The right tech tools can boost your marketing efforts and productivity. But how do you know which trends you should follow and which products to consider? We asked three tech-savvy advisors to tell us what they’re using in some key categories.

Getting social
Over 120 million users log on to Facebook each day. LinkedIn, a business-oriented site, has over 50 million members. Is social media a useful tool for advisors? Helen Modly, CFP, ChFC, executive vice president with Focus Wealth Management Ltd. in Middleburg, Va., thinks so. She was initially intrigued by the idea that once she made a contact on LinkedIn she could see her contact’s connections. In a sense, she says, it’s an “invitation to browse through other people’s Rolodexes.”

Most of Modly’s business comes from attorneys, and she uses LinkedIn to see those attorneys’ connections to other attorneys. If an attorney’s expertise matches up with Modly’s business, she contacts them by e-mail or phone. It’s an easy way to make new contacts and expand her network. “You see that someone you know knows them and it becomes a very natural way to suggest introductions,” she says. Responses from attorneys she’s contacted have been very favorable so far, she reports. She also uses LinkedIn to seek out prospective clients who have connections to existing clients. LinkedIn updates allow members to share news about events like job promotions and job changes which indicate possible business opportunities such as 401(k) rollovers. When Modly sees that information, she asks one of her connections if they would provide an introduction to the other person.

Going mobile
There’s no excuse for being out of touch when you’re out of the office unless you choose to be. Joel Bruckenstein, CFP, is publisher of the newsletter Technology Tools for Today and co-producer of the annual Technology Tools for Today Conference. He travels frequently as a technology speaker and consultant while still working with a small number of financial planning clients. He notes that a growing number of broker-dealers and software vendors are developing iPhone apps and applications for other smartphone platforms to enhance advisors’ remote-computing abilities. In addition, the emergence of so-called “cloud computing” and inexpensive netbooks improves advisors’ ability to work remotely without sacrificing security or access to critical data and documents.

Bruckenstein travels with a Google Droid phone, a Verizon MiFi card and an Asus netbook. He prefers the netbook to a laptop PC for shorter trips because of its small size and light weight, but also because it’s much less expensive than a laptop. Given the high rates of laptop theft, that translates to a smaller financial and data loss if the netbook is stolen.

Bruckenstein also relies extensively on Web-based services like Google Docs and Evernote for information management and collaboration. “If you upload images, Everynote will OCR (optical character recognition) them automatically and capture all the text, the data, and categorize things for you,” he says. “You can even use your phone to take a picture of somebody’s business card and it uploads it, OCRs it, and you have all their contact information. It’s really a tremendous little resource and the basic version is free, so I use that.”

Backing up
How long can you run your business without your data? It’s a risk that’s too serious to overlook, so effective data backup is critical. If your storage needs are modest, an online backup service might suffice. Bruckenstein likes Jungle Disk; Mozy and Carbonite have also received good reviews. For small firms’ on-site needs, he suggests Clickfree, which manufactures a line of portable and desktop drives that feature automated backups. Modly’s firm backs up to two off-site servers–including one in Alaska–to store their data on different electric power grids. They also use a terabyte drive attached to their office server for on-site backups. “Both (offsite) backups will back up changes only during the week, and then every Sunday night they both reconcile so that I actually have three identical mirror images of my server,” she says.

Staying in touch
Web-based video conferencing has been around for years but the transmission quality was generally poor. That’s changing, though, and Modly has had good results using Web-video with her clients. The firm purchased inexpensive Webcams for the clients and provided them with setup instructions and Skype software to enable free video conferencing. “We got them set up on the webcams so now when we want to talk we can actually see each other,” she says. “When we deliver their quarterly reports, we offer to talk with them about it (via the Webcams) so that we can actually connect and see. You just can’t substitute being able to read all the visual signals in a conversation with just hearing it.”

CRM [customer relationship management]
Clients and prospects are an advisory firm’s lifeblood so tracking your relationships and clients’ myriad details requires CRM software that supports your workflow. Carl Friedrich, managing principal of Friedrich Wealth Management in Syosset, N.Y., was initially skeptical about the value of CRMs but decided to evaluate several solutions based on the advice of consultants and colleagues. He reviewed SalesForce.com, Redtail and Junxure and ultimately chose the latter. “I found that CRM really has gone a notch above coordinating calendar and e-mail,” he says. “And to the extent that it was really a process-management tool, that’s what led me to give CRM a second thought.

Junxure appeared to have the most well-thought-out format in terms of coordinating information and action.” The software also integrates with the Laserfiche document-management system the firm uses to support its paperless office. Of course, learning any new software takes time: Friedrich estimates that he and his parter are using two-thirds to three-quarters of Junxure’s functionality, but they are starting to see productivity benefits.