I’m no marketeer, but one of the biggest problems I see within the profession is that the issue of communication is totally overlooked by many firms.
This happens both internally and externally. Communication is often only thought of as part of a marketing plan, but we look at it from a totally different perspective.
For us, good communication starts with being authentic in what you say and do – both to your team and your clients.
Problems can arise where firms are not completely sure of their authentic personality or tone of voice.
Sadly, time and time again we see so many financial planning practices put way too much effort into appearing business-like, all traditional, corporate and navy blue.
They end up losing their personality, not to mention themselves, in the process.
Take me as a classic example. I am Little Miss Woww! I am the same person wth the same personality whether I’m at home or at work; so if my branding was dull and without that little bit of sparkle it just wouldn’t look right.
Half the battle here is recognising who you are.
Whether you call it branding or positioning or something else, it’s comes down to what sort of business are you? How do you want your clients to feel when they are with you?
Are you a firm that’s fun, bright and vibrant in your approach, or a firm that’s more traditional and corporate?
To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with either. But you’ve got to be happy that that’s what you represent, and then you have to stick to it.
Otherwise if what you’re projecting isn’t consistently authentic and consistent then eventually this will trip you up.
I know a great guy who is a cheeky chap, sarcastic and witty; a lovely guy with a bucket load of personality. But his business branding is nothing like who he is.
The problem then comes when a certain type of person is attracted by his branding but is then presented with something totally different - they just don’t stick around.
If his branding reflected who he is more accurately, he would attract like-minded people who I’m sure would love what they had found.
Good communication has to come from the top. The message needs to be led, and the right communication then needs to be channelled down the business.
I had one experience where a firm I was coaching held a really productive board meeting, and later in the day as part of my head of woww! role I gave a debrief to the wider team.
Two board meetings later, I checked in with how things were progressing and asked what the team thought of the subsequent developments.
The reply was: “We haven’t updated the team. They’re a bit busy, and we didn’t think they’d be interested.”
But in the meantime, there had been two resignations from staff who felt disconnected from what was happening in their firm.
The message here is to talk, listen and repeat.
Internal updates and catch-ups are so important to keep the dialogue flowing, and it’s why I advocate having a structured internal communications plan.
Otherwise things get lost in translation, people can misunderstand things or people will (rightly or wrongly) fill in the blanks for themselves.
Starting at the top, every business needs a strategic leadership team meeting.
This is about the business’s goals and where you are in relation to them, the successes and the areas for improvement. It’s not day-to-day matters, but the big-ticket issues that relate to whether your firm is on the right path or not.
The frequency of these meetings is up to you, but I would recommend if you’ve never held them before to start on a monthly basis. Then as you get a feel for it, these can be dropped down to quarterly or even twice a year.
This should then be followed by some sort of team briefing or update. This could be as simple as saying: “We’re on track and we’re really pleased with everyone’s work.”
There needs to be an understanding of where the firm is at, whether it’s good news or bad.
The notch down from the strategic board meeting is the monthly team leaders meeting.
They are run by those in charge of conducting the orchestra: the business/practice managers, quality managers or technical managers.
It's key that these roles understand the strategic aims of the business, as well as any issues or challenges of the admin and support teams.
Then you have the daily or weekly huddle, or work in progress meetings, where you get ahead of what’s coming up.
If you get all of these working well, then the communication flows. But the key to these meetings is focus.
It’s not something that happens over your desks, or while emails are pinging in. You need focused time away from the stuff that distracts.
The starting point for client communications is always to ask: what’s the purpose of what I'm trying to say?
Is it about educating clients, raising awareness about a particular service you offer, engaging existing clients or attracting new business?
Once you’ve got the purpose, map out a 12-month calendar and plan in the various activities. For example, January might be a technical update, June might be some financial planning tips for the summer, or whatever it happens to be.
One of the lovely things to include as part of this are what we call ‘client happy’ calls.
Picking up the phone to a client and checking in with how they are, and if everything is ok.
This doesn’t have to be done by the adviser, it can easily be done by the support team. It’s a simple thing, but it shows the client you’re thinking about them.
If you’re wary about whether clients would want to hear from you outside of your regular meetings, it’s worth stopping to think for a second whether these are really the right clients for you.
One of the things I’ve been doing over the past few years is video messaging and voice notes.
All you need is a smartphone. Communication can sometimes end up very stiff, but a quick voice note or video message gets back to that more impromptu sense of talking to one another, rather than just working off stilted emails.
As a business, we’ve come up with different ways of working and communicating because we know who we are and who we’re not.
When you’re trying to be something you’re not, you end up having an identity crisis and nobody wins when that happens.
When you are battling against your true self, whether via your branding, personality or positioning, you won’t sustain the pretence for very long.
But if you can get this right, everything is easy. The tone of your emails will be better, letters may be a bit quirky or show off your personality a bit more. Anything else won’t feel authentic or real.
The whole thing is about being authentically you. Be you in every word written, every word said and in every image and colour used.
Trust your personality and tone of voice to set the scene and the rest will follow.