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How to Identify the Best Niche Market for Your Planning Practice

If you’re like many financial planners, you may be reluctant to funnel your time and money into niche marketing. After all, shouldn’t you try to reach as many potential clients as possible with your marketing efforts? Won’t you be missing out on a lot of opportunities when you tailor your message to appeal to a smaller group? Surprisingly, the answer is “no.” In fact, when you cast your net too wide or try to be all things to all people, you’re more likely to fail.

The truth is, focusing on a niche helps you stand out from your competition and eliminates many of the potential objections people have about doing business with you. The key to attracting lots of new clients is to have a marketing message that speaks directly to a specific group.

That said, there are a lot of people out there who might be interested in your financial planning services. How do you narrow your focus and accurately pinpoint which group is best for your business … and vice versa?

First, I recommend starting with your current list of clients. Look for commonalities: whether one group is spending more on your services than another, who you enjoyed working with, and so on. For instance, maybe you notice that a significant portion of your new clients are widows or widowers, or couples who have just had a child. Building on your current strengths is one of the easiest ways to become the predominant expert in a particular area.

Once you have an idea of what your general niche market might be, here are five questions to ask yourself:

What Is the Size of the Market?

You don’t want to look back a year down the road and realize that the market isn’t as big as you assumed.

Is the Marketplace Growing or Shrinking?

How many new people are entering the niche who may need your products or services? For instance, if you’re planning on targeting recent college grads, your market isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. But if you target baby boomers, you have to assume that your pool of potential clients will eventually dry up.

Can You Easily Reach Key Decision Makers?

Are there magazines just for the market you are targeting? Associations? Websites? Are there other people selling products or services to this group that you can joint-venture with or rent a mailing list from? This can trip up people who define their niche through attitudes or behaviors such as “I market to people who want to take control of their financial futures.” It’s tougher than you think to find those people.

How Much Money Is Your Niche Able or Willing to Spend?

You can accept as gospel that some of your prospects will think your prices or commissions are too high. In reality, that has more to do with how well you communicate the benefits of your financial planning services, but the market you choose to sell to will also influence how much you can charge.

Is There Potential for Additional Business?

It’s easier to sell something additional to an existing customer than it is to acquire a new customer. Not surprisingly, a niche that will use your services often is far more attractive than one that uses them only occasionally.

And finally, a friendly reminder of what you already know: You need to be aware of any legal or regulatory issues that govern your services or niche market. For example, as a financial planner, compliance issues may limit what you can communicate on websites and in your marketing materials.

Mark SatterfieldMark Satterfield
Founder and CEO
Gentle Rain Marketing Inc.
Alpharetta, GA
Author of The One Week Marketing Plan

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In Their Own Words: Best Practices for Mentors and Mentees

For the past year, I have been working with 10 young advisers as part of a mentoring program. The program is based on the concept that it takes a village to raise an adviser. Over the course of a year, all of the junior advisers, along with their sponsoring senior advisers, attend three workshops, giving these up-and-coming professionals the chance to see and learn from other seasoned advisers and gain a different perspective on the financial services business.

As an exercise, at the conclusion of this year’s program, I asked the junior and senior advisers to prioritize two lists of best practices for mentors and mentees. Here they are, in their own words:

Best Practices for Mentors
As expressed by the mentors

  1. Communicate clear expectations
  2. Be patient
  3. Listen
  4. Be a role model
  5. Provide leadership

 

As expressed by the mentees

  1. Set up a block of time each week to meet with the mentee.
  2. Use specific tools, such as checklists for processes and the 20-point system for production, and maintain clear, realistic goals in writing.
  3. Allow junior advisers to find solutions for themselves—and sometimes even fail in the process.
  4. Believe in a symbiotic relationship, where both parties bring value to and benefit from the relationship.
  5. Have a finger on the pulse of junior advisers to demonstrate sincere, constructive empathy.

 

As you can see, there isn’t much overlap between these lists, which is a bit surprising to me. Clearly, though, younger advisers value the gift of routine meetings with their mentors.

What about the best practices for mentees?

Best Practices for Mentees
As expressed by the mentees

  1. Be coachable and eager to learn.
  2. Be willing to make sacrifices for your career.
  3. Be proactive.
  4. Be willing to fail and learn from mistakes.
  5. Be attentive to detail.

 

As expressed by the mentors

  1. Demonstrate entrepreneurial ownership—for example, proactively set up regular meetings with the mentor to receive feedback.
  2. Set BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals) and self-manage activity consistent with those goals.
  3. Look for ways to continue education and apply learning to goals.
  4. Be a team player who sets a good example in the workplace.
  5. Initiate learning by asking questions.

 

Again, there isn’t as much overlap as I would have expected. What does stand out to me is the difference in goal-setting between the groups; junior advisers want to set realistic goals, while senior advisers want them to set stretch goals or BHAGs. Also curious is the fact that both mentors and mentees seem to have found it easier to be more specific in describing the best practices for the other group than in articulating the best practices for their own.

If you are a mentor or a mentee, what might you take away as a best practice for yourself? Both mentors and mentees should make sure they have regularly scheduled meetings, as well as document specific goals—perhaps realistic and stretch goals—in writing.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.


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Divide and Conquer: Profiting from Market Segmentation

A wealth management practitioner produces “advice/counsel/wisdom” packaged as a solution to an individual’s needs, anxieties and aspirations. If we focus on the verb “produces,” we appreciate that a practitioner, like a factory, assembles a product solution using advice content as the raw material. This advice product applies to a solution’s two components: wealth planning and investment execution.

You Are an Advice Factory with a Fixed Capacity

Let’s continue with this manufacturing analogy. Your advice engineering touches every area of the product you deliver. In other words, it’s not the tools you use, principally technology and investment products, but how you put them together. As an engineered design, your advice product is your intellectual property and unique to you: what you know; who you are; how you think; what you say; what you do; how you care; why you’re trustworthy. (See my previous blog, “Your Product Is You.”)

Unfortunately, your advice factory has a fixed capacity. At full production, to grow your business leads either to adding capacity (e.g., hiring a partner) or becoming more efficient. The latter is always the first choice before undertaking additional costs and introducing new business risks.

You Are the Differentiation

Apple’s products reach different segments, but each product is delivered with its own messaging, distribution, service and support. While there are numerous laptops, phones and tablets in each of Apple’s competitive segments, what people buy is Apple’s engineering and design prowess.

In a similar way to Apple, your advice/counsel/wisdom leads you to see and do things differently and, as a result, provide solutions uniquely. Your advice, and how you deliver it, is your solution’s differentiation.

Packaging Your Advice Profitably

Your advice/counsel/wisdom is what people are ultimately buying. Financially, the more ways you sell this advice content dictates how vibrant your business becomes.

What emerges is not a homogeneous target market, but rather segments wanting your advice but delivered in a different way. The business challenge is to reach each segment profitably.

Three common ways to segment a wealth management market are wealth, generation/age and life stage. Regardless of segmentation methodology, the profitable path for each segment tailors the messaging, pricing, distribution, service and support, but it remains focused on what all people are looking to buy: your advice/counsel/wisdom.

Market Segmentation Dos and Don’ts

  • Do treat each segment as a separate division
  • Do account for each segment’s P&L
  • Don’t permit operational creep (such as giving high-labor services to low-cost segments; using too much automation for high-fee clients)
  • Don’t put client referrals (children and friends, for example) into the client’s segment if they’re more tightly matched with another.


A High Volume Segment Example

Likely, your current service is oriented to a HNW client expecting a high-touch, intensely tailored wealth planning and investment solution. For this package, such a client is willing to pay a full price. Since you’re already familiar with this segment, let’s look at adding a new segment: individuals with wealth below your current AUM boundary.

Advice delivery. Establish an automated investing method (such as a robo-adviser), but one that allows you to incorporate your own advice content: risk questionnaires, scoring, models, IPSs, proposals and operations (including fee billing, custodian, performance reporting, etc.). While the delivery form is different from the high-touch segment, the core service—advice—remains the same.

Pricing. Use a value-based pricing approach that sets the expectation that your advice product will be delivered using high-volume methods. Keep in mind that this segment’s profits come after adding your own fee and subtracting the robo-adviser platform cost.

Meetings. For one-on-one meetings, use a tool such as GoToMeeting and use the video option to keep the personal approach. For face-to-face meetings, use in-office group sessions in which you organize clients into affinity groups based on common interests such as age, location, job type or family structure for education, planning and updates.

Ongoing contact. Communicate educational topics, updates, notices, planning topics and so forth using email and social media. Also, use semi-annual surveys (consider SurveyGizmo or SurveyMonkey) to capture opinions and gain feedback as a means to fine-tune your offering.

Client service. Use a client portal for investment updates, document delivery, document uploads, planning and profile edits/updates, meeting/event scheduling and Q&A.

Finding new ways to package your advice product leads to accelerated business performance. Given that automated delivery methods and web-based servicing are here to stay (and increasingly accepted), the sooner you package your advice for different market segments the more valuable—and protected—your business becomes.

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
President
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey


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What a Few Seconds of Strategic Silence Can Do for You

We have all heard that “silence is golden,” but as advisers, do we routinely use silence as part of our presentations?

Now, you may be thinking: I stop talking every time I ask a question and patiently wait and then listen to the client’s answer. This may be true, but it’s not exactly what I am referring to. What I mean is to pause or slow down with your dialogue and truly think about what you want to convey—what you really want the listener to hear—rather than just rambling on with hopes that what you are saying is understood. It’s what I refer to as “the power of the pause.”

Let’s take a look at what a few seconds of strategic silence can do for you.

Pausing for Direction

During one of my group coaching role play sessions, I noticed some advisers were nervously searching for something to say, trying to fill every moment with a question, statement, fact or story. What they didn’t realize was that they were just filling up the conversation with idle chit-chat. By doing so, they were not getting the prospect (we were role playing) to come to a place of understanding regarding the products and services that were being recommended.

So I created the “five seconds of silence exercise,” where the adviser had to pause for five seconds each time prior to speaking. Each round of this exercise lasted five minutes. If the adviser broke the five-seconds-of-silence rule, he or she was immediately eliminated from the game. The rounds continued until one adviser, the winner, remained. The purpose of the exercise was to give the adviser the necessary time to strategically think about in what direction he or she wanted the conversation to go, and what type of dialogue would work best. After a few rounds, each adviser realized that pausing, even for five seconds, could be just enough time to make a course correction.

Pausing for Pace

A conversation is similar to a dance; there is always one person who leads and one who follows. If you feel you are losing the listener because you are speaking too quickly, then it’s time to pause. Simply slow down and try phrasing a question like this: “So … (wait two seconds—one thousand one, one thousand two, then continue) … why do you think that is?” Typically what happens next is that the listener will match your pace and slow down as they answer.

Pausing for Impact

One of the best times to pause is when you are about to close the sale. The two or three seconds of silence after starting a question (such as in the preceding example) creates curiosity about what you are going to say next. “Well? … (again, wait two seconds, then slowly continue) … what do you think is the best course of action?” Then sit tight and wait for the response.

Perfecting the Pause

There is no hard-and-fast rule on perfecting the pause, but if you find yourself disconnected from your client or prospect during a presentation, you will be well advised to let a few seconds of appropriate silence enter into the conversation.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.



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Trending Now: New Paid Sick Leave Policies

Over the past few years, states such as California and Maryland, and cities including San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland Oregon have mandated paid leaves or paid sick leaves for employers. And if you have less than 50 employees, as many financial planning practices do, you should not assume that you are exempt from these HR laws.

In the past, employers with fewer than 50 employees didn’t have to worry about state or city-specific paid and sick leave, because the primary legislation was the federal government’s Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers with fewer than 50 employees need to be aware, however, of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), covering employers with 15 or more employees, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployments Right Act (USERRA).

Now the landscape has changed dramatically. Some of these newer laws could require you to provide paid sick leave that:

  • accrues and carries over from one year to the next
  • allows an employee to use for family medical issues
  • carries penalties if you discriminate or retaliate against an employee who requests leave
  • requires you to include information about taking leave in your employee handbook, in a written notice to employees and/or in a workplace poster
  • requires you to maintain records of amount of leave taken

The laws are so varied in content and overage that you should check your state, city and local municipality laws. They each may have leave policies that run concurrently with, provide additional leave or replace federal programs. Although you may not be covered by a federal program, you may be covered by a state program.

What To Do Next

If you have a business location or employees in California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, Washington or New York, you should check if your state, city or municipality has enacted such laws.

If you have a business location or employees in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, New York City, or Washington D.C.; Eugene or Portland, Ore.; or Newark or Jersey City, N.J., you have some policies already enacted.

If you live outside these areas, check with your human resource professional and attorney to identify if there is legislation passed or upcoming.

This article is for informative purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Consult your experts, such as human resource consultant or attorney to be aware of federal, local and state regulations and exceptions.

Mary DunlapMary Dunlap, CFP®
Mary Dunlap Consulting
Pottstown, Pa.


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How Will You End the Year?

It is just around the corner. Holiday season, that is. With Halloween, we turned the corner into holiday season and the New Year is staring us in the face. What will you toast at midnight on December 31, 2014?

If you are not sure, then make a plan to end the year strong accomplishing one or several of the goals you have laid out. We all get distracted during holiday season with shopping, parties, hosting events, late nights, lack of sleep, and lots of food and drink. So in terms of meaningful work, you have about six weeks remaining in the year (subtract the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year). That cuts productive work time to about 42 days following the spook-fest of Halloween.

Between now and the end of the year, what is the most important thing that you accomplish? Client meetings? Get them scheduled now and before Thanksgiving if you can.

For some of you, your best time to see clients is actually in the holiday time frame of December 22 through 31, when your clients have more free time. If that’s the case, make sure you plan personal time early in the holiday season for your shopping and entertaining needs.

Surprisingly, you might find that you have more quiet time with reduced interruptions from client and colleague calls and fewer meetings on your schedule. If this is how year-end shapes up for you, take advantage of it with a year-end review and making a plan for the year ahead.

In upcoming posts on the Accelus Partners blog, I will share some tips for a “year in review” and some pointers for looking ahead. It will be a mini-course in strategic planning concluding with a live event on November 25 at 4 p.m. Central with a focus on goal-setting.

If you are in or near Houston, join me in person at the FPA of Houston breakfast meeting on November 19. The topic will be goal-setting and the financial planning process. One CFP and 1 CPA CE credit are pending approval. Location and details are available here. For non-FPA members, use the promo code NOV15 when registering and get $15 off of the $35 non-member registration price. I look forward to seeing you there!

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart, CFP®
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas


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Ben Bernanke Is Optimistic, and Funnier than You Think

Speaking in Denver this week at Schwab IMPACT, former Fed chair Ben Bernanke shared thoughts on what was really happening during the 2008 financial crisis, how he is optimistic for the future, and he even cracked a few jokes.

The 2008 financial crisis was basically a panic, Bernanke said, and it made economists realize a comprehensive response was needed. That came, in perhaps the biggest form, as TARP—which Bernanke called one of the most successful and least popular government programs ever.

He also refuted the conventional wisdom of many that by September 2008, it was simply time to let big companies fail. In fact, Bernanke said, letting Lehman fail was not a choice, but a necessity only after failing to find a buyer; failing to find a solution.

Now retired from the Fed, but continuing on as an economist at the Brookings Institution, Bernanke expressed overall optimism when he said a huge financial crisis is often followed by a deep recession, but we are now approaching a more stable economy.

“The United States is still a good place to invest in; to live in,” he said.

Yes, we have an aging population, he said, but compared to other industrialized countries, we are younger and are experiencing more growth in the labor force, and we also have technological advantages over the rest of the world.

Bernanke kicked off his talk by joking about how he is often mistaken for former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, and he kept the banter light throughout by quipping later on when asked if he thought the movie Too Big to Fail (based on Andrew Sorkin’s book) was an accurate portrayal of the actual events: “I didn’t see the movie because I saw the original,” then added how they couldn’t get George Clooney to play him in the film, so they went with Paul Giamatti.

In the end, one thing in particular from Bernanke’s talk that really stands out for me, is what he referred to as the most important lesson gained from the financial crisis: that the Fed is now much more focused on financial stability. That should makes us all feel a little more optimistic.

Schulaka Carly_resizedCarly Schulaka
Editor 
Journal of Financial Planning
Financial Planning Association
Denver, CO

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