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3 Critical Practice Management Areas That Demand Attention

The industry has changed and it is more important than ever to have a plan, not merely to survive, but indeed to thrive in today’s environment. Creating a simple road map can be the difference between growth and stagnation.

At a minimum, we believe that you should consider these three critical questions, commit your ideas to paper and create an implementation plan with time frames and accountability.

1.) How will you drive retention?
Client retention is the foundation for the long-term viability of your firm. You must consistently deliver the appropriate client experience for each of your client segments.

  • Communication: Do you have a systematized client communication plan? Are you communicating value with the right frequency and maximizing your delivery mediums? Are you offering educational opportunities to help clients better understand their plan and the financial terrain?
  • Appreciation: Do your clients know that you appreciate them? Do you need to go beyond birthdays and holidays and deliver more creative or personalized appreciation?
  • Expectations: Do you really know if you are meeting, falling short, or exceeding client expectations? Do you execute surveys or offer service commitment or expectation meetings to review the value of your deliverables? Do clients understand the totality of your offerings?

2.) How will you drive efficiency?
In an increasingly complex industry with expanding requirements, efficiency and scalability are critical to long-term success.

  • People: Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined and aligned? Are you leveraging your talent?
  • Systems: Are all repeated activities systematized? Do you have standard operating procedures documented in a shared folder for all to access? Is your business scalable?
  • Time and technology: Do you really know where and with whom you are spending your most precious resource—time? Technology can be a time-drain or a time-saver. Is every team member maximizing technological resources?

3.) How will you drive growth?
We could all fill our days by simply dealing with the reactive; however, high-performance financial planners stay committed to growth.

  • Organic growth: Do clients consider YOU their primary advice provider? Have you fully served them? Are you developing multiple generational relationships? Where can you leverage your existing relationships?
  • Introductions: Are you referable? Do your clients proactively provide qualified introductions? How robust are your centers of influence? Are you delivering value to partners who have the propensity to connect you with ideal prospects?
  • Marketing: How strong is your brand identity? Who is your niche audience and how can you attract more ideal prospects through off-line and online marketing avenues? Based on your demographics, what type of marketing (advertising, seminars, mail campaigns or event marketing) makes sense for your practice?
  • Expand the team: For firms that are fully systematized but at capacity, you may consider bringing on new advisers/planners as your most vital growth strategy. Be sure to consider your “ideal” candidate and conduct full due diligence so as not to upset the culture of the firm.

What decisions will you make and what actions will you take to drive retention, efficiency and growth in 2017?

Sarah E. Dale, President of Know No Bounds, LLC

 

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

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Krista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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5 Reasons Financial Advisers Can’t Afford NOT to Blog in 2017

Your relationships with clients and prospects need to be strong to weather 2017’s potential storms—the DOL fiduciary rule, a new president looking to draw back government regulation, Brexit kicking in by April, increasingly unstable international markets, and more.

Building that relationship is a matter of regular communication. While your existing clientele may communicate with you via phone, visits and email, the majority of the population is now acquainting itself with new advisers online—specifically via blogs. Yet many advisers still aren’t blogging regularly.

Here are five reasons advisers can’t afford NOT to blog in 2017.

1.) It’s the fastest, easiest way to dispel client fears in a year packed with unknowns. The markets are off to a better start than they were last year, but who knows what tomorrow holds?

Most advisers could set their watches around the calls they get from their more anxious clients when things get bumpy.

Answering client questions is a great way to connect, but answering the same questions over and over can be a major time-eater. Save yourself some time by blogging regularly and sending out links to old blogs that address their concerns when market news goes south.

2.) Last year, Google acknowledged that content is king when it comes to search rankings. While Google’s search ranking factors are largely a mystery, just last year they said that new content is one of their top measurements.

The easiest way to regularly add new content to your site? You guessed it: blogging.

Bonus tip: Google also said outbound and inbound links are high on their list.

Outbound links point to other sites from your own site. The best and easiest place to include outbound links? Your blog. Shoot for one to three in every piece.

Inbound links point to your site from other sites. These are more difficult because they require someone else linking to you. But no one wants to link to your “About Us” or “Services” page. Most links between sites point to one place: blogs.

3.) It’s a good way to build trust with prospects (although, admittedly, not the best). If everything goes through with the DOL’s upcoming fiduciary rule change, a lot of advisers will no longer be able to use their fiduciary status as a differentiator. How will you prove you can be trusted?

The best way to establish trust? Actually, it’s face to face interactions—not blogs—but your blog isn’t too far down the list. You don’t have to look far for people who have established themselves as trustworthy authorities, thanks largely to regular blogging (and a fresh perspective): Michael Kitces, Carl Richards, and Wade Pfau, among others.

4.) It’s the best digital driver of new leads. Blog posts are great because they’re a permanent fixture on your site. If you write a post on tax loss harvesting and then a year later someone is searching for that subject, they could happen upon your site.

But old blog posts have nothing on new ones. In my experience, a blog post will typically earn 98 percent of its traffic within the first five days.

The best way to keep new leads rolling in is with new blogs.

5.) Stake your claim with your personas. In the financial industry, not everyone is blogging, but 2016 saw the number increase exponentially. That means countless advisers are out there blogging directly to their desired audience, which quite possibly overlaps with your audience. If you’re not blogging about stuff your personas care about, you’re probably not on their radar.

You might have all the knowledge in the world, but if you haven’t written it down somewhere online, it might as well not exist.

So make 2017 the year you start blogging, and stop missing out on prospects. If you’re still not sure how to get your blog machine up and running, check out this offering from Mineral and Wendy J. Cook Communications, one of our favorite content providers for advisers.

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Zach McDonald
Editorial Director
Mineral Interactive
Omaha, Neb.


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Goal Setting: How to Make 2017 Your Best Business Year Ever

Investing time to strategically plan their goals for the upcoming year is the single greatest return on investment an adviser can make. If you’re looking to create a breakout year and accomplish your most important goals, read the following to make 2017 your best year ever.

STEP ONE: Review Your Year
This step helps you focus on what you should be doing more of and what you should be quitting completely. Identify your successes and where you came up short. Figure out what worked and what didn’t. Which were good decisions and which were bad?

Answer these questions to properly reflect on your year:

  1. What did you accomplish this past year that you’re most proud of?
  2. What did you do to earn this accomplishment?
  3. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year?
  4. As you look back, what was missing from last year?
  5. What are three things you want to stop doing next year?
  6. What are three things you want to keep doing next year?

STEP TWO: Define Areas of Attention in Your Business
There are seven main areas of your financial practice that you want to be in optimal shape to see breakthrough success. Rank each area on a scale of 1-10 to see which are the lowest and need your attention.

  1. New business and client acquisition. Are you talking to enough qualified prospects and turning them into clients?
  2. Marketing and branding. When people get introduced to you or your brand, can they quickly identify how you can help and benefit them?
  3. Do you have all-star employees who are easy to manage?
  4. Client service and experience. Are your current clients receiving the right amount of contact and care so there’s no reason they would ever leave you?
  5. Do you have the systems and processes set up so that the office can run if you’re not there?
  6. Time management and productivity. Are you spending time only on $1,000-per-hour tasks rather than $10-per-hour tasks?
  7. Expertise in planning and investment management. Are you continually increasing your knowledge in order to offer the best advice and recommendations to your clients?

STEP THREE: Create Your Future
Here’s the framework to follow when identifying your goals. Use this framework to develop five to seven goals for the next year:

  1. Write it down. Research shows that written goals are much more likely to be achieved.
  2. Suspend reality. Decide later if a goal is realistic.
  3. Think big. Have goals that are challenging enough to demand your full effort
  4. State in the positive. Focus on what you want to move toward.
  5. Have actionable goals. Write your goal as if it is already achieved. For example, say, “I have hired one new all-star employee that handles all paperwork prep and processing by 6/30/2017.”
  6. Time bound. Make sure there is a date of completion.
  7. Be specific. The more specific the goal, the better.

STEP FOUR: Bulletproof Your Goals
Advisers who achieve their goals are the ones who are motivated and who have a compelling reason why their goals must be achieved. So you can create powerful motivators for each of your goals, which will increase the chances that you’ll achieve them.

Take these steps to create motivators for your goals:

  1. (Again) write down each goal.
  2. Connect emotionally and logically with each goal by determining why the goal is important and what is at stake (both the positive and negative).
  3. Write down the top three to five motivators
  4. Review them regularly.

STEP FIVE: Take The Next Step
The last step—the most important step in the process—is where we start to take action to make our goals a reality.

  1. Don’t over plan. We naturally are attracted to planning. But sometimes it turns into a fancy way to procrastinate. We want to make sure we get started on our goals as soon as possible.
  2. Work backward and break up your big goals. Imagine the goal is already complete. What do you need to do each month in order for you to that moment? This will help identify manageable action steps.
  3. Schedule your goals. Set aside time each week to review your goals, motivators and progress. At the end of each session, identify the next step you need to take to reach this goal.
  4. Celebrate the small wins to motivate yourself.
  5. Start now.

Download this step-by-step worksheet to help you with this process.

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL

 


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8 Cybersecurity Best Practices

White Paper 3.jpgWhen it comes to cybersecurity breaches, there’s good news and bad news, according to the latest whitepaper from the FPA Research and Practice Institute™ and TD Ameritrade Institutional.

The good news is only 4 percent of firms surveyed experienced a security breach. The bad news is that while larger firms tend to experience more data breaches, smaller firms are increasingly being targeted.

But the whitepaper titled “Cybersecurity: Current Threats and Risk Management” offers readers a list of things to do to mitigate risk.

1.) Create a map of what should happen in the event of a security breach so that your entire team is on the same page.

2.) Update all email systems to limit potential for phishing attempts.

3.) Frequently scan for potential vulnerabilities. Scan more often than just quarterly or even annually to ensure your company and client data isn’t compromised. It may cost more now, but it will pay off in the long term.

4.) Brush up on your basics. Make sure you and your team both know what things make your data vulnerable and ensure that you’re not doing them. Read our last blog on for some tips on how to keep your firm safe.

5.) Ensure all your and your employees’ mobile devices have safeguards to protect any data that can be accessed on them. Ensure that sensitive data is erased form these devices should an employee leave or get a new device.

6.) Ensure only company-issued hardware and devices are accessing your company network.

7.) Identify what data must be encrypted and properly encrypt any sensitive data that is sent via email.

8.) Do not use personal email accounts for business. Create and enforce a policy that prohibits or limits employees from using personal email for work-related correspondence.

Download the full whitepaper here. Find the full cybersecurity research report, along with the other whitepapers on the topic here.

 


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9 Cybersecurity Tips to Keep Your Firm Safe

If somebody walked up to you and asked for your house keys, you wouldn’t give them away. But when somebody asks for our key identifying information on the Internet, most of the time we willingly hand it over. That’s what representatives from SeeGee Technologies Inc., a next-generation technology solution provider, told FPA staff at a recent cybersecurity training.

You may think that just because you have a small firm, cyber criminals don’t have any interest in you, but that’s not true. In fact, you are their portal into bigger pools of information. And your employees could unknowingly be putting you and your clients at risk each time they access sensitive information over unsecure connections.

“No individual or business is safe,” said Daniel Lakier, chief technology officer for SeeGee.

Always exercise common sense and responsibility when using the Internet and apps—don’t click on pop-ups, don’t click on links to track packages you aren’t expecting, and don’t provide personal information to hackers posing as your bank.

Here are some tips to keep your personal information and your firm’s information safe:

  1. Establish strong passwords and update them every 90 days.
  2. Don’t download email attachments you aren’t expecting and beware of emails telling you to download software to fix problems.
  3. Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on all devices before connecting to the Internet.
  4. Install and use a firewall on every device.
  5. Have physical access controls for all your devices.
  6. Backup all important data daily.
  7. Keep your software updates for browsers and operating systems current.
  8. Limit access to sensitive and confidential data and don’t ever access it on unsecure connections.
  9. Get technical expertise when needed.

For more information, visit seegee.com. Find more tips on cybersecurity from the FPA Research and Practice Institute™ here.

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Ana Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.

 


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How to Sell the Benefits of Financial Planning

Do you ever struggle to communicate the value of financial planning to prospective clients, such that they are willing to sign your planning agreement and write a check for the deposit, enabling you to move forward?

That was the question I was asked recently by a financial planning practice. They sent me sample copies of their proposal as well as examples of their executive summaries, action plans, fee schedule and even some success story descriptions.

I am confident that this is a practice that provides an excellent planning process and product—certainly well worth the fees they charge.

So what did I recommend? Here are the steps I suggested:

Before your Introductory Conversation:

  • Thank them for their interest in learning more about you and your practice.
  • Send a link to your website, pointing out any description or case studies you have there about your planning process and results.

During your Introductory Conversation:

  • Learn enough about them to determine whether they’re a good fit for your business model and how you can help them.
  • Explain your background and approach to help them understand whether you’re a good fit for what they need.
  • If you provide different “tracks” based on your clients’ situation (such as plan only, plan plus solutions or even solutions only), describe them. Tell them that the basis for determining which track is most appropriate generally becomes clear in discovery. Avoid discussing fees at this point; you want them to understand that you will recommend the track most suited to their needs.
  • At the end of the introductory conversation, if you believe they are a good fit for moving forward, say something like: “Based on what you told me about your situation, and how we generally serve our clients, I think we’d be a good fit to move forward to our discovery process.”

During your Discovery Meeting:

  • Your goal during discovery is to develop a list of the problems they need to have solved—the ones they’ve identified already and the ones they may not have realized they have.
  • At the end of discovery, you can talk through the list of issues to be addressed, particularly focusing on the ones you uncovered.
  • Then you can say something like: “Based on what we talked about today, and to help you address each of these concerns, I believe X is the most appropriate track for you.”
  • Then stop and listen. Test for agreement to move forward.
  • If they’re ready, provide your planning agreement and set an appointment and expectations for next steps.
  • If they’re not ready to sign your agreement today, go ahead and schedule a follow-up meeting and give them what they need to prepare for planning. Assume they will be moving forward, but need a bit more time.

In the case of the financial planners I spoke with, they were accustomed to sending a planning proposal that was mostly about how they would review, analyze and evaluate, but little about the specific benefits their clients would experience.

Instead, use your analytical skills during discovery to uncover issues that your prospective clients didn’t know they had and then help them see the benefits you can provide in solving each one of them.

susan-kornegaySusan Kornegay, CFP®
Consultant/Coach
Pathfinder Strategic Solutions 
Knoxville, Tenn.

 

Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on the Pathfinder Strategic Solutions “Perspectives” blog. 


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Pushing Past the Upper Limit Problem

Have you ever wondered why you are not consistently having record-setting years? Oftentimes while coaching financial advisers and insurance agents, I have noticed specific behavioral patterns that kick in soon after individuals have experienced success.

the-big-leapGay Hendricks, the author of the book The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level has coined a term for this that he refers to as “the upper limit problem”—which he defines as the amount of success that you are willing to allow yourself to have.

Here is how it works: We all have an “inner thermostat” that is set on just how much success we are willing to allow ourselves to have before we do something to self-sabotage and get back to our comfort zone. Unfortunately, most people don’t know their thermostat’s setting, much less a process for inching to a higher setting.

How to Reset Your Inner Thermostat and Resolve Your Upper Limit Problem
Hendricks said that in order to get to the next level, you cannot solve the problem that is holding you back; rather you need to resolve the problem by gaining a new level of awareness about it. Let’s take a look at the four main zones that he refers to that explains where people get stuck.

The Zone of Incompetence. One of the most common zones that I’ve seen advisers and agents revert to when they start to experience success is The Zone of Incompetence, which refers to spending time doing activities we are clearly not good at. Take for instance the last time you were having a record month: as the days went on did you find yourself doing activities that your assistant could be doing? If so, it was most likely because you were self-sabotaging your time by not doing activities that could have contributed to your continued level of success.

The Zone of Competence. Let’s say that you are great at doing what should be your assistant’s activities, you’ve done them for years and you find yourself saying things like, “Well, she’s got plenty to do so it’s just easier if I do this one thing for my client instead.” The challenge with this is that it’s never just one thing. If you are finding yourself doing these tasks, you are in The Zone of Competence. You both could be doing these activities but the truth is that if you are already having a successful month you essentially are now giving yourself permission to stop doing your job and tackling items that your assistant really should be completing.

The Zone of Excellence. Successful advisers and agents find themselves in The Zone of Excellence when they are accomplishing activities that they do well and are getting compensated. Unfortunately, this can create a comfort zone which in the long term will hold one back from reaching their peak potential. In addition, you may find yourself falling into a rut doing what you do well but not liking what you are doing. In other words, if you are great at public speaking but are sick of doing seminars you may not be happy and thus need to find things you are good at and like doing. You will burnout otherwise.

The Zone of Genius. At some point, you need to ask yourself the tough question, If you couldn’t fail at your business, what is it that you really would love to be doing differently?” The answer to that question will lead you to The Zone of Genius, in which you are doing what you love to do. As a result, work won’t feel like work. In this zone time doesn’t fly but instead it flows; you are not exhausted, you feel fulfilled. Granted you will still have to work to make a great living but you would also be happy and passionate about your professional life.

Taking the Big Leap
Take a moment to determine what zone you are currently in. If you want to live your life’s purpose, then you must take a big leap of faith and commit to becoming the person you are meant to be by finding the work you love to do. Then express to your target market your unique abilities and genuine willingness to help them so that one day they too could be in a position to afford to do what they love to do. If you can take this leap, you will have done what Hendricks meant by conquering your hidden (or unknown) fear and taking yourself to the next level of work and life.

If you are ready to take your big leap, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at Advisor Solutions.

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