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?

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

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

Busy season CPAs: 5 steps to recovery

By Natalia Autenrieth

Busy season… Say it to a room full of CPAs and you get a round of all-knowing nods in return. “Busy season” is like a secret code: to those in-the-know, it stands for long hours at the office, mad dash to the deadline, poor team morale, and missed family gatherings. Many CPAs have resigned themself to trudging through 5 months out of the year, and feel there is not a lot they can do to change their predicament. After all, the common agreement seems to be that you have surrendered quality of life at the door in exchange for that CPA license to hang on your office wall. Continue reading