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How Good Advisers Communicate: Connecting the Dots

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My son the engineer says engineers think algebraically. It’s like breathing for them. My daughter the photographer endured algebra in high school and college like a prison sentence. She does not possess a naturally algebraic bone in her body. Though her brother tried to tutor her, it wasn’t a successful endeavor. He thought like an engineer. She thought like an artist. What was native to him was foreign to her. They might as well have spoken different languages.

It’s not that my son didn’t make a good effort to help his sister understand algebraic concepts or that my daughter was incapable of learning algebra. It’s just when it came to algebra, there was a disconnect. He assumed she knew certain things and thought she should think a certain way. He didn’t understand what she didn’t know because it was second nature to him. She needed someone to connect the dots. He didn’t need the dots.

It’s hard to help somebody connect the dots when you’re looking at a complete picture, but strong communicators are dot connectors. They understand what their audience doesn’t get and know how to connect the dots to make the picture clear.

Good advisers connect the dots for their clients. They know what people need to know to make sound financial decisions about their future, but they’re also aware of the disconnects that can complicate the process. They might not require the dots themselves, but they see them and know how to use communications to draw clear lines from one dot to the next. Good advisers know how to help people see what they need to see.

The process of making something simple for someone else is not an easy process, but it plays an essential part in building client trust and confidence. People might not realize the effort it takes to be a dot connector, but they will appreciate the results. That makes dot connecting an vital part of a client communications strategy for financial advisers.

Here are 5 steps to help you help your clients and potential clients connect the dots:

1. Don’t Make Assumptions.

You have expertise. It’s been developed and honed through education, experience, and professional development. It’s what you do day-in and day-out. The people you serve may have expertise in another area, but most of them don’t know a great deal about investing or financial planning. Not-knowing makes people feel vulnerable. Being vulnerable is uncomfortable.

Don’t assume your clients know the difference between an independent adviser and a broker-dealer or a fee-based and fee-only adviser. Don’t assume they understand portfolio allocation or have any idea what an index fund is. And don’t assume it doesn’t matter.

When you assume people know things they don’t know, it either makes them feel stupid or makes them pretend to know more than they do. When you assume they don’t need to know these things, you’re creating the kind of communications gap that makes people not trust their advisers.

Related: Don’t Give Your Clients the Silent Treatment

2. Know What Your Clients Should Know.

Your clients don’t need to know everything about investing and financial planning or about how you do what you do. Most likely, they don’t want to know. That means you need to be specific and proactive about the information you do provide them. Figure out what needs to be made clear so you can make it clear.

Think hard about your clients and those you would like to have as clients. What kind of questions do they ask? What kind of questions should they ask? What are their pain points? What are their goals? How can you equip them to make good financial choices?

Brainstorm four lists: “Things my clients and future clients must know”; “Things they should know”; “Things they might want to know”: and “Things I want them to know.” These will become the source of your content ideas.

Segment your lists in a way that works for your client base. You might do one for clients and one for prospects; one for individual investors and one for businesses. Your content lists show the dots that need connecting and provide the seeds of your content ideas. They are foundational to your marketing communications strategy because they allow you to focus on providing the specific kinds of content your clients and prospects are looking for.

3. Take Inventory of Your Content.

It’s easy to assume that you are covering everything you need to cover on your website. You might be surprised. Though not exactly technologically sophisticated, your content lists are an excellent tool for evaluating whether you’re addressing what people need to hear through your website or other communications.

Use your lists to take inventory of what you have covered already, what you need to develop more and what you need to address for the first time.

If you’ve sufficiently covered something, cross it off your list. If you need to address something in more detail or on an ongoing basis, mark it and note how you might improve it. Finally, highlight the items you haven’t covered at all.

When you’re done, you’ll have a working content list.

Related: How to Use Digital Content to Build Trust

4. Prioritize Your Content Lists.

Financial professionals don’t have a lot of time, and developing content takes time. Creating a working content list for different segments of your business allows you to prioritize your content goals both by segment and ideas. You don’t need to be overwhelmed with your communications needs because you can address them individually.

Prioritizing your list by segments lets you concentrate on one part at a time or work alternately between two parts with overlapping ideas. If you want to shore up communications with existing clients before reaching out to prospects, you can. If you’d prefer to start reaching out to potential clients first, you can do that, too. If you’ve identified areas where both can be addressed, your lists will make that clear, as well.

Prioritizing each list by content ideas helps you identify the “must knows” and “should knows” so you can address them quickly if you haven’t already. You can then schedule items on your “what clients might want to know” and “what you want them to know” lists as you are able.

A good content strategy does require time and resources but defining what needs to be communicated and developing a plan to do it incrementally allows you to address marketing and other client communications without being overwhelmed by their scale.

5. Draw Clear Lines.

Content lists are the seed of your communications strategy. They help identify what dots need connecting, but you still have to draw the lines between the dots. You have to decide what kind of content to generate and then create it and publish it.

Though a lot of information can be covered on your website, some subject matter can be addressed better in a blog, newsletter or downloadable report. Producing a you-tube video (or series of videos) explaining difficult concepts in a simple way or publishing an e-book that helps people see how their money choices affect their financial future are also effective ways to help people see what they need to see about financial planning.

Of course, to have clear lines, you need clear content. Your writing needs to be direct. Your sentences crisp (specific but not wordy). And your content error free. Engage your reader with examples and illustrations and don’t ever forget you’re communicating with living, breathing human beings. If you need help, get it, but however you approach developing your content, remember your job is to help people connect the dots.

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