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

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.


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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3 Career Development Tips for Success

What should financial planners be doing in professional career development for success in 2019? Here are my top three tips.

1.) Use the Power of Weak (and Strong) Connections

The familiar adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” assumed well-known associates are the key to professional success. However, psychologists have been debating the success of networking with people you don’t know (weak connections) versus people you do know (strong connections) for the last four decades. So what works?

Let me summarize the research. Weak connections multiply your chances because of their extended reach. At the same time, your immediate colleagues are individually more powerful because of your close relationship. As a result, weak connections provide more opportunities and close connections provides more advocacy.

The smart strategy is to use the combined power of both. If psychological journals thrill you, read “The Paradox of Weak Ties in 55 Countries,” which was published in Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

2.) Ask and Listen

Psychologists and certified coaches are trained to ask strategic questions and listen perceptively. This sounds simple, but most of us are trained to be experts in talking, not experts in asking and listening.

Asking powerful questions and listening is an ideal strategy with both weak and strong connections. Here’s how:

  • Ask open-ended questions: Open-ended questions prompt the most information. Questions that start with what, how, when and who are ideal. Here are some examples:
    • What do you recommend?
    • How would I go about that?
    • Who do you recommend I contact?
    • When shall I follow up?
  • Listen reflectively: Ask, listen, then follow-up with a summary statement. The speaker will confirm (or correct) your perception. Then continue delving deeper with more open-ended questions. An example might be: “If I understand, you recommend contacting your colleague as a good resource. I would appreciate your guidance. What’s the most helpful thing I might learn from making that connection?” In addition to uncovering information, there are psychological and strategic benefits of asking and listening:
    • You make a good impression. We automatically like those who are interested and listen attentively.
    • You boost their self-esteem. People like feeling knowledgeable and important.
    • You increase motivation to help you. Human beings get an endorphin boost from altruism and we value helpfulness. They will want to be helpful.
    • You protect your image. We are less likely to make a mistake if we listen first. For more communication tips, download the PDF Speak Success: 7 Communication Tips to Achieve the Goal.

3.) Kill Brain ANTs

Even the most successful professionals struggle with confidence. Brain ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) are very common, especially during times of professional growth and transition. Check out the successful cognitive psychology technique for how to kill brain ANTs.

Editor’s note: This blog post is an excerpt from the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Make 2019 Your Year: Business and Career Tips to Get the Most out of 2019.” See the full whitepaper here.


Barbara Kay, LPC, RCC, president of Barbara Kay Coaching, is a business psychology and productivity expert who coaches and speaks nationwide. She specializes in growth, productivity, teams, clients, change, women and leadership. Joining the FPA Coaches Corner in 2019, she now offers free coaching to FPA members.

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Set Yourself Up for Success with a Strategic Mindset

Do you ever feel that you are on a treadmill, working as hard as you can just to keep up? Perhaps you’re an adviser with a successful firm but struggle to break out to the next level or to gain back your time and freedom. Maybe you’re among a growing group of seasoned advisers not yet ready to retire but bored by the routine and wondering how to regain their enthusiasm or explore new adventures. Or perhaps you’re a newer adviser figuring out the best, fastest way to achieve greater success.

If any of these feel familiar, your vision may feel out of reach.

Few advisers have clear strategic plans or a process for managing their vision. I often hear how this is “marketing fluff” because one just needs to get out there and get to work. Still other advisers do strategic planning, but with limited success achieving the results they desire.

If you’re working hard and spinning, it’s not because you lack momentum, it’s because you lack direction. After all, people on a treadmill don’t need a map. If you want to create a bigger, better future for yourself and your firm, a strategic plan is a valuable tool to have—but not nearly as important as a strategic mindset.

You Can’t Win Whack-a-Mole

Advisers often find themselves playing a perpetual game of “whack-a-mole”—the arcade game where you whack a mole head with a foam mallet as they pop up at you. Your job is to hit as many heads as possible in the time allotted, and the more you hit the faster they come. Whack-a-mole is a game no one really wins, and you feel like you’re scrambling to keep up the entire time.

This game is reminiscent of advisory firms, where a considerable amount of effort is invested reacting to daily circumstances but never really gaining control over the practice or its future.

Strategic Mindset to Create Shifts in Success

Having a strategic mindset means you have a vision for your business beyond this calendar year’s goals—that you can envision what you want the business to be in your next stage of success. You set clear strategic priorities that drive broader goals that will create immediate business impact and progress toward those long-term goals.

In short, you shift your mindset to focus on the strategy and priorities that will be most impactful, and focus your energy, attention and resources there to shift yourself from reacting to your reality to confidently creating a better one.

Forget Your Fear

The biggest reason advisers don’t achieve their envisioned futures is that they are afraid to change their current situation for fear of the potential risks and downsides. Whether we’re discussing their desire to accelerate growth, reduce complexity and overwhelm, increase profitability, better manage their teams, make the business more independent of them, working to systematize and scale or even successfully shift to a successor or merge with or be acquired by another firm—fear of the unknown is usually the culprit for the status quo.

Neuroscience now shows us that success is 80 percent mindset and 20 percent methods. Thus, mastering your mindset is the single biggest step you can take to confidently create a bigger, better future for your business and life.

Shifting into a Strategic Mindset in 60 Minutes

To get started, follow the 60 minute, six-step process outlined in my Coaches Corner on mindset to ensure you bring a strategic mindset to your planning.

As you shift into a strategic mindset, you raise your awareness, lift your head and step off the treadmill that keeps you trapped in the status quo.

Except this time, you’ll step off with a new sense of clarity and confidence—which is exactly what you need to create the bigger, better future you’ve just imagined.

Editor’s note: This blog post is an excerpt from the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Make 2019 Your Year: Business and Career Tips to Get the Most out of 2019.” See the full whitepaper here.

Stephanie Bogan

Stephanie Bogan is the CEO of Educe, Inc., and former CEO/Founder of Quantuvis Consulting (sold to Genworth Financial in 2008) and has spent 20 years consulting with the profession’s top advisory firms and enterprises. Educe is focused on helping financial advisors, entrepreneurs and executives build wildly successful businesses and lives that they love by expanding their mindset and business methods in ways that help them experience greater levels of success, happiness, wealth and well-being in their work. Bogan is a coach in the FPA Coaches Corner.