So What Do You Do?

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[Editor’s note: A big welcome to our guest blogger, Kristin Harad, CFP®, a financial planner who previously spent 14 years in financial services marketing.]

The few words you use to describe your practice can seem so simple that you may never have put much thought into what you say. But what you call yourself is vital for shaping how other people, especially prospective clients, view the services and value you offer.

Do you operate with the ‘take all comers’ philosophy of a generalist, as many planners do? Perhaps you feel that you should try to serve every prospect, so you describe yourself as broadly as possible using terms like “financial planner” or “Certified Financial Planner™ (professional)” or the nebulous “financial adviser.”

The problem with these words is that they force people to figure out what you really do and whom you best serve. Vague descriptors provide minimal insight into the value you provide. The person you’re talking to—a prospect, complementary service provider or even someone you’ve met at a party—has to work to ask the right follow-up questions to discover if you are a fit. Often, they won’t bother. If you are using ambiguous descriptors on your website, for example, you’ve lost the opportunity for ideal readers to learn more in the few seconds you have their attention.

Ironically, too many financial planning professionals are so concerned with missing out on a prospect that they let countless opportunities slip right past them without even realizing it. The generalist strategy is one of the least effective marketing strategies since clients rarely search for someone who can work with everyone; they seek professional expertise from someone who can help them solve their specific problems. When you describe yourself as a specialist, you have much higher odds of forming an immediate connection with the right prospects.

Take a moment to think about how this applies to other professionals. Are you more likely to refer business to the “lawyer” you just met or to the “divorce lawyer,” “real estate attorney” or “estate planner for new parents”?  Will you want to know more about a person who “sells insurance” or the agent who tells you that she specializes in small business health plans, variable annuities or coverage for rocket launches?

Now think about your target market and the key services you sell. Craft a pithy descriptor that conveys the benefit you bring. Remember, the more specific you are, the more effective this will be. So while a financial planner “focused on clients preparing to retire” is a big improvement, a financial planner who “helps new retirees relax knowing they won’t outlive their income” squarely hits the nail on the head and will spark an enthusiastic conversation from anyone you meet who is pondering that issue. 

Describing yourself so narrowly to everyone you meet may feel a bit counterintuitive. However, clearly categorizing what you do will attract the ‘perfect’ prospects who eagerly want to learn more. 

Kristin C. Harad, CFP®
Founder and Principal
VitaVie Financial Planning
San Francisco, CA

8 thoughts on “So What Do You Do?

  1. Thanks for the warm welcome!

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  2. Great comments, Kristin –

    After too many years in this business, I found trying to be all things to all people is a sure path to insanity.

    Our firm actually developed an “Ideal Client Profile” that clearly describes the type of client we serve and are looking for. We give it to prospective clients as soon as we can. It saves them, and us, a lot of time. If they are a “fit” great, but if not, “no harm. No foul.”

    Allan Riggs, CFP(TM)
    San Antonio, Texas

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  3. Kristin,

    While I agree with your premise, the statement that “hit the nail on the head” sounds to me like unlimited liability. Suggesting that one’s client’s can relax “knowing they won’t outlive their retirment income.” is pretty clearly a promise of return, and worse, a promise that no matter what the client does or how much money is taken out of the account, they can be assured that they will not outlive their income.

    This is not a hypothetical issue. I sat in an arbitration and heard a re-married widow attempt to convince the panel that I had said almost those same words. Fortunately, I would never say such a thing and we had plenty of evidence that from day one I made it extremely clear that there was risk associated with investing. Even more important were the letters I had written to that same widdow advising her that there was plenty of reason to be worried given the amounts of money she was withdrawing from her account at her new husband’s direction.

    Had her attorney been able to demonstrate in any way that I routinely said such a thing as you suggest, I would have been indeed fully liable for making such an unsupportable statement. FINRA specifically forbids such claims and there is no way that a fiduciary could legally make a promise of that nature.

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  4. Allan — Thanks so much for your comments. Establishing (and abiding by) criteria for who you aren’t best suited to work with adds value to both you and the prospect at the end of the day!

    Jeff — Very much appreciate your comments as well, especially the personal story. Your fiduciary role, compliance and liability protection are vital parts of the planning profession. I absolutely agree with you that you should never open yourself to future problems by framing an investment in that manner.

    However, I encourage you give the article another read. Presenting yourself as someone who works to help retirees eliminate the anxiety and fear that they may outlive their money is a very valid and effective conversation starter to describe what you do to someone you just met, and that’s what this article is about. The article purports that a benefit-focused statement would attract future conversation about ‘what you do,’ where you could clearly screen your fit with the person, explain the risks associated with money management or the reality of their particular situation.

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  5. Kristin, I think your gusto is admirable, but I have to agree with Jeff on this one. The quote from the article is “helps new retirees relax knowing they won’t outlive their income” is fraught with liability. “won’t” is the key word there. We all know that advising clients we have to take into account the uncertainty of the future, and there’s just no way that we can assure clients that they won’t outlive their income. There are too many wildcards such as health/unforseen expenses/etc.

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