To say times are strange would be quite an understatement. Most of America is currently adjusting to a new "normal", and financial advisors are no different. While many advisors have weathered market volatility and recessions before, a global pandemic adds another layer of complexity.
In this post, XYPN's Advisor Success team offers their best advice for navigating a new normal as a financial advisor, from how to market during a recession without seeming opportunistic to how to appropriately price your services amid a pandemic.
Marketing Fundamentals Remain Appropriate During Sensitive Times
by Carolyn Dalle-Molle, XYPN Marketing Coach
A top concern of growing firms is whether marketing or outreach during a recession may appear insensitive or opportunistic. The truth is it can. In fact, I expect most people have witnessed an example of business marketing that leverages the struggles of others for capital gain, or simply rubs you the wrong way.
For starters, marketing during a time of crisis isn’t automatically bad or distasteful. Just as you may encourage clients to look at the strong foundation of their financial plan at this time, I encourage you to remember the foundation of marketing.
Marketing is communication. It is the link between you and others. You can use that link to communicate in countless ways: harsh or careful, tasteless or tasteful, pushy or generous. What do you want to be?
Here’s a tangible exercise: Grab a piece of paper. Draw a line down the center. Title the left column “I don’t want to” and the right column “I want to.” Fill the left side of the page with all the things you don’t want to do; all the ways you don’t want to come across. Let your fears you. Examples are “I don’t want to… Be insensitive. Be pushy. Be annoying. Be ungrateful.”
Once you’re done with the left side, pair each “don’t want” with a “do want.” If you don’t want to be pushy, perhaps you do want to be giving. Fill the page. Keep going until your list of “do wants” feels empowering, clear, and safe to act upon. The right side is how you want to market.
The world needs you to communicate right now, so don’t be scared. The mere fact you’re aware that something you say, share, create or promote could be perceived as insensitive puts you in a productive position. Your attention to this reality will help you filter and edit your work before publishing. Go forth and do good work.
Respectfully Approaching People in Need During Difficult Times
by BB Webb, XYPN Sales Coach
In all my sales training work with financial advisors, I remind these devoted and hard-working individuals of one very important tenet of the work they do so well: as fee-only, fiduciary financial planners you exist to do one thing above all… you exist to serve the people with whom you work. You are dedicated to using your years of training and accumulated skills to help people get what they need to live their best lives.
Offering a service for a reasonable fee to help others create security, move past challenges or work towards a goal is a worthy pursuit. Acting as an accountability partner, helping to sort through a plethora of often confusing benefits, tax or planning options to help discern a best practice for that individual, based on what their key need or desire is, is a gift. Listening to another person’s fear, angst or frustration in managing their finances, without judgement but with a heart of compassion and a willingness to assist them in a journey to get them to safer more desirable shores, is a beautiful pursuit.
This pursuit and service is very much needed during these challenging times. The novel coronavirus has upended our daily lives, created stress with our long-term goals and investments, and current financial uncertainty to many who have lost jobs or worse, unthinkable outcomes through the loss of loved ones. We are a world anew, swirling in uncertainty, fear and unrest.
At the same time, people are coming forth in unity as we work to navigate new footing. We’re finding ways to work remotely, to reconnect via video conferencing with loved ones, we’re honoring social distancing, and listening to how together we might see our way through the uncertainties.
Planning has never been more needed to see how to bridge paycheck gaps, to make do with current monies or to leverage individual accounts meant for longer term goals and/or retirement. This is a time for you to speak up to both people in panic and fear and others who need your perspective on how to navigate outside their former plan. Our game plan has changed and money allocation is at the core of much of our collective fears, something that a one-time governmental check sadly won’t solve.
4 Considerations as You Help Others Through These Challenging and Uncertain Times:
- Emerge as the leader you are: Create at home podcasts or interactive training sessions on topics that are useful for people going through lost income or in managing asset allocation during difficult times or budgeting. Segment your audience and let people know through your network and on social media when you will be speaking via webinars. Be the resource and guide they need to see them through.
- Be a listening ear: Your presence is the greatest gift you can give to another person, your engaged attention and listening ear. People need to not just talk, but to know that you hear where they are afraid or in some cases, living in abject terror of what’s next. If speaking via video conferencing, look into the camera, gesture with a nod or a vocal note of recognition, repeat what someone said to assure you weren’t just listening, but that you heard them correctly. Acknowledge the fear, validate what you hear. Allow for them to feel safe being vulnerable by sincerely and without judgment being there for the other person.
- Make your presence and skill sets known: Continue to generate blogs, white papers and podcasts that address the fears people are experiencing and/or ways to navigate through the current environment. Lead with compassion, let people know foremost that you care and that you are open to listening and helping them to find a way through the challenges they are experiencing with creative solutions. Share stories of how you’ve helped others expressing your key interest and knowledge for the demographic you are serving.
- Be of service: Lead financial support groups to help people through the crisis. Create a meetup group or other resource to assist people in understanding key financial planning principles to get them through a shift in their personal resources. Be the guide for creative planning, connecting them to governmental programs, with investing knowledge or in coaching on how to defer payments with banks and other service providers as you see fit.
People are recognizing more than ever their need for a financial plan for moving forward. Let others know that you can help them create that safety measure for moving forward and the reasonable cost in helping them to get there. Communicate how you’ve helped others and help them identify opportunities in their situation they may not have known.
Now is the time to emerge as a leader as you help others envision a roadmap with you as a guide for saving money, creating a workable spending plan, navigating benefits, tax planning or whatever other gift of knowledge you might share to help ease their mind now and into the future. Be their concierge and guide into the life they most want to lead not just during these trying times, but into their abundant futures. Service first and the rest follows. Be well.
The Value of Financial Planning Services
by Malcolm Thomas, XYPN Director of Advisor Success
Value in a free market is determined by supply and demand, and at an individual level determined based on what we are willing and able to pay. Value represents the amount someone is willing to pay for a service, while price is the amount someone is asked to pay for a service.
This is often an area that new planning firms struggle with as they think about how to price the services they will offer. Often the price of financial planning services is compared to how much a client may pay for a traditional investment account to be managed. However, if investment management is only one part of the overall planning services offered by a financial planning firm, what is the overall value of the planning provided?
When things are going well, investment and real estate markets at an all-time high, the economy booming, and unemployment is low, it can be easy to undervalue financial planning. A client may ask the question “Couldn’t I just do this on my own?”
However, it's during difficult times that the real value of financial planning is revealed—when the plan you have worked with a client to develop and implement is tested. Suddenly the importance of the balanced portfolio has new meaning, the reason for certain amounts kept in cash are understood, and the retirement and legacy planning are appreciated. It is also during these times that your ongoing planning services are more valuable than ever to clients, whether you are helping your clients understand the implications of the CARES Act or working with an individual on updating their budgeting and cash flow projections because of a decrease or loss in income. Financial planners are uniquely positioned to provide immediate assistance to their clients today, while also keeping their clients long-term goals and objectives in mind.
As we move forward, there is still plenty of uncertainty around what our new “normal” will look like. However, there is no uncertainty around the value of real ongoing financial planning and advice. Planning firms that are able to clearly communicate and deliver these services to clients will not only help and serve more clients, but in doing so build sustainable and long lasting businesses.
How to Price Your Services During Challenging Times
by Emily Purdon, XYPN Financial Planning & Process Coach
Your advice is more valuable than ever. When you are evaluating your service model in this environment, there are a few things you need to consider. If you are finding yourself discounting your ongoing retainer fee to make your services more accessible for both new and existing clients, there are other alternatives.
For new clients, you could offer pro bono services, hourly work, and/or project offerings. For existing clients, you may give them the choice to pause their work with you. However, keep in mind that when a client pauses their work with you it may be due to a misalignment between your fee and the value they are deriving.
In other words, they may not come back.
Below, I review how to incorporate various fee structures into your practice that are affordable for your clients and fair to you as the business owner.
Pro bono services are able to support those who have been furloughed or laid off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Many of our members have already updated their profiles to indicate an interest in providing relief during these times. Alan Moore has previously encouraged members to offer pro bono services, most recently during the 2019 federal government shutdown. Many individuals and families are experiencing significant financial challenges due to the pandemic, and XYPN members continue to step up. As of April 10th, 81 XYPN members are offering pro bono support.
The key to a successful pro bono offering is making it known that you are open to conversations. In addition to advisor search portals, a blurb on your website and social media platforms will let inquiring prospects know that you are able to provide support and advice for free. Also, let your Centers of Influence (COI) know that you are interested in helping those who need your services as well. It is especially important to note these services can (and will) be provided 100% virtually. Given these challenging times, fee-for-service planners are in a position to be able to step up and serve those in need.
With a pro bono offering, you don’t need to list out your service offerings, have a meeting agenda, or do significant client meeting follow-up. More often than not, these are tough, emotionally-charged conversations. People need their concerns to be heard and they are often seeking comfort, support, and guidance. The length of the engagement and scope depends on you as a planner and your client(s). As you conclude your work together, send a summary of their action items with specific information that will allow the client(s) to carry out your recommendations. Additionally, you may choose to offer a 30-minute check-in conversation in 6 months or so to offer additional support.
If you have been personally affected or know anyone who has experienced a loss of income, please visit “XYPN’s Find an Advisor” portal and search for “coronavirus relief.”
Hourly/ Fixed Fee
Like many of us here at XY Planning Network, Alan Moore isn’t a fan of building your business solely on hourly fees due to the fact that client acquisition is extremely time consuming. As a result, hourly advisors are constantly looking for new clients or serving their clients that come back each year for additional guidance. Alan shares, “With the current environment, I don't think planners need to look very far to find prospects that need a few hours of their time. The services will be different. Clients aren't looking for a comprehensive financial plan, but they have a major pain point and want someone to solve it for them.”
Hourly financial planning services tend to be less common across XYPN members. While many have the option in their ADV, they rarely promote and market hourly work on their website. If this sounds like you, it may make sense to bring out the hourly offering for the rest of the calendar year. If a client isn’t a great fit for your pro bono services nor your ongoing subscription, an hourly engagement is likely the most affordable option. My definition of hourly is when a client pays a fixed fee ($1,000) for a financial plan or advice that allows for a certain amount of time with you (5 hours). Hourly, or as-needed, services should be incorporated into your marketing materials given the current number of people that need immediate access to financial guidance.
Hourly services are a great way to help a lot of people quickly, and generate revenue in the meantime. Through hourly work, you are really getting paid to market your services and yourself. Alan continues, “The best way for people to understand what you do, evaluate a longer term relationship, and refer new clients to you, is to see and experience what it is that you are doing.”
Our 2019 Benchmarking Study revealed that hourly services are offered by 62% of members. The median standard hourly rate is $200. For hourly clients, the average number of hours spent on that client is 4 hours. In a stable economic climate, I encourage hourly engagements under 5 hours. If you are working for more than a few hours, a project package is more comprehensive for your client(s) and, ultimately, more profitable for your practice. Right now, financial planners are even more concerned about accessible, affordable advice. These hourly engagements may provide specific advice on topics that are top of mind for the client, such as budgeting, cash flow, debt, student loans, and investment planning.
Alan encourages you to email your prospects, COIs, and anyone on your marketing list to share: “In light of everything going on, we are now offering a new service/package offering so we can expand the number of people we are able to help. We would be honored for you to share these services with anyone that you think would benefit from working with us".
Taking Care of Yourself & Being Available
by Arlene Moss, XYPN Executive Business Coach
Through all of this don’t forget about yourself. Please take care of yourself so that you can continue to serve others. These times are unparalleled. You need to acknowledge that it will have some impact on you. In the past few weeks, I have seen that people are forgiving of business foibles they might now once have been. People are letting some standards go and allowing the human element to come through. Allow that for yourself as well. Kids will come on camera during video calls. Their naps won’t go as planned. Acknowledge the impact and don’t put additional pressure on yourself right now—you already have enough on your plate.
You will need to be intentional about your self-care even more so that usual. Set up a routine and check in on yourself to be sure you are hitting all the points. Get an accountability partner if you need to. Nurture your own physical, mental, and social well-being.
For your physical well being you need to exercise, eat well, and work to get a good night sleep. This is not the time to undertake a new training regimen and redefine your diet. There will be challenges enough so we are aiming for a nice status quo on your weight and fitness. If you can get to the other side keeping yourself steady that is good. Drink plenty of water and keep that comfort eating in check. Most restrictions allow being outside for exercise. Get some fresh air. Look at the blue sky. Smell spring arriving. Don’t let the strangeness of life derail the outdoor activities you can participate in. Go for a hike, or walk, or a bike ride, just steer clear of other people when you do. By limiting screen time and alcohol before bed, going to bed at a regular time and getting up at the usual time you will sleep better. That sleep will give you the energy you need to head into another day. If you have a day where you miss the mark just move on. This is not the time for reprimanding yourself. This is the time for forgiveness and trying again the next day.
Emotionally you will be more resilient if you limit your media intake. Stay informed, but do not dwell. Set timers for your social media and news intake so that you don’t read the same news over and over, which ratchets up the anxiety without giving you an appreciable increase in knowledge. Try meditation or quiet time to sit with your thoughts and process what you are learning and feeling throughout the day. So often it is hard to carve out time to absorb it all and that comes back to us in the form of disrupted sleep and anxiety. Take time each day to find something you are grateful for. Gratitude in the darkest times can help us see our way through.
Humans are social creatures. Being separated from your pack is hard. Use your technology to reach out and stay connected. Schedule virtual happy hours, game nights, coffee time, or whatever you used to do with other people. Work to create a virtual replacement for that time together.
Know that you and your friends and family will shift rolls in the coming months. One day you will be the strong one, able to have others look to you for support. But there will be days when you need the support. That ebb and flow is natural, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. We are all in this together. You, your family, friends, and clients are all fighting through in our own way and we’ll get to the other side one way or another.
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