Turbo charge your business in 2022

What am I doing, talking about 2022 already? Well I’m not asking you to wish your life away, but quite a number of financial advisers have observed that August and early September are quieter times for them. And this quiet time offers an opportunity to do some planning for your business.

You should always be thinking short-term about your activity planning and how you are strengthening your relationships with every existing and potential clients, particularly as you are back out now re-engaging with clients after Covid. However now you also have an opportunity to do some longer-term thinking and more strategic thinking about broader areas that will stand your business in good stead over the next few years. While it’s not an exhaustive list, here are a few areas to think about now.


Make sure your team are with you

When’s the last time that you gave structured thought to the development needs and engagement of your team? Now might be the time to consider their coaching needs that will help them improve, grow and ultimately benefit your business. And how well are you managing the return to the office? Good people are in very short supply at the moment, so make sure you are bringing your team with you.


Make sure you are fit for purpose yourself!

How are your own skills as a business leader, mentor, manager, business generator, client executive and everything else that you do? Now is also a good time to give some thought to gaps that you might have in your own toolbox and to look at how you might close the gaps. Have you trusted people, either staff members or other business contacts who will candidly help you to identify any areas that it might be useful for you to work on? Getting help and coaching shows a desire for improvement rather than an admission of shortcomings!


Make sure your clients are with you

When did you last review your Client Value Proposition? It’s important to ensure that you continue to deliver the appropriate levels of service to different groups of clients at the right price. And this is an ever-moving target. So even if you previously segmented your clients, are clear about who you are targeting and have your positioning identified, this needs to be regularly reviewed. The world of financial advice is constantly changing. Your business needs to change with it, particularly in this post-Covid world.


Review your communications

How good are your communications to your clients? Now is a good time to stand back and look at the quality of what you produce, your client meeting inputs and outputs, your other individual communications to clients and also your (hopefully) regular marketing communications. Are your messages getting a bit tired, or are they really engaging your clients? Seek feedback – both from any analytics that are available to you, and also from people who are on the receiving end of what you send and say.


Review your processes

Give some time to picking apart everything that you do within your business. Could you be easier to do business with, is there an opportunity to really wow your clients? At this stage, look to identify the gaps in your processes. Then put a plan in place with your team to overhaul the processes and set your business up to deliver a much better client experience in the future.


There are many other areas that you can think about during these quiet months – the key is to make sure that August & September don’t just slip by without much work being done. If you can make a start on some of the areas identified here, you’ll thank yourself when 2022 eventually comes around.

You’re fired

It’s hard enough to get clients in the first place, I hear you say… But sometimes relationships just don’t work out and it’s time to part ways. This arises relatively infrequently in personal relationships, and it also arises fairly rarely in adviser / client relationships. But just as it doesn’t make sense to stay in a bad marriage, it also doesn’t make sense to stay in a toxic or doomed adviser / client relationship…


Relationships can turn sour with clients

We’re not talking here about the odd grumble that a client may have. When markets take a bit of a dive, the natural reaction of a client is to get nervous. Some will have an open conversation with you about their concerns, others will stew silently, some might lash out a bit at you. There’s nothing wrong with any of these reactions – your skills as an adviser need to stretch to noticing client reactions, dealing with them accordingly and bringing your client’s attention back to what matters – their financial plan.

Instead we’re talking here about the client who is simply never happy – your service is too slow when it’s not, your charges are too high when they are in fact fair, their fund performance is not good enough when it’s not your fault and the client also doesn’t want to take any risk. If the client can find an opportunity to moan, they immediately take it. When your phone rings and your heart sinks when their number comes up – everyone knows the feeling.

Let the client go – fire him or her. A client who doesn’t recognise your value is no good for you or your business.


The time comes to break free

I was chatting recently to an adviser that I really respect about a specific client of his. It’s about the tenth conversation we’ve had about the client, who is simply never happy. My adviser friend has jumped through hoops for him over the last few years – regular draining meetings and phone conversations, numerous excellent and time consuming reports, meetings arranged with providers, exceptional service at every turn. All the time having developed an innovative financial plan for the client, that is on course for delivery via a solid investment strategy. And all of this has been delivered for a very reasonable fee.  There has never been a word of thanks or even grudging positivity from the client.

The adviser has ploughed on as the annual fee, even though extremely reasonable is not insignificant. The adviser didn’t want to lose the fee… until recently, when the client started arguing over the fee level (again). The adviser told me that a few weeks previously, he fired the client. He told the client he would not deal with him any more and would facilitate fully his move to another adviser or organisation of his choice.

The client took it badly, told the adviser he was going anyway and went off to talk to other advisers. The faraway hills were not greener – the client soon arrived back a bit sheepishly saying that he(!) had reconsidered and would stay on the existing fee. The adviser said he was no longer a client and wouldn’t be taken back.


Don’t look back

Yes the adviser misses the fee a bit. But the cost of that is far outweighed by the liberating impact that getting rid of the client has had, both for him personally and for his business. He knows his proposition is excellent, his fees are fair, his communication is excellent and his results for clients are as good as can be achieved. However this experience caused him to re-evaluate what he does and question that maybe the fault lay with him as the adviser and not the client.  Having done this exercise though, it re-confirmed to himself that his offering is excellent. He has more time for other clients, renewed confidence in what he offers and a certain pride that he stood up for his own principles. He doesn’t dread phone calls, and the slog associated with that particular client is gone. All of this is worth a lot more than a fee.

I’m not suggesting that the decision to fire a client is easy and it should never be taken lightly. But do you have a client who is dragging you down, takes up too much time, keeps you awake at night, moans about you to others and makes you question yourself and what you do? Because if you do, you should consider whether they deserve a seat on your bus.


Every day you help your clients to live the life they want. Do yourself a favour and live the life you want – don’t suffer clients who don’t deserve you.

10 years later and I’m still here…

Passing the milestone this month of 10 years of self-employment looks like it has taken its toll on me a bit… Ok in truth I’m not quite that old looking or worn out by working for myself. In fact, I’m not worn out at all, as the last decade has been by far the most invigorating and rewarding period of my career. And that’s down to all of you.

Just after the financial crash, I left a secure, well-paid job and set up my own business. This was something I’d wanted to do ever since doing an MBA at the turn of the century. So what have the last 10 years taught me?


Clients make it all worthwhile

Just as you get a buzz from providing excellent financial planning solutions to your own clients, I get the same from dealing with you. Financial planners, financial brokers, life & pension providers, trade associations and other industry players have generously supported StepChange over the last 10 years. You’ve challenged me, kept me on my toes, encouraged and helped me to deliver my best work and been my source of income, and for all of that I’ll be forever grateful.

Just as important, because of you I keep learning every day and you’ve brought about the most enjoyable days in my career. I haven’t regretted the move to self-employment for a single day, even though running a business is seldom a smooth path.

Thank you.

The amount of goodwill out there is unbelievable

This was the first welcome lesson I learned as I started out – the amount of goodwill out there is incredible. This started on day one, and is still the case 10 years later. If people can do you a good turn, they usually do. This might be a word of advice, a cup of coffee, an introduction and sometimes placing your faith (and your wallet) on my judgement of the need for a piece of work to be done.

You must be willing to learn

Not learning new skills and picking up extra knowledge is simply not an option when working for yourself. If you go stale and start coasting, soon you won’t be eating. Clients rightly deserve your very best work every time and if they don’t get it, they will go elsewhere. Keeping your skills up to date and knowing your market is critical to staying sharp and adding value.

What I probably hadn’t realised when I started out though was the array of skills you need when working for yourself. Apart from needing my planning and marketing skills for working with clients, I soon realised I’m the IT department for desktops, printers and devices and the finance department who manages cashflow, issues invoices and ensures accounts and tax are submitted and paid on time. And guess who the office cleaner is…

You need courage and to back yourself

I could spend my life second guessing myself and getting nothing done; who should I be approaching, is my proposition right, is my pricing right, are the suppliers I’m dealing with the right ones? Yes, I’ve made mistakes in all of these areas, but hopefully I’ve learned from them. Navel gazing and doing nothing is a luxury I just cannot afford, as doing nothing doesn’t move you in any direction…

This was a big lesson, as in corporate life you tend to get more time to carry out proper analysis before a decision is made, there are lots of people to bounce ideas around and you still get paid during this time. Not so in your own business. So often I’ve found I just need to back myself and go for it.

You must never neglect business development

2013 was a really difficult year for me in my business, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I had a pretty poor year in terms of income, and it was all down to neglecting my pipeline of potential new business. I was really busy with lots of projects underway going into 2013, I put the head down and delivered these as quickly as possible over the first few months up to the middle of May. And then nothing happened… I had completely neglected business development and didn’t really secure any new business until after the summer. Then that work had to be delivered of course before I saw payment for it. It meant a poor year but a brilliant lesson. No matter how busy I am now, business development is a constant activity…

Social media really works

I believe 100% that without LinkedIn and my monthly newsletter, I wouldn’t be working for myself. If used properly, LinkedIn is unbelievably powerful in helping SMEs to build effective networks and generate new clients. It has been a constant source of new clients for me. Do you want to know how? There’s a first project we could work on!

Email newsletters help you stay on the radar of contacts and clients too. You don’t know when a need might arise for your services – the key is to be top of mind when it does. A regular newsletter helps you achieve this.

Listen to wise people

Listen to your clients, they teach you most of what you need to know. My best business initiatives have come from discussions with financial brokers and planners, from having a coffee with a provider or from having a pint with an industry contact or friend. Your wise words or sometimes a gentle kick in the backside to get me to take a chance on a business idea have helped me no end in terms of developing new services and increasing the value I can add. So many of you have made an enormous difference to my business, and that is never forgotten or taken for granted.


I wouldn’t change my career for the world and here’s to the next decade together – thank you.

10 years on – what’s changed in the financial advice community in Ireland

For the last 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of working directly and very closely with many of the very best financial planners and brokers in Ireland. So what have I learned about you in that time?


You are the most resilient bunch

Back in 2011, many of you were on your knees, as the market for personal financial advice and solutions had dried up almost completely. However you simply dug in, scaled back your businesses to a more sustainable size, re-examined your propositions and got out there meeting your existing and prospective clients. After a few tough years, many of you were rewarded and have seen the very best of times since. And then Covid hit…

… and most of you didn’t bat an eyelid. You switched to remote working and I know there are many of you who had record years in 2020.


You do invest in your businesses

When I started out in 2011, if I had got a euro from every person who said to me that “brokers won’t pay for anything”, I’d be a richer man! It was a demeaning and unfair comment that doesn’t recognise the professionals that you are. The bottom line is that you are willing to invest in your businesses, once you see value in doing so. The days of only engaging with suppliers when a provider footed the bill are long over.  Yes, you are very discerning about when and with whom you engage, making sure that you can see a clear return for your investment. But that’s only right. This ensures suppliers (like me) are focused on the value we can bring to you, rather than simply pushing products and services at you. Is this any different to the work you do with your clients?


The market is fundamentally different today

Ten years ago, the term financial planner didn’t exist. Then it became a fashionable title for people to use. But today it perfectly describes what so many within the advice community do every day. So many firms have actively shifted their business model from one centred on product sales, to one where the financial plan developed by the planner sits at the core of the client proposition. And this has resulted in a whole new breed of advisers; those who are adding significant value to their clients and are now confidently in control of their business, not dependant on product sales and not exposed to the whims of the market and the changes in product strategies by providers.


Less clients being brilliantly served

Ten years ago, the most common question I was asked was, “How do I get more clients?” I’m rarely asked this today, in fact on balance I’m actually asked the opposite more frequently! The aim of many advisers today is to deal with less clients and to serve them brilliantly. The challenge is in the last bit, and that is where we are helping firms every day, helping firms develop excellent and valued client retention strategies as opposed to the race for new business.

A clear and valuable proposition and effective, ongoing communication are so key to retaining your valued clients today. While some of you are doing this well, if there is one area that requires improvement across the profession, it is probably here. Being able to articulate your value and then remind clients of this on an ongoing basis remains a challenge for many.


You focus on investor behaviour rather than investment expertise

A big change over the last 10 years has been the approach to investments by advisers. Back then lots of advisers worried about selecting the best investment for clients, beating benchmarks and worrying whenever performance dipped. You spent your life tweaking asset allocations and fund choices for that extra ounce of performance, that more often than not evaded you and your clients.

Today I see advisers focused on getting the right portfolio in place for their client and then spending their time focused on stopping the client from blowing it up through their constant meddling! Some of the even more forward-thinking advisers are formally recognising where they add value, don’t see themselves as investment specialists or don’t want to potentially damage client relationships through poor advice, and as a result are outsourcing the investment expertise to 3rd parties.  


Technology is critical…but not everything

How do you feel about robo advisers now, who were going to herald the death of financial advisers? Excellent financial planning requires deep, trusted relationships built upon meaningful and highly personal conversations. Yes, a machine can hugely help to improve part of an adviser’s value chain, but it hasn’t as yet replaced this most critical piece of the relationship…and I say it never will.  

But technology also plays an enormous role today. What would your financial planning proposition look like today without Voyant? Many of you I know would say that it wouldn’t exist. And look how technology aided your business when Covid struck – could you imagine going back to the days of no remote meetings and no Docusign?


Some are still trying to be “all things to all men”

Having a clear target market makes your life so easy. You can then focus your client value proposition, your sales activities, your marketing messages and indeed your whole support infrastructure around meeting the needs of specific groups. But some only see the risks involved in this – narrow groups of people to target, missing broader opportunities etc. As a result, some financial advisers continue to try to appeal to everyone. And as a result, they don’t really connect with anyone. Yes, your target market must be big enough to sustain you. But if you then focus your efforts on them, you gain the opportunity of creating a real standout positioning for yourself.


Pricing and justifying your charge are still big challenges

One of the most common questions I’m asked is on the topic of charging. However, the conversation has definitely moved on a bit. Many of you are happy with what you are charging clients – often but not always being paid by a provider or platform. The change though is that lots of you are now equally focused on how to justify your charges to clients. As long-term value is being built up in your business, you recognise that this value is only locked in for as long as you retain your clients. To do this, you must be able to justify what you charge. And this is one of the main areas where advisers seek us out – helping them to build their propositions to a point where they can clearly and confidently communicate what they charge, with little risk of losing the client in the process.


So, ten years on, what has changed? I see a far more confident, professional advice sector that is clear about the value that you add. I’m just thankful for being part of your journey.