When 25-year-old Russell Bailyn embarked on his career as a wealth manager in New York City with Premier Financial Advisors three years ago, his older brothers thought he needed a marketing tool that would differentiate him from the pack. Since both brothers are internet savvy, they suggested Bailyn start a blog. “Blogs come up more often in web searches than static websites,” says Bailyn.

Hits on Bailyn's blog, called simply, Russell Bailyn's Financial Planning Blog, have increased steadily since that time to the point that what started out merely as a marketing method has evolved into a publicity machine. Today, his blog gets around 17,000 hits a month, and he has become a guest contributor to a variety of well-trafficked investing-related websites, such as the Seeking Alpha Network and Trading Markets. The blog also led directly to his first book, published last September by Wiley and Sons. In Navigating the Financial Blogosphere, Bailyn offers readers suggestions for benefiting from financial information that is available for free on the web.

Meanwhile, as his name has gained some currency, the blog has also helped Bailyn's financial advisory practice. After all, that was the point of starting a blog in the first place. “I get more calls all the time and some turn into referrals. It's turned into substantial business,” says Bailyn.

For Barry Ritholtz, CEO of FusionIQ, a Manhattan quantitative software firm, the story has been much the same. Blogging has brought him not only print media attention, but the interest of television studios, as well. “There is no doubt that a lot of publicity, the media quotes and the TV appearances come from the blog,” he says. For example, since launching his blog in 2003, Ritholtz has become a much-sought after guest on Wall Street-centric cable TV programs, such as CNBC's Kudlow & Company, Bloomberg and Fox. And yet, it's the blog that clients and prospective clients care about most. “I hear more about the blog that I do than about the TV,” he says. “We definitely have our corner of the internet and that attracts clients,” he says.

‘Prose’ and Cons

The biggest drawback, perhaps, is that blogging can require a substantial time commitment. To keep visitors interested in his blog, Bailyn normally averages three or four blog posts a week. This has fallen off in recent months as he began promoting his book, but because he's been blogging for so long, his blog still ranks high on Google searches. Still, it took him some time to get there. In the first month after he started blogging, he got minimal hits, but after about six months, his site started getting 1,000 to 2,000 visitors per day. “The more you update your blog, the more relevant it is, and the faster it shows up in their [Google's] systems,” says Bailyn.

Of course, if you find you are sacrificing too much time that otherwise would have been spent with clients, it might not be worth it. You need to figure out whether it is really bringing you additional assets. Bailyn says that his blog actually helps turn prospects into paying clients. “When new clients come in who found me on the web, they often act as though we've known each other for months,” says Bailyn. That sense of familiarity tends to generate a more immediate bond and greater trust.

Ritholtz was already well-known throughout the financial industry when he started blogging due to successful endeavors such as Ritholtz Research and Analytics and the Maxim Group. But blogging has brought him other riches. “The impact on my career has been pretty much from the perspective of brand and reputation,” he says. The numbers don't lie. His blog averages 1.5 million hits a month, with between 40,000 to 50,000 hits occurring every weekday and upwards of 25,000 on weekends. He says he bets many new clients come to him because of his blogging, but it's hard to put a concrete number on it.

While his “hits” are far more modest — around 30,000-40,000 per month — Roger Nusbaum says his writing has netted him about a dozen new clients from across the country. He knows when new clients find him as a direct result of his blog because they tell him so. Like Bailyn, Nusbaum feels his blog allows current and potential clients to learn more about how he would handle a portfolio or other investment-related matters, giving readers a feeling of familiarity with him and boosting his credibility.

Legal Snaggles

Of course, financial advisors who blog also have to be careful not to make any compliance mistakes. David P. Meyer, principal of a Columbus, Ohio, law firm that represents plaintiffs pursuing financial advisors for negligence, embezzlement and other nefarious deeds, has some advice for financial advisors who don't want to see him in court. “Financial advisors should avoid writing anything that would not be approved by the firm if it were advertising,” he says.

Indeed, before Bailyn posts anything on his blog, he submits it to his firm's compliance and legal teams for approval. “They sign off on every post before it's posted,” he says. On many occasions, he says, that department has “softened my piece up.” He's not permitted to write about individual stocks, for example, but blogging about financial planning strategies does not give rise to liability, he explains. His blog also includes a boilerplate disclaimer that reading the site should not be construed as an offer to buy or sell a security nor should it be construed as an endorsement of one product over another.

That's good, says Williams, so readers realize that a professional relationship is not being established between the financial advisor and the reader merely because they peruse the advisor's blog.

Meyer suggests financial advisors should review FINRA's Regulatory Notice 07-59 issued last December before they start a blog. It details the supervisory policie s and procedures firms should have in place “to monitor all electronic communications technology used by the firm and its associated persons.” FINRA also launched a series of podcasts on the subject of electronic communications in February, March and April of this year (these can be found on FINRA's website under “compliance tools”). Meyer says the FINRA guidelines include a reminder to firms of their obligation to “ensure their use of electronic communications media enables them to make and keep records,” as required by SEC Rules 17a-3 and 17a-4 and NASD Rule 3110 and NYSE Rule 440.

Ritholtz says he toiled under explicit rules about what he could and could not blog about when he worked at The Maxim Group. His current research clients “would prefer we don't give away what they're paying for,” he says. In order to write about financial matters of interest to readers without revealing too much confidential information, Ritholtz says he waits to write about institutional research until a few weeks after it has been released to paying clients.

Nusbaum says he also he relies heavily on his firm's compliance department since he's not an expert on the topic. “My biggest problem comes when someone gets very specific about their own portfolio [when writing a comment on his blog]. That must be removed,” he says. He's also been instructed to delete certain comments that were posted by readers on his blog.

Ultimately, a blog is kind of like any other marketing tool. You want to be very careful about the image you present to potential clients and you want to avoid doing anything that might land you in jail.

— Tami Kamin-Meyer is an attorney licensed in Ohio. She is the Ohio correspondent for www.legalnewsline.com and the author of a study guide about filing for personal bankruptcy published in 2007.

SIMPLE TIPS TO BLOG BY

There's more to blogging than merely posting an opinion. According to Marcia Yudkin, the Massachusetts-based publisher of the weekly e-newsletter “Marketing Minute,“ bloggers should be certain their postings have a “starting point.” If material is not organized enough for the reader to follow it, their effort has been wasted.

In order to blog successfully, Yudkin says it's imperative for the blog host to “make it obvious and crystal clear who is writing the blog.” She also suggests bloggers make it easy for readers to contact the blog host by phone and email. “That stuff should be obvious but often, it is not done,” she laments.

Financial advisors should also be wary not to fall into the trap of being too casual on their blog, including keeping personal information confidential and dressing professionally if the blogger opts to post a vlog [video blog] on his site. “Dress appropriately if you vlog,” she cautions. “Don't dress like you're going to coach your kid's soccer game.”

Meanwhile, J. Craig Williams, a founding partner of The Williams Lindberg Law Firm in Newport Beach, California, who focuses in part on technology-related legal matters, urges financial advisors looking to blog or podcast to emphasize their qualifications. “They make a difference,” he says.

THE BLOGGERS' BLOGS

Russell Bailyn:
www.russellbailyn.com/weblog

Roger Nusbaum:
randomroger.blogspot.com

Barry Ritholtz:
www.thebigpicture.typepad.com

J. Craig Williams:
www.mayitpleasethecourt.com