7 Tools You Need To Run A Successful Fee Based Financial Planning Practice

Photo by:  IK's World Trip  licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Photo by: IK’s World Trip
licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Image has been modified.

Now, to go through ALL of the tools required would take me forever.  And, not all tools are required for all fee based businesses.

However, the following tools are critical to ALL fee based financial planning practices, no matter what their business focus, location or mandate is.

These tools are:

  1. Website
  2. Email capture system
  3. Phone system
  4. Contact Management System
  5. Financial Planning Software
  6. Bookkeeping/Billing System

So, let’s get into why these seven tools are absolutely necessary to run any successful financial planning practice.

1.  Website

Like it or not, everyone will check you out on the web first, before deciding to work with you.  Your website is what will instantly differentiate you from your competition.

What you put on the website is important.  There are a few key components to making your site shine.

First, you need to make sure that it doesn’t promote products.  What you do what it to promote is your process.  To a prospect, your process is your product.  So, be sure to promote your service as a product.  The best way of doing this is to outline what you do in the form of a step-by-step process and then name your process.  As soon as you name your process, you have instantly differentiated yourself from your competition.

The second thing you want to do is to put content on your website that is directly relevant to your client niche and keep it current.  If you don’t have a niche, you need one.  I understand that this is the most difficult question to answer but it must be done.

The easiest way of choosing your niche is to ask yourself the question: “Who do I feel can benefit the most from the type of financial planning I do?”.  Once you have this answered, tailor your message to this niche.  You will be amazed at how quickly your business will grow when you publicly state who you do the best work for.  In this business, you don’t need a lot of new clients every year.  Just a handful of key clients whom you can build a business around.

So, do you need to go out and hire someone to build a website for you?  Absolutely not.  Not these days.  You will be amazed how easy it is to launch a website on your own, for a few hundred dollars.  If you go to www.wordpress.org, you will find the most powerful software to run your website on.  It runs some of the most powerful websites in the world and it is totally free.  WordPress is out of the box configured to work with all of the search engines so as soon as you launch your site, you will begin to see traffic because the search engines are automatically notified of your existence.

If you need to hire someone to help you, you will be amazed at how inexpensive it is to build a fantastic looking site using WordPress.  Why, because if you hire someone, since the software is so easy to use and customize, you will not be paying for development and creative time, just a bit of fine tuning time.  When I built my first website, it cost me over $15,000.  So far at the time of writing this post, my cost to date for this website is $159, which includes my annual hosting fee and a premium theme that makes this site look as it does.

So, don’t do what I did and blow your brains out on a website that looks good to your mom but doesn’t attract new leads to you.

2.  Email Capture System

This one should actually be number 1 but most people want to get going on their website first so I put it as number 2.  But, without a list of prospects to market to and to build a relationship with, you will leave a tremendous amount of money on the table.

The system I recommend is AWeber.  The reason it is so great is twofold.  First, it is soooo easy to use and set up.  Second is that it integrates with WordPress in a simple point and click fashion.  You will notice on this website the email capture form.  This is AWeber.  When you register to receive our eNewsletter, AWeber is taking care of the administration to make sure you are who you say you are.

In your financial planning practice, you will be able to set up automated email correspondence that will help you to build a relationship with your prospects.  What you write in this email correspondence is a topic for another post but let’s just say that when a prospect has Opted-In to your list, they are giving you permission to communicate with them.  So, find valuable information and communicate with them.  To see what I mean, just register here, on the right of this post, to our email list.  The automation will take over and you will see how it works.

3.  Phone System

I assume you have a phone.  But, do you have a system for using your phone.

Nothing screams “I’m a one man show!” louder than a voice message that says, “You have reached the personal voice mail box of (insert your name here).  I am currently away from my desk.  Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I am available.”  What’s missing here?  Their ability to speak with a live person.

Keep in mind I do encourage you to not answer your phone, ever.  (I will speak to this further on a future post dealing with Time Management) but let’s just say that we do appreciate that a client or prospect will want to speak with someone.  So, find a live call answer service so that you can add the following text to your voice message: “For immediate assistance, please press “zero” now to be connected to my assistant”.

These services are very inexpensive and will allow you to craft the responses for them to use to properly service the prospect or client and then you will be notified of any important items that come in.  You can then call the important inquires back immediately and look like a hero.

4.  Contact Management System

We all need to keep track of our Leads and Clients.  And, there are a lot of systems out there that can do this for you.  However, there is only one that you should use.  And the reasons for using it are numerous.

That system is Salesforce.com.  This cloud based system is awesome.  I have used Goldmine, Outlook, Maximizer and a few others and Salesforce.com will do so much more for you.

The first thing it will do for you is allow you to work on your business instead of work with some IT guy to fix a software glitch.  Salesforce.com is cloud based which means all you need is a working internet browser.  They take care of the rest.  Cloud based solutions work better for one reason.  They are cloud based.  It doesn’t matter what virus software you are using on your computer, it doesn’t matter what other software you have running on your computer that may conflict with a software based contact management solution.  None of this matters.

There is no need to run a server in your office to make sure all others in the office can communicate with you and your software.  All I need right now is an internet connection.  The way Salesforce.com can be customized (by me) is amazing.  It is a simple drag and drop approach.  In other words, if I don’t like where something shows up on my screen, I drag it to where I want it to be.  Simple.  I never have to worry about a software upgrade screwing up my system and then having to hire some tech guy to fix it (a total waste of money).  The system just works.

It also allows you to automate your business to the finest detail.  In our practice, everything is automated.  This is why we are able to run such a profitable business.  We don’t need to hire very many people because I have programmed Salesforce.com to do most things for me.

Check it out.

Oh, and did I tell you that it works out of the box with WordPress?  Very slick.

5.  Financial Planning Software

This one is more of a personal choice.  There are a variety of good programs on the market.  I use NaviPlan.  I use both NaviPlan Standard (a goals based planning system) and NaviPlan Extended (a cash flow based system).  I have tried them all.  The bottom line is that you need to learn the program.  They will all generate a financial plan for you.  However, can you easily explain the numbers and can you easily generate a plan and model various planning scenarios.

NaviPlan is great on both fronts.

When I present a financial plan to a client, we usually only look at a few pages together.  Their net worth, their ability to accomplish their goal page and how these pages look when the recommendations I have are implemented.  All of the pages that the system generates are put into a binder for the client to take with them for their records.  We always have this because there are some instances where you need to be able to explain things in further detail and you will need to draw on the details contained within the plan to answer these questions.

The plan presentation process needs to be structured.  I will speak further on this in another post.

Bottom line with financial planning software is to learn the software as well as you can so you can properly model your clients “what-if” questions to prove to them the logic behind all of your recommendations.

6.  Bookkeeping/Billing System

As a fee based financial planner, you will be charging clients for your financial planning services.  We charge their credit cards each year.  Managing this is important.  If you don’t have the systems in place to properly manage this, you will lose credibility in your clients eyes.

First of all, get a merchant account.  We use Moneris.

Second of all, have y0ur clients sign a letter of engagement for the financial planning services you are providing them.  Contained within the document is an outline as to your fees and an authorization for them to allow you to bill their financial planning fee to their credit card.

This information should be documented in your Contact Management System.  Your contact management system should automatically generate for you on a monthly basis the list of clients who need to be billed their annual financial planning fee.  You should also have a way of keeping track of a clients credit card expiry dates so that you can contact them in advance of their credit card expiring so that when it comes time to charge their annual financial planning fee, you don’t have an expired credit card to deal with.  The goal here is to streamline the whole process.

You will need to have proper work flows for all of the documents that need to be sent out to a client notifying them of the renewal of their financial planning services.

All of these tools will allow you to run your business like a business and clients will appreciate the efficiency as to how your business is run.

If you’re interested in learning more about how we use these tools in our own practice, please as some more detailed question in the comments section below and we’ll get back to you with further details.

Always keep in mind that as a fee based financial planner, you will do things differently.  Using the above points as a guideline will make you look and sound different than your competition.  And that is a good thing.

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