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3 Steps That Made Our Business Work Better

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In my October column, I discussed steps we eliminated from our workflow process because they didn’t add to the end results. By the way, my definition of good end results is happy, satisfied clients who follow my advice and refer their colleagues!

Now I want to talk about things that we have added to our process to improve the results.

The 1.5 Meeting

The purpose of our first meeting with a client was to gather the data. In the second one we presented the plan and our gap analysis along with detailed suggestions for implementation.

After a few months I started noting a typical situation: in presenting our plan, using MoneyGuidePro, there were frequent inaccuracies. Maybe one of my para-planners didn’t input the data correctly. Sometimes the client forgot to mention accounts, or they had traded them since the last meeting.

Many clients, particularly college professors, couldn’t get past the fact that some numbers were just estimates. They wanted precision and accuracy! (Which I certainly agree with.) I could tell them we didn’t need the exact value of their home, because they weren’t planning to sell it in retirement, but it was still hanging them up. Some clients literally couldn’t trust any of our projections because the details were off.

Unfortunately this meant an extra meeting for me and an extra meeting for the team to prep. I had to do an additional second meeting, with the precise numbers, before we could move on to meeting number three. In my mind, this was a huge waste of my time and the team’s. It also limited the number of clients I could see.

So one of our mottos became: if you do it right the first time, you don’t have to do it over.

Our solution: We added a videoconference or office meeting with the team in between the client’s first meeting with me and their plan presentation. We call it internally a “1.5 meeting.” I am not in that meeting. It is just with their client service manager and sometimes an associate advisor.

We tee it up to the client as a meeting to confirm the data to save them time (which it does).

This meeting has turned out to be invaluable for other reasons, too. Many of our clients have heavy student debt. We use this meeting to do a debt plan for them.

Yes, I know most advisors would never bother with this step. I found it helpful, because student debt is their biggest point of pain. Frequently they can’t address other issues if this is taking up too much brain space. So if we can get them to a sense of peace about this, they are better able to think about the other gaps they have in their plan.

It is also a chance for the client to meet the other members of the team. I want our clients to fall in love with these guys. They are wonderful and someday they will be advisors, too. I want clients to have the security of knowing I have a lot of support to provide them this great service.

The results have been great: time saving for the team and me, and it is a great way to kick off a nice, warm relationship.

The 2.5 Meeting

The next thing I noticed was some clients had so little understanding of their monthly expenses, they literally had no idea where their money was going. They couldn’t pull the trigger on our recommendations because they didn’t know if they could commit to a particular savings plan. This stymied going forward.

The next thing we added was a budget meeting, which we call a “2.5” internally since it falls between meetings 2 and 3. Now granted, not all our clients need this. The older, more established ones, usually didn’t need this step. It has been very helpful for most of our other clients.

We use an Excel spreadsheet and list out their take-home pay. We also prepopulate the form with any numbers that we already know, along with our recommendations.

I either do this working meeting myself face to face with the clients, or in a videoconference with them. Eventually, the team will do these, but I am happy to do them now. There are some nuances to it that might be difficult for our younger team members. I can keep a straight face when I have a California professor making $200,000 for the year telling me he needs to save $100,000 for his wedding. (No, I am not making this up!) Also I don’t ever shame or blame clients for spending 20% of their income on travel, a fortune eating at restaurants or their other choices.

We never suggest that they track their spending on a monthly basis — way too tedious.

Solution: The whole purpose of this meeting is just to make the clients feel comfortable with whatever investment decisions they decide to make on a monthly basis.

Once again the results have been great. Very rarely do I have to do this more than once. It gives the client a great sense of peace about their choices.

End result: No more push back on whether they can take action. In addition, it is yet another service we offer that others don’t, helping make us indispensible.

Detailed Notes

I spent many years using my law background lecturing financial advisors on how to keep their clients happy and avoid getting sued. Moreover, I follow my own advice.

Every product or solution we recommend gets a very thorough vetting process. Each step of the way, I am asking myself: What could go wrong with this company? This product? This service? This solution? How can we protect our clients from that happening?

Some of the more modern investment products are quite complicated. The problem with suggesting these is sooner or later clients get confused, and confused clients can be unhappy. I never want an unhappy client. An unhappy client is the antithesis of a good result.

So we have a checklist for complicated products. It can include as many as a dozen or more different areas that we need to discuss and disclose, including what can go right and what can go wrong. We also go into the pros, cons, fees and expenses, just to name a few items on the disclosure list.

I have a standardized written checklist that I tick when I go over each topic, and to add suspenders to the belt, I also dictate notes which go into the file. Trust me, no client is going to come back and tell me I didn’t explain the downside risk or the expenses. If they do, they will promptly get a list of all our notes. It is not unusual to have three sets of written notes and three sets of dictated notes on one product or service.

For some of the more complicated products, I tell them up front, I won’t let them pull the trigger until we have talked about the pros and the cons three times.

End result: I can sleep better knowing clients understand the risks of what they are doing.

I encourage you to think about your process. Sometimes adding steps actually saves time and gives you a better outcome.