Remember The Sixth Sense, where (spoiler alert) Bruce Willis goes through the whole movie not realizing he’s dead? Did you ever see The Others, that Nicole Kidman movie where she thinks her house is haunted, (more spoilers) only to find out that she’s actually the ghost?
This trope gets used a lot, from Beetlejuice to the Anne Hathaway plane crash movie to Lost. It’s popular because it’s so creepy. We have a real, instinctive fear of suddenly discovering that the normal, everyday life we know is just an illusion. That you think you’re interacting with the world, but, in reality, nobody can even see you.
That’s why the word “ghost” has picked up a slang definition as somebody with no online presence (among other meanings.) Many people don’t trust ghosts. If they can’t find you on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Snapchat, they start to wonder what’s the matter with you.
Here’s a real-life example of what happens when you’re invisible online. (I’m changing the details.) A family member called me up recently. A friend of theirs was selling a family business, worth upwards of about $30 million. This person had no idea what to do with the money or where to get started. I explained how advisors work, and talked him through his goals, his preferences, whether he cared where an advisor was located, how he liked to use technology, and so on. I did my best to steer him toward the right kind of advisors for his specific needs.
You can think of this as a great example of a referral, but come on. What if I hadn’t been there? What are the odds he would have run into one of your clients at the exact moment he was selling his business? Very small. In all likelihood, he would have just used Google or DuckDuckGo to find what he was looking for, like everyone else does. That’s simply how people shop today—even for complex offerings like financial services. One John Hancock study found that 60% of investors prefer researching financial services online.
There’s a problem with looking for advisors online, though. Those firms I told him about—the ones that felt like the “right kind” for his unique needs? They’re not marketing themselves online. So he never would have found them at all.
What Do People Actually Find When They Look for You?
This incident prompted me to try an experiment. I searched for “liquidity events business owners Los Angeles.” My search returned lots of event listings and a handful of interesting articles. I found links to institutions and associations, as well as a few websites for investment bankers. There weren’t many advisors on the first page, though—not even the awesome local firms who I knew would be a perfect for this sort of thing.
Then I tried a different experiment. Instead of searching for an advisor, I pretended I was an advisor looking for portfolio accounting software. That’s got to be a pretty easy search, right? How much more specific can you be? As it turned out, Google brought me four ads—not one of which was for portfolio accounting software. I saw content from Netsuite, Capterra, Investopedia, a Michael Kitces article, and, finally, as the second-to-last item on the first page, Advent. (You can try this experiment yourself, but remember that Google will bring you different results based on your history and location).
Near the top of the first page of search results was a blog post written by RIA in a Box—a company that doesn’t even offer portfolio accounting software; they deliver a leading compliance solution for investment advisers. But they do produce a lot of great content, and content is how people find you. (You also need a funnel in place to process the leads you get from providing content, but that’s another blog post).
This simple little experiment demonstrates the potentially vast difference between your self-perception and actual market reality. You may think everyone in your niche is thinking of you, talking about you, hearing about you. In reality, if you’ve got little to no online presence, they’re not even seeing you.
You’re invisible. You’re a ghost. You just don’t realize it yet.