A Video Studio For Financial Advisors For Under $750

Financial advisors can build their own video studio for $750 or less. We did it and it was easy.

You can buy a support system for a backdrop for $150.

For the backdrop, we wanted that clean, white look that is in vogue on the Web right now. So we bought a white blanket at Bed Bath & Beyond for $30 and draped t over the support system.

For lighting, we used a kit that costs about $500.

For the camera, we used a Creative Labs Vado that costs $65. We also used an $8,000 professional camcorder.

See below the difference beween the two camcorders.

I'm not happy with the lighting and will work on it in the weeks ahead. Should not be hard to make it look really good. Maybe I'll splurge and buy a better camcorder than the $65 Vado.

To see future posts on this topic, visit Advisors4Advisors.com.

An Advisor Products webinar about how financial advisors can produce video updates and optimize them for search engine rankings received a 4 1/2 star-rating from from attendees.

Here’s the video we made with the $65 camcorder.


Here’s the video we made with the $8000 professional unit.
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The $27,000 Advisor Website Package: A True Tale

There’s an old saying in the financial services industry: insurance is not bought, it’s sold.

I’m seeing that with advisor websites.

Advisor websites are getting sold. Instances of price-gouging and sales hype have come across my desk more often lately in the sale of advisor websites.

Admittedly, my evidence is anecdotal, but in the 15 years since founding Advisors Products, I’ve only seen this level of hype once before—during the dotcom boom of 1999.

The rise in unsavory sales of advisor websites accompanies a shift in the industry in favor of local independent design shops. Advisors are using local designers and consultants more often, getting sold “branding packages.” In fact, local design firms and independent are now the main competitors to Advisor Products.

Advisor Products has focused in recent years on developing client portals for advisor websites, which shifted the company away from competing with traditional advisor website development companies. We often work with independent designer and marketing consultants because advisors utilize our “backend” tools—AdvisorVault, portfolio performance reporting, email newsletters, financial advisor content—while hiring  independent consultants for marketing and design assistance.

What I’m seeing is that a small number of these local design firms and independent consultants are using the technical mumbo-jumbo as an excuse to overcharge advisors, and sometimes problems are arising with misleading claims about search engine optimization or an advisor website.

This week, I worked with an advisor now on the hook for $27,000 for a website, logo, and SEO copywriting package that gives him far less than what Advisor Products provides for about a third of the cost. He’s switching to Advisor Products.

The site looks good, but it was built using an open-source content management system (CMS) template.

Open source CMS platforms are great. The big ones, WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, are growing explosively, and local design shops have flocked to them, and for good reason.

Open-source platforms publish their source code, enabling programmers all over the world to develop plug-ins and overlays. So if you want to add a blog you your Joomla site, for example, Joomla has an app store and you choose from a long list of add-ons, called extensions, that are free or low cost.  

Cool features like blog moderation, integration with email newsletters, event calendars, news headline display, and other functionality can be added easily to a website using the extensions. Apps stores for Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla make it easy to display a Twitter-stream on a page of an advisor website, add and manage polls, or embed videos you post on YouTube.

Point is, the advisor who called this week was sold a template website built on Joomla plus a few website pages of copy that had been optimized for search engines, and a logo. Total cost: $27,000.

In addition to overcharging by a huge amount, the advisor is very limited in his ability to change content on his website because of an extremely restrictive configuration of the Joomla CMS platform.

Advisor Products works with many outside designers and marketing consultants and the vast majority are good and honest. We don’t have a monopoly on great graphic design and our development process enables advisors to use their favorite designers and consultants and leverage our specialized tools.

Advisor Products builds websites for firms using open source CMS when appropriate, depending on your circumstances. In fact, we’re in the process of integrating our proprietary financial advisor content and compliance tools for advisor websites with an open-source CMS platform.

But the growth of open source CMS platforms has allowed some greedy operators to take advantage of advisors who don’t know much about website development. So watch out.

If you want to work with a marketing consultant or design firm and also leverage AdvisorVault, Client Portals and other apps we provide to financial advisors, we welcome your business. And if you want us to evaluate the deal you are getting from a local designer or marketing consultant, we’ll give you an honest assessment.  

We’re transparent.
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Using Your Apps As A Marketing Tool

Having a great client portal doesn’t only make your firm more efficient, it also helps you acquire new clients. When financial advisors buy Client Portals from Advisor Products, they can post two videos to their websites that demonstrate the benefits of these advisor technology platforms to clients and prospects. The videos are free for any financial advisor that purchases an Advisor Products website with AdvisorVault or Client Portals.
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SEO For Financial Advisors Without The Hype

To financial advisors, search engine optimization (SEO) is arcane. As a result, financial advisors seeking SEO assistance are often sold on hype.

A couple of months ago, for example, an advisor who’s been a client of Advisor Products for years, told me that he was thinking of moving his website. A consultant, who is now making the rounds with advisors, had told him Advisor Products could not build a blog site for him with social media features to help boost his website’s search engine rankings. 

So I asked the advisor exactly what the consultant was offering him. The answer: a WordPress blog site. WordPress is a free open-source content management system. Anyone can use it! If he wanted a WordPress blog, we could build it for him. Any web developer can! (A WordPress blog can’t integrate the Advisor Products compliance engine used by broker/dealers—at least not now—but he this advisor is not affiliated with a B/D and did not need the compliance engine. So we added a WordPress blog to his website with all of the social media features he was looking for and saved him from rebuilding his site from scratch.

Still, the episode alerted me to the fact that Advisor Products needed to make social media and SEO more understandable and accessible to advisors. Although we had produced about 10 educational webinars for advisors over the last couple of years addressing social media and SEO for financial advisors, we needed to do something make it easier to get started with SEO and social media marketing—something that would  it less arcane and more affordable.  

After months of planning, Advisor Products last week began offering a comprehensive suite of practical SEO and social media services geared specifically to financial advisors.  

Our approach is modular. It allows a firm with a tight budget to get started with search engine optimization of their website for local listings and map listings. But we also allow an advisory firm that already has done some SEO work to improve their search engine rankings by adding a series of blog posts packed with their keywords, profiling their target clients in SEO-friendly write-ups, or utilizing social media marketing. The six SEO services are:

Advisor Products’ suite of SEO services is different from others because we have clearly defined a full range of SEO engagements for advisors, eliminating the mystery so you understand what you’re getting. We’re not hiding behind a bunch of jargon and making promises we can’t keep.

One other way our service is different is that we’re going to teach you SEO techniques that you can use every day. Simple tips, like telling you to post comments on consumer financial websites like Mint or Motley Fool with a back-link to related information on your website, can improve your search engine rankings. We’ve written blog entries and provided educational webinars about ideas like this for many months, and we are now going to provide educational content regularly to advisors using our SEO services.

SEO is no longer something you can outsource to a firm and let them handle. The growing popularity of blogs, status updates, and information sharing on social means advisors and their staff must get involved in creating content to improve your search engine rankings.

What do you think? Are you mystified by SEO? Have the educational blog posts and webinars we’ve been conducting helping you? Are you going planning on using SEO techniques on 2011?
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The Semantic Web And Financial Advisors

The Semantic Web automates activities that now require human intervention by structuring information on the Internet. In a few years, Semantic Web will enable your phone to alert you when you’re out of milk, locate a mobile grocery service cruising your neighborhood, and request a milk delivery to your door. The Semantic Web is a long way off from realizing its potential, but it is now powering search engines and that’s why advisors need to know about it.

The Semantic Web, a phrase coined in 1999 by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Internet, will utilize many computer languages and technologies to make machines talk to each other. One of the languages is HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language), the language of used to develop web pages.

In Web 2.0, standards are taking hold governing the use of HTML to program Web pages. For instance, the standard way of marking up text you want to emphasize on a Web page has been using <i> to format a font with italics or <b> boldface type. While tagging text with that code formats the typeface, it does not indicate how important the italicized or boldface information is.

Now, with the Semantic Web taking hold, the tag <em> (emphasis) is used instead of <i> or <b>. The <em> tag is one of many Semantic HTML tags that can be used by search engines to index information on the Web.

Web crawlers used by search engines to index information on the Internet now look for Semantic HTML tags to determine the most important ideas on a page. The Semantic Web thus automates a process that once could only be accomplished with human interaction and allows search engine algorithms to make information the Web more useable and seaerchable.

For advisors, understanding the Semantic Web is important because it enables creating a site that is easy to be indexed by search engines. The easier it is for search engines to index your website and understand the information it contains, the better your search engine results will be.

At Advisor Products, we now program websites using Semantic HTML. This makes it more likely that advisors with Advisor Products websites will be ranked higher by search engines.

In addition, our BackOffice content management system, which is packed with features for managing financial advisor websites, includes a user-friendly “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) editor that creates Semantic HTML.  

WYSIWYG Web-page editors allow advisors and their staff to changes on their website. These user-friendly editors are used throughout the Web to post text to blogs, status updates, profiles and other Web pages. But they are controversial because they often don’t produce clean, Semantic HTML.

Advisor Products’ BackOffice HTML editor is programmed to allow financial advisors to produce Semantic HTML and boost advisor search engine rankings.

Semantic HTML provides six levels of heading tags, tagged as H1 through H6.Search engines will give more weight to the text within these tags. But you must select Heading 1 through Heading 6 to use these Semantic HTML tags.

In addition to making it easy for you to post Semantic HTML, we are hand-coding HTML tags where needed when financial advisors purchase any of our search engine optimized (SEO) copywriting solutions.
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Tweet To Your Clients, Prospects, & Referral Sources Using Advisors4Advisors

Advisors4Advisors has integrated with Twitter to enable financial advisors to “tweet” A4A content to clients, prospects, and referral sources in an instant.

Advisors4Advisors aggregates investment, industry, and technology news every business day.

Veteran financial reporters Mary Rowland, Bob Casey, and Andrew Gluck aggregate respectively the investment, industry, and tech news advisors need to read by scanning dozens of websites, blogs, and news releases daily. The reading list is emailed as The Daily Digest to members of Advisors4Advisors.

The Twitter aggregation allows you to tweet any of the content to everyone following you on Twitter.

To use the Advisor4Advisors Twitter integration:

1. Log in to Advisors4Advisors
2. From the home page, click on the headline of any article you want to Tweet
3. Click on the Twitter icon to automatically open Twitter and tweet the article

The Advisors4Advisors integration automatically opens a browser with your Twitter account, inserts the headline of the article as a tweet, and creates a shortened bit.ly link to the article. You simply press “Tweet” to send the headline and link to all of your followers.

To try it, register for a free trial at Advisors4Advisors.com.
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Secure, Encrypted Communications Between Advisory Firms And 401(k) Plan Participants

I was just monitoring one of our employee’s phone calls with a client and came across a great use of AdvisorVault to work with 401(k) plans.

I routinely monitor our help desk and sales calls every day. We use a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone system that enables me to “barge” calls with neither the client nor the staff member knowing I am monitoring the call. It keeps me in touch with what advisors need and whether we are giving good service. All advisory firm owners should have this VOIP system feature. (I posted about this at Advisors4Advisors.com.)

I barged a call just now in which an advisory firm wanted to give AdvisorVault access to a 401(k) plan sponsor. This is a great idea for advisory firms working with 401(k) plans.

Say ABC Advisors is advising XYZ Manufacturing on its 401(k) Plan.

ABC Advisors can give XYZ employees their own client vaults with their 401(k) information.

ABC Advisors can also give XYZ’s HR Department access to certain folders of each XYZ employee’s vault.

That allows XYZ, the plan sponsor, to place documents about the 401(k) plan into each client’s vault, but ABC Advisors can limit XYZ’s HR Department from seeing all of the client’s/employee’s documents.

AdvisorVault enables collaboration with third-party professionals. We always envisioned advisors giving access to a client’s vault to the client’s attorney or accountant. AdvisorVault has very elaborate controls for collaboration with third parties and advisors are telling us it helps them build a referral network of tax and estate planning professionals.

The advisory firm can enable third parties to see a client’s entire vault, just a folder in a vault, or just a single document in a vault. The third parties can be enabled to upload documents and get all the features of AdvisorVault, and the advisory firm that pays us controls the system. Advisors love this.

But we never imagined using the third-party collaboration features to enable advisors to work more efficiently with 401(k) plan sponsors. This is a great idea!

If you are advising a 401(k) plan for a group of doctors, for instance, you can enable the plan sponsor to post tax-related documents, educational articles, required disclosures, plan amendments, and all sort of other required information. And if you hope to turn some of the plan participants into wealth management clients, this is a great way to get to know them.

Please let me know what you think. Are there any caveats or questions we need to consider as advisors start using AdvisorVault to serve documents securely to 401(k) plan participants?
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What Happens When An MBA Student Researches 30 Investment Advisory Marketing Firms?

MBA student Jonathan Poyer contacted me in late June for help with a research project on investment advisory marketing companies. I vaguely remembered Jonathan contacting me five years earlier when he had an internship at Orion Advisor Services, but don't know him. Advisor Products tries to be transparent and behave nicely, however, so  I directed him to our website and offered to connect him with our marketing and sales department.

A month later, after completing his research, Jonathan contacted me again to thank me. In an email, he told  me how difficult it was to get straightforward answers from marketing companies specializing in serving investment advisors but that  Advisor Products was different.

Because he was indpendent and unbiased, I asked Jonathan to summarize what he learned in doing his research. Here’s what he says.   

This summer, as an MBA intern at Brigham Young University, I chose to work for Gemini Fund Services; a company I worked for previous to business school.  I worked on a great project putting together a business plan for a new entity that Gemini has been looking into.


A major portion of my project this summer was to obtain market research on third party marketing firms in the investment advisory space; especially those that provide marketing services for mutual funds.  I spent over a month working on this project; speaking with over 30 firms as I wanted a comprehensive understanding of the industry.  Since I had been in the business a number of years, I obtained information through contacts at the major custodians.  In addition, I found a number of firms through Google searches, marketing events, and others through references on marketing collateral or websites.  All told, I was able to interview almost 30 different people that focus on assisting investment professionals with their marketing initiatives.  The two major questions that I sought to answer included: what key services do you provide and what is the general pricing for those services. 

...
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Get 38 Hours Of CFP® Continuing Education Credit On Advisors4Advisors

You can get 38 hours of CFPâ continuing education credit on Advisors4Advisors, a practice management portal for advisors. And if you sign up for a free six-month membership to A4A, you get it for free!

Simply register for our next webinar and you’ll receive an email with six-month free trial of A4A after the webinar.

Already a member of A4A? Just click on one of the webinar titles below and sign in to A4A to view the session. Watch the session for at least 50 minutes and take a 10-question quiz when it’s over to receive CFP® CE credit.
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Advisor Products Implements Managed Intrusion Detection And Prevention

Advisor Products has implemented a unified threat management system to detect and prevent malicious activities on all of its web servers.

Adoption of the Intrusion Detection and Prevention System (IDPS) by Advisor Products had been requested by a large financial institution seeking to use AdvisorVault, a secure system that allows financial advisors to share documents with clients and allied professionals and that is integrated with several portfolio management software applications.

Hackers and malicious activities by rogue employees of tech vendors and advisory firms pose a growing risk, as more advisors are utilizing Web-based applications to communicate personal financial information to clients and improve efficiency.

Advisory firms are not only under pressure from cybercrime and insider abuse, but also face increasing compliance demands, as state and federal regulators tighten rules protecting client privacy and on establishing effective and measurable security.

The intrusion detection and prevention system implemented by Advisor Products adds a new layer to the company’s already elaborate security systems. The IDPS service monitors all Advisor Products servers 24/7 to identify malicious activity, log information about suspicious activity, attempt to block these activities, and automatically report them to technicians and engineers on the Advisor Products team. Some of the features include:

  • Enterprise Grade Firewall. A sophisticated enterprise-grade firewall managed by certified security experts.

  • Best In Class Intrusion Prevention. The system is carefully maintained and managed by a world leader in vulnerability and intrusion protection research and used by many of the world’s largest enterprise.

  • Best Practices Management. Change management, incident management and all aspects of the service are monitored for compliance with times-tested management practices.

  • 7x24 Incident Response. The service provider’s engineers monitor and respond to critical security events 7x24, 365 days per year and report critical issues to the Advisor Products tech team immediately.

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