Marketing & Sales

Is Online Community Building Your Next Step? How This Financial Services Marketing Option Could Accelerate Your Goals Through Data, CRMs, and Social Listening

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We talked with Joe about:

  • How he has built the RIA Operators community and which online platforms he likes best
  • Which methods he has used to grow his community and track growth
  • Why online communities are great for marketing as well as building relationships

About Joe Moss:

Joe is a seasoned advisor tech consultant with a knack for crafting effective marketing strategies tailored to the advisor community. His journey began with diverse roles in real estate, contracting, and property management before transitioning to accounts payable, where he honed his data analysis skills. Working for a CPA firm exposed him to advisor tech, and he went on to provide virtual client services for six different RIAs, gaining broad experience in various tech options. In 2023, Joe co-founded ProAdvisorSuite™, a groundbreaking venture aimed at transforming advisor technology solutions. Serving as a sort of  “Costco for advisor tech,” ProAdvisorSuite™ offers a membership-based platform where advisors can gain access to a collaborative community, exclusive insights, cutting-edge technology, and more. Through ProAdvisorSuite™, Joe continues to empower advisors with innovative tools and strategies to help them stay on top of their game. 

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):
Joe, welcome. Glad to have you here. I feel like we just chatted and we're like, oh, we should have you on the podcast. There's so much good stuff we were able to exchange and I think what was most interesting to me, or one of the things that really kind of was like light bulb was just you are able to create communities, how you've been able to do that, how you're fostering relationships and partnerships with all the things you're involved with, which we're going to get into. Just a brief introduction for folks who are not familiar with Joe or ProAdvisorSuite™, which he co-founded. He also specializes in advisor tech consulting. He does all kinds of things, has tons of advice on marketing strategies, Excel, all kinds of technology platforms, especially for the advisor community. So Joe, I don't want to take the words out of your mouth. Why don't you share a little bit more about your background, where you got to before we get into this whole idea of communities, how you built them, so on and so forth. So over to you.

Joe (01:06):
All right. Yeah. So I thought about this question and I thought I would start with high school. So I started getting into trading stocks, following investments in high school. And so when I turned 18, because you had to be 18 to actually trade with an account, I opened a TD Ameritrade account and started trading weekly then daily — I was trading too much. So then it happened to also be around 2008, I remember pretty clearly because I just finished high school and I was going to college and I went to West Point, the military academy. 

Lauren (01:48):
That's cool. You have a Navy background. My husband's Navy. So there you go. Shoutout on that side of things. So military, but go ahead, keep going.

Joe (01:58):
So we had six weeks of basic training and you're like, no internet, no cell phone, no access whatsoever to the outside world. So when basic training was over, we all got to go to an officer's house on base, call our families, check the internet, and I remember checking my stocks and after six weeks being kind of disappointed that things were going down. So then fast-forward a little bit, I would check my stocks in between passes in the hallway. So that was fun. And that's something I kind of remember about that time there. I ended up leaving West Point after about a year and a half, finishing my degree at WVU.

So I spent about six years doing real estate, residential contracting, property management, and then I got a job in accounts payable. And so I kind of feel like this was when I first got interested in data and Excel and dashboards and all that. So I was on the accounts payable team, the executive team. They wanted insights we just didn't have. All our accounting was backward looking, what has happened, what have we paid? So I focused on how can we get insights into the future and also what data would be really useful for them that we're not tracking. So I found to get started tracking data, you just start tracking and then over time you'll have something worthwhile to share. So going forward a little bit from there, I got a job working for a CPA who also did investments on the side, so CSA paraplanner there. And that's where I'd say I got into advisor tech. So I started following Kitces and the Kitces FinTech Solutions Map; I actually printed it out. It was four feet wide on my wall next to my desk.

Lauren (04:03):
Great testimonial for that tool!

Joe (04:06):
For sure. So I was circling companies we were using and I was circling companies I wanted to be using, kind of got excited about tech and operations, still thought I wanted to be a financial advisor at that point but that's kind of where I got interested in tech and that kind of thing. So then I ended up working as a virtual CSA for six different RIAs.

And so even more, I got to see six different tech stacks, so not just what one advisor is doing but what six different companies are using. And that gave me a really broad experience in different tech, different advisor tech options. So then from there I was pretty active on LinkedIn, I met Kate Guillen, who's the founder of Simplicity Ops. And so the past couple of years I've been working with her helping to grow Simplicity Ops and that's all about CRM consulting. So then from there, a couple months ago, my co-founder approached me and was like, hey, I've got this idea for basically like a Costco for advisor tech. So they pay a membership to join and then they get access to all these discounts. So this is what I'm working on now, which is called ProAdvisorSuite, the Costco for advisor tech.

Lauren (05:29):
Yeah, I love that. That's a great way to think about it. I also really can appreciate what you're saying. You were saying you're working for six different firms or something of that sort. On this end, we work with, I don't even know how many accounts. You get to be part of conversations and really see the inside of all kinds of things going on, and you can bring a kind of light to help people get ahead. So tell me more because you have seen kind of the inside of all of this, where are you at? And I know you are working to really build communities and help share and harness knowledge. So tell us a little bit about that side of things and why you've taken that approach, I guess if you want to call it for marketing or for relationship building or what have you. So yeah, we'll spin into that side of things.

Joe (06:15):
Sure. Let's see. So going back to when I was working in accounts payable, I was really into personal finance blogs. And so there was this directory, this is interesting because of a directory we'll talk more about later, but there was a directory of over a thousand personal finance blogs and all the different writers running the blogs and they track their net worth. So all these different personal finance blog writers would publish their net worth and you could track it month over month. But I got interested in it being a way to interact with people on a very niche subject. I think that's something online communities allow you to do is to go really deep on a specific subject. Within my city, if I wanted to hang out with some people and talk about advisor tech, it would be really hard to find people passionate about advisor tech. But on the internet it's a lot easier because you can pull from a lot wider base of people and go deeper on a subject.

Lauren (07:21):
Tell us more about how you're curating these communities and then how you're building out the communities because a whole thing into itself is to be able to find people who want to nerd out and interact with topics. Tell us a little bit about that. What platforms are you using? How are you inviting people to join? How are you creating just conversations on these platforms?

Joe (07:42):
Sure. Yeah. So the main platform I'm using now is called Skool. It's So Sam Ovens used to own and he was big in the online course space. So he would teach people how to take their knowledge, turn it into a course, and then sell it. And so what he found over time was that people would come for the content, the courses, but then they would stay to hang out with all the other people who were taking the course. So he basically realized the community was even more valuable than the content, the course itself.

So he built this platform, Skool, which has a great content system learning management system but he's really focused on the community aspect of building these communities, which is a great way to chat with other members. A great feed, a great calendar. He added a leaderboard so people can track who's the top person in the community in the past month or week or so. I really like the Skool platform and that's the one I've been building on using leaderboards. I think it has been really helpful because we launched RIA Operators, the community we started in February and we just crossed 500 members.

Lauren (09:10):

Joe (09:12):
Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it took about nine and a half months to cross 500. So I know you were interested in how long does it take to build a community, but basically, I mean, I think it's like any kind of marketing, you tell people about it and you tell people about it in a way that's interesting for them. So yeah, I mean, we shared about it. LinkedIn, we shared about it in our email newsletter. We did a giveaway. I think giveaways are really cool when you're starting a community. It just creates some urgency or some competition. So we're giving away 10 books each month to the top 10 people on the leaderboard. So that was pretty fun.

Lauren (09:54):
Okay. Yeah, that was actually the question I was going to ask: how are you building it out? So it sounds like just through your various networks and channels. Have you been manually inviting each person one by one? Have you been doing direct messages? Has it just kind of been word of mouth? How have you gotten it going? I mean, because one thing where you see a community after it's built but just getting off the ground is a ton of work, and I don't think people even realize, oh, I've got this great idea, I could create X but then to build it out, it's a whole thing. So yeah. What do you think got you the most traction to get to where you are today?

Joe (10:34):
So we did have the jumping off point of our LinkedIn network. We had a LinkedIn page in our email list. I would say LinkedIn and email are two really important ways to build. So we're going to talk about community on a platform but community in general as well. So LinkedIn is rented media, so you've got all your connections but LinkedIn could go away and you could lose all that. Email in a way is owned media. You can have a list of all the email addresses and no one's going to take that away from you. And community is kind of somewhere in the middle. It is on another platform. So in a way, they own our community but at the same time we have a list of everyone who’s there. And it's kind of our own little, I'd say room. Room on the internet in a way.

Lauren (11:31):
Yes. So you've built this out, you've leveraged your other communities or networks it sounds like, to then sort of push content there. And then how do you keep the chatter going, right? Because stuff can kind of pick up and then it goes on and whatever but how do you keep it alive and keep it interesting?

Joe (11:50):
Yeah, I don't know. I guess I use a mixture of methods. Sometimes it's just random. I'll have an idea or I'll see something somewhere and I'll post about it or share it. One thing that's worked very well in this community is asking people what they're using for their website or what they're using for their CRM or what they're using for email marketing, something. I usually do it in a poll format, and so people can fill out the poll and then I can compare the poll results to one of the advisor tech survey results. And it just becomes a resource. So resources. Another thing that's really cool about Skool is the search bar at the top searches across everything. So you can search across the members, you can search across the courses, you can search across all the posts.

Lauren (12:43):
Love a good search bar, and we use Asana a lot, and they have incredible search. It goes across all the comments and all kinds of things like that. Google's got gravitas but that's one I think. And oddly enough, a really good key component for user experience. So it's important to call that out. So super interesting. I mean, Out & About. Part of our mission statement is around building communities. I think I shared this the first time we talked. And so this is really interesting to hear this idea of fostering those communities, especially in an online space. As you said, your kind of a data set or your pool of folks to be able to pull from is much wider in theory and in practice. So can we talk a little bit more about it, because I feel like you've got such a knack about just finding these needles in a haystack. I know we chatted about lists and being able to build audiences and kind of learning from what other people are doing, not just in Skool as a platform but LinkedIn as a platform and other social platforms. Tell me a little bit about these lists you've been building out and what are you learning from them?

Joe (13:47):
Interesting. So I noticed on LinkedIn, someone would post in and say something like, hey, I'm looking for a recruiter, or I'm looking for a transition consultant. And those posts tended to do really well, so people would hop on and they'll start making recommendations. So it became a way to catalog all those people but also promote those people. So I would take some of those posts and save all the list of people who were transition consultants, for example, and put it in a spreadsheet and then I could make a post about it.

Lauren (14:25):

Joe (14:25):
List all of them in one post, and it becomes a resource for people to visit. So it can be a way to promote the people in the list. It can also be a way, it's a resource for people who need that information.

Lauren (14:43):
And how are you finding these people? Are you searching in LinkedIn and their search from hashtags, or is it just because you've built up your community enough that you're starting to see patterns, articles, reading? Yeah, I'd be curious to know how you're finding this group or these groups.

Joe (15:03):
So there's this idea out there using other people's audiences to grow your audience.

Lauren (15:08):

Joe (15:10):
So I saw someone post about that, and I called it the Niche 100 list. So go find a hundred people who are already serving the audience you're targeting, and then engage with them, comment on their posts, ask to be on their podcast, ask to write a blog post for them. So I went and built a Niche 100 list for myself. And so I was like, who are the hundred people who are big in my space? And so then the list, that list in particular, just kind of kept growing from there. And now I'm tracking around 300 different people in that list. And then seeing how their followers are growing over time or seeing who's growing the fastest. Pretty fun.

Lauren (15:59):
Matt over at ProudMouth talks about it, a lot of momentum marketing, and it's that over time and it's that kind of volume that you ride those coattails. So it totally makes sense. And it's part of building communities and relationships, and I think just good old-fashioned relationship building. I mean, not to be play on words, but out and about, literally getting out there and being able to talk with people and build those connections is like, I don't think you can break that away from business development. So that's interesting that you're cultivating that and then you're kind of serving that up for other people to use. Are there any kind of best practices or trends you've seen with folks where they've maybe made it on that list because of a number of followers, or maybe there's something they're doing, they're always posting with a, I don't know, a photo or a certain set of hashtags or reposting? Is there any kind of thing you're noticing that makes you go, huh, that's a takeaway, that you've maybe applied into your own marketing things you're doing on a day-to-day?

Joe (17:09):
Sure. I mean, it's pretty basic. Consistency is one. I mean, if you look anywhere, it's be consistent — post daily, post weekly. And when you post, be consistent in the kind of content you're posting. If you post about something random and then you post about your business and then you post about something random, that may not align. I think another thing I'm noticing is that people, if someone is on a podcast of someone with a much, much larger network, their follower account will jump.

Lauren (17:48):
Yes. We see that too. I know it's that whole coattails thing. 

Joe (17:56):
I mean, Michael Kitces is a pretty well-known example in this space but when someone is on his podcast, the amount of interest they get in whatever they do for months afterward is just way up. So it's really interesting.

Lauren (18:11):
It is really interesting. That's right. It's being able to kind of get there. And sometimes you hear folks, I want to be in the New York Times. I want to name drop it, right? But I think it's also just a reminder of you start where you're at and you start to build it, and it's that momentum again, momentum marketing. You build it and you build it, and you build it. It's those pieces that then grow so it creates other bigger opportunities so when those bigger opportunities come, they come more fluidly. This is such a fun topic. So I want to just get back to the data sets and measuring. Is there anything in particular you've noticed over time in building communities and building your own platforms that you think are things worth measuring that you put in the dataset as a must-have when trying to assess, I'll call it progress, marketing, qualified leads, so on and so forth?

Joe (19:11):
Okay, that feels like a broad question. Do you mind narrowing it a bit?

Lauren (19:15):
Yes. So if you were going to say, I'm going to create a community, right? What would be an indicator, potential KPI for success if your community is successful or not, right? Is it number of leads? Is it, gosh, is it conversations that are happening? Is it people who are in there who have a volume of followers? Is it just, I don't know, what are you looking for that you feel like would say, okay, this is getting us closer to X goal?

Joe (19:49):
Sure. So I think it's easy whenever tracking something to just pick the top number. So number of members in the community is an easy one for engagement. You can do something like monthly active users. So there might be 200 people in a community but only 75 are logging in on a monthly basis. So you can track your active users along with your total users. I think also tracking when celebrities join your community in a way. I mean, not real celebrities, but celebrities in your industry.

Lauren (20:23):
Celebrities in that community. So totally, that's a fair word. Not like Hollywood celebrities or could be, I guess. But yeah, go ahead.

Joe (20:34):
So yeah, I always get excited when someone who has a larger following joins one of my communities. I think that's pretty fun. I also think you can feel how engaged people are. I mean, as people post, or another one is if you're the owner of the community and you're doing the majority of the posting, that's typical. But when you start to see members in the community doing more and more posting, I think that's a good sign people are getting more engaged and more interested and coming to the community as a resource to ask their questions.

Lauren (21:07):
Yeah, actually, so we were talking about this right before the call you were saying, I was saying, oh yeah, I got those emails. Because in Skool you get email notifications that then tell you, hey, so-and-so liked your stuff or posted or reminders that the platform exists. And you were talking about how you have other members who say the same thing but they may or may not be engaged. And I was sharing how we wrote an article in Advisor Perspective about social listening — there are a lot of people who watch what's going on but they may not actually engage, comment, share, so on and so forth. And what's your experience with that social listening side of things too?

Joe (21:48):
Sure. I mean, multiple people have messaged me out of the blue who I have never seen comment on any of my content and been like, I love what you're posting, and I have this specific question. It's really interesting. So even if you're posting and you're only getting a few likes or no comments over and over and over, there's still people seeing it. And I still think it's worth putting your content out there even if it doesn't feel like you're getting a lot of engagement.

Lauren (22:16):
I think it goes back to your point earlier too about just consistency. Sometimes I think folks with marketing are like, okay, this is a great idea, let's get it going. And then it's like four weeks later, five weeks later, it's kind of like that momentum, it just melts away. And so part of that is just that consistent voice, consistent positioning, consistent topics. So super. Great. Okay. Well, we are about ready to wrap up here. This has been a really great conversation. Anything else you want to throw out that you think would be helpful for folks as a takeaway?

Joe (22:48):
Yeah. So I wrote down two things. I think one of them is just have fun. When you're creating content, it should be something you care about that you enjoy writing or enjoy talking about. I think that really helps you be consistent over the long haul. If you're forcing yourself to write or record about topics or something you're not that interested in, that can be pretty difficult. The second one is just, so I started tracking people's follower counts that are growing rapidly. So they could only have 200 followers but if they add 50 followers, that's a pretty big percentage increase. So I started tracking those people alongside the people who have 10, 20, 30,000 followers as a way to highlight people who are putting in the effort, I guess. So there could be someone who’s growing. 

Lauren (23:47):
It's almost like don't ignore someone who doesn't have, I don't know, 5,000 followers, whatever threshold. Because you could also be part of that story, part of that growth story for others who are starting to pick up at a faster pace or just honestly be able to share support or what have you. Followers don't always indicate success but it does I guess an indicator of volume and noise to a certain degree. But well, thank you again, Joe, for your time and for sharing a bit more. And it's fun. Not only to learn about how you've been able to develop communities, I know we didn't get into as much about ProAdvisorSuite but I will make sure to include links below. And thank you again for your time and conversation.

Joe (24:35):
Yeah, thanks for inviting me to be on this.

Lauren (24:37):

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