The increasing popularity of financial planning has led to a growing awareness of how important managing finances and planning for the future can be. Despite its growing popularity, though, financial planning remains a relatively mysterious concept for many people who don’t understand how financial advisors actually provide value. For most financial advisors today, a website is a critical tool that allows them to market their services and communicate their fees to potential clients. However, for prospects who are unfamiliar with financial planning and what financial planners actually do for their clients, a description of services and fees may not be enough to decide whether to conduct business with a financial planner.
In our 106th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss how advisors can better connect with prospective clients by showcasing examples of their financial planning work on their websites, and how they can use simple ways to demonstrate what their financial planning process actually looks like.
As a starting point, it’s important to recognize that a website is often where a prospective client gains their first impression of a financial advisor and what they do for their clients. Though a menu of services and fees on a website can be informative, adding examples of work can be a better way to help convey to prospects the advisor’s skills, abilities, expertise, and work style. These work examples could highlight the include samples of actual deliverables, a calendar of events including meeting cadences and financial plan reviews, and even short videos demonstrating the advisor’s expertise and financial planning process (using appropriately anonymized client scenarios).
A different angle that some advisors may prefer is to share client experiences that financial planning has helped them to enjoy, whether it be taking a long-term sabbatical from work, experiencing once-in-a-lifetime destination vacations, or purchasing a dream home. Whatever approach financial advisors choose, showing examples of the financial planning experience for clients can help make the planning process more tangible and understandable, while building trust and credibility with potential clients before even meeting with them.
Ultimately, the key point is that sharing work examples that reflect how an advisor feels they offer the most value to clients not only shows prospects what the financial planning process would look like, but also makes the process easier to understand and more accessible to potential clients. This can help prospects decide whether the working relationship would be a good fit for them and give them greater confidence in the value of hiring the advisor. And by helping potential clients understand the true value of the relationship, advisors can create better opportunities to find more of their ideal clients and create longer-lasting relationships!
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
- Communicate Your Value As An Advisor By Explaining The “How” And Not Just The “What”
- Kitces & Carl Ep 54: Showing Financial Planning Value On An Ongoing Basis After The First 6 Months
- Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty by Patrick Lencioni
- Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Michael: Well, good afternoon, Carl.
Carl: Greetings, Michael Kitces. Where are you? Are you at home?
Michael: I'm at home. I'm at home in Northern Virginia where it is not snowing like Utah, and I'm okay with that. We're not good at snow here, we get a half an inch to an inch of snow, 2 or 3 snowstorms a year. That's enough to completely shut down the city and send all the kids home from school for a day or 2. So, we're not very good here in D.C. at snow, but we get it periodically. It's part of the seasonal rotation.
Carl: Right. Yeah, I was thinking about that, like snow days because we almost never get them because it... But when we do, it's a big deal. This morning, speaking of snow, I was out removing some snow really early before going skiing and there was a weird noise and I'm like, "What's that noise?" It was elk bugling in the yard. There was a herd of elk in the yard. So there.
Michael: We don't have that in D.C.
Carl: I know, I know. But we do. So, this is fun because we also don't have the Lincoln Memorial in Park City. So, you pick your poison.
Michael: That's fair. That's fair.
Carl: Yeah, yeah.
Michael: That's fair.
Carl: All right. What do we... We're talking about something cool like how to show our work or something.
How Displaying Real Client Results Can Demonstrate Financial Planning Value [01:31]
Michael: Yeah. So, we had this great question that came in from Cody that I'll frame up the way that he did. So, Cody said, "I'd love to hear a discussion around showing what we do, beyond just fees on our website. Should we share real examples of our work, like plan deliverables? Because public perception doesn't change until people know what we do, and how we do it, and why it's important." So, I thought this was an interesting question. I think it's a marketing question, but there's sort of a broader change public perception of financial planning meta-level thing here as well of, to what extent should we show real examples of our financial planning work? Which I think also has some interesting undertones because that raised the question of, well, what is real financial planning in the first place, which thing are you going to show? So, how do you think about this question of showing what we do as financial planners?
Carl: Well, I love that question. And given that it came from Cody, there's a really interesting example of that that we can talk about. And I think would be more in line with where you might be thinking, actually kind of showing the actual like... almost screen recording of a technical thing that I figured out, which I think would be super cool and super smart. But where I go is, I had this experience early on, and this is just largely because I should have been just some sort of art person. I don't know what that means, but I just remember thinking, "Okay, when I go to an artist's website," and I was specifically thinking about when I go to a photographer's website, there's always this button up top that says, "Work," or it says, "Portfolio." There's always this button. And I know what happens when I click that button. If it's a photographer, I'm going to click portfolio or work and it's going to show me pictures that the photographer took. And I remember thinking that one day, I was like, "Man, what if my website just said work and you click that button, what would be there?" And I thought that was such a powerful, at least in my head, it was such a powerful question. What would you put there? And I think the only answer is, people, humans' lives.
Michael: Oh, I thought you were going to say a sample financial plan.
Carl: I know. Not spreadsheets.
Michael: A PDF. I wanted to say, "Carl, you were supposed to say a PDF."
Carl: No, no.
Carl: An Excel.
Michael: A PDF.
Carl: A spreadsheet. My picture of my 17B12 or whatever it was, Reverse Polish Keyboard.
Michael: HP-12C. Well, see, no 10Bs here, 12C.
Carl: No, that's the second part of this conversation I think would be fun, given that Cody asked the question and the way you would think about it. I think it's really interesting. We should riff on that for a little bit in a minute, but I'm thinking people. And so, here's what I did. I hired a writer, and I asked clients, I can remember 3 or 4 of these that we did. They're so awesome, so awesome. I sent a writer out to interview clients, and I remember, what's the best example? Brian and Denise were one of my favorite examples. And I told the writer, I said, "Your goal is not to get them to say nice things about me. In fact, if you say that, I can't use what you write." Because I was worried about case studies. The goal is just, just go interview them about the things that have happened in their lives that have to do with money over the last 3 or 4 years. And I said, specifically go ask them about the pottery studio that, I'm just making up names here, that Denise wanted. Denise, John, what name did I use? I can't remember. We'll just use John and Jill.
Michael: Brian and Denise.
Carl: Okay. John and Jill, John, Brian and Denise, whatever. So, Brian was a... I can’t remember what kind of doctor, a doctor. Denise had, I think, a fine arts degree and had always wanted to build a pottery studio in the backyard, build a studio in the backyard so the neighborhood kids could come, and she could teach adult classes. And that's what she...well, she did it, after a couple years. It was one of their major goals in their financial plan was to build this part. She did it. It was so cool. And so, the writer went out and asked them about that, wrote this great piece. It was 2 pages or page and a half, beautiful pictures, whole thing. Amazing.
Then Dan, remember Dan wanted to, after retiring, sort of forced retirement at age 55, picked up paragliding. And he went to Nepal, and he paraglided. And apparently, in Nepal, you can paraglide with these huge birds. I want to say vulture, but I don't think that's what it is. I think this is a giant condor eagle, and you paraglide, and they come fly next to you, crazy. So, she went and interviewed Dan about that. And then I remember, Dave and Jill, I'll call them, Dave wanted to take time off. He wanted to take a sabbatical for 8 months while his kids were still young and drive across the country with them and homeschool them and teach them about geography and visit all their relatives while the kids still want... He used to say, "If I do the normal pattern, I'll work like crazy till my kids are 18 or 19, and then they'll have pink hair and they won't want to talk to me." And he is like, "I want to do it now." Well, they did it. And they sent me postcards from the trip. And so, I was like, "Go capture those 3 things." And then when I got them, I was like, "Man, this needs..." And I sold the business before I actually did this, but this needs to be my annual report, an annual report just of stories of cool things people had done. We don't have to say Carl made that possible. It's pretty self-obvious. In fact, if they said that we couldn't use it. So, to me, capturing those, the experiences that financial planning allowed, that's what I would want on my work button.
Using Sample Financial Plans And Recorded Walkthroughs To Exhibit The Financial Planning Process [08:27]
Michael: All right. So, I have to be... True honesty here, 50% of me thinks that sounds really cool. I get it, the picture of the client who got to paraglide with the condors because my financial planning for them made it possible. And the other half of me is basically doing, you've got to be kidding me script. You're using, you know a great way for van Gogh to show how great his artwork is? Let's just put pictures of museum patrons standing with their mouths agape at how great they think the art is. No, if I want to see how good an artist is show me the freaking arts, don't show me the patrons in the museum...
Carl: That is the art. That is the art.
Michael: ... ogling the art. Show me the art.
Carl: No, that is the art. Nobody said Carl is great. They said the art... See, this is where we... This is why this is such a perfect topic because I can completely see...
Michael: I'm back for my PDF, man.
Carl: I know. That's why this is a perfect topic… is… because I know that I'm right about this and I also know that I'm wrong. The idea... and I want to talk about this because I think we have tools now that, and I've seen people do this that I'm like, "Dude, do more of that, show your work." And I want to talk about that in a minute. But I just want to put a fundamental stake in the ground: that is the work. The fact that Dave took a sabbatical is the work. That is the result. I'm not saying ogling at Carl, I'm saying, just here's an amazing story. Our clients did some cool things here.
Michael: That's a great story. That's not my story. I'm not here to... Well, it would be cool if I actually wanted to paraglide with the condors and you're like, "Apparently, Carl's the one that helps you paraglide with the condors." But I got my own dreams, I got my own goals. So, yay, you help Brian paraglide with the condors. But that's not what I'm here for and that's not what I'm looking for.
Carl: That is exactly what I was trying to generate is my financial person, my money person has never talked to me about the idea that when I retire, I want to volunteer at the local community garden. All we talk about is the portfolio design. And he sprays me with facts and figures about how bear markets always recover. This is fundamentally, to me, showing somebody that the difference between fake financial advice or product-driven sales and real financial planning is it's aligned with your values and goals. It helps you realize why. So, if I can see somebody else realizing their why, I can say, it's not about flying with condors, it's not about taking a sabbatical. It's about me saying, "Oh, this is what it means to think about money. It's to get clear about what I want."
That's what I... and I'm sticking with it. Now...
Michael: That's why you can stick with it, but I still just want to put a really nice sample financial plan on my website.
Carl: Okay, let's talk about that because I think that's such a cool idea. I think...
Michael: If that's what I'm going to lay down, here's... To me, there are 2 documents that I would ideally want to have out there. 1, put an actual sample financial plan. I still remember I had a conversation with a planning friend a couple of years ago, Jim. Jim, whose last name shall not be named because it actually was Jim, and I don't want to get in trouble. And so, I was having this conversation with him about, "Why don't you put a sample version of your financial plan on your website?" And he said, "The truth is, it doesn't look that good. I'm afraid if I actually put that on my website, people are going to be like, 'That's what I'm paying $5,000 for?'" And that he would lose people. To which I said, "Well, maybe for $5,000 plans, you should hire a graphic designer. Spruce that thing up a little bit."
Carl: Spruce that thing up.
Michael: Well, also not just about putting lipstick on a pig, but yeah, if you want to charge a premium fee for a premium service, yes, the reality is often people expect a little bit of polish on that. And if you wouldn't proudly put your financial plan on your website and say this is how much money it costs, then maybe you need to take a hard look at how much you're investing into the financial plan, offering, and deliverable that you're putting out there. What would you need to do to make it presentable enough that you would proudly put it out there and say, "Darn straight, this is what you get when you pay me $5,000, or $3,000, or $2,000, or $10,000, or whatever your planning fee is."
Carl: Can I...
Michael: Yeah, please.
Carl: Because what I was thinking was, forget the static snapshot. What if you just did a screen record? Get a decent little mic, you've been asked a question, walk through. And the idea isn't here to give away like, "Oh, yeah, I don't want to give away the value." No, it's, if you could show, here's how I think about portfolio construction, here's... Walk through a financial plan, like, "Oh, I just finished this financial plan. I've, of course, changed all the information," or whatever, "I anonymized this financial plan," or "I built a dummy financial plan," whatever you need to say to make sure people know you're not sharing something. "One of my favorite parts about what we do here is this little thing. When I move this lever, this thing happens." And we can play what-if games here. I just think actually showing your work... And the reason I get fired up about this is because we're seeing artists and creatives do this all day long. Austin Kleon's second book after, "Steal Like an Artist," I think his second or third was called "Show Your Work." And artists are starting... You don't buy art, despite your earlier comment, you don't buy art, you buy the artist. And I think that's another way you can approach this is, let's show our work, like actually doing it. I love that idea. Again, coming from Cody, Cody would be very good at that.
Why Offer Solutions To Prospective Clients Before On-Boarding As A Client [15:04]
Michael: Well, and I will say in that vein as well, so it doesn't quite get to Cody's question about, how do we show this sort of to the public en masse? But just your comment reminded me. So, one of the books that had the biggest impact on me in the early days of my career was a Patrick Lencioni book called "Getting Naked." Yeah, well, I'm sure he picked the title to be provocative when he did it originally. But it's not that naked, it's not that kind of naked. The essence of getting naked is this idea that most of us in any kind of business that's consulting. Patrick wrote it, I think he was in a more traditional consulting business, but I think it entirely applies to advisors as well. The traditional approach that we have is something the effect of, I'm going to talk to you just enough to show you that you have problems and that I have solutions, but you can't have the solutions until you come back and hire me and pay me money. Just to say, "We end out in this world where I'm supposed to set you up to recognize that you have problems and tease you just enough about the solutions that you want to hire me to give you the full solutions." And that's the consultant speak and the consultant approach. And the sort of the story and the lesson that Patrick teaches in the book is that it's far more effective to take someone that you might consult with or financially advise with. And as he puts it, just get naked, which is supposed to mean, don't hold anything back. Just put it all out there. Just start helping them immediately on the spot in the very first meeting. There's no talking about the value of financial planning. Just literally start doing financial planning.
Carl: A 100%.
Michael: What's going on in your life and what are you dealing with? It's what brought you to the meeting and just starting to go down that path, and even beginning to answer questions that you can answer right on the spot. And I know a lot of us are like, "Oh, no, no, no, you can't say anything on the spot because you have to gather more information." It's like, "Come on. We know a lot of the answers upfront. We don't want to give it to them because they're supposed to hire us for it after we tell them they have a problem." But there's a lot of answers you can start giving people basically on the spot. And we all have this hesitation, just hard-grained in us. If I give them too many of the answers right now, they'll have the answer and they won't want to work with me. And the lesson that gets taught so well in the book and that just I bought into it enough to start doing it and have absolutely lived it since then, we all hold back because we're afraid if they give them the answers then they won't need to come back anymore. And what happens in truth is, if you give them the answers, they have such a good experience, they just want more. Because you're not going to solve literally everything that's ever happening in their financial life in 1 meeting.
And so, the more value that they feel like they get out of the meeting, because they literally see the value of financial planning because they're already experiencing it by having meaningful conversations and getting asked questions no one has ever asked them in the very first meeting, becomes to me the most direct way to show the value. We always try to dig this approach of, I want to show the value enough to get you to hire me, instead of saying, "I'm just going to start giving you value and solutions because you're not going to want it to stop once I start, and you'll follow through as a client from there." It doesn't quite speak to Cody's question about how we just show the public the value of financial planning but would highly recommend for anybody that's never read Patrick Lencioni's, "Getting Naked," go read that book. It is incredibly powerful to get you comfortable about not holding back on your own value.
Connecting With Prospects By Providing Deliverables And Showing The Financial Planning Process [19:04]
Carl: I 100% agree, just give it away. And I think the way to give it away is show, to Cody's question, how do we show what we do? I got asked this question today, imagine a screen share on that. I got asked this... And the reason I keep using screen share is that there's no video on you. Forget the production quality stuff. You don't have to worry about it anymore. I got asked this question today, as a financial planner, here's what I do, dah, dah dah. And you're not doing that to build a Q&A for somebody. I wouldn't be worried about that at all. I would just be, "Oh, isn't that..." Because what happens then is people get to see back to the – you don't buy art, you buy the artist. People get to see the way you think. You can even make sure the questions are targeted questions of ideal clients. So, even in that, you're demonstrating, "Oh, he works on entrepreneurs. That's really interesting. Oh, she works with neurosurgeons. That's really interesting." I think showing... We should do more of this. If I were doing this, I would record a small screen share as often as...I would almost want to say daily. I would record a small screen share. I would post them on the toot machine, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and I would say, "If you love this, you would love the work we do." I would direct them to a place, a landing page where you can sign up for an email and then I get a chance to communicate every week with them and then they'd become clients, and then I would be, "Great," and everything would be done, and I could buy a sprinter van and just go ski.
Michael: That was quite a conclusion. It ultimately got right back to skiing.
Carl: Yeah, for sure.
Michael: It's a beautiful thing, beautiful thing. From my end, the other thing I would say beyond...just seriously put your deliverables on your website. Appropriately anonymized, obviously sample client scenario, but show people what they're really going to get and what the deliverables look like. And if you have hesitancy around that because you don't think they're going to show well, it's cool. That's actually, I think, a reality for a lot of advisors. But that's a solvable problem. There are amazing graphic designers out there that can make cool templates. If you use a lot of financial planning software, you can't actually modify it. That's why a lot of advisors now are making 3-to-5-page executive summary shorter things, maybe not one-page plan, but shortened plans, make that your beautiful deliverable. You can slap the planning software output on the end of that.
But I would say, number 1, show actual samples of your deliverables and make them something you'd be proud to show. And the 2nd thing I would add is, show the process of what you do. So, for firms that... Some firms I know now are building out really big annual client service calendars, here's all the things that we do for you over the span of the year. Maybe you haven't built something that intensive, but we all have some process of the things that we do for clients on an ongoing basis. And make it look like a calendar, a multi-year calendar. Over the next 3 years, here's what's going to happen. We're going to meet every 6 months, our investment committee's going to meet every quarter. I'm going to rebalance your portfolio every month. I'm going to touch base with you about your IRA contributions in the spring. I'm going to touch base with you about annual tax planning in the fall. Just start showing out all the things that you do that clients get, your process and how you serve clients.
And when you actually put all of it down on a piece of paper, it adds up to a lot of stuff. And so just show it, all the different client touches, all the different events, the webinars, the newsletters, the meetings, the investment committees, the portfolio reviews, all that stuff packaged into one and say, when you want to know what you're going to be paying for on ongoing basis like this. This beautiful one-pager I had a graphic designer make pretty and laminate it, like this. So, deliverables and a process document of what we do, you can go the whole Dan Sullivan route then and name it and make it your standardized name thing. But the essence of it is, if you want to show them what the financial planning looks like, show them the process of financial planning, what that means for you, and show them the deliverables that you're going to get and know that's not everything of the value of financial planning, but relative to consumers that have no idea what the heck it is that we do with these fuzzy words. It starts to make it more tangible.
Carl: Totally. Yeah, I remember we created something called the 17-Point Wealth Management Audit, and that was the idea behind that one.
Michael: Do you still have that? Can we share that? Because...
Carl: We've mentioned this before and everybody asked for it, and I don't know. I think we found something. I think we put something together. So, if people email, we'll find... I think the team has answered this question.
Michael: I think you need to sell those, you're more experienced now. I'll bet you if you made it again, it would probably be 22 points at this point, so.
Carl: Yeah, I can't even remember what it was. I think the team was like, "Carl, it wasn't 17 points, it was 15 or something." I can't remember, but I recall it being the 17. But the point is...
Michael: The number rolls off the tongue really nicely.
Carl: I know, it's always so funny how people are like, "Can we get a copy of that?" "Michael just told you how to make your own, just make a list of everything you and/or your team do, put it on 1 piece of paper, and this is a demonstration of another way to show what you do." Love it.
Michael: Awesome. Thank you, Carl.
Carl: Cheers, Michael, that was super fun.
Michael: Likewise. Thank you.