The Who, What, and Why of Hiring a Business Coach

hiring-a-business-coach

 

I have a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for my financial planning firm. I want to become the premier financial planning firm for women in tech on the west coast. Or the premier financial planning firm on the west coast for women in tech. Or something like that. Regardless, it’s approximately (add the 2, carry the 1…) a million miles from where I am now (which is “breakeven by year’s end! whoo!”).

I launched my practice in May of this year with the vague notion of creating a solo practice that brought home a respectable income for my family. The more I got into the women in tech community (my niche), the more I recognized the need for financial guidance and especially for financial guidance that was part of a larger message of professional and financial empowerment.

Once I’d been sitting with this knowledge for a while, my sense of what my firm could be started to grow, until finally one day, my BHAG sprang, like a not-quite fully formed Athena, from my head. And I immediately knew I needed help. In the form of a business coach. I think.

I mean, that’s what business coaches do, right? Help us grow us our businesses? Right? Maybe? Point is, I had precious little idea what a business coach did. Or how to find them. Or how they work. Or how much they cost. Or how to choose one.

And I realized right then, that this must be exactly what our prospective clients go through when looking for a financial planner.

So, not only did my search for a business coach land me with a coach whom I’m excited to work with and am confident will help me grow my business, but it also gave me a new appreciation of what prospective clients of ours go through, and what helps or hurts our attempts to win clients. And I think that’s a valuable lens through which to view my search for a business coach.

Problems with the “Profession”

I was anxious about finding a business coach. And that anxiety lay primarily in the fact that “business coach” has very little meaning. Certainly no legal meaning. Just like financial planning, “coaching” strikes me as not yet a profession.

Let’s think about doctors. If you’re looking for one, you know that someone with an “M.D.” after her name will have a certain minimum level of competence. Everyone you know has a doctor they have opinions about. Doctors are subject to certain educational and ethical constraints. And you can judge success pretty easily: “I was sick. Then the doctor prescribed me medicine. Now I am better.”

But for business coaches (or financial planners for that matter), there is:

  1. No single designation that shouts “I am a competent professional” (at least, none that the general public knows about)
  2. No minimum training or education necessary to call yourself by that name
  3. So few people use them that it’s not generally understood what the experience should be
  4. No minimum set of competencies we can rely on such a professional to have
  5. No easily quantifiable way to judge success

Figuring Out The Profession for Myself

So, I had to figure out, from scratch, what a business coach is, what they do, and how they can help me. I needed to talk to several coaches in order to first “triangulate” on what business coaches, in general, do. Then, once I established that a business coach is indeed the professional I need, I had to find the right one for me.

Here’s what I did, and how I think you can find the best business coach for you and your firm:

Step 1. Get clear about you want from a business coach.
This was pretty easy for me, as my exploding BHAG inspired the hunt in the first place. I want a business coach who can help me achieve that goal. And hopefully refine it along the way.

Step 2. Identify a bunch of reasonable planners.
Thankfully, the XYPN Radio VIP Facebook community (what a mouthful! Henceforth “VIP”) exploded with recommendations. Between those, a tip from a mastermind friend, and one from the tech community, I had about 10 recommendations in just a few days.

I winnowed it down (to 5) by taking the recommendations that were most detailed about how the coach was awesome. In our world, when clients refer a friend to us, if she says “Oh, you should talk to my planner! She’s great!” that’s not nearly as effective as saying “Oh, you should talk to my planner! She helped me evaluate my new job offer, choose all my employee benefits, and get me started in my new 401(k).” Turns out that’s universal.

My five included:

  • Three who specialize in financial planners. Two of those are former or current advisors themselves and focus on advisors working primarily with women
  • One is “industry agnostic”
  • One is affiliated with the tech industry (I thought that might be a helpful perspective given my niche)

Step 3. Interview the heck out of ‘em.

Each of these coaches had a different process for prospective clients — how much time they spent in the initial consultation, what additional materials they sent to me (if any), questions they asked in the initial consultation — and a different twist on how they would work with me. But there were commonalities among them all that allowed me to figure out well enough what it is a business coach does.

I was lucky enough to interview one coach (the industry-agnostic one) who right away realized she was not the right kind of coach for me and went on to explain the different kind of coaches out there–life, business, and leadership–and that I should indeed be looking for a business coach, and that I should go with one specific to my industry. This woman spent 30 minutes of her time helping me out, with no expectation of getting my business, and I was so grateful. I sometimes spend a lot of time doling out free guidance or advice to people seeking financial help. And honestly, I get a bit weary of it sometimes. But this reminded me of what value it brings to people at so little cost to myself. (And of course, if anyone ever asks my advice for a leadership coach, you can bet your bippy that I’ll send them over to Nathalie Salles.)

When you talk with the coaches, ask the hard questions that will allow you to make a reasonable judgment of how they can help you. At the prices business coaches charge, and with your own firm on the line, this is not the time to be coy. (I might have verged on “rude” asking one of the coaches if she typically talks this much, but I had to know the answer and I couldn’t think of a softer way to ask. She was unfazed.)

Like these:

  1. Here’s my goal/problem. Do you help people do that?
  2. How would you help me accomplish my goal/solve my problem?
  3. What would it look like for us to work together?
  4. How much and how do you charge?
  5. How do you hold me accountable?
  6. How can you serve me better than other business coaches?
  7. How will I know when I outgrow your services? (A VIP member suggested this, and every coach I asked this of loved the question…and was kind of stumped by it.)

Another VIP member suggested I look for coaches whose compensation model aligns their payment with my success. Which sounds good. But I didn’t see any coach that does it that way. They’re all some version of pay-by-the-hour.

Step 4. Take a few days to reflect on the interaction.

You will ideally be working pretty intensely with this coach, so let your gut guide you.

  1. Did they interview me as much as I interviewed them? Did I feel they really listened to you?
  2. How did I feel talking with them? Comfortable? Encouraged? Stressed out? Defensive?
  3. Did they offer any guidance or ideas that could help me see how I could make progress?

In my search, the two coaches who specialized in financial advisors and are/were advisors themselves stood out. They were both able to articulate fairly specifically how they would work with me, what challenges an advisory firm has, etc. Both provided a lot of value in that initial consultation. But after I ruminated on it gently for a couple of days, I realized that I felt more comfortable with one. And that decided it.

Services and Cost

The coaches all have different service models. The three who specialize in financial advisors offer:

  • Twice a month, 45 minutes each time (don’t know about email support)
  • Starter kit of three meetings, to be used within three months, 60-75 minutes each time with substantial follow-up notes, limited email support
  • My choice of once, twice, or three times a month, 90 minutes each time, unlimited email support in between. Nine-month engagement, with a tenth month for free if you pay upfront.

Business coaching isn’t cheap, it turns out. It’s going to run you about $250-350/hr of face time. I just paid $1200 for that starter kit of three meetings.

The Coach I Chose

The coach I chose persuaded me by doing these things:

Before our introductory meeting, she sent me documents detailing the areas of focus she has helped other clients work through, how the relationship would work logistically, next steps, and her service models and fees.

During our introductory meeting, she was willing to stay on the phone with me for as long as was necessary to finish the conversation (well, I suppose up to a limit, but it lasted 45 minutes), she listened actively, and was enthusiastic about my BHAG, my ideas, and my prospects.

She started giving me little insights into how she might help me. Saying for example, that my podcast idea was great, but perhaps more of a “Phase 2” idea, whereas “Phase 1” is more focused on just getting some damn clients. Good point, good point.

After our introductory meeting, she followed up the meeting that very day with an email containing three pages (three!) of notes from our call and her thoughts.

Why did this mean so much to me?

I felt an easy connection with her on the phone. I felt respected as a professional and firm owner, even though I’m only 7 months into this thing.

She was able to put some specifics, some quantifiable understanding around what she does and how she can help me. With that, she took care of my main source of uncertainty and anxiety.

She showed me she was not only listening, but doing so effectively. And she started to give me a window into how she can help me, specifically, start making progress towards my BHAG.

Implications for My (and Your?) Financial Planning Practice

We often hear that the value of financial planning is hard to quantify for clients and prospective clients. “We provide peace of mind” or “We optimize your finances” or “We worry so you don’t have to.” That is just so….not persuasive.

Well, my coach managed to persuade me. If I want to do the same for my prospective clients, my process might look like this:

  1. Email my Client Service Calendar and the document detailing my firm’s financial planning process. Maybe I even need a document that lists common questions or challenges that I help clients with, and a document listing my prices (already on my website).
  2. During the meeting, reflect back to them the problems that drove them to me, and mention ideas I have to possibly address those problems.
  3. After the meeting, send an email summarizing the meeting, calling out the important points, showing that I was listening carefully, and continuing to provide value by sending them resources or ideas about their specific pain points.

Such a process would proactively answer the questions prospective clients have, even if they don’t voice them: “What is financial planning? What would a relationship with you look like? How much do you charge? Do you help people in my position? How would you serve me better than other advisors? How do you keep me accountable? How do I know if it’s working?”

My coach enabled me to envision more exactly how she could help me, which made the not-insubstantial price tag seem worth it. Hopefully I can do the same for my prospective clients.

 

Meg9

About the Author: Meg Bartelt is the President of Flow Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only virtual firm that provides financial guidance and support to working mothers in high tech. Learn more on her website and on her blog

How to Write Blog Posts for Your Clients they will Actually Like & Read

 

content-that-clients-will-like-and-read

To blog or not to blog…that is the question.

With all the great financial advice articles already online, you might wonder why you should blog. Why spend time away from working with your clients or running down new leads to write your own blog posts?

Does spending time writing blog posts for your clients actually help?

Generic Advice Yields Bland Results

You are a beacon of hope to your ideal client. You provide answers and a path to financial freedom and peace of mind. You became a fee-only financial planner to connect one on one with your clients and provide personalized support.

When you write your own content you can leverage your blog posts to:

  • build trust,
  • provide value,
  • and generate leads.

Ultimately, your blog is the perfect platform to prove you “get” your client, his struggles and his hopes and dreams.

Avoiding the Biggest Financial Planner Blogging Mistake

If you want your blog posts to become a source of lead-generation, follow the golden rule of blogging:

Never lose sight of your audience and always write directly to him.

The biggest mistake you can make is turning your blog into an industry echo chamber.

Technical posts about markets and products are fine if your audience is other financial planners. But if you’re trying to reach potential clients, turn your focus to solving problems and you’ll get more eyes on your post. You can still demonstrate your expertise but spin it so the content stays relevant to solving your client’s problems.

Keep Your Client in Sight

Writing blog posts becomes easier when you keep your client as the center focus. You can even think of each post as something you’d share with them during a planning session.

To keep your focus, make sure to touch on as many of the 5 Client-Centered Elements as possible:

1) What’s bothering your clients?
What problems are your clients facing? What’s keeping him up at night?

Writing blog posts that get to the core of these problems will attract the eyes of people who need you most.

2) Tap into core values
What do your ideal clients value more than anything else––family, security, wealth, saving money, travel, luxury, knowledge?

Tapping into the things your clients value will resonate with your ideal client.

3) Talk about solutions
Ideal clients will connect with real life situations and will seek you out to build their own road to financial security.

4) Focus on end the result
Help potential clients see the benefit of working with you by painting a picture of the end of the road. What’s life going to look and feel like with you on their team?

When prospects start imagining their life with problems solved, making the leap to hire you isn’t a stretch at all, but a natural next step.

5) Provide a next step
Always include a call to action. This could be as simple as following you on social media or as much as scheduling a discovery call.

If you’ve done the above steps correctly, you’ll have an ideal prospect primed and ready to take action.

So, to blog or not to blog? The answer is, Yes! It’s a great way to generate leads. But keep your eye on the client and write to the heart of his problems.

 

natalie

About the Author: Natalie is a content coach and brand strategist for passionate solopreneurs. She works with financial planners and other service based professionals to turn Content into Profits. Grab a copy of Blog Post Outline and experience firsthand how a little strategy makes creating content easy and effective.

The Importance of Having a Story

 

having-a-story

Despite having launched my firm only in May of this year, the journey into firm ownership started several years ago, with a memorable conversation with Michael Kitces, as he drove the Jersey Turnpike. (“I knew him when!…he was already wildly successful.”)

I had only just entered the profession when I got the opportunity to buy a solo practice from an older advisor. I was part way through a Masters in Financial Planning program and had no experience in the profession other than my weekly 18 hours with this advisor.

The decision to sign the contract was looming, and I was tied up inside. It seemed like a great opportunity for a newbie such as myself. On the other hand, I was so uncomfortable with the prospect. In part because the wanna-be-retired advisor invested in a way I couldn’t understand, couldn’t support, and couldn’t replicate: a process she herself described as “seat of the pants.”

When I conveyed this discomfort to Michael, he said something I’ve remembered ever since: You have to be able to tell a story about your investing.

In this case, the advisor had told her clients an active management, stock-picking story. And they’d believed it. It would therefore be exceedingly hard for me to start telling a passive management, fund-only story.

I didn’t buy the practice.

And 6 years, 1 child, a cross-country trip, and a stay-at-home husband later, I have my own firm, and I’m investing my way. In fact, I’m doing everything my way.

I’ve got some stories to tell.

My Stories

The notion of a story has been powerful for me. Call it whatever you want, but it encapsulates why I do everything I do in my business. And it gives me confidence when talking with, well, just about anyone. Here are a few of my stories. Oh, yes, I’ve got more….

Why do I serve my clients like I do? I serve women in tech. What’s the story there? Women in tech, much like women in finance, are underrepresented at technical and leadership levels and are underpaid. I can offer the best cash flow management, tax-efficient investing, and retirement projections in the world, but if she’s not negotiating a higher salary, getting adequate stock compensation, or the promotion and title she deserves, she’ll be worse off financially.

Therefore, in my practice, I am trying to cultivate a larger network of professionals that my clients might need to succeed professionally (and by extension financially). Career coaches, negotiation experts, patent lawyers, recruiters, engineering managers, leadership coaches…the list does go on. I spend a lot of my time cultivating those relationships, which have nothing to do with the kind of financial planning we’re taught or read about, but will help my clients’ finances just as much as my financial expertise.

Why do I invest the way I do? My story: Academic and empirical studies have already proven the way to maximize our chances of better investment returns: own the market(s) at low cost. Therefore, I believe the value I can provide my clients lies in two things: using an understanding of their entire financial picture to craft an investment portfolio, and, more importantly, encouraging smart investor behavior.

So how, then, do I approach investments? Well, first of all, I don’t do just investments; you have to having a financial planning relationship with me if you want me to manage your money. Secondly, I use simple portfolios of very few funds that I rarely touch. You want Socially Responsible Investing? You want stock picking? I don’t begrudge you that, but you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Why do I charge the way I do? I use a retainer model, as do most (all?) XYPN members. It’s not novel for you, but I often explain to clients that it’s like the world’s only good buffet. At buffets you spend a fixed price and then you overeat. Over-consuming steam-table food is a bad idea. But frequent “consumption” of financial guidance from me is a good idea, and the fixed monthly retainer encourages you to do just that.

When it comes to investing, I charge less for investment management than industry average (I max out at 50 bps), in part because it’s on top of a planning fee, and in part because I don’t actually do that much with your investments and I want to align the fees I charge with the value I provide.

Why did I choose to start my own firm in the first place? I share many of the reasons espoused by XYPN members who founded their own firms (wanted to do things my way, local employment prospects suck, etc.). But my story has another part: I grew up with a tenured-professor father and a federal-government-employee mother. I have not a drop of entrepreneurial blood in me. But now I have two little girls. And I want to show them that a woman can be The Boss, can take the risk, can work her a** off and have all the benefits redound to her, can be not only unafraid of money but in control of it. For me, that unfolding story is life affirming.

Sticking To My Stories

I’ve had prospective clients, or their proxies, ask if I could provide a slightly different service (just annual check-ins), or a lower price point (mine simply is too high for some people; I get that), or a different style of investing (socially responsible investing is a popular choice). I’ve been surprised by how easy it is for me to say “no” to all of these requests.

I’m not a jerk about it; I just explain that I provide financial planning and investment management this way because I’ve thought through it, and I think it’s the most effective way for me to help my clients. I am happy to refer you to another advisor who works differently, but this is how I work, and why.

Having that story in my back pocket makes that explanation easy, and people respect it. Some of them choose to work with me, and some gratefully accept referrals to other planners.

The only people who work with me have been persuaded by my story.

What’s your story?

 

Meg9

About the Author: Meg Bartelt is the President of Flow Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only virtual firm that provides financial guidance and support to working mothers in high tech. Learn more on her website and on her blog

6 Strategies for Career Changers

strategies-for-career-changers

 

If you’ve entered the US workforce in the 21st Century you are likely living a fundamentally different reality than the generation that came before you. It’s a reality that encourages dynamism, rewards differentiation and demands of you a scary amount of risk. It is no wonder that research shows the average millennial college graduate changes employers four times by the time they’re 32.

This is also a big reason why those of us who are “Career Changers” into financial planning are something rather special. Our peers are navigating these same choppy economic seas. They are eying professional risks to get and integrate the skills and perspective necessary for long-term success. As professionals that have lived to tell the tale, we can support and guide them from the groundedness of our own career transition.

Personally, I had never heard of a “financial planner” until well into my 30s (OK, so last year). I was not aware of anyone around me who had one and didn’t know that comprehensive financial planning was a job. Instead, I’d spent a third of my adult life abroad and all of my professional life working in NGOs (non-profit organizations), philanthropy and international higher education. My circles never really overlapped with the “finance people.” I had never heard of a BD, an RIA, or a CFP, let alone a PITA.

What I did have, however, was a clear understanding of how global macroeconomics underpinned my story, community, curiosities, passions and life’s work.

Different things can spur a major shift of professional course and my radical move was no exception. I was pregnant with my second child, a full-time working mother, with a spouse who was also working while pursuing a degree. I spent my “free time” musing about what to do for the next chapter of my career because the circumstances of my life in the previous decade would be clearly very different than those in the decades ahead of me.

As I ruminated about possible avenues to take next, eventually I honed in on what I’ve come to know about myself: I have a thirst for the big picture, I’m a practical idealist. Life has shown me both sides of the financial pendulum. And most importantly, I get infinite energy from helping others get their lives more aligned with their values and dreams.

In a flash, I thought: “Could I work directly with people, like my friends and colleagues, and their money? Was that… a thing?” And, so within a month I did my research and turns out, (spoiler alert), it is a thing. Within three months, and by the time my son was born, I had countless informational interviews with other CFPs (thank you guys!), and had finished the first two CFP courses in an online certification course.

If you are in the early stages of making the transition into becoming a fee-only, fiduciary, financial planner for the next generation of Americans, you may be looking for some guidance to help you light your own way. So far from my own journey, here are a few things to share:

Understand What You’re About to Step Into

Start out by doing your homework, because as my dad always says, “What’s the point of running if you’re on the wrong road?” It’s not only helpful to orient yourself, but also to be able to explain to future clients, where you sit within the Financial Services industry. I knew vaguely that “fee-only” was a good thing when looking for a financial advisor. I didn’t know that there were actually more structures of accountability and professionalism for some in this field, while others are operating more like the Wild West.

Does the American public understand that? No. Cultivate your voice to make that clearer. When I was wavering about my ability to fit into this field, the CFP Board’s white paper Making Room for Women in the Financial Planning Profession made me feel more welcome, as did the Board’s nascent efforts to help bring in more people of color and women into the profession. There is a very long way to go, and I want to be a part of helping to make that happen.

Another place to be a fly on the wall of the conversations shaping this field is in the XYPN Radio podcast. Really, it should be called “Inside the Financial Planners’ Studio” because it is truly a master class, with about 70 hours of insights to-date. So, how do you learn? Talk to people, follow conversations on social media, listen to podcasts, read. Figure out how you learn best, get a sense of your place in this field, and run with it.

Get the Technical Chops

“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” said Picasso about my approach to stepping into financial planning… So first of all, decide if you want to get the CFP Designation or not. The bigger your career change, the more it’s useful as an indispensable starting point. That was a primary reason for my decision. A bigger understanding of how the CFP holds you to a higher standard also impacted my choice. And while you are studying for your CFP, you will notice the parts of the work that draw or repel you.

Frankly, the CFP curriculum has some major gaping holes in it when it comes to working with people under the age of 50. Student Loan Debt Repayment, anyone? Think about what you know from your own experience. What do you want to know more about? How can you build your knowledge on those topics to form a valued expertise? Drawing on my career in NGOs and higher education, I found that I have an interest in learning more deeply about education funding strategies and socially responsible investing, for example.

Again, the XYPN Podcast is a great source for helping to spark ideas here. Alongside the CFP coursework and exam, you will get a leg up if you can learn relevant technology. Many financial planning software programs offer free 30-day trials. Always be learning.

Ground Yourself in Your Particular Reality

What is your end goal? Can you take the leap into financial planning immediately, or do you need to move more slowly? If you need to move slowly, can you find ways to stagger how you enter the field? If you don’t have one already, how might you build up a large reserve of cash to have the option of launching your own firm one day?

Get your own financial house in order to make that a future possibility, whether you take it or not. Can you be out loud about your career transition within your current profession, or do you need to keep it under wraps for a while? What are your reasonable options for getting experience? Can you manage potentially uneven cash flow by working virtually for other planners? Do you need to limit yourself to working for more established firms that pay a steady salary?

Make a multi-phased plan to help guide, propel and track your progress. As we know, the plan will always change, and that is OK.

Embrace ‘Beginners’ Mind’

Be brave enough to ask the basic questions. Just remember, you are trying to illuminate connections and see opportunities that may have been overlooked by others who have been in the field longer. This beginner’s mind approach will also help you be a trailblazer as you bridge your past and future careers. Don’t underestimate that the newer you are to the industry, the closer you are to the mind of someone outside of financial planning.

While this has its challenges, it is a benefit in the sense that it will help you contribute to the profession by connecting unlikely dots. Jot your ideas and musings down in an app on your phone or in a notebook during this stage. When you are busy later you will be glad you did. Your newness to topics will likely help you explain them in plain English to future clients.

Value Your Uniqueness and Cultivate Creativity

Being different is your friend. Take stock of what you’ve done before and who you are, and mine it for gold. In your previous work, what did you do day-to-day? What did you love about your work, as opposed to what were you good at but didn’t really enjoy? What have you always been curious about? Whatever it is, start building your expertise now. Cross-pollination is the mother of creativity and of your niche: be brave enough not to blend into the crowd.

Find and Shape Your Tribe

Put yourself out there and speak with other planners who are doing what you want to be doing. AND when you do, be respectful of their generosity of time and hard-earned wisdom. It speaks to the caliber of this community that I have had so many open conversations with other young planners. Typically, I sought them out because I found commonalities in our stories or our passions.

For example, one who cares about helping support more women to enter the field, one who is also passionate about closing the racial wealth gap, and another who has rooted his practice in new parenthood.

The XYPN Podcast Facebook VIP Community is another terrific place to connect to a dynamic conversation. Join your local chapters of NAPFA and try to join or create a study group. Follow the social media conversations of young planners. If you can do it in person, even better.

This fall I had the privilege of being a part of the XYPN16 conference and reveled in the chance to meet so many people that I connected with online, in person. Which reminds me, be sure that when it is your turn, you take up the baton to help mentor those who will come after you.

 

kba

About the Author: Kate Barron-Alicante has a dozen years’ professional experience in the NGO and education sectors, and is currently finishing up the CFP capstone as a career changer. Kate looks forward to 2017 when financial planning becomes her full-time professional endeavor and craft. Learn more about and connect with her here.

Do You Have a Financial Planning Philosophy?

 

Financial Planning Process

A woman I’d worked with in my past life recently reached out to me. She wanted to talk about how I might help her with her financial challenges. And out of the gate, she wanted to know what my financial planning philosophy was.

Hunh.

I know what my investment philosophy is. Don’t you? Mine is on my website. I’m sure your philosophy is on yours.

I know what my financial planning process is. Don’t you? Mine is captured in my CRM, and I talk clients through it at the beginning of any relationship.

But my financial planning philosophy has remained unconscious and undefined. Until now.

It turns out that explicitly thinking about and stating my financial planning philosophy helps both my firm and my clients, just as being clear about my investment philosophy, my niche, my services, and my fees do.

My Financial Planning Philosophy

I don’t imagine my philosophy is going to startle anyone in the XY Planning Network. But let’s write it down anyways, shall we?

1. There is no “secret sauce.” The value is really in the personalization of the advice and the attention you give to the client.

Sure, fancy technology, a fancy process, fancy boxes of chocolates as client-appreciation gifts…these might strike you as “special sauce,” but all these things can be replicated, and usually easily.

What can’t be replicated is how you tailor your financial planning knowledge, your experience, and your communication to your client’s specific needs.

2. It’s a process, not a deliverable. You start by getting a comprehensive understanding of the client’s life and then can adjust individual parts from there. And you keep on adjusting because those parts keep changing.

This isn’t revelatory. Everyone in the XY Planning Network network, at least, is sold on this idea.

3. Simplicity is worth paying for. And I don’t just mean “Pay a financial planner to manage your finances. See, simple!” (Although, hey, not a bad idea.)

The simpler your client’s finances, the more likely they are to understand them. The more likely they are to make the necessary changes and make better decisions. The mental hurdle to change is smaller the simpler your client’s financial life.

4. Optimize the whole, not the parts. Like a set of gears, or project management (which my clients in the tech industry can easily relate to), a client’s financial life is a collection of different but interlocking pieces.

You can’t touch one without affecting the others. Optimizing one doesn’t necessarily optimize the whole (paying the fewest taxes often results in an inappropriate portfolio, for example), and the goal is an optimized whole.

5. Impartiality is important. As trained professionals, we planners can more easily provide an impartial perspective than a client’s spouse or friend can, and certainly more easily than a client can provide to herself.

But we’re not immune to bias. We all have our idiosyncrasies, our “money scripts,” as it were.

I myself am fairly risk averse (I mean aside from having my husband quit his job to look after the kids and me launching my own firm that won’t support us for a couple years. Whee!)

I’d rather focus on lowering expenses than earning more. I have to be careful to not impose those values on my clients.

6. Accountability and discipline is essential. I’m sure there exist people out there, somewhere, in a place I haven’t visited, who have enough drive and self-discipline to keep making the hard financial decisions throughout the year, every year, without outside help.

More likely they might find that support in a spouse, a mom, or a friend. Most likely of all, frankly, is that they could find it in a financial professional.

Why Bother with a Financial Planning Philosophy?

I’m all wordy and stuff, so it makes sense to me to have an explicit financial planning philosophy. But why do I think it’s good for all financial planners?

For Your and Your RIA’s Sake

I have bought the “niche” argument hook, line, and sinker since before even starting my firm. It has been a godsend.

It has enabled me to make decisions about, well, darn near everything in my business with speed, efficiency, and confidence(-ish): where to market, how to market, what to write about in my blog, which industry publications to read, which software tools to use, how to shape my client process, how to communicate with my clients.

I focus on working mothers in high-tech. You can probably see how that would naturally feed into those categories: I use social media mostly on Facebook (that’s where da moms are), I read publications like FastCompany and TechCrunch, I write about college planning and stock options, I allow for clients on every other Saturday and late into the evening 3 days a week, and I need to be willing to use almost every videoconferencing tool under the sun.

Likewise, when I started thinking about my financial planning philosophy, I realized it had already been shaping how I’ve built my business, my client process, and the advice I give to clients.

Some examples:

I gladly “give away” my expertise on financial planning whenever the opportunity arises, and I try to do so every week on my blog — because there is no secret sauce.

I don’t fear it hurting my business at all. It is the rare someone who has the time, interest, and discipline to do it themselves; and if they, more power to them! Happily, I see this dynamic all over the fee-only profession.

I also start my engagement with clients by doing a comprehensive financial plan because I believe in the process, not a single deliverable.

But I pick only the two most urgent recommendations and encourage the clients to do them now. I schedule the remaining recommendations throughout the year.

My client service calendar shows clients that we’ll touch on every part of their financial life throughout the year, every year.

Need help designing important components of your RIA? Save your seat on our next Intro Webinar and learn how XYPN’s community can help.

And because I believe simplicity is worth paying for, I usually recommend that clients roll over an old 401(k) to an IRA even if the 401(k) is awesome, and I usually recommend they keep their cash in their stupid, practically-no-interest bank account instead of shuttling it all around the internet of banks to eek out an extra 1% interest or so.

I think we all are better served to pay an extra $20 in fees annually in an IRA or forego that $50 extra annual interest in order to have fewer accounts to remember, manage login credentials for, get tax returns from, and link to Mint.com.

For Your Clients’ and Prospects’ Sake

Clearly, the more intentional our practice of financial planning, the more our clients benefit. The better we convey why we do what we do, the more likely a client is to pick the planner who’s right for them.

It’s the same dynamic as with clearly stating your niche and your investment philosophy.

If I clearly state that I work with working mothers in tech, the college professor and her stay-at-home husband probably won’t want to work with me. If I clearly state that I passively investment in low-cost broadly diversified funds and rebalance to a static asset allocation every year, then people trying to beat the market won’t want to work with me.

And in either case, they shouldn’t.

I don’t expect many prospects to look at my financial planning philosophy and think, “Pish! She thinks accountability is essential! That’s ridiculous!”

But I wouldn’t be surprised if someone thought, “But I want to get some top secret service that my friends can’t possibly understand and therefore I am fancy!”

If someone leans in that direction, I don’t expect them to become my client. And that’s better for both of us.

Do you and your firm have a financial planning philosophy? Have you written it down? How has it helped (or might it help) you define your service and your value a bit more effectively and efficiently to your clients and prospects?

 

Meg9

About the Author: Meg Bartelt is the President of Flow Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only virtual firm that provides financial guidance and support to working mothers in high tech. Learn more on her website and on her blog

3 Ways to Drive Your Clients to Take Action

Client to Take Action

A couple came to you to get some financial advice. They are in their early thirties; both make good income and are expecting their first child. They’re not sure if they’re saving enough and how they should save.

Based on basic demographics, they are your perfect clients.

Now imagine two scenarios:

In the first one, you recommended comprehensive financial planning. You discussed their goals through in-person interview and collected all the financial documents.

You fed all the information through a sophisticated planning software and came up with a great plan that will meet their goals, telling them exactly what they should do.

The clients happily paid the sizable planning fee, studied the plan from front to back, asked many relevant questions, and told all their friends about your excellent service.

They behaved like every great client did, except for one thing – after one year they did exactly nothing on the carefully prepared action list.

In the second scenario, the same clients walked in. You did none of what a good planner should do – listening, analyzing, and educating.

You offered the clients only one thing – they can sign the paperwork right now to automatically transfer 30% of their paycheck every pay period and invest it in a low-cost target date fund that matches the timeframe when they need the money.

And they did, without a well-crafted plan telling them how much and what type of account they should use.

In which scenario do you think the clients benefit more from your advice after a year?

Neither is ideal, but I’d argue the second scenario is preferable. All the intellectually challenging planning exercises mean nothing for our clients if they don’t implement anything. It’s imperative that we as planners help our clients carry out our recommendations. After all, it’s one of the six steps in the financial planning process.

How Can You Inspire Clients to Take Action?

For Gen X and Gen Y clients, comprehensive planning is not just investment planning done in a comprehensive way. Comprehensive planning is everything related to their personal finance.

Implementing the recommendations for most areas of personal finance require the clients to take the initiative. You can’t call their mortgage provider, bank, student loan servicer, or employer HR directly to facilitate those changes you suggested. Your clients have to at least make the first step to involve you in the conversation if allowed.

But their life, fear, or procrastination often gets in the way.

Having served young clients for the last three years under a monthly retainer model, I now focus my a significant part of my financial planning process on helping them take action, evaluating their progress, and evolving my recommendations based on what they actually implemented.

It may not be the most intellectually stimulating aspect of financial planning, but it’s the most rewarding because I get to see behavioral change. No matter the fifth step of financial planning process is part of your job description or not, we should all agree that our clients are better off if they just implement our recommendation already!

So next I’m going to share with you some of the strategies I use to drive clients to take action.

Evaluating Client Types

But before I go into how I help clients take action, I’d like to introduce three different client types based on two dimensions – client’s financial acumen and motivation level.

Depending on what the particular clients are like, certain strategy might benefit them the most. Below are the categories:

3 Ways to Drive Clients to Take Action

#1: High Motivation, High Acumen

These may be the most desirable clients, because they usually take you the least amount of time to maintain the relationship. Once you tell them what to do and explain your rationale, they need very little help or push to go and implement your suggestions.

They know how to shop for mortgage, open an account online, and find the right person to resolve their issues. You can tell them to open an IRA and rollover an old 401(k), and it will be done by the next time you talk to them without hiccup.

Most of the time these clients came to you because they need confirmation and a trusted information source. They generally know the prudent thing to do – save more, spend less, invest in index fund – but they may not have time or the energy to research all the info and make decisions.

You as a trusted advisor help them cut through the noise and go directly to implementation.

#2: Low Acumen, High Motivation

These are clients require more handholding. They are usually excited to finally work with an advisor, but have a fear about dealing with anything related with money.

They worry more about doing something wrong. If you suggest to them opening a high-yield online savings account, and give them a list of reputable options, they will ask for a particular bank, what your experience with the bank is like, step-by-step instruction on how to open and link the account, and maybe 10 other questions.

This type of client is never comfortable doing these things on their own, and that’s one of the reasons they hired you – to help them become more comfortable.

They also trust you more on the outset because they don’t feel they know enough to judge your recommendation. But they have a lot of room to grow and become educated in financial matters, if you give it time.

#3: High Acumen, Low Motivation

We all have this type of client. They seem like perfect clients on paper, but they’re not motivated to actually implement anything. Sometimes it makes you wonder why they came to you in the first place.

Well, they came to you because they need you to keep them on track! They know how to make all the basic financial decisions. They may even be finance professionals who know about investment theories.

They just don’t actually make changes even after they’ve sought advice.

The true reason behind this reluctance to actually do something may differ by person. For some it may be personality, and for others there may be some emotional, family or relationship issues at play.

In my opinion, this type of client can benefit the most from working with an advisor, if we design a process to discover what impedes them and help them take action.

#4: Low Acumen, Low Motivation

I’m skipping this category since it’s less likely people in this category would seek out advice in the first place. If you have this type of client, I’d be interested to hear from you!

Useful Strategies for Motivating Your Clients

So what can you do in your comprehensive planning process to help these different types of clients? Here are some of the things I do:

#1: Collaborative Task Management System – Good for High Acumen, Low Motivation Clients

Once I present the initial planning strategy and the action steps for the next 12 months, I enter all our collective action steps in the task management system in RightCapital, which is also the planning platform that I use.

I will put deadlines for every task, and space them out properly so they don’t overwhelm clients all at once. The system automatically sends out a notification email to client two weeks before the task is due, and follows up again in one week and the day before.

Clients have no excuse for saying they don’t remember to do things.

I noticed this helps particularly with those with low motivation. Multiple notifications give them a sense of urgency to get on a task. And the best part about it is I don’t need to actively chase them down!

System-generated emails also create a distance between clients and I so they don’t feel like I am nagging. Once clients accomplished the task, they check it off to let me know it’s taken care of, and I got a notification.

If several due dates have passed and I’ve heard nothing, I can either follow up directly or move the due dates back further so they keep getting subtle push to take action.

You may also want to check out task management apps like any.do, which is designed for people to collaborate and keep all parties updated when due dates are near. That’s exactly the spirit – ongoing financial advice is a collaborative effort, so you need to have a system to keep everyone in the loop.

To be more inventive, you may even look into using a system that allows automatic texts or push notification on smartphones so important tasks get their attention.

#2: Detailed Instruction Templates – Good for Low Acumen, High Motivation Clients

When “high motivation, low acumen” clients get a task notification, usually I will get an email saying, “I’m not really sure how to proceed. Can you help me?”

After answering a few of these emails, I began to accumulate templates that I can use in similar situations, because inevitably, many of my clients in this category have similar questions.

For example, where do I go to change TSP allocation, how do I figure out the best W-4 withholding, and how do I report it to my HR?

Due to the fact that I work with many federal employees (and I’m married to one), I know exactly how to walk them through the process so they don’t succumb to frustration and give up.

You will find that having a niche market is very helpful in this regard. Soon you will have a sizable FAQ library you can pull from the help this type of clients actually take action instead of standing on the sideline.

They are great clients once they score small victories of actually knowing how to do things, such as navigating their HR system. Once they are comfortable with that, they are more likely to want to take further steps, such as going through the medical underwriting process to get life insurance, or opening an investment account online and place a trade.

#3: Share Long-Form Content and Stay Transparent with Processes – Good for High Acumen, High Motivation Clients

Sometimes I also get emails from clients with questions like, “I don’t remember why this is a good idea. Can you explain it to me again?”

In other words, what they really want is to learn how to make good financial decisions on their own.

It can be time-consuming to try and reinvent the wheel every time to explain more advanced concepts, such as why you think buying index fund is better than an actively managed fund.

If you’re already blogging, having some kind of long form content you can point people to can be highly efficient. If you are not producing any content on your own, keeping a library of reputable third-party resources is also a good idea.

You can quickly answer their “why” and get them to take action faster.

With High Acumen clients, I also tend to walk them through my decision-making process in more detail, or even give them a couple of options to choose from so they can practice exercising their own judgment.

Again, it’s a collaborative process. Some of our advice is not that clear cut.

For example, the clients may be earning income above Roth IRA limit. They can contribute to Traditional IRA and do a Roth conversion every year, but it takes them time to keep track, find out how to do it with their custodian, communicate it with their tax professional, or even figure out how to report it on their own.

Or they can just save in a taxable account, pay a little bit more taxes to skip the headache, given they have a goal requiring them to take the money out in 5-10 years anyway.

Both are valid options, and it’s our job to walk them through the decision process.

Having this type of discussion can help clients grasp your rationale and come to a decision on their own so they can become more effective and confident in dealing with their finances. Don’t worry about them leaving you because they are now better at managing their household finances.

In reality, the opposite happens: clients stay because you are such an effective filter and educator that helps them form their own opinion without wasting time and energy.

The Real Value of a Financial Planner

Financial planning is an ongoing process. We all know this. Without collaborative strategies to help clients implement and monitor their progress, we will not be able to truly make it an ongoing relationship.

I firmly believe that my value as a financial planner comes from not just making complicated financial matter simple, but also helping clients take action and make better decisions.

I encourage you to review your process to see how much effort you actually put toward changing client behavior, inspiring clients to take action, and how much your clients have actually changed.

You may worry that you don’t have enough time to do this extra work to make it profitable. Why not train a part-time staff or outsource it?

Helping clients implement may not be your main skillset, but you can add value by hiring someone else to follow up and guide your clients in the right direction. For larger firms, you may even be able to have a full-time Client Monitoring Specialist to help clients implement your recommendation beyond taking their asset under management.

Of course, you may simply focus your practice on the High Acumen, High Motivation clients. Nevertheless, I do derive much more satisfaction on seeing the clients from the other two categories grow.

The idea is that the longer they work with you, the more they mature and become High Acumen, High Motivation clients. It’s not a model for everyone, but it’s so worth it to see progress!

Although I assigned one strategy to each type of client, in practice I use all three strategies on all clients because they are baked into my financial planning process. High Acumen clients can have questions about how to place a trade, while Low Acumen ones also care why you make certain recommendations.

And don’t forget: gentle nudges from the task management system can be effective on all types of clients.

I still remember the excitement when I first got the notification that clients are checking off their tasks, and I still experience it every day. I’ve got great feedbacks from clients saying these strategies have made them more on track, more comfortable, and better at decision making. I hope you will try them out too!

 

About the Author: Hui-chin Chen is a Certified Financial Planner™ and a globetrotter. She specializes in helping fellow globally mobile professionals manage their resources effectively so they can live their lives to the fullest. She blogs about global living and financial planning at Money Matters for Globetrotters. Hui-chin is also the Co-Owner of Pavlov Financial Planning based in Arlington, Virginia. As the name of the firm suggests, she focuses her practice on generating true behavioral change.

How to Provide Philanthropic Planning in Seven Easy Steps

Philanthropic planning

When is the last time you talked philanthropy with your clients? Was the discussion initiated by you or the client? If it was initiated by you, was it because you already knew the client is philanthropic or did you look at their tax return to see that they gave money the year before?

A 2013 study by U.S. Trust cites that a third of advisors believe they initiate the conversation around philanthropy while clients think that advisors only initiate the conversation 20% of the time.

But 88% of advisors think it is an important discussion to have with clients. We have a huge disconnect here! How can so many advisors see value in philanthropic discussions, but yet so few actually have the conversation?

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Do You Provide Philanthropic Planning in Your Practice?

That is exactly where we were just a few years ago. We are a mature, established firm of skilled advisors. We claim to offer comprehensive financial planning and we think we do a great job.

But it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that our list of services started to specifically include philanthropic planning.

Don’t get me wrong. We would talk charitable giving with clients and even have a few clients who have established CRTs and used other charitable tools, but those discussions were spurred by the uncovering of intent in our fact-finding process.

The thought process went something like this: John and Jane Doe are selling their business this year. How can we lower the tax? Oh, wait, they like to give too. Perfect! Let’s talk charitable giving.

The U.S. Trust study results lead me to believe that we are not the only financial advisors who have had this misguided belief that this is a philanthropic conversation. I argue that it is not. It is certainly a valuable conversation for John and Jane, but it is essentially a tax conversation that has lead to a result that is philanthropic.

There’s a difference between having a philanthropic conversation and using a charitable tool to solve a problem. Donors get this, but unfortunately, it is taking advisors longer to catch on.

How We Can Change the Conversation

A small change in how we address the philanthropic conversation can strengthen our relationship with clients, set us apart from the rest of the industry, and create more gratifying and fulfilling work. There are two key components to a successful change in the philanthropic discussion.

First, you have to make the conversation important enough to have with every client. That doesn’t mean you have to push it on every client. Just ask the question.

Ask the client if it would be a valuable service to walk through a process to help identify ways to align their values with any charitable goals to give of their time, talents and treasures. If they aren’t interested, no problem, you at least know. If they are interested, you’ve just opened a door to another way you can offer value.

Secondly, always start with the “Why?” As advisors, we have taken on the role of a problem solver. That is how most of us function. We see a nail and we find a hammer.

But the most successful philanthropic conversations start with no intent of solving a problem. They start with the intent of finding meaning.

Why does this even matter to the client? What has happened in the client’s life to create a desire to be philanthropic? Once we know the why, we are better prepared to address the how.

These conversations can be difficult to start and put us outside of our comfort zone. The following seven step process will help you and the client uncover the why and turn it into actionable goals so you can provide philanthropic planning as part of your service offering.

Step 1: Identify Core Values.

We all have values that are core to who we are. These are often the values we find most attractive in other individuals.

Encourage your client to identify 3-5 core values with which he/she most identifies. You can simplify this process by creating a list of values from which clients can choose.

There are a number of free resources and value cards that can be purchased online to help with this discussion. Here are examples of core values:

Acceptance

Affection

Bravery

Community

Compassion

Courage

Creativity

Curiosity

Dignity

Diversity

Empathy

Equality

Excellence

Excitement

Faith

Family

Generosity

Gratitude

Healing

Honesty

Humility

Innovation

Integrity

Joy

Justice

Knowledge

Love

Loyalty

Mastery

Opportunity

Passion

Patience

Peace

Preservation

Respect

Responsibility

Service

Sincerity

Stewardship

Trust

Truth

Wisdom

Step 2: Discover Passions

What is the client passionate about? What inspires action? For some clients, they will know this without having to give it much thought, but others will need some guidance.

Help clients target the most important 1-3 passions. Some passions may include:

Animals

Arts

Children & Youth

Community Development

Domestic Violence

Drug & Alcohol Abuse

Education

Environment

Health

Homeless & Housing

Human Rights

International

Land Preservation

Literacy

Poverty

Public Policy/Advocacy

Religion

Science & Technology

Sports & Recreation

Veterans

Women

Step 3: Find the “Sweet Spot”

Your client’s sweet spot will be the intersection between what is important and where a difference is needed. In Step 3, you help the client link values and passions by asking the following types of questions:

  • Who? Is there a certain demographic that the client wants to target
  • Where? Will the impact be local, national, global?
  • What? Where is there an opportunity?
  • Why? What is the motivation? Are there experiences that have shaped the client and would naturally lead the client toward an area of interest
  • How? Will the client give time, serve on a board, volunteer, or use some other means to make an impact?

At the end of step 3, the client can develop a giving purpose statement. This is a mission statement for their giving.

One example may be, “I value innovation and community, and I have a passion for ensuring that everyone can receive the best health care; therefore, I will focus my giving of time, talents and treasures around advancing the medical field.”

Step 4: Research

You can offer to give resources or help the client research nonprofits in their area to determine the best way to apply their mission statement. Which nonprofits focus on the client’s area of interest? Is that nonprofit in good standing?

Some examples of research tools may include: the local Community Foundation, local Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Guidestar.org, CharityNavigator.org, VolunteerMatch.org, and so on.

Step 5: Set Goals

Combine steps 1-4 to help the client set goals around their giving. Remember SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

Encourage the client to think about the end goal, the time horizon for achieving the goal and the boundaries around resources. For instance, a doctor may set the goal to give 10% of his time at the free medical clinic over the next year.

Step 6: Action Plan

You may have heard “goals not written are just wishes.” So write everything down! There’s power to putting thoughts on paper. There is a certain accountability that goes with writing out an action plan.

Encourage your client to embrace the accountability. Here’s an example of what the layout may look like:

 

                                             Action Plan for ______ (YEAR)
Step 1: Core Values                                                   Step 2: Passions

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

_________________________________                           ___________________________________

Step 3: Giving Purpose ____________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________

Step 4 & 5: 12 Month Goals

Goal #1

_______________________________________________________________________

Time Horizon:__________________________________________________________

Budget/Talent/Time Commitment: _____________________________________
Goal #2

_______________________________________________________________________

Time Horizon:__________________________________________________________

Budget/Talent/Time Commitment: _____________________________________
Goal #3

_______________________________________________________________________

Time Horizon:__________________________________________________________

Budget/Talent/Time Commitment: _____________________________________

Step 7: Reflection

Reflection is a crucial, yet often overlooked step in any plan. Help your client monitor his/her progress by checking in for a review at least once a year. Evaluate what happened and what did not happen.

This is also a great opportunity to reset the plan for next year. Going through the reflection process allows the client to identify the successes and the challenges and adjust for the future.

Starting a conversation around philanthropic planning with clients is a great way to add value to your services. It doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable or difficult discussion. It is possible to simplify the process so that clients can implement a plan regardless of where they are on their journey and how they want to give.

 

 

 

Jess imageAbout the Author: Jessica Hovis Smith is a Certified Financial Planner™ and Director of Financial Planning at Longview Financial Advisors. Outside of the office, Jessica is an avid runner and enjoys spending time outdoors with family and close friends. You can reach her on Twitter @jhovissmith or connect with her on LinkedIn

 

 

An Advisor’s Best Friend: The Ability to Say “No”

The Ability to Say No

Remember that movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carey, where he changes his life by saying yes to literally everything? Well, the irony in today’s world is that saying yes to everything might have made for a good Hollywood movie—or a really bad one according to Rotten Tomatoes—but in today’s world filled of noise, it’s actually our ability to say no that is incredibly powerful.

There are literally millions of things that we as humans can be doing every day. There’s certainly no shortage of things that we as advisors could be doing, too.

From meeting with a client to working on our blogs, updating our social media, refining processes… the list goes on and on.

Despite the countless opportunities to grow our businesses and help more people by offering our services to them, the fact remains that we only have 24 hours in a day. Our capacity remains fixed by the one constraint we all share: time.

The amount of things that can be done in any given day is always on the rise, and it can feel like it’s increasing at an exponential pace. As this happens, the value in our ability to say “no” also increases.

The Ability to Say “No” to Someone Who Will Pay You

There’s nothing advisors—myself very much included in this generalization—are worse at than saying “no” to prospective clients. The thought of saying, “you know that money you want to pay me for that thing I do to make a living? Yeah, just keep the money. I don’t want to work with people who don’t [insert what qualifies someone for your target market]” to any prospect is almost laughable.

But let’s be honest: the arguments for choosing a niche are good ones! As you narrow your niche, you can better focus your marketing efforts, improve the services you provide to your niche clientele as your expertise and service model become more focused, charge premium prices, and so on.

So why don’t advisors narrow their focus despite the strong case that can be made for the benefits? Why don’t we say “no” to clients who aren’t our ideal clients within the niche we serve?

In a recent conversation with Isaac Presley at Cordant Wealth, a firm that has done a tremendous job of getting niche focused on Intel employees, I mentioned that it’s a little scary to narrow our focus even further beyond young professionals.

He stopped me for a second and said, “It’s not a little scary. It’s a lot, lot scary.”

Bingo! It is a lot scary to say no to a prospective client, especially one who is ready to pay you. But as mentioned earlier, with each “yes” we give we tell something or someone else “no.”

The next time a client wants to pay you, ask yourself who or what you have to say no to in exchange for making an exception to the focused practice you’re trying to build.

Want more support to help you run your financial planning firm? Save yourself a seat on our next Intro Webinar and learn how XYPN can help.

Do It a Thousand Times, But Never Once

Belay Advisor had a great article and podcast recently discussing the things top advisors would approach differently if they had a chance redo their careers. The one that really stuck out was “learn to say ‘no’ to client requests so I can have a leverageable business model.”

You know those innocent client requests where they want one thing tweaked outside of the traditional process that adds little to no value?

This doesn’t mean we have to say no to every client request, but rather to ask ourselves whether saying yes to this request is something that’s going to be a one-off customization for a single client or something that could enhance the value and experience for all clients if built into a scalable business process.

If it is something that can enhance the value to all clients then by all means say yes and build it into your processes. But if not, then be willing to say no.

Doing More by Doing Less (Or: Practice Essentialism)

George McKeown’s 2014 book, Essentialism, should be something every advisor says yes to. Readers walk away with a clearer understanding of the importance of saying no and finding the few incredibly important things in business (and in life) that will drive the large majority of the results.

The whole premise of the book is built on the idea that saying no is arguably one of the most valuable tools we have as human beings. And it’s important to recognize that our ability as advisors to help our clients say no is a major source of value to them, too!

The takeaway for advisors is not to just start saying “no” to everything left and right, but “purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating nonessentials.” You must be willing to recognize what those things are and then have the courage to say no to them.

We will all be better off as advisors by shifting our focus away from constantly looking for new things to add — whether that be new prospective clients even though they don’t fit our niche profile or the latest and greatest technology widget.

 

MattCAbout the Author: Matt Cosgriff is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and personal finance expert for young professionals. He is also the intrapreneur behind Lifewise, a Minneapolis-based financial planning and investment solution for busy young professionals. When he isn’t helping people navigate the ins and outs of personal finance he is an avid hockey fan, foodie, and loves to read. You can reach him on Twitter @matthewcosgriff  or connect with him on LinkedIn

 

 

Get to Know XYPN Advisors: Jason Howell of Jason Howell Company

Get to Know XYPN Advisors- Jason Howell

XY Planning Network is thrilled to continue promoting our members by spotlighting their experiences with launching a financial planning firm and the lessons learned along the way.

Today, we’re welcoming XYPN member and Family Wealth Advisor Jason Howell to the blog to share his story and the unconventional journey that led him to start the Jason Howell Company.


Money is not the first thing that comes to mind when reminiscing about the 1990s. I remember the edge of alternative rock before it was really a category, the emotional roller coaster of being in college, and the political back-drop of a Presidential candidate playing saxophone on MTV.

But no one over 30 years old can ignore the stock market boom of the 1990s, thanks in part to the dawn of the information age and the on-line discount broker.

I cut my teeth on finance as a bank teller for the company currently known as Wells Fargo. In 1992 I was a college student majoring in accounting and only worked at the bank because my sister did. My dad already had the stories of blue-collar part-time jobs while struggling through college – all the way to his PhD – so for my sister and me, our college jobs were at the bank.

From the age of 18 I knew how to tie a Double Windsor knot, what traffic was like during rush hour, and why a full-time job didn’t guarantee you enough money for a full-time life. It wasn’t called “rent” but I contributed to paying for the family’s household bills. My financial education was just beginning.

A Really Cool But Unprofitable Niche

When I graduated college I left the bank and spent about 8 years in accounting. In 1999, I also started an accounting firm (on the side) for unsigned musicians called JAM: Jason’s Accounting and Music-Firm. Not surprisingly, I was the only accountant interested in working with bands who didn’t make much money.

Thankfully, I also had a regular job. Though I didn’t make money with JAM, I did receive a few benefits:

  • I registered the JasonHowell.com domain name (before anyone cared)
  • I learned how to translate financial management to 20 something musicians
  • I learned client management and coaching

As luck, fate or God would have it, my last accounting job was Controller for the largest concert amphitheatre in the country (Nissan Pavilion). I was the head accountant for Clear Channel’s little Virginia outpost, writing checks to pay the Dave Matthews Band, Ozzfest tour, Cracker, and even Vanessa Carlton.

Though I loved the music industry, just being the accountant for these stars wasn’t enough to keep me fulfilled. The staffing firm that had placed me offered me an opportunity to work with them as a recruiter, helping individuals with their careers. This is where I learned life planning with my candidates. It’s also where I learned that nothing happens in business until a deal is done.

I had two clients: the people who paid my firm (and me) to find specific candidates and the candidates who did not pay me but wanted to work for certain firms.

This was the first time my main compensation was reliant on business development which meant I had to learn quickly how to focus my time on deals that were “closest to closing.” There were many calls to make, emails to send and networking meetings to attend; but if they didn’t help me match a candidate with a client, it was a step back in my “business.”

Writing Books and Running for Congress

I also learned that life goes on, even while you face personal crises. When my Dad first became ill in December of 2008 I began writing a book I had always planned to start “some day.”

It was called AMERICA: Still the Land of Opportunity, Always a Home for the Brave. The book is about having faith in the United States economy and the courage to rally your personal ability to secure a job — in other words, your financial future.

Writing a book helped to organize my thoughts around a topic I thought was quite important. I wrote this book for the many people looking for jobs back then but I also wrote it for me and my Dad.

He passed away before I finished it and I dedicated myself to the book’s positive message for the next couple of years. I think one of the reasons event organizers like to hire speakers who have written a book is because they know how deeply those speakers have gotten into the topic and how much time it took to organize, reorganize and edit your thoughts.

The general public and potential clients know inherently that if you took the time to write more than a pamphlet about your topic, you must really know and care and believe in what you’re talking about. As a financial planner, writing a book can help translate your philosophy around working with clients and improving their lives.

I failed to finish writing a second book when our political leaders created a debt crisis in 2011. When our country’s debt was downgraded by Standard and Poors, I made the decision to stop writing and start running for office.

(Actually, after I asked my wife if it would be OK, I made the decision.)

In 2012 I became an independent candidate for United States Congress. I earned 10,180 votes, good enough for third out of four candidates. The 20-year incumbent won another term. There is nothing quite like running for political office but joining the financial advice industry does have some parallels: most people assume you have an ulterior motive until you prove otherwise, you work on issues people care about the most and if you do it well you will positively change lives.

Changing Lives with Financial Planning

One of my campaign volunteers was a third-generation New York Life agent and he invited me to meet his boss. What I liked about the firm was their no asset minimum and history of working with middle income America.

I officially joined the firm in January of 2013. I figured that if I couldn’t write financial policy for all families at once as a United States Congressman, I would just serve families as an advisor, one at a time!

What I didn’t know was anything about insurance, investment fees, or anything at all about Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) companies. Then an article in Investment News Daily caught my attention.

It was an article on a young woman from Minnesota who started her own firm. I reached out to her via email and she kindly replied. Her name was Sophia Bera and my financial services education began in earnest during the fall of 2013.

Sophia graciously introduced me to the RIA world, Michael Kitces, and eventually the XY Planning Network. Through email and through Nerd’s Eye View, Michael wholly inspired me to start my own financial planning firm.

I didn’t know when but I knew I would eventually.

Now I run Jason Howell Company, a wealth management firm designed for first-generation success stories. These are people who don’t come from money but who come from good families and have good jobs because their parents pushed them into becoming more successful than they were.

I picked this niche because it is a reflection of my personal history and my family. People like to do business with people whom they admire or remind them of themselves. I try to be worthy of admiration, but at a minimum I try to be myself.

Just like running for office, as a financial planner, being authentic can attract a lot of admirers.

I love offering the monthly retainer model because many of the prospects in my chosen niche either don’t have the accumulated assets or would like to “try before they buy.” I come from the skeptical generation branded with an “X” so I get it.

Meeting your clients “where they are” in their assumptions about our profession and their sophistication with money will help to attract clients. Many good clients know how to work hard but what they don’t know is how to work money.

We are the ones who can help them because we offer comprehensive planning in a fiduciary capacity without the conflicts of commissions. We are so fortunate.

Money takes at least a second generation perspective and we get to share our perspective with clients, one family at a time.

 

Jason Howell

About the Author: Jason Howell is President of Jason Howell Company, a wealth management firm built to support first generation success stories. He is also a former United States Congressional candidate and an adjunct professor of personal finance at American University’s Kogod School of Business. He shares his home with a beautiful and patient wife, a 2 year old daughter and a couple of dusty, out of tune acoustic guitars.

 

 

How Young Advisors Can Serve Their Peers within Existing Firms

Please welcome Matt Cosgriff to the XYPN blog! We know Matt as an “intrepreneur” for his innovative work in developing a specialized branch of a financial planning firm within an existing firm. He was able to create a part of the business that serves Gen X and Gen Y clients, while the firm as a whole focuses on other types of clients outside those demographics.

Today, Matt shares his advice to young advisors who want to follow the same model — or at least convince older firm owners of the value of serving next generation clients.

How Young Advisors Can Serve Their Peers Within Existing Firms

“I want to serve Gen X and Millennials!” said the young advisor to his boss.

“Yeah, that’s a bad idea. Get back to work,” said the firm owner.

Now, that’s not exactly how it plays out when young advisors try to pitch the concept of working with Gen X and Millennial clients—or in our case at Lifewise Advisors, serving young professionals—but it’s also not that far off in many instances either.

Gen X and Millennial consumers are no longer the next big thing, they are the big thing in the eyes of many brands. But as these two generations move into the driver’s seat as America’s primary consumers and as many industries evolve to serve their needs, that hasn’t changed the thinking of the old guard inside many of today’s top wealth management firms.

So how does a young advisor go about actually serving the next generation within an existing a firm if there is no interest in doing so among firm decision makers?
There’s no one right or wrong answer, and the outcome in your situation will depend on the structure of your organization. But there are definitely some buttons to be pushed that resonate more than others.

Below are four potential pitches that can be made to support why your firm should consider serving Gen X and Millennials inside your existing organization.

Need help serving Gen X and Gen Y clients? Hop on our next Intro Webinar to see how XYPN can support your goals.

It Can Improve Client Segmentation

Many firms are guilty of trying to plug the square peg into the round hole when it comes to serving clients they know will be in their sweet spot in the future, but just aren’t there yet today. The easiest example is the young doctor.

He or she is likely making good money, but has few investable assets and a mountain of student debt to tackle.

Now what happens next certainly doesn’t happen at all firms, but I’d venture to guess it happens at more than people care to admit. The firm offers to help the young doc despite the fact they don’t fit into their target market — oftentimes anyone with $1 million of investable assets, which we all know really isn’t a niche -– because they don’t want to lose out on the opportunity to turn them into a great client years down the road.

To get started, the firm charges the traditional 1% to 1.5% on the small $40,000 account the doctor’s amassed in his first few years of working.

The advisor rolls the money over, sets up an asset allocation, and then sends out a quarterly newsletter to keep his new client up-to-date on market movements.

Then, radio silence.

At the end of the day this situation is lose-lose. The firm takes on a non-ideal client that is likely unprofitable and subsequently ends up being underserved with virtually no value being provided.

So for those young advisors looking to serve their peers inside a firm, look for examples in which a separate service model could be beneficial to serve. By creating a separate service model that requires clients to pay for planning and then subsequently providing exponentially more value than the alternative is a win-win for both client and advisor.

You achieve both a valuable and profitable engagement.

Improve Sustainability with a Growing Revenue Stream

It’s been well established that the industry’s supply of advisors is aging (enter XY Planning Network to the rescue!) but the oftentimes overlooked corollary to that stat is the simple fact that most advisor’s clients are also aging at a brisk pace.

According to Fiduciary Network, over 90% of the industries firms are practices, which means there’s very little sustainability to the company if the founder gets hit by the proverbial bus or simply retires.

Enter the second angle young advisors can look to pitch when trying to promote serving Gen X and Millennials within their organizations: sustainability.
In an effort to improve the long-term sustainability of a firm, it can help to add strong accumulating clients that are serious about planning and comfortable paying for the invaluable guidance a qualified and well-intentioned advisor can provide over a lifetime. By serving young professional clients at Lifewise, we hope this expanded niche will help complement our graying book of retired clients.

On a quick side note, on top of adding sustainability to a firm, it also makes the practice more attractive to future buyers. What young advisor wants to buy a shrinking book of business?

The Ability to Test Innovative Technology in a Less Threatening Business Segment

One of the biggest risks advisory firms face in today’s rapidly evolving FinTech world is picking the wrong technology. The cost of implementation and training on a new technology, only to realize two to three years later that the solution is inadequate, is huge and as the pace of innovation across advisor technology picks up, this risk will only increase.

One of the ways a next gen service model within a firm can help is to serve as a testing grounds for innovative technology. Take robo technology for example.
Moving to increased automation with a robo platform like Betterment Institutional is a big step, especially if implemented immediately with a robust book of long-time clients that have been served by customized stock and bond portfolios. But the risks are substantially less if this technology is first tested with a less risky book of young clients.

That’s not to say that young clients should serve as sacrificial test dummies on behalf of older clients. Instead it simply means that when implementing and striving for perfection in the launch of innovation and possibly disruptive technology, the risks are far less in implementing with young clients paying a couple thousand dollars a year in planning fees (as opposed to the more established book of business that might be paying a multiple of that amount).

On top of that, many young clients like engaging with the brands they love. If you implement robo technology that makes their life easier, they will likely provide candid feedback about areas that they’d like to see improved or adjusted, as well as the areas that they find beneficial.

This can serve as valuable feedback when exploring a more full-scale launch of the technology with the broader advisory business.

Train and Engage Top Young Advisors

There is arguably no bigger issue for firm owners across the country than succession planning and subsequently how to recruit, engage and retain young talent in an industry starving for it. Which is precisely why launching a solution geared towards young professionals, Millennial doctors, or whatever niche you choose within Gen X and Gen Y is so important.

Young advisors want to have impact and they don’t want to wait a decade to do it. But that’s what so many firms end up doing by making someone be a paraplanner for half a decade and then an associate for the remainder.

And most young advisors get it. Business owners can’t risk jeopardizing a key client relationship because young advisor screwed up.

But there is a large middle ground between throwing a young advisor into the fire with a firm’s top client and relegating them to the back of the office to spit out spreadsheets at a nauseating pace for five years. That middle ground is serving next-gen clients.

What better way to allow young advisors to have impact on people’s lives now, in a less-risky environment, than allowing them to serve a niche within their peer group? And as far as the experience goes, who’s likely the most qualified to talk budgeting, student loans and saving for a child’s education?

Probably the young advisors learning to navigate those exact challenges.

On top of being able to serve next-gen clients, it also opens up the doors for advisors to learn how to develop business, which is one of the common complaints of firm owners: “my young people don’t bring in any new business.”

Well, no sh*t, my closest 25 friends don’t have combined investable assets to meet our company minimums. In this model young people can cut their teeth on how to build strong relationships and develop business.

Ultimately, whatever pitch you choose to try and convince your firm’s owners why they should start serving next-gen clients — it’s important to look first at your firm’s business to determine how it is unique and what challenges might exist.
Each firm will have a different answer to “why serve next generation clients?” and ultimately it’s up to you to determine the keys to building buy-in among firm owners.

 

MattCAbout the Author: Matt Cosgriff is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and personal finance expert for young professionals. He is also the intrapreneur behind Lifewise, a Minneapolis based financial planning and investment solution for busy young professionals. When he isn’t helping people navigate the ins and outs of personal finance he is an avid hockey fan, foodie, and loves to read. You can reach him on Twitter @matthewcosgriff  or connect with him on LinkedIn