Enjoy the current installment of “weekend reading for financial planners” – this week’s edition kicks off with an interesting investor research study showing what clients are actually interested in learning and hearing about now… which shows that while there was an initial burst of interest in commentary about markets and the economy, within just a week or two of the pandemic shutdown client interest had already shifted to topics more ‘personally’ relevant to them, from health and wellness to thinking about second careers (as the pandemic may have shut down their first!), and the family dynamics of how the pandemic and its economic impact may be rippling through their personal lives beyond their portfolios alone.
From there, we have several practice management articles on the continued adaptation of working in a virtual environment, including tips on managing your team remotely (from daily huddles to weekly videos and structured virtual get-togethers), to advisory firms taking a fresh look at their office space decisions as lease renewals may be coming due in the midst of the shutdown, some tips on managing client meetings virtually, and why in the end the key to surviving and thriving in the midst of this pandemic shutdown is not just about figuring out whether and how to adapt by changing your mindset to view this as a positive turning point in your business (and then to decide what you’re going to build towards from here!).
We also have several marketing-related articles this week, from suggestions of what any advisory firm can start doing to improve (virtual) communication and connection with clients and prospects, why it may be a good time to take a fresh look at your advisor website, tips on how to focus on and change your website to do a better job of turning visitors into qualified prospects and eventually clients (now that we have to rely on our websites more than ever!), and how even though clients commonly find prospective advisors through referrals it’s still necessary to do the substantive work of really earning their trust.
We wrap up with three interesting articles, all around the theme of habits and personal productivity: the first is a reminder of the power of “keystone habits”, and how finding just one or two positive anchor habits can help spiral the rest of our lives in a more positive direction; the second is a fascinating look at mathematician and computer scientist Stephen Wolfram and the ‘personal infrastructure’ he has created to make himself more productive; and the last is a powerful reminder that in the end, the pandemic shutdown hasn’t necessarily given us more time to be productive (as though we weren’t already trying to be productive in the past!), it has just shifted our time, and the real key to productivity remains as it always was: not finding more time in the day, or a way to cram more things into the time that’s available, but instead figuring out what you truly need to be doing yourself to be productive… and learning to hyperfocus your time on only those things that really, truly, matter the most!
Enjoy the ‘light’ reading!
What Are Clients Interested In Learning About Right Now? (Julie Littlechild, Absolute Engagement) – With the recent market volatility, advisory firms have been focused on proactively outreaching to clients as best as they can, from (virtual) meetings to mass emails, and from webinars to blog posts, in an effort both to stay communicative and connected and simply to give clients the information they want and need. A recent study from Absolute Engagement confirms that, perhaps not surprisingly, the primary topics of interest have focused on financial security, from “maintaining sufficient assets to meet lifetime income needs” (39%) to “coping with a significant market downturn” (36%) and “education on investments or the markets” (32%). However, as it turns out, Absolute Engagement was gathering data throughout March as the coronavirus pandemic (and associated market volatility) was unfolding in real-time, and found that client preferences were actually very fast-moving and changing. Consequently, while nearly 40% of clients wanted to learn more about “coping with a significant market downturn” in the second week of March, by as soon as the third week of March that interest had fallen below 20%, as investors quickly adapted to the new reality. In turn, topics that ‘exploded’ in interest instead were: “health and wellness” (up from 19% to 48%); “thinking about second careers” (up from 12% to 23% as many faced furloughs or layoffs in industries that they already realized may not fully recover for a long time to come); “caring for aging parents” (up from 12% to 21%), and “helping children make better financial decisions” (up from 24% to 32%, ostensibly for those with adult children who were facing their own economic distress). The key point, though, is that while there was significant interest in markets and economic content in the midst of the initial pandemic outbreak and market decline, clients actually moved on quite quickly from the portfolio impact itself, to wondering what it all means in their own lives beyond just their own portfolio alone.
How To Actually Manage Your Team While Working Remotely (Scott Hanson, Investment News) – For many advisory firms, “managing” the team was a relatively straightforward matter of simply walking down the hallway to engage with, oversee, or collaborate on a project with a coworker. In the world of pandemic shutdowns, though, it takes a more proactive effort, focus, and structure to manage employees in an otherwise less structured virtual environment. Hanson suggests a number of practical tips to manage a virtual team, including: Daily Huddles (30-minute video calls with each department of the organization where everyone can share what’s going on in their part of the organization… and also just some personal details of their lives to help stay connected); Camera Mandatory (being able to see each other makes a huge difference in practice to stay/feel connected); Weekly Video to Staff (where Scott and his co-CEO create a short video distributed to the entire staff, which may be an encouraging talk or discussion of some topics of note in the organization, captured quickly and easily by just conducting a Zoom call for themselves, recording it, and sending out the video file); and Virtual Get-Togethers (for Cinco de Mayo, they had a 5 PM Happy Hour and played bingo remotely, and every morning they have an open “Morning Buzz” for 45 minutes where any associate can hop in an engage in a break-room-style conversation). Or stated more simply, the key to managing a team virtually is to create the structure for those otherwise ‘impromptu’ team conversations to happen!
Leasing Decisions And The Future Advisor Office After COVID-19 (Raef Lee, SEI Practically Speaking) – Thus far, the buzz about whether ‘working from home’ will be a permanent fixture of our lives or just a temporary phenomenon of the pandemic shutdown that reverts back to ‘normal’ afterward, has been a largely theoretical debate. But as the shutdown continues… and some advisory firms come up on leases that are due for renewal… the question of what the future of the advisory firm office will really look like is taking on a more real need to evaluate. Lee suggests that ultimately, most advisory firms (particularly the ones that already had physical office space for meeting with clients) will still have and need office space, but with a number of potential shifts, including: smaller and more intimate offices (as the purpose of the office won’t just be to gather to ‘do’ the work anymore, which can be done remotely, but specifically as a place for meeting and having more intimate in-person connections with clients); client meeting rooms that are more tech-enabled (arguably a trend that was underway already, but when the purpose of the office is specifically to facilitate advisor-client in-person interactions, having tech-enabled conference rooms to support that collaboration becomes more important than ever); and having a ‘virtual room’ when in-office advisors end out still doing virtual client meetings, which may include a fixed (and higher-quality) camera, a good microphone, a nice backdrop behind the advisor, an adjustable-height desk (since it may be used by different advisors), and a light ring to ensure the advisor shows up clearly on camera. On the other hand, internal staff support is likely to be more flexible with adaptive work-from-home policies that continue even after the shutdown ends, which suggests a need for more ‘hotelling’ desks (open desk spaces where anyone can bring their laptop and plug into a workstation for the day if they decide to come into the office that day). Though Lee suggests that with such flexible needs, some advisory firms may just opt for flexible office space via co-working (e.g., Regus) in the future instead? At the least, though, many advisor firms may consider smaller workspace footprints, or not expanding their space even with ongoing planned growth in the future?
The Do’s And Don’ts Of Virtual Client Meetings (Jane Wollman Rusoff, ThinkAdvisor) – Most financial advisors don’t have much experience conducting ‘virtual’ client meetings, especially when it comes to trying to support intimate conversations where clients can express their fears and other emotions. Yet Melanie Katzman, author of “Connect First“, suggests that in reality, the dynamics of creating client connections are still the same… it’s all about finding points of similarity and connection to create rapport while communicating to convey oneself as a credible professional. Katzman emphasizes, though, that one can be professional and still be ‘casual’ at the same time. For instance, in the virtual environment with more going on around us – e.g., the client’s child or pet suddenly jumps into the picture – advisors should simply casually “go with it”, stay relaxed, and acknowledge our humanity (while at the same time recognizing it is a business meeting, so you can acknowledge the dog jumped into their lap without going into the story of Fido’s latest adventure). On the other hand, because video meetings in some ways take more effort to stay focused in the first place, Katzman suggests that a good target for client meetings is no more than 45 minutes (i.e., keep them short and crisp, and be well-prepared to be able to do so). In addition, be certain that you can maintain focus, which means shutting down email and other on-screen distractions, trying to focus on being present, and maintaining (camera-based) eye contact. And then simply give clients the opportunity to share their emotions and what’s on their mind. As the reality is that in a shutdown environment with more limited social interaction, often clients are just looking for even more of an opportunity to vent or share!
Rethinking Client Engagement To Seize The Day (Stephanie Bogan, Investment News) – While the coronavirus pandemic has been unique in the way that it has disrupted the economy, including the business of financial advice, the reality is that disruptions can and do happen on a somewhat ‘regular’ basis, from the tech crash of 2000 to the (especially industry-disruptive) financial crisis of 2008-2009. Yet despite the fact that “we’ve survived challenges like this before”, threatening situations still tend to put us into survival mode, literally, as our bodies are flooded with stress hormones and blood flow is redirected away from our prefrontal cortex (where we do our cognitive thinking) to our heart and muscles (to prepare to either fight harder or flee faster). Which, in the context of being a financial advisor, tends to result in behaviors like taking on any/all clients (instead of just the right clients), discounting fees, over-servicing clients (out of a fear they’ll otherwise leave), under-marketing, and generally resisting the forces of change. Accordingly, Bogan suggests that the first key is to shift your own mindset away from resisting the situation and towards formulating a plan on how to shift the focus of the business not just on how to survive but instead on how to thrive in the current environment. Or stated more simply, what would you have to change in your business to be able to look back in the future and say, “The changes in my business that were forced by the pandemic turned out to be the best thing that ever could have happened to my business”?
If I Owned A Financial Planning Business, Here Are 8 Marketing Steps I Would Take Right Now (Samantha Russell, LeadPilot) – With the coronavirus pandemic shutdown has come an immediate and dramatic shift to online/virtual/digital marketing… a territory largely unfamiliar to most financial advisors that have traditionally relied on more in-person marketing strategies from networking meetings to client appreciation events and breaking bread with local Centers of Influence. For those looking to get started, Russell suggests a number of steps for advisory firms to get started with, including: start creating one article per week (it doesn’t have to be long, just topical and relevant, from some generalized advice based on a client conversation this week, or even just the advisor’s thoughts and perspective on the news of the week); record a video on your phone (even if it’s just a minute or few, sharing your thoughts and perspective, which you can then add captions to with Headliner and send out in your weekly article and/or via social media); send a weekly email to prospects (as separate from clients), leveraging and re-purposing the same article and video content in the appropriate context for each; increase the frequency of your social media postings (the more your prospects hear from and see you, the more likely they are to remember you); take a look at your Google Analytics if you haven’t, and see if you can spot interesting areas where your content or other parts of your website are getting engagement you may not have even realized (and ideally dig even deeper into your Google Search Console to find out what people have been searching for in their journey to your website); and optimize your Google My Business listing so that when consumers do start searching for advisors in their area again, your advisory firm comes up at the top of the list!
The Pronoun Test: I and We vs You and Your (Steve Wershing, The Client Driven Practice) – Imagine being on a first date that lasts for several hours, and the person you’re with spends 3/4ths of the time talking about themselves… it’s not likely to lead to a second date. Yet in practice, the traditional approach taken by a financial advisor to talk is often similar: “First I’m going to tell you about my company, then we are going to spend some time going through what we’re able to do for clients, then we’re going to spend about 30 minutes talking about me. How does that sound?” Even on the typical advisory firm website, there’s often a lot of “Who WE Are, What WE Do, What WE Believe, and OUR Qualifications”. Of course, it may be true that prospective clients want to know more about this, but in the end they want to know how it relates to their lives and how it will solve their needs and problems. Accordingly, Wershing suggests going to the homepage of your website (or opening up your physical client brochure), and count the number of advisor-centric pronouns (I, we, us) vs client-centric pronouns (you, your)… and then evaluate how you might talk more effectively to the people you really want to attract?
The Five Elements In Top-Converting Websites (Samantha Russell, Advisor Perspectives) – While an advisory firm’s website is a key part of its marketing communication to clients, the reality is that just as a single-page brochure doesn’t instantly make a client want to hand over their life savings, merely ‘showing up’ at an advisory firm’s website doesn’t mean the client is ready and convinced to engage the financial advisor. In fact, advisory firm websites aren’t often designed to just make someone a client on the first visit, but instead to ‘convert’ them to some incremental goal along the way (e.g., sign up for the advisor’s mailing list, download an e-book, or schedule time for an intro call). So in that context, the question then becomes: What’s the best way to actually convert visitors to the website to take the specific desired conversion action? Russell suggests five keys that tend to result in higher-converting websites, including: cater to a specific niche (because from the reader’s perspective, when the website speaks to them in particular, and shows that the advisor really “gets them” and understands their needs, they’re far more likely to sign up); have a calendar link (there’s no need to force clients to submit an email address or call the firm just to schedule an appointment, when you can put a calendar scheduling link directly on your website for prospects to sign up directly!); incorporate video, as in the end clients really want to see who you are, evaluate your trustworthiness (where, like it or not, visual matters), and understand what it may be like to communicate with you (by actually seeing/hearing you communicate with them via video); include an “as seen on/in…” section to highlight any media appearances as a way to convey social proof; and spend a little time making the site SEO (Search Engine Optimization) friendly, so prospective clients who are searching for the firm can actually find you!
It Takes More Than A Referral For Prospects To Trust (Spectrem Group) – Financial advisor research on marketing shows that referrals are the most common strategy used by advisors to get new clients, and investor research similarly shows that a plurality (44%) of investors found their advisor based on a recommendation from a friend or family member. However, the reality is that investors often solicit suggestions from multiple friends and family members, which means in practice advisors who get prospective clients referred to them are often still in a competitive situation where they must win trust to gain the client. In a recent new study, Spectrem Group finds that when a referral is received, 80% of referred prospects do reach out, either to the firm (58%) or directly to the individual advisor (42%). Still, though, when it comes to actually winning their business, those referred prospects still say the key for the advisor to succeed is “Get me [the prospect] to trust them [the referred advisor]”. Other key factors for prospective clients to select a (referred) advisor include: have expertise in topics I do not; work for a firm that is well known and has a good reputation; provide me with services I don’t feel I can get somewhere else; educate me about financial topics; and show genuine interest in connecting with me personally. Notably, other common tactics, like offering a complimentary portfolio review or a complimentary financial plan, rank lower, as those may be ways to demonstrate the other factors, but aren’t actually drivers themselves. Additional factors noted as important included: expertise, ethical, accountable, well-organized, follow-through, punctual, consistency, confident/poised, polite, and appearance. Notably, 66% also suggested that a professional designation was important, of which 73% indicated that CFP certification was the designation likely to be considered most important.
Keystone Habits (James Clear) – In his popular book “The Power Of Habit“, Charles Duhigg first coined the term “keystone habits” for those singular habits that anchor us and “put the rest of our lives in place”. For instance, when Clear decided to get healthier and formed a keystone habit around exercise, it rippled across the rest of his life; once he worked out, he also wanted to eat better, and when he ate better, he slept better, which in turn made him more productive when he was awake… and when the exercise didn’t happen, the opposite cycle occurred (more prone to eating junk food, sleeping less, being less productive, which resulted in staying up later and being more tired and getting less done, etc.). In turn, then, the question becomes “What is your keystone habit?”; what is the one thing that if and when done consistently, tends to make the rest of your life feel in good order as well? Because, as the Keystone Habit research illustrates, sometimes it really does just take one key thing that we focus on doing consistently, and then everything else starts to spiral in a more positive direction!
Seeking The Productive Life: Some Details Of My Personal Infrastructure (Stephen Wolfram, Writings) – Stephen Wolfram is a computer scientist known for creating the Wolfram programming language and the Wolfram Alpha answer engine. As a builder and creative, then, he has had a major focus on staying as productive as possible… which over the years, has involved building what he calls a ‘personal infrastructure’ that helps to keep him creative. First and foremost, it’s notable that Wolfram is a “remote CEO”, who only goes into the office a few times a year, and spends the rest of his time managing virtually (with a team of 800+ employees!). The starting point for his productive home workspace is a dual-monitor setup, where the right is his ‘public display’ monitor for screen sharing, and the left is his ‘private display’ monitor that has email and other messages. In turn, Wolfram has a standing-desk setup where he can alternate between sitting and standing for comfort and productivity, and actually has a second desk setup with a computer keyboard and monitor over a (slow-walking at just 2 mph) treadmill. Though having deeply tracked his own personal analytics, Wolfram noticed that his heart rate was even lower when he spends time walking outside, and accordingly now tries to spend more time outdoors walking and working, going so far as to build a small harness that allows him to strap a laptop to himself and actually type while walking (what Wolfram calls a ‘walking desk’). Other notable aspects of Wolfram’s highly refined personal productivity infrastructure: minimizing flat desktop surfaces (which just encourages things to accumulate and pile up!) and, instead, having a desk with pullout shelves; a ‘tech survival kit’ of various cords and connectors to keep all his electronics charged; and a custom file system he created to keep all his thoughts organized. In fact, overall, the biggest takeaway of Wolfram’s approach is simply his unrelenting willingness to create or change his environment to be whatever he needs it to be in order to do his best work, rather than simply settling for whatever happens to be available!
Stop Feeling Like You Need To Be So Productive (Taylor Lorenz, The New York Times) – When the realization first came that the pandemic would mean a lot of time ‘stuck’ at home, many people had the vision that all the extra home time would mean an opportunity to accomplish extra tasks and home projects that had long lingered. Yet in practice, the busy-ness of working from home, potentially handling kids who are also home full time, and adapting to a more socially distant life, has meant most of those home-projects-on-hold are still on hold. After all, the reality is that most of us try to be reasonably productive in our day-to-day lives in the first place, which means the pandemic is just a giant disruptive distraction that makes it harder for us to focus and be productive, not easier! Still, though, the ‘always-be-hustling’ mindset of American culture has implied that everyone should ‘automatically’ be able to accomplish more now that those time-consuming commutes are a thing of the past. Which means, ironically, the pandemic that theoretically would free up our time to be more productive is for many just making us feel worse instead (as we fail to achieve the unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves). So what’s the alternative? Recognize that the pandemic doesn’t mean we have more spare time, just different time, and go back to the basic principle that has always been the key to real productivity: Hyperfocus your time on what really matters the most and can have the greatest impact, and carve out the rest of the time for yourself and your own sanity!
I hope you enjoyed the reading! Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts, or make a suggestion of any articles you think I should highlight in a future column!
In the meantime, if you’re interested in more news and information regarding advisor technology, I’d highly recommend checking out Bill Winterberg’s “FPPad” blog on technology for advisors as well.