Virtual work has become a mainstay in our society. Advisors have long been leaning into virtual work as a way to enhance their own lifestyles. With more and more people conducting business online, it provides a new avenue for advisors to work with clients remotely.
Working remotely carries an important weight, especially now in the time of COVID-19. The virus forced nearly all businesses that could move to a virtual setting to do so overnight. This means that many people are navigating this space for the first time.
Given the importance of this topic, we wanted to bring you an article today that delves into the top things you need to do to build a virtual practice that both you and your clients will love. Information for our blog today was gathered from our webinar featuring ACP advisor Ross Schmidt and his journey to creating a successful virtual financial planning practice.
1. Establish a firm foundation
All of our advisors will tell you that to build a successful financial planning practice, you need the right team in your corner. Our ACP Success Program supports advisors as they craft the ins and outs of what it takes to run a well-functioning practice.
Ross said that he was attracted to ACP not only because of the strong community, but also for its resources, tools, and educational materials. Ross transitioned from the Marine Corps to a sales manager role on Wall Street to a fee-only financial advisor, and he attributes his ability to handle that transition because ACP was on his side.
One key area of the Success Program is self-study, which is available in e-formats to help advisors establish, manage, and grow their firms. With foundational training on our philosophy, strategies, and tools, advisors will be well equipped to implement a business plan that works.
One piece of the core information that Ross found particularly helpful was the way to set up and structure client meetings. He found, as many advisors do, that financial planning is so much more than investments. Under our philosophy, it extends to every aspect of your financial life, from cash flow to insurance to taxes to goal setting and more.
The way we encourage advisors to set up their meetings helps communicate that message to prospective clients. Each advisor can then customize their experience based on the type of clients they are serving. Ross, for instance, has several meetings with clients all covering different topics. Let’s take a look at how he walks clients through the process.
- Preliminary appointment
- This is the time for the advisors and the prospect to get to know each other. It shouldn’t center on finances, instead assess if the client will be the right fit for your services.
Assess the client’s tax situation
- This is a big one: the meeting where you as the advisor demonstrate your value, explain your fees, and ideally, get the client to sign onto services.
- Many of our ACP advisors incorporate proactive tax planning into their services. Taxes impact nearly every aspect of financial planning from investments to charitable giving to insurance and more. Understanding and making smart tax choices can be a massive value-add to clients.
Provide an insurance review
- Ross does a full investment review for all his new clients. One of ACP’s core concepts is functional asset allocation, an idea that brings a more human element to a technical process. This means that advisors help clients focus on endogenous factors, or the things that they can control, in their financial plan, tax filing status, withholdings, assets, etc. This process is customized to each client.
Review estate planning
- Do they have the right type and amount of insurance? This can be anything from disability to home to auto to life, and more. Ross says that this is particularly telling as he can see how clients view their money as well as the risk that comes with it.
Start retirement planning
- Are their documents in order? Do they have a will? Are their beneficiaries updated? How about a medical directive or power of attorney? How will they start to build their legacy?
Goals and visualization appointments
- The top question Ross answers from clients is will they have enough money to retire? This question extends to the idea of outliving retirement savings, which is a top fear for many retirees today.
- Ross’s favorite part, this appointment is designed to get to know what is important to the client. Where do they see themselves in 5,10, even 20 years? This is an important relationship-builder and can help inform how you help them set-up their financial plan.
ACP also has virtual classrooms, continuing education, compliance, and marking support, as well as mentoring available for its members.
2. Install the right systems and processes
In order for virtual work to be done right, you need to have systems that support your work. For Ross, finding new ways to build efficiency into his practice saved him a lot of time and money. There are three top ideas that he said worked best for him.
- Client portals
- Meeting software
- Secure documents
Client portals are an essential part of working remotely. They provide secure access to files and can create a more user-friendly interface for clients to check on their accounts, see progress, and manage any changes. You can also use a remote system to sign and store secure contracts through Docusign.
Ross also recommends storing client documents in cloud software, providing remote access to those files whenever you need them. This way, you won’t need to worry about which laptop the data is on or if it’s stored on a home computer. This element adds additional security but also ease and function to the process.
Working remotely means needing to have access to reliable software that connects you with your clients. Software like Calendy or Schedule One can help you set your own hours and schedule appointments with ease. Tools like Skype, Zoom, Join. Me, and other screen sharing technologies can help interact with clients in a more personal way than a simple phone call.
Ross also finds that he makes use of LiveChat programs like Slack to stay in touch with his virtual team. Things like email are always important and making the best use of that platform will save you time while adding an additional client touchpoint.
With virtual work, security needs to be a top priority. One element crucial for Ross’s practice is the use of secure file sharing systems like Secure File Pro, which adds more security and encryption than Dropbox, keeping sensitive client information safe. Keep in mind that in order to run a successful virtual practice, you need to train your clients to do so.
On first thought, many people think that virtual work is limiting. But with so many tools and resources available to you, virtual work can actually be more freeing and can broaden your and your clients’ horizons.
3. Hire some help
Let’s face it: advisors are more comfortable doing everything themselves. But in order to run a smoother business, it is essential to learn the art of outsourcing. ACP’s founder Bert Whitehead said it best, “think about the stuff piling on your desk. That’s the stuff you don’t want to do or find onerous, so outsource it.” Outsourcing should be an intentional decision to free up your time to do the things you love and are really good at. You might consider outsourcing work to a:
- Virtual assistant
- Marketing, public relations, or sales team
Be sure that the team you outsource to will bring your business added value.
For Ross, this came in the form of finding a virtual assistant (VA). Ross is passionate about preparing taxes for each of his clients but utilized the skills of his VA to help him track down paperwork and approvals, giving him more time to craft and implement strategies for his clients.
When you are adding someone to your team, even in a part-time capacity, look for someone who complements your talents. After all, your clients will see the results of both you and any member of your team.
4. Don’t lose your personal touch
When you have a virtual practice, personal touches become even more integral to the relationship-building process. Here are a few ideas that have worked for Ross.
- Make a point to try to meet them in person, if possible.
- Travel to visit your clients every couple of years. This brings an added personal touch and reminds clients that you are there for them.
- Be flexible in client communication. Do your clients prefer video conferencing or are they more email people? It is crucial to meet your clients where they are and communicate with them in a way that makes them feel special, safe, and taken care of.
- Increase client touchpoints. This could be in the form of a newsletter, blog, phone call, webinar, or trip to see them. Make sure that you do what you can to remind your clients what you are doing for them.
When you make intentional efforts to maintain the relationships with your clients, you play an active role in building trust, a trait key to retaining clients.
But with all things, there is give and take. Ross said that while he loves his virtual practice, the one client meeting he doesn’t like to do virtual is the goals and visualization appointment. So much of what is said can be inferred from body language, and not being there in person can take away that connection. He suggests insisting on a video meeting for that call so that you can properly engage in the conversation.
5. Take it one step at a time
Establishing a high-functioning virtual practice takes time, patience, and a lot of trial and error. Ross said that as a career changer, finding ACP was the primary component of his success in financial planning. He learned how to run his business and develop relationships with clients which have survived countless moves, time zones, and will last a lifetime.
All of our advisors are navigating the shifting landscape of the pandemic, and we want you to know that our system is here to support you through these hard times. Our methodology was built to bring security, even at a time like this.
Are you ready to learn how ACP can help your business? Schedule a call today.