I meet a lot of advisors who tell me that their goal is to work with women in transition. There are few who undertake an approach as thorough, systematic, and thoughtful as Evelyn Zohlen, MBA, MS, CFP®, President of Inspired Financial.
From custom tools and training to tailoring their processes to carefully crafting the language on their website, Inspired Financial has designed their advisory business specifically around the needs of their target clients.
“I think most advisors talk themselves out of a niche because they feel like ‘I’m going to end up sending away business. I’m going to end up not growing because I’m going to send away business.’ In fact it is the complete opposite that happens. When you have clarity around who you want to serve and what you want to do for them, you grow because you become the go-to firm for that niche. Whenever I talk to people about this in a one on one basis with my colleagues, ‘I don’t want to send away all that business.’ I assure them that you are not losing — you will not lose business. You will grow because you will be so important to this particular group.”
Identifying this niche and tailoring their business to it has made a significant difference in how effectively Inspired Financial can attract clients.
“We get a lot of referrals from centers of influence. I would say probably 75 percent of our referrals come from professional colleagues which is a pretty significant difference from a lot of planners who get lost in the herd. How does that estate attorney know when to send the referral to you versus five other planners who come knocking on his door? Our niche makes it really easy for our centers of influence to make referrals to us.”
“…All of our website, my blog, our collateral material, my networking when I’m meeting with professional colleagues — it makes it very easy to remember who we are because unfortunately financial planners all look and sound the same. ‘We help wealthy families and small business owners secure their financial future blah blah blah blah.’ That sounds the same everywhere, but to be able to say, ‘We’re not interested in most of your clients. However, for the ladies that you serve, for your women who are going through big life transitions, we are it.’ They get it.”
How do you select that niche? Zohlen recommends you start by looking at your client base to find those clients you really enjoy working with. Then, once you have narrowed the list that far, ask yourself why you like working with those people. Which ones make a difference?
“For example, when we did this, we saw two very strong patterns forming and the groups that we like to serve. There were a surprising number of women in transition, ladies who had come to us during a life transition or who had been with us as part of a couple and then we helped them navigate it when their husband was gone whether through death or divorce. That was a real surprise. I wasn’t actually expecting that. The other was engineers – left-brain types that really enjoyed getting into the details of the investments.”
And asking the question about making a difference helped Inspired Financial recognize who they should target. “That’s how we peeled away the engineers. I like taking care of them because I’m a left-brain, technical person by nature. My MBA is in Finance with a concentration in Portfolio Management. I could talk all day long on the investments. If you want to go there, I can go as deep as you want. However at the end of the day that really does not provide value. That is an academic conversation that is interesting to me as a technician but that does not provide long-term value to my clients.”
“It actually becomes pretty clear, or at least it narrows down significantly who you are serving best and what it is that you are doing for them that is so wonderful? When you align that, it’s magic. It completely changes your world.”
The process includes, of course all of the quantitative activities involved in financial planning: Completing projections to make sure the client is on track. But added to that, designed with their target client in mind, and an important part of what makes Inspired Financial special and unique is that there is a qualitative “right-brain” relational component that they address with purpose and intent as well. Not just about the money but about life and what the client wants to accomplish, whether it should be paid or avocational, and how their family fits into that.
“We have tried and practiced with many, many different approaches and have created one that works well, resonates well.” They created a proprietary process based on their experience but Zohlen says that resources from Sudden Money® Institute and Money Quotient provide a great starting point for planners seeking inspiration in this area.
“Our discovery process not only allows for but anticipates a lot of storytelling, a lot of exchanging ‘Well, I’ve had that happen’ or ‘We have another client that…’ to show her that while she is singular and unique, perhaps the challenges that are frightening her and seem a little bit overwhelming have had successful outcomes with other folks and there is not only hope but great reason for optimism about what is going to come in her future.” This is going beyond crunching numbers and into the special needs that define this niche. “A lot of these ladies come to us at a really difficult time and they are so uncertain about what is next. What do you want to be next? How can we help you, not only assuring that you’re going to be okay financially but with other support and guidance. The discovery and then the collaboration and the support — the allowing for tears, the allowing for stories is all part of successfully serving this particular niche.”
When they began working with women in transition, most of their clients were widows and divorcees like they had anticipated. Today approximately 40% of the transitions they work with women on are not death or divorce but changes brought about by business and career—oftentimes, a transition Zohlen has dubbed “late life involuntary career change.”
“I know you’ve seen these stories where she’s 58 years old, she was a senior executive at a company and she has been offered a fat severance package and told ‘Thank you for your services but you are no longer needed.’ Now she has got no job but she’s got some money and she is not sure if this is enough and if not, ‘Do I have to do the job that I had before making the money I did before, or is it okay if I do something else because there might be something else that I wanted to do?’ Working with those ladies and their transition has been very gratifying as well.”
And how has this new element to the target market changed how Inspired Financial delivers advice? “Sometimes that entails bringing her to a career coach or maybe a job placement center to do a little bit of exploration around what else she might like to do. Sometimes it is just giving her permission to take a sabbatical. ‘I’d like to go back to being a CPA but I’m just tired of it. I think I just need six months off to recharge my batteries a little bit.’ We’ll discern that that is the case. It’s not that she wants to retire and quit at age 58, but she just needs a breather. We tell her how she can do that and still be successful.
That is not technical. That is not 40 percent stocks and 60 percent bonds. That’s much more about a comprehensive approach to somebody’s entire financial life and making it successful.”
“I will make the half joke that we’re the ones that, when your dad dies and your mom doesn’t know how to take care of the finances or your sister divorces that bum she never should have married in the first place, we’re going to make sure she and the kids are okay. People hear that and they get it. They completely resonate. That means internally we are all on the same sheet of music. If you hold out any team member of Inspired Financial, cornered them and said, ‘Who do you take care of? What do you do for them?’ we’ve got this woman in transition thing completely dialed in. Our services are geared toward them; our communications are geared toward them.”
What advice does Zohlen have for advisors trying to identify their niche? “Stick to your guns but know that, as soon as you put a stake in the ground and say ‘This is my niche,’ the next eight people through your will not be a part of your niche. It’s just Murphy’s Law; it’s the way it works. That’s exactly what happened to us. I put the stake in the ground, women in transition, $1 million minimum, and over the next couple of months I proceeded to send away about $8 million in $500,000 increments with couples and men and all kinds of random situations.”
Focusing on a niche and tailoring their services to the needs of those target clients has enabled Inspired Financial to accomplish what many advisors aspire to – a successful practice with consistent referrals, 75% of which come from centers of influence.
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