Baseball player Earl Wilson famously said, “A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.”
But I recently came across a disturbing statistic: according to the American Express Open Spring 2013 Small Business Monitor, less than half (49%) of small business owners were planning on taking even a week-long summer vacation this year. The number was down from last year (54%), and way down from its all-time peak of 67% in 2006. Even though markets are up (and so, for many, revenues as well), unfortunately, I know a few advisors that are in this non-vacationing group.
Think about what you have been through the last few years. The economy has been challenging, but the markets have been mostly good. Clients are still demanding time and attention, but not with the absolute panic of 2008 and 2009. A typical advisor in one day fills the roles of client service person, chief marketing and new business development person, chief investment officer, and chief compliance officer, as well as CEO of the firm. (And I am probably forgetting a few).
With all that going on, doesn’t it make sense to take some time for yourself, unwind and forget about the business for a few days? Of course it does. But how? What about the clients? What about the markets?
You are a planner; plan for it
After three vacations last year and a great spring break trip this year (the boys loved Legoland© and hiking in Joshua Tree National Park), the Andersons are opting for a “staycation” this summer. But just because we are not traveling, don’t think we aren’t hard at work planning for the week at home. Before each vacation, my wife (who is a small business owner) and I spend just about as much time planning ABOUT the trip as we do planning FOR the trip.
We acknowledge that it is unrealistic, given our current roles, that we could be completely off the grid for a week or two, so we plan for it – and you can, too:
• Give advanced notice. Make sure important clients, co-workers and staff is aware well in advance of any scheduled trips. I would bet your clients would be pleased that you are getting some quality family time.
• Clear your plate. Make sure there are no important deadlines during your time off.
• Set up notifications. Put out-of-office messages on all phones and emails.
• Structure your work breaks. Set 30 minutes a day for email/phone message time. Most client requests or questions can be delegated, delayed, or done within those 30 minutes, freeing up the rest of your day for family time. The out-of-office messages can let people know when you’ll respond (if necessary).
• Pack lightly. Only bring the necessary items. We don’t pack computers, briefcases or work binders with us. Only the essentials, like a tablet and smartphone for emails and communication. If we have other work-related items, we may be tempted to bring them out and use them – so we avoid the temptation entirely.
The trade-off isn’t revenue; it’s your well-being
A great financial advisory business is built with incredible leverage. Unlike other businesses (like that of a CPA or attorney), you are not trading hours for dollars. In a fee-based world, you are still earning revenue while you take a much-needed break.
As long as you are up to date on your work and your clients issues are taken care of and their goals are on track, why can’t you take some time off? The key is simply to plan for it.
Need more convincing?
I’ve pulled together a few articles to help sway you:
• How to Take a Summer Vacation From Your Small Business - Small Business Trends
• When is the Best Time to Unplug? – FastCompany
• Staycation? Advisers log in when they’re off so they can chill out – Investment News
• Want to Enjoy Your Vacation? Prep Your Clients – Financial Advisor IQ
• Taming your Post-vacation Inbox – Entrepreneur
So while I am at home this year on my “staycation,” tweet me your vacation pictures. I promise to be jealous.
Image courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/
It’s happening again! Today, we launched Part 2 in our End-to-End Excellence Series – Continuous Client Service – Lock in Loyalty and Build Your Business to those of you who registered to receive it. (Hopefully you all registered for Part 1 last month – Sales & Onboarding – Your Last Chance to Make a Good First Impression). It’s not too late if you didn’t.
Client service is becoming a differentiating value proposition. Done right, it can help you build trust with your clients, strengthen relationships and create a long and mutually beneficial partnership. In the video and our advisor article, we describe the Five Essentials to Continuous Client Service:
1. Assume nothing and segment your book
2. Conduct impactful client reviews
3. Engage in frequent and tailored client touches
4. Track progress against client goals
5. Explore alternative communication channels
Now I know your days are packed with client meetings, prospecting and firm management. You may find it challenging to devote so much time to building a continuous client service experience. But I argue that these activities demonstrate your competence, build trust with your clients and enable confident decision-making.
Almost everything you do touches on the service experience. By implementing the five essential elements to continuous client service, you can go a long way toward meeting – what we believe are – reasonable client expectations.
Don’t miss out – you can still register online and receive the video and its accompanying article and client review checklist.
Just a quick final note - the page will automatically update when new comments are added. Please do not refresh your browser.
Now let’s get started with the Q&A!
Are you happy with your current client service and review process? Would you change anything based on what you saw and read today?
Information provided by SEI Investments Management Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of SEI Investments Company.
For Financial Intermediary Use Only. Not for Public Distribution.
This is Part 1 in our End-to-End Excellence Series. Sales, onboarding and continuous client service are three closely tied stepping stones in what we call “The Client Service Continuum” (we’ll go over client service in Part 2).
I hope you enjoyed watching the video – I had fun making it. (Didn’t catch it? You can still register online to get it.) More importantly though, I hope you learned why creating a strong sales and onboarding process is more important today than ever before. There are so many benefits to having one:
- Improve client retention
- Create the perception you’re easy to do business with (and hopefully, perception is reality)
- Differentiate yourself from the competition
- Reduce the chance for operational errors
- Free you to focus on revenue generation
Don’t start over; retool
Now I’m not telling you to go out and change your entire process. If you have been successful in the past, you may just want to review our materials to see if there is anything you missed.
But for those of you who want more of a focus on building long-term, loyal clients and advocates, I encourage you to review the 9 steps outlined in the video companion article and follow our implementation timeline.
Yes, it will take resources and some more planning on your part, but in the end you’re saying to your new clients, “We’re excited about the relationship and committed to your success.”
Don’t miss out – you can still register online and receive the video and its accompanying article and implementation timeline.
Now let’s get started with the Q&A!
Are you happy with your current sales & onboarding process? Would you change anything based on what you saw and read today?
You might notice that Practically Speaking looks a little different today . This change reflects SEI’s recent update to the look and feel of its web properties and materials – something marketing folks call “rebranding.”
Most people think that a brand is simply a logo or advertising, when in reality, it’s much more. A well-developed brand communicates who you are and what you stand for, how you are unique, and why a prospect should work with you. In the case of SEI, we now look like the company we’ve always been.
For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit our corporate headquarters in Oaks, PA, it’s truly a unique culture. We don’t have offices or cubicles; all of our desks are out in the open to help with creativity and collaboration. Our power cords (or “pythons,” as we affectionately call them) dangle from the ceiling like something out of an Aliens movie. We also have really funky artwork that helps stimulate conversation. But you had to come to our campus to truly “get it.” Until now.
By extending our campus to the world digitally and in print, we help you feel like you’re stepping into SEI. Our website, brochures, presentations, and yes, even Practically Speaking, now showcase how our unique environment has been built to enable the success of our clients.
So let me ask, do your website, brochures, business cards and more accurately reflect who you are and what your firm stands for?
If you use one of those canned websites or that blah (and overused) stock photography, chances are that the essence of your firm is not being communicated through your marketing materials.
Here are some easy ways to improve your brand:
• Hire a photographer to use real images of you, your staff, your office, and client events to enhance your website and your brochures.
• Make sure your content is up to date with current information and stats.
• Upgrade your brochures and website so they are unique to you. After all, it’s these resources that are going to provide a first impression of your firm. You certainly don’t want it to look like every advisory shop in your town, or on the web, for that matter.
• How does your 10-second elevator speech sound? Do you stumble on the words and the benefits? Practice! Make sure you can clearly and quickly articulate why a prospect would work with you.
Both our strategic partners and I spend a lot of time reviewing websites and brochures. It’s amazing to me how many advisors ‘ websites and materials don’t reveal a compelling brand.
What does your firm’s brand say about who you are and the services you offer?
Last week, I spoke at a Broker-Dealer conference. I really enjoy attending these meetings and, by all accounts, so do most advisors. These conferences have the potential for great networking and a real opportunity for learning about what’s going on in our industry.
I tried to sit in on as many of the breakout sessions as I could – and usually I pick up a good nugget or two. But this time was different. In fact, at one breakout, I broke with professional courtesy and snuck out before it was over (and I never do that). What caused me to do such a thing?
The theme of the breakout was a practice management session on building a better business and setting yourself apart in this challenging market (sounded great and right up my alley). What it really was about was product (and only product). The panel discussion featured one speaker after another talking about how “this product” was the next big thing to hit your business and how it would differentiate your practice. To hear it from them, all I needed to do was sell their product and I would have truly satisfied clients, thousands of referrals and significantly increased AUM.
Since when does a tactical, dynamically allocated, income-focused (with growth) product – that has a guarantee – and is fully liquid – and at the same time is uncorrelated with the markets – and is produced by the low-cost provider – a differentiator (I may have gotten the product pitches a bit mixed up)? It can’t be a differentiator if everyone has access to the same products, right? More importantly, do you think your clients seek your advice and counsel because you can offer XYZ fund, ABC Life Insurance Co.’s annuity, or some other investment vehicle? Of course not.
You are the value-add
Here’s the best advice I can give you after being in this business for over 25 years: Don’t differentiate yourself by touting some investment provider’s products. Differentiate by being you! The product is a commodity. Investors are seeking advice to achieve their goals. They are seeking understanding and communication.
There’s no real magic bullet. In order to differentiate yourself, you need to:
• Provide a top-notch client experience. Return phone calls, hold consistent client service meetings, and conduct value-added events.
• Be a wealth manager. Provide holistic advice, not the hot fund or strategy of the day. Wealth managers hire investment specialists for their teams while working with the clients themselves, not the other way around.
• Be transparent. Make sure the client understands the strategies, investment vehicles and — most importantly — fees. It’s okay to make a living by providing advice; don’t hide it, don’t skirt around it. Cost is only an issue when value is not perceived.
• Communicate. Be in front of your clients’ issues. Use your CRM (or calendar) to remind you of upcoming events and special dates so you can be proactive.
You’re better than a product. And you’re much more than a product salesperson. You provide a service – and that service has a tremendous impact on people’s lives. Don’t fall into the trap of looking for the next product to set you apart. You already have the tool to differentiate – it’s you!
The t-ball season is about to come to an end for my youngest son and it can’t come fast enough for his coach (me). This year’s squad of five year olds is pursuing an undefeated season. Of course, since all kids in our league get to bat around in the inning and we don’t track outs or keep score, every team in undefeated so far this year. Each year, we coaches start the season with dreams of teaching the kids perfect throwing mechanics or the proper swing; in the end, we are satisfied if the kids don’t play in the dirt and run towards first base instead of third when they hit the ball.
One of the biggest challenges is keeping the kids focused on the big picture — the game – which is kind of like running an advisory practice.
One of the best things about being in this business is that we are independent business owners and no one can tell us what to do or how to run our business. One of the worst things about being in this business is that no one tells us what to do or how to run our businesses. We trade the demands of the company’s bottom line for flexibility in our schedules; we trade the scale and structure of a large company with following our own passions. I heard a quote last month that really hit home: “There are very different skill sets for being a great financial advisor and for running a great financial advisory firm.” For successful advisors, it is all about focus. For me, it gets down to the question, are you running a successful advisory practice or a successful advisory business? Too few of the advisors are running businesses. They:
• Get distracted by a hot new fund, product or piece of technology that they see at a FPA or BD conference
• Focus their businesses on the things that they cannot control (like the financial markets or the economy)
• Create headaches for themselves (and staff) by not creating or following workflows and checklists
• Don’t invest in their businesses by allocating enough of their revenue to marketing
• Give advice, but don’t follow it.
Lessons to take off the field
With our last two games approaching, our t-ball team is focusing on holding their positions when an opposing batter hits the ball. While it’s pretty funny to watch 5 year olds running into left field chasing a single ball, they are learning that if everyone is in left field, there is no one to get the batter out at first. They are learning the discipline they need to play the game the right way and to work as a team. They learn discipline by not chasing every ball in the air. Each player is learning that his/her position is important and that others are counting on them to perform. They are also learning the benefits of working with a coach who can help them maintain focus and be in the right positions to win.
Recently, I met with an advisor who decided that he needed help with his focus. He created an advisory board made up of key stakeholders in his business. The board consisted of his largest COI referral source, a very experienced wholesaler from his platform provider, his admin, his OSJ, and a representative from his broker-dealer. The board meets every quarter (in person and via video conferencing) to discuss major and minor changes in the advisor’s business. Branding, marketing, scheduling and even the financials are discussed. This team of professionals forces the advisor to be prepared — to think and act like a business — as well as make sure he maintains focus on the big picture.
Are you as focused as you should be? Or are you chasing every ball? Think about creating a board or hiring a coach.
And the best part? Just like t-ball there can be snacks at the end!
This past Memorial Day weekend we (for once) didn’t overcommit ourselves. I was able to spend quality time with the family and even got caught up on some my reading. While the list below is not supposed to the summer beach top 10, there are some pretty good articles that caught my attention. If you were busy on the golf course, sitting by the pool or stuck in traffic heading to your shore place, you may have missed some of these. So, grab a cup of coffee (see below, it is good for you) and take a look.
I love how infographics can tell a lengthy story at a glance. This one summarizes a poll about the “American Dream.” Is it owning a home, having enough to retire? According to Spectrem, the answer has everything to do with how old you are.
Are you contacting your clients 12 times per year? This number might sound high, but according to Richard Weylman of the Weylman Center for Excellence in Practice Management and recent presenter at the IMCA conference, that’s what clients expect from their financial team. Read this article to find out what more you can do for your clients to deliver a top-notch experience.
Do what you like to do and delegate the rest –easier said than done? Many advisors get tripped up with trying to do everything, only to do everything sub-optimally. If your passion lies with bringing in new clients, then leverage others in your office, as well as technology, to let you focus. This article has some good tips on becoming a little less frazzled by everyday advisory firm tasks.
You’re not just an advisor, you’re a business owner. How is that going? Sure, you might love working with clients, but it’s up to you to see that the firm is being run well. How are you managing marketing, HR, operations, and more? Check out this article for the foundational pieces your practice needs to operate like a business.
Great quote from the article:
“As you begin taking a proactive approach to practice management, remember: While executing your management responsibilities well is important, it’s best to start with the attitude that practice makes perfect and that perfection is the price of progress.”
This is an interesting topic that I’m planning on writing more on soon.
All I can say is that if this is true, I will live to be 150 years old!
What articles are on your reading list?
I was taught long ago that I should never discuss politics or religion in an open forum, so this post is still about growth, being a better advisor, and creating more efficiency in your business.
This political season is serving up a timely sales tool that can help you cement relationships with both existing clients and prospects.
A few months back, both candidates for POTUS released their tax returns (estimated 2011 for Romney and 2011final for Obama). As you know, both the Obamas and Romneys have access to some of the best professionals possible. However, it seems that they both need a new advisor – one that would be proactive with their taxes. (Someone like you?)
Since both sets of tax returns are available on line (yes, you can Google them), I had Dean Mioli to do a quick Tax Observation Analysis. Dean is a CPA/PFS, CFP®, CIMA®, CLU and is the director of investment planning on SEI’s Investment Services team. To our amazement, Dean quickly found numerous items that both families could take advantage of to reduce their taxes — items that potentially could add up to thousands of dollars in tax relief. There were numerous things that either family could do but according to Dean, both families:
• Gave large gifts of cash instead of other items like appreciated stocks,
• Failed to fully utilize the tax advantage of tax-free income and instead paid tax on interest income, and
• Failed to avoid alternative minimum tax.
If you have looked at my profile on LinkedIn, you noticed that I am not a CPA. In fact, I have never even attempted to do my own taxes (including the 1040EZ). That said, just because I’m not a CPA doesn’t mean that I can’t read a 1040 and make proactive observations that I can share with a prospective client and it shouldn’t stop you, either. What better way is there to begin to set yourself apart than to start with opportunities to reduce their federal tax bill? This is something that no one else probably has ever done for them and it puts money right back in their pockets!
Some tools to get you started
A few days ago, Dean co-hosted a webinar entitled “Help Turn Tax Pain into Tax Gain.” In the webinar he and Steve Konopka (also from our Investment Services Team) walked advisors through three critical things to review on a 1040 and strategies to help clients keep more of what they make. Dean also wrote a great article called “Top Five Tax Considerations for 2012.” You can access them both online.
1040: Ask for it by name
The 1040 is a goldmine of information and many of us review it to review what happened last year and the year before. Some advisors will review the return to estimate where the client has additional assets. When is the last time you created a 1040 Tax Observation for a prospect (or client), showing them opportunities to save additional dollars?
You don’t have to prepare taxes to know and understand taxes. Being proactive gets you out front in the conversation and differentiates you. When discussing your value add, use the example of the two presidential candidates. Rather than having yet another conversation about the markets or the economy, why not talk to the prospect about what they want to hear, that you may be able to help them reduce their bill to Uncle Sam?
I keep saying this, but I truly believe that 2012 could be the most significant year for growth your business has ever had. Investors are pulling their heads out of the sand and looking around after three horrible years in the markets and the economy and really don’t like what happened to them and to their portfolios. I’ve seen research that suggests that 85% of high-net-worth (HNW) investors would make a change, but only if they could finds a new advisor that is differentiated.
To be clear, a differentiated advisor is not switching from one investment product sale to another. The differentiated advisors offer real advice and understand the client at their level. In almost every survey, high-net-worth investors say taxes are at the top of their concerns, yet many advisors to not proactively review their clients or prospects tax returns.
When you meet your next prospect, are you going to ask them for their 1040?
Full disclosure: Back in college, I took four computer programming courses and even worked as a summer intern programming (in BASIC!) for a large financial services company. My friends ask me to help them set up their sound and video systems and my neighbors quiz me about social media and new devices. I am first in line for most new technology gadgets and toys. I guess you could say I let my geek flag fly. And, even as an admitted geek, I’m a little uneasy about what I see in our business today, technologically speaking.
What business are you in?
Over last few years, I have spent my fair share of time at FPA and broker-dealer conferences. The look of these conferences has changed dramatically. Sure, there are still booths filled with performance materials, wholesalers who can’t wait to tell you about their funds performing well (this week), and cheap trinkets. But the new golden children of the conferences are the technology vendors.
To me, this is troubling. Every time I pass these booths I ask myself, “When did the business change from helping people achieve their goals to running and managing technology?” Is this for the better or is it getting in the way of doing what we are supposed to do?
Has it gotten away from you, too?
Case in point: A few weeks ago, I was at a large RIA firm in the northeastern U.S. The firm was growing and adding new clients with higher asset minimums. As we discussed the challenges of running a successful firm, the lead advisor said he was frustrated because he was spending more and more time on technology issues and less in front of people. He said that his assets were increasing, but his margins were getting smaller. Not a good sign.
When pushed a bit further, we discovered that in the last twelve months, the firm purchased a new CRM, as well as began to implement a new performance reporting technology. He confessed that his technology budget was ”well into six figures,” even before he added in the cost of the staff hours and training. He was further challenged because these pieces of technology rarely “talked” to each other and if one of them had a new release or modification, it would throw the whole office into an uproar.
Change technology or change behavior?
Ask yourself the following questions the next time you want to purchase software for your firm:
- Is there a specific issue you are trying to solve for? Is it a fix for a problem or is it a “nice to have” item? Unless there is a demanding business reason that you install something new, why complicate your life more?
- Have you run a cost-benefit analysis on the purchase? Will the software pay for itself? Should that even be the goal? How much will training cost? If the purpose of the technology is to create efficiencies or systemize your practice, can you put dollar value on how much additional time will be freed up? Will it enhance the client experience? How do you know?
- Is the problem your technology or is it your processes? Even the best programs cannot read your mind – and technology can’t fix a crappy process. Are you willing to change office procedures, modify workflows and adapt to the needs of the new program? More importantly, does your staff feel the same needs as you do? After all, they are probably the ones who will be most affected.
I appreciate great technology, but I know it is just a tool —one that can easily take your eye off the ball if you let it. Too many of us spend more time in front of the computer than we do in front of clients.
In today’s volatile times, where should you be focused?
The following is a guest blog post by Paul Kingsman, a professional motivational speaker and executive coach for the financial industry.
Even seasoned advisors struggle with asking for referrals. You know you’re good at what you do and offer value, you know your clients like you, you know more people need your help. So why is asking for actionable lead information from your clients so threatening? The problem isn’t in getting the information, it’s in how we have been trained to ask. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this, and a lot of people are telling advisors to do it the wrong way.
No one likes being put on the spot or asked to give out private information about their friends or family without their permission. If it’s a question I would not like to be asked, it’s not a question I want to ask of someone else. I don’t appreciate it when a sales person asks me to specifically tell him how I would describe how he helped me to a friend and then wants to know who I will tell about him, or asks me to write down the names and phone numbers of three of my friends who could use her services – especially when these questions come out of the blue, like a hurdle I have to get over before I can get out the door. But these are both questions I’ve recently seen recommended to advisors to ask at the end of client meetings.
My advice to you is that unless you’re holding a focus-group session with several clients to learn how to improve your practice, don’t ask questions like that!
There is another, easy way to ask for referrals that’s non-threatening, and from my personal experience and the feedback I get from the advisors I coach, it works!
Your clients may think you’re great and may be happy to recommend you, if they ever think about it. But when they are finished talking to you, typically they get back to all the demands of their everyday lives, and they aren’t thinking about you – not because they don’t like you, just because they have other things on their mind. Help them make the connection between how you help and conversations they have with their friends and family.
A better way
Assuming that your client is happy and you have had a good meeting with them, as you approach the close of your meeting and the time to cross into the “referral-ask zone” comes, try a more informal approach:
You: “Right now I’m meeting a lot of people with financial questions. They’re wondering what’s going on in the markets and which way to head, what it’ll take to retire (and stay retired!) or how to plan for college costs…stuff like that.”
Why say this: You’re presenting actual words from real conversations that they may have heard their friends or family say in their discussions over dinner, at family gatherings, in the gym, etc.
You: “If you have friends or family who need to have some stuff explained or questions answered, or just want to know what’s going on, have them give me a call.”
Why say this: It’s casual, and you’ve set the picture with words that your client is likely to actually hear from friends and family.
You: “I’d be happy to answer their questions over the phone and help, if I can.”
Why say this: You’re clarifying expectations: you’re not going to have an hour of face-to-face time chewed up by potentially irrelevant banter about where the markets are heading, etc., but you’re happy to connect with new prospects.
You: “I’ll just put out one caveat: I don’t guarantee I’ll take them on as a client; they’ve got to be a perfect fit for what we’ve got happening here.”
Why say this: You just provided yourself with a backdoor should your client’s auntie want to write naked calls on-line all day and just want your time for a second opinion on where Google’s heading.
Most importantly, however, subconsciously you just reiterated to your client that you are a perfect fit for them and they for you. It clarifies to them that you have a good thing going with each other and you value that. It makes them feel they are a part of something top-notch and exclusive. (Even if you are at a stage in your business where you’ll pretty much take anyone who fogs a mirror, you don’t have to tell your existing clients that!)
You: “But if you think I can help them, please give them my details.”
There – not too difficult and nothing awkward about it. You don’t put your client on the spot, you give them a connection to bring you top-of-mind once they leave your office, and you allow them to be in control of the referral process.
You can use this verbiage or some slight variations of it over and over again.
Prepare yourself to ask for referrals in a better way:
1. Determine some set wording you feel comfortable with.
2. Practice saying it (in the shower, to your spouse, to your dog – it doesn’t matter, but do it out loud) before you say it to a client.
3. Use it at the next appropriate and opportune time.
So, I’ve been meeting a lot of advisors lately who are wondering about different ways to grow their business, needing fresh ideas, and want help staying focused. If you have any questions like this or know of other advisors who might be looking for some help, give me a call. I don’t promise I’ll take you on as a client – it’s got to be a good fit for both me and you – but I’d be happy to talk.