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Get web weaving

Building a webside can build business for IFAs but they need to get to grips with e-commerce quickly and professionally.


The pace of life seems to move so quickly these days, fuelled by the internet, an industry barely 1,500 days old. It is reshaping the way we work, how we interact and, most important, it is redefining who we sell to.


Apparently, if we are not in e-business, then we are not in business at all.


According to research by the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association, 96 per cent of IFAs questioned had either started mapping out an e-strategy or were planning to do so. IFAs are realising that the selling power of the internet can work for them, not against them. After all, the web has no boundaries.


It means that it is time to start thinking seriously about how to sell your wares on the internet as quickly and as professionally as possible.


There are several website builders available in the market allowing IFAs to set up their own presence cheaply online and be open all hours.


Eric Mackereth, managing director of BMC Programs, which produces web builder software for IFAs, says: “A truly interactive website sends the message you are open for help and advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That helps to win clients, not lose them. They know their IFA is always there for them.”


Announcing you have a web strategyis easier than deciding which web builder package to select. So, follow this checklist when choosing.


Work out the long-term cost of maintaining your site. Compare the monthly charges and do not take the first site that comes along.


Choose a web-builder that lets youpick from lots of different designs – youdo not want your site looking like some-one else&#39s offering.


Select a web builder that lets you change the site design without having to re-enter any text or other information which would take time.


Look for flexibility when building your site. Can you include a map to your office on your site, are you able to choose your own wording at all times and can you include an email facility? After all, the site should be as easy for clients to use as it is for you to build.


Find a web builder that lets clients carry out some basic, initial financial planning and then email the results to you with an appropriate message. This lets clients see for themselves how close they are to their own financial goals and saves an IFA time in sending out basic forms for clients to fill in


Mackereth points out: “With the abilityto email feedback or information at anytime, a good website can do much to generate and retain the close links that advisers must develop when providing superior levels of advice and complete trust.”


Designing your site and passing it through compliance is one thing. Promo-ting it is another.


Good IFAs know they have to communicate because they can cut their costs and improve their productivity through faster administrative processes. SG Securities insurance analyst Charles Landa says: “IFAs will have more time to raise their service standards and expand their businesses. Through their own websites, they will be able to improve customer access.”


How do you ensure clients know about your website and keep coming back? Follow these steps when you are ready to go live.


Put your website address on every piece of material that leaves your office – business cards, letterheads, invoices, statements, literature and envelopes. Perhaps youcould add a message such as “Open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week at www.yourifa.net/adviser”.


Think about reciprocal linking. There must be lots of websites in your area which would consider adding a link from their site to yours. For example, if you support a local football team, does it have its own site? If it does, why not email the webmaster at the site with a polite request for a link? You could reciprocate by offering him a link from your site.


Use the local newspaper. If you are aregular columnist or letter writer, make sure you add your website address to the bottom of the article.


Make your site topical and keep it that way. Nothing goes off faster than news, not even fish. You do not have to update your site as often as the Telegraph comes out but you ought to freshen it weekly. Get into the habit of making, say, Thursday at 5pm, your “editorial conference” session. It does not have to be a formal meeting but ask colleagues for ideas about what might go in the site newsletter. Snappy bullet points often make better reading for your clients than chunks of a key features document


Ask for feedback. Get your clients to respond to what is on your site. Encourage them to suggest new ideas or give their opinions on Government legislation.


Finally, think about links your clients would find useful. If you have a particular favourite when it comes to checking share prices, add it to your site and make things easy for your client. If you have lots of useful links, they might bookmark your website and keep coming back, enabling you to prompt them with a reminder message to update their details each time they visit.


A good website will save you money and time and should bring in new clients. If you want to extend the reach of your operations, what are you waiting for?


Paul Charles, Editor-in-chief,m-link.co.uk

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