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Alternatives to SharePoint

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Collaboration is key for any business or operation.  In order to run a business in today’s economy, there is a need for collaborative technology.  Collaborative technology is the foundation for aligning business goals with technology, in order to facilitate effective communication and improve productivity.

SharePoint is a collaboration suite used by many professional services and firms. It is a family of software products developed by Microsoft that allows businesses to store, access and share information among members of their organization.  Although SharePoint offers many robust collaboration features, it certainly isn’t the best fit for every business.

There are a number of Sharepoint alternatives in the market today with similar collaboration functionalities.   Which alternative you choose depends entirely on what tasks and objectives you are looking to accomplish with your collaborative platform.  Let’s take a look at some solutions for alternatives to Sharepoint:

Alfresco

Alfresco is a robust and scalable content management platform that is built on open source technology.  Alfresco is designed to enhance business’s productivity and workflow, by focusing on collaboration.   The solution encompasses similar functionality as SharePoint, but at a much lesser cost.  This free platform enables organizations to collaborate more effectively across cloud, mobile, and on-premise environments while also interacting with team members through Alfresco’s miniature social environment.  The platform makes communication among different organizations simple using message boards, individual and group calendars and more.  Alfresco offers mobile app integration, making it easy to edit projects from anywhere, at any time.

Liferay

Liferay is the leading open source portal and social collaboration software.  When it comes to providing collaboration features to facilitate effective communication and improve productivity, Liferay is one of the leading technologies for businesses.  Liferay provides an easy-to-use interface that allows you to work collaboratively using the right tools for sharing knowledge and communicating.  With Liferay’s collaboration tools you are able to assign tasks, create meetings, share knowledge using built-in calendaring, task management, wikis, blogs and more. Unlike SharePoint, Liferay’s open source platform is built to ensure it can support and extend the application to grow with the business and brings collaboration into your daily routine without requiring extra steps.

Huddle

Huddle is a cloud-based enterprise collaboration and content management platform, which allows people to connect, share and work together easily.  It is designed to enable people to collaborate in Huddle’s cloud via their Microsoft Office tools.  Users can save files into their Huddle workspaces directly from Microsoft Office applications, with a Huggle comment stream alongside it.  Huddle supports mobile applications and allows employees to track project deadlines and completed tasks, reassign projects, and easily manage and exchange information or projects with others.

Collaboration Solutions Software (IBM)

Collaboration Solutions (formerly Lotus Notes) is IBM’s flagship product for enterprise collaboration and can be used to collaborate internal and external information.  IBM’s online communication tool offers immediate online collaboration with colleagues by means of instant messaging, web conferencing, shared content libraries and social networking capabilities.

Google Apps

For smaller-scale organizations with multiple locations, Google is another free alternative to Sharepoint that provides many capabilities for collaborating.  Google Apps offer simple and efficient ways of collaborating, allowing businesses to organize day-to-day schedules, projects and files securely.  Google Apps allows employees to simultaneously and securely work on Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint.

There are hundreds of collaboration tools available in the market place.  It can be tough to determine which one is best for your particular needs. Choosing the best collaboration tool for your organization depends on your business goals and strategies.

Still not sure which solution is best for your business?  We can help to empower your organization to work better together by improving the way they collaborate and communicate. Contact us today to discover the untapped power of collaboration solutions.

 

3 Reasons Advisors Need Calls to Action on Their Website

Having “calls-to-action” on a website is a way to increase the effectiveness of what your website can do for your business. Surprisingly, 70% of small business B2B websites lack a call to action (smallbiztrends.com, August 2013). A call to action (CTA) is an instruction to your visitors to perform an immediate action. Some examples of a call to action could be:

  • Subscribing to an email newsletter or regular email communication
  • Scheduling an appointment or consultation
  • Downloading a whitepaper or some kind of content offer
  • Requesting a quote

Many beginner or novice marketers or sales people over look the importance of having a CTA and are thus achieve limited results with their digital properties. Not having a CTA on your website is analogous to ending a phone or face to face meeting with a prospect or client with no next step or follow on activity. Needless to say, it’s a critical component for every advisor’s website. Here are three key reasons on the “why”:

It helps to remove the “dead ends” from your website

When prospects visit your website for the very first time, there’s a high likelihood that they came to your website by entering a search term, such as your company name or perhaps some keywords that match an article or blog post that you wrote. If the content you’ve authored is useful and relevant, the visitor will take the time to read the content and learn from you. So far so good. Once the visitor has finished reading your content, they may have a desire to continue to engage with you, because, after all, the content was useful! Not having a call to action or a way for them to continue their journey with you will most likely cause them to leave. Pages on your site with a high number of hits and a high bounce rate is a good indicator of a dead end on your website. Avoid this trap by placing a call to action at the end of every one of your blog posts. If you’re not blogging yet, not only should you consider starting, simply place a call to action on each page of your website. It could be as easy as placing a small form to subscribe for updates.

Enhance your website’s user experience by using calls to action and remove those dead ends!

Provides visitors with a way to increase their level of engagement with you

If you’re an advisor who has built your practice from scratch or is in the process of growing your practice you’ll be familiar with the concept of a marketing and sales funnel. The marketing and sales funnel is a way to visualize what is effectively a qualification process that you follow to manage, strategize and execute against in order to generate new or repeat business. There are higher volumes of prospects at the top of the funnel than there are at the bottom of the funnel (hence the word “funnel”) and at each stage, different activities are used to manage a prospect from the top to the bottom and eventually a paying customer.

In a digital sense, your website, is one vehicle that can be used to qualify create separation between individuals who are just shopping around and individuals who have problems that need to be solved now. A technique commonly used amongst marketing professionals is the use of calls to action. A CTA can be used as a gateway to further qualify a lead. For example, when a new visitor comes to your website and signs up for updates they are starting a somewhat passive relationship with you. They want to learn more about what you have to say but they aren’t ready to speak with you directly. In this example, the visitor has separated themselves from those who are simply browsing your website. They aren’t a fully qualified lead just yet, but they have taken their level of engagement with you to another level by providing you with their email address (and possibly their first and last name).

Allows you to test the effectiveness of your content

We often hear advisors ask about whether their content is working or not. A big part of a successful digital marketing engine is, in fact, the data but this can be a time consuming task and many advisors are too busy to even write the content for their website and other digital properties. One way to test the effectiveness of one’s content is, you guessed it, the use of CTAs. We’ve all heard the term “Content is King”. Content is not only a way for advisors to connect with their prospects and clients, but it is also a way to establish trust and to demonstrate value. If your visitors find your content useful and educational, then it is logical to assume that they will want to continue to stay in touch with you and engage with you. As mentioned earlier in this post, using CTAs is a great way to provide that next step of engagement.

Just remember, useful content incentivizes higher levels of engagement which leads to increased trust and eventually revenue. Use CTAs to escalate engagement and measure the effectiveness of your content!

Do you have a question about content marketing? Still wondering how content can be used to generate leads for your business? I want to help. Get in touch with me using our contact form or simply email me directly!

3 Optimization Tips that Advisors are Missing on their Blog

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In a previous post, we covered the importance of blogging, as a financial advisor! Now, let’s look into some quick and easy ways to improve the quality of your blog! Here are 3 Optimization Tips that Advisors are Missing on their Blog

Optimize Blog Post Titles

The title of your blog post matters a great deal. Your blog post will appear in search engine results, links and on social media sites. Create an informative and catchy title, for each article, describing what your post is all about. If you want to rank high for a particular question or keyword, make sure it is included in the title of the article.

Here are some effective tips for creating attention grabbing blog titles:

  • Include keywords or questions in the title
  • Catchy and to the point – grab the user’s attention from search
  • Use the list approach (10 top, 3 reasons to. Etc)
  • Be a contrarian
  • Use emotional triggers
  • Pose a question
  • Use power words

Your titles will improve with practice. Make sure you are taking a look at your analytics to see which articles are receiving the most amount of traffic. This is a good indicator that the titles you are using are what your targeted audience is looking for.

Picking the Right Image

A picture is worth a thousand words.  People love pictures and so do search engines.  Finding the right image adds another dimension to an article. Image selection is an important part of engaging your visitor. A good image can create an immediate emotional reaction and set the tone of your article.

It is important to pull out all of the stops to help your article get ranked higher so take the time to optimize your images. Google tries to understand the content of images by the text and keywords surrounding it. The most important part of image search engine optimization is the image filename and alt tag. Rename the photo using 4-5 words to tell Google what the photo is all about. The alt tag gives a description to the image in the case the image doesn’t load or display correctly on your website.

Internal Links

If you are writing a new blog post and reference an older article you have written, or a service that you provide, make sure to create an internal link in your article to those pages. Visitors like to travel through websites looking for valuable content, so why not send them to check out your older posts that are relevant? Internal links help search engines index your site and help identify primary keywords. This helps to increase the page rank of linked pages.

So, next time you publish your next blog article, remember these three things before you hit the ”post now” button.

What strategies are you using to optimize your blog? How often do you create and post new articles for your audience? Share your comments below.

 

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Why Every Financial and Insurance Advisor Needs a Website

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As a product manager, I spend around 2-3 full days a week speaking to a multitude of financial advisors whose practices range from independent shops (one person) to large advisory groups and branches. One of the most popular questions I’m asked on a regular basis is the value of having a website. At times, this surprises me because I think the answer to the question is pretty obvious, however, it’s not necessarily something that a lot of us think about because we take the web for granted.

So, do you really need a website? My answer has always been the same answer since I first started developing websites in my early teens: Yes. Undoubtedly yes. Now, whether you have a website that is rich in content, has numerous pages containing videos and a blog is something you need to decide for yourself, but the point I’m trying to make here is that at the very least you need a web presence. This allows your prospects, clients, business partners and maybe even potential investors to learn more about your practice and more importantly, you. All that being said, given significant advances in web technologies over the past decade, it’s simply not enough to just have a presence. It needs to look professional and it needs to look professional on mobile devices. In a study by Fidelity (Millionaires Outlook Survey), more than 44% of millionaires look to the internet when searching for money managers, however, that was in 2011 so the number has surely increased from then. Moreover, given the ubiquity of the web and the proliferation of smartphones, your clients and your prospects will and are already judging you and your business based on how your website looks.

The beautiful thing about the web is that the barriers to entry to get a website up and running are very low. You have the same barriers as any other large financial institution, branch, advisory group or individual would have if they were to launch a website. The same chance at making a good first impression and the same chance at creating a brand and a message that will resonate with the affluent. The bottom line: if you don’t have a website, you’re losing business to your competitors who do and you’re losing that chance at making a good first impression.

However,  there are times when you simply do not need a website. The only time I recommend that you do not have a website, is if your website reflects poorly on your business. After all, would you meet with a prospect in a cluttered and unorganized office? Probably not, because it’s a reflection of how dedicated and serious you are about your business and hence theirs.

Your website is one of the primary assets of your business. It helps create good first impressions. It helps establish your brand, your business philosophy and it helps connect you to your prospects and your clients.

SEO Tips for Advisors | 5 Key SEO Traps You Want to Avoid

I had the privilege of listening to Danny Sullivan speak today and thought I would share and expand on some of his key thoughts with you. For those of you who don’t know Danny Sullivan, he is a well known industry authority on search with over 18 years of experience.

1. No good SEO company will email or call you. This makes complete sense after all, if they’re good at SEO, shouldn’t they first prove that you can find them instead?

2. A guest blogger will not offer you content. That’s right, if you have a blog it’s only logical that you would allow others to write on your blog IF you thought their content was valuable. And it’d be valued if you read their content.

3. You cannot depend solely on Google search for traffic. I actually hear this a lot when working with my clients. It’s all founded on the notion of “if you build it they will come”. Well, they won’t necessarily come, unless you tell them you exist.

4. SEO is only a part of your inbound / content marketing mix. Much like the saying analysis paralysis. Over “SEO-ing” your website will give you negative gains and distracts you from what’s really important. Creating valuable and useful content.

5. (I’m paraphrasing here) Think less about SEO and more about People Engine Optimization (PEO). Search engines were created (and continue to evolve) to achieve one primary goal. To mimic what a human would answer if you asked that human a question. Search engines seek to provide the best answer for the question that is being asked. Both of these actions are performed by humans. Don’t forget that marketing success is derived from the basic concept of effectively answering your customers questions. No amount of SEO can help you do this but listening will.

Have a question about digital marketing? Get in touch with me and ask me anything by filling out this form or by simply emailing me!








CRM 2 and the Rise of Content Marketing

I’ll start this post with a response from a financial advisor customer of ours (the name is hidden though for privacy reasons) in one of the surveys we performed.

Question: How can having a website with Digital Agent help you achieve your long term business goals?

Response:  “There will be a thinning of the herd for advisors in the coming years as the regulators will require everyone to disclose their fees.  I’ll need to prove to clients even more that I am worth their money. ”

The “thinning of the herd” is what this advisor is referring to as the CRM 2 bill. The  CRM 2 bill, recently passed, is generating a fair bit of uncertainty and fear within the advisor community. This is for a variety of reasons but one of those reasons is centred around how this will change and affect an advisor’s relationship with their customers.

By no stretch am I an expert on this subject but from I’ve read, the bill is essentially legislation, providing the requirement that advisors provide complete transparency into the amount of money they make through their clients. The question is, why does this matter? Why do advisors care that they need to do this?

In the end, in any business, the only time I can think of where this would be an issue really comes down to a question of value. Advisors worry that their clients will focus more on price than value. If I became fully transparent as to the amount of profit I made from a customer, I would only ever have a problem releasing this information, if I believed there to be a mismatch between the perceived value of my product vs the actual price I charge for that product or if I had difficulty articulating the price and value discussion (or proving it for that matter).

CRM II raises the question of perceived value over price. In theory, Advisors who have strong and trusted relationships and who are undoubtedly confident about the value they provide to their clients should have nothing to fear. Advisors who have been reaping the benefits otherwise, should be, and rightfully wondering how to close the value and price gap and in my opinion, this is where Content Marketing should become such a critical part to any advisors’ business looking to overcome the ensuing difficult conversations they are about to have with their customers. Content marketing provides an opportunity for advisors to show how much value they can provide and take the conversation beyond the price level.

If you don’t have a website yet, I implore you, please, get one. It’s no longer an option and you’re one of very few who are still holding out. If you’re not convinced that you need one, read this article and then come back to this one to solidify the business case.

Content marketing is a relatively new term and previously associated with things like Email Marketing. In actual fact, there’s a growing movement around content marketing attempting to redefine and transform the entire Digital Marketing space. Content marketing is a method that individuals, groups, companies and/or organizations use to build trust with possibly buyers of their product or service. It is most associated with blogging and should be core to any small to large business’ marketing strategy.

Here’s a key fact for anyone in marketing: 70% of all shoppers, do their research online before making a purchase decision. What does this mean? This means that before this group of 70% pick up the phone, they’re already doing all of their research online. This means that before picking up the phone and calling you, they’ve already decided what they want to do with you and your business. If I picked up the phone today and attempted to cold call a random sample of 10 possible buyers, the only scenario that ends up with a purchase is the one where they’ve already decided to buy my product or service. The question for you the advisor is, have they made a decision on buy a product or service through you? And if not, why?

Ultimately, and especially in today’s digital age, purchase decisions undoubtedly and ultimately come down to one thing: TRUST. That shouldn’t surprise you. But then, how do you build trust, when 70% of shoppers do all of their research online before making a buying decision. This is the  question that still baffles many business owners today. Traditional marketing tells you that advertising eventually leads to a conversation that you can have with a prospect or buyer. The problem with traditional marketing is that the buyer is already having the conversation with anything they can find online about the product or service they are planning to purchase. Content marketing attempts to address this exact “problem”.

Content marketing is fundamentally about building trust with potential or existing customers and doing it on a platform that can be viewable by everyone. It’s about answering questions that are typically asked by customers in the financial services industry. While so simple, building trust starts with just that fundamental principle: answering customer questions.

Have a question about content marketing and how it can improve and enhance your business? Get in touch with me using our contact form or simply email me directly!

 

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What Every Advisor Ought to Know about Web Analytics

Monitoring the traffic to your website is a critical component to digital marketing success. Understanding the data can help you make adjustments and also help you determine whether the adjustments and changes you are making to your website are working. Even if you are not the one managing your website, you should still understand the basics of web analytics. This article will cover off 4 of the most basic metrics to help get you started.

Visits (also known as Sessions)

This is a rather straightforward metric. It is exactly as it reads and measures the number of times an individual visits your website. If the same individual visits your website, that also counts (note: there is another metric called Unique Visitors). While “visits” is a rather basic measurement it’s a quick and easy litmus test to gauge your website’s performance. If  you’ve added new content your website, written a blog post, updated your LinkedIN profile with your website address or perhaps even just simply put it on your new business cards, “Visits” can give you some initial signs that those activities paid off.

Pages / Visit

Pages / Visit are one of many measurements of website engagement. When a visitor comes to your website, a visit is logged. However, once they are physically sitting on a page and they click to another page, one page is record as having been visited. A key success factor that any advisor should be aware of is the fact that the primary goal of any page on your site, is to encourage and incentivize the visitor to click again. That’s it. Pretty simple? Well, it makes total sense. If the content on your site is relevant and engaging enough to a visitor, of course they’re going want to read more and when they do that, so does their relationship with your website. What are the primary types of activities that will help increase this measurement? Simple, add more pages or write more blog posts!

Average Visit Duration

Akin to Pages / Visit, Average Visit Duration, is also a measurement of engagement. It helps you to better understand your visitor behaviour and should be viewed in the context of Pages / Visit. Why? Well, if a visitor comes to your website and clicks through 3 pages and spends a total of 1 minute per page reading your articles, that’s amazing! It means that time and time again, they were able to find what they were looking for. However, if a visitor comes to your website and clicks through 3 pages and stays on each page for only 5 seconds, that’s not good. It means they didn’t find what they were looking for and simply took off. Activities that can help boost this metric really revolves around content and volume of content (content being defined as text or copy, images, links or documents) or adding widgets like financial calculators beside relevant content (e.g. Savings calculator placed beside an articles about Savings and Retirement). The more content you have, the more keywords you’ll probably have, and the more chances visitors will find you through Google or Bing when they search for something. Little to no content on your website will lead to very low Average Visit Duration times since there’s literally nothing to read!

Bounce Rate

The last of the metrics for this article and likely one of the most important ones is Bounce Rate. A Bounce rate is yet another measurement of engagement. It indicates the percentage of people who enter your website and immediately leave after looking at only one page. Generally, a bounce rate lower than 40% is arguably better than a bounce rate higher than 40%. A great goal to strive for is to keep your website’s bounce rate lower than 50%. This means that 1 in 2 visitors don’t immediately leave and it also tells you whether you’ve achieved that one fundamental goal of encouraging and incentivizing the visitor to click to another page on your website. Some key activities that can help improve your bounce rates are adding more content (can you see a theme here?), putting content that catches your visitors attention on all of your pages or even adding more pages.

Understanding your website analytics is a critical aspect to owning a website and there are many tools out there that can help you acquire this type of important information. If you have a question about what you’ve read today or just simply have a question about anything Digital Marketing related, please get in touch with us!

 

 

“Where do I start if I want an effective web presence?”

Where advisors can start building your web presenceMany financial and insurance advisors today are asking themselves whether they need to be online. Some are convinced that their customers don’t go online and some just aren’t sure whether being online is the right thing for them. The reality of the time period we live in is that if you can’t be found online, you don’t exist. Think of the last time when you were the buyer and the seller handed you a business card. If you’ve never heard of them, your first instinct would likely be to look for them online. So, having a web presence isn’t a matter of “should I”, it’s really a matter of “when and how”.

When we talk about having a web presence it does mean more than just a website, however, any solid web presence starts with the creation of a website. When advisors first embark on this digital journey, we recommend that advisors focus on asking themselves a number of key questions that can help accelerate the creation process and ultimately get the website to a “ready-to-launch” state:

  • What colours best reflect my practice’s brand?
  • What is the general process or philosophy I follow when it comes to doing business with my clients?
  • What imagery best represents my local area or brand?
  • Do I have a biography outlining my credentials?
  • Do I have a personal photo or image?
  • Do I have photos of my team members?
  • Do my team members have a biography outlining their credentials?
  • Do I have a logo? Do I need a logo? Will I use my dealer’s logo?
  • What services or products am I licensed to sell?
  • Do I have any testimonials from my current clients?

These are just a handful of the questions to ask at the beginning of the website creation process. The key thing to remember is that having a web presence is an iterative process. The most important part of getting started is just that, getting started and getting your website launched. Remember, there’s no such thing as perfect when it comes to the creation of a website and with a website, you’ll have a foundation that you can build on to grow and solidify your web presence.

If you have more questions or would like an honest conversation about how to get started and where you can go, get in touch with us using the contact form below.

“Our review process for advisor websites takes too much time and effort.”

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Our review process for advisor websites takes too much time and effortThe creation and use of online content is becoming an increasing trend both within the advisor industry as well as the general digital marketing world today. When this happens in a regulated industry you begin to see increasing work loads for your compliance officers who need to review content to ensure content is inline with regulatory requirements before it gets publish (or goes live). Insurance and wealth management marketing departments also need to ensure that the changes advisors make do not fragment or negatively impact their brand.

Many wealth and insurance dealers have challenges keeping up with volume of content reviews coming at them from their advisors. Slower than average review cycles not only directly affects advisor satisfaction but also impacts an advisor’s ability to do business. It’s quite the dilemma when you consider the fact that the primary goal of the dealers is, in fact, to support advisor businesses. While there is no silver bullet to this solution, it’s important that your enterprise compliance team have the best possible review tools and business processes to keep review times at a minimum.

If online content review times are a concern to you, there are some key questions to think about as you assess your situation to determine how best to approach and improve the review process:

  • Is your compliance team approving content through email or through an automated tool?
  • Is your audit trail automatically captured or do you need to record information in a separate tool or possibly even in an Excel or other electronic spreadsheet?
  • Is the process used to review content a manual process? Are you receiving website links through an email from your advisors?
  • How are you notified that your content has been submitted? Is this information being transmitted to you from a third party tool or directly from the advisor in an email/telephone?
  • Are you constantly struggling with identifying changes between versions of the same content?
  • Does your organization have a service level agreement for content review times?
  • Do the tools you are using have the ability to track your average review times? Does your technology provider help you monitor and improve these times?

Content review times are typically drawn out due to manual business processes, a lack of awareness or inability to communicate the status of the content review process or just a shortfall in terms of the technologies compliance officers are using to perform content reviews. As such, your compliance officers have countless hours of reviews to perform beyond what they are currently resourced to do.

We understand these issues and have experience speaking with compliance teams. Moreover, we’re always interested to learn more about the complexity of a compliance officer’s workflow. As mentioned earlier, there’s no silver bullet but there are a number of key changes that can be made to improve your content review times. If you’re in the process of re-thinking your current review processes or looking for a second opinion, get in touch with us.

“I need to show auditors that all published content on our websites has been vetted and approved.”

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Show auditors that all published content on our websites have been vetted and approvedIDC predicts that financial services IT spending pertaining to risk functions will reach more than $80 billion by 2017. In the world of a regulated industry, this should not come as a big surprise. This effectively indicates that due to significant investments in business processes and tools, that compliance departments will need to be very diligent of tracking and storing all data and information pertaining to everything from trades, to email communication to web and social media content. It also indicates an increase in the complexity of these organizations derived from more people, more processes and more complex workflows and access rules.

With every compliance group or individual we speak to, it’s clear that audits are a very time consuming aspect of their work. Making it easy for auditors to find information and effectively do their job, in turn makes it easier for compliance to focus on the more important day to day tasks. When it comes to website content, the reality is that it should not be hard to work with the auditors on this aspect of their review. If you’re having challenges in this space, here are a few key elements to consider especially if you’re looking for a way to reduce the amount of time your compliance departments spend with auditors:

  • Does your current platform automate and monitor the auditing and archiving of all web content being submitted by advisors and subsequently reviewed, approved or rejected by compliance?
  • Can you assign granular workflow permissions to specific individuals or groups of advisors?
  • Can you comment on specific workflows and content versions?
  • How do your marketing and compliance teams communicate with your advisors during the review process? Is that communication logged and tracked?
  • Are your pre-approved content libraries access controlled? Can you set permissions on specific pages or digital assets like documents, images and video?

In the world of compliance, you can never have enough governance around your content and the questions above are just a snapshot of what you need to consider if you’re looking to improve your audit times. If you’ve answered no to any of the above questions, we can help steer you in a direction that makes sense for your organization. Start a conversation with us and we can help you some of the initial thinking around your current processes by filling out the form below.