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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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The Three-Step Formula for Business Fearlessness

In the financial services industry, advisers are surrounded by clients’ fears—fear of the market going down, fear of the economy not recovering and/or fear of making the right investment decisions, just to name a few. For some advisers, handling clients’ fears can feel like a daunting task while for others it’s all in a day’s work. For the latter, the formula for managing fear is increasing knowledge.

If this has happened to you, take comfort in knowing that your clients hired you because they like you, trust you and believe that you have their best interests at heart. Prove your clients right by believing in yourself, in your integrity, your honesty and your commitment to helping them. When you focus on things that you can control, you harness the power of belief.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he said, “Knowledge is the antidote to fear.”

So how can you face your fears, increase your knowledge and be the adviser that your clients want you to be?

Let’s take a look at a step-by-step approach for building up your “business fearlessness.”

Step 1: Acknowledge Your Current Business Concerns

The first step is to get completely honest with yourself by asking, “What am I most concerned about in this business?” Sit with the question for as long as it takes until you find a truthful answer. Next, ask, “What do I need to know in order to overcome this concern?” and “Who has the information that can help me?”

Take Michael S., a veteran financial adviser with five years of experience who had noticed he was holding himself back from working with higher net-worth clients. After he asked himself these types of questions he realized that he didn’t feel qualified to help them because he hadn’t done enough research on what product and services this niche demographic would be interested in much less had done some inquiry to confirm what issues/concerns they might have. Thus, he had spent five years building a business of hundreds of clients with very little in investable assets.

Step 2: Become the Expert

The next step is to do the research and make some calls to find out who could assist you in your desire to work with a new demographic. I have found that the best way to become an expert is to find a mentor in the office who has accomplished what you would like to accomplish.

I recommended to Michael that he make a list of the most successful advisers that he knew (in his office or elsewhere) that work with high net-worth clients. Then, approach the one person who he felt closest to and ask if he could take that person to lunch or for coffee to understand more about how he/she had grown their business. Take notes about their process and research all the types of products and services they mention. Michael did this and was ready for the next step. 

Step 3: Be the Message

The final step is get your message heard! It’s one thing to know what to do but it’s another to be doing it. That’s why you need to take deliberate action steps.

Once Michael got direction from a mentor in the office, we mapped out what to say to potential clients, how to frame it, how to handle objections, what the first appointment process as well as the second appointment process. We did all of this before he ever picked up the phone to make his first prospecting call. As a result of his due diligence and efforts, within weeks he had built a huge pipeline of qualified prospects and now has a thriving practice.

Why Being a Wealth of Knowledge Works

The foundation for making any sound recommendation is based in the amount of information or knowledge that you have for your clients. The more informed you are, the more confident you will be when sharing those recommendations. Clients need, want and deserve a well-informed financial adviser. So the next time you find yourself with fearful clients or faced with fears yourself, take the time to query the reasons for your decisions, support them with facts then share this insight with your clients and watch their fears (and subsequently yours) subside.

If this blog resonates with you and you would like to have a free consultation with me to see if professional coaching is a fit for you, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing for Advisor Solutions at melissa@advisersolutionsinc.com.

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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How Do You Train Someone?

Planners used to consider training as something that could be done on the job. You would hire a new employee and hope that he or she picked up the responsibilities over time. If you were lucky, the departing employee would be around long enough to train his or her replacement.

Times have changed. Today, we can’t get by with such an informal approach. Roles and functions in your firm are more specific, varied and sophisticated than they used to be. You need to hire client service employees, marketers, receptionists, paraplanners and new planners. Training in such functions can’t be left to chance—for new planners in particular. These men and women will be looking for professional growth, and you may hope to develop one of them to serve as your successor.

Still, for most planners, the need for more formalized training is problematic. Most would agree that training doesn’t contribute to short-term revenue growth. In some cases, because planners have long delegated certain administrative tasks, they may not even remember how to do them (e.g., completing paperwork to follow up on a client meeting). And training new planners has become increasingly difficult. These days, you can’t rely on bringing on a new employee who was schooled by a wirehouse. Those training programs have disappeared.

So, How Do You Train Someone?

To be effective, training requires three key criteria:

  1. Determining the outcome to be accomplished. This means defining specific objectives for the learner.
  2. Developing the curriculum, so the participant can understand and experience the content that needs to be learned.
  3. Measuring the individual’s performance to confirm that learning has actually occurred.

It is important to do all three of these well. Sometimes, we rush into training without considering what is most important to learn. Teaching how to resolve a once-a-year problem gets as much attention as the everyday situations. Sometimes, it’s hard to create the learning experience we’re looking for. And we complicate things by following several different processes for completing the same task because we lack standardized procedures within the firm. Finally, few firms test or evaluate learning.

As organizations continue to grow—particularly as we see more mergers and acquisitions—the need for formal training will increase. We will especially see it in organizations that hire inexperienced planners whom they intend to develop. In fact, that’s just one more reason why the large firms will get larger.

If you are a solo planner, you can hire someone and have him or her follow you for a year to learn the ropes. In the future, a large firm will likely hire a group of new planners to develop at the same time. Learning and curricula will need to be established and monitored. Being a planner who understands training will be a good start, but it won’t guarantee that the planner will be a good trainer.

The bottom line? Prepare to invest in training.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

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