At Barron’s Independent Advisor Conference held in Dallas in March, I got to sit down with Greg Bartalos to discuss the idea of how advisors can use content as a way to enhance their business.
The tagline is “Want to create content, but not sure how to get started? The chairman and CIO of Ritholtz Wealth Management tells all” but we really spend most of the time explaining why it doesn’t quite work the way people expect, and why it a lot of work, and far less lucrative than many seem to imagine.
Still, if you are interested in blogging, podcasting, or YouTubing as a way to enhance your brand and reputation, it’s a good place to start.
If I can get a transcript, I’ll post it later…
Crushing It With Content (February 6, 2022)
Michael Batnick: Crushing It With Content
By Steve Garmhausen
Barron’s Feb. 4, 2022
Transcript: Barrons Advisor Conversation About Content
Barrons Advisor: But for those who don’t know, he is the founder and CIO of Ritholtz Wealth Management a New York based RIA; He also hosts the influential and I must add excellent Masters in Business podcast on Bloomberg. A lawyer by training, Barry began blogging in the 1990s on Yahoo Geocities, and today his Big Picture blog reaches more than half a million readers per month. He also publishes the popular Ritholtz Reads newsletter. On today’s podcast, he will distill all of his wealth management experience and media savvy to share the key ingredients that advisors need to succeed as online content creators well offline as well.
Welcome to the program, Barry.
Barry Ritholtz: Thanks so much for having me.
Barrons Advisor: Before an advisor embarks on being a content creator there’s some big other questions that they should answer . . . is that right?
Barry Ritholtz: Yeah for sure, starting with: Why do you want to be a content creator?
You know there there’s sort of this misunderstanding that, “I know I’ll start a blog and people will read it and then they’ll send me money and we’ll have millions of dollars,” and it doesn’t quite work out that way. It’s not what people think, it is not a shortcut to capturing assets.
What it does is allow prospective clients to find you, to figure out who you are, and to decide “Hey, this person looks like a good fit for what I’m looking for in in an advisor.” Which is very different than “Post a blog or a YouTube video or a podcast and the cash just rolls in.” It really doesn’t work that way right?
Barrons Advisor: You’re exposing a bit of yourself showing your values how you think what you value what you don’t and hopefully the readers will say I recognize myself there and yeah I agree with this and I agree with that
Barry Ritholtz: Or even better Oh my God I I’ve been going about this all wrong and this person had showed me oh it’s important to not spend all my time chasing alpha. Hey if I want to have a portion of my portfolio as a potential you know speculative chunk that’s fine but I should allow the markets to work for me as effectively and efficiently and cheaply as possible. Every now and then we have clients who come to us and say you know I’m just done chasing the dragon uh you guys seem to be on top of this. The joke is that you know only takes a decade to become an overnight sensation.
Barrons Advisor: Right and I think a lot of investors chase that dragon for a long long time and eventually they all often throw in the towel and be like “yeah” anything else you can say about should you even be a content creator and if so you know what would be a sign you should and if so how to go about that?
Barry Ritholtz: A couple of thoughts first I don’t find it to be a slog because I 30 years ago decided I wanted to become a better writer and so I made a commitment to get up a little early each morning and write for an hour on the assumption that years later I would be a better author. And hey after 30 years of cranking out content every morning it turns out reading good content and writing on a rigorous schedule turned you into a better writer. (No doubt about that) The question for someone who’s thinking about this is first are you willing to commit to the that amount of work it’s a lot of work and especially in the beginning. I’ve noticed that I not that I like to do hot takes on anything but I know if I have an idea germinating in my head and I don’t wanna do a 2000 word screen I just want to put down 500 words to say “Hey, this is what I’m thinking about and here’s why it’s interesting and perhaps you should look at this chart and consider the same idea.” 20 years ago would take a couple of hours and now I could tumble that out very very quickly but it’s a lot of work in the beginning.
So the first question is are you willing to put in all that hard work the second question and perhaps the more important one is “What do you have to say?” Do you have something that you know? You can’t really fake it on the naked page. If you’re speaking and exposing yourself if you’re writing and sharing your thoughts and ideas you can’t wing it it there has to be some substance there and there has to be some passion there and a lot of people I’ve spoken with have said “Gee, I’d love to set up a blog for the firm but I’m not sure what I would talk about.” Sometimes I tease it out what’s your focus or your clients what do you work on and it turns out you know speaking to somebody one day all their clients were sports figures, I have to imagine that sports figures have very very specific and unique or at the very least different needs than the average mom and pop investor don’. Why not focus on that?
It that makes a lot of sense or someone is a woman who is has a I forgot that designation that specializes in helping people post divorce said there’s it’s like as I’m drawing a blank on the CFP version of divorce expertise hey why don’t you write about that what what is so different about people coming out of a divorce where maybe there are kids involved maybe there’s two separate residences maybe you know there’s alimony or palimony what what is challenging it’s not just cash what is challenging about doing this how do you divide up 401K is how do you this got to be things specific that you can share your expertise and you’ll attract more of the same clients and so some people have something to say they just haven’t realized they haven’t expertise talk about what you’re really good at and some people are you know maybe blogging or podcasting or youtubing isn’t the best use of their skill set
Barrons Advisor: First a comment then a question of first comment is that I think what’s really great about writing is it really forces you to clarify your thoughts because when you’re just chit chatting you can have directional beliefs and then when you actually write and pick your words carefully you really scrutinize everything because you know others are going to be scrutinizing
Barry Ritholtz: Daniel Boorsten former librarian of Congress said I write to figure out what I think and besides at that hour all the bars are closed with his jokes so but it’s true writing helps you figure out your actual thought process.
Barrons Advisor: Right and sometimes you’ll have a belief and then as you start writing like you know what I don’t really believe this anymore.
Barry Ritholtz: I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down to write something and by the end of it it’s like you know this is much greater than I so sometimes it’s rare that I sit down and thinking it’s black and it turns out to be white very often what ends up happening is hey you know everybody wants to point the finger at and that’s what caused this and what you often find is the world is complex and there are many shades of Gray and there are a lot of different causations for big complex events and you don’t realize that until you sit and start to think about it
Barrons Advisor: Yeah so let me ask you let’s say someone is capable they have something to say they’re articulate etcetera and they’re like alright I’m all in I want to be a content creator they have a multitude of options as you mentioned the YouTube blog you could do podcast etcetera are all of the be above – would you recommend that each person take an assessment of their own unique attributes and use that to decide where to go or would you even just directionally be like Oh no YouTube is definitely where there’s the most opportunity you can hear the person see them etcetera like how do you make sense of the landscape on that level?
Barry Ritholtz: I don’t want to get woo about this but sometimes the medium or the content calls you, there are people who are you know just great on YouTube. The ability to sit and stare at a camera and have engage in a conversation with the audience, not everybody wants to do that you get better at it over time you get more and more comfortable with it over time, but it’s certainly a learned skill set, some people hate it and they’re they’re just not comfortable. I find speaking is the easiest for most people to do in a podcast format, but personally I find the written word is the most useful — especially if you are trying to establish some sort of relationship with an audience who is also a potential client, a potential hire, a potential partner it it’s more findable through search and it’s just much easier to read a paragraph or two than it is to tee up a podcast and listen to it.
Barrons Advisor: Right the shelf life it’s it’s yeah more accessible right perpetual and you can do a keyword search or phrase and highlight that graph or is going through a YouTube like somewhere in there he said after that yeah
Barry Ritholtz: And it’s hard so by the way if you do podcast I strongly recommend getting a transcription done because that then becomes searchable
Barrons Advisor: Exactly and what about for someone new to this they could let’s say tiptoe into the water going incrementally trying this out another approach could do like a blitzkrieg where you’re like boom lift the curtain and you got a whole bunch what are your thoughts on all that?
Barry Ritholtz: So I know people who have started the tone and the water was like a newsletter they would send out every week every month whatever it happened to be and they found that that was a very comfortable rhythm. A week in advance you want it to be mostly done so you can spend the last week kind of polishing it up and they found a monthly sort of thing wasn’t that challenging, you didn’t have to host a site if you didn’t want to the challenge is how do you get that to an audience and how do you get people, how do you encourage people to share that, & up for it I don’t use sub stack but I have a lot of friends who do have been really happy with it personally I noticed the other day that I I have multiple e-mail addresses and one of them I just use for all the research and the stuff that I I wanna read and get and and not clutter up my inbox and I started to notice like jeez half my e-mail or substacks and so I went back and looked at what did I open, what did I read, what am I like yeah it’s there because I think one day I’m gonna read it and I never do and so I called the herd — so I think we’re at peak substack already but that said there there are lots and lots of different technologies if you want to send out a monthly or every other week sort of newsletter this software that’s available the tech available makes it really easy and simple to do it’s fairly inexpensive just be aware of that there’s a logistical lift to getting this in place and then doing the work. I think that you’ll you can try a couple of formats and you’ll figure out where your natural skill set is but it’s always best — You know I’ve jokingly said I write this I have no choice I just I just have to get it out of my head or I’m I’m walking around talking to myself and that’s not a good thing. If you find something that organically speaks to you and you feel very comfortable with whatever it is the odds are that that thing you’re going to be much better at and you’re gonna enjoy more than something that’s work.
Barrons Advisor: Right right the fact that you gravitate towards it is says something in itself yeah
Breakdown how being a creator actually you know tangible level can help benefit your firm so there’s the obvious of oh there’s attention there’s awareness but drilling down more specifically how can that be how can it manifest itself
Barry Ritholtz: So I launched the blog so the geocities was in the 1990s, I launched it on Typepad in July 2003 so we’re coming up on 20 years and I moved it to WordPress with my own domain ripples.com in October 2008. I think there is a process when you are seeking to either hire somebody or turn a prospect into a client or otherwise engage with a person who may know you somewhat, a little bit, a lot and they have other choices – they can go to other employers, they could go to other advisors, maybe they can work with the different partners instead of you if they are a vendor or a service provider.
And we have a lot of data as to how people use the the various content we create from from blogs to videos to audio. Keep in mind this is very much the inverse of the old Wall Street model which was “Become a client and do transaction with us and we’ll send you all our research.” Our approach has been we’re going to give you a variety of in-depth research, commentary, opinion, thoughts about what what is a better way to think about investing or or managing your money or the economy or your own behavior and hey if you know one or two percent of you want to reach out and become clients that would be great if you want to do it yourself here are some things you should know and you could do it yourself.” And that’s become a you know a pretty respectable business the the assumption that I think so many people get wrong is “I know I’ll set up a blog and I’ll do some posts and the money will just roll in” and I got bad news for you that ain’t how it works.
What ends up happening is you’re writing about a certain subject or a topic – consistently – you’re not the New York Daily News, you don’t have the deadline where you have to publish every single day. You write when you have something to say and if you have nothing to say don’t feel compelled to say something. The obligation to have something poignant to say about non farm payrolls every month it’s a lot of it’s a lot more i just
I just quoted the former UCLA coach who recently passed away “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Along the same lines, don’t think that just cranking out blog posts and making noises is the same as communicating any sort of wisdom or useful knowledge.
When you’re putting this out there and after a while you’ve created a little bit of a reputation for being an expert on this subject or whatever. What I found that it has done for Ritholtz Wealth Management is when we meet with the prospective client, normally there is a certain duration of time that that prospective client goes through in order to say “I know who these guys are, I understand their philosophy, and I feel comfortable entrusting my capital with them, they’re worthy of my trust.”
So it takes a certain period of time before someone says “OK I am comfortable, I’ve reached the a degree of comfort with you.”
I think by revealing who you are sharing your thoughts discussing your process telling about “Over my X number of years in the market I see a lot of people doing this and here’s why that doesn’t seem to work for most investors you should try that that seems to be more productive.” The single most important thing that does – nobody reads a blog post or listens to a podcast and says here’s $25 million that that just doesn’t happen it’s a fantasy –
however they could say “I don’t need to spend two years doing due diligence on these people I already know who they are I know what their philosophy is they seem to be trustworthy, I’m comfortable having this process take three months or a month instead of taking years.”
Literally we have had clients reach out to us we’ve had prospective clients reach out to us and say “I’ve been reading you guys for 10 years my wife and I are retired we want to travel and you know I’m done doing this myself, yeah here you guys do it.”
It’s like “What do you mean you’ve been reading us for 10 years? It’s like “You and I exchanged emails in 2009, I spoke to Josh at a conference in 2015 and Michael and I spoke on the phone.” Like oh, OK. You have no idea the people who are consuming your content and how what you do fits into their world but some percentage of them are going to look into you and say OK maybe these guys can be my advisor every now and again something kind of interesting happens where somebody will introduce a third party to us either a client refers somebody to become a client or just a random stranger says hey I’ve been reading you guys and my client is very unhappy with their advisor I want want to introduce them to you and if they ghoul you and up comes here’s a an intelligent conversation about the Fed and here’s why “Hey, don’t just jump to the conclusion that 2023 is 2008 here are the reasons why it’s not identical hey maybe this goes South maybe we have the recession maybe a few more banks fail but this is a very different thing.”
If you can articulately explain that in a way that says “Oh I see how these people think, and I I like their approach, their data-driven, evidence-based approach to the world.” It just makes the process of getting comfortable with who you are…
You’ll notice none of this is about this will help you close the sale this will get you more it’s all about helping the clients or prospective client get to a point of comfort where they feel like I can make a decision here and I don’t feel like I’m out on a limb or taking a chance you’re giving them a degree of alright I feel pretty comfortable with this and it’s not like because my last guy you know he was recommended but I wasn’t sure and I kind of took a chance and it didn’t work out I’m much more comfortable here.
Barrons Advisor: Right there’s a lot there. I think most advisors who don’t have that presence, it’s a little bit to people like a black box – there’s a name, there’s a headshot there’s a bio, and it’s like well on paper you look at but I’m really not comfortable and I think by dint of what you do putting your thoughts out there it’s disarming so the reader the viewer feels very comfortable like to again that sense of they kind of know you they feel they do because you’re showing your thought processes and all of that and you’re really shrinking that gap in terms of discovery and being ready to possibly do that.
Barry Ritholtz: Exactly. But notice how different that is then “I know, let’s launch a podcast and the money will roll in.”
Barrons Advisor: Right well that intent is impure, if you will and there’s also I think a dynamic it’s called the you know the rule of reciprocity, so you know you look at with Josh and Michael are doing they’re providing, a lot all your firms content frankly mixes entertainment with substance and a really nice balance say 60/40 with if whatever you get a nice balance.
Barry Ritholtz: We were told 60/40 is dead so we had to go 50/50 on there
Barrons Advisor: But I think you know you you watch you listen and you go huh I’m getting good value I’m learning and then human nature being what it is people invariably feel predisposed to perhaps give back and that might manifest itself simply by watching listening reading or and or perhaps even investing with you guys so are working with you
Barry Ritholtz: Let me expand on that a touch because if you were to go out to prospective clients and say look how trustworthy I am please give me your money that’s an immediate red flag wait you’re raising the trust question I’ll tell you when I’m trustworthy when someone puts out and I think it’s hard to hide who you are and what you’re about when you’re sharing so much of yourself. I guess Bernie Madoff was a psychopath and if he had a podcast maybe he could have fooled a lot of people but you could fool people for 1/2 hour you could fool people for a couple hours, you cannot put out hundreds and hundreds of hours I’m up to 500 on the podcast, Michael and Ben are up to 275 something like that and the compound of friends passed 100 already like you can’t BS people for 1000 hours it’s it just becomes impossible.
Barrons Advisor: Anything else that we haven’t touched on that you want to mention about your firm anything going on and there’s a lot of activity
Barry Ritholtz: We’ve been you know we’ve been growing at a pretty robust level organically and you know we’re starting to explore the concept of hey is there a way that we can engage in perhaps an acquisitions to expand our firm we are early stage talking with BlackRock about taking over the management of their B-to-C digital advisor; you know I hate the name robo advisors because they’re not robots and they don’t provide advice it’s always a terrible name…
But one of the things we always looked at with some of the other digital advisors was this is a digital tool doesn’t it make more sense to just marry this with a human advisor and allow the account opening the on boarding the initial application process to be much cheaper faster more efficient.
So we end up not having any minimum at our and our firm and the so-called roboadvisors that we’re using and what we’re in the process of working out with BlackRock to acquire theirs is we want to marry this to a group of advisors so that you’re not calling the call center and getting a random person but hey you’re going to call Matt or Alex or Sue and you’re gonna get a specific person you’re familiar with.
Just because you don’t have $2 million doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to speak to a person. If you’re opening an account for 50,000 or 100,000 you probably don’t have big capital gains taxes to worry about or generational wealth transfer and trust & estates so you shouldn’t be paying for the full service advisory. Marrying an advisor to a digital platform seems to give you the best of both worlds and that’s what we’re working out with taking over Blackrock’s future advisor for their individual investors.
Barrons Advisor: Terrific well thank you for sharing all that that was really useful thank you
Barry Ritholtz: My pleasure thanks so much for having me
Barrons Advisor: Alright my guest has been barry ritholtz for more advisors specific podcast please check out barrons.com/podcast for the way forward i’m Greg Bartels