Send The Memo

We live in interesting times. Election moments are crazy. Policy issues are being debated that can decide the fate of many nations. Great Britain just voted itself out of the EU…

If you’re an advisor of any kind (whether financial advisor, coach, consultant, analyst, etc.,) right now is a great time to, you know… advise people. Reach out. Send an email or a short standard letter if your clients would appreciate that approach. Do you have an email contact list of people who receive newsletters from you? Take a minute when BIG things happen that make people wonder “what’s going to happen next” and write out your thoughts. Combine the insights you pull from your own wisdom and experience with the views of your favorite research and analytical professionals and get the word out.

This is the time when your clients would love to be able to literally read your mind. Be a communicator.

Send the memo.

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!

Have a plan and work your plan

“Have a plan and work your plan.” I first heard those words from a manager at Merrill Lynch in 1996. Following that advice, I stayed in the investment services game for three years, beating the statistic that there is an 80% failure rate in the first two years. Continuing to follow that advice, I moved out of the financial services game after three years to pursue my life’s work as an executive coach and kung fu teacher. “My plan” was never to spend my life in the investment services industry, but it was a great place to learn, grow, and develop for a few years.

I’ve learned over time that there are many ways to plan for the use of our time and many ways to go about working the plan. Time blocking has always worked best for me. I block time for a category of activities like handling admin or making sales calls and then, during that time block, I only do those activities. At least that’s the plan.

But, how much time do I put in each block?  The answer: It depends. It depends on the overall needs of my business and, to a certain extent, on what I feel particularly inspired to do. There has to be an element of discipline involved or it’s just impulse power driving the ship. Putting at least a small chunk of time into the activities I’m not inspired to deal with keeps me moving in the right direction and connected to those projects I’d rather avoid completely.

Today’s time blocking model: I have my concept of an ideal day and I’m cycling through those blocks in 20 minute chunks. Here’s the list: Early Training, Writing, Garage/Clutter Clearing, Language (studying Mandarin), Admin, Coaching, Midday Training, Lunch/Nap, Sales Follow Up, Reading, Marketing, Teaching Kung Fu, and Family Time. That’s a lot of activities in the course of the day, but that’s what I need to stay in balance RIGHT NOW. It’s not a perfect 20-minute-per-activity cycle, but most of it can work pretty well on that plan. I could just as easily give an hour to this, 20 minutes to that, and two hours to another thing, but I just didn’t feel like being that crafty with the plan of the day today.

The important thing is to be in motion, knocking down high reward activities throughout the day rather than chasing down barking dogs. Barking dogs are what I call all the time stealers like constant email conversations, excessive video games, and surfing to the end of the internet and back. Have you noticed how many time thieves are disguised as technological advancements today? I’ll admit that I love them all. I just try to manage how much and how often I partake of the bits and bytes of techno-fun on my way to handling substantial activities in the world.

That’s it for this blog entry… My 20 minutes of writing time just expired. Go forth and do great things!

What’s next?

I love my job.  I just finished a coaching call with a client of mine (he’s a wealth manager handling tax and investment matters) who has made a profound shift in his life.  He shared with me a story about approaching a very significant investor to invite the client to come and talk with him about his retirement portfolio.  My client was very happy with himself for doing that and it was something he expected to do more often in the future.

I asked my client what shift he had made that had allowed him to do that.  He struggled with the labeling on that shift.  Sometimes it can be difficult to put our fingers on what exactly has changed in our awareness or in our mental makeup that has enabled a new way of being for ourselves.  Doing so and giving that shift a name can help it stick and make it more lasting.  He talked me through what was different and the response was rather lengthy.  In essence, he was thinking out loud.  The description was wordy and useful in terms of processing for him, but it didn’t create clarity for either of us.  Finally, I asked him to put it in a nutshell of 8 words or less to define the shift.  His answer:  “I’m not judging myself anymore.”

What a relief that was!  Once he said that, there was the kind of giddy laughter that comes from a huge release of pressure.  The man was experiencing a new sense of freedom and I was thrilled to be there to see it happen.  What’s next for him, I wonder?  He plans to follow up on opportunities much more than he ever has.  I suspect that will only be the beginning point to what happens for him as a result of this new shift of not judging himself anymore.

So, I wonder…  What has happened for you when you’ve let go of judging yourself?  And, if judgment still has a strong hold on your life, what do you think might happen for you if you were to stop judging yourself?

What’s next?