Do you do business with family?

This subject came from a conversation I had recently with a young adviser – well at least he’s a good few years younger than me! As we were discussing target markets and where his clients come from, we had a very engaging conversation about doing business with family.

This adviser has actively steered clear of doing business with his family. His thinking was that it’s just not a good idea to mix business with family and he likes to keep the two parts of his life separate. While I understand this viewpoint, I don’t agree with it.

I completely accept that financial planning is a very personal exercise and that some of your family members may not want to share their intimate details with you. Of course that’s their right and if that’s the case, you should do your utmost to point them in the direction of another planner who you are confident will look after them well. In fact I’d go further and suggest that before you engage at all with a family member, make it crystal clear that you will be delving into the intimate details of their financial life and also potentially their health. Don’t spring this on them later in the process, as this will cause awkwardness and potentially worse, they may withhold some information from you. This is a potential disaster for everyone.

But don’t close your door to them just because they are family.  Here are some reasons why I believe your door should be open  and the choice should be theirs as to whether they walk through it or not.


Your proposition will benefit them

If your proposition is very good and positioned openly and honestly with family members, why would you not make it available to them? Be crystal clear about what you influence and control (the plan and their behaviours) and what you don’t (the markets). Make sure they know fully what to expect in advance – avoid surprises. But don’t refuse them access to your valuable proposition.


They trust you

So much of financial planning comes down to trust, having a deep belief that the adviser is in their corner and has their best interests at heart. This is sometimes a lengthy process, building up this position of trust. Hopefully with your family members, you have it from the outset – they just know that you will do everything in your power to see them right.


You have each other’s backs

We all want the best outcomes for our family and will go the extra mile. They will probably want to do business with you and help you grow your business. They know you’ll earn money from the work, but will usually be happier that this income is going to you than to some unconnected third party. Likewise, you’ll pull out all the stops for family members, you are very likely to go the extra mile to achieve the best outcomes for them. On top of this, you may transact business on “mates rates”, providing value for them too. The chances are everyone will be a winner…


You can cut to the chase

An advantage that you hold over all other financial planners is that you begin the process with lots of intimate knowledge of their situation. Of course you need to fully validate your information through careful questioning of objectives and factfinding, but you’re not starting with a blank page.

Indeed you have the added advantage of understanding any unique dynamics at play and also being able to cut to the chase… You know if pictures are being painted in strange or maybe over-optimistic hues and can gently call out your family member when this happens, as opposed to blindly accepting it as another adviser inadvertently will. With your prior knowledge, you can help to shape the most accurate picture, which in turn will help to ensure the best possible plan is developed and the best outcomes achieved.


A great source of referrals

Excellent financial planning transforms lives. Do this for your family members and they will be forever grateful, as you help them improve the quality of their lives. They’ll also tell other people and will be a great source of other new clients. Your family are happy to help you grow your business, their friends who become your clients experience the benefits of your excellent proposition and you grow your business. Winners all around.

Is it time for you to mix family and business?

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.

How to write a great Financial Broker video script

Lots of Financial Brokers recognise the power of a really good video that you can use on your website and through other communication channels. We’re seeing a big upsurge in enquiries about them.

While of course the look, style and general production quality of the video are really important, the script is probably the most critical element. So how do you produce a good script?

We spoke to Stephen Doyle of Vision Media who has produced videos for quite a number of Financial Brokers, product providers and other financial services businesses and we asked him for his tips.


Here’s what Stephen had to say!


A video has the power to tell a convincing story about your business in 60-seconds. A well-written, engaging script is the foundation for a successful explainer video. Without the right foundation, the rest of the creation process is in vain.

So what can you do to make sure your video is a killer and not merely a nap inducer? It starts with proper preparation – knowing your audience, your message and your call-to-action is essential. Beyond that, here are 7 tips to help you write a better script.


1. Keep the script short

The length of your script will depend on your audience. A captive audience in an auditorium endures about five to eight minutes before beginning to drift. An Internet surfer popping by your website tends to check out after two to four minutes depending on how compelling your material is and whether or not they needs your product.


2. Put your message in the first 30 seconds

Reduce the message of your entire video to one sentence and get that sentence somewhere in the first 30 seconds of the script. This tells the audience what to pay attention to in the video.


3. Speak directly to the audience

The easiest way to speak to an audience is to use personal pronouns like “you” and “your”. Another way to engage your audience is to show them things they care deeply about. While you may be proud of your second quarter earnings, what they care about is whether you can help them improve their own bottom line. Don’t waste time telling your audience what they already know. Focus instead on what they need to know about you that will bring them to trust you and to take the action you want them to take. Don’t talk down to your audience or over their heads. Make friends with them and they will be far more likely to give you a chance to sell them something.


4. Find the right tone

Have a mental picture of your customer in mind when selecting the tone of your video. Write a one-sentence summary describing why you are making the video and what you want the viewer to do at the end of it. This will suggest a tone for your finished video. You may decide you want a talking head in an office, a brief classroom style presentation, a light-hearted romp, a bold outdoorsy documentary or a colourful animated review.

If you have story-driven characters, imagine real people as mental placeholders. It’s much easier to write realistic dialogue if you are writing for someone whose habits and mannerisms you know well. The tone you choose for your video will then drive your choice of setting, narrator or cast, tempo, pace and type of dialogue for the script.


5. Tell a story

Most explainer video scripts present a problem (Mary knows her money is not working hard for her), introduce a solution (Mary gets a diversified portfolio in place that results in her money working for her), explain how it works (Mary got independent advice from her Financial Broker who developed a risk-based investment portfolio for her), and drive viewers to action (contact your local Financial Broker and get your money working for you).

Dry facts, statistics and definitions are okay in the classroom, but unless your video is for students imprisoned in a classroom, avoid lifeless content whenever possible. Instead, use the power of the screen to show your audience actual people your company has helped, or benefits your services have bestowed on your customers. Testimonials create stories about themselves to help them define who they are. The better you tell stories about yourself, the more likely your viewers are going to understand what your company is offering and what it can do for them.


6. Use humour wisely

Humour is a great tool for story telling so long as the humour supports your message. Make sure your attempts at humour fit seamlessly within the story you’re trying to tell, and keep in mind that misplaced or poorly timed humour can be distracting and may actually put off potential customers.


7. Pace yourself

Keep dialogue to between 140 and 150 words a minute. And while you might be able to speak 200 or more words per minute on your own, keep in mind that the voiceover needs time to breathe, allowing viewers to absorb what you’re saying (this is especially true if the content is particularly dense or technical in nature). Machine gun fire dialogue quickly overwhelms viewers, causing abandonment, and decreased comprehension.


When producing an explainer video, don’t skimp on the script. Take the time necessary to do it right. Get feedback from friends and co-workers, and make sure it’s engaging and easy to understand.


So there you have it! If you would like help in pulling a great video script together, please give us a call.

Image courtesy of Lidia Aparicio / Ashary

The power of storytelling

A number of people commented to me after I recently shared an article from the New York Times. To my mind, this is one of the best case studies I’ve ever read about the power of working with an excellent financial planner. This is not a story about the planner enabling mega-growth in somebody’s wealth. Instead it is the real-life story of how a financial planner helped steer the journalist and his siblings through the death of their father.

The power of this planner’s approach with this family was not in clever financial solutions, it was all about the practical advice given, the quiet hand on the tiller guiding them through one of the most difficult periods of their life and the heartfelt empathy demonstrated as the planner travelled on the difficult road with her clients.

The reason the article has such an impact is because it is not some theoretical explanation of the benefits of financial planning, instead it is demonstrating it in a real-life situation. It is bringing real emotion into an educational and insightful piece.


Make it personal

It reminded me of a conversation I had in the last year with a great Irish financial planner. We were discussing content marketing and LinkedIn & Twitter in particular. He mentioned that his most Liked / Shared / Commented article was a post he put up about celebrating his son’s birthday. However the post was not just about a birthday party, it was about making time for the really important parts of our lives, and doing this in a financially responsible way. Life is not just about working and accumulating wealth, instead it is about being able to live our lives as we choose to do. Excellent financial planning demonstrates to your clients how you can make this happen. Telling this through a personal story makes it much more engaging than an “Expert Insight” piece about financial planning.


Give real-life examples

While I can’t claim to have written such powerful pieces myself, I regularly see the strength of more personal content myself. Over the last year, I’ve written a number of pieces about the impacts of working with backdrop of Covid-19. The most read articles were the ones where I gave some insights into how I’ve approached working in this environment, what has worked well and the mistakes I’ve made for others now to avoid! People want to read real-life stories and examples.

People like insights into your life and how you actually work. Each year I write about apps and technology that I can’t live without and these are some of my most-read articles each year. I was left scratching my head for a few years about this, as I could not understand why these would be read more than the other great and insightful (in my mind) content that I’m writing all of the time!! It’s because people get an insight into the person and how they work.

There’s a lot to be gained from maybe stepping a little out of your comfort zone, opening up a little more than you may have done so previously, and even leaving yourself a little vulnerable.


People will relate and engage better with your personal stories.

Does running a niche business make sense?

This is a question that occupies a lot of thinking time of many advisers today, as they contemplate their future client acquisition strategies. While we are seeing some advisers setting minimum hurdle sizes with new clients (either in assets under management or agreed fee levels), let’s be honest, many advisers are generalists, welcoming any prospective clients into their business. So it’s a valid question – is a niche strategy a viable business model for advisers?

I believe that if carried out in a very structured way, it can be a very viable strategy.

Let’s start with a definition of niche. One I came across described it as, ‘denoting or relating to products, services, or interests that appeal to a small, specialised section of the population.’ The scary part in reading this is the piece about the “small, specialised section”, as this leads people to think that their base will be too narrow to make it sustainable.


Niche strategies can make life easier!

I tell this from personal experience. When I decided to strike out on my own almost 10 years ago now, this challenge was the one that gave me the most headaches. Would I concentrate my proposition and ultimately my sales & marketing efforts only on financial advisers? Or would I offer my services to any client that I could get?

I went for the niche strategy, focusing my efforts solely on financial advice firms. My target audience was immediately narrowed to only hundreds of firms, rather than tens of thousands of potential customers. That was scary.

But what was far easier was connecting with this group. Rather than trying to appeal to everyone, and probably not connecting with anyone, I could focus all of my efforts on a specific group of people. This made it easier in developing my sales propositions, writing website content, producing newsletter and blog articles. I can communicate with a clear target in mind, and my messages as a result are a little more personal to my audience. I also have much richer and relevant experiences to call upon when working with different advice firms. On the other hand, when you are trying not to exclude anyone from your sales and marketing efforts, it’s very difficult to connect with people.

Yes, a narrow niche strategy is hard at times, and when business goes a little quiet the temptation is always there to broaden my marketing into other markets. But doing that will dilute my presence in the narrower (financial adviser) market. And just because you target a niche only, it doesn’t stop you working in other markets. I’ve worked with a number of businesses in other sectors, who saw what I was doing with financial advisers, approached me and asked me to bring those skills to their industry. But staying focused on my niche in my sales and marketing efforts will generate the lion’s share of my work, and is the right strategy for me.


What are viable niche strategies for financial advisers?

Financial advisers who have gone down the niche route successfully have tended to do so by focusing on one (or sometimes more) of the following,

  • Demographics: Focusing on specific age categories, gender, social grades (e.g. ABC1’s)
  • Employment sectors: Focusing on the public service specifically, sectors within the private sector, specific occupations.
  • Geography: Focusing on clients within a certain geographic area only
  • Product lines: Focusing on developing expertise and leadership positions within specific product areas or dealing only with clients who require full financial planning relationships.


What are the main steps in building a niche strategy?

If you decide to go down the niche route, first of all you need to do some research about your target niche. You need to understand the numbers of target clients (is the niche large enough to sustain you?), think through how you will access them and consider what opportunities are available to you to market to them effectively. You need to also think deeply about the problems that you will be able to help them to overcome, and how you will communicate and demonstrate your capabilities to that segment of the population in an engaging way. Because at the end of the day, you will live or die by whether your target customers recognise that they are dealing with a specialist in the particular niche or not.


Niche strategies are certainly not right for every financial advice business. However for some, they just might be the best way to fully leverage a unique strength or opportunity of your business.