How many of you have heard someone tell you to stop giving away advice for free? If you haven’t, and are now googling this pearl of wisdom, you’re bound to get a lot of hits. In my time working as a copywriter and marketer for the financial planning community, I find that many advisors apply this rule to blogging and content creation. In theory, it makes sense. Your business’s value is your advice and expertise. If you start giving that away for free or distributing it online, who’s going to pay for your services?
I’m here to tell you that this way of thinking is warped. I’ll even take it a step further and say that blogging or creating content that’s chock-full of amazing, world-class financial planning advice, tips, or tricks is something absolutely every financial planner should be doing – with regularity!
The “No Free Advice” Model is Bad Business
I’ve always thought that the no free advice business set up was a bad idea. It just didn’t sit well with me, and I could never put my finger on why. So I started where any sane person would start – I decided to try and convince myself otherwise. After all, the approximate 440,000,000 Google results touting that nobody should give away free advice should have been enough to prove me wrong. Instead, my research just made my stance on the subject that much stronger.
I’ll start by saying that in some situations, I think the “no free advice” rule can be applied. If you have that fellow parent who hits you up for investment guidance at your kids’ soccer games, or you have had three meetings with a client who hasn’t signed on to work with you yet (but has a lot of in depth questions about their finances), I think it’s completely acceptable to say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I’m not comfortable giving specific advice without fully reviewing your financial situation as a client.” There will always be jerks in this world who want to avoid paying for your services, and they should be politely and professionally shut down when you cross paths.
That being said, I don’t think you can run a successful, service-based business and not give some advice away for free. The key, as I see it, is this: you run a service based business where you’re bringing immense value to your clients. How are you suppose to gain new clients if you’re unwilling to show off the value you bring to the table?
Why Distribute Free Advice?
Of course, there are good and bad ways to distribute your free advice. Walking around your local downtown with a megaphone talking about the benefits of different retirement savings vehicles is probably a bad way to distribute advice. Well-written content, however, is a good way to distribute your knowledge and showcase your value.
You work in a field where your goal is to help others achieve their goals and gain financial freedom. Your goal is not (typically) to nickel and dime someone to death when they’re trying to take control of their finances and better themselves. By writing and organizing content that can help guide your current and potential clients is supporting your main goal – to help people get on the path to financial success. So, stop thinking of content production as free advice. Instead, think of it as an investment in your business.
In order for your business to work, your clients have to have a relationship with you that’s built on a strong foundation of trust. Giving away advice through viable forms of marketable content is only helping you build that trust. Every blog post you put out there that speaks to a reader, and every free downloadable retirement checklist you publish that helps someone take the first step towards getting financially organized is an investment. You’re investing in yourself by reminding yourself of your planning philosophy. You’re investing in the relationship you have with your audience by showing them your value. And you’re investing in your business by cementing a trust-based relationship with both your current clients and potential clients (some of whom may have not even contacted you yet!).
Marketing Your Free Advice
The question you’re faced with now is this: How do I market and distribute my advice and my ideas so that it acts as an investment? And how much is too much?
As for the first question, you have so many options it’s surreal. My first recommendation is always going to be blog posts. I firmly believe that having a regularly updated blog that houses your opinions and philosophy is a sure-fire way to draw people to you. Of course, there are other options, as well. Many advisors go the route of a free download – which I love. These can be simple checklists (budgeting, debt management, you name it). They can be a white paper that’s well-researched and offers a solution to a specific pain point your client base regularly experiences. They can also be worksheets or tables that you think would benefit someone begin a financial planning process.
You’re also not limited to writing. You can host a webinar that covers the basics of a particular topic. You can create a weekly or monthly podcast where you dive deeper into a topic that people struggle with. You can even sign up to be a member of a networking group, a presenter at a local Chamber of Commerce event, or a speaker at a panel discussion. All of these are equally viable ways for you to get yourself, your business, and – most importantly – your ideas out in front of people who want to work with you.
We also have to address the second question here – how much is too much? Obviously you can’t just start giving away free financial plans and specific advice to people without signing them as a client. It is, admittedly, a fine line to walk. It’s my opinion that if you cover high-level topics that answer broad financial questions, you’re showing value, not losing out on money. If you can write a blog post that explains different repayment methods for student loans, do it. People are looking for that information. But more importantly, they’ll be impressed with your valuable knowledge and be interested in learning what they specifically should be doing. In short – answer big picture questions and always arm your audience with knowledge. If you can do this while avoiding giving specific advice, you have successfully invested in your business with “free” advice – and it will pay you back tenfold.