6 Things I’ve learned from Michael Kitces (That Aren’t About Financial Planning)

Michael Kitces has been sharing his industry wisdom with the advisor community for over a decade now. The self-proclaimed nerd covers all things financial planning, whether it involves going down the rabbit hole of tax legislation, esoteric trust scenarios, sequence of return risks, behavioral finance—and everything in between.

But perhaps lost in that mix are the lessons to be gleaned from the strategies and practice management methods Kitces uses to run his own business. They are, I would argue, applicable to companies of any flavor and they have certainly been useful in my RIA consultancy practice.

So in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, here are six Kitces lessons I’ve applied to my own business. I encourage you to consider doing the same.

1. Perfection does not equal persuasion. While he has since adjusted the frequency and distribution, Kitces’ weekly “Office Hours” segments were once a mainstay on his blog. They consist of 15-minute videos of Kitces giving his perspective on a topic. Those who have seen them know they are not professionally filmed with fancy graphics and transitions. Indeed, the production quality is basic, bordering on amateurish.

Michael Kitces

Photo Illustration by Staff; Illustration by Kate Copeland

What they effectively accomplish, however, is to portray Michael in a highly authentic light. None of us live life in a perfect wardrobe, with perfect hair, under perfect lighting and with a perfect camera person in front of us. I’m much more drawn to someone appearing as Kitces does than someone appearing out of their natural state via a fancy video production process.

With my similar (and similarly production-challenged) videos, I’ve had viewers meet me in person or over a Zoom, and countless times they’ve told me how much I look and sound as I do in my videos. Yep, exactly! 

2. Content marketing works. Kitces has built his business primarily by using content, or inbound, marketing. The idea is to create and distribute informational content that, for the most part, is void of any sales pitch. That can seem counterintuitive, but if you distribute high-quality content that demonstrates your expertise, people will be attracted to it and, by extension, attracted to you. No sales pitch needed.

Content marketing is a long game, though. You will not see results overnight.  But it is an evergreen strategy where, if done right, months if not years after you create a piece of content, it will still attract clients.

3. Long-form content marketing works. A Kitces blog post is long—often thousands of words long. This compares to typical articles in industry publications, which usually run from 750 to 1,000 words. Who is willing to sit and read a blog post that is perhaps 4,000-plus words? As Kitces has noted, most people won’t. But those eagerly interested in learning more about a specific topic will digest every word of it—and once they do, odds are they will view him as the expert on the subject matter.

Kitces usually posts a detailed (as he would say, nerdy) analysis of a wonky financial planning topic once a week. When someone searches Google for that exact topic, any guesses if his long-form articles stand a good chance at appearing high in the search results? There’s a reason Kitces spends the time to write them as he does.

4. Give (almost) everything away for free. This is another counterintuitive point. Kitces has proclaimed that his business model is based on giving away perhaps 99% of what he does for free. The strategy being to give away a lot of content to attract potential clients to you in the first place. The DIYers out there that find your content and use it are never going to hire you anyway. The people willing to hire someone like you need to know you exist before you have any chance of onboarding them as a client.

Use free content to attract potential clients, demonstrate your expertise and show them why you are the best person to help them solve their problems. 

It doesn’t matter how great of a hitter you are if you never get a chance to step up to the plate.

5. Differentiate yourself from the competition. Anyone that follows Kitces knows he is a vocal proponent of building a differentiated brand for your practice. In one of my favorite “Office Hours” videos he told of getting up in front of a room of prospective clients alongside two other advisors from other firms. All three were given equal time to talk.

The first advisor essentially said that he could help everyone in the room. The second echoed that but expanded a bit on how his firm’s investment philosophy differed from the first. Then Kitces then got up and said, in effect: “We work with this specific group of people who are within a few years of retirement. Here are the specific problems that we help them with. If those are the kinds of problems you have, we’d love to talk to you.”

As Kitces later explained, he knew his message would only resonate with a small minority of people in the room. But after the session ended, he said, no one approached the other two advisors, whereas a few prospects, with the exact needs Kitces had outlined, followed up with him.

The moral of the story: It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.

6. Try something new. When Kitces first launched his podcast I recall (naively) thinking he was too late to the game. By the time it debuted in 2017 there was no shortage of financial advisor-focused podcasts already in existence. Plus, he seemed to do just fine with his blog posts, videos, conference speaking, etc. Why attempt to add yet another podcast to an already crowded field?

Kitces has since produced over 200 episodes and shows no signs of slowing down. This demonstrates that even if things seem to be going well with your practice, you should always look to reinvent yourself and for ways to expand your reach and adapt to a changing marketplace.

Brad Wales

Photo Illustration by Staff; Courtesy of Transition To RIA

Brad Wales is the founder of Transition To RIA, a consulting firm focused on helping established financial advisors transition their practice to the RIA model. He utilizes his nearly 20 years of industry experience, including direct RIA-related roles in compliance, finance, and business development, to provide independent advice regarding how advisors can benefit from the advantages of the RIA model.


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