How to Vet a Digital Marketing Agency

How to Vet a Digital Marketing Agency

Why You Should Listen to Me

You may be asking yourself, what gives this guy the audacity to give me advice on Digital Marketing.  That’s a fair question.  I may have spent the majority of my career in Financial Services, but I’ve spent the better part of the last few years as a freelance digital marketer.  What most people don’t know about digital marketing agencies is that many of them outsource a lot of the work to freelancers like me.

In one instance I was hired by a digital marketing agency to do SEO project management.  They’re biggest client was another digital marketing agency.  So I was a freelancer working for an agency who was working for an agency who was hired by the client.  Think about how many layers existed between me and the client and how many people were making money off of the relationship.

I have agencies approach me everyday regarding whitelabel relationships.  Where I essentially take their services, mark them up and charge as high of a price that I can, outsourcing all of the work to them while I simply manage the relationship.  In my humble opinion, you should avoid these agencies.  In my experience they tend to care about selling you the product or service that gives their business the most ROI, not the product or service that will give your business the most ROI.

I want to help you identify the right agency or the right freelancer.  There are so many “churn and burn” agencies out there that go out and sign as many clients as they can and in doing so they sacrifice quality of work.  As long as they are signing clients faster than they are losing them, they’re happy.  It doesn’t exactly bode well for client experience unfortunately.  That is probably why most of my clients have a horror story or two.

Know What You Want

The first step in any process should be knowing what you want and understanding specifically what you want to get out of it.  There are many facets to any digital marketing campaign.  As I mentioned previously, many agencies are going to sell you on the services that give them the most ROI.  So it’s important to identify which components of Digital Marketing provide your business with the most ROI, not the other way around.  Don’t blindly trust the person that’s trying to sell you on their service.  Do the research and come to your own conclusions.

Take a hard look at your competitors and see which aspects of their digital marketing campaign appear to getting them the most traction.  Even if you have to look outside your niche or industry, find an example of a company doing it in a way you want to emulate in some way.  As Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.  Don’t just copy your competitors best ideas, do your best to improve upon them while staying true to your own voice and brand.

Learn the Basics

In order to get the most out of any service, it’s important to understand the process.  Knowing the basics can really useful in identifying the best candidate for your business.  The easiest way to learn is by doing.  I highly recommend trying to do it yourself, even if just briefly.

If it’s SEO (search engine optimization) get a free trial membership to SEMRush or MOZ.  Do a little keyword research and optimize a page on your website for a target keyword.  If it’s social media management on Facebook, trying posting every day for a month.

In the process of learning, you may discover that you actually enjoy some components of the digital marketing process.  You can then engage with the parts of the process that you enjoy and outsource/delegate the rest.  The key is to still have an understanding of the processes you aren’t directly involved with.

Do They Practice What They Preach

This is my favorite litmus test for any marketing agency.  Do they practice what they preach? Are they actively implementing all of the services they are selling you on?  My favorite postings on Upwork are the Lead Gen companies looking for help generating more leads.  If you can’t generate leads for your own lead gen business, how do you expect to do it for your clients.  For me it’s a relatively simple way of disqualifying a potential service.

It sounds pretty logical, but just do your due diligence to make sure they are drinking their own kool-aid so to speak.  If an agency is pushing Facebook Ads, but they aren’t implementing any of their own, that should tell you something.  I once worked for digital marketing agency that got all of their clients utilizing local in person networking events.  They had a lot of clients and it blew me away that they were able to close all of those deals considering they didn’t implement any of the services they were selling their clients on for themselves.

Working with a digital marketing agency that doesn’t implement it’s own digital marketing strategy is like hiring an obese trainor to get you back in shape.  It probably isn’t going to work out.

Ask The Right Questions

Ask For Specific Examples

Identify prospects that provide specific examples that directly apply to your business.  If it’s SEO, ask what keywords they would target and why. If it’s Facebook Ads, ask for sample ad copy etc.

There are so many digital marketing agencies shopping around cookie cutter template proposals.  Learn to look past the fluff and identify the prospects that have taken the time to customize their proposal to your business.  If they didn’t take time to customize their proposal, it should tell you that they are most likely shopping the same proposal at scale.  In my experience working at digital marketing agencies, these types of relationships are not sustainable because they rarely yield results for the clients.

Agencies shopping proposals at scale tend to have more clients that they can really manage, so they’re consistently sacrificing on quality.

Ask About the Structure of Their Firm

Ask yourself if they have full time employees or if they are outsourcing the work to other agencies.  Keep in mind that it’s really easy to generate a company email for someone.  It’s relatively easy to create the illusion of a team.  I’m not saying all white label agencies do bad work, but I do think they do a poor job of being transparent.

Not in all cases, but sometimes these agencies will put up a website that creates the illusion of this big company with a huge staff so they can justify charging big prices to big clients.  The reality is that in many instances these agencies are nothing more than a very small nucleus of full time employees paired with a small team of virtual assistants and part time freelancers.  I should know because I’ve worked as a freelancer for multiple agencies with this structure.

Ask if They Implement Their Own Strategies

Any SEO professional can drive traffic to low difficulty keywords.  But it takes a skilled professional to dive deep and find keywords that will actually lead to conversions and not just drive traffic.  Any influencer can buy followers and buy likes, but only a legit influencer can help sell out your next launch.

Another reason why it’s so important to understand the basics of the underlying service before hiring any agency or freelancer.  Try to have an understanding that most metrics are vanity metrics that can be manipulated.  Once you have a basic understanding, do some background research into each agency.

If they are pitching Facebook Ads, check out the success of their own facebook ad campaign.  If they do Social Media Management, check out the last months worth of posts on all of their agency social media pages.  When it comes to social media, I like to look at the comments because they are harder to fake.  You can buy followers, you can buy likes and you can even buy comments.  But it’s relatively easy to identify comments that are real and genuine vs something a bot left behind.

Proposals and Case Studies Are Over Rated

I’m going out on limb with this one.  I’m not making the claim that case studies and proposals are not compelling.  I’m also not making the claim that all of them are worthless.  However, they are overrated as whole in my humble opinion.  Here is why I say that.

Templates are Free and Easy to Find

Google “free SEO proposal template” or “free social media management proposal.  In many instances it’s as easy as entering a few simple fields.  Client Name, Business Name, Client Email and then a picture of their logo and your logo.  Most of the proposal is generated for you.  You will begin to notice that it’s extremely rare to find proposals and case studies that contain content that is curated specifically for your business.  Unfortunately most contain fluff material that be broadly applied to any business.

Numbers and Metrics are Easily Manipulated

Most SEO professionals can drive traffic to low competition keywords.  Not all can develop a SEO strategy that will drive traffic that actually leads to conversions.  Most Social Media Influencers can get you likes and followers.  There are few influencers that can really drive real sales.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the metrics that are cherry picked and taken out of context, especially if you don’t understand the underlying topic.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your homework!

Understand if Your Goals Align With Your Budget

The easiest way to get burned when hiring a digital marketing agency is having unreasonable expectations that do not realistically align with your budget.  Here’s why.  If you’re expectations far outweigh your budget, you’re opening yourself up to being pitched fraudulent services.

For instance, an SEO agency or freelancer may be promising first position rankings for next to nothing. What they aren’t telling you is that they’re most likely utilizing “black hat” techniques that yield short term results, but leave you vulnerable to potential penalties over the long term.  It could also take shape in the form of an influencer who is offering to promote your business for what seems like a low price given the size of their following.  What they aren’t telling you is that their followers and likes are not organic because they have been purchased.

So take the time to understand the price range for the given service you are looking for.  If you do have a limited budget, rather than hire an agency, consider finding a freelancer with limited experience.  In my experience these people are usually highly motivated to build out their body of work and therefore willing to work for less so they can gain experience to justify charging more in the future.


Selecting and vetting a marketing agency is no easy task.  It’s imperative to the process to take the time to understand the basics of each of the individual aspects of digital marketing that you are interested in.  If not, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by what you don’t understand and that can easily influence you into making the wrong decision.

The best and last piece of advice I will give you is to not to ignore the human element.  The person you are potentially working with is just as important to the process as the service itself.  So many people get caught up in the numbers and they forget about the human element.  Don’t forget to ask yourself if you can work well with this person or team of people.  Communication can be one of the most important elements to any working relationship, especially if you’re dealing with remote workers who are not on site.  You have to be able to trust them to get work done effectively when you aren’t actively engaged in the process.  I would argue that the person behind the service is more important that the service itself, but that’s a conversation for another day.


6 Marketing Mistakes Most Financial Advisors Make in 2019

6 Marketing Mistakes Most Financial Advisors Make in 2019

The financial industry seems to always be late to the party when it comes to marketing. Other industries have been utilizing modern digital marketing tactics for years if not decades while financial advisors have largely been content with outdated marketing strategies. Regulation is no longer an excuse, especially if you’re an independent RIA.   It’s time for financial advisors to see the light and understand the value of marketing. Too many think digital marketing is the future when in reality it’s the now.  Financial advisor marketing has officially entered the digital age. Here are 6 marketing mistakes most financial advisors make in 2019.

1) Website Design

When it comes to prospective clients, think of your websites appearance as you would your own. You probably wouldn’t show up to a prospect meeting in shorts and flip-flops. Having a poorly maintained website is a similar to having a poorly maintained physical appearance. People trust and lend you more authority if have a well-maintained physical appearance and the same goes for your website.

Outside of having an outdated website, one of the most common mistakes financial advisors make is having a website that is not optimized for mobile devices. Make sure your website is mobile friendly and that it can still function properly when prospective clients find your website via their phone or tablet.

2) Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Having a website that is properly optimized for SEO ensures that you will get consistent traffic from search engines like Google. Especially if you have a niche or a local market that you are targeting. For instance, if specialize in financial planning for doctors. It would be very beneficial to set up a specific landing page targeting that keyword and other derivations of that keyword.

Create landing pages that target your primary keywords that tend to be more difficult to rank for. Create blog topic categories that match your landing pages. Then roll out blog posts within those categories that target long tail keywords that are easier to rank for, but are still niche relevant. In each blog post you link back to the relevant landing page as well as previous articles within that category. This internal linking strategy also improves your bounce rate.

I recommend using a keyword research tool to identify target keywords before developing the content for each landing page and blog post. I utilize SemRush currently, but MOZ, AHRefs, Majestic & are all suitable alternatives.

3) Original Compelling Content

For those of you actively investing time and money into your digital marketing campaign, failing to generate original compelling content is the most common marketing mistakes most financial advisors make in 2019. It’s important to generate unique original content that speaks to your target demographic as a financial advisor. Too many advisors pay for content from blog writing services. This mass duplicated content is guaranteed to get you no interaction or views and will drive no traffic to your website. It creates the illusion of having a blog, but that’s about it.

Ideally all financial advisors should create their own long form content. A Blog, Vlog or Podcast are the most common pillars. Even if you only have time to roll out one piece of long form content a month, it really goes a long way. You can then edit your long form content into smaller pieces of “micro content” that can be shared across all of your social media pages.

4) Social Media Management

Even if you don’t have time to create long form content yourself, it is so easy to find a topic in your niche to comment on. Do a Google news search for any topic in the financial planning niche then share one of those articles on social media and give your take on it. If you want to be efficient, use a link shortener and write out your post in a word document before hand. Then you can copy and paste your post on LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter in a matter of minutes. It takes minimal time and it’s an easy way to maintain an active social media presence.

Gary Vaynerchuk has something he calls a 79/21 rule regarding social media marketing.  Figure out which platform works best for you and dedicate 79% of your resources towards that platform.  Spend the remaining 21% of your resources spread out over the remaining platforms.  It’s a way of hedging your bets from a social media perspective should attention rapidly shift away from the platform that currently works best for your business.  That way if you are currently utilizing Instagram, but attention shifts to LinkedIn, you’ll have a headstart on your competition because you’ve been tacitly maintaining your LinkedIn profile the whole time.

5) Lead Generation

Even financial advisors that have new fancy websites can miss on this one. If your website does not function as a tool to generate leads, it’s nothing more than a digital business card. It’s important to ensure that not only is it easy for prospective clients to provide you with their contact information, but that you also provide them incentive. Creating “Lead Magnets” like a free E-book or a short informative video that you provide to prospective clients for free in exchange for their name and contact information.

6) Tracking Your Progress

It’s important to track the progress of your digital marketing so you understand which of your strategies are working and which have room for improvement. Integrating Google Webmaster tools into your website allows you to track all of the traffic going to your website. It has the added benefit of being a free service as well.

marketing mistakes most financial advisors make in 2019


I recommend setting up and optimizing the following properties within the Google Webmaster Tools: Google My Business, Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Google even offers free training on these so you can better understand and utilize these tools.  This way you can actually track the progress of your digital marketing campaign in a quantifiable way.


If you are implementing any kind of digital marketing plan as a financial advisor you are already a step ahead of most of your competition.  The biggest mistake of all is not implementing a plan of any kind.  That being said, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  Do yourself a favor and avoid these 6 marketing mistakes most financial advisors make to ensure your firms digital marketing efforts are heading in the right direction.

The Great Wealth Transfer – Financial Advisor SEO & Social Media Marketing

The Great Wealth Transfer – Financial Advisor SEO & Social Media Marketing

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$30 Trillion Wealth Transfer Looms

The intergenerational transfer of wealth on the horizon will create both risks and opportunities for the financial planning industry.  Around $30 trillion in assets are expected to pass from the baby boomers, one of the wealthiest and largest generations in U.S. history, to Gen Xers and Millennials.  Preparing for this transition will be critical for any financial advisory firm.  How advisory firms prepare and handle this long-term trend will determine which succeed and which falter.

Future Market Shares Are Up For Grabs

This issue of aging baby boomer clients looms over the financial advisory.  “Studies regularly show that when wealth passes to another generation, in the majority of cases, the heirs change financial advisors,” said Gauthier Vincent, head of Deloitte’s U.S. Wealth Management practice. “The relationship between assets, asset owners and financial advisors is unraveling before our eyes.”


How advisory firms prepare for this transition will determine which succeed and which falter.  The oldest baby boomers are entering their 70’s, so the transition has only just begun.  As it accelerates, there will be an unprecedented amount of assets and clients up for grabs.  It’s inevitable that there will be a huge shift in market shares and there will be winners and losers.


Millennials Have Financial Advisor Trust Issues

The truth is, all financial advisors have their work cut out for them.  A 2017 Scottrade study conducted by Harris Poll found that 67 % of Millennials and 64% of Gen Xers feel their advisors sometime recommend products and solutions that are in their advisor’s own best interest.  The same study found that only 22% of Baby Boomers and 15% of Seniors feel the same way.


Just 18% of financial advisers say they are prospecting Millennials.  Ignore Millennials at your own risk, someday this will come back to haunt you.  There is no debating that at some point Millennials will be the largest generational segment of high net worth clients.  The “Great Wealth Transfer” is already underway & Robo Advisors are coming for you!

Millennials Are the Future

Relative to their elder counterparts, millennials may have fewer assets currently, but don’t let that fool you.  It’s a common misconception that appealing to them takes an unreasonable amount of time and money.   Yes it will take a effort.  Yes you will have to invest time and in certain cases money, but there are very few things in life or business worth doing that are easy or free.


Financial Advisor Social Media Marketing


The current perception is that most Financial Advisors work with people with a minimum of $500k to $1 million in investible assets and it’s ok for them to ignore everyone else.  I’m not here to tell you that appealing to the next generation is going to produce real ROI in the short term.  I’m not telling you to go out there and sign as many Millennial clients as possible, regardless of their net worth.  I’m just telling you not to ignore them completely.  Learn to speak their language now.  That way when the wealth does transfer to the next generation, you’ve positioned yourself to do business with them when it will equate to real ROI.  It’s similar to contributing to an IRA or qualified plan in your twenties.  It’s all about preparing for the future.


If you completely ignore appealing to the next generation of clients, I guarantee some of your competitors will.  I’m already seeing a huge uptick in the number of RIA’s that are implementing a more modern approach to their marketing efforts online.   SEO & Social Media Marketing do take time, so those who start now have a competitive advantage over those who are late to the game.  You also have to consider that not all of your competitors are human.

Robo Advisors Vs Human Financial Advisors

Robo Advisors should scare you.  They are already engaging the next generation of clients by affording them access to low cost, automated investment opportunities that were generally reserved for the ultra wealthy, like tax-loss harvesting.  Betterment, one of the behemoths in the industry, already has over $10 Billion AUM. Another example, Personal Capital, is an all in one platform that provides free financial planning tool in addition to access to an actual human financial advisor.  They have $5 billion in AUM as of October 2017.


Robo Advisors are carving out huge chunks of market share.  According to the consulting firm A.T. Kearney, AUM by robo-advisors will grow by 68% annually to $2.2 trillion in the next five years.  When it comes to Millennials in particular, consider the burden of hiring a real life Financial Advisor vs going to the App Store and scanning your fingerprint. 


Low Fees & Minimums Have Millennial Appeal

Robo Advisors have much lower account minimums if they have minimums at all.  Not to mention they usually have much lower fees.  A traditional financial advisor will typically charge somewhere around a 1 percent annual fee to manage your portfolio. Robo-advisors generally charge an annual fee between 0.25 percent and 0.50 percent of assets.  


Combine those factors with the fact that Millennials don’t depend on face to face human interaction and you can see why they are gaining so much market share.  Andy Rachleff, the CEO of Wealthfront, which has $5.5 billion AUM, recently said, “Young people would prefer to deal with software rather than people.”  As it turns out, he may have a point.  If you don’t believe me, read this and then check out the comments section.  Millennials have serious trust issues when it comes to financial institutions, including financial advisors.

The Market Gets to Decide

There is obviously another side to this argument.   There are a litany of articles stating that robo advisors will always fall short of their human counterparts.  Three guesses who wrote most of those articles.  Surprise surprise, a considerable amount are written by a Financial Advisors themselves.  So obviously there is a little bias depending on who you ask. The truth could lie somewhere in the middle.  Hybrid models that combine the best of both worlds could very well be the wave of the future.


As one of my mentors Gary Vaynerchuck always says, “The market gets to decide…  The cream always rises.” Financial Advisors can talk about why they are superior to robo advisors until they are blue in the face and vice versa.  In the end it’s not going to be up to any of them.  The market gets to decide.

Millennials Live & Communicate Online


Financial Advisor Social Media Marketing


As the wealth does transfer to Millennials and Gen Xers they will have to decide where and who to invest with.  Millennials communicate and do business in a completely different way than their baby boomer counterparts.   As I have discussed before, they grew up online and with social media.  So when they are making the decision of where to invest their newly found wealth, where do you think they will go to do their research?  Advisors need to understand how truly connected this new generation is.  Not just to each other, but to information.


Millennials want anyone they do business with to have a presence online.   That absolutely includes Financial Advisors.  The first thing they’ll do when considering investing with you is Google you.  They’ll review your social media profiles and comb through forums looking for reviews of your firm.  These generations trust businesses that have clean websites, robust social media profiles & positive reviews.  Businesses that lack these things are merely an afterthought.  The financial advisors that have the foresight to build up their online presence now will have a clear competitive advantage over the ones that do not.  


Especially when you consider that Millennials and Gen Xers are much more likely to NOT trust Financial Advisors compared to their predecessors.  So you can count on them doing in depth research of your firm ONLINE before they sign with you.  If you don’t manage your online presence, there could be negative reviews hurting your firm that you aren’t even aware of.

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Put Your Content Where The Eyeballs Are

Everyone has a smartphone these days.  People are glued to their mobile devices.  If we have a second of downtime, we pick up our phone.  That’s just the way it is nowadays.  Next time you’re at a restaurant, count how many people are looking at their phones.  People barely put down their phones to drive, it’s crazy.  A huge chunk of that time is spent scrolling through their various Social Media platforms.  


Plenty of Financial Advisors are rolling out premium content.  The problem is they aren’t putting it where the eyeballs are.  Why not share that amazing content you are already producing in places where it will get way more reach.  Sites like StumbleUpon, Medium & Flipboard are popping up everyday.    The more places your content lives, the more reach you will have.  It also happens to be a huge boost for your SEO too.

Get A Head Start On Your Competition

 Creating a robust online presence doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes consistent effort over an extended period of time.  SEO campaigns can take months to really take hold depending on the keywords you’re going after.  It takes even longer to build social media profiles with real depth and actual followers.  You also have to consider that if people aren’t getting their financial news & advice from you, they’ll be getting it from your competitors.
Acorns is a great example.  They’re a micro investing app that you can download in the app store.  They have a growing social media presence that is only going to get bigger as time goes on.  They already have have over 100,000 followers on Facebook & 10,000 followers on Instagram.  Millennials and Gen Xers get their news from their Facebook feeds.  Now they can get their financial news there too.  It’s time to dive in.  If you don’t, the future high net worth individuals of the world will be getting their financial advice from your competitors, human or robotic.


As you can probably tell already, I’m pretty passionate about this.  You may be asking yourself, “What authority does this guy really have?”  Well, I spent 8 years working in Financial Services and I still have active FINRA series 7 & 63 licenses.  I was the dedicated service contact to a RIA with over $2 billion under management for close to 2 years.  It was even a part of my life growing up as my Mother actually worked as the Operations Manager for a couple of Financial Advisors in the Bay Area.  So it’s safe to say I’m no stranger to the industry.  On the flip side, I also have the advantage of being Mark Zuckerburg’s original target audience.  Facebook launched in February 2004 when I was a freshman in college.  So you’ll be hardpressed to find anyone who has been using social media longer than I have.


The gist of what I’m getting at is that the industry is going to change because the client base is going to change.  Baby Boomers can’t live forever.  Things like SEO and Social Media Marketing take time to implement and those are the tools you need to appeal to the next generation of clients.  The firms that implement them now will have a serious competitive advantage over the ones that do not.