Even Cowboys Need Financial Advisers: What We Can Learn from Songwriters

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I recently spent time with seasoned financial advisers at a business development conference in Nashville. We had a lot of fun sampling Tennessee whiskey and biscuits, walking around and, of course, enjoying the vibrant music scene.

Also learning. One of the keynote topics was a discussion and music session with some famous songwriters, Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, who have written music for Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert and many other stars. Also on the panel was the president of Sony/ATV, Troy Tomlinson, who discussed the business aspects of the music arena.

It was a fascinating conversation for many reasons—not least because the music industry is facing challenges and transitions that parallel those in the financial services industry. I thought I’d share some of the panel’s insights with you, as well as the key takeaways for advisers looking to grow their practices.

Stay True to Your Voice

In songwriting, that means writing songs for and about the people you most value. Songwriters bring their own experiences, history and expertise to the music—and that’s what shapes their songs.

For financial advisers, there’s an obvious parallel. In the beginning, when you’re building your business, you tend to work with everyone who is willing to become a client. But as you mature, you start to think more carefully about who you take on. You realize that there are people you can really help a lot—who can benefit from working with you—and there are others who would be better served working with someone else. That’s where segmenting and finding a niche can really come into play.

Your business philosophy, mission and even the experiences you create for clients are other ways you show your voice. At its core, your business should reflect your convictions about taking care of people and doing what’s best for them. Does your value proposition accurately reflect your mission and voice?

Be the Guide

The songwriters discussed how important “positioning” is when writing country music. The best songs, they said, allow someone else to be the hero—the singer is merely the guide. That’s a great takeaway for financial advisers because, in most cases, you really are the guide.

Your clients come to you with worries, issues or anxieties about their finances. They can’t resolve their concerns on their own. They need someone they can trust and depend upon to help them make sense of the complexity. And you do that.

Whether it’s advising them as they accumulate money for retirement, setting up a plan to fund their children’s (or grandchildren’s) college education or preparing a retirement income plan for them, advisers guide clients every step of the way. You help them be the hero to their families. How often do your clients tell you that they feel so much better when they leave your office? It’s because you, and the work you do, help relieve them of their financial burdens.

Think about your role as a guide and work this concept into your conversations with clients. If you’ve been hesitant to ask for referrals or to be introduced to prospects, see if it’s easier to discuss your services in terms of the guidance you offer. You might say something like, “As you know, I act as a guide for my clients to help them make smart decisions with their finances. Is there a colleague at your company whom you think could benefit from sitting down with someone to make sense of the company’s stock option program or retirement plan?”

Be Creative to Connect with People

The music folks on the panel discussed the power of video and Instagram to enhance the music experience, as well as concerts and social media. The more the listeners know about the artists, their music and the stories behind the songs, the larger the artists’ following and the more enjoyable the fans’ experience.

It’s the same for you. Your clients love to hear the personal stories about what you and your family are doing, just as you delight in hearing what’s going on in their lives. The people, and their stories, come first, and that’s how you forge deeper connections.

It also pays to leverage technology and new marketing approaches. Your clients don’t have to live near you anymore. Technology allows them access to their accounts anytime, and you can interact with them via Skype or FaceTime with ease. One adviser I work with wanted to start spending a few months each year in Florida but was nervous about doing so. She worried about what her clients would think—but it turned out to be a nonevent. Her clients didn’t really care where she was physically because they knew that they could get access to her when needed. She discovered that many of her clients also wanted to escape the winter weather, and she was able to add insights to their discussions.

Even local clients and prospects might not want to travel to your office, especially if it means a nasty commute to get there. You can still reach them through newsletters and social media and engage them digitally.

How often do you post? And do you reply to your clients’ posts? Webinars, podcasts and videos are all inexpensive ways to reach clients and prospects and to convey your brand, messaging and expertise. Have you tried any of these new methods of communication? A little creativity could have a big impact on the growth of your practice.

Find New Opportunities to Monetize Your Businesses

The musicians discussed how their industry has been greatly stressed by streaming and video services. As a result, their business models and bottom lines have suffered. They said that they had been slow to react to the new competition. And they realized that they had to be creative and look for other opportunities to showcase their music and value.

The same is true for us. The financial services industry has experienced fee compression for years, and robo-advisers and others seem to arrive regularly and to take clients away. I work with advisers on growing their revenue and I see and hear the impact of so many new entrants to our arena. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Have you priced your services appropriately? Many advisers haven’t looked at their fees in years. Consider what a blended vs. breakpoint fee structure could do or look carefully at what you charge. Your operational costs have probably climbed, but you may not have realized that it’s been many years since you increased fees.

You should also keep a careful eye on the competitive landscape. As an example, Charles Schwab’s recent announcement about offering subscription models is bound to affect pricing across the board. You might do well to consider a subscription option in your own practice to help high earners who don’t yet have considerable assets to manage.

  • Are there opportunities to charge for additional services? A good place to start might be with the financial plan itself. Some advisers charge separately for creating a financial plan, while others roll it in as part of their service offering. What makes sense for your practice?
  • Can you charge fees for consulting? There may be times when it makes sense to charge an additional fee for out-of-the-ordinary services you provide. Perhaps you helped a business owner with valuations for pricing the sale of her business or may you have done some retirement consulting for a 401(k) plan. There could be additional revenue waiting to be garnered from existing clients, as well as prospects.

At the end of the panel session, the consensus from participants was that it’s crucial to let people know who you are and what you’re all about. Sound familiar? It’s nice to know there’s one constant, no matter what industry you work in!

Often, we can’t see changes in our own industry because they evolve over time and we’ve been living and working in the throes of those changes. Yet the trends and changes in a different industry can be very apparent to us. There’s a lot we can learn from the music industry and to share with our staff and colleagues to help us in achieving future growth.

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Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University. 

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