How often do you log on to your computer to search for a flight, a CD or perhaps a book? If you are like me, you probably use it every day of your life. The only finger you have to lift to find what you are looking for is the one that clicks your mouse.
If, on the other hand, you are among the dwindling band of technophobes who continue to avoid the internet like a nasty smell, your business is almost certainly losing out already.
Whether you like it or not, the internet has revolutionised the way we live and it is here to stay.
Four years ago, less than one-third of enquiries made through IFAP's Find an IFA service arrived via the internet. The number of internet users has since soared and last year, four in five advisers searches were carried out online.
Sadly, many IFAs continue to ignore the internet and with it a cost-effective source of potential new business.
Only half of our 10,500 members have their own website while 20 per cent have yet to register an email address with us.
Some IFAs worry that having a website will trigger a flood of enquiries which they will be unable to handle or that they will be contac-ted by people they may not want to do business with.
But the truth is that this is unlikely to happen if IFAs create websites which accurately reflect the services they offer and the market segments they cater for.
Equally, there are IFAs who say the internet is not for them because they prefer to engage in face-toface advice.
This is the common misconception with the internet. It has not changed the sales process, it has changed the research process.
People still want to pop into their local IFA office for a one-on-one interview. It is just that fewer and fewer are picking up the Yellow Pages or flicking through the local newspaper to find an IFA.
Just as people log on to the internet to find that bargain weekend break, so hundreds of thousands of consumers use their computer to find an IFA.
The good news is that you do not need to be a computer whizzkid to create a web presence for your company. There are hundreds of firms which will create a website for you at the cost of a few hundred pounds and twice a year we supply our members with a free directory of suppliers they could approach.
Where your input is important is with the content. Too many IFAs bel-ieve that if you have a website, it needs to be fully interactive and even transactional so that products can be bought and sold online.
Others maintain that the main point of a website is to reinforce customer loyalty by demonstrating their expertise or enabling clients to access their portfolios online.
It is true that for some companies, offering these added-value services may be desirable but they are not going to help most firms win new business at the outset.
First-time visitors to an IFA's website simply want to find out more about the firm to decide quickly if its services suit their needs.
You need to sum up on your home page why you are the right IFA for them. If you have the G60 exam, then highlight the fact that you are a pension expert.
If you specialise in long-term care or ethical investment, advertise this fact as well.
There are some people who prefer to talk to a female financial adviser and some prefer a man. If your company has male and female advisers, be sure to shout about it. Do not give them an excuse to look elsewhere.
When people take the time to find out more about your firm, it is vital that they have reasons at first glance to go with you and not someone else.
But enough about how to set out your shop window, the most important route to online marketing success is to ensure that people can find your firm in the first place. Again, the answer is neither complicated nor bank-busting – take advantage of what is already out there.
Last year, there were 233,280 online searches made via IFAP to find member IFAs local to them and matching their advice needs, so make sure when someone finds your firm on our search that the entry which pops up sells your strengths and services.
Consider whether the listed details and company description could more accurately reflect the type of new business you would like through your door.
You can also make your online IFAP entry stand out from other firms in your area and drive enquirers direct to your website by signing up to IFAP's new online marketing package, full details of which you can find on unbiased.co.uk or by calling 0117 972 3333.
Subscribing members can also benefit from a facility that for the first time enables consumers to choose to waive their confidentiality and request a direct call-back from an IFA firm.
Remember that 40 per cent of IFAP's online enquirers go on to see an IFA face to face, resulting in 45,200 product sales last year, and encouraging direct contact with prospective new clients can only boost this conversion rate still higher.