Today, I spoke to Peter Dunn, who is an expert financial planner, award-winning comedian and author of 60 Days to Change: A Daily How-To Guide With Actionable Tips for Improving Your Financial Life. In this interview, Peter goes over how he positioned himself in the crowded financial expert market, how he’s blended two very important aspects of his personal brand, why social media is important to his business and more.
You position yourself as “the answer to finance as usual”—what is it about your personal brand that separates you from what one would usually think of when imagining a finance guy? In other words, how do you keep personal finance accessible (and not boring)?
There has always been an interesting dynamic between the financial industry and those it serves. The financial industry, in my opinion, uses many dirty tricks to “serve” its clientele. These dirty tricks are selling on fear and greed. I don’t employ either of those techniques. It has become unprofitable for the financial industry to actually help people learn money skills. This both disheartens and motivates me.
I remain accessible by giving advice from a peer advising perspective. People don’t generally like talking about money because they immediately start worrying about where they stack up in the world’s financial hierarchy. I try to be more disarming and to eliminate insecurities so the people I work with will be in a better position to address their shortcomings and better their financial situations. The same thing goes for the new book and the TV series of the same name. Clearly there are hundreds of financial books already out there but 60 Days to Change comes in from a very different vantage point. I tried to address a series of smaller issues that people are often embarrassed to ask for fear of showing their poker face, I guess you could say. Intimidation is a tactic that shouldn’t, but tends to be, associated with finances.
With the launch of GreenCandy.com, you came onto the scene as the “Gen Y finance” expert. Why do you think this has worked for you and why has it taken so long for somebody to do it?
The financial services industry doesn’t really induce or encourage creativity. I fought through years of compliance issues, and people saying I shouldn’t “go for it.” “No” is a terrible word. I took the time to figure out how to get my message across, yet not get in trouble with industry regulation. This was a very challenging process, and it was even more challenging given my age. (I’m also a Gen Y-er, which might explain why this niche works for me and why I was one of the first to address this audience directly. We just get each other.)
In addition to being a financial expert, you’re also a stand-up comedian. How do these two sides fit together to create “Pete the Planner”?
Comedy is all about forming an instant relationship with your audience. And good branding and messaging does just that. On stage, you have about 10 seconds to earn the trust and respect of the people who just paid for you to make them laugh. There are rules to comedy. If you know the rules, then you can succeed.
When it comes to personal finances—and, in particular, poor financial situations—it often helps if people approach their situations with a certain level of self deprecation. It’s kind of like, “If I weren’t laughing right now, I’d probably be crying, so keep the comedy coming.” I try to lead by example. Not with the poor financial situation, but with the self-deprecation (and the receding hairline).
You have a bunch of followers on Facebook, you have a Facebook fanpage, you’re on Twitter, and you send out a newsletter updating followers about news and appearances. Which of these platforms provides the most bang for your social-media buck, and how do you communicate your personal brand in a consistent, cohesive way across these various platforms (or do you)?
“As a friend once told me, Facebook is for carrying on a conversation with people that you do know, and Twitter is to converse with people you don’t.”
I’ve since got into the habit of structuring my communications accordingly. Facebook allows me to share multi-media content on a very user-friendly platform. My ultimate goal is to drive people from Twitter and other platforms over to Facebook since it allows for a more intimate conversation (or at least it seems that way). I guess that’s to say Facebook is my preferred means of social media.
Have you figured out the formula that keeps your audience coming back for more? What has been your biggest challenge in selling yourself? Success?
The key is to sell yourself—not to sell stuff—and selling yourself is all about authenticity. Of course, the idea of being authentic is becoming a cliché to people in the branding world, but nevertheless there are still so many people who have trouble actually pulling it off. And I get it—it’s hard to think of yourself as being good enough, or being a “marketable product,” just the way you are. But once I realized that being myself was the key to success, I started seeing my audience and my brand grow, and new opportunities beginning to present themselves. Plus, it’s a lot easier (trust me, it’s really hard to try to be someone else). So once you’ve committed to just being yourself, the next thing you’ll find is that you’ll begin only working on projects that reflect you. And this results in only producing the best products, or whatever, in your power. It’s like a reverse domino effect—things keep getting better from that point on. I highly recommend it!
As for my formula for success… I’d say that because I’ve seen my brand grow in direct proportion to the amount of my true personality I’ve injected into it, that it’s something like: Your Brand + Your True Personality = Your Authentic Brand. And of course, being authentic is the key to success…
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner is an expert financial planner. Peter is an award-winning comedian and rising star in the financial world. Named one of “Indy’s Best and Brightest” in finance in 2007 by KPMG, Peter was also declared one of NUVO magazine’s “30 under 30 to Watch in the Arts” for comedy. Peter is the author of What Your Dad Never Taught You About Budgeting (2006), the host of the popular radio show Skills Your Dad Never Taught You on News Talk 1430 (WXNT) and creator of 60 Days to Change—a nine-week program developed in participation with Indianapolis’s WISH-TV and sponsored by Toyota. He blogs regularly at www.petetheplanner.com/blog. His latest book is called 60 Days to Change: A Daily How-To Guide With Actionable Tips for Improving Your Financial Life.