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Be An Inboxer

Endeavoring to be an Inboxer isn’t a call to jump in the ring and fight, nor a call to sport hip underwear.

This is all about what you can do to get more of your emails into your recipient’s inbox. Financial service providers rely on email delivery to enhance marketing campaigns such as newsletters, updates, invites to events and webinars and the list goes on, as far as your marketing budget will allow.

Techniques to optimize the chances of an email getting to an inbox—rather than a spam or junk mail folder—in some cases can help you incrementally, while in other cases the impact is dramatic.

For the Greatest Impact …

Watch your subject line. Almost all email clients have spam filtering in place and they look at a variety of factors, but none as important as the subject line. Here is an excellent resource for crafting a non-spammy subject line that also has great tips for getting the email opened.

Don’t send emails to bad email addresses. When the time comes for your marketing aspirations to outgrow Constant Contact or MailChimp, make sure to not import bad and bounced email addresses into your new email service provider’s (ESP’s) system. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) track how many bounces come from your domain and email address and issue a “sender score” (also called a “sender reputation”), a sort of credit rating for email-sending credibility. The goal is to keep bounces at a minimum to have a high sender score. This also means if you have a dated list (one that is over a year old with no sends, for example) use an email validation service to avoid lowering your and your ESP’s sender score. It will be perhaps the best $10 you will ever spend on a marketing endeavor.

For Modest Impact …

When upgrading from one ESP to another, there is a process called “inbox warming.” While not nearly as exciting as it sounds, the process involves sending your emails out on the new platform to only the most engaged contacts—that is, those who open your emails the most. Doing this the first couple of times you send an email campaign will bolster your sender score on the new platform for future sends.

Lastly, there is the issue of alignment. Typically, the “reply to” field in email transmissions contain your domain (like tim@eMarketeer.com uses the domain eMarketeer.com). Your ISP often makes use of a “sender policy framework,” which basically lists which ESP hosts are allowed to send on behalf of your domain. Add your ESP’s server IPs (the addresses of the email servers) to your SPF record before sending. Further, higher-end ESPs allow you to use your own subdomain as the URL address of the email (for example, email.yourcompany.com/email title rather than MailChimp.com/email title), which is worth the nominal amount of effort it takes to set up. Your ESP vendor can and should help with all of this.

Taking these steps will assure greater deliverability over the life of your company. Like compounding interest, incremental gains that are leveraged over the course of time can make a huge difference in your email marketing potency.

tim handleyTim Handley
eMarketeer USA
Santa Cruz, Calif.

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3 Telltale Signs Your Website Needs a Refresh

In 2013, 67 percent of advisers we talked to said they were not happy with their existing websites. While it’s not realistic to redesign your firm’s website annually, the gaining pace in the tech world makes every website a constant work-in-progress. Taking on a new website project may not sound like a walk in the park, but a site redesign can have a lasting positive impact on any advisory firm.

How do you know when it’s time for a complete overhaul of your firm’s site? Here are three tell-tale signs:

1. Low Traffic and Conversions

Numbers don’t lie. The biggest reason to give your website a refresh is when no one is using it. Best practice is to track and measure numbers on a monthly basis using Google Analytics. If you notice a drop in traffic or stagnant numbers over the course of at least one quarter— looks like it’s time to try something new.

2. It’s Not a Realistic Representation of Your Firm

Prospects who have never met you can make an impression of the firm based on its website—in less than three seconds. Your website is the only member of your team working 24/7 to promote and advocate your financial firm … does it send a positive message to your target audience? If you don’t even like the way it looks, chances are neither do consumers.

3. It’s Not Relevant in 2014

While I’m not suggesting a complete website redesign is necessary every year, consider some of the major changes in technology in the past five years: more people access the Internet from a mobile device than a desktop computer, Flash animations are no longer a “thing” and Google is the new Yellow Pages.

If it is time for a website re-haul, the best way to get ready is to do a little prep work. Many advisers find web design quite daunting and complicated, and with good reason. It can be challenging to assemble the necessities to get started, but, with the right people on the job it’s not nearly as difficult a challenge as it may seem.

Maggie Crowley 1Maggie Crowley
Marketing Coordinator
Advisor Websites
Vancouver, British Columbia


Editor’s Note: Meet Maggie in person at FPA’s annual conference—BE Seattle 2014! Stop by the FPA Booth during the opening reception in the exhibit hall between 6 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20 for a meet and greet with Maggie and fellow Practice Management Blogger Kristin Harad. 

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First Impressions Count, No Matter How Long You’ve Been in Business

Isn’t it interesting how much our priorities can change over time, so that 10 or 15 years later there’s been a seismic shift from where we started?

Paying attention to appearances is one area where this tends to happen. New advisers are typically very mindful of the impact their personal appearance and office environment have on clients—particularly since those clients may be two or three times their age. But after spending years building a successful business, many advisers let such things fall by the wayside.

Let’s face it, appearances do matter. Every so often, it’s important to consider the impression your firm makes on others—be it a prospect, existing client, strategic alliance or someone you’d like to become a strategic alliance.

Everything Speaks

When was the last time you thought about the photo on your website or LinkedIn page, what you wear to work every day, or the atmosphere of your office? These details generally don’t go unnoticed, no matter how excellent your financial advice and service may be.

I’m reminded of the story of an adviser who tried and tried to get a specific CPA firm to refer clients to him. For business reasons in general, the adviser moved his office to a more upscale building in a nicer part of town. Suddenly, he began getting referrals from the CPA firm. Was this merely a coincidence, or did the new address make a difference?

Cheap rent is certainly a plus, but not if your location is sending the wrong message to the people you’re trying to attract.

What Message Are You Sending?

Having visited hundreds of advisers, I’m often surprised to find myself in offices that are in need of an update. When we see things every day, it’s easy to overlook the wear and tear that happens over time.

To be sure, business culture and life in general have become more casual in the 21st century. But when casual turns to sloppy, things have gone too far. If you’re unsure about the message your office is sending, consider getting an outside opinion. Others may notice things that you no longer see.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management

Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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How Is Your Vision?

Did you start your business with the end in mind? For a variety of reasons, many of us do not start with the end in mind. Instead, our focus is on the “doing” of our business, rather than what we want the business to “be.” In case you’re wondering, the phrase “begin with the end in mind” is the second habit from Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The point is, most of us rarely have a wonderfully formed vision for our business when we start out, but that doesn’t mean we get to skip that step. To get the results you want from your business, you will need clarity of vision.

Vision is something seen for the future. It is an internal view of the way you want things to be, and it involves anticipation, foresight, perception, conception and desire. It is your vision that pulls you forward (how powerful is that!) and creates excitement, ownership and inspiration toward your goals, which are the steps along the way toward the vision.

The strength of your vision determines your actions and how you allocate your time. If the vision is weak or doesn’t extend beyond getting to the end of the workweek, your actions will reflect that. Without that compelling view of the future, you will find yourself doing things that bring near-term satisfaction—the ability to redirect your energies to long term or more difficult projects that would move you toward you vision, just isn’t there.

Contrast that with a strong vision, which provides the ability to look beyond immediate gratification and ask, what one thing can I do that will move me in the direction of my vision? It might not get crossed off the list today (a source of satisfaction and distraction for many) however you will have taken one step forward to making your vision a reality.

If you want to delve deeper, check out First Things First by Stephen R. Covey. His chapter on the passion of vision will help you get to the level of understanding you need to create a compelling vision. Here’s a link to my review of this book.

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

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Service Expansion as a Competitive Weapon

Schwab’s 2014 benchmarking study found that RIAs achieved record growth and profitability.  Jonathan Beatty, a senior VP at Schwab Advisor Services, was quoted in the study’s report saying, “Robust new client acquisition and expanded share of wallet with existing clients were the primary drivers of organic growth and underscores the power of the independent model and the continued demand for unbiased advice among investors.”

Against this backdrop, independent RIAs face challenges from large firms that bundle more and more services for high net worth clients while robo-advisers attack the investing interests of the Gen X and Millennial generations.

Where the Money Flows . . .

The combination of strong industry financial performance and burgeoning wealth transfers fuels a bright spotlight.  Because money flows to where the opportunity is, private equity is pouring into financial technology and firms facilitating an adviser’s independence.

. . .  And Where Competition Lives

A competitive industry is revealed when a firm, offering a new service or approach that generates energized demand, finds—within a short time—other firms doing the same thing (and even a little better). This one-upmanship advances industries, but leaves underfunded firms behind as formerly premium services become commodities and are used as loss leaders packaged with the new services. Inevitably, profit margins compress.

We see this across wealth management as specialties such as trust and estate law (trust services, charitable planning, estate planning, etc.) or tax planning are brought in-house by large firms as bundled services for the high-end market. Meanwhile, the low end of the market is pitched with off-the-shelf, technology-based services (LegalZoom, TurboTax, etc.). The robo-adviser is touted by some as a similar threat to RIAs.

Reaching for the Next Generation

In its 2014 benchmarking study, Schwab clearly noted the vitality of the independent RIA model, and, this is affirmed by the marketplace as the preferred model not only for current retirees and baby boomers, but also for Gen X and Millennials (albeit with desires for different service delivery approaches and professional interactions).

To attract the next generation clients, top tactics being executed by RIAs are (according to the 2014 Schwab Independent Advisor Outlook Study):

Demonstrating [a] firm’s expertise and services: 91%

Ability to communicate with [the next generation] using tools or channels they prefer: 85%

Having a strong reputation based on firm reviews and center of influence relationships: 83%

Offering a unique service or value proposition: 83%

Clearly communicating the benefits/differences of the RIA model: 83%

A Path to a Certain Future

For the small- to mid-sized RIA, having a robust competitive strategy requires hitting the greatest threats with neutralizing weapons. Two competitive strategies fit every independent RIA’s processes and are within every firm’s capabilities—service expansion through professional collaboration and a proprietary robo-adviser.

Professional collaboration. Only firms with substantial AUM can afford to hire staff specialists for trust, estate, charitable, tax, and insurance planning and execution. For small- to mid-sized firms, a team of independent but like-minded wealth management professionals (such as advisers, T&E attorneys, CPAs, and insurance agents) is an appealing solution for all generations, and preferred among clients between 30 and 45 years old, according to Schwab.

These collaborative relationships allow an RIA to offer expanded—and expert—services without the staffing overhead. By forming these relationships, each firm in the collaboration gains client acquisition leverage that otherwise would be expensive to attain separately (see “Achieving Higher Growth with Multidisciplinary Teams” from the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning).

Robo-adviser. The robo-adviser is here to stay as a solution. RIAs that build a proprietary robo-adviser package (56 percent of RIAs believe that a robo-adviser offering could supplement the firm’s current package and help the business grow, according to Schwab) will gain leveraged access to three important market segments:

  1. Low-asset clients seeking professional guidance
  2. Those who are fee sensitive but desiring periodic expert oversight
  3. Children of current clients who lack the AUM to be managed profitably (Note: Schwab’s study discovered that the vast majority of RIAs lacked a coordinated relationship program with clients’ adult children; this puts the firm’s long-term valuation at risk.) See my previous blog post, “Building Generational Bridges Protects Your Firm’s Value” for more on this.

Act to Compete and Compete to Win

The wealth management industry is highly fragmented. Consequently, a firm’s long-term viability arises from astute and pointed tactics aimed at competing and winning in local markets. Small- to mid-sized RIAs can seize the competitive agenda from larger and better funded competitors by offering comprehensive services (via professional collaborations) and expanding to underserved markets (via automated advice/robo-adviser technology). Doing so keeps the future looking just as bright as it is today.

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

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5 Steps for Ensuring Your Business Has a Strong Summer Finish

It is hard to believe we are entering the final weeks of summer. Labor Day definitely offers a symbolic end to the season, so with a month to go, ask yourself: How can I make the most of it and ensure my advisory practice flourishes?

1. Evaluate Your Summer Goals
Hopefully you had clearly defined your goals for the summer months since it is one of the more difficult seasons to be productive. If so, then it is time to evaluate your progress. Do they align with what you had hoped for, or have you fallen behind? Take a moment to determine where you are now and where you desire to be before more time escapes.

An example may be that your goal was to gather $3 million in assets over three months. However, you have only gathered $1.5 million in new assets, thus, you still need another 1.5 million over the next month to accomplish your summer goal.

2. Prioritize Your Most Important Tasks
Once you know where you are and what you still need to do, it’s time to determine how to get there. Most advisers neglect this step and continue doing exactly what they had been doing before. Unfortunately, most also continue getting the same results. Instead, it is crucial to prioritize your most important tasks so that you don’t waste time on meaningless activities.

An example would be to determine the top 15 prospects/clients you would like to meet with before the end of the summer then prioritize them in order of importance.

3. Map Out Your Daily Activities
Now that you know what tasks you need to accomplish, it’s important to schedule time to work on those tasks daily. If you don’t, you run the risk of letting a day, then a week, or the rest of the summer fly by without getting any closer to accomplishing your goals.

In the previous example, you could easily get caught up in the day-to-day operations of working in your business and never take the time to work on the business. You could also easily write out the list of your top 15 prospects/clients and put it aside without ever connecting with them. To be most effective, schedule a specific time during the day to make those calls to the prospects or current clients. If you know that consistently from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. is your prospecting hour, plan out what you are going to say and be prepared to handle objections; then you will certainly have a higher probability for being successful.

4. Create Your Tracking System
Goals have a way of becoming more concrete and obtainable when you have a tracking system. Something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet tracking your pipeline will keep your progress right in front of you at all times. Without it, you may think you are doing better than you are and you would be less organized, as it is easy to let details slip through the cracks. Create a pipeline report or set up a New Business Strategy List (email us for our template).

5. Define Your Prize
One of the best ways to obtain goals is to have a clearly defined reward system. It can be as simple as a daily trip to Starbucks or as elaborate as a long weekend in the Florida Keys. It’s up to you to decide, but you must reward yourself for a job well done as it truly is a motivator and generates and sustains momentum for your continued success.

These five steps may seem obvious to implement into your daily best practices, however they rely on one another. By omitting even one of them, the system or process loses some of its structure or framework, where together they provide a strong and solid foundation that your business can grow upon.

For a complimentary consultation with Dan or to receive his New Business Strategy List template, email Melissa Denham, Advisor Solutions’ director of client servicing.

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

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Mindful Listening—Meeting Your Clients in the Present Moment

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”    –  Henry David Thoreau

The frequency with which we do things in an inattentive manner in our daily life is simply astonishing. From driving a car to interacting with a client or a prospect, way too often we are on auto-pilot, going through the motions but not being present. The consequences of this inattentiveness are way too dangerous to be quickly dismissed.

Attentiveness is generally defined as staying in the present or mindfulness. It is paying full attention to what is at hand—the note we are writing, the coffee we are sipping, the person we are talking to, whatever is around us as we move through our day. A client meeting, talking on the phone to a friend, shopping at the supermarket are perfect opportunities for us to test our ability to be mindful.

Mindfulness is something that we all possess and need to ensure our survival. However, its nature is highly elusive. As we sit down with a prospect, completely determined to convert her into a new client, despite our best efforts, our ability to mindfully listen to her can disappear in an instant. It takes a fraction of a second for our mind to lose its focus and swiftly engage in worries, speculations, projections and fantasies about the future.

To practice mindfulness you do not have to drastically change your life. You will continue to perform your daily activities and chores — however, you will carry them out with a different level of awareness. That heightened degree of awareness will trigger some changes in your behavior. You will not change who you are, but you will become more fully present with every situation. As a consequence, you will be able to better observe your thoughts, feelings, and preferences.

Mindfulness makes us more sensitive to the present moment. It generates an energy that empowers us to actively notice new things, take advantage of opportunities as they manifest, and be able to produce more positive outcomes.

Life is nothing but a sequence of moments. Consequently, the more we focus our attention to make each moment matter, the more our life will matter. During a meeting, do not let your mind race forward worrying or engaging in speculation about the meaning of the short pause your client made while answering your question. Rather, just notice it, acknowledge it in your mind and come back to the present, to the conversation, to her.

A Magnetic and Creative Force
Listening mindfully is one of the hardest things for a human being to master. Many of us experience unconscious barriers to good listening that prevent us from clearly recognizing when we are not listening. Mindful listening is a magnetic and creative force. When people listen to what we say, we experience a satisfying expansion and become highly creative. It is this creative force that actually enables ideas to spring within us and come to life. We experience it countless times but, regrettably, we easily forget. One of the most valuable rewards of listening in a mindful manner is the opportunity we get to learn something we might not know. Conscientiously listening to your clients enables you to gather good intelligence about what they worry and care about, what motivates them and, ultimately, why they work with you — and what they really “want” from you.

By listening mindfully, your will be able to facilitate their pursuit for financial freedom, better address their demands, and even dispel some of their financial fears. During a client meeting, pose a question, such as “What are the most important challenges our firm has helped you successfully address?” Then, commit yourself to mindfully listen to every word your client will say. Her answer may yield valuable information, some of which she may have mentioned during past conversations, but because you were on auto-pilot…you missed.

The ultimate goal of mindful listening is simply to listen—nothing more and nothing less. Focusing attention and activity on what we are doing in the immediate moment, whole-heartedly without getting side-tracked by premature ideas and projections of future personal gain, which incidentally are not pertinent to the present moment and may or may not happen in the future. When you are completely “present” in that way, each activity becomes the most important activity you can perform for your highest and greatest good and that of your clients.

As always, I welcome comments and questions.

Claudio Pannunzio Claudio Pannunzio
i-Impact Group Inc.
Greenwich, Conn.



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