By Zach McDonald
Advisors often look at other firms and wonder, “How did they do that?” Whether it’s technology, websites, digital marketing, investing options, or something else, it can seem downright impossible to keep up sometimes.
Just ask any advisor from one of the firms at the front of the pack, and they’ll tell you: they didn’t get there alone – their team played a big role.
That’s why we call this series “The Building Blocks of a Great Firm.” The best firms aren’t built on one advisor’s laurels. They are a result of several team members operating behind the scenes. And while these “building blocks” often don’t get as much face time as the advisors, their role in getting that advisor to the front lines is absolutely essential.
Our Editorial Director, Zach McDonald, recently sat down with Sidney and Stephanie from Wise Counsel in Georgetown, Texas, to discuss how they keep their firm top of mind with their prospects. Wise Counsel’s founder, Bob Huntley, joined us for the conversation and provided some great insights and context on the value of the work Sidney and Stephanie do.
Meet the Team
How do you describe your job to people when they ask what you do?
Sidney: I wear many hats and I make sure that we are in front of our clients. We hold each other accountable in our office to make sure that’s getting done. On webinars, I make sure they get done in a timely manner, are done well, and push everything along in the process.
Stephanie: I do all the social media and communicate with our clients to make sure they are up to date. I implement all of the outbound marketing pieces.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Stephanie: Basically, I’m looking at the social media calendar that Carson provides us and spending the majority of my day posting. (Editor’s note: Wise Counsel is a Carson Partner firm, so they receive a weekly social media calendar with suggested posts.)
We do a little bit more on Twitter than the majority of advisors probably do. We make sure we have about 12 Twitter posts a day, and they can range from ones that Carson and Cetera provide us, as well as topical things that have to do with financial situations in the household. We found out through our yearly survey that our clients are interested in travel-related topics, so we put those out as well.
We also produce blogs from each stakeholder in our office. We rotate which stakeholder will do one every month. We try to do it as a personal story, but relating to the industry. And those go out into social media as well on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. So, my typical day is making sure those blogs are uploaded to the website, have a nice stock image, and that everything is ready to go live on the website.
Sidney: Being a smaller office, we all wear lots of hats. A typical week for me on the marketing side – like Stephanie said, we have monthly blog posts for stakeholders – but Bob also does a monthly blog. So, 24 blogs a year that we write and produce. And we also add in a quarterly COI (Center of Influence) blog, so that’s actually 28 blogs a year we’ll have done in 2018.
We have a pretty good system down. We’ll have a blog from a stakeholder, Bob or a COI. It goes through the editing process – through me, then through Stephanie, then compliance – and that turnaround takes a week or two. We also do monthly newsletters. We create a draft for those, submit them to compliance and put them through the editing process. So I help make sure that stuff is getting done on a monthly rotation.
We do events here as well, and that falls into the marketing wing. We do these once a quarter. If it’s the beginning of the quarter, I’m planning the event, or if it’s toward the end we are preparing to actually put it on.
We also run Facebook ads on monthly rotation. We use some of the Carson stuff, and we’ve used personal stuff as well. We don’t do boosted posts, but we do a Facebook personal ad from our business page.
What other things are you doing in terms of planning?
Sidney: Right now, since it’s the end of the year, I’m doing an annual marketing calendar, budget and objectives. I go through and create some deadlines for the blogs. Next year, we actually decided to do some video, so I put deadlines around those projects.
We learned we work well with deadlines around here, so a calendar helps us. I also make a budget to make sure we are keeping ourselves accountable. Then also, like I said, I like to have a reason for why we’re doing what we’re doing – and we do a lot of marketing around here – so we want to make sure it’s purposable. I’m working ahead right now to structure 2019.
Would you say it’s mostly all planned or you do you face any last-minute events or communications?
Bob: Every now and then something important is happening and so we want to send out an emergency email or letter. We just did one of these where we were talking about market volatility. We decide what the message is going to be, and I turn it over to Sidney and Stephanie. In this case, we had the Carson-prepared talking points, so we attached that to our email blast. We also make sure to get compliance approval and format it, but Stephanie is kind of the last stop before it goes out. She makes sure that Constant Contact has the email list and all that.
Let’s go back to the newsletters you mentioned. What does that process look like, and what are you including in these newsletters?
Stephanie: The monthly blog that Bob does is what we call his “Money Simplified” newsletter. It’s usually around the middle to the end of the month that we send those out. And then the monthly newsletter that Sidney mentioned is called “In Case You Missed It,” and that includes all the blogs done by stakeholders, Bob, or a COI.
If we have a webinar replay – we do webinars on a monthly basis – we put those in that newsletter. So then if they didn’t see it on our website or social media, they can refer back to that. I do that usually on the first Tuesday of every month for the previous month’s blogs.
In terms of video, on your blog you had the latest piece from your “Life Defined” series with the Oak Ridge Disciple House ministry. Is that a video you did internally, or did you outsource the video work?
Sidney: That is an internal thing for us. We use an iPhone, so we put it on a tripod with a stabilizer and we have a little lapel mic that attaches to it. Bob’s daughter-in-law is a video editor, so we do some stuff with her on a one-off basis. We’ve done a few things with her and she is really good at crafting the message that we are looking for.
Bob: That’s another thing that we didn’t mention – Jen, my daughter-in-law. I pay her a monthly amount to be part of our team where we have her instant video editing capabilities on demand, and that allows us to be more aggressive with video and photos we take at client events.
I’ve found that having that capability on our team – beyond just doing it as a favor once in a while, but an actual paid contractor – to be very helpful. You don’t have to have a full-time person to get that done, you can have a contractor that you know and can reach an agreement with, and that’s an affordable way to have that capability in your team.
You mentioned you are shooting the video on an iPhone with a mic. The audio quality is great – what kind of mic are you using?
Bob: We use the Rode smartLav+. Jen actually recommended it to me. It’s less than $100, and it plugs right into your iPhone. It’s not wireless, but you can get a 50-foot cord and plug it right in. I’ve used it outside on a windy day and it’s amazing the audio quality it makes.
OK, getting back to the topic at hand: what software would you say is integral to doing your job?
Stephanie: I use Hootsuite for social media. It’s free up to 30 posts, so right now I’m just using the free version. We don’t use anything special for blogs, we just put them in Microsoft Word and both read through them.
Sidney: I use a program called Grammarly. It’s a free download into Word that goes through to make sure all your grammar is correct. It usually catches a couple of stylistic errors. We use Constant Contact, and we’ve used Wistia before to host videos.
Stephanie and Sidney, what would you say are the main benefits your roles bring to Wise Counsel?
Stephanie: Sidney and I were just talking about this. We’ve received a lot of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) benefits from what we’re doing. Right now we’re at the top of Google search results for advisors in Georgetown. We’ve seen a lot more engagement, and have doubled our likes on our Facebook page this year.
One thing that has really helped keep our clients engaged is on Fridays we do a stakeholder post on Facebook and Twitter. We try to get a picture of one of our stakeholders in the office and say something on a personal level. Maybe they went to the Circuit of America track and did something fun with that, so we get a photo and post a paragraph or so.
So the SEO results seem to be paying off?
Sidney: Today, if anyone is looking for a doctor or lawyer, they Google it. If it’s not referral-based, most leads come from finding our website, which comes from having original content.
Bob: For me, it’s all about branding and hitting on our big idea, which is to be Georgetown’s most trusted for financial advice. Once we conquer that, we will expand. But I know that when I’m looking for something I go searching on Google and go to a company’s website, and usually go to its social media, too.
I think people are doing that with us, and it instantly builds credibility. It’s not just boilerplate stuff, but actual meaty content. I think that is what’s so great about the Carson stuff – it’s social, real-person stuff that we’re putting out. It’s a balanced picture of real people being committed to the community that support the things that clients support.
Our whole mission is to have that image and that brand that is basically a 24/7 billboard that we can blast and target out in our little zipcode. All of these efforts are an ongoing, cumulative effort to accomplish that branding.
What is your favorite content piece you’ve created at Wise Counsel?
Sidney: We’ve done two Life Defined posts, blogs and videos. I get to write those and talk to people at nonprofits and be the one that engages with them on what their operations are. We partnered with the Georgetown Animal Shelter, and partnered with them for an event in March that we called our Shred fest. So, we rent a shred truck and bring it onsite and invite people to come shred all of their stuff, like tax documents.
It’s a pretty big success, and this year we invited the animal shelter to come do an adoption drive alongside that. Who doesn’t love dogs? I got to talk to the people at the animal shelter and write a blog about their efforts here in Georgetown. And then the Oakridge one, as well. Getting to hear the heart behind that ministry and what they’re doing – getting to do that at this job, I just love it.
Stephanie: The only thing that I can think of is I wrote a blog about the passing of a loved one and it really hit home to me because I lost my mother a couple of years ago. It really made me think about what you need to do to be prepared and what you should talk to your relatives about ahead of time so you’re not blindsided.
Bob: Yeah, it was a nice piece. We try to have an ongoing culture around here that is just marinated in the reality that life is about more than just money. Money is a means to an end, not a means itself. That’s what the Life Defined series is all about – having the freedom to write blogs about something other than financial stuff. It rounds out the picture of us as real human beings that aim to serve the people we help.
I think that having these channels for getting these messages out there is just fantastic for us because we have the system and the team to push good content out. I can’t recommend highly enough having someone like Stephanie, because she knows the topics to look for and when it’s time to recycle some past content. Having someone focus on that as their primary duty makes it possible to create this content and have it go out in a systematic way.
It makes us seem real and separates us from the competition locally. We know it’s helping us be more relevant in searches. So, it all fits together and there is no one thing that moves the needle – it all works together to help.
What would you define as success in your individual positions?
Sidney: I know that we received a client last year from LinkedIn pro-finder, two clients actually, specifically from our social media. One is a guy in California, but had family in Texas and actually just moved here, but he became a client while he was still in California, so that was really cool.
I know we have received a few clients since I’ve been here from our website leads, which always starts with Google and us being at the top of the page. I know most people just click on the first thing they see, and I’ve had comments and have connected with advisors, and we’ve had people download free guides.
Bob: We currently have $4 million in prospects that are direct leads from Google searches. I think that the biggest benefit to us is the SEO benefit – once we became Carson partners with a different website design and being Google-friendly, almost instantly we got to page one of search results, and now we are at the top. So we get a pretty steady stream of calls now.
Stephanie: We also do an Advisory Council, where we have a few of our top clients who, on a semi-annual basis, give us a lot of feedback on our content. They told us they enjoy getting the newsletter and they like the stakeholder posts every Friday. They like that little bit of human touch that we do on Facebook and Twitter. And a kind of win, for me, is that Carson themselves will retweet a lot of our blogs, and so that really gets us some additional exposure.
What are some of your big marketing outreach goals in 2019?
Sidney: We are working on that right now and we have our planning retreat, so we’ll have some more solidified numbers. We are increasing our marketing budget, and I want to focus on creating good word-of-mouth marketing. We create that by being in front of our clients, and I think that means more face-to-face. This means putting more money into client events, passion prospecting, community engagement – things like that.
This year we did a lot of brand awareness, so next year we want to do more community engagement locally. Being a sponsor for big events around here, or maybe a local radio show. Things around Georgetown and Williamson County are going to be a big push for us.
We also said videos will be a big push. It’s a driver on social media accounts – everyone loves video. We are still playing with that, so we don’t know exactly what it’ll look like, but some sort of educational mini-series.
I’d say videos and community engagement are our two big things for 2019.
Bob: Webinars are another big one. We did four webinars, and originally took a couple of ideas Carson had built. But then we thought: What if we had a discussion rather than just one person going through the slides?
Then we thought maybe we could bring an expert in, maybe a CPA, and that’s when I really got excited because I realized we can basically bring a person into our conference room and have a slide deck for a topic. I’ll kind of interview them and it’s a webinar, but is almost like a blog or a podcast but done in webinar format.
We record it, and it gives Stephanie another piece of content she can share. We promote that local business and just share the love.
Sidney: I think that education was a big thing we learned from our clients is something they really want. They want to understand what they’re doing; they already trust us, they just want to know more about what we are doing and investments and things that affect them in retirement.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Wise Counsel?
Sidney: For me, it’s the people. I love our team and the people I get to work with every day. For being a small office, you have to love each other or that would be a long week. I’m eight hours away from home, so they have created a place for me to have a home-away-from-home during the week.
And also, what we do – I’ve come to love this industry. Some things in my life are shifting, in the best way, and I’ve kind of fallen in love with what this industry is and what it does for people because it’s life-changing. I work for a firm that does it well, and we’re a part of Carson Group, and they do it really well. So, I’ve kind of stumbled into something really great here.
Stephanie: I think for me, it’s really the people and then also the fact that we complement each other and definitely play to each others’ strengths. Each person has a personality or a work style that lends itself to the team as a whole. I think that each of us has a part to play as a team member. So, that’s really what it is – that we each have our own strengths that add to the team as a whole.
00368156 – 12/18/2018