One essential factor for a successful business owner is self-confidence.
You need that unshakeable belief that the strategy you are following and the decisions you are making are the right ones; even when all of the evidence (in the short-term, at least) points in the opposite direction.
Even when you work in a team with fellow decision makers, that self-confidence can take a knock from time to time. Even when everything is pointing to success - all of the metrics around turnover, profitability, client satisfaction and staff retention – it’s easy to allow doubt to creep in.
Businesses are built on their clients. Our team is just as important, of course, but it’s the clients who pay the bills.
As financial planners, we’re incredibly close to our clients. Or at least we should be. We get to know the most intimate details about their financial positions, along with knowledge of their dreams, aspirations and fears for the future. It’s an incredibly privileged position to hold.
But the feedback you elicit informally on a one-to-one basis, when the purpose of that contact is primarily about the client and not about you, is limited at best.
Towards the end of last year we realised that, in order to maintain our success, we should speak more often to our clients.
This isn’t about speaking to them during their two formal review meetings each year, the regular telephone catch-up calls we schedule or as part of our constant programme of client education. This is about asking a select group of clients to join us for a few hours to give candid feedback on how we might do things better in the future - probably something most if not all of us aspire to.
A date was set and a venue booked. We decided it was important to take this meeting of minds outside the usual environment of our office. If we wanted clients to speak openly and share their real opinions on our business and future plans, it was important they didn’t feel constrained by the room in which we normally meet. So we hired a room in the local arts centre.
This had to be a meeting that offered genuine value for the clients we invited, as well as for our team. Before serving lunch and leading a discussion about our business, we shared with those attending three 10-minute presentations. Our team members spoke about the challenges of longevity, how to avoid scams, and why bitcoin is bonkers. We finished each of these sessions with small gifts, including a physical gold bitcoin, all designed to act as reminders of what they had learned.
Lunch was served and we led the room in a discussion about some of the things we are thinking about at Informed Choice at the moment. This ranged from our ‘financial planning-first’ proposition to regulatory challenges around MiFID and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as well as succession planning.
We finished the session by asking the clients in the room to share with us the things that kept them awake at night. Gaining a better insight into the worries expressed by our best clients is helpful in forming a proposition which removes these concerns.
They say feedback is the breakfast of champions. It’s not easy to expose your business and future plans to criticism; you need a thick skin to sit quietly and listen to clients explain why there are things you could do better.
But hearing about the things we are doing well and the qualities they especially love in us, such as “I’ve never felt you ever want to sell me anything or do anything that’s not in my best interests”, is incredibly gratifying.
I would encourage every financial planner to schedule a day or two each year for a client advisory board and then invite along six to 10 of their most valuable clients. If you give something freely in return (financial education and a nice lunch) then our experience is they will be willing to attend and give you something really valuable too.