Making a family-run advice business work for all your employees

I’ve been very fortunate in the past 12-18 months to work with a great advice firm in helping their employees to develop Personal Development Plans. This firm is really committed to supporting their employees’ growth in both their current roles and in their careers overall.

As part of the work, I’ve had a series of 1:1 meetings with each member of staff. One (let’s call her Jane) is a relatively recent recruit, who opened up to me in quite a bit of detail about why she had changed jobs. After all, her previous employer is a well-regarded and respected family-run advice business. But herein lay the problem – the way her previous employer’s business was run didn’t work for Jane, who was not a member of the family. As a result, they ended up losing a highly effective and valued member of staff, despite their best efforts to retain her.

So, what can family run businesses learn from the experiences of Jane and others like her? While I’m not for one minute suggesting that your family run business displays all or even some of the following characteristics, these areas are worth checking off.


Have a clear strategy

Quite a number of family businesses start very small and then grow organically over many years, sometimes into very substantial businesses. Because there is often not a formal corporate structure in place, the strategy for the business can happen on the hoof and simply evolve over time.

This is all well and good for the family members who will have many informal chats at family dinners about where the business is going. However this excludes non-family members of the team, who are then operating in the absence of a strategy to get behind. They don’t share the same sense of purpose that family members will feel, and as a result feel disconnected from the ambitions of the business.


Don’t have two sets of rules

This is probably the biggest gripe, when it happens. Favouritism of family members in your advice business will quickly alienate the rest of the team. Your family business is exactly like any other business, needing set policies for everyone in relation to working hours, holidays, client entertaining etc.

The same also applies to behaviour around the office. You should expect the same standard from all in relation to dress code, language used and other behaviours. Letting standards slip with family members is a sure-fire way to driving a wedge between them and other team members.


Defined processes are a must

How work is actually carried out should be the same for everyone. Whether this is in relation to your advisers or your customer service team, standard processes should be used by all. This might apply in areas such as the recording of advice, the quality of files, the handover from consultant to internal people and the ongoing service to customers. All of these areas should be delivered in a defined and consistent way by every single member of the team. Otherwise, frustration will reign.


Career paths for all

It can be all too easy for family businesses to just rock along without any great career plans in place. After all, sure won’t Johnny or Mary just take over the running the business when mum/dad hang up their boots?

That unspoken career path is fine for the children of the owner, but not for the rest of the team. They want to see where their own careers are going, how they are going to grow in the years to come. Will there be promotion opportunities and a chance to earn more money for greater effort? Will there be ownership opportunities in the business or in a sub-section of the overall business? These are critical questions that your staff members will want clarity about.


External oversight

This final area will help the business owner to keep him/herself on their toes! It can be hard to give time to the seemingly less urgent and more subtle issues of the business when the day-to-day pace is frenetic, as is often the case in advice businesses. These areas can end up being relegated down the priority list and never addressed properly.

This is where an external mentor or a board of directors will help you. They will help you to see the wood from the trees, as they won’t get caught up in the minutiae of the business. They will help you to address all of these issues by keeping the development of the full team on the agenda and not letting it slide – they’ll keep you focused on meeting the challenges of your business.


Family run businesses play an extremely important and valuable role in the Irish financial advice community. They have delivered many of our brightest and most effective financial planners and advisers. Consider the areas outlined above, and your family-run business can build a broad, effective team and can join that elite cohort.

When times are tough… kiss frogs

These are tough times for advisers at the moment. Yes, your businesses are more resilient than most, mainly down to your efforts in recent years in building up a strong recurring income stream. But this still doesn’t fully compensate for the slowdown in new business that many of you are experiencing.

I know from recent conversations that some of you are finding it difficult to stay positive as prospective clients (and some of you yourselves) are slow to re-engage in face-to-face meetings on the back of Covid-19 concerns. After all, it can be difficult to pin prospects down at the best of times! Unfortunately I have to admit that I’ve seen a few advisers’ heads go down in the last few weeks….

So, it’s time for a collective pick-me-up. Here are a few thoughts to help get you going again.


Set yourself achievable daily goals

So the goals you set at the beginning of the year of seeing two clients every day are gone by the board. That’s ok, times have changed and you had no control of the change. But you can now re-frame your goals.

Don’t keep looking at how far you’re falling short of your turnover / recurring income target for 2020. Instead focus your effort and goals on the process, rather than the outcome. Set clear daily goals for yourself that are based on activity. We all know that as sure as night follows day, positive outcomes follow increased activity levels. Your goals might be,

  • The number of prospects you will reach out to
  • The number of existing clients you will phone
  • The number of relationship “just checking in” emails you will send
  • The blog post / social media activity you will carry out


Celebrate small wins

Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not writing €x,000 in new business every week. Instead celebrate your smaller wins – the number of positive client conversations you’ve had, the thank-you responses to your relationship emails. While on their own these might not seem to account for much, in time as the economy gets back to normal these clients will remember your support during the tough days.


Call in favours

Everyone knows that lots of small businesses are finding it tough at the moment. As a profession, financial advisers have always and consistently shown their spirit of community and helping nature. You tend to be good for an introduction, a referral, a client testimonial for one your suppliers and if you can help someone, you tend to do so.

Now it’s your turn. You need a little help, so ask for it. It might be for a referral, it might be for a testimonial for your website. Ask and you will generally receive.


Kiss the frogs

I learned this one from a friend of mine (you know who you are!) a few years ago. He was out of work for a while and his head never went down, even though the economic environment was tough at the time. When meeting him for (yet another) coffee, he told me about the number of meetings he had in the diary that week, just catching up with contacts. I remember saying how impressed I was that he was so active in staying out there at such a difficult time. His answer was that if he kissed enough frogs, one would eventually turn into a princess! A few weeks later, he landed pretty much his dream job, thanks to kissing lots of frogs.

Activity leads to better results. Make the calls, meet people for socially distanced coffees, even where the potential appears low. These are your frogs. It beats sitting in the office.


Do something / anything

On the theme of doing nothing, don’t let days slip past. Rather than twiddling your thumbs, achieve something every day. Review your proposition, your website, your marketing messages. Write a blog post. Even clean the office, but don’t do nothing.


Remember that this is temporary

The world might appear a little grim at the moment, but this will pass. There are better days ahead and you want to give yourself the best chance of hitting the ground running when they arrive.


So, small goals, small wins, seek help and stay busy. And keep kissing those frogs.

What roles are you playing in these strange times?

In a previous article titled “How many hats do you wear?” I identified the role of a financial adviser as that of,

  • Dream Coach
  • Lifestyle Enabler
  • Behaviour Coach
  • Family Finance Guide
  • Financial Planner

All of these roles are still relevant and applicable, but I think we have learned in the last few months that you can offer and indeed do offer far more than this, particularly when the chips are down. And the chips really are down at the moment, as your clients potentially face the threats of,

  • A serious ill-health for themselves and their family members as a result of Covid-19
  • The loss of loved ones to Covid-19
  • The loss of their job
  • Income reduction
  • Loss of value in their investments and pensions
  • Significant social restrictions remaining in place for some time
  • A very gloomy economic picture

So what are the additional roles that you can offer your clients in these very challenging times?


Financial Leader

For many of your clients, their financial situation has been turned on its head. The pandemic has exploded into our lives with enormous financial consequences for many people. Businesses are closed, some never to re-open, others to remain closed for quite some time yet. Lots of people have seen a significant reduction or total loss of income and are scrambling around, trying to decide how to avoid the financial abyss.

You have a choice. Do you wait for your clients to contact you for advice, or do you get on the front foot and lead them through the crisis? The latter option wins every time. Phone your clients, use online meetings tools and email them with useful information. There are quite a number of hot topics – claiming government support, family budgeting, making savings, actions to take quickly in relation to your personal finances when you lose your job, managing income reduction. Now is the time to be proactive, like never before.

Of course this also applies to clients who are relatively untouched financially by the pandemic. While you can’t meet them currently, you can remain out in front of them. Remind them that these times will pass, that they need to sit tight and do the right things. Both the pandemic and the volatile markets will eventually pass.



The speed of the pandemic caught everyone off-guard, no-one was prepared. Jobs and income disappeared overnight, wreaking financial havoc for families and causing huge anxiety. Others have really struggled as the stock market plummeted. Some people are struggling to get out of the spin.

Now is your time to help them, by showing them the best path forward. You may help them make rational decisions about using emergency savings, seeking debt relief or by stopping them from trying to time the investment markets. Your cool head will help them to avoid compounding the impact of these external negative forces. Their situation is hard enough. Your expert advice can prevent them making it worse. Even reminding clients that these tough times will eventually pass adds value.


Solutions Enabler

This is not a new role carried out by you, but one that may not be viewed as hugely valuable usually… Helping clients submit claims, access funds, draw down loans or negotiate debt relief may be the single most important aid you can give to clients at this point in time. Do this well with little fuss or drama, and your clients will remember this forever. Then when their financial situation improves, they will be back to you, seeking your advice in more positive circumstances.


Empathetic Ear

As the days go on, we all unfortunately are hearing of more people that we know who have succumbed or lost loved ones to Covid-19. This is going to result in extremely sad and difficult conversations with clients or their families. Financial advisers add enormous value in these situations. Apart from assisting with life cover claims that can at least remove financial stress from the grieving process, you are also really well practiced in gently supporting and steering clients through these difficult times.


The current climate offers another wonderful opportunity for financial advisers to demonstrate the full breadth of skills that you possess. As usual, as a profession you will not be found wanting.

How do you build trust?

I recently shared the most relevant findings for financial advisers in the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, in which we saw continuing challenges for the financial services industry in relation to trust. However we also saw that trust in the financial services industry is growing faster than any other sector, so the graph is definitely moving in the right direction!

I got a lot of feedback in relation to this article, thanks for all your likes and comments – much appreciated as ever. A few advisers have since asked me what they need to do in order to build trust. So here goes – my thoughts on a few ways that really help to build trust.


Be visible when the going gets tough

This is so relevant today, with the Covid-19 pandemic and investment markets crashing to the floor. Now is not the time to go to ground and hope that clients won’t ring about their falling investments. Instead now is the time to be calm, show your leadership qualities to clients and remind them that their financial plan will deliver the desired outcomes over time. Yes, acknowledge the discomfort caused by markets today, but remind clients that this will pass. Your visibility and reassurance will provide comfort to clients, and will help build their trust in you.

Communicate how you work with clients

One of the most important ways to build trust, particularly with potential clients, is by communicating really clearly how you will actually work with them. Many people only sort of know what a financial adviser does – something to do with pensions and life assurance? Let potential clients know the problems you solve and the outcomes you achieve for them. And then explain how you will work with them. You can give huge levels of comfort by walking the client through your advice process in detail, showing them what to expect and the value that you will add. This will help to remove any doubts in their mind.

Provide client testimonials

Continually seek out client testimonials, they are really important. In my book, you need to seek permission to use the client’s actual name (and logo if a company). Testimonials from “John H, Dublin” don’t really count – in fact someone might suspect they are made up! Genuine client testimonials are really powerful – who can advocate for you better than people who you’ve helped in the past, whose lives you have potentially changed?

Seek recommendations on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a really important platform for financial advisers; it’s where many prospective clients will check you out before picking up the phone to you. After all, when they Google your name, the chances are that your LinkedIn profile will appear high up the search results. Recommendations from clients on your LinkedIn profile are a very powerful endorsement of your services, so look for these at every opportunity. They are great trust builders.

Presence in mainstream press

Some advisers have built up great profiles by regularly appearing in “Opinion” columns in national newspapers and some even building positions as regular commentators on TV and radio. These are great for building trust, as they demonstrate your industry knowledge and authenticity as a voice worth listening too.

Your qualifications

Sounds simple? If I was a CFP, I’d tell everyone at every opportunity! Why not advertise the fact that you are part of a highly qualified cohort? Prospective clients will value the fact that you are investing in yourself and are willing to keep learning in order to stay at the frontier of providing the very best financial advice. It will also help you to achieve high levels of trust among clients.


There are of course many more ways of building trust; advertising any awards that you win, communicating your opinions with your clients via newsletters and being active on social media. Hopefully the ideas above will give you a few pointers as to how you can continue to build trust with your clients and prospective clients.


Will your advice business survive COVID-19?

Everybody is extremely concerned – about our own health, the health of our loved ones, for many people their jobs are gone and also the economy is on the brink of a major downturn. Financial advisers face the double whammy of having clients who are concerned of course about the virus, and who are also extremely nervous about the volatility and downturn in investment markets.

I’ve tried to stand back a little from the noise and look at how a financial advice business might navigate its way through the next few months.


Be grateful for what you have

OK, let’s start with the glass half full. First of all, I hope you and your family are still healthy. This is your number one priority and if you can maintain this, you’ll survive anything…

Many businesses lost all of their customers as a result of COVID-19. Overnight. However, you still have your clients. Yes, they may not demand your services as much as before in the next few months, and indeed may not require financial solutions to be implemented for the foreseeable future. But they will still be your clients when all of this is over and definitely will need significant help in their changed financial circumstances.

Very importantly too is the profile of your income. Many of you in recent years have moved from an over-reliance on upfront commission to a flatter income profile, comprised mainly of trail and renewal commissions. This will stand you in good stead in the coming months. Yes, your trail has taken a hit in the last few weeks, but this will recover in line with markets, whenever that will be.


In truth, financial advice firms are better placed than most SME businesses to withstand the current economic tornado.


Look after your clients

Many of your clients though will be at their wit’s end and will need you now more than ever. Some will be sick and very worried. Some unfortunately may die. Many have lost their jobs or their businesses. All have seen their investments nosedive. Are you ready for this? How will you deal with them and their families compassionately and efficiently, but at a distance? This is where you need to identify phone and web conferencing platforms (such as Zoom, Skype, WebEx) to use. Now is not the time to go to ground and just blame COVID-19.

Instead now is the time to communicate relentlessly with your clients. Ring them, email them, send them regular updates about the financial backdrop. Show them you have your finger on the pulse and that you are in their corner. Get on the front foot and stay there.

Your advice, reassurance and interest in their affairs will be remembered long after all of this is over. Oh, and of course stop them from blowing up their plans by making rash, ill-thought out decisions.


Look after your business

Look after no 1, lots of people need you to stay healthy. Your family, your staff and your clients can ill-afford you to get sick. So, take no chances.

Then of course, you need to look after your staff and help them to stay healthy. Most are now working remotely, so make this as easy as possible for them. Be flexible, understand the pressures they may be under at home and trust them. For someone who is used to seeing their staff before their eyes every day, it’s a big change to suddenly have them working away from you. However, you have a common goal – the survival of your business.

Get advice on technology solutions. Talk to your IT supplier and talk to other advisers. You are a fantastic community for sharing ideas and best practices. If technology is not your forte, talk to someone who is strong in this area. Everyone will try to help everyone in getting through this. Communicate regularly with your staff. Agree a regular call – this might be every day or every second day and use web conferencing for team meetings. Keep the team together, just at a distance – your staff still need your direction. Make sure you can work effectively yourself away from the office. If you have an office at home – great. If not, carve out a space other than the kitchen table as you need to be able to work effectively for the next few months.


The key is to stay in touch with people and to stay visible. Your family, staff and clients need to know that you are at the top of your game now, more so than ever.


We’re in the same boat here at StepChange. We are going to get through this. If I can help you in any way or indeed if you just want to bounce ideas or challenges off someone, I’ll be delighted to help.


Stay healthy


Videos – Vanity or Value?

In this latest post in our series of “12 StepChanges to a better business”, we briefly set out our thinking on the benefits of video marketing.

Financial advisers often raise the question of the effectiveness of video marketing. Some see it as a vanity project, as an expensive activity that yields very poor results. And sometimes that is exactly the case! But certainly not always…

Video offers a number of great opportunities to financial advisers. First of all, it offers a different, engaging medium to communicate an important message – maybe an overview of your business, your financial planning approach or indeed different aspects of your client proposition. Some visitors to a website prefer clicking on a video than reading paragraphs of text, so video gives you the opportunity to hang on to that visitor to your website a little longer.

Also, YouTube is now the 2nd most frequently used search engine in the world after Google, so video also offers great opportunities as an entry point to your website from searches.

However quality is critically important where video is concerned. To produce a good video takes a lot of time and effort – careful scripting, a lot of thought about production including the video style, the location, use of graphics, the cast, the right music etc., and the key messages to be communicated. And all of this to produce a video that should be kept really brief – the preferred length for most videos is no more than 60 – 90 seconds.

StepChange works with financial advisers and other organisations in developing excellent scripts that will achieve real “cut through” with your audience. We also regularly collaborate with a leading video production company to bring these scripts to final production, using a variety of different video styles. These videos can then be used across all of your digital platforms.

Should you want to add this engaging medium to your marketing mix, maybe it’s time to get some expert help with it? We look forward to your call.