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Tips for Working from Home

Last week I asked an adviser how he was settling in after he started working from home. He readily admitted that it was a challenge as he hunched over his dining room table.

As you may know, Susan Kornegay and I have run Pathfinder for the past 10 years from her home. She has an office on the main floor, while I have a separate room upstairs.

I’ve also created dedicated office space at my home for the unexpected events in my life (such as when school is canceled until the end of April, and I may need to be home with the kids).

We’ve learned some tips along the way that might be helpful you.

3 Items That Make a Difference

Get a good chair for your derrière. My strongest recommendation is to get a good, office-style chair to work from. A standard dining room chair is not designed for extended periods of sitting. Not only does it lack support for your bottom and lower back, it doesn’t recline or swivel. This forces you to stay in the same posture for hours and can result in significant discomfort, stiffness or pain.

You can spend $1,000 or more for a premier office chair, but you can buy a functional one for less than $100 from Office Max (use your FPA member discount!) or Staples (and they deliver!). Alternatively, if you have a large enough vehicle and can access your office, take your regular chair home. While you’re at it, you might want to grab your chair mat, if you have one.

Speak and be heard with a good headset. Holding your cell phone up to your ear for extended periods will make you uncomfortable. It can also be difficult to take good notes while speaking with clients. Using your cell phone as a speakerphone usually results in background noise and a noticeable distance between you and the other person which isn’t good either.

Instead, invest in a good quality headset. I’ve used the Plantronics Voyager 5200 for many years, and it’s great. I’d also recommend the case which stores the headset and also charges it.

A speedy mouse and other accessories can save time. I’ve also found that I work quite a bit faster when I use an external mouse instead of the trackpad on my laptop. Depending on your set-up, you may also find that an external keyboard can help.

If you are able to go back to your office, you can pick up your mouse, mousepad, keyboard, monitor or anything else that you need.

2 Strategies to Stay on Track

Having a good physical set-up is important, but maintaining a good mental space is valuable, too. Here are two strategies to stay on track.

Don’t multitask. There are probably 50 unrelated things that will pull at you when you are working from a different location, even more so during turbulent times. It could be other people (your spouse, children, etc.) that want to speak with you, or it could be unfinished tasks that you want to complete (dishes, laundry, yard work).

Try to create as much distance as you can between yourself and those non-work items. Using a separate room or wearing headphones (or the aforementioned headset) can be a reminder to all that you are working and not to be disturbed.

Take breaks but set a limit. To help stay balanced, take periodic breaks.

One popular strategy is known as the Pomodoro Technique. It works like this:

  1. Set a timer and work for 25 minutes
  2. Take a short break for five minutes
  3. Repeat a total of four times
  4. Take a longer break of 15-30 minutes
  5. Repeat the cycle again

This technique may not work for you, but you can still plan for periodic breaks. Use a timer to make sure the break doesn’t extend longer than you intend. Use the breaks to clear your mind and refresh. You can take a brief walk, watch a fun video (I’ve been enjoying the concert archive from the Berlin Philharmonic), draw or doodle, pray or just look out the window as spring arrives.

One Essential

If I could give just one piece of advice, it’s this:

Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to affect one’s mood, attention, ability to communicate with others or complete complicated tasks. Do your clients really want to work with a moody, inattentive adviser who has difficulty communicating and getting things done? I didn’t think so!

You may have additional time in your day since you are no longer commuting. Perhaps you can use that time to sleep a little later in the morning.

Other ways to improve your sleep include:

  • Keep your bedroom dark and cool (experts recommend 65 degrees)
  • Block out distracting sounds with a white noise machine (we use this one at home).
  • Shut off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed

Making time to exercise, have a light dinner and avoid alcohol can also help.

This is the time to be the best adviser you can be. Use this unique season to create a new environment for work. Your clients will appreciate it.

Adam Kornegay

Adam Kornegay is a co-founder of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions. He has a background in marketing and business analytics. Coupled with his experience as a financial adviser, he helps a broad array of clients, from relatively new advisers to experienced planners, and consults with various financial services firms. He is a coach in the Messaging and Marketing Strategies FPA Coaches Corner


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Leveraging Tech to Build Efficiency in Your Work

Have you ever wanted to find a quick-fix way to create more efficiency in your business? Advisers often try to use different business “hacks” to maximize their efficiency and create a scalable practice, but the truth is that using different productivity hacks likely isn’t the way to make strides in your business.

Instead, focus on learning a few key pieces of tech and how to leverage them in your business. Let’s go over a few not-so-obvious systems that can help you improve productivity.

Scheduling Software

Sometimes advisers I speak with love their scheduling software, while others reject the idea of using one in their practice. It’s a little intimidating to let clients and prospects book whenever they want.

However, high-quality software offers a lot more than simply giving your clients access to your calendar. Scheduling software gives you the flexibility to set up automated email or text reminders and confirmations to clients and prospects for upcoming meetings. Depending on the software, you may also be able to schedule automated meeting follow-ups. Plus, a good scheduling tool will help you to set up boundaries to protect your calendar. You can organize it to only book certain types of calls at different times, or during specific weeks during a given month.

Personally, I recommend Calendly as a scheduling tool. It’s the easiest system to integrate into your practice and is incredibly user-friendly. Additionally, the company continually rolls out new features, like metrics and reporting or round-robin scheduling for teams.

CRM

You may think that a customer relationship management system, or CRM, is an obvious tool in your tech stack, but many advisers aren’t using their CRM to its full potential. Your CRM likely has reporting capabilities beyond what you’re currently using. Monthly reports on what prospect opportunities you lost or won, or the number of prospect meetings you average per quarter, are two common examples.

Many different CRMs are available for advisers. I prefer Wealthbox and Redtail. In fact, they’re the only two systems I consistently recommend for advisers. Each of these systems has robust capabilities and are specifically designed with advisers in mind. They also have a number of integrations, making it easy to integrate them into your existing tech stack and processes.

Email Marketing System

Most advisers have an email marketing system—even if they’re not using it consistently (yet)! Email marketing systems are often thought to be a prospecting-only tool to help you grow your business. Although I do recommend that advisers set up their email marketing system to offer free downloads or lead generation pieces, and use them to send out newsletters and nurture emails to grow business, that’s not all these systems can do for you.

How much easier would your life as a business owner be if you were able to engage in one-to-many communication? Rather than emailing each client individually about open enrollment or tax season, you can construct emails in your email marketing system to go out to a specifically tagged list of your clients.

Wondering what system to use? MailChimp’s free version is solid for beginner RIAs, but if you’re ready to level up, check out ConvertKit, ActiveCampaign or Constant Contact. These systems have more advanced ways to tag your contacts and communicate to individual segments on your list.

VPN

VPN service helps you to keep your clients’ information safe and your Wi-Fi connection secure when you’re working in a public place.

VPNs are perfect for travel, working in a coworking space or even a home office in your apartment complex. I feel that VPNs are an integral part of any adviser’s tech stack. When you’re helping clients with their finances, you need a protected way to keep their information secure. I recommend Private Internet Access® VPN service. You pay an annual fee and the system can sync to multiple computers.

Password Manager

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten locked out of your online accounts because you couldn’t remember your password.

We’ve all been there!

However, as a business owner, you can’t be in a situation with a client where you can’t log into a key account because you can’t remember your password. The best way to navigate this problem is to use a password manager in your practice.

These systems save your logins and can even update your password periodically to ensure they stay complex and secure. You can also use them to share login information among team members or with contract workers. Some systems even have the option to have shared folders that contain specific passwords you want to be shared, while keeping others private.

In my own business, I use LastPass, but if you want to look for other options you can check out 1Password and Dashlane.

Voice-to-Text Systems

As an adviser, you’re on the go a lot. Whether you’re rushing to meetings or trying to manage follow-up preparation after meeting with a prospect, you need a better way to summarize meetings and write notes to yourself and your team.

Whether you use Copytalk or Mobile Assistant, or any of the other voice-to-text systems available, these tools can save you a ton of time on jotting notes down or sending follow-up reminders. Some CRMs even offer voice-to-text options to make your processes a little bit more streamlined. In my own business, I leverage my CRM’s voice-to-text option in an application on my phone.

The No. 1 Tool You Need

I’ve saved the best for last. Zapier is the No. 1 tool you need to have in your back pocket as an adviser and business owner. Zapier helps you to connect and integrate different systems to make them “talk” to each other. You can use Zapier to eliminate manual steps within your business processes and streamline your work.

Charesse Hagan

Charesse Hagan helps financial planners work smarter, grow their firms and offer exceptional services to their clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is an operations consultant at Charesse J. Hagan, LLC, and an FPA Coaches Corner coach for technology and operations. Find more resources from Hagan here. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

See a new article by Charesse Hagan in the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Action 2020: Create Business Success for Today and Tomorrow.” Download your copy of the whitepaper here.  

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How to Balance High Value and Time

What is one thing every business owner lacks? Time.

Time is one of the most valuable commodities as a business owner, making it imperative to strategically maximize.

A roadblock I see many business owners face is the struggle between providing high-value and having the time to do it. Every business wants to provide its clients with an optimal experience, adding unique value to the services it provides. But that isn’t always easy.

High-value is often equated with a ton of time. How can you add value to your services without sacrificing time? This blog post explores this question.

Expand Your Touchpoints

Touchpoints are the ways that your clients interact with you. Most often, this becomes synonymous with meetings. But a meeting, whether in person or virtual, often takes up a good chunk of time—time you could be spending on client work and growing your practice.

It should come as little surprise that people spend way too much time in meetings. According to a study documented in the Harvard Business Review, 65 percent of senior managers felt that meetings keep them from their own work and 71 percent reported their meetings to be unproductive. Entrepreneurs have little time to spend on meetings with the million other responsibilities on their plate: invoicing, payroll, internal growth, client work, marketing, etc.

So they need to find other ways to save time while still engaging their clients. That is why non-meeting touchpoints exist. When you expand the way you reach your clients, you are able to be more creative in

how you reach them. These touchpoints, while not in person, can still be personal. Between blogs, newsletters, videos, emails and more, you will be adding immense value to the client experience.

Remember, you don’t have to add more meetings to increase the value you provide.

Double Down on Your Content

If you are going to reduce your meeting workload, you’ll need to take some serious steps to implement a strong content marketing facet of your business.

Contrary to popular belief and current discourse, content marketing isn’t just to attract prospective clients. It is also used as a touchpoint for your current clients as well. Blogs, for example, are an excellent resource for you to add value to your client’s life. If, for example, you were going to chat about IRAs with your clients that month, put out a blog that focuses on the different types of IRAs and how it can work for them. This way, you are still giving them the information they need in a personal way that isn’t a meeting.

Take some time to think about your global communication strategy. How do you interact with your clients and how can that communication be improved? You could implement a monthly newsletter, updating your clients on the firm and a topic that you want to bring to their attention. Another idea is providing a quarterly market update.

Video is another excellent medium for communication, so you can send out monthly or quarterly videos, detailing upcoming dates or topics to keep in mind such as tax season, charitable giving and maxing out your 401(k) contributions.

Remember to consider your audience when you create your content. You can do this by brainstorming different subsections of your audience, or tag groups. For you that might be young adults or new business owners or pre-retirees. Take a look at the different sections of your audience and create content that is unique to them.

Increasing your client touchpoints supports a subscription billing structure. Since you have created a strategy to nurture and reach out to your clients through multiple channels, they won’t be surprised when the bill comes. If you only speak to them once per quarter and they receive a bill from you, they may not feel like they have received optimum value. But if they speak to you once per quarter, receive monthly newsletters and blogs and also a regular video update, you are providing more value to them and people will pay for valuable services.

When You Can, Automate

When you have multiple touchpoints: newsletters, blogs, videos, etc. it can be tough to organize all of the information and ensure it actually reaches your audience. That is where automation comes in.

Schedule your blog posts, newsletters and email updates. You can batch create or outsource your content and then from there plug them into your website and email service so you won’t have to think about it.

Every business owner wishes there were more than 24 hours in a day. But since there isn’t, it is important to find scalable ways to maximize the impact of your time.

One way you can do that with your clients is by increasing non-meeting touchpoints by adding high-value content your audience will love.

Charesse Hagan

Charesse Hagan helps financial planners work smarter, grow their firms and offer exceptional services to their clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is an operations consultant at Charesse J. Hagan, LLC, and an FPA Coaches Corner coach for technology and operations. Find more resources from Hagan here.