How to build "trust" online

Published: July 19, 2015 at 9:33 am

Last Updated on August 30, 2021 at 3:42 pm

This post is meant for financial advisors, who care to take me seriously, considering my diatribes here and at FB group Asan Ideas For Wealth. I would request investors to read and comment on this important issue.

Why am I writing about this?  Becuase over the years a few CFPs have asked me, “how do I get started and establish myself in the advisory business”. I felt dissatisfied with my response to such questions. Hence this post.

The first step would be to recognise that such a question is pretty much equivalent to the titular question, “how to do I build online trust”.

How am I qualified to write about this? I am not! Trust is not something I sought for. It is however, a privilege bestowed upon me, and I cherish it.


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Trusting someone like me is perhaps easier for a reader because I am not part of the financial services industry.

Why is trust important? Financial advisors tend to crib about how investors are unwilling to pay for advice.

Sorry, not true.

Investors will pay if they can perceive trust. To perceive trust, they must perceive “value”. To perceive value (or competence), online visibility is crucial.

Not merely online presence (where you buy a website and hope that is enough), but online visibility!

Online trust is only a part of overall trust (which develops via personal interactions), but it is crucial for growing your business.

Let us look at a couple of examples first.

(I) Subra(money.com). Why is Subra trusted by his readers and followers?

1) He writes well! He tells stories, talks about real life situations, connect them with basic concepts of personal finance.

2) He sells his competence in the blog. Not his advisory business, explicitly that is!

3) He is well read and is experienced and that reflects in his writing. He is a natural writer, who blogs based on instinct without worrying about SEO, keyword density, focus keywords all that sort of thing (quick clarification: neither do I!)

4) He is witty and sarcastic and uses that well to draw attention. Not everyone like the way he operates, but that is not statistically possible.

Key takeway: Focus on your strengths and not yap about importance of financial advisory every other post.

(II) Basu(nivesh.com). I admire the way Basavaraj Tonagatti operates.

He has built his blog with a clear purpose and strategy. He posts twice a week, ensures the content is always topical  (something that I cannot bring myself to do).

He monetizes the blog efficiently, understand quite a bit about SEO, has got professional help for the same.

Most of his clients today come via the blog.

(III) Sreekanth Reddy who runs relakhs.com has also emerged as a disciplined blogger with a clear focus on online presence.

Key takeaway:  You don’t need to be a natural writer like Subra to run a successful blog. You just need to write relevant content.

What is common among these bloggers/advisors? Their online presence is constant because they post frequently.

Value is subjective, but the fact that their blogs have good and steady traffic implies that readers wish to come back for more.

NB: There is a big difference between building trust intelligently (+ organically) and building trust cleverly. Choose clever over intelligent, the cracks will begin to show, like I have seen it happen at safalniveshak.

Here are some ways to build trust (in my insignificant opinion of course)

Do you have what it takes?

Do you have what it takes to survive, then live and then eventually thrive as an advisor? If you think you are short on competence, quit before it is too late. Remember that you have a trigger happy regulator to contend with.

Without competence, trust is difficult to earn and whatever little that is earned will evaporate quickly.

Obey the regulator!

Ask yourself this: What right do you have to complain that investors are not ready to pay for advice when you have not bothered to comply with the regulator (assuming that you have not)?

I respect people who take the trouble to fall in line and rebuild their advisory business.  Trust is a stone’s throw away from respect.

I am an investor. All I want is the best for my money. It is impossible for me to judge the competence of financial advisors. So I use filters to  eliminate advisors like :

(1) should obey regulations and

(2) and no conflict of interest

As an advisor, you may not like that. I don’t care. “Trust  me”, I  am not alone!

Recognize the key to blog traffic

You need at least 100 people (not page views, but people) visiting your blog every day.There are two main sources of blog traffic:

1) Big brother Google- can’t control this beyond an extent. Writing good content is the crucial  step.

2) Email list – You need people to subscribe to your posts. So you need to build your email list fast.

Social media is important too, but Google and mail lists are more important in my opinion.

Do not take facebook likes too seriously! Loyal email readers and  featuring high in Google searches will get you the visibility you desire soon. Trust will follow.

Conversion rates will always be low!

Not every blog reader will become your client! Only about 1% of those who read your blog for the first time will sign up for future posts.

Only 1-2% of people who read your posts will comment on it or email you about it.

If will take a few interactions for them  ‘judge’ you and contact you for help with their financial life.

So focus on volume! You need to reach out to enough people for that 1% to be significant.

Trust is not logical!

People judge in weird ways. What you think will be of value to investors will be squarely ignored!

Many financial advisors write post after post  about the value of professional advice, about how advisors are doctors, six steps of financial planning, how to set up by S.M.A.R.T goals  etc.

Trust me,  no one wants to read such crap!

Trust = value

Even at the cost of providing free lunch, ensure your posts are relevant and offer value to the reader. Unless they like what is on offer, you will be ignored. Your CFP is of no value unless you understand how to project yourself.

If you write relevant content, free lunch seekers will throng your blog. Feed them a few crumbs on the blog and a little more over email, mentioning that a full meal will cost a fee!

Provide Analysis not generic crap!

If you cannot tell stories or provide real life example like Subra, make up for it by providing detailed analysis on real estate, gold, equity etc.

Analysis is a great trust builder.  Do not write dull posts about “importance of retirement planning” without number or examples.

Don’t waste your time sending quotes!

Twitter and facebook is full of advisors who send “inspirational” quotes on life and money. What a waste of time! I see someone posting quotes every day in my feeder, I tend to think that the guy is not an original thinker. Why should I trust such people?!

I think your time is better spent on offering perspective to your readers.  The more unique that is, the more trust you build.

If you cannot offer analysis or perspective online, I think you should seriously consider an alternative career!

Do not take a “balanced” view!

There are enough wankers out there who go, “this product is suitable if you have medium risk appetite”. Makes me want to throw up.

A blog is the only place where you can be truly clinical with your advisory. So if think a product is bad, say so without mincing words.

People tend to trust those who call a spade a spade.

Do not waste money!

As mentioned here Unsolicited Money Saving Tips For Financial Advisers!,

Do not buy a website from any provider. They have horrible SEO strategies in place is the worst way to spend your money.  Start a free blog at WordPress or blogger and create frequent but valuable content. That is the only way for you to “look professional”.

Do not ignore free lunch!

Advisors tend to look down upon free lunch. This is a terrible mistake if  you are having trouble getting clients or would like to increase your income.  Spend time on quality forums like Asan Ideas for Wealth answering questions (without saying consult an advisor!).  It is a good way to showcase your competence.  Of course, you can also share your latest post there. If it good enough, people will comment on it.

The key is to market yourself without appearing to do so! Have I succeed to market myself in this post? 🙂

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Pattabiraman editor freefincalDr. M. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has over ten years of experience publishing news analysis, research and financial product development. Connect with him via Twitter, Linkedin, or YouTube. Pattabiraman has co-authored three print books: (1) You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) for DIY investors. (2) Gamechanger for young earners. (3) Chinchu Gets a Superpower! for kids. He has also written seven other free e-books on various money management topics. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India,” an organisation promoting unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
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