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Networking

6 Steps to better Networking

Networking is a really important business activity, but it’s one that fills a lot of people with dread… They think of standing around in crowded rooms with no one to talk to, or being pinned in the corner with somebody talking endlessly about some mind-numbingly boring topic. And so while most people recognise the importance of networking, very few people do enough of it. In fact, I find it’s the one activity that causes the most discomfort when it ends up on the marketing plan for a Financial Broker!

So what can you do to make it easier and more effective? After all, if it actually works and helps you generate new clients, you are much more likely to continue to do it.

Recognise that it isn’t easy

It isn’t easy… but it isn’t easy for anyone. So while you might think that it’s so easy for certain people, that tends to be because they’ve worked really hard at becoming good at networking.  However, while some people might appear to find it easier than others, everyone at least has a common purpose  – they are there to build connections. So approach it from the point of view that at least everyone has the same goal and are open to talking to you.

You must have a strategy

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be standing in the traffic if you want to get knocked down! But it’s not enough to wander blindly into a networking event without a clue of how you’re about to approach it. This starts before the event where you try and get a handle on who is likely to be there. Are there lists of attendees available in advance? Can you check out who members of the business group / conference attendees are? Once you’ve an idea of who will be there, you can start thinking about who your preferred “targets” are. And then you can start doing some quick research on them through their website and LinkedIn profile. And this research will hopefully come in very handy later…

Be a first mover

Don’t just head for your pals and spend your night in deep conversation with them! By all means, if they are in a group of people that you want to meet, take the opportunity to get introduced into the group. But be active and make the first move to start conversations. Others will thank you for this and it also gives you the opportunity to guide the conversation.

Be interested

And this is where your research comes in really useful! If you can show a level of interest in the people you meet – some knowledge of their business, some connections you have in common, it might even be that you know about some quirky interest of theirs, this will ease them into the conversation as you are opening the door for them to talk about themselves. And then be interested because your interest in them will come back in spades. They will naturally want to reciprocate and turn the conversation towards you, which of course is then your opening…

Hone your own pitch

When you get over the initial chit-chat and move on to talking about your reason for being at the event and what you have to offer, this simply must be interesting and must grab their attention. At the end of the day, they will be talking to many people that day so you must be in some way memorable. If you are pitching your wares, paint pictures of solutions, not saying why you’re such a great financial planner. Let people see how you will solve problems for them and enrich their lives in some way.

Follow up brilliantly!

Then when all the hard work is done, make sure you take the final step. Contact people after the event saying how it was great to meet them and thanking them for their time. Connect with them on LinkedIn and if you send out a company newsletter, suggest that they be added to the circulation list. Send them information if this makes sense. If there’s a favour you can do for them, maybe there’s someone else you can introduce them to – well then this is even better.

So yes, networking is not easy. But hopefully these few thoughts might make the task a little less daunting for you!

Segmentation, targeting & positioning – fundamentals of adviser marketing

Going back through the eons of time, I can recall a number of the key marketing principles that were ground into me time and time again; the importance of research and knowing your customer, understanding buyer behaviour and the role of the four P’s (product, price, place and promotion) among others.

However in my day-to-day work with financial advisers today, the principles that I find myself returning to more and more to address the challenges of advisers are Segmentation, Targeting & Positioning (STP). Many advisers today recognise the importance of these strategies as they attempt to make best use of their limited marketing resources, be they time or money or both.

Some definitions

So to start this 60-second marketing lesson, here is a definition of each, as set out by Philip Kotler, the grandfather of marketing education.

  • Market Segmentation: Dividing a market into distinct groups of buyers with different needs, characteristics or behaviour, who might require separate products or marketing mixes.
  • Market Targeting: The process of evaluating each market segment’s attractiveness and selecting one or more segments to enter.
  • Market Positioning: Arranging for a product (or service) to occupy a clear, distinctive and desirable place relative to competing products (or services) in the minds of target consumers.

What’s happening in the financial adviser market in Ireland?

Many financial advisers realise that a “one size fits all” proposition just doesn’t cut it any more. Either for the client who is looking for more than a generic service, or for the adviser who cannot profitably or successfully deliver the same service to all clients irrespective of their value, characteristics, needs etc.

As a result, many advisers are undertaking segmentation exercises, analysing their client bases and potential markets, most often by value. Others are also segmenting but by different dimensions – some are focussing on SME’s, others on specific professional groups.

A smaller number are then going on to specifically target sub-sections of their client bases and target markets at the expense of other groups – for example focusing all of their attention on clients of a certain value. In this case, some are even offloading their lower value clients to truly target their desired groups. Others are identifying specific occupations that they will target and also those that they won’t. And then sticking to this!

Finally, a relatively small number are taking that final step of actually positioning their business and all of their communications to appeal directly to their target market, even at the risk of alienating other potential customers.

Why STP is so important for financial advisers today

It’s this final step of having the courage to position yourself within a specific target market (or even a niche) that is a step too far for many advisers. They struggle with the thinking that while business might be quite tough today; it might actually be easier if you narrow your focus! How does this make sense?

If you offer a generic service to clients, they will recognise this. They won’t feel any particular connection with what you do, as it is not targeted at them. Instead if you have a clear target market and all of your communications are aimed with that group specifically in mind, the customers within that group will connect with your messages and are more likely to view you as a specialist who is out to serve their specific needs.

There are lots of very good financial advisers operating in the Irish market. At the end of the day, how are you going to stand apart from the crowd if you offer a very generic service?

Is a niche positioning viable in the Irish market?

My view is that it is 100% viable. Indeed you can build an extremely successful business based on a niche strategy! I’m not saying that it’s easy – you need to first of all very clearly and carefully segment your potential markets. You then need to decide the markets that you will target and have a clear strategy for building presence and scale in these markets. And finally you need to relentlessly build your positioning and re-affirm it time and time again.

I’m a believer and would argue that I practice what I preach in this area! There are 1,000’s of marketing consultants out there but not many that position their business specifically around meeting the needs of the financial adviser community. I’m really happy that I’ve pitched my tent there, attempting to meet the needs of a community that I admire and enjoy working with! Thank you all for welcoming me into your world and helping me to grow my business! I passionately believe that you can do the same within your chosen markets.

Do you have any views on this topic? Is a niche strategy viable? What are the challenges you face in running with this approach? All your comments as ever are very welcome.

Why don’t my new clients realise how good I am?

I was working with a financial adviser recently (let’s call him Jim for the purpose of this article) who asked me that exact question. He was incredibly frustrated. While acknowledging that he’s not perfect (show me someone who is!), Jim articulated to me that he gives excellent advice to clients, that he works really hard on their behalf and that he is very competitive in his charging structures. And I fully believe that he was painting a realistic picture. The problem is that Jim’s new clients don’t seem to realise the value that he’s bringing to them. They appear a bit under-whelmed at the end of the initial advice process.

To help Jim, we worked through his sales process and I gave him a few pointers as to how I felt he could engage his new clients better. Jim was happy for me to share some of the points we discussed, which I’ve done below with a few more besides to help you better demonstrate and communicate your value to clients at the outset of your relationship with them. On another day, I’ll set out how you continue this going forward to really cement your relationship with your clients.

 

Have a well thought out process and explain it to the client.

Jim showed me his agenda for his first meeting with a new client. It all made a lot of sense. However when pushed by me to role play the meeting, we discovered that the agenda was actually just a bit of a crutch and the meeting bore very little resemblance to the agenda.

When we unpicked this, it became clear that Jim had been using the agenda for years, partly in the belief that it demonstrated professionalism. It definitely can do, if you follow it. If you don’t follow it or even worse if it doesn’t really make sense, then it will achieve very little.

As you may know from previous posts, I’m a firm believer in spending a lot of time developing out your sales process and then building an engaging presentation to communicate It to clients. This builds trust, it demonstrates professionalism and should set out a roadmap that you and the client will actually follow.

 

Two ears and one mouth

Yep, we all know this one but it is surprising how often it gets forgotten. Jim was dying to get “stuck in” on the client’s behalf. So he was diving into the factfind as quickly as possible to learn all he could so that he could then advise. I firmly believe that this is a mistake. Now is the time to get the client talking. Why are they in front of you? What do they want to achieve? I’m not talking about growing their assets by 6% p.a. or building up a fund of €x. Instead what are their life ambitions, their real goals? What do they want to be able to do in the future?

When they paint these pictures for you, then you can start putting numbers against them. And help them identify what they have to do to achieve them. It might seem a bit “touchy-feely” at the start but trust me, it will feel very real to the client, as these are the dreams they are thinking about every day.

So it’s time to sit back and listen. There’s plenty of time for the factfind after this!

 

Don’t forget the everyday stuff

No matter what you call yourself; a financial broker, a planner an adviser – at the end of the day you are trying to improve the financial future of your clients. Jim does this in a very thorough fashion. He completed a very rigorous factfind, he analyses his clients’ risk appetite and tolerance and puts a huge amount of effort and innovative thinking into his recommendations. He adds real value in the product solutions that he recommends. And puts no time into the more mundane area of everyday budgeting and cashflow management…

I work with a financial adviser myself on my own affairs. He provides me with excellent advice; identifying objectives, risk advice, financial planning, cashflow planning & product choice. Ask my wife Louise (that is her real name!) why is he so good, and she will talk of the attention he has paid to our everyday income and expenditure. In her eyes the real stuff, the factors that we can control.

This can get lost in the rush to “get to the money”, helping the client to grow their wealth through the big decisions of investment strategy and product choice.

Apart from the other valuable support we get, focusing on the small stuff results in Louise making sure we never miss our review meetings with our adviser. This is also a very important factor in being happy to pay his fee every year.

 

Cutting down trees

Jim then showed me his reports. Well written, no typos and good grammar throughout. The problem is no-one will ever read them. They are just too long. As a result the clients don’t realise the thought that went into them, they assume there’s just a load of padding.

Get the key points up front in the report for the client. Try to get it on one page, certainly a maximum of two. All the discretionary reading should sit behind this in appendices. Some clients will read them, some won’t. But at least now they’ll all read the important stuff. 

Twenty page documents do not justify higher fees.

Work out what’s important

Usually a financial plan will result in multiple recommendations. This is where the client can get in a spin. Help them out of it, show them what is important in the short, medium and long term. What are the “must do” items and what can wait? Help them to prioritise their spending, their time and their attention, as they will struggle to do this themselves. They will value your experience and help in this regard.

This is of course by no means an exhaustive list of how to demonstrate value, instead they are just a few thoughts on how you can connect better with your clients at the outset of your relationship with them. Any views are welcome below!

LinkedIn for Financial Advisers – Part 2: Building up a valuable network

 

In this second of three in-depth articles about LinkedIn, we take a look at best practices in building a strong connection base and set out some tips for financial advisers to develop a valuable network. This is a really important step in actually using LinkedIn to deliver value, the subject of the final instalment coming up in a few weeks time!

 

LinkedIn will help you!

To start building up your network, take all the help that is available. The bigger and better our LinkedIn networks become, the more we will use it as a platform and the more valuable LinkedIn as a company will become. So LinkedIn help you broaden your network in a number of ways.

First of all, you can download your email contacts into LinkedIn. This is very straightforward if you use Gmail, it can be a bit trickier to download directly from Outlook. An alternative is to download your contacts from Outlook into a .csv (excel) file and then upload this into LinkedIn which will then identify which of your email contacts have LinkedIn profiles. This saves you going searching for each of them individually. You then have the option of inviting each of these email contacts to join your LinkedIn network.

LinkedIn will also identify from your profile your school, college and previous employers. Using this, it will suggest alumni and ex-colleagues that you can consider connecting with.

On an ongoing basis, LinkedIn will examine your connections and your 2nd & 3rd level connections and will suggest people for you to connect with. This is extremely useful, in fact many people express to me how impressed they are by the intuition of this feature! This is on your homepage and well worth checking out regularly.

 

Think what you’re trying to achieve!

At this stage, start thinking about why you are going to all of this trouble. At the end of the day, you want to build up a valuable network of connections that ultimately may be helpful to one or both of you in a business context. You are looking to connect with clients, potential clients, business partners, introducers etc. And this works both ways – sometimes you are the client! Through your network, you are looking to provide value to your connections and/or indeed receive value from them.

So does it make sense if the lion’s share of your connections are other financial brokers? There is definite benefit in connecting with other advisers who you collaborate with or bounce ideas off for your mutual benefit. However I think that competitors should make up the minority of your connections, particularly where neither of you in reality will be looking to add value to each other. LinkedIn is not a glorified address book, it is far more valuable than that! But more about that in my final post on the subject of LinkedIn….

A question I’m often asked is, “Should I accept every connection request?”

There are many different views on this one. My own approach is to accept connections where I believe that there is some chance, even remote of one or other of us providing value to the other. I also consider how the approach was made, whether I think the person wanted to connect with me or was just spamming out invitations – see the section on manners below.

Groups are another rich source of potential connections as they offer opportunities to interact with people with common interests, challenges etc. Add value here and you will quickly build up a broader network.

If you have accepted connections in the past that you now want to remove, LinkedIn have made this very easy. You can now break the link with a connection, and the good news is, they are not even aware that you’ve done so. However, if you want to re-awaken this connection in the future, you will need to re-invite them to connect again.

 

Have a process to grow your network

It is really important to have a clear process for growing your network that you then carry out consistently. I think it’s all about striking while the iron is hot! After you have met someone who you would like to have in your network, you should straightaway check if they are on LinkedIn and if so, look to connect while you are still fresh in their minds. Once connected, you have opened the door to a value adding relationship in the future, even if you don’t see them again for some time. I encourage advisers to set aside even 10 minutes a day to reflect on who they met in the previous 24 hours, and then connect with them.

 

Don’t forget your manners!

My biggest bugbear with LinkedIn? This is when I receive a connection request where I don’t know the person, just receive the bog standard invitation request and I get a sense that the person was just spamming / firing out connection requests in all directions. So I’ve a few rules…

  1. Never send out the standard LinkedIn connection request. Personalise every invitation, even if it is just a reminder of where you met, a suggestion to meet for a coffee or some general business observation. The point is to show the person that you want to connect with him / her and are not just trying to drive up your connection numbers. Yes, this is slower as you have to send out each connection request individually, but definitely worth it.
  2. It is ok to look to connect with people in your connections’ networks, after all this is a key benefit of LinkedIn and what makes it tick! However there is a way to do it. As an example, let’s assume I’m connected to Joe who in turn is connected to Sam, who I don’t know. I want to connect with Sam to build a business relationship. Yes I can go directly to Sam and say why he should connect with me etc. However there’s a strong chance that he may just ignore me, as he doesn’t know me. Instead, do what you do offline. LinkedIn has a facility by which I can go to Joe and ask for an introduction to Sam. This is very powerful. Now Joe is doing me a favour (which I hopefully can reciprocate) and now Sam is much more likely to connect, both as a favour to Joe and also because of the professional approach used.

These are just a few thoughts on growing your network. In my final post on LinkedIn coming up in 2/3 weeks time, we get to the real meat of this series – using LinkedIn to add value.

If you’ve any thoughts on growing your LinkedIn network, please feel free to leave comments below.

LinkedIn – Part 1: Building an effective profile

This is the first of a series of 3 articles on the subject of LinkedIn for financial advisers. These articles are going to cover the following;

  • Building an effective profile
  • Developing your LinkedIn network
  • Using LinkedIn to engage existing and prospective clients

Here are the steps to build an effective profile!

 

Introduction to LinkedIn

For those financial advisers not familiar with LinkedIn, now is the time to change that… Basically LinkedIn is your own personal website where other users can learn about you as a business person and connect with you. In my humble opinion, a strong presence on LinkedIn is no longer optional as more and more clients research financial advisers on LinkedIn and use it as an important source in determining the professionalism and credibility of advisers. If you’ve no presence, potential clients will wonder why.

LinkedIn was launched in 2003 as a social network for people in professional occupations. It has experienced explosive growth, now with over 225 million users worldwide in more than 200 countries, with membership growing at the rate of 2 people every second.  It underwent an initial public offering (IPO) in May 2011, with its shares opening at $45. These are currently trading at well over $200 per share, the company having a market cap in excess of $21bn. I fully expect that with this membership growth rate and the financial value of the business, it is here to stay…

While I’m not personally convinced that many users in Ireland are using LinkedIn to actually find a financial adviser, it is being used more and more by people to research an adviser before contacting you. So it is critical that your profile does you justice. The question is; how do you achieve this?

 

Take the help available

LinkedIn wants each of us to have as rich a personal profile as possible. To help us, it has a very useful feature called “Improve your profile”. This is a big blue button, up near the top of your profile, beside your photograph. Use this. It is LinkedIn’s way of guiding you through each section of your profile in turn and encouraging you to complete every section.

Your aim should be to fill that blue circle called “Profile Strength” in the right hand column as much as possible!

 

It’s not “once done, forever forgotten”

Your LinkedIn profile needs to be kept current. So if you change jobs, get a new qualification, pick up new skills or join any new networking groups etc., you should update this on your LinkedIn profile.

I encourage people to take 10 minutes every month or so to quickly read down through your profile. Is there anything to add or indeed just some language that could be strengthened?

 

Put up a photograph

There is no good reason not to put up a photograph! Any prospective client will want to know what you look like. The photograph should be a professional headshot, not one from a night out! Using a good photograph further enhances your credibility.

 

Your headline is very important

Apart from your name, this is the first section that people read so it is very important. You’ve 160 characters to say what you do. This is not “Managing Director of ABC Financial Services”. Instead it should explain what you do, particularly if you have a target market in mind, for example “Expert financial planner & retirement adviser for professionals and business owners in the Fingal area”.

 

The summary section is your elevator pitch

This is the first section below your photograph so again it is very important. I believe these are best written in the first person, as it makes it more personable and “from the heart”. The summary is your opportunity to set out what makes you different to other financial advisers, so to my mind this is where you talk about the expertise you offer, the client-focused approach that you use, the value gained by your rigorous advice process. This is where a prospective client will think (or not) that you are the type of person they want to work with.

 

Recommendations are great!

LinkedIn recommendations are hugely valuable as they come from real people, offering strong feedback on your services. Value these as they are a great endorsement for you personally and are a great asset in attracting potential clients.

Less valuable are endorsements, which are simply “one click” endorsements of particular skills that you have. These are much easier to give and get and so are much less valuable than recommendations. However I don’t discount them totally, as they offer a bit more colour to your LinkedIn profile.

 

The rest is important too!

And then it’s a case of filling in the rest of fields, giving other LinkedIn users a real sense of your experience, your interests and why they should have you in their network. Make the content as rich as possible, adding links to your website, other social media assets and now you can also add presentations, videos and publications. All of this makes your profile more engaging.

 

And what about search results?

Having a content rich profile will help you to show up higher in LinkedIn search results. In fact by including keywords such as “financial planner Ireland” in as many fields as possible on your profile, this will help you achieve a higher position in search results for those keywords. As mentioned earlier, I’m not convinced as yet though that people in Ireland are using LinkedIn to find a financial adviser. In my view they are using it more for research purposes of advisers that were recommended to them.

In any event, having a strong profile is worth the effort and is a cornerstone of optimising your presence on LinkedIn. Over some upcoming blog posts I’ll look at building your LinkedIn network and using LinkedIn to engage people.

If there are any specific questions that you have in relation to LinkedIn, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below.

5 zero cost marketing activities to complete this summer

With the explosive growth of digital marketing in the last decade, one important dynamic has changed. Marketing has shifted from being a bottomless pit in relation to your financial resources to offering many low cost or even zero cost opportunities. However the flip side of this coin is that marketing now draws on another scarce resource…your time.

With business possibly being a bit quieter over the summer months, you now should have a bit of time to dedicate to some marketing activities that will set you in good stead for a strong finish to the year. So here are 5 marketing tasks to complete over the next 5 weeks that won’t actually cost you a cent.

Update your Website

As part of my work with financial advisers across the country, I too often see great work going into the development of new and exciting marketing activities while ignoring one of the business’s main marketing assets, the company website. Yes I know that updating your website is certainly not the most exciting work that you can be doing, but it is very important. Perceptions of your business will be built, based on your website and there is nothing worse than out of date and poorly written content. So go through your website page by page, make sure there is no out of date content and look for opportunities to make the content more engaging for the reader. This is your key online shop window.

 

Review your LinkedIn presence

In a similar vein to the above, your LinkedIn profile is your most important personal digital asset from a business perspective. To my mind, a presence on LinkedIn is not optional for financial advisers any more, it is too important a marketing opportunity to miss. And it doesn’t cost a red cent.

Starting in next month’s newsletter, I’m going to do a series of 3 in-depth articles in relation to LinkedIn, covering the following;

  • Building a winning profile on LinkedIn
  • Using LinkedIn to build a valuable network
  • Using LinkedIn to add value and build your business.

So for now, get to work on improving your LinkedIn presence and then hopefully over the rest of the year, you’ll pick up a few more tips from the 3 in-depth articles.

 

Tidy up your data

There are 2 specific areas in relation to data that can add significantly to your marketing efforts. The first is to simply (but religiously) record where every lead comes from, is it from a referral, from a specific marketing activity or from whatever source. The importance of this is that when you look back a year later at where your leads came from, this data can hugely influence where you put your marketing euros and hours in the future.

The second area is in relation to email addresses. Spend some time over the summer ringing clients to ensure you have their current email address. Email is still an extremely powerful marketing tool, but can’t be carried out without email addresses. Lack of this valuable data is the single biggest blockage I come across, preventing advisers from carrying out effective email campaigns. I might be stretching it a bit but the cost of these calls is covered under your phone package!

 

Develop an introducer’s presentation

So many advisers recognise the enormous opportunity that strong links with potential introducers such as accountants or tax advisers can offer them. However many don’t give themselves the best chance of building strong relationships with these introducers.

This starts at the very first meeting with the potential partner. This should never just be a chat. This is one of your most important business meetings, where you are trying to convince the potential partner to entrust you with their most valuable asset, their clients. At the end of the day, the main reason many accountants don’t enter into partnerships with financial advisers is because they are afraid that as a result of having recommended you to their clients, that this will reflect back badly on them if something goes wrong between you and the client.

So you must be able to clearly articulate why you are the only adviser that they should consider working with and how you are going to actually enhance the partner’s relationship with their client, rather than potentially damaging it. The starting point for this is a professional, engaging presentation that clearly articulates your value proposition to both the introducer and to their clients. Work on this over the summer.

 

Hone your referral approach

Referrals sit at the heart of many advisers’ client acquisition strategies. Many “just do it”, without any thought to method or process. While this is fine if it works, there are ways to support your natural talent to improve your success rate. One way is to use the likes of LinkedIn to research your client’s network. Now rather than asking your client to refer “someone” to you, and pushing the work on to them to think of who and how you might help, instead you can suggest actual contacts that you would like to meet. This keeps you in the driving seat.

Also develop a series of case studies of innovative solutions you have designed for clients, portraying your value. Make your clients aware of these, with the aim of helping to trigger in their mind some contacts that your solutions / approaches might suit.

 

And one more…

Finally, if you want help with these or any other activities, I’d be delighted to talk through your challenges with you. And I’ll buy the coffee!

 

I hope these ideas help. Put a bit of time into your marketing activities over the summer, and reap the rewards over the remainder of the year.