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Raising the Bar: 7 Tips for a Better Conference Experience

I remember the first article I wrote for the Financial Planning Association. I had just attended an FPA national conference and gotten so much out of it. Based on the feedback I had provided regarding the event, FPA asked me to write about how to have a better conference experience. As I’m currently attending a conference, it’s the perfect time to revisit this topic.

I’ve heard many financial advisers say that if they get even one new idea from a conference they attend, they’re satisfied. Really? With all the conferences you likely attend each year, that’s a pretty low expectation. If you’re ready to raise the bar, here are seven tips to help increase the value you get from your next conference.

1) Prepare in advance. At a minimum, read the agenda carefully and make a conscious decision about which sessions you most want to attend. Avoid going to a session simply because it seems popular or your friends are attending.

2) Participate. Come armed with the questions you want answers to. If the questions aren’t addressed, ask them. Most speakers love questions that round out their presentations and make their content come alive for their audience.

Don’t forget to tweet during the conference as well. Conference-related hashtags are usually provided. Get involved and let your voice be heard.

3) Network. Decide whom you want to network with most. If the topic of a presentation was particularly compelling, talk with the speaker afterwards to see if you can set up a time to discuss it more in depth. Aim to collect e-mail addresses or connect on LinkedIn so you can follow up with individuals after the conference.

4) Take pictures. Keep clients up to date on what you’re doing by taking photographs and posting them to your website and social media pages. It’s in your clients’ best interest to know what you’re doing to advance your knowledge—and the service you provide to them.

5) Practice putting away your phone. Smartphones are a constant distraction. Seize the opportunity to practice putting away your phone for 30 minutes, then 60 minutes, then 90 minutes. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn when you’re able to focus exclusively on the people in front of you.

6) Be healthy. It’s easy to forsake your normal, healthy habits when attending a conference. Make sure you get enough rest, watch your diet, minimize your alcohol intake and get some exercise—even if it’s just a quick walk around the block.

7) Share what you learned. Schedule time to debrief your colleagues and staff with key insights and take-aways when you return to the office. They will appreciate the information and help to put your learnings into action.

I was at Commonwealth Financial Network’s annual National Conference from November 6 to November 11. And as I prepared my own presentations and got ready to attend a keynote address from President George W. Bush himself, I was able to put the above ideas into practice myself!

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.


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3 Steps to Create Excellent Habits

Habits play an important role as we go about our business as advisers. Creating excellent and productive habits is a combination of being able to recognize and eliminate any poor practices while implementing a series of positive and effective behaviors. This ability allows us to most efficiently complete our most complex and oftentimes repetitive tasks (i.e. cold calling, handling objections and closing a sale). Being aware of and consistent with what we do and accountable for our daily actions contributes to cultivating habits that can help put you into success mode.

Aristotle is widely cited as saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

Let’s take a look at a step-by-step approach successful advisers can use to create and maintain excellent habits:

Step 1: Create Conscious Activities

Oftentimes, rookies and veterans alike find themselves reactive all day long. The reason that this is so prevalent is because they are not consciously aware of how they are going about their daily activities. Instead they simply show up to the office and put out fires which can lead to neglecting several other vital facets of their business.

Here is a real-world example of how one financial adviser client of mine experienced this challenge:

Bill C. is a 20-year veteran financial adviser who explained to me in our first coaching session that his business was stagnant because he didn’t have time to prospect. Instead, most of his time was spent servicing his client base. Later, he admitted that his prospecting skill sets were rusty and that at his age he didn’t like getting rejected.

The first step for Bill was to help him understand what he was doing. He was not delegating tasks to his assistant that he easily could have. As a result, he was doing many unproductive activities and his business suffered. So, we mapped out structure to his day and a way for him to handle—and prioritize—interruptions and tasks.

Step 2: Create Consistent Activities

The next step after knowing what activities will help move business into and through your pipelines is to focus on doing them consistently at the same time each day so that good habits are formed.

In Bill’s case he needed to prospect first thing in the morning instead of putting it off until he had time, which was nearly always limited. His first time block at 8:00 a.m. was to make outgoing prospecting calls to his natural market. After helping him script the proper dialogue it didn’t take him long to start to enjoy prospecting again. However, in order to ensure that prospecting would become a habit he needed to take the next step.

Step 3: Create Accountability for Activities

You MUST have someone that you can be accountable to everyday. The best way to do this is to assign yourself to send an “accountability email” that is sent to an accountability partner (mentor, colleague, trusted individual) for at least 30 days.

Bill began sending me daily accountability emails and we had actually attached a reward or punishment system to his activity level. This created an additional level of accountability because he was trying to reach reward status while attempting to avoid any punishment.

So, what happened to Bill?

His level of productive activities increased exponentially, his pipeline filled, he closed additional business and formed excellent habits while truly enjoying what he did for a living again!

Why Practice Makes Permanent

It’s been said that practice makes perfect however, part of my coaching philosophy is that “practice makes permanent.” Perfection can be elusive, so a focus on streamlining your habits with an eye to constantly evaluating them offers a more realistic process.

Now, the question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I tackling activities in a way that is producing positive habits with desired outcomes?” If not, it’s time to take some dedicated time to review the aforementioned steps and get yourself a plan for creating your own set of excellent habits.

If you would like a free coaching session, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley
Daniel C. Finley is the president and co-founder of Advisor Solutions, a business consulting and coaching service dedicated to helping advisers build a better business.


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Tips to Build More Authentic Diversity Programs

Episode 2Many years ago, after dropping off his son at an area high school to play a baseball game, Ed Gjertsen, II, CFP®, decided to grab a quick breakfast. He found a cozy spot and ventured inside. As soon as he walked in, all eyes were on him. He was the only white person in the whole restaurant.

Slightly uncomfortable, yet undeterred, he sat down and ordered and enjoyed a lovely breakfast.

But that day, he realized how many of the Financial Planning Association members from diverse backgrounds must feel at conferences, so he, along with Trudy Turner, CPA/PFS, CFP®, and Lee Baker, CFP®, decided to establish the FPA diversity committee in 2006.

Gjertsen shared this story on a recent podcast episode of 2050 TrailBlazers, on which he and Tom Nally, president of TD Ameritrade Institutional, both shared what they’ve done to champion diversity efforts in the profession.

They discussed with Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP®, tips on what has made their efforts more successful.

Be authentic. Your diversity efforts won’t work if you’re not authentic and you’re still arguing whether there’s a business case for it. In that case, perhaps engaging in these programs is not for you. Because whatever you do to attract millennials, women and diverse planners needs to be authentic. You can’t just be checking a box. Make it part of your values and create a position for programming; that way, somebody is accountable.

That’s what TD Ameritrade Institutional did. Their authentic efforts have come to be seen as a successful model in the profession.

“We are trying to be a leader here because it is so important that as an industry we take the appropriate steps necessary to make sure that we are prepared,” Nally said. “It’s a moral imperative, I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Build internship and/or scholarship programs (or tell people about them). Both TD Ameritrade Institutional and FPA have scholarship programs. TD Ameritrade has 12 $5,000 scholarships for students studying financial planning, and they also have a grant program (one $50,000 grant for established programs and another $25,000 grant for emerging programs) for universities committed to educating the next generation of financial planners. FPA has a Diversity Scholarship, which sends deserving planners advancing diversity in the profession to two of its conferences.

Write inclusive job descriptions. Craft job descriptions that have gender-coded words and focus on more straightforward words. For more tips on how to craft an inclusive job description, see this helpful LinkedIn blog post. This post advises to only include necessary requirements on the job description and avoid unnecessary jargon.

Be intentional about casting a wider net. Always hire the best person for the job. But that could mean the person you’re hiring has the highest capability for the job, and perhaps not the years of experience. Plus, make sure you’re casting a wide net for applicants so you’re bringing in more diverse candidates. From that point on, may the best person for the job win.

Engage everybody. In planning a women’s panel for the FPA Annual Conference, Gjertsen and his team decided to have two men on the panel primarily to discuss how they have successfully attracted and retained female planners, but also to attract and engage both men and women.

Because, Gjertsen said, if it had been a panel of just women, perhaps the men attending the conference would have missed out on valuable information because they would have said, “That session is not for me.”

These tips can help you improve or launch your diversity initiatives, which Nally said is a necessary step to take.

“America is changing from a demographic perspective in every category, whether it’s age or race or ethnicity in general, it doesn’t look the same as it used to and it’s going to continue to change,” Nally said. “We need to be prepared as an industry to serve the needs of that changing demographic and right now we’re not.”

Ana TL Headshot_Cropped

Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.