Every advisor website is unique, so we love it when we get the opportunity to find out more about their firm and the process. Recently, we caught up with Mark Sharp, CFP® RICP® EA at Mark Sharp Retirement for our “Financial Advisor Website Showcase” series blog. Mark Sharp has gone through a rebrand over the last couple of years, so read on to find out more about the process and about his firm.
1. When we first chatted in 2018, your firm was Financial Planning Done right. Since then you’ve gone through a rebrand. Can you tell us more about that process, how it came about, and any challenges or successes you’d share with others who may be considering a rebrand?
The rebrand was fueled by a growing chorus within the industry of the benefits of catering to a niche, coupled with a realization that efficiency, productivity, personal fulfillment, and client satisfaction are limited using a generalist approach to financial planning. I found a financial planning service model based on solving any and all challenges was emotionally, physically, and financially unsustainable. Constantly solving new problems doesn’t build depth in skills and ultimately hinders firm and professional growth and quality of client work product.
This turned out to be a good thing, because, throughout the process of coming to terms with what I didn’t enjoy, I discovered what I did enjoy, which was working with people of similar age with retirement, investing, and tax challenges. I have a strong tax background and have always enjoyed retirement planning. These three areas happen to be key components of every retirement plan. From a business perspective, it made the most sense. Retirement income planning is about helping people invent and navigate a new life stage and not many people get the opportunity to do this for a living.
I am not disparaging the generalist approach. For those who relish variety in clients and problem domains, it can be fulfilling. Adopting a focus has streamlined my practice from a work product and marketing standpoint, increased efficiency, and allowed me to offer a better value proposition.
My successes have been a higher client satisfaction level with the work product and a focused marketing strategy. Now all branding, content, and firm communications are specific to retirement income planning.
Challenges have been the rebrand itself (firm legal name change, contracts, ADV, website, social media, etc.) and establishing a presence within the field. My goal is to become a thought leader within retirement income planning and that takes time.
2. When first starting out, you worked with the unique niche of independent contractors in the sharing economy. Can you discuss the switch to focus more on retirement incoming planning and how your marketing efforts have changed?
Independent contractors are an interesting niche but after working in this space, I just didn’t see the financial viability long term. A significant number of those who work in the sharing economy do so out of necessity for extra income to make ends meet. When you’re making ends meet that often, unfortunately, this doesn’t encompass paying for financial planning services. At least not a level sufficient to make it sustainable from a business perspective. I made three pivotal business decisions over the past three years and switching away from general financial planning for sharing economy workers to retirement income planning for near-retirees and retirees was one of those decisions.
For the basis for the switch to retirement income focus, see response one.
Marketing is never easy especially for someone without formal training or experience, but it’s manageable when you have a focus since everything is seen through the lens of a particular subject domain; in my case retirement income planning.
I am using Lead Pilot which makes marketing exceedingly more manageable. Using it has simplified my marketing tech stack. It’s a tool that centralizes marketing management bringing everything under one roof. My top 2020 marketing goal was to just become more active on social media. I have accomplished this mainly using Lead Pilot to easily develop, post, and monitor engagement.
3. Since initially launching your business in 2018, what new tools, channels or strategies have you implemented to boost conversions and traffic? What successes and challenges have you experienced?
I have increased my social media engagement and I have begun to create and publish more video content. I am hoping this coupled with my weekly newsletter and online advertising with a local news outlet will build my brand, increase traffic, and boost conversions.
I judge marketing success on three dimensions – branding relevance, branding reach, and business activity. Branding relevance in that I am attracting the clients best suited to my services over a larger geographical area (branding reach) at a level of business activity sufficient to profitably sustain the business.
Cost and time will always be the greatest marketing challenges of a solo firm practitioner. Financial and time resources are limited. Furthermore, COVID-19 has presented some unanticipated headwinds none of us could have foreseen.
4. Let’s talk traffic – since launching your website in 2018 what did your overall website traffic look like and what does it look like today? Additionally, what are some of your top-visited pages or blog posts and why do you think that they are top-performers?
Website analytics is one area of needed improvement. After the refocus, it’s taken some time to rebuild site activity to the desired level. I realize marketing is a long play and as I and the firm mature, adjustments will be made to better understand what does and what doesn’t work.
The above analytics show the traffic overall traffic acquisition for Financial Planning Done right before the rebrand. While the image below show the increase in traffic since the rebrand, with a large increase in June.
My weekly 3-2-1 newsletter is a top attraction. It focuses on three insights from me, two findings from others, and one action item for you around retirement income planning. I think it’s popular because it’s short, informative, lighthearted, and always relevant. The content is focused on retirement, investments, and taxes.
Since the rebrand, the 3-2-1 Newsletter has started to steadily increase, with an incredibly high readership in mid-May.
5. Last year we conducted a survey and found that 26 percent of advisors convert 1-2 leads generated from their website into actual clients monthly. How many leads are contacting you through your website per month and have you seen this number increase or decrease year over year since launching in 2018?
As a member of the Garrett Planning Network, the bulk of my business comes through them. Apart from that, the website generates approximately, 30% of the monthly leads and 30% of those become clients. And even if the website leads don’t convert initially they become prospects I can drip market to using Lead Pilot.
6. You’ve been an avid blogger now consistently for two years, we commend you! What is your workflow process for content from inception to publication? Any tips you’d share with others who are just starting out blogging that helped you create an efficient workflow over the years?
I’ve really upped my game here with my 3-2-1 weekly retirement income planning newsletter published every Thursday. The production schedule is intense. It takes about 8 hours to research and write the draft, one hour of copywriting and another two hours to publish. I publish the newsletter to my newsletter blog, which is separate from my monthly long-content blog through Twenty Over Ten.
It’s also distributed to my subscription list through Lead Pilot. I usually write on Saturday, wrap it up on Monday, get it off to my copy editor and stage the posting on Wednesday and publish/distribute on Thursday. I have found it a great way to increase my knowledge, stay current in my field, build thought leadership, and provide people a window into how you think about the things of most concern to them.
For someone starting out – focus on ONE thing and commit to doing that first. I started with the newsletter first and have been doing this weekly for six months. Next, I committed to posting to social media once a day Monday through Friday. Once I have a consistent cadence with these two efforts, I will recommit to publishing a weekly video. Ultimately, my production goals are one weekly newsletter, one weekly video, one monthly long-form blog, and one daily posting to social media.
7. You’ve been active on social media since day one of launching your firm and we see that you recently started a YouTube channel, kudos! Tell us more about how your social media strategy has morphed over the years, what key learnings you discovered that may help others and any tools that have helped you manage.
My social media strategy was pretty stagnated up until this year when I made a commitment to post once daily to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
I enjoy YouTube content so I can see the value proposition. Video marketing is key to my marketing strategy. People have only so much bandwidth to consume content, and visual imagery coupled with audio is a compelling medium. My goal for the balance of 2020 is to produce weekly video content through a series of 1-Minute Retirement Income videos that focus on all things retirement income planning.
My social media strategy is focused on brand building and thought leadership which hopefully will fuel increased business.
Apart from video creation and publishing, I use Lead Pilot to create, distribute, and manage my social media strategy.
8. Overall, what would you say is working for you (and not working) right now regarding your marketing efforts?
Branding building, target audience attraction, and expanding geographical reach.
What’s not working:
Business activity has slowed in February and this may be due to COVID. We’ll just have to wait and see how this all plays out. In the meantime, I will continue to do the things I can control and position my firm when the rebound happens.
9. Looking two more years into the future – what marketing goals do you have and how will you measure success?
My goals are to increase thought leadership, get published in leading media, build the brand, and expand my service reach to a wider national audience. I will know this is working when interest is from those who have the challenges I am uniquely able to solve, across the country, and my thought leadership is referenced in reputable media sources.
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