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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Time for a Transition (IV): Using Special Events to Boost Business

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We are in a people business. It's not just about investments, returns and portfolios.

Financial advisors have been told this for years. Build your business on a foundation of trusting relationships. Connect with your clients and prospects on multiple levels and those relationships will survive the vicissitudes of the markets.

Depending on where you get your advice, you should average 12-36 touches with each of your clients per year. Having worked with independent financial advisors for over 20 years, I know these things to be true.

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking with Tom McCarthy, an advisor from Marysville, Ohio, about his business building strategies. His story is relevant, in that he has consistently embraced the people side of the business. In addition, he has found a fresh, new way to connect with clients and build those all important bonds. Adopting his "LifeBio Event" idea could enhance your practice, too.

The Patient Gardener

Tom is a Certified Financial Planner(TM) professional who specializes in retirement and estate planning. Tom has been in the financial services business for 13 years, first selling insurance and, since 2003, working as a fee-based financial planner, in a small town in Ohio.

He is the founder of McCarthy & Cox , an independent financial services firm dedicated to helping families pursue and maintain their financial independence. The firm serves about 360 clients and has roughly $100M assets under management.

Tom's broker/dealer is Commonwealth Financial Network, with whom he is well pleased and relies on for financial technology, compliance services, investment research and other practice management support.

Tom and his family, including parents and grandparents, have called the Marysville community home for generations. He is well known in town and says he has built his business "one client at a time".

Tom develops his business through seminars, client events and above all, through personal client service. He has found that getting more business from existing clients is the most effective way to grow. Clients, with whom he has developed trusting relationships, tend to send him more and more of their business.

The LifeBio Event

Recently, Tom's firm hosted a client appreciation event that epitomizes the value of the human touch aspect of business development and retention.

In September, Tom and his partner, Jim Cox, extended personal invitations to about 15 of their best clients to a special mid-week luncheon event that was held in October. They asked the clients to bring their adult children, their appetite, and open mind – and hinted that they were going to receive a gift. No printed invitations. No emails. No mailings.

Typical of Tom, he viewed the personal invitation process as an opportunity to build client relationships. Invitations were made in person, during routine meetings or community encounters, and confirmed with follow-up phone calls.

The venue was unique. It was held in an Amish farmhouse, in the country, outside town. Tom said the feeling of the place was wholesome like a "Norman Rockwell" illustration, cozy and inviting with a simple, unrushed atmosphere.

Think of having lunch at Grandma's house. The air was full of the smell of food being cooked from scratch. The lunch was all homemade: roast beef and gravy, baked chicken, fresh green beans, warm dinner rolls and handmade noodles – with fresh baked pies cooling by the windows for dessert.

The group gathered in a large room before the meal, at 11:00 a.m., the sounds and aromas of farmhouse all around them. Tom intentionally planned on serving lunch after the planned presentation, at 12:00. He wanted his guests to enjoy the aromas and setting while the presentation took place. As people took their seats, conversation bubbled up.

"This reminds me of Sunday dinner at grandma's house," said one client. "I remember eating homemade chicken and dumplings with my family in Colorado," said another. Just being in the room made people feel nostalgic.

Tom then introduced Beth Sanders. Beth's company has developed practical tools that make the creation of an autobiography easy, enduring and a joy. LifeBio's proven turnkey approach helps advisors build genuine relationships and preserve priceless memories.

In his introduction, Tom reminded his clients and guests that leaving a legacy was about more than money, that they needed to consider all of their assets, monetary and otherwise. He said that each person is precious, that each person's life story is unique, amazing and worth sharing.

Tom told his clients and guests that connecting with loved ones and sharing what matters most, is vitally important. Part of a person's possessions is the story of their life journey, inspired by extraordinary experiences, wisdom, and values that too often are lost or forgotten if not recorded.

Beth gave a presentation that included group exercises. She handed out a worksheet and asked everyone to write down five things about themselves, about who they are. One participant said, "I am a parent, a gardener, an avid reader, a hopeless romantic, and die-hard Buckeyes fan."

The group then paired up, with people they didn't know, and shared their lists. Lots of discussion followed. Beth then brought the group back together and shared some of the lists.

Then she asked the group to write down a favorite memory from their childhood neighborhood on a worksheet. They then turned to their partner and shared about their neighborhood and the memories they had of friendships, climbing trees, family picnics and more.

Finally, she asked them to wrap up with a bit of wisdom that they might share with the next generation. Some was about money, or travel, or education. All kinds of inspiring fragments of wisdom poured out of the group.

Tom's clients then ate lunch together. The groups chatted away, their memories unlocked by the process. They continued to enjoy each other's company over a delicious piece of homemade pie and vanilla bean ice cream.

Tom and Beth closed the event by saying it was time for each and every person in the room to capture their stories because every day of life is both an adventure and a gift–a gift worth recording. They gave the group the imperative to reminisce, to say what matters most to the people they love.

Tom then gave each participant a hardbound book, called the "Memory Journal." The Memory Journal makes it easy for people of different ages and backgrounds to create a written autobiography through a series of 250+ thought-provoking, organized questions with ample space to write in answers.

Some of Tom's clients also wanted access to's online autobiography system to type their memories instead of writing them.

One of the clients who attended the event contacted Tom a few weeks later to thank him for his gift of the Memory Journal. She said it was more valuable than he could ever know. In the intervening time, her husband had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Their LifeBio project had suddenly taken on an urgency and importance that could not have been predicted. Tom's event had touched them both on an intimate and personal level and they were deeply grateful.

Bonding with Clients & Their Heirs

Tom's event helped deepen and broaden his client relationships. The autobiographies they create as a result will surely be a priceless treasure.

Tom's high level of personal service will be top-of-mind when the children and grandchildren of his retired clients need financial planning of their own.

When Tom talks to his clients about retirement and estate planning, they will be reminded that, for Tom and his firm, it's not just about the money. He really cares about them as people. Good stewardship of all client assets, monetary and non-monetary, builds trust that will pay off in new business, retention of existing clients and expansion of market share.

If you want to replicate this event with your clients, visit the LifeBio website, where you will find a number of special kits developed especially for financial advisors. And if you're really nice and tell Beth Sanders that you read this article in Research magazine, Beth might even be convinced to fly to your locale and lead a similar event for you and your A-list clients.

Stay tuned.

Next month, I'll continue this series of advisor success stories and talk about how your peers are transitioning to new opportunities and continually reinventing themselves as consumer mindsets and trends in the marketplace change.

Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc. A long-time industry consultant with a loyal following, Swift has been writing for Research magazine since 2005. Follow her on Twitter. Read her "Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry" blog.