3 Marketing Mistakes I Made, and the Lessons I Learned

Taylor Schulte, CFP®, is the founder and CEO of Define Financial. He also hosts a podcast for financial planners called “Experiments in Advisor Marketing” at taylorschulte.com/podcast.

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I’m a marketing nerd. I’m also a financial planner. And I love experimenting with new, unique ways to grow my firm.

The thing is, my crazy marketing ideas don’t always work. Many of them have cost me dearly, both in time and dollars. But I’ve come to enjoy learning from those experiences and sharing them with other financial planners because—let’s face it—we’re all on this journey together trying help more people.

To help you maximize your marketing dollars, here are three of the most memorable mistakes I’ve made, and the main takeaways from each.

The Failed Snail Mail Experiment

When is the last time you received a piece of high-quality physical content in the mail? With everything being consumed online these days, I dreamt up this idea of applying a traditional email marketing funnel (similar to the “jab, jab, jab, right hook” concept from Gary Vaynerchuk) to a snail mail campaign.

With the help of an intern, the first step was to identify 50 high-net-worth families in our area for our four-week campaign. From there, we converted three of our best-performing blog posts to professionally designed PDFs, printed them as booklets, and wrote a friendly cover letter to complement each one.

With the content finalized, we packaged each booklet and cover letter as a physical mailer and sent one per week to each of the 50 households for three weeks in a row. We added value on week one (jab), added more value on week two (jab), added more value in week three (jab), and then threw the right hook on week four, asking the recipient to schedule an introductory phone call.

We spent about $3,000 on this project, but that doesn’t include the countless hours my team and I spent compiling all the information and coordinating this campaign. In the end, we received exactly zero inquiries from this experiment.

Lessons learned: The sample size was too small. A typical direct mail campaign is sent to thousands of people, mostly because the response rate is often less than 1 percent. With only 50 people on my list, I was destined to receive a lukewarm response.

We needed a better mailing list. Our intern used Redfin.com to find multi-million-dollar homes near our office and then looked up the public property records to obtain homeowner names and addresses. That’s it. In hindsight, we should have leaned on a professional service that specializes in creating targeted mailing lists using reliable data.

The ask was too strong. It’s a lot to ask a complete stranger to schedule a phone call with a financial planner they’ve never met, even after sending some very valuable information. We likely would have had a better response if our right hook was less intimidating. For example, we could have asked them to sign up for a free educational webinar. The webinar would give them an opportunity to learn more about us, see our faces, and hear us speak. At that point, asking them to schedule an introductory phone call might have landed a little better.

The Podcast Launch Package that Failed to Launch

In 2016, I launched a retirement podcast called “Stay Wealthy” (youstaywealthy.com/podcast), and I made a very common mistake that led to a huge loss of time and money.

You see, I fell in love with the idea of podcasting long before I hit record on a microphone. And it’s easy to see why. I mean, how cool would it be to have my own radio show where I could share my expertise and reach a larger audience? Also, starting a podcast involved researching software, tech tools, and equipment. For a tech and marketing nerd like me, it was a dream come true!

Without identifying a goal for the podcast or having any experience recording audio, I spent $6,000 on a podcast launch service that would help me bring my show to life. From there, I focused my time and energy on the fun stuff: branding, technology, equipment, and a guest speaker wish list. I spent weeks brainstorming show names and working on cover art options, but very little about who I was going to talk to and what I was going to say to them. 

I spent a long time spinning my wheels on pointless tasks, or what I like to call “shiny objects.” I was avoiding the hard work, and I wasted precious time and thousands of dollars as a result. I also missed out on opportunities to grow the show, reach my ideal listener, and drive potential clients to my firm.

“Stay Wealthy” is now an iTunes Top 200 investing podcast, but I didn’t make any progress until I started doing the hard work. It wasn’t until I got crystal clear on who my ideal listener was, catered the content to their needs and interests, and created marketing materials that resonated with them. I also saw huge improvements when I created a content calendar and developed some structure for each episode.

Finally, I got rid of all the fluff you hear in most podcasts, including the cheesy announcer guy the podcast launch service talked me into using for my intro.

Lessons learned: Do the hard work first. In the case of podcasting, this means actually hitting the record button on a microphone. One of my favorite solutions is to record three episodes into your smart phone before doing anything else. Forget about the output quality and instead, pay attention to how you felt during the process. Did you enjoy it? Did it feel natural and authentic to you? Was it energizing, or was it frustrating and draining? It’s important to confirm that creating audio content is a positive experience for you before spending time and money bringing your show to life.

Watch out for avoidance behavior. Avoidance tactics are often used to mitigate risk. For example, it felt much safer for me to research podcast technology than to record three episodes and share them with a friend for feedback. Just like investing, lower risk means lower expected returns. And I don’t think any of us are seeking a low return from our marketing activities. 

Document clear and measurable goals. When I launched my podcast, I took a shotgun approach and figured I would learn as I go. Fast forward to today, and at least two-thirds of my listeners are do-it-yourself investors who will never hire me. If I had taken the time to document why I was starting a podcast and who my ideal listener was, I might have been able to build an audience that was better aligned with my growth goals.

Facebook Advertising with a Harvard Nerd that Fell Flat

In the early stages of starting my firm, I dove headfirst into Facebook advertising. It started with me trying to figure out how to use Facebook to drive leads to my firm. I was aimlessly “boosting” posts that didn’t have a clear call to action, and I never took the time to identify a clear target audience. I sincerely thought that if I just advertised our awesome content for a few dollars per day, people would line up to inquire about our services.

The money I spent on ads never translated into leads and it didn’t take long to realize I shouldn’t be doing this. But I didn’t stop there. I doubled down and hired a Harvard data nerd who specialized in Facebook advertising for around $2,000 per month.

His team got busy creating ads and writing copy, but unfortunately, three months of work yielded scarce results. The thing is, I don’t blame the expert I hired at all. We were looking for high net worth clients to move their life savings to us. A few Facebook ads and landing pages weren’t going to do the trick.

Lessons learned: A niche would have helped. Without a clearly defined target audience, our messaging was broad and lacked a sense of urgency. This is not a recipe for success when engaged in outbound marketing activities. A niche, or client avatar, allows you to craft your advertising materials around a very specific set of needs and pain points and likely would have improved our conversion rate.

Advertising for financial planning services is a long game. It takes an immense amount of time and trust for someone to hand over their life savings to a financial planner they’ve never met before. There are prospecting activities with shorter sales cycles we can adopt, but Facebook ads aren’t one of them. I’ve since learned to have more realistic expectations when spending money on social media advertising.

Move people out of the Facebook ecosystem. When I was managing ads myself, I should have been focused on creating a simple call to action that quickly moved people from Facebook to my own marketing platform (for example, Mailchimp). This would have allowed me to slowly build their trust without having to fork over more advertising dollars.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to marketing, there is no magic bullet that works for everyone. There’s only you, your business, and the time and energy you’re willing to invest to grow your firm.

You will make mistakes when engaged in marketing activities, and the loss of time and money might sting. My advice is this: make sure you’re creating measurable goals and learning and listening along the way. When you learn from your mistakes the first time around, you don’t have to repeat them.