Doodles: Subtle Reminders of Your Expertise

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Some advisors remember the days when personal assistants used to sit in client meetings to take notes or record minutes. The purpose was primarily for practice management. The advisor had a tangible artifact from the meeting to remind him or her of what transpired and all outstanding items that needed attention. Clients typically did not see the documents.

Since roles in advisory firms have evolved, that practice has gone by the wayside. The artifacts we have now are primarily the plans, process documents, and recommendations prepared in advance of the meeting.

A recent article by FastCompany entitled, Google Venture’s Secret Mantra for Super-Productive Meetings, suggested that a way to increase the value of meetings is to “always be capturing”.

The article encourages readers to “Write or sketch anything that is important.  …  That way you’re not only engaging your conceptual sense, but your spatial thinking, too.”

The take-away from this article for advisors is to create artifacts for clients during the meeting, not just pre-meeting. Capture dialogue, strategies and concepts that come up and give clients something to take away with them.

One way to do this is to give yourself permission to constructively doodle. With the increasing popularity of whiteboard style videos – like this one for the Absolute Return Mixer App that helps advisors navigate the complexities of determining just how much of each clients’ portfolio should be allocated to absolute return investments – doodling is getting its due.

Doodling is a natural reaction that is hammered out of most of us in grade school. Successful financial advisors, however, have found that a constructive doodle helps keep the tone of a meeting light while advancing clients’ understanding of complex concepts.

shutterstock_91178330 [Converted]So, feel free to doodle away, and generously give your artwork to clients as a meeting artifact. If you are uncomfortable handing over a napkin, just click a picture of the napkin with your mobile device and e-mail it to clients as part of your routine follow-up.

Whether or not your client keeps the napkin or digital replica isn’t the point. The point is to facilitate learning, demonstrate your value and remind clients of your expertise.

Increase Quality and Quantity of Referrals with Trigger Questions

Sue BerginBy Sue Bergin

With 70% of new clients coming from referrals, one could assume that successful advisors have mastered the art of tapping into client contacts.[1]  A new study sheds light on how advisors might get even better at this practice.

Recently, researchers set out to test the theory that the average American knew 290 people.[2]  Instead of asking survey participants how many people they knew, the researchers asked trigger questions.  They prompted participants with specific names. Participants were asked how many Kevin’s or Karen’s or Keith’s or Brenda’s that they knew.

shutterstock_77829232pngResearchers then extrapolated Social Security data on the percentage of the population with those names.  They concluded that the average person knows 600 people, not the previously assumed 290.

This study is instructive on how to get better results when asking for referrals.
Rather than ask a client if there is anyone that they know who could benefit from your service, prompt clients to focus on as narrowly defined groups as possible.  As Bill Cates advises in his book Get More Referrals Now!, when asking for referrals you should suggest names and categories and use trigger questions.  An example of a trigger question is “What other small business owners do you know who are contemplating retirement in the next five years?”  Well-formulated trigger questions lead clients down a path that could increase both the quantity and quality of referrals you receive.


[2] Segregation in Social Networks Based on Acquaintanceship and Trust, Thomas A. DiPrete, Andrew Gelman, Tyler McCormick, Julien Teitler, and Tian Zheng, 2011

New Ideas for Growth

Bev Flaxington@BevFlaxington, The Collaborative

Finding creative ways to continue to grow an advisory business isn’t always easy. We asked advisors all over the country what some of the more interesting ideas are for marketing and business building. This blog is devoted to those advisors who are thinking outside of the box and trying new ideas.

Leveraging Social Media
In Greenwood Village, CO, Kelly O’Connor and her team researched the power of video. They realized they already had great information and material to share, so they produced short video commentaries. They have posted these on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and the like. Clients, prospects, and centers of influence, forward these clips to others. Kelly says they’ve found that while people may not read a report or a white paper, they’ll watch a brief video if a friend forwards it and asks them to!

Loving What you Do – and Sharing it!
Sarah Wilson, CGA and CFP of T.E. Wealth in Calgary, Alberta, says that she enjoys financial planning so much that she feels compelled to talk to others “about their lives, goals, and financial aspirations.” She claims she is naturally “nosy,” but the truth is that advisors who are truly interested in others and take the time to talk, listen, and learn, even when a sale may not be imminent, are often open to opportunities that other advisors may miss.

3.4.13_Flaxington_Ideas_for_GrowthFinding Outside Resources
Safe Harbor Asset Management in Huntington, NY, has expanded their client base by doing everything from purchasing leads from specialized marketing companies to sponsoring seminars. They have had success using a service provided by Platinum Advisory Marketing Services, which creates a weekly market update for their clients that can be forwarded to a friend to join the mailing list and receive the same update.  John Boyd, an attorney, launched a site called MeetingWave.com that helps professional service practitioners arrange targeted networking meetings with the type of people desired as invitees. You can arrange coffee, lunch, or general networking via email.  Jennifer Dziubeck of Kel & Partners in Boston shared information about their firm – GiftsonTime.com, a free web-based tool that enables financial advisors to select and schedule clients’ gifts. This system allows you to put in a year’s worth of events, and with one click, find a vendor or gift that is appropriate for your client base.

Niche Marketing
Kristin Harad, founder of the VitaVie Financial Planning firm in California, targets new parents and families with young children in the Bay area. Because it can be challenging for parents of younger children to get out to a meeting, Kristin’s firm has created “weekend workshops at indoor play spaces.” She says, “The kids have a great time jumping around and having unsupervised play, while we get the parents’ undivided attention for a 90-minute presentation on the financial issues parents of young children face.” At a financial planning firm in Beverly Hills, Ara Oghoorian, CFA, has created marketing materials such as promotional prescription vials filled with jelly beans – the Rx sticker includes their logo and contact information. It’s a fun way to say, “We know our niche!” They also belong to ProVisors – a networking group consisting of CEO and high-level executives. Because they are speaking to the medical community, they spend time contacting medical associations and getting articles published in their newsletters on topics related to retirement, financial planning, and concerns that may resonate with medical professionals.

Try One On
What can your firm do that’s a little different to gain the attention of investors in a crowded market?

Turning Satisfied Clients Into Referring Clients

Bev Flaxington@BevFlaxington, The Collaborative

One of the eternal frustrations for many advisors is that they have happy, satisfied clients who don’t refer on a regular basis. Ask an advisor how many satisfied clients they have and they may say upwards of 90%, but then ask that same advisor what percentage refer and the number usually drops below 10%!

What kinds of things can an advisor do to increase referrals more consistently? Let’s look at the five most common problems, and then the options for re-energizing your client base toward referring:

  1. Just because they like you doesn’t mean they will refer you. Although you are doing a great job for them, they may have very busy lives. You are not “top of mind” all of the time. They don’t think about you outside of the time they interact with you. In order to stay top of mind, make sure you have ways to connect with them on a consistent and ongoing basis. It isn’t enough to just send the monthly newsletter. Find articles of interest to pass along. Write a blog. Have ongoing events—in person and via webinars. Hold client conference calls. Reach out often in different ways to remind clients, more subtly, of the value you add.
  2. They know what you do for them, sort of. But they can’t translate it for other people and it isn’t enough to say, “I like my financial advisor and you should, too!” Be sure you are clear about the type of people you serve, the ways you serve them, and the problems you solve. Take the time to share stories and vignettes with clients about others you have helped and how you have helped them. Ask them directly if they know people in situations like the ones you are describing. Paint the picture clearly enough so they know who they are looking for, on your behalf. Turning clients into evangelists means you have to arm them with the story to tell.
  3. Practice ManagementClients think you give such high-touch service you could not possibly be interested in taking on new clients – it would just be too much! They may not realize you want referrals. While the idea of “just ask” falls short, making it clear to clients that your best source of new business is them is very important. Keep reminding them that you are hoping to be connected to others just like them over time in order to build your business, by serving clients well.
  4. There isn’t enough active engagement for clients to have a chance to refer. Your annual meeting is probably for the purpose of reviewing the client’s portfolio and life situation. Truth? They want the conversation to be about them, not about you. Now enough about their friends and family! They want the focus on them. You need to find other ways to build in engagement. Take them to lunch just to check in once per year. Invite them to a client advisory board meeting that is focused on steps to take to grow your business. Hold networking and referral meetings where they can bring others and perhaps enhance their relationships, while also enhancing yours. Build in these opportunities to your regular day-to-day activities.
  5. There may be nothing in it for them. Why should a client refer to you? Just because they are happy doesn’t mean they have to do anything more about it – after all, they are paying you a fee for services. It’s important to set up the desire for referrals at the outset. “What would have to happen in our relationship that you might want to refer us business? What steps would we need to take together to make this comfortable for you?” Or have a way to reward clients for referring. Send them tickets, or flowers or candy to say “thank you!” Be sure you get in their shoes and realize that referrals are for you, not for them. They may want to help a friend, but ultimately they might like to be acknowledged somehow, too.

If you are frustrated by the lack of referrals your satisfied clients bring, review this list. See if there is an area you could focus on to reenergize client referrals for 2013. Take it one step at a time.

Search and Selection: Finding the Right Hire for Your Firm

Bev FlaxingtonBev Flaxington, The Collaborative

It is often said that this isn’t a numbers business, it is a people business. Understanding the criticality of the human factor, it is interesting how often an advisory firm will simply hire to fill a role instead of putting the time and energy into search and selection to determine the right candidate, for the right role, in the right culture.

Success in a job comes from a number of factors. Let’s touch on a few and then talk about one in more detail, that of search and selection:

  • Behavioral fit – is the employee’s natural style right for the role? If he or she is a deeply analytical person, but the job calls for constant people interaction, will she or he be able to modify for success?
  • Cultural fit – are the values of the company in line with the employee’s values? Does the employee show a willingness to understand and uphold the company’s values?
  • Clarity of job expectations – does the employee know exactly what is expected of them? Has the employer clearly identified what success looks like for this role?
  • Compensation and motivators – are the right ones built in for this person, in this job?

In addition to these factors, advisors must consider where they find candidates (search) and how they determine who they will hire (selection). When looking for a new job, oftentimes people will focus on networking. However, in hiring for a new role networking may not be the best approach. In many cases, a person may get referred to the advisory firm and because they came from someone the advisor knows and trusts, they are assumed to be a good fit. An advisor may not go through as rigorous of a screening process in that case.

When searching for a candidate, ensure that you are pursuing all available avenues to locate candidates. In addition to the traditional posting options, be sure to include posting to groups such as the CFA Institute, or the FPA, or other financially oriented organizations. LinkedIn is growing in popularity and can be an excellent place to find candidates. Interview a minimum of three people for a role just to get an idea of different people.

Finding the Right Hire

Before you begin the interview process, establish how you will select the person. Who will be involved in interviewing? How much weight will each person have? Will you have an organized list of questions for each person to ask, or a matrix to assess feedback? What will be the feedback loop and how will people follow up on their thoughts? You want to establish final criteria for making the decision. In many cases a firm has a set of requirements but makes an exception based on “liking” a candidate. This might be okay, if all other criteria are met. Define this in advance.

Be sure to ask behavioral questions. Don’t just take a person’s “track record” for granted – ask how they found clients, what they did to work with them, how they go about generating referrals, how they work with COIs, etc. Pick those things most relevant to your firm and be sure to dig, dig, dig in your questioning until you really understand the background.

Lastly, be sure to check references. Don’t just do a cursory check-in with the three or four people that were listed on the person’s resume. Instead, try to do some digging on your own and find others to speak to. If the person is on LinkedIn or has relationships at prior firms, see if you are able to use your connections to learn a bit about the person outside of the given references.

It can sound like a great deal of work to find the right person, but the truth is that making a bad hire is costly for any firm.

A Conscious Delay: The Argument for Filing Tax Returns After March 15

Sue BerginSue Bergin

While few people would admit to being eager to file their tax returns, it is one of those chores that can weigh heavily on a person’s mind. Many Americans like to get their returns filed as quickly as possible so that they can check it off their list of things to do, and go on with their lives.

As recently reported on MainStreet.com, the two-week period leading up to the April 15th deadline is when the majority of Americans file their tax returns. The second most active two-week filing frenzy occurs between February 1 and February 14, with 20% of Americans choosing to file shortly after they receive all of their 1099’s.

Filing early may increase your chances of receiving a quick refund if you are so entitled. It may also lead to more work for you in the long run.

The IRS mandates that federal tax forms such as the Form 1099 series be postmarked by February 15, unless an extension is granted. While the likelihood of receiving amended forms is described on the front page of the Form 1099, many filers overlook it and are surprised and/or annoyed when their mailbox is stuffed with amendments.

The key to remember is that the fact that there is an amendment to the form 1099 does not mean that there was necessarily an error in calculation or reporting.

While every effort is made to provide clients with accurate 1099 forms, timing is sometimes an issue.

The brokerage and clearing firms that issue 1099’s are dependent upon mutual fund, Regulated Investment Companies (RIC), Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), and Unit Investment Trusts (UIT’s) issuers to provide accurate and final information early in January. These fund companies tend to analyze their portfolios throughout January into February and beyond, and may discover data that requires the 1099’s to be amended. Although rare, issuers have been known to revise dividend information one or two years after the payment date.

In addition, many companies take financial actions that the IRS may ask them to reclassify. This is common for REITs, UITs, mutual funds, RICs, and foreign-based securities. A reclassification does not indicate whether a security has merit; it means the IRS may classify something differently than the filing company.

The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JTRRA) has caused a delay in income reallocation information from many, resulting in a spike in amended tax forms. Since there is currently no centralized source for this information, the brokerage industry continues to struggle with determining whether foreign securities meet the complex JGTRRA rules in order to pay qualified dividends. Therefore, receipt of late and revised information will again this year result in multiple changes to tax forms.

The bottom line is this: Wait until mid to late March to file your tax returns. This helps ensure that you have received all the amended 1099 forms that will be issued on your accounts.

This information represents our understanding of federal income tax laws and regulations, but does not constitute legal or tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor, attorney or financial professional for personalized assistance.

Selling for the Non-Sales Professional

Beverly Flaxington, The Collaborative

Many times advisors don’t like to think of themselves as salespeople. But just think: Client referrals. Strategic alliances. New prospects coming in. Even peers sometimes need to be sold on an idea or a strategy. So advisors are faced with a conundrum – the need to sell is there, but the experience of selling can be a negative one.

The selling process, to those who have not been trained in it, has its own mystique. The scripts, the proper words at the proper time, and the ability to listen past an objection someone is presenting to you in order to find what they really need, are all skills that not many people possess naturally.

Let’s look at five tenets of successful sales that anyone can use to help them – at a minimum – get more comfortable:

  1. Define your goals. You wouldn’t create a financial plan for someone without knowing something about their goals, desired outcomes and current state. Selling is no different. Too many firms simply state “I want to grow,” “Our objective is growth,” or “Our strategy is to increase sales.” Instead, write quantitative and objective sales goals. Know who your ideal client is and target similar prospects, determine reasonable growth in assets and clients, and decide how much time you’ll devote to selling.
  2. Work from a plan. It’s not enough to set your goals; you have to define who, what, when and how in order to implement them effectively. The plan should outline marketing tactics (events, emails, PR, etc.), and the number and types of contacts (direct calls, client referrals). It should also include training or coaching you (and your manager) believe will most benefit you.
  3. Create relationships and deepen them whenever and wherever possible. While advisors talk about the importance of relationships and the depth of relationships they have with strategic alliances and clients, the truth is that there is always room for improvement. Find every opportunity to deepen a relationship by learning more about the person and what they care about, by holding events and providing education they could find useful, and by providing information they can use and share.
  4. Solve their problem in an effective way. When it comes right down to it, selling is not even selling. It’s solving someone’s problem by offering them a product, service or solution that meets their need and takes away their pain, or offers them the pleasure they are seeking. It’s critical to know your market and the problems you solve (Step 1). Focus on listening and questioning, meeting objections, and mirroring their pace and style to communicate most effectively.
  5. Qualify. Make sure they’re “real.” Here’s where many professional salespeople falter. A suspect, prospect or client can look like someone who offers an opportunity for a potential sale. As the hope-to-be seller, you may spend a lot of time providing information, following up with phone calls, keeping the person in your pipeline and assuming there are assets attached that will someday be yours. Check – and re-check – that the prospect meets your “ideal client” standards and ask questions that get at their current “pain.” Don’t waste time on non-serious or indifferent people!

If you think your sales process needs a change, consider one of these areas and choose to focus on it and see if it makes a difference.

Increasing Personal Effectiveness: Tips For Time Management

Beverly Flaxington, The Collaborative

In today’s world, with all of the advancements in technology, it seems advisors have less time in the day, but more to do! The problem is that we operate under the false assumption that if we “only had more time,” we’d be more effective. If advisors had more time, they would probably just fill it with more activities. The key is to look at time management not with the goal of harnessing time, but of becoming more effective at using what’s given to you.

Financial advisors who run their own businesses have a particular challenge – manage the staff, work with clients, watch the markets, find new prospects, figure out the budget, pay the bills and so on. Those who work for larger firms may not need to run the business, but they still have compliance requirements, internal meetings and the like. There are many things that “should” be addressed in any given day. And to-do lists only seem to get longer!

What are some keys to personal management to help advisors become more effective? Let’s look at three of them here:

  1. Take the time to list your goals and priorities. Before your month starts, or your week, or your day, make sure you have taken the time to list the top 3-5 things you simply must accomplish. Once you list them (and make sure you take the time to write them down), list the priorities associated with each one. For example, if increasing client referrals by 15% is a top priority this month, list what you need to do to accomplish this. Don’t leave the steps to chance. Your list could include: Hold an event, send out an email asking for referrals, speak with each client one-to-one, hold a client advisory board meeting, etc. As your tasks accumulate during the day, week and month, be sure that your list always has your top priorities on it also. Do the things that come along, but never at the expense of your priorities. Instead of a general to-do list, have a to-do list in priority order. This can help you to stay focused on the highest-gain things.
  2. Know what you do well and stick to your knitting! Too many times we try to be all things to all people. The truth is that we all have our strong suits in some areas, and our weaknesses in others. Behavioral styles show us that while we may be excellent at data and quality control, for example, we may not be as comfortable trying to close the deal with a prospect. Or, while I might enjoy the camaraderie of being with my team because I am a people person, I may not like filling out the forms for compliance requirements. It’s important to self-identify what you are good at and what you like to do, and then find ways to delegate those things you are not so good at. For those things that are not strengths – or that you simply don’t enjoy – there are many options: Outsource. Identify team members with different strengths than yours and delegate. Determine whether you absolutely have to do the task in the first place.
  3. Be critical of your time wasters. We all have them. There are things you do that you know you shouldn’t. There is the client who doesn’t pay you well but who calls to talk your ear off several times a week. There is the market report you don’t really need to read, but you enjoy perusing. There is the site you find interesting, but that isn’t on your list of priority items. There is your “open-door” policy that employees have started to abuse. It’s important to note during the day where you spend time on things that aren’t contributing to your priorities. Keep a journal. Create an Excel spreadsheet with 15-minute time blocks, and keep track of where your time goes. Review it to find those places when you can steal back some of your own time. Then get rigorous about using your time in the most beneficial ways. You might have to say “no” to things you’d like to do. You might have to make difficult choices in what you focus on. You might have to give up a favorite activity, like reading those market reports. There is time for everything that’s important, but only if you give up those things that really aren’t making a difference to the success of your practice.

Before the next week starts, take the time to think about any or all of these ideas. Can you make a commitment to approach time differently so that your personal and professional productivity rises? Even for the most time-efficient among us, there is always the chance to find new ways to take back your time.