We had so much fun sitting down with Kali Hawlk of Creative Advisor Marketing at FINCON17. Kali focuses on marketing strategies for financial advisors and helping them communicate their value to clients and prospects.

Tune in to learn Kali’s top marketing tips for financial planners, who in the industry is doing a phenomenal job with their marketing, and how trial-and-error isn’t something to be afraid of!

Hannah's signature

Know your audience – and try everything yourself first…When you have that experience you can make better judgement calls on how to do your marketing and who can help you.

Creative Advisor Marketing


Workable Wealth

Define Financial


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Ep69 Transcript


Hannah:               Well today, we are recording live from the FinCon podcasting booth, if you would. And I have Kali Hawlk, she is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm designed to help financial planners communicate their value to their target market. And she’s already been speaking at FinCon and I’m so excited to have you, so thank you for being here Kali.

Kali:                        Yeah no, thank you for having me. I appreciate it. I’m excited.

Hannah:               Yeah. So even though your intro, you help financial planners communicate their value to their target market. What is the biggest barrier that you have seen financial advisors communicating their value?

Kali:                        I think the biggest one is that financial advisors, they know a lot. You’re an expert in what you are doing, you have a lot of training, you have a lot of experience. And most advisors feel like they need to get all of that and capture it and make sure their audience knows that. And it’s tempting to want to give all that information because it’s showing how much of an expert you are, how good you are at what you do, but most people don’t really care about your solution, they care about their problem. And that sounds harsh, but it’s just human nature. We kind of think in terms of what’s going on in our world. And most advisors don’t make that distinction. And it’s tough, it’s hard.

I think the other part of that that’s difficult is when you’re marketing online specifically, a lot of it is through writing. And most advisors are very good when you sit down and you talk with them. They’re very articulate, they can communicate very well. But that doesn’t always translate into written communication and something kind of gets hung up there. And usually we’re better at one or the other. We’re better at speaking or we’re better at writing.

Hannah:               So, you said that, you know, when there’s a distinction between what we know and what needs to communicated, can you give just an example of what you’re talking about on that?

Kali:                        Sure. Let’s see. I think that it comes back to thinking about your solution, which is your knowledge, your expertise, what you can do for somebody else. That’s what we usually focus on telling people. So we’re like, “Oh, they can make an informed decision now that they know how good I am.” Right? But most people don’t hear that. They’re not in a position to really get that. They’re more focused on, again, what’s going on for them, their problem. So if you can communicate in terms of their pain points. And this is going to depend on who you’re trying to reach. What they’re struggling with. If you can show you get what it’s like to walk in their shoes, then you can get their attention, you can be heard, and at that point you can start transitioning to talking about, “Here’s what I know and here’s how I can help you.”

Hannah:               So clients don’t really care about our asset allocation at the beginning, they more care that we have a solution for them is that … ?

Kali:                        Yeah, I don’t think they care so much about what your thoughts are on asset allocation at the beginning, like you said. And I don’t necessarily think that they are looking at how good a financial planner you are, I think most people are looking at, do you understand where they’re at and what they’re dealing with and can you relate to that specific problem or challenge that their having. Because if they can get that you understand that, then their gonna be much more receptive to like, “All right, how do we move forward then, how do we progress?”

Hannah:               It’s like you’re a perfect example of that, you know, Creative Advisor Marketing, you’re speaking specifically to your audience. I mean, you even included advisors in the title of your firm.

Kali:                        Yes, I decided to be obvious rather than clever.

Hannah:               Like, we’re not gonna hold any punches on that one. So, if you were starting out or advising a financial planning practice from scratch and that had a very limited marketing budget, how would you start?

Kali:                        I think we always have usually one of two resources, time or money. And when you’re starting out, the biggest resource that you have is your time. If you’re starting from scratch, and you have no clients, then the most affective thing you can do is to invest your time into … To me, I’m biased, but it’s inbound marketing. And it’s a good position to be in because that’s the biggest thing you need in inbound, is time. So take the time to research your target audience. Really find somebody you want to serve, somebody really specific or a specific group of people, understand them, do some research on what they’re dealing with, really try to walk in their shows as much as possible, use your empathy to get what they’re going through.

Identify your target market, really define a niche. And I say niche instead of niche because I am not fancy, so I’ll say niche. But define that, know precisely who you’re talking to and then think about, “What kind of content can I create for those people?” And that could be a blog, it could be a podcast like this one, it could be a video. You have a lot of options. And the right one is gonna depend on … you’re gonna have to go back to that target audience and all that work that you did to understand them. You’re gonna wanna be where they are, and you’re gonna want to deliver your content in a way that they like to consume it. So, for example, a lot of people maybe have a long commute to work. They may not read a 2,000 word blog post, but they may listen to an hour long podcast because they have the time in the car. So that’s just an example of what I mean by “in the way that they like to consume content.”

Hannah:               Well what I like about this is I talk to a lot of planners who are like, “Maybe someday I’ll start my own firm,” a lot of this is work that they can be doing now, trying to see, when you’re working with clients, who are you naturally drawn to, who’s drawn to you, and do a lot of that market research like right now.

Kali:                        Absolutely.

Hannah:               Even before you step out on your own or step into a producer role.

Kali:                        Yes, and that’s a great point that people can be doing if they are starting to think about, “Well I want to start my own firm and I’m gonna be building it from the ground up.” Don’t wait to market. And I don’t mean that as in start putting stuff out there because that might not work for you, but you can be sitting and writing and having those blog posts ready to go when you launch. You can be doing, like you were saying, all of your market research. Understanding your target audience, having the conversations with the people you want to serve now so you can start building up this knowledge about those people. And then again, in the time that you have, be creating whatever content, whatever marketing materials, assets, whatever you want to have so that when you launch, you have this whole arsenal or marketing stuff to put out there and to use.

Hannah:               Well I love the analogy of financial planning process that we use with our client, I feel like marketing’s very much the same way. It is a process, and we can be doing a lot of that now.

Kali:                        Right, definitely.

Hannah:               You know, before when you were talking, you were saying that advisors are usually either kind of, people in general, are either geared towards more speaking or more writing. And I’ll say that I’m much obviously more geared towards speaking. But if writing’s the weak point, how do you get better at writing?

Kali:                        The biggest thing you can do is just practice. It really is just … Set a time in your calendar, every single day, maybe it’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning or maybe it’s the first thing you do when you get into the office. Just put 30 minutes on a timer even so you know you don’t have to do more than 30 minutes but just sit down and do the work. That’s the biggest most useful, helpful thing you can do to be a better writer is to write. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less painful if you’re not good at it right now. And then some things that you can do to help with that, once you’re in the habit of just writing, you can … You don’t necessarily have to sit down at your computer and type out your content. Pull up your voice to text dictation. Use that if you’re just really not into writing. Talk it out and then go back and edit the written content. That would be maybe one work around if sitting down at your desk and writing everyday sounds like you’d rather put a fork in your eye or something.

Hannah:               Well it’s like we tell our clients to budget and I feel like it’s the same thing where our clients are like, “Oh my gosh, that’s like poke my eyes out.” You know? But it’s like it’s just a discipline that you need if you really want to be doing a lot of your own marketing.

Kali:                        Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a good comparison. Good analogy.

Hannah:               So, there’s a lot of ideas when you start reading about content marketing and inbound marketing. How do you prioritize the most important things? So like we’re told to build a herd email list, to be emailing clients, to be emailing people who are on our list on a regular basis, blogging, social media, eBooks, podcasts, there’s just this whole list. If somebody’s not doing a whole lot right now, where should they start? Or how do you prioritize that?

Kali:                        I think you always start with knowing your audience. And a lot of questions I get asked about marketing, that’s the answer. It’s always know your audience, go back to them. If you know who they are and you know where they hang out and you know their habits, you know what they think, what they care about, their beliefs, their world view, I mean really getting into their heads and understanding how they operate, the operating system they use to navigate day to day. If you know that, the tactics kind of reveal themselves. And what I mean by tactics is, all those things that you listed out. Blogging, eBooks, podcasts, video, all of those are good options, all of them are right in some situation. The one that’s gonna be best will depend on who it is that you’re trying to reach. So I would say start there, but that’s not a direct answer to your question. So a direct answer would be to start with whatever feels easiest to you. If you’re not doing anything and you’re getting stuck somewhere, just start with something so you get that momentum.

Hannah:               A lot like the low hanging fruit. Just get that out of the way.

Kali:                        Yes, absolutely.

Hannah:               Well and a really tangible thing can be, if you already have an existing client base or you’re within a firm, just send out a survey and ask people where they are, what they want to hear from you. I mean, maybe.

Kali:                        Yeah, no. Surveys are a good place to start. Just make sure that you’re not asking leaping questions, try to have them open ended. And whenever you have a chance, have a real conversation with somebody instead of sending a survey. I think they’re good resources and good tools. But sitting down and having a face to face conversation where you can ask, and then you can ask follow up questions, depending on what their answer is, that’s really useful, really valuable.

Hannah:               So you’ve worked with a lot of people. What are realistic expectations for firms who are evaluating doing content marketing?

Kali:                        I think the biggest expectation I can set is that it’s gonna take six months to a year before you start seeing results. This stuff takes time. It takes time to create, it takes time just doing the same consistent action over and over and over again, and I feel like that’s back to the idea that this is kind of like financial planning where it’s a process. The weight of financial success is not like one big huge leap, huge good idea. It’s the same simple action that you take just over and over and over again. Consistency is gonna be a word that I need to look up later but that’s a key, consistency is key. You have to just keep pounding the pavement, create like this steady stream of content.

Hannah:               So what are your thoughts on paying somebody to write for you versus writing for yourself?

Kali:                        It depends. It depends on-

Hannah:               You do sound like a financial planner.

Kali:                        I know right?

Hannah:               “It depends.”

Kali:                        That’s the answer, isn’t it. “Well, it depends.” Unfortunately, it does depend on what you feel comfortable with and what you truly have time for. I think if your revenue is not over six figures yet, if you’re … I mean really, I would say 150 to 200,000 dollars, if you’re firm is not generating that in revenue, you need to do it yourself. You don’t need to spend money on marketing. I don’t think it’s a good investment because there’s so much you can do yourself for free. And I think you’re gonna get more value out of it if you just put in the work, put in the time. I know it’s hard, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or fun necessarily to do all that extra work, but I think it’s probably the best thing to do until you hit that revenue mark. And then, if it’s something that you hate doing, if it’s something you’re not good at doing, outsource it. Get rid of it. Any point where you’re like, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” and you have the budget to outsource it, don’t hesitate. Outsource it.

Hannah:               So, you know, you’re talking about you need 6 to 12 months. So people who’ve been doing it 6 to 12 months on a regular basis, I mean I know people who’ve done that consistently and even longer than that, how do you evaluate whether that content marketing is working well or not? I mean I feel like … one of the things I appreciate about marketing is that you can be measurable and that’s one of the things that I’ve learned personally in the last couple of years, is that that’s actually drawn me to more marketing.It’s because you can get very tangible with that. So if you’ve been doing it for 6 months or 12 months, what is … How do you know if you’re being successful?

Kali:                        First thing I would do is make sure you have goals that you’ve set. If you don’t have goals, then you just need to back up and start there, because there’s nothing to judge it by. Make sure you have goals, make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and make sure that you’re tracking those metrics.So if you don’t have those things in place, I would get those in place first and then start doing the leg work again. Do another 6 months of it. If those things were in place and you still don’t know why something isn’t working, I think you take a step back and you look at your strategy. And it really comes back to why are you doing what you’re doing? And the strategy is just based on, again, who are you trying to reach? How are you communicating with them?

I think if you’re looking at tactics first and you’re constantly asking, “Well what’s the next thing? What can I do? What can I do? This isn’t working,” there’s something missing on the big picture side, the more intangible side. And I think we’re culturally kind of conditioned to want to do the things that are easy to track and easy to measure. But sometimes word of mouth, content marketing, social media is really hard to measure the ROI on, but it’s some of the most affective stuff you can do. So I think it’s just … When it’s not working or you’re not happy with the results, take a step back and look at what big picture pieces are you missing? Do you have goals, metrics, strategy? And then get honest with yourself about, what am I missing here? What do I not know? And what do I don’t know I don’t know? It’s hard to take a look at that and see where the missing piece is.

Hannah:               I just keep seeing all of these parallels between what we do with clients and this marketing, because what you’re saying is what so many clients who come to us who are like, “I’ve been trying to do it and nothing’s been working or successful.” And that’s where financial planners can add the most value and maybe that’s where marketers add the most value. And maybe that’s where reaching out to somebody and talking to somebody could be really good. So many of our listeners right now work at firms, so how would you pitch this idea of content marketing to firm owners?

Kali:                        Pitch it to firm owners who don’t believe in it or who- ?

Hannah:               Quite frankly, I mean, we’re all financial planner who might not even know that that term exists.

Kali:                        Ah, okay. I think … This is another one of those like, “It depends,” answers but truly I don’t really pitch the idea to somebody who, A, doesn’t believe in it or doesn’t think it’s worthwhile. They’re not my target market. I don’t bother. Because there’s probably a solution out there that’s better for them if there’s some reason that they’re very against it, they’re like, “No, it’s not gonna work.”

Hannah:               So maybe it’s not a battle even worth fighting?

Kali:                        I don’t think so and I mean, going back to financial planning, that’s what I tell financial planners when they’re marketing. If they have a target audience that doesn’t want a financial planner, then don’t market to those … You don’t want to try to convince somebody that they’re wrong. Just think about if you’ve ever tried to argue with somebody by telling them that they’re wrong, did you ever change they’re mind? Probably not. So it’s the same sort of idea. If you have an audience that absolutely does not … “I do not need this. I do not want to do this.” Whether it’s financial planning or it’s marketing, I think you need a new target audience.

But when it comes to just educating someone, I try to look at the data, and I try to show them where the tangible return is first. Because usually numbers are pretty compelling to advisors. They want to see where they’re gonna get a return for the budget that they put into it. And then I also make the case that content marketing is about building a relationship with somebody when you can’t talk to them face to face. And that’s critical in this industry because it’s a relationship based profession.

You have to have relationships and connections with the people that you work with, or they’re not gonna trust you. And especially if you’re working with clients, one in four millennials doesn’t trust anybody for financial advice. And millennials are not teenagers and people in their early 20s. At this point, the oldest millennial is 37, 38 years old. Either they have some assets, a lot of them do, or they’re high income earners. So they are good clients, so you can’t dismiss it just because oh millennials. There are some good clients out there that are younger and one in four doesn’t trust anybody. They don’t trust their parents, they don’t trust their friends, and they certainly don’t trust some advisor that they don’t know, that they have these preconceived notions about. So content is a way to bridge that gap. To build trust in somebody when they don’t know you, when they’re skeptical of you and are questioning you. It’s a good way to show who you are and to authentically share that you get where they’re at and that you have a way that you can help them if they’re interested.

Hannah:               So, for the planner who’s looking at going out on their own, could they do … Okay, again this is probably gonna be another “it depends” question. But could content marketing be their full marketing plan? Or do you have to supplement it with other typed of marketing?

Kali:                        I think you should start with content marketing as your full marketing plan, again because all of content marketing you can do yourself and you can do it for free. That may not be the best long term idea but it’s a way to get stared. It’s a way to get momentum going. And then, if you get to a point where you feel like you want to take it up a notch, you’ve been doing content marketing, I said about six months to year period at least, you’re gonna have a big log of organic content.

And what I mean by organic is not advertising. It’s something that you generated yourself and it earned attention rather than you paid to get eyeballs on it. Once you have that big silo of content, you can look across you’re organic content and you can say, this post performed well or this type of content does really well. And if you’re interested in going above and beyond content marketing, it’ll tell you where to start putting your dollars so you can back your winners through content that did well for paid campaigns or other types of marketing, rather than just kind of shooting in the dark like, “Well I like this post, surely it’s gonna do well.” That rarely happens.

Hannah:               It’s about us instead of the client.

Kali:                        Right, exactly.

Hannah:               [crosstalk 00:19:07] do that, yup.

Kali:                        Yeah. But I do definitely see people who, when they feel like they start getting stuck … So back to your previous question about what should you do if you feel like it’s not working. Just because you do content marketing, doesn’t mean you should have to ignore more traditional old school ways of getting clients. Like networking. Join a BMA group. Be somewhere in person. Start your own community. That’s been a really cool way that I’ve experienced myself. Like just growing my network and building new connections is I started a community of female entrepreneurs in Boston and the specific thing that ties everybody together is that they’re not originally from Boston. So that’s created this really great comradery. There’s hundreds of people in the group now and it’s just really cool. So you can build you’re own community. And that kind of combines some content marketing, it can combine in person events, more traditional ways of marketing yourself or growing your firm.

Hannah:               Well that’s great, I love that. And it’s so authentic. It just feels very much like that’s who you would already be in your daily life.

Kali:                        Right, yeah. When you’re doing something that you enjoy doing, that’s a good sign. No matter what kind of marketing it is. If it’s coming from an authentic, “I love this,” sort of place, “I want to do this regardless of what business ROI I get from it.” It’s a good track to be on.

Hannah:               So who are the people or companies in our space who are doing content marketing really well today.

Kali:                        In our space meaning financial planning? Let’s see. I think Mary Beth Storjohann from Workable Wealth does a really nice job. Define Financial is another one. Taylor and John are over there. They do a really good job of putting out content that’s relevant to the people that they’re working with and they do a great job of being consistent with it. And they’re both very strongly branded, they have a unique voice, they have a unique tone to what they’re doing. I really like how Mary Beth uses … She’s got a blog, she’s got a podcast, she’s got a book. And she has a Facebook group, a community, as well. And I feel like she’s really working on building up this connection between her and her reader. She likes to talk about a lot of personal things. She puts a lot of personal things on social media, and the target market that she’s working with really resonates with that.

Hannah:               And her Instagram. I love following her on Instagram. I know that’s so silly, I’m like … I love advisors on Instagram.

Kali:                        Yeah, she does a nice job. And I like Taylor and Jon have … They have definefinancial.com but they also have this whole other separate site called staywealthysandiego.com. And it’s just a blog and a podcast too now I think, but it’s used as a marketing tool for Define Financial. So I like how they have that set up. It’s a cool strategy if you can commit the time to, now it’s two websites. It’s like even more complicated. But it’s neat because they made that super specific to their local area and they talk about things that people in San Diego care about.

Hannah:               So as we wrap up, what have you … I’m gonna kind of give you two question and kind of let you go with where you want to go.

Kali:                        Alrighty.

Hannah:               So since you’ve been working with advisors, what have you learned about advisors or working with what’s best? And I’ll kind of wrap that into, what is your biggest piece of advice for advisors? Just from your perspective?

Kali:                        I don’t think I can say know your audience again. But really, that would be a big one, is know your audience. I think the other one is to try everything yourself first. Just give it a try. If you suck at it, that’s fine. You don’t have to publish it or put it out there or anything like that. Nobody but you has to see it. But try to do this marketing by yourself first. Because doing that will allow you to learn what you’re good at, what you’re not, what you like doing, what you hate doing, what would really be worth it for you to learn and dig into, and what just needs to go out the door to somebody else to let them handle it. I think when you have that experience, you are able to make better judgment calls on how and who to help you … Or how to do your marketing and who can help you do it.

Hannah:               Great, thank you.

Kali:                        Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it.

Hannah:               Excellent.