George Emsden, ‘CancerIFA’ on Twitter

When George Emsden was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2007, his instinct was to keep it to himself.

Four years later he is one of Twitter’s best-known Independent Financial Advisers and his online identity “CancerIFA” could barely be more stark. Time for a celebratory cup of tea.

The story of how George defied his inhibitions to find catharsis in speaking about his illness is an inspiration in itself – but another absorbing aspect of this tale is untold. You see, George is a case in point about how the Internet has changed the way the world does business. Social networks have allowed people all over the planet with niche – but common – interests to connect as never before. For businesses with a specialism, this is a golden opportunity.

Imagine, if you will, a Runcorn-based record shop specialising in 1930s Romanian folk. Ten years ago, with a potential customer-base of probably somewhere around none in that town, there would not have been any business. Now it’s possible to connect to the few thousand dotted around the world’s seven continents who love pre-war Romanian folk – and to build a business by selling regularly to, say, a tenth of them every year.

We live in a global economy of niches – marketing wonks call it The Long Tail – and for financial services, this means being able to target specific markets in ways that never previously existed.

This is exactly what George is doing. He is one of the few people in the country with the personal experience and the professional expertise to help people take care of their money issues after a life-shattering cancer diagnosis. And he’s able to find potential clients using social media.

He blogs most weeks, at Money Made Simple and has a chirpy style that has led to invites to talk about finances on TV. George also engages daily with dozens of clients, prospects and contacts on Twitter.

He asked me rhetorically yesterday: “Why do I blog? It’s fun and since some of the areas I specialise in are serious, giving financial guidance to people with cancer for example, one needs some enjoyment.

“The best blogs are written just after something you have seen, heard or read – maybe someone you have just met. Things that grab you basically – as these tend to write themselves.”

George is one of an army of IFAs exploiting social tools to do business.

Tina Weeks, known on Twitter as The Finance Coach, has discovered some unexpected

Tina Weeks, The Finance Coach

uses for social media.

The Barnet-based mum found 10 minutes between the school run and the first of many meetings to call me earlier this week.

“I asked my followers whether I should change my name on Twitter because I was worried that people weren’t associating it with me,” she said. “About 50 people responded and said, emphatically, that I should keep it as The Finance Coach because it had become a successful brand.

“I was able to glean some really valuable business intelligence by using the networks I had built up.”

Tina said she’s seen genuine return on investment from social, gaining ‘one or two’ new clients every week as a direct result of her online engagement.

“I have also used social media to recruit good people and for PR – because journalists have noticed what I’ve been doing. It takes time to see results – it took about a year for me – but it is worth it in the end.

“I don’t worry at all about compliance. I talk about my life and business, never about clients or partners; it’s just common sense. Ask yourself if you’re enticing anyone to do anything and if you’re not, you’re probably okay.”

Father-of-two Pete Matthew, an IFA from West Cornwall, has won awards for his use of online communications, including MeaningfulMoney.TV.

He said: “Through Social Media I have met with people, both virtually and in the flesh who have enhanced my career, business, and life.

“As far as my YouTube efforts are concerned I want to get decent financial information out to the world. I do believe that the RDR will reduce access to advice for ordinary people, and is my way of using the internet to educate and inform.

“I am not remotely concerned about compliance. I don’t see social media as any different to chatting to someone at a party. Be careful what you say and how you say it and you’ll be fine. Keep the information generic and there’s no worries.”

Nick Cann, CEO IFP

Nick Cann, chief executive of the Institute of Financial Planning, emailed me as he was drafting his 100th blog,  to say he saw social media as a way of reaching new audiences who like its informal tone.

“In my role it’s important to engage with as wide an audience as possible at a number of levels. Having both a formal and an informal presence allows for extending out my personality to a portion of the market which would perhaps be a little more difficult to reach.”

Philippa Gee, a fee-based IFA from  Church Stretton, Shropshire, was the most succinct of all the advisors I spoke to when she told me about

Philippa Gee

the benefits she’d seen from engaging with her 561 followers on Twitter.

“Huge benefits,” she enthused. “New clients, new business relationships and it keeps life interesting.”

Short but sweet – and why not? Because it really is that simple.

There are many other IFAs doing great things in the social space – if you think anyone else deserves a mention, let me know in the comments below. In the meantime, why not follow the pick of the bunch below in my newly-composed ‘Power 40’ list of IFA tweeters:

Michael Taggart blogs about social media and online marketing at his personal blog here. Follow him on Twitter here.

[UPDATE: It turns out there are many IFAs I’ve left off this list who deserve to be on there (and several on it who shouldn’t – so I have narrowed the list to 30). With this in mind I propose we use this list as a conversation starter and I’ll blog again about some of the other IFA tweeters and compose a new list? In the meantime Ian Highton has an up-to-date Twitter list that you might want to look at here – thanks Ian!]

1 Tina Weeks Barnet 5,523
2 Steven Martin London 3,525
3 Amira Norris Birmingham 2,811
4 Kieron Robertson Tunbridge Wells 2,567
5 Martin Bamford Cranleigh 2,487
6 roymc England 2,242
7 Chris Rowell Cheadle 2,181
8 Mark Robinson Sussex 1,739
9 Paul Bennington Birmingham 1,402
10 Richard Allum Oxfordshire 1,341
11 Pete Matthew Penzance 1,318
12 Andrew Hart London 1,300
13 Dennis Hall London 1,265
14 finantium Maidenhead 1,066
15 Donovan Goodman Norfolk 1,045
16 Ray Prince CFP Newcastle 1,026
17 Howard Bullock Billericay 972
18 Graham Bond Bristol 928
19 Yvonne Goodwin Leeds 912
20 Informed Choice Ltd Cranleigh 882
21 Mike Goldsmith Scotland 857
22 Tony Sanchez Cheshire 853
23 Paul Skinner Odiham (Hamps) 779
24 Tim Skelton Hertfordshire 701
25 George Emsden Muswell Hill 665
26 Steve Burdett Isle of Man 658
27 Critical Illness Cheshire 633
28 AT8 Group Warwick 618
29 Dan Woodruff Colchester 569
30 ChrisWicksCFP Cheshire 568