Over the past month I’ve received a number of e-mails from readers asking the same question, “Would you mind sharing your “What’s Important to You” document. While I don’t mind sharing it, my version would be different from yours. This document, which I use with prospective clients, helps me to understand their needs as it relates to my practice. In other words, will they benefit from the things I am doing? Because of your interest, I’ve decided to provide information which will enable you to create this type of document for your specific practice.

The first thing I would suggest doing is writing down everything you do. Where do you add value? How are you different from other advisors? Even if you list some of the same things that other advisor do, communicating this to a prospective client is crucial. Using this tool assures that I am consistent in my communications. So if I don’t feel 100% on a given day, at least I’m going through the same process.

These “items” need to be from the client’s perspective and not from your own. For example, if you use some highly technical tool in portfolio management that’s light years ahead of everyone else, don’t write what it is, write what it means to the client. I wouldn’t write that I use Monte Carlo simulation because unless you’re working with someone who is familiar with it, it’s meaningless. Instead, I would write “How important is it that you know your probability of running out of money?” That means something to them.

I created this in MS Word in a table format. The first column contains the description of what I do (what it means to them). In the second column are the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. This is where the client ranks the importance of each item. At the very top of my document are the words, “What’s Important to You.”

I would consider separating the information by category. The categories I use are financial planning, portfolio management, and service.

This exercise will force you to really think about your practice and the result will be a more uniform process.

Here’s one final thought for you. When you are listing your items, don’t critique them as you go. Instead, put the analytical side of your brain on hold and just “dump” the information onto the page. Then after you’ve listed everything, go back and critique them. You might even have your spouse or a close friend look it over.

I hope this helps.