the future of the company, which may include data-driven information.]

What type of software or unique skills are required?

[Simple list of bullet point requirements.]

What are some of the preferred skills and/or software experience that may not be required but strongly desired?

[Simple list of bullet point preferences.]

The candidate I referred to earlier specifically commented that he appreciated the tone and authentic content of the posting, saying it gave him a better feel for the company and the role. At least one person appreciated it!

Tip 2: Curate a Hiring Committee

Another strategy we recently started using was selecting and curating a hiring committee for each role we’re trying to fill. The committee typically involves the hiring manager and one or more people from our executive team, although it occasionally includes someone in a completely different department. We like to sometimes have input from an ‘outsider’ that has proven to be a good judge of talent at our firm.

Each member of the hiring committee participates in all in-person interviews with the candidates so that everyone’s opinions are based on their personal impression of the individual.

Tip 3: Be Structured, Efficient, and Streamlined with In-Person Interviews

When you have completed the initial screening process for employee candidates, which at our firm includes a resume screen by HR and a phone screen by the hiring manager, it’s time to bring the finalists into the office. During last week’s round of finalist interviews, we deployed the tactics below, which made our decision by the end of the week very easy.

1) Ask the same questions to each candidate.

This one is fairly simple and something we haven’t always done in the past, but it may become something we do more consistently based on our interviews last week. While prepping for last week’s interviews, our divisional president, and the hiring manager for the role being filled, prepared a basic list of questions he wanted to ask each candidate. By the end of the week, having asked mostly the same questions to each candidate, we found it much easier to compare the candidates and decide on a clear winner.

2) Debrief immediately after each interview.

Too often during the interview process, we have failed to gather our hiring committee and discuss everyone’s opinions on each candidate. We now schedule debriefing sessions at the end of each candidate interview to discuss our thoughts and reflect on their qualifications.

This small adjustment to our interview workflow allows us to document everyone’s perspectives while they’re top of mind and quickly decide if the candidate should move to the next step in our hiring process.

3) Schedule interviews close together.

We believe that hiring decisions should be discussed and executed on when they’re fresh in everyone’s minds, so we try our best to schedule candidate interviews as close together as possible. Last week we spoke with all the candidates over two days and it was, as a result, much easier to compare and contrast their respective pros and cons.

Closing Thoughts

Finding qualified candidates and properly vetting them is no picnic. From the moment they interact with your business to the moment they get hired, it can be an experience that transcends a cookie cutter process. However, there are guidelines and templates that can separate the less desirable applicants from the gold, but it takes some seriously dedication and time from your team.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please reach out to me at [email protected] Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.

Seniors exhibiting signs of diminished mental capacity are one of the most troubling and sensitive issues advisors face. If this happens, a client may no longer be capable of making his/her own financial decisions. A study by the National Institute on Aging revealed that impaired cognition affects approximately 20% of people aged 85 years and older. However, this impairment can also exist at younger ages.

The Warning Signs

As a trusted advisor, you should be aware of the warning signs that may indicate diminished mental capacity and learn to recognize the potential signs of a client who is impaired due to a physical, mental, or sensory disability. If a client exhibits any of the following behaviors or characteristics, or any other behaviors or characteristics that raise concern, representatives should contact their manager. Clients with diminished capacity may exhibit the following behaviors which may indicate their inability to properly weigh financial decisions:

  • The client has difficulty communicating with you.
  • The client appears unable to process simple concepts. His/her questions and comments seem disconnected or contradictory.
  • The client’s spouse/partner is answering questions for him/her. The client appears unable to appreciate the consequences of decisions.
  • The client does not remember details from prior discussions including requests to process transactions.
  • The client’s physical appearance suggests an inability to care for himself/herself. The client seems confused, nervous or afraid.
  • The client is disoriented with his/her surroundings or social setting. The client’s home seems unusually disorderly (e.g., piles of unopened mail).
  • The client is making decisions that are inconsistent with his/her current long-term goals or commitments.
  • The client cannot manage his/her own checkbook, financial affairs or other personal matters.
  • The client appears to be concerned or confused about missing funds in his/her account.

This is not a complete list. There may be other signs of diminished capacity. If a client is exhibiting these or other behaviors related to diminished capacity or financial exploitation that raise concerns, you should discuss those concerns with IFP Compliance at 813-341-0960 or email us at [email protected]. Client Retention Through a Transition Publish Date; 7/9/2018 Author: Ned Van Riper

Video Transcript

When I work with advisors, especially wirehouse advisors that consider breaking away from their firm, they always ask me about client retention. What drives client retention during a transition?

In my experience, the answer is simple: it’s the advisor’s service model. Meaning, how often do they meet and speak with their clients? And the answer to that will drive client retention. With strong client relationships, client retention is often 75% or more during a transition. Often times it’s within 90 days of a transition.

Horror Stories

We’ve all heard horror stories about the lone advisor that made a move and didn’t bring any clients with them or a very low percentage of his or her book during a transition. I think that’s probably happened and if so it’s likely because they didn’t serve their clients. With that said, I think it’s become more of an urban legend within the industry and it’s just a scare tactic and fun to talk about.

But leaving a brand name firm may not be a big deal when the relationship exists between the client and the advisor. It’s not between the client and the firm. So, if as an advisor you have a very strong client service model, there’s a good probability that many of your clients will come with you.

A True Story

Many years ago, I helped an advisor in Cleveland, Ohio move his practice and he tells a great story about client retention. He segmented his book – A, B, C and D, as most as advisors do – and the A clients received absolute white glove treatment. He wanted to do whatever it took to get those clients, his best clients, to move with him. His B clients received just one notch under the A clients. Pretty much the same great service and attention. And his C and D clients received communication, a couple phone calls about his move, but if they didn’t respond to him, he didn’t bring them with him. After his move he said he was more efficient and more profitable than he ever has been in his business life and he was very thankful for it. Every story is different, but this illustrates one potential scenario.

Thank you for checking out this entry into our recruiting series and we hope to see you next time.

Becoming more efficient is a perpetual task; you can always do better. The more efficient you become, the more you can free up time to spend on the things that matter most. In 2018, I set out to become more efficient as an as an individual and find ways to help streamline some of the systems here at the IFP home office. Although I found many options available online, three tools stood out among the crowd, allowing us to improve efficiencies in a number of critical areas.

Calendly

Scheduling calendar invites for meetings and calls with people outside of my company used to be painful. Someone’s assistant would request my availability, no time slots would fit the bill and we’d end up ping-ponging dates and times until we were blue in the face. I began having nightmares around the phrase, “What works best for you?”

Enter Calendly. There are a few different appointment scheduling tools out there, but we prefer Calendly because of the simple UI, ease of integration and, quite honestly, the name. After signing up for Calendly (the basic version is free) and linking your email calendar, a custom hyperlink is provided for scheduling purposes. This link brings them to a website where they can view times, check availability, and book an appointment on your calendar that works for both parties. Also, if you need to block out times and dates from your calendar, you can make that adjustment in Calendly’s settings.

Every employee at IFP has a Calendly with a link attached to their email signature. Now whenever someone asks to schedule time on my calendar, I direct them to the link in my signature. They’re able to schedule a meeting with me that’s free of conflicts without sending a single email or making any calls.

Calendly also has a robust team interface, allowing people to schedule a meeting with multiple individuals at once, see everyone’s availability on one page, and view key scheduling metrics. This is a great way to monitor your staff’s schedules and manage time efficiently.

Uberconference

Calendar invitations are typically long, convoluted messes filled with conference call instructions featuring 15 different numbers and codes. Then, once I finally dial into the session, I’m forced to listen to 90s elevator music until the host is ready to go. If there’s a screen sharing component, I might be required to download a separate software or plugin to make it all work.

They also love Uberconference’s hold music, which is a parody jingle about a man that’s been on hold all day. It seems like every other call I host, someone mentions how much they love the hold music. Uberconference also gives you a custom URL when you sign up. If you want to host a call with screen sharing, you simply provide the call participants with your custom URL, and that’s it – no downloads, no plugins. And the UI is very intuitive and simple.

At our firm, we leverage Uberconference and Calendly together. Now when someone clicks the Calendly link in my email signature and schedules time on my calendar, the calendar invite that gets generated automatically includes my Uberconference number and URL, which you can set up in your Calendly settings.

Trello

Project management is a skillset our firm is constantly trying to improve. It’s a challenge to manage multiple initiatives across multiple teams at IFP. Although, the ability to do this successfully is what separates good companies from the rest. For instance, we recently adopted the agile approach to project management for our marketing team and we needed a scalable, flexible tool to build on.

Enter Trello. Trello is a web-based project management application. Our Senior Graphic Designer used it at her previous firm, so she recommended we try it in conjunction with our new agile approach. So far, it has worked great. The UI allows us to categorize our projects easily into various columns and create “cards” for every project or to-do. These cards can then be dragged and dropped between columns, edited as details develop, and converted into more cards if necessary.

The Trello user interface is also great when managing projects on the mobile app. I liked Trello so much that I adopted it as my personal to-do manager, which I can access seamlessly from my laptop or iPhone. The column and card functionality also really helps me prioritize my to-do’s, something I wasn’t great at before.

When I talk about Trello, people often offer suggestions for other tools like Asana, but often those tools are pricey or offer bloated features that I simply don’t need. The free version of Trello delivers immense value, and the ‘Power-Ups’ you can buy as enhancements are priced very reasonably. Considering the price point and functionality, Trello is our #1.

That’s It

There you have it – three free tools that can help anyone become more efficient. Although there are many on the market, we feel that these three have provided the most benefit with no initial investment. Check them out and let us know what type of tools use and love on our LinkedIn or Facebook.

If I were selling you a Rolex, would you rather pay me $6,000 or $120 for it? Maybe I have a Ferrari I’m getting rid of and I want to give you the option to take it off my hands for either $200,000 or $4,000. Which price would you prefer?

You’d probably agree that these scenarios sound ridiculous, and it may not be a Ferrari or a Rolex at stake, but I’d argue that such a scenario exists right under your nose. Many financial advisors expend a lot of resources on various advertising methods, two of which are direct mail and email marketing. If you’re choosing one or both of those methods and not exploring Facebook advertising, you might be one of those people that would rather pay $200,000 for the Ferrari mentioned above. Let’s explore the tangible and intangible differences between these advertising mediums and why you’re literally a lunatic if you’re an advisor (or any small business owner) and you don’t at least try using Facebook ads.

TANGIBLE DIFFERENCE: COST

The all-in cost to advertise in any medium is really comprised of two factors: the cost to design the content and the cost to distribute the content.

Design Cost

For the three channels we’re considering (direct mail, email, and Facebook), let’s assume the cost to design the content is the same across the board; in each scenario, we’ll imagine a graphic designer is using InDesign to put together text and images in a way that’s pleasing to the eye and the resulting graphic can be printed, emailed, or displayed in someone’s Facebook newsfeed. In this scenario, the difference in cost between the three mediums is merely the difference in the cost of distribution.

Distribution Cost

The cost of distributing content via direct mail, email, and Facebook varies based on a lot of factors. For purposes of this succinct blog post, I researched average CPM per medium as an all-in cost metric. I also picked the most conservative CPM averages to make sure I wasn’t cherry picking data just to support my opinion. CPM (cost per thousand), by the way, is a marketing abbreviation used to denote the price of 1,000 advertisement impressions. Essentially, we’re comparing, for each advertising medium, how much it costs to place content in front of 1,000 sets of eyes. You can view the cost comparison below:

Facebook Advertising Cost Comparison

*Direct mail is calculated based on a cost of $0.46 per piece mailed x 1,000 pieces. Sources: ControlBeaters, Inbox Interactive, AdEspresso

You can see how my Rolex and Ferrari analogies weren’t too far off. A $7 spend on Facebook gets you the same level of exposure that 14x and 65x that amount get you via email and direct mail, respectively. Until the market normalizes, Facebook remains the most lucrative arbitrage opportunity in advertising. In terms of pure cost, there’s no question where, in my opinion, financial advisors should be spending their efforts and money. Also, when you take into consideration the intangible difference between these three mediums, I think my argument becomes even stronger.

INTANGIBLE DIFFERENCE: PROSPECT’S STATE OF MIND

To make my argument even simpler, I’m going to eliminate direct mail from this section because of how much more expensive it is than the other mediums. Also, as a young person, I usually only check my physical mailbox maybe once every two months. I’m not saying it’s the mature thing to do, but it’s the reality and I’m sure it’s true for a lot of people in 2017. To even consider direct mail as an advertising method is something I can’t wrap my mind around in this day and age.

Alright, I’ve said my piece, so let’s start our analysis of email marketing vs. Facebook ads.

Email Marketing

Imagine your target prospect’s state of mind while checking emails. They already get hundreds per day and the vast majority of those emails are either newsletters, updates, or unwanted solicitations. My index finger gets tired from hitting delete all day long on those emails. And you know what, I may be deleting a very valid offer of something I actually need from a legitimate company. However, I’ve been beat to death with solicitation emails and I want them out of my inbox as soon as they arrive. So, while I might be paying on average $100 for 1,000 email impressions, I would argue that those impressions are similar to the impression a gnat makes when it flies up your nose.

Facebook Ads

What is your prospect’s state of mind when scrolling through their newsfeed? I would say carefree, curious, open, and possibly even attentive. People are proactively signing into Facebook to find interesting content, including posts from their favorite companies. They are choosing to interact on the platform, catch up on current events, and keep up with their friends and family. Of course, an ad in their Facebook feed could be disruptive to their experience, but it does feel more natural than yet another unwanted email. And if the content is good enough, be it a message, photo, or video, people will consume it even though it’s clearly labeled with the word ‘Sponsored’. Facebook gives you the opportunity to place content in front of people who are in a state of mind where they’re more willing to consume it. In that state of mind, they’re more willing to do the very thing you want them to do: consider your product or service.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I know I’m barely touching on all the differences between these three advertising mediums, but I just want to get those wheels turning. For instance, we didn’t even talk about how specific the user targeting can get on Facebook. In addition, over 42 percent of Facebook’s users in the United States are between the ages of 25 and 44, which is a crucial target age range for financial advisors who need to build a younger clientele.

There’s really no other way to put it, so I’ll end this like I started it. If you’re a financial advisor that wants to grow their business and you haven’t explored using Facebooks ads, you’re a lunatic.

Securities offered through LPL Financial member FINRA and SIPC Investment advisory services offered through Independent Financial Partners, a Registered Investment Adviser Independent Financial Partners is not owned or controlled by LPL Financial.

Comfort – it’s what happens when you stop showing up to your not-so-new-anymore job 30 minutes early. It’s what happens when you start letting yourself eat in the car because the new car smell has worn off. It’s even what happens when you decide to pass a little gas on the couch next to your significant other because you both have been dating for months now and you’ve got that on lock.

In this industry, comfort is what happens when financial advisors move to the independent channel and rely more on client referrals than active cold calling and aggressive marketing. It’s also when they realize they can work Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., make a decent living, and have the oh-so-coveted “work-life balance”.

In case the sarcasm isn’t registering, comfort is NOT good. In my opinion, comfort is one of the biggest reasons most independent financial advisors fail to reach their full potential as business owners and entrepreneurs. Now, I’m not saying that advisors don’t want to evolve and grow. However, many advisors easily maintain enough fee-based assets to generate recurring annual net incomes north of $150k. For many, this means that there’s a sort of safety net hampering any motivation to evolve their practice. The two examples below illustrate the negative side of comfort.

Example 1: Branding

For the most part, advisors are the worst when it comes to branding. Many of them don’t even want to discuss it because they don’t see how it will get them new clients. To add to it, the ones that do attempt to brand themselves will pay some outdated marketing firm too much money for a blurry logo and a website that’s full of what I call Viagra pictures – random people positioned awkwardly in a meadow or conference room. They do this because they’d rather go with the cheapest option since they’re unsure of the actual ROI and they’re too comfortable to research further.

Example 2: Learning New Things

Comfort seems to prevent advisors from continued learning. Early in their careers, advisors are soaking in all kinds of knowledge and seek to understand the products and services they need to offer clients. However, as they gain experience, many of them become less and less willing to learn new things and adapt to changes in our industry. For instance, take the idea of multi-generational planning. The need is greater than ever for advisors to leave transactional business in the past and embrace planning, not only for a client, but also for a client’s children. This means pro-actively connecting with those children, and it could also mean learning how fixed insurance fits into a client’s overall estate plan; both of these would require LEARNING and EVOLVING as an advisor.

Comfort Affects Your Bottom Line

I suppose many independent advisors fail to evolve or don’t want to learn because they see retirement for themselves 5 to 10 years down the road. Sure, it’s nice to run a cash flow analysis based on recurring revenue at a 2x multiple and imagine a nice liquidation event that can fund a life of Mai Tais and couples’ massages. Even if that were the case, why wouldn’t you want to maximize that liquidation event? Consider this: 66% of heirs change financial advisors upon inheriting their parent’s wealth. Let’s say I, as a millennial advisor, am looking to purchase a practice from a retiring advisor. You better believe I’m going to discount my offer price if I see no effort by the advisor to cultivate relationships with the next generation or provide estate and insurance planning for his or her clients. If anything is going to motivate an advisor to get out of his or her comfort zone, I would think a hit to their bottom line would do the trick.

Final Thoughts

It amazes me how many people in life become comfortable with their situation and lose the desire to constantly strive toward greatness. If you’re a business owner of any kind and you’re not constantly paying attention to shifting trends in your industry and evolving your business as necessary, you’re robbing yourself and the world of your full potential. I’m sure as parents you wouldn’t tell your children that it’s ok to be comfortable with B’s and C’s, so why do so many of us settle for less than we’re capable of? Do more. Do better. Constantly evolve. If just one person hears this message and embraces it, then it’s been worth my time crafting it.

Want to get out of your comfort zone or talk about IFP? Send me an email and we can chat.

Securities offered through IFP Securities, LLC member FINRA and SIPC Investment advisory services offered through Independent Financial Partners, a Registered Investment Adviser.

Before I was the gatekeeper for everything involving content at IFP, I worked at a marketing agency in Tampa. While I worked there, it was my sole responsibility to ensure that each time a client started a blog, it hit the ground running and continued to captivate their target audience for years to come. In my mind, it became an art.

I could make tile laying projects sexy, discount airport parking seem like the only way to park, and beer look like a great alternative to water. No, I’m kidding – I’m not that full of myself. However, I am good at what I do, which is building an audience and finding a way to connect with them to sell a service or product. Today I wanted to discuss some tips I’ve learned over the years that might help you start or build your blog into the great resource you know it can be.

Find a Voice

Personality is hard to inject into writing. Read some of the text messages you get from people and notice how little the words reflect that person’s quirks, features, and well-known traits. Does it sound like them? Probably not.

Sadly, this is a hurdle many blog writers fail to overcome. Without some serious personality or a unique take on the topics they discuss, a blog becomes little more than a checkbox item that some search engine optimization (SEO) guru told you to check. It’s just words on a page at that point. All I’m saying is, if you want to make some noise, make some noise. Create a voice for yourself and add some personality to your writing to keep people coming back for more.

Write for Yourself

I remember my first job when I was writing 4-5 blog posts a day for clients in a variety of industries. I was writing Dick’s Sporting Goods with my cup of coffee and Macy’s with my late lunch, bored out of my mind with topics like, ‘Top 10 Reasons to Buy New Cleats’ or ‘5 Reasons Your Red Dress Doesn’t Work’. As a creative, it’s soul sucking. As a person like yourself with limited time in the day for writing, you need to find a passion for it.

Blogs require some serious start up time before they get rolling. Without passion, it’s easy to fall off the wagon a few months in and spend the time you’d otherwise be writing doing something you love to do in your spare time. If you’re like most, a jet ski sounds a hell of a lot more fun than sitting inside on Saturday thinking up new ideas for the blog. To overcome these temptations, you obviously need some passion for writing and brainstorming fresh approaches to keep your audience on the hook.

Consider the Layout

Now that I’ve written (and you’ve read) about 400 words of this blog post, it’s time to break it up a bit. Remember that my audience (hey, that’s you right now) doesn’t want to read a wall of text without any visual elements to give some variety. Therefore, I have created the beautiful graphic you see to the left, which has undoubtedly renewed your interest in this article.

In all seriousness, I recommend always trying to mix a few graphics into your articles to give your readers’ eyes a rest or to easily identify a place for a break.

Be Thorough

First, let’s talk about length. While you can absolutely sneak by with 400 words on days you really need to get some work done, I wouldn’t recommend doing it often. My typical article is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 words, but I don’t want you to only focus on a number when considering length. Consider starting with a base and building on it. While the first iteration may be a few hundred words, you can continue expanding it ad nauseam until it reaches your goal.

Either way, it all comes down to SEO. If your article is detailed and extensively covers a specific topic, you are far more likely to organically attract visitors than if you have a series of short, vague articles.

Now let’s talk about finding some eyes to read your hard work.

Build an Audience

Unfortunately, finding an audience is the hardest part of owning your very own blog. While there’s no magic bullet, there are ways to pull outsiders in, if only for a moment.

Social Media

Social media can be a fantastic starting place to capture some eyes, although it can be fairly time consuming and there’s going to be some days you feel like giving up. We live in a noisy world with thousands of individuals trying to get their blog noticed just like you, so you need to make an impact. This is why I recommend retaining a social media expert that can dedicate their time to promoting your blog and company.

If you don’t have the budget or just don’t feel like hiring someone to help out, I’ll be writing a follow-up post about engaging on social media in the new few weeks.

Guest Posting

Find a blog or news provider that offers guest posting opportunities. Some individuals may ask you to pay a small fee for a spot on their website – don’t do it. There’s no reason to pay them money and many times the amount you pay is not worth the link equity you’ll receive.

Advertising

Advertising is an option if you prefer to pay, although I also recommend you look for a professional to help out. Aside from building the visual assets required, you’ll need a real strategy to reach your target audience while spending the smallest amount of money possible.

Guest Star on Podcasts

Some of our advisors have seen some serious success as guests on podcasts in recent years. Try to identify a few podcasts (locally or nationally) that will let you on for a segment discussing plan participant needs, personal finance, or some other facet related to our industry.

Now that you’ve heard enough about building your audience, let’s talk about how we’re going to keep them coming back for more.

Retaining Your Audience

We touched on this briefly above, but I wanted to create a section you could refer back to when scanning this article. Alright, so we’ve got all these people reading your blog, engaging in the comments section, and telling all their friends about the amazing information they received from your posts. Now comes one of the easier parts: keeping them around.

Regular Posting

Set a schedule and stick to it if possible. Readers need more and more content and it encourages them to revisit your website if they know it’s constantly evolving.

Seek and Respond to Engagement

Ask your readers for comments, likes, and shares and foster a friendly environment that encourages people to interact with your posts. This helps establish an emotional connection to your posts and possibly your personality.

Build a Network

As you grow, keep in touch with other bloggers and persons of interest in your social circle. The more involved you are in the community, the more likely people are to recognize your writing and learn more about you. Don’t isolate yourself!

My Last Thoughts

I recognize that I’ve just thrown a lot at you and it can seem overwhelming. The truth of the matter is that you just need to start somewhere, writing whenever the mood strikes to grow your blog. Motivate yourself to put pen to pad and you’re already better than the vast majority of people in this industry that haven’t put pen to pad in years.

If you have questions for me or comments on my article, send me an email! Thanks for reading and I’ll catch you next time.