This article was originally published in the NAPFA Advisor Magazine. After several requests for the article, I’m publishing it here:
I’ve never been comfortable asking friends, family, or acquaintances for business. When I opened my Fee-Only practice, after a long career in government work, I had no experience selling and I wasn’t comfortable with the whole idea of handing out business cards to everyone I met or hustling my friends and family to become clients.
I experimented with traditional networking events and realized they were a waste of time. Plus, I didn’t enjoy them very much anyway. Fortunately, I discovered how to use Facebook to let a lot of people know about my services and get them to chase me, instead of me chasing them. Through a lot of observation, study, and trial and error, I’ve learned that social media can generate business. It’s not easy, nor is it an exact science, but I’m continually testing it and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.
The most frequently asked question I get about marketing your practice on Facebook is, “Should I use a business page or a personal page?” This is a very important question, and there are a few elements you need to consider. The first and most important consideration is will you brand yourself or your company. For example, will your Facebook presence be “John Smith,” or will it be “J. Smith: Warm and Fuzzy Financial Advisors, Inc.”
Facebook and all social media are, by definition, social environments. We sometimes forget because we’re dazzled by the new technology that the social etiquette for these environments is not very different than that of the past 100 years.
Think of Facebook as little get-together at your friend’s house. While participating in these networks, the more you interact as you would at a cocktail party, the more successful you’ll be. In contrast, if you walk into a cocktail party dressed from head to toe in your corporate logo and the first thing you do is hand business cards to everyone you see, you’ll quickly become a pest.
People often talk business at non-business gatherings, but you first have to earn that privilege. For example, it’s normal for parents to discuss their professional lives while at a birthday party of five-year-old kids. How we earn income is a huge part of who we are, so it’s natural for the conversation to lead to the “What do you do?” question. But this question is usually a natural progression after first talking about your kids, local sports teams, or other shared interests.
Given the social, not business, nature of Facebook, I believe it’s crucial that you brand yourself, not your company, if you want to have success marketing on Facebook. This does not mean your profile won’t be filled with subtle (or blatant hints) about your company and what you do. But your profile should be John Smith with your beautiful photo, not your company logo.
With that said, you can (and should) conduct indirect marketing by offering business-related content. There are even times when an overt pitch for your services can be appropriate. But finding the balance between marketing and socializing will always be a challenge. I haven’t found the absolute perfect formula, but I suggest that you err on the side of less promotion and more personality while you’re testing the waters.
Personal Page or Business Page?
The second part of the equation is the actual technology of the Facebook platform. Facebook gives you the option of creating a personal profile or what used to be called a “Fan” or business page.
Last year, when wrote the first draft of my workbook “How to use Facebook to Grow your Fee-Only Practice,” I suggested only using the personal Facebook profile. I had watched what a lot of other businesses were doing, and for a brief moment created my own business page. But I wasn’t impressed. What I quickly realized was that very few business pages offered a compelling reason to join.
Most Facebook business pages are just very poorly designed brochure sites. When you look at it from the user’s perspective, why would anyone want to have anything to do with your business page on Facebook? What’s in it for them is the question you have to answer. (On a side note, I found that studying others’ business pages still had great value. It’s always important to watch what people outside your industry are doing. That is where the real creative ideas come from that will let you stand out from the crowd.)
So, you have two choices. The first is to try to satisfy the user’s need by creating a compelling reason for someone to become interested in your business page. The alternative is leave that job to your website, which I think is a much better platform because you have more control over it.
The next logical question is what’s in it for the user—Why should he or she connect with you through your personal profile? If you are interesting, then you’ve solved the equation. Unfortunately, most of our businesses and logos are not interesting, at least not to busy people with more things to do than they have time. People are interested in interesting people.
Why do you think the bulk of television shows are reality TV? I can’t stand those shows, and perhaps neither can you, but the point is that people like to watch other people and to interact with like-minded people. Your job is to share the interesting parts of your life that would attract the people you’d like to work with. This is much easier than you think.
You can stop reading right here, and take what I’ve shared and be very successful. But I want to return to the personal profile that I said was my recommendation a year ago. Since then, Facebook revamped its “Fan” pages, and you can now create a personal page using a business platform. For example, you can have a business page named “John Smith,” instead of a corporate identity. This was originally designed for public figures such as actors or politicians, but it’s since become more liberally used by regular folks.
The new business page platform is a much more powerful marketing tool than a personal profile. There are a lot of pros and cons to creating a personal profile using the business page, but I’m still testing it. Although I like the new business page features, the personal page has its own benefits. I still recommend that you start with the personal page. You can gather up to 5,000 “friends” on your personal profile and use that alone for your Facebook presence. Even if you’re considering a business page, having a solid personal page will help you develop your personal brand and build your experience online.
Regardless what direction you take, be sure that both your personal and business pages on Facebook are YOU—your name and beautiful picture.
Chuck J. Rylant, MBA, CFP© is a NAPFA RegisteredFinancial Advisor in Santa Maria, CA and can be reached at www.cjrylantwealthmanagement.com. His free 30-page report, “How to Use Facebook to Grow Your Fee-Only Financial Planning Business,” can be downloaded at www.FeeOnlySocialMedia.com.