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Window to the web

Fax machines did not really take off as a method of business communication until the mid-1980s. When they did, within just a couple of years, the appearance of a fax number on a company&#39s letterhead changed from being exceptional to something expected of any efficient business.

Today, it is equally important for businesses to show a website and email address. Although it is now possible to put together highly functional sites to attract new business at very low cost, the most important reason for all IFAs having a website is, in my view, to extend the way in which they can communicate with their existing clients.

Today, it does not even have to cost you anything to have such a web presence. An increasing number of organisation are now offering free websites to advisers. The organisation that deserves the credit for leading the way in this area is AssureWeb. Over 1,600 IFA firms now have one of their IFA Window websites.

I recently spent a day at AssureWeb looking at some of the new services it has in development and reviewing the progress it has made with existing ones. The original IFA Window Professional and Professional Plus options have been replaced by standard free sites plus three options for paid-for sites.

One of the tools which most impressed me was the self-build service for IFA Window. This allows IFAs to create their own online presence in as little as 30 minutes, then post it to their network or other compliance service and make the site live. The whole process is contained within seven sections that allow IFAs to set up the site, submit it to the relevant compliance process and put the site live on the internet.

For IFAs who are not members of a network, IFA Window provides an automated online compliance check via Bond Pearce Solicitors for a £50 flat fee. I understand that over 50 per cent of current users have taken advantage of this service.

After a welcome screen which explains the process, the user then selects the design they want to use. This can be from a range of 40 free templates or they can choose to buy a one-off “designer template” for a flat fee of £50. This template then becomes exclusive to the firm.

Much of the information that is needed to create the site is captured within the IFA Window registration process. This is a separate sign-up in addition to the AssureWeb registration.

The next section allows the adviser to select the sections he wants to include on the site. This can be either just the free web pages or one of the paid-for sites which cost £30 to £50 a month. AssureWeb tells me that around 20 per cent of the firms using this service opt for the wider paid-for sites.

Automatically included within the free presence is a home page, a news page populated from Citywire, a general services page describing an IFA&#39s role, a references page for including client testimonials, an about us page for the IFA to give details of their firm, a contact us page for address, telephone and email details, an adviser page for giving details of key staff and now the My World micro-sites – which allow clients their own individual pages within the main IFA sites.

These free pages can have logos and image files with photos of staff and offices. A direction-finder tool is also provided – any potential visitor can type in their own postcode and the system will generate maps and directions of how to get to the adviser&#39s offices.

The adviser also has the option to include a range of free additional pages covering mortgages, investments, healthcare, pensions, general insurance, life insurance, long-term care cover, offshore and ethical investments.

Those who opt for the paid-for site can choose from a range of additional options including their own domain name (subject to availability), free text news pages based on their own firm – suitable for promoting any special deals or other promotions – additional specialised news services, again from City Wire, and a desktop lawyer service.

Increasingly popular is the upgrade to Formula 1 sites, which also include individual search engine registration for your site, increasing the possible chances of new clients being directed to you.

Any IFA firm that is an IFA Promotion member will also have its IFA Window site linked to the IFAP database at www.unbiased.co.uk, with links to other consumer personal finance sites such as Thisismoney, Moneyextra, the Scotsman and Find. If advisers take a subscription site but are not IFAP members, the one-off joining fee will be paid by AssureWeb.

Using this service to create an adviser web presence really can take as little as half an hour. Sites can be maintained and updated by an equally easy to use tool for setting up changes.

To further promote the sites, AssureWeb has recently retained a firm of search engine optimisation specialists to maximise the ways in which the IFA Window Find an IFA service will be picked up by search engines. IFAs who have chosen one of the subscription sites using their own domain name will also have the domain name promoted at the same time.

All IFA Window users will shortly be receiving marketing packs containing windows stickers, postcards and a range of other material to promote the fact that they can be reached 24 hours a day via their online presence.

Although the free service is excellent, I cannot help but think that any IFA serious about growing their business will opt for the subscription services, given the extra content and functionality they offer. However, the fact that the free options exist and are so easy to use means that there is no excuse for any IFA firm not to have an internet site and to being able to benefit from the new economy.

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