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Advisor Insights

How to Use Your Website to Qualify Prospects and Win Clients

You'll convert far more prospects into ideal clients if your site is easy to use, transparent, and enjoyable.

In today's day and age, new and prospective clients are likely to be introduced to your financial advisory business in a number of different ways. Many might have been referred to you from existing clients or professional connections, or perhaps they came across your advertising. No matter how they first find out about you and your firm, a prospective client's first interaction with a financial advisor is increasingly likely to be through the advisor's website. Through an advisor's website, prospects create their own first impressions of who they might be working with and whether they should reach out for more information.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of financial advisor websites are ill-equipped to make the critical first impression needed to establish trust online, and to convince prospects to take the next step in reaching out via phone or email. Further, even those advisor websites that are equipped to establish a personal connection likely aren't designed to help prospects qualify themselves as good candidates for the advisor's services, either due to a lack of transparency, few details on the firm's ideal client profile, or both.

Fortunately, your advisory firm can stand out from the crowd and build a better digital storefront by focusing on a few key principles.

Start with Design
Surveying the financial advisor website landscape in your own local area is a great way to approach the problem from the potential client's perspective. A qualified prospect is most likely actively looking for financial advice, and is evaluating your firm's website based on a referral and/or comparing it to other advisory practices in their local geographic area. It's also likely that the services your firm provides are substantially similar to those provided by others in the area. Why should the prospective client choose to reach out to you over another nearby advisor?

The answer should be clear, and it starts with quality design. Visitors to your website are forming critical first impressions about the credibility of your firm in a matter of seconds, and are influenced primarily by the visual elements of a website in creating and reinforcing those impressions. Given two financial advisors with similar or identical services, credentials, experience, and fees, the advisor with the well-designed website is far more likely to proceed to next steps with a prospective client than the advisor with a website that looks like it was built in 1999. The experience of navigating through your firm's website should be intuitive, with photos and/or videos of you and team members so potential clients can get a better sense of who you are and what it's like working with you. Further, good design need not be complex, and should instead be focused on simplicity by clearly communicating key information in a visually appealing way. 

Focus on (Actual) Transparency
Ideally, your content should be neatly organized and laser-focused on the questions potential clients are asking themselves: Why should I trust this person or business? What will they actually do for me? Am I a good fit? How much will it cost? Far too many financial advisor websites advertise transparency as an important value for their firm, yet somehow still fail to provide a transparent first impression to prospective clients. The biggest offenders don't mention anything about their fee structure or account minimums on their websites, or they make bold claims about their cost structures being "100% transparent," yet don't actually go on to describe what their fees are or what potential clients should expect to pay.

This is bad for business and bad for consumers. Prospective clients should have a clear idea of how much your services will cost after visiting your website. Additionally, they should be able to determine whether they are a good fit for your firm based on the information you provide about your services, your process, and your typical client profile. (You might even specifically define who you don't work with.) By letting prospects qualify themselves, you are actively saving you and your firm valuable time by significantly increasing the likelihood that the prospects who do reach out are those that would make ideal clients. By the same token, you are saving the prospective client's valuable time, as well as that of professional referral sources who are more likely to send you qualified prospects if they fully understand your fee structure, services, and ideal client profile.

Being fully transparent about who you are, what you do, how you do it, and how much you charge is the easiest way to build trust online. When potential clients don't know what a service involves and/or don't know how much it costs, they are far less likely to take the next step in creating an actual relationship.

Be Mobile Ready
Even if you've perfected your firm's website design and content, your efforts may be in vain if your site isn't optimized for mobile. Based on recent web marketing statistics, more than 50% of website traffic is driven by mobile devices, and it's highly likely many of the prospective clients visiting your firm's website are doing so from a mobile device. While a desktop experience is still highly important, it's critical that financial advisor websites have a responsive design, in that they have the ability to adapt and shift visual elements to fit various screen sizes while still providing an enjoyable experience. Browsing your website on a mobile device shouldn't feel like an uncomfortable accommodation for a smaller screen. Rather, it should feel as though the site was specifically designed for the very device on which your potential client is accessing your website. Many prospective clients are likely visiting your advisory firm's mobile website in the information-gathering phase, and if a good first impression isn't made from your mobile experience, it's unlikely they'll return via a desktop browser.

Create a Connection and Encourage Engagement
Finally, give prospective clients visiting your website a reason to visit again. The easiest way to accomplish this is by creating additional content, such as regular blog posts. By focusing your website's content (both static and dynamic) on topics relevant to your target market, you are communicating clear signals to prospects who match your ideal client profile that your firm is a good fit for their needs. Further, encourage visitors to sign up for an email newsletter so you can stay in touch with those who may not be ready to make the leap and hire you, and consider offering a lead magnet (such as a white paper or custom guide) to make it easier for prospects to feel more comfortable providing you with an email address or other contact information. While content marketing and lead generation can get complex and require a significant time commitment, most financial advisors are best served by focusing on the basics, and starting with a simple blog and email list. Of course, make sure you've truly mastered the design and static content of your advisory firm's website before spending too much time on generating new content.

Given the critical importance of each of these elements for any financial advisor website, it can be worth a substantial investment to make sure they're done right, without having to worry about a potential redesign or rebranding effort just a few years down the road. By making the experience of learning more about you and your firm online easy, transparent, and enjoyable for prospects, you'll convert far more of these potential clients into ideal clients.

Ben Brown is a certified financial planner and an IRS-enrolled agent. He is the founder of Entelechy, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, serving clients in the Washington, D.C., area and nationally.

The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.