Three lessons advisors can learn from website designers

My painful task of the week is selecting a website designer to do a “facelift” on the website for our coaching practice. If you, or someone in your practice, has been through a similar task – my condolences. The most painful part of the process for me is reading proposals. It’s as if 99% of website designers went to the same Lame-o Proposal Writing School.

Here is a snippet of a proposal, with names changed to protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent).

“Dear Client,

We have extensive experience in HTML5, CSS3 and Bootstrap to make a website mobile responsive from SEO point of prospective. Our core skills are Wireframing (Axure, Balsamiq, MS Visio), Interaction Design, Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML5, CSS, JS, and Mobile Design (Responsive Design). We provide low cost, high quality, reliable software solutions to our customers. Our difference is our people. We are the best. No one else can design your website as well as we can.

Sincerely, Best Design in the World, Inc.”


Where do I start? This is terrible marketing, for one. And, in my experience, financial advisors are not immune to making similar mistakes. So, get your own marketing copy / e-mail newsletter / brochure / website out, and let’s take it from the top.

1. The Black Marker Test – Put your materials side by side with one of your competitor’s. Now, get that marker out and black out the names. Could your piece be mistaken for another company’s piece? Could you simply cut out your competitor’s name, and substitute it with yours? Is it possible that your prospects might not know the difference?

Our friends at Best Design in the World, Inc. have clearly failed the Black Marker Test. There are about 50 designers who have submitted bids on my project. My big challenge? Telling them apart!

 2. The Alphabet Soup Test – Does the piece overwhelm the reader with technical jargon and abbreviations that don’t mean anything to the non-initiated crowd? Does it focus too much on inputs and features, and not enough on outputs and benefits? Best Design in the World, Inc. scores very low in this category, with its HTML5, CSS3, JS, and MS Visio references. They might impress another designer with this lineup, but I remain unmoved. After all, I don’t know CSS3 from a hole in the wall, and don’t care to learn it. I want a beautiful new website that works well, and a designer who is easy to work with.

3. The BS Test – Does the piece burst at the seams with things any company could say and no company can prove (“We are the best”)? Does it make empty promises (“Our difference is people/quality/service”)? All things being equal, I have no reason to believe one designer any more than I do another.

 Would you like to see a good proposal? Here is an example.

“Dear Natalia,

I have reviewed your current website and the job specifications. You are absolutely right – making the changes you have spelled out in the task description will unclutter the look of the website, and give your prospects and clients easier and cleaner access to the information they need. The great news is, I have helped lots of professionals like you get a modern look and feel for their website (here is a link to 3 recent testimonials from my happy clients.)

My approach is pretty straightforward. While I am technically savvy, I’m not just about the latest widgets. I pride myself on being a great communicator, and love to exceed my clients’ expectations when it comes to both budget and schedule. I understand that you want this project managed well, so that you can focus on what you do best. That’s exactly what I do for my clients, and I would love to work with you.

Let’s connect via e-mail to determine the next step!

Kevin Anderson, Website Developer”

I think Kevin Anderson just moved up in my potential contractor list. Would you like to do the same for your prospects? Here is a list of 3 takeaways.

1. Review your marketing for the use of same-o language. Blah-blah-blah is the worst (and least effective) form of marketing. How do you avoid it? By learning to speak prospect language about prospect problems. If you do that, you are more likely to be seen as a partner, not a peddler. You will gain trust, earn respect, and become highly referable. If you’d like more tools around this, e-mail me ( and let’s talk!

2. Review your materials for the pitfall of focusing on your HOW, not on the prospect’s WHY. There is no nice way to break this to you – prospects do not care about your algorithms, models, degrees, certifications, patented 12-step client intake process, and proprietary software. All of that is just noise to them. Interestingly enough, the more you try to sell your HOW, the more you sound just like your competitors. Talk about your ideal client’s needs, outcomes, and desires instead.

3. Challenge yourself to “prove it!” Prospects assume all advisors are the same. Offer proof through third-party confirmations, or verifiable facts.

And with that, I am off to get a strong coffee and read more designer proposals. What will you do?

Five reasons you are getting bad referrals (and how to fix them)

telling-secretsLet me guess.

  • You do GREAT work. People should refer to you on the basis of your great work alone, shouldn’t they?
  • You HATE asking for referrals.
  • You are not getting enough referrals.

Another common complaint I hear from financial advisors is this: “I get plenty of referrals – the problem is not quantity, but quality!” Have you ever been sent a well-meaning referral from a colleague / friend / family member, only to discover that the prospect is not the right fit? To borrow a phrase from David Newman, did you wish you had a get out of referral jail card?

Well, I have not found that card just yet. But there are a few things you can try to fix your referral process. These steps are borrowed from David Newman’s “Do It! Marketing,” as well as from my experience as a coach. Read on to generate more and better referrals with less pain and suffering.

  1. Ask for what you want. Be specific.

Important note: you cannot do this until you are yourself crystal clear about your ideal clients and prospects. Once you are, don’t be afraid to get very specific!

A common referral request is, “I’ll talk to anyone who needs financial planning.” Do you see a problem with that? Is it any wonder that you get “anyone” walking through the door? How about, “I am a great fit for successful women entrepreneurs who want to stop worrying about investments.”

If someone in your network came across your ideal potential client, how would they know it?

2.       Line up fantastic testimonials (if you are allowed by compliance to do so.)

Let’s be honest: a big reason why people don’t refer is because in making a personal recommendation, they take a risk. What if their friend / colleague / family member has a bad experience with you? It is difficult to completely remove that risk, but you can minimize it with great testimonials.

Pull together a referral testimonial / success story sheet with 2 kinds of quotes. One set is the client success stories – quotes from people who have been referred to you and became happy clients. This next detail is important, and most professionals don’t do it: include referral success stories – quotes from your referral sources about how good they looked for making the referral.

This may not apply to you for compliance reasons; if it doesn’t, let’s consider the next point.

3.       Train your referral sources.

Very few of your referral sources can naturally describe your service offering as well as you can. Don’t believe me? Schwab backs it up!

According to a recent study by Schwab, when clients describe the firm, they are not able to explain the offering or experience in a way that’s compelling enough to inspire the listener to actually set up an appointment.

So, train them (in a nice way). Better yet, give them the tools to make the referral process painless and easy for them (and coincidentally perfectly crafted for you). I am talking about a referral blurb. Don’t have one? Send me an e-mail and I will send you a sample one!

4.       When a bad referral lands on your desk, help your referral source tune the GPS

Bad referrals happen. When they do, kindly and gently turn down the opportunity that is not the right fit for you – and tell your referral source what happened, and what to do differently next time. This is a delicate communication, so you will want to be sensitive and thoughtful in your wording. Be sure to thank them for the referral – regardless of the final outcome, the trust and the risk were very real, and in that sense every referral counts. Describe where the candidate profile was perfect, and where there was a disconnect. Apologize if your decision to not take on the prospect causes a relationship strain. This is a tricky balance to get right, so if you would like a template for this, I am happy to share one.

5.       Give and you shall receive!

Give good referrals to the professionals in your network! To do that, learn to ask great questions of your colleagues, vendors, partners, friends, current clients. Are them about their best clients, how they could tell the prospect would be a great client fit, and specific key words / details / pain points that you should be listening for on their behalf. In doing that, you are modeling what you want them to do.

The last advice is carving out the time, space, and discipline to do these things in a regular structured way – consistently, patiently, and graciously. Sporadic referral cultivation works no better than sporadic gardening.

What will you try?

Caution: Prospect from hell!

CautionHave you ever had a prospect meeting, just to walk out of it feeling like your prospect just wiped his or her feet on you? Have you ever come in to an enrollment meeting, just to discover that the process was not only unpleasant, but a giant waste of your time? I know I have.

What would it be like to have a filter in place that could prevent you from going down that painful rabbit hole again?

David Newman’s “Do it! Marketing” book has given me the inspiration to adopt not just one, but 5 filters. Feel free to borrow, steal, and improve upon these. Oh, and if you have anything at all to do with marketing (doing it, avoiding it, hating it, being frustrated by the black hole that is the marketing budget), get David’s book.

Here are 5 signs that you might consider wrapping up that prospect or client meeting early and running, not walking, to the nearest exit.

  1. Bargaining on the fee / price without expecting a corresponding reduction in terms, value, or services offered. Expecting a discount “just because” is an indication of more things to come. How hard do you want to work to get this one?
  2. Undervaluing, putting down, or minimizing the value that you deliver. This is a cult classic: “Oh, this stuff is easy! I could do it myself with my eyes closed, I just can’t be bothered.”
  3. Telling you up-front: “We are notoriously difficult to work with / picky / challenging,” or “We have worked with several other advisors on this and have not been happy.” A lot of clients have a bad experience (or two) in their history; however, if you are faced with someone who has worked with a dozen of advisors and has nothing good to say about any of them, run!
  4. Using false terms of endearment. This one is my personal pet peeve. “Honey”, “my dear”, “big guy”, or “sweetheart” make me cringe.
  5. Agreeing to sign on, just to back out at the last minute (or the next day), citing a sudden burning desire to inspect your college diploma, birth certificate, vaccination records, blood type, and astrological sign. An early warning sign of this is excessive use of fear-based questions that fixate on guarantees, warranties, all things that would possibly go wrong, insignificant details, and metrics that don’t really matter. A healthy risk-based approach is one thing, but an open distrust and fear of shadows is a bag of worms that is bound to explode in your face – and that’s never pretty.

If the “client courting” process is so painful it makes you grind your teeth, consider this:

If the dating doesn’t go well, it won’t get better once you get married.


J-curve: The human dimension of change [VIDEO]

Have you ever tried something new – a software program, a diet, or perhaps a resolution to go to the gym – just to give it up a week or two later?

Have you ever felt that a change, however beneficial from the outside, was actually causing you do WORSE?

If so, I would like to introduce you to the J-curve. This is a fantastic tool for managing your mental game when things are a-changing. Enjoy!

Post-busy season check-up

Congratulations! You have made it through another beast of a busy season. You have cajoled clients and staff, put in long hours, and are beginning to forget what your family and friends look like. You are probably feeling that you deserve a nice long vacation on a sunny beach, preferably sipping (or gulping) something bracingly alcoholic, not a 1099 or a tax code reference in sight for miles.

Before you book that trip to Aruba, there is one thing I want you to do, and that is to take brief stock of what just happened. Why now, you might ask? Because Aruba may well dull the pain that you have felt for the past 6-8 weeks, fooling you into thinking that this was not so bad, after all, and that kind of thinking is a ticket to another beast of a busy season next year. Continue reading

Radical self care for the busy season

There is a certain hour during the day when you just want to be done. Sometimes it hits predictably in the mid-afternoon, other times it sneaks up on you as personalities clash in the office, a client makes yet another last-minute request, or the gas tank light goes on while you are stuck in the evening traffic.

That feeling is not about the busy season, or a tough Monday. It is about reserves. All too often, we find ourselves running on just barely enough – gas, time, space, money, energy, opportunity. Our reserve tanks are empty, so when unexpected demands arise, we are hard pressed to deal with them gracefully because we are running on fumes. The tough reality is that the patience to deal with an irritated client, the mind-space to thoughtfully review a tax return, and the creativity needed to think your way out of a difficult problem don’t just appear out of the blue. They must be provided for preemptively. That is why reserves are so important. Continue reading

The wisdom of telling time

What time is it now? Seems like a simple question, you might say as you glance at your watch, cell phone, or the clock on the wall. We all learned to tell time in kindergarten. How hard can it be?

The answer might surprise you. Telling time can be the hardest thing you do all day. When you watch your to-do list spin out of control, surf the Internet during the afternoon post-lunch coma, yawn through a long meeting, or look in despair at that pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, or at the pile of snow outside your front door, what you are really struggling with is telling what time it is.

Allow me to explain. Continue reading

3 things that hold you back from growing your practice

Doug and I have just returned from exhibiting at the AICPA Advanced Personal Financial Planning conference in Las Vegas. Some of the conversations we had with fellow exhibitors and attendees were simply too good to leave them in Vegas. Over and over, we were asked: “How do you grow your practice in the midst of the busy season?” Continue reading

Multitasking, and other lies about productivity

As the holidays recede in the rear-view mirror, many CPAs begin to observe a worrisome trend. The stack of paperwork on the corner of the desk, the number of e-mails in the inbox, and the items on the to-do list begin to expand as if by magic. It is a sign that the busy season is upon us, yet again.

There is another early sign of the busy season, and that is a resurgence of productivity myths. They tend to raise their ugly head (or five) right around this time, preying on unsuspecting CPAs who just want to do better for their clients and families. Here are the five heads of the dragon, slayed one by one.   Continue reading