The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Starting an Email (News)Letter

Right now, I think email letters, podcasting, virtual events, and videos are the “big four” of marketing. Every advisor should be doing at least three of those four.

But an email letter is the absolute must, especially if you’re reassessing your marketing strategy during the pandemic.

I get it, writing emails can feel old fashioned. It’s not as fun to sit down in front of a blank Word document as it is to chat with colleagues over a podcast or play with some new video equipment. And when your end product is a big block of text, that’s not quite as exciting to share with the world.

But without a strong email strategy, who’s going to listen to that podcast? Who’s going to see that video? Who’s going to know about your virtual event? Unless you’re willing to shell out some serious money for Facebook, Google, and Twitter advertising, social media marketing isn’t going to raise your voice, or your content, above the din.

The difference between marketing via a tweetstorm and crafting a weekly newsletter is that emails allow you to build a prospecting list. You’ll own that list and it will become the hub from which the rest of your marketing can radiate.

The pandemic is the ideal moment for you to start or reimagine your email newsletter. People are open to change and your clients and prospects probably have a little extra time to read it – and hopefully, get hooked and share it with some friends. Just follow this simple, inexpensive, three-step process to building a better newsletter, based on my own experiences and conversations I’ve had with email marketing masters on my Between Now and Success podcast.

1. Build your list.

Dan Oshinsky went from curating all those cat videos you loved on BuzzFeed to launching newsletters for The New Yorker. Today, Dan’s company, Inbox Collective, helps companies grow their business the not-so-old-fashioned way.

On my podcast, Dan said, “Email has stayed this incredibly powerful marketing tool. “It works because it is so personal. It’s still a very private digital space, which right now in is something that people really value.”

Listen to the Podcast with Dan Oshinsky

If you’re still skeptical, let me put you up to a little challenge. Check your favorite social media platform. How many Facebook friends or Twitter followers do you have? Hundreds? Thousands?

Now do a quick scan of your inbox. How many newsletters do you subscribe to and read every week? Probably fewer than you have fingers.

You have a much better chance of grabbing someone’s attention if you’re one of those few newsletters.

So, how do you break into that exclusive group and build your list?

Start with a simple sign-up form. Visitors to get a quick overview of who I am, what I do, and a START HERE button that takes them to this ConvertKit form. I get an email address, and next Tuesday morning, that visitor gets my Good to Know (GTK) newsletter.

However, subscribers to my newsletter also get something else: access to my weekly content, including my archive of podcasts, blog posts, and videos. It’s sort of like the paywall that newspapers use, but instead of paying money, my audience “pays” with their email addresses. Enough folks in my audience value that access to keep my subscriber list growing and my unsubscribes really low.

Again, email is still a very private space. If you want people to let you in, you have to give them something in return, something they’ll value. That starts with knowing your audience.

Dan remembers, “At BuzzFeed, I pitched a storytelling newsletter, This Week in Cats, and everyone laughed. When I left, there were something like 150,000 subscribers on that newsletter, and every week 45-50% of people who got that email opened it. People identify as cat people.”

OK, “cat people” is probably too narrow a niche for a growing advisory firm. But think about who you’re serving. My Keen on Retirement podcast co-host Bill Keen mostly focuses his weekly content on wealthy seniors at or nearing retirement age. But he’s also developed strong relationships with the Kansas City engineering community and devoted many blog posts and podcasts to issues that resonate with that niche. He leverages the list he’s built through these low-cost initiatives to advertise his most lucrative prospecting channel: in-person seminars (or during the pandemic, virtual events).

Another idea that’s worked really well for me is email training sessions. If you register at the homepage of my company, ROL Advisor, your email goes onto our list, and in return, you get access to a 7-day sequence of emails and videos that share our philosophy and a demo of our system. Go ahead and sign up to see how this works, and if you want to unsubscribe, I won’t be offended (well, maybe just a little).

And that’s the last key to effective list building: respecting your subscribers. Send new subscribers a welcome note, personal if possible, automated if necessary. Make sure your subscribers know their data is safe with you. And let people unsubscribe without any fuss.

2. Write an engaging letter.

When it comes to writing the newsletter, I’m a fan of emphasizing the “letter” part over the “news” part. No one needs to read GTK for the latest market numbers or breaking business news. But I do think I’ve developed a unique point of view on certain topics that my audience appreciates, as well as a warm writing voice that makes readers feel like they’re participating in a conversation.

Eventually, the conversation does need to move towards what you want your readers to do. Top copywriter and consultant Adam Bensman told me on my podcast, “Copywriting is learning the art of understanding how your target audience needs to receive information in the right order to make a decision that results in some sort of action, meaning reaching out to you or scheduling some sort of appointment.”

Listen to the Podcast with Adam Bensman

According to Adam, the key to effective communication is to avoid writing glorified marketing blasts. Instead, Adam says you need to focus on hitting four quadrants:

“Number one, whatever your target market, your ideal client persona, get more granular.

Second quadrant is what that person wants to buy. If I am seeking financial advice, I want to buy security, trust, and confidence that when I retire, I’ve got money coming in. I want to buy the outcome of the service.

The third quadrant is the search trigger, which is the acute symptom that makes people reach out.

The fourth quadrant is what you are selling, offering, providing.”

For example, during the pandemic, advisors are trying to figure out how to serve our teams and our clients while also providing for the needs and safety of our families. “X Tips to Have Better Zoom Calls with Clients” might be a valuable read for some folks. But to me, that’s news. It’s factual, but it’s generic and impersonal and you can get it from anyone.

Instead, the perspective I took in a recent GTK (news)letter focused on one of my favorite topics: effective leadership. The same strong guidance we’re all craving from our national leaders right now is what your most anxious clients want from their advisor. I went on to describe what I think are some traits of effective leadership and explained how – again, from my perspective – financial advisors can adopt those traits to how they’re guiding their businesses through the pandemic.

I’m happy to say that piece really resonated with readers, so much so that Barron’s even promoted it in their weekly email to advisors. And looking back on what I wrote a little more critically, I think that (news)letter hit all of Adam’s quadrants. It was addressed to advisors who are facing a critical point in their businesses. It “sold” some strong ideas on how to be an effective leader when your clients and company need one the most. It appealed to an acute pain point that we can all relate to right now. And without pushing too hard, it offered interested readers access to more insights and my coaching services in exchange for that valuable email address.

Dan Oshinsky would probably categorize what I write as a personality-driven newsletter, which are about “really expressing yourself, sharing your story, being open with what you’re working on and sharing your unique voice.” I also try to add some extra value to my newsletters by curating links that I think my audience will find interesting, and, when appropriate, mentioning any new services or events my company or I are offering. Finding your own mix of content that will appeal to your readers is part of the process – and for me, part of the fun.

3. Master the mechanics.

Researching and writing this weekly (news)letter is one of my favorite things to do. I keep my eyes and ears open for ideas during the week. Then I sit down on Saturday morning and write an almost complete first draft. I take another quick peek at it on Sunday, then a final tweak or two on Monday morning before I send it to a colleague to check my grammar. Tuesday morning it’s sent to you via Mailchimp.

I love an apocryphal quote about writing that’s usually attributed to William Faulkner: “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” That’s how I feel about my newsletter writing routine. It forces me (without duress) to read widely and spend time curating and collating my thoughts throughout the week. It enables me to keep making deposits into my databank of knowledge, so I don’t fall behind what’s happening in our industry and the outside forces shaping it. And it gets me in front of my computer every Saturday morning, no matter what, ready to do the work.

Once you’ve found your own writing routine, you need to assemble your newsletter “tech stack” for publishing your content and pushing it out to your audience.

I use Mailchimp to finalize my newsletter designs, send my emails, and manage my email lists. Other popular email platforms include ConstantContact and CampaignMonitor. All of these services offer free trials so I would recommend sending yourself and your team some test emails to solicit feedback and decide which fits your needs.

When it comes to design, Adam Bensman recommends imagining that you’re sending an email to your mother. Keep it simple. Avoid subject lines with close-ended questions, like “Did you see this?” If the reader’s answer is Yes, you’re headed for the trash bin. Writing in all-caps or offering FREE CONTENT! can also make your email look spammy.

Once you’ve convinced a reader to click, Adam told me, “The first line of an email is the most important. This will make or break whether someone continues reading. Mistakes I see over and over again are people try to lead with some big marketing hook. They try to give the whole punchline away. You don’t need to. All you need to do is get the reader drawn in.”

I often start with a short, standalone sentence or a more open-ended question that piques (I hope!) the reader’s curiosity. Sol Stein, the brilliant editor and writer, said, “Can you make your first sentence more intriguing by introducing something unusual, something shocking perhaps, or something that will surprise the reader?” That was in reference to starting a book, but it applies equally well to a newsletter.

Stein went on to say in his book, Stein on Writing, “Your entire story or novel (I’ll add ‘or newsletter’) may depend on that first sentence arresting the reader’s attention. A terrific sentence on page two won’t help if the reader never gets there.”

The rest of your newsletter’s design should be clutter-free. A few helpful graphics here and there are fine, but you want those eyeballs to keep moving down, not jumping from side to side. Use short sentences, bullet points, and white space breaks that let your reader breathe.

To capture email addresses from new readers, I use ConvertKit, which is connected to that sign-up button on my home page.

For the 7-Day Training Session emails we send at ROL Advisor, we use ConvertKit to set up a simple form that gets embedded onto a page on the main site. When people register, that triggers a pre-scheduled email sequence that sends a daily email for the next week. Those emails also direct folks to hidden pages on the ROL website where the video training is hosted.

Do the work.

If you’re starting from scratch, my advice would be to start simple.

Use ConvertKit to put a newsletter sign up form on your company’s home page. If you’re already using Mailchimp or a similar service to email your clients, stick to what you know.

Plan to send your first email in a week or two and give yourself some time to think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and what kinds of curated links your audience might appreciate. My post on Finding Your Voice, will help you home in on developing your style.

Dedicate some space at the top of the first letter to explain what you plan to write and how often you’ll be writing it. Start by sending your newsletter every two weeks, and once you get into a real rhythm, send it weekly. Make it easy for folks to unsubscribe.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that email marketing isn’t just relevant in 2020 – it’s essential. But you might still be thinking …

“I don’t have time for this.”

Make time.

Ross Levin of Accredited Investors Wealth Management told me that he distinguishes between “fast things” that any advisor can automate, and “slow things,” which he defined as “the conversations and the life changes, and being on the front end of dealing with people through their day-to-day existence and through all the major things that go on in their life.” Writing your newsletter can be one of those essential “slow things” that increases how much your audience values you. It’s worth the time and effort.

“I’m not tech savvy enough.”

If you have the resources, hire professionals to design your site, set up the relevant integrations, and train someone on your staff to handle the technical parts.

If you’re running more of a lifestyle-sized practice, trust me, you can learn. Spend a couple hours watching how-to videos on YouTube and you’ll be able design a simple operation for sending a newsletter and capturing new email addresses.

“I’m not a writer.”

Remember that key bit of advice from Adam Bensman: Write like you’re writing to your mother. Similarly, Warren Buffett writes his annual shareholder letter as if he’s writing to his two sisters. He told CNBC’s Becky Quick, “It’s ‘Dear Doris and Bertie’ at the start and then I take that off at the end.”

Your newsletter doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece. In fact, it’s going to be a lot more authentic if you don’t try to make it something it’s not.

Clients need to hear from you right now. You don’t have to have all of the answers. But you do need a point of view and a voice.

It’s OK if that voice is a little shaky the first couple times you click send. Like any other aspect of your business, the more you practice, accept feedback, and refine, the better you’re going to get at it.

Besides, six months from now, your subscribers aren’t going to remember if you flubbed a word or wrote a sentence that was too long like this one, that just keeps rambling on because I’m trying to make a point about how easy it is to write a long sentence.

They’re going to remember that when they were struggling to make sense of this unprecedented situation, you were right there with them, sharing their anxiety, sharing thoughts, and preparing them for the next phase of their financial journeys.