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Practice Management

Learning how to mine your past through a well-crafted story that tells a lot about what you believe can help you attract and keep clients.

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

Sharing a powerful story about yourself—one that gives some insight into who you are and what you stand for—makes listeners want to know you better. It's also one of the best ways to set the stage for a long-term advisor-client relationship.

The reason: The financial advisory business has trended away from selling products and services, and toward selling clients an experience. When most affluent investors meet a financial advisor and he or she talks about nothing but dry numbers, they get bored and often stop listening. For many people, what they really want to know is who you are as a person. They are wondering what you are made of and how you will act if and when the going gets tough.

Finding Your Story
At CEG Worldwide, we have been coaching financial advisors to tap into their personal stories for the past year and a half. When we start the process, most don't think that they have any story at all—or, at least, nothing that would interest affluent prospects or potential business partners.

By the end of the first session, though, they realize they have quite a lot to say. Everyone has a story that will move others. To begin to find your personal story, ask yourself the following questions:

* Who has influenced my beliefs? You may notice that there are some people in life you moved toward, others you moved away from and still others you moved against. What was it that you saw or felt in those relationships that caused you to rethink how you would act in the future?

For example, one financial advisor we have coached found himself focusing on the values he learned from his parents and their experiences living in a Japanese relocation camp during World War II. Those values helped to shape the course of his life. "My father finished his degree from the University of California-Berkeley by correspondence while in the camp," he recalls.

* Which events have moved me the most? These can be personal experiences, such as the birth or death of a family member, repairing a lost friendship, or standing up to a boss or a parent. They can also be external events, like an economic downturn or a natural disaster. How did these experiences and events shift your worldview and bring you where you are today—as a person and as an advisor?

One personal event that shaped the financial advisor whose family was put in an internment camp involved the land his family owned before the war. "People were required to sell their property before they went to the camps, but someone from my parents' church took title of our property and then changed the title back after the war, so my family was one of the few who didn't have to sell," he says.

"That event helps me communicate the importance of empowering people and giving back, because if you help others it comes back to you," the advisor explains. It has become an important part of his story.

* What have my valleys been? The most powerful stories convey not just successes, but also danger, remorse and big mistakes. People don't connect with people who act as if they have never struggled. All of our lives are filled with peaks and valleys. The story that will grab people often lies in how you came out of the valleys and headed for the peaks.

After reflecting on these three questions, begin to write up your story. In two or three paragraphs, write about how you became an advisor. As you type, keep in mind that your story should focus on who you are as a person and how and why those personal characteristics led you to the advisory business. Be sure to use relevant examples.

You might also think about a single event that was a turning point for you in your decision to become a financial advisor. What did you do after this event, and what were the ensuing results of your actions?

After you write a first draft, read it over closely. Ask yourself what is it about your story that really shows the essence and spirit of who you are—and then write that down in a few brief sentences. Now write your story again, capturing the most intense moments and feelings from what you last wrote. Make it come alive with this intensity.

When we coach financial advisors in this way, they inevitably come up with engaging stories about who they are and what drives them to do what they do for their clients. For example, they might discuss growing up poor and how they watched their families struggle to make ends meet, vowing one day to make a career out of helping other people avoid the same predicaments. Or how they persevered to make their high school football team or another important personal goal that they believed was truly out of reach for them.

It's an incredible discovery process because it helps advisors realize important things about themselves that they may not have known before or spent enough time thinking about. However, those facts about themselves can turn out to be a very powerful tool in helping them pinpoint their focus in life and in their advisory business.

Polish Your Story
Once you have this initial, powerful version of your story, commit to telling it at least 10 times to 10 different people over the next two weeks—such as trusted business associates or your family and friends (but not to actual prospects or others to whom you plan to market). As you do, take note of your listeners' responses and reactions as well as your own responses. Pay attention to answering these questions:

  • At what points of your story are you most enthusiastic?
  • Where in the story are you mumbling?
  • At what points do you really connect with your listeners?
  • When do your listeners light up?
  • At what points do they lose interest?
  • At what points do they interrupt you?
  • At what points do listeners seem to want more detail or examples?

Armed with this information, take out the parts that are less important or that don't evoke a response in your listeners (or in you). Add more detail to the parts that your listeners find most interesting. By making the small adjustments, your story will become better with each telling.

An advisor we worked with actually has a few personal stories that he has at the ready, depending on the type of person he's talking to and their concerns (raising values-conscious children, financial security and so on). Once your story is polished, you'll be ready to go live with it and present it to prospects, strategic partners and team members whenever the opportunity presents itself.

No Broadcast News
Remember that in telling your story you will find yourself vulnerable and at risk. You won't be perfect and totally smooth—and you shouldn't be. No one wants that anymore. People are looking for humanity and honesty, not canned responses.

The biggest mistake you can make is reporting your story like you are a television news broadcaster. Prospective clients are more interested in humanity—someone who has had to struggle to get to where he or she is today.

For the financial advisor we coached, it's the personal and family challenges he shares that help him build lasting bonds quicker with new prospects. "People don't want to hear about all your awards and honors—or at least not just about those things," he says. "They want to know that you have struggled along your path to success. They want to hear about the fears and obstacles that you have overcome. That information makes you relatable and helps people connect with you."


John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors. 


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