Not long ago, a strong digital presence was an afterthought for many RIAs. Today, digital planning is one of the first steps on the path to independence. A recent Cerulli Edge report showed that among employee advisors who prefer independence, 55% are interested in starting a new practice rather than joining an existing one and 33% are interested in launching an independent practice with one to two partners.
As the number of advisors leaving wirehouses to go independent increases, more advisors are realizing the importance of having a strategy in place to ensure a clean and successful break. Executing a detailed and in-depth digital branding strategy is a big part of that planning process.
Laying the Foundation for a Clean Exit
Nowadays, it is important to have a clearly defined digital branding strategy ready for implementation at the launch of your new practice. When creating a digital plan for independence, it’s vital to note that it should be customized to an advisor’s individual employment agreement with their wirehouse. The rules of protocol versus non-protocol will come into play when mapping out a team’s plan. As with any long-term business planning, the more time you have to develop your digital branding strategy, the better.
There are a number of important components of a digital brand strategy such as social media, local search engine optimization (SEO) and of course, having your own website. According to HubSpot’s 2020 Marketing Report, 97% of consumers learn more about a local company online than anywhere else. For all business owners, including financial advisors, the need to show up digitally is stronger than ever before.
Financial advisors in the past have often failed to account for the efficacy of social media campaigns in their branding and digital media strategies. This can be a fatal error, as over 3 billion people worldwide currently use at least one social media platform. As social media continues to increase in popularity, financial advisors are beginning to realize the significance of building a strong digital presence after transitioning out of the wirehouse.
Connecting With Your Audience
One of the first steps advisors should consider before launching their RIA is their website. Breakaway advisors should think of their website as the face of their firm. For many prospective clients, a website is their first impression. Thus, in order for advisors to earn clients’ trust in their ability to advise them soundly, they must present themselves and their firm in a professional and capable manner.
A professional website enables advisors to "dress to impress" even when miles away. This kind of online presence marks the difference between a financial advisory business that might succeed and one that might not – making all the difference in the world for independent RIAs.
In addition to having a professional website, advisors must also consider their SEO strategy. Breakaway advisors no longer have the massive outreach capabilities of their wirehouse, making it challenging for some to make personal connections with new prospective clients. However, incorporating local SEO efforts into their digital branding strategy can help advisors rank higher on Google, subsequently driving more traffic to their website and potentially leading to more consultations and client relationships.
Advisors looking to rank on Google should keep in mind that Google ranks what is relevant. Building a solid website and consistently securing high-authority backlinks from credible news sites can help advisors on their path to climbing the Google search engine.
Creating the Opportunity for a Fresh, New Identity
By creating unique stories, breakaway advisors can establish their brand's identity and bolster its reputation. Creating a detailed and humanizing brand narrative can help to distinguish the identity of an advisory business, helping it to succeed long after the break from the wirehouse.
These stories combine readership, direct engagement and other marketing efforts in a mixed-media approach to allow breakaway advisors to create a fresh, new identity. While advisors are beginning to consider their digital strategy more and more, they should also consider how they can use their digital strategy to build an identity that will resonate with their clientele. A new identity enables advisors to be seen for who they are and the services their firm provides rather than as an extension of their former wirehouse.
New research shows the overwhelming majority (73%) of consumers want businesses to tell unique stories rather than simply promote their products or services. Over the years, many financial advisors have adopted blogging into their digital strategy in an effort to release personalized content that appeals to clients. Advisors looking to incorporate blogging into their digital branding strategy should understand that this doesn’t mean simply posting what you’re doing or who you are, but rather crafting a message that will set you aside from competitors and clearly define your firm’s purpose.
Through the power of blogging, independent advisors can establish their identity while also marketing their business and ranking higher on Google’s list of search results. Blogging can help tremendously with SEO efforts, as through blog posts, advisors can keep their website fresh with new and relevant content that will boost client engagement. Reports show that, by 2023, 41% of all clients will be members of Gen Z or Millennials, so blogging and other digital media connections will only grow in importance over time.
In a field where so many competitors are vying for the same client pool, nothing is easier than blending in. As a financial advisor planning to break away from your wirehouse, blending in is the exact opposite of what you want. That means you must work to stand out, and the best way to do that is by establishing a detailed, interesting and unique identity based on stories that resonate with your prospective clientele.
While it’s important for financial advisors to have a digital strategy before transitioning out of the wirehouse, it’s of equal importance to have a clearly defined brand identity, as the two go hand-in-hand. This can not only help advisors secure new clients but bolster their reputation and color the way that clients and strangers alike will view their firm for years to come.
What to Do Now
There are a number of risks and rewards to consider when making the break from a wirehouse to independence. While breakaway advisors lose the structure of the wirehouse, they gain exponentially greater control and autonomy in their work.
Advisors transitioning to independence should put the time and effort into manufacturing a high-quality and thoroughly developed website and brand identity. Through comprehensive digital planning, advisors are able to continue working towards their dream of launching their very own independent advisory business.
Maggie Hudspeth is the Director of Marketing Services at TruClarity Management Solutions, a trusted solution for financial advisor independence and life beyond the leap. The firm offers a comprehensive transition solution and equips RIAs with a robust, turnkey platform for day-to-day activities post-launch. Learn more at MyTruClarity.com.