A sense of righteous indignation spread over the face of the advisor who approached me after a keynote presentation on “systematizing” financial planning service. The idea went against the very foundation of financial planning, he said, an industry in which clients need individual attention, personal service and advice tailored to their situation and goals. Trying to scale that with repeatable processes, he assured me, would mean watering down what made his practice special.

The concept of standardizing and systematizing a highly specialized experience flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Financial planning, after all, is predicated on the idea of personal relationships. The idea is that the exchange between one client and one advisor cannot be scaled because it is so unique. But in my experience, scaling a personalized client experience is actually one of the best strategies advisors can use to deliver deeper value to clients, drive faster growth and stay on the winning side of a rapidly evolving profession.

The goal here is to shift your thinking about your business and service strategy and give serious consideration to the winds of change blowing through our profession—and ultimately to get you to understand the power of “scaling your special.”

Your “special” can be defined as both what you bring to clients as a unique person and what you deliver professionally in a way that makes it yours. In my 30 years in this business, I've discovered a hard truth about the professional offering: financial planners all offer the same basic services—discovery, analysis, recommendations, net-worth statements, balance sheets, portfolio allocations, retirement projections and withdrawal. The discovery meetings all end with you asking the prospect to entrust their net worth to you and your process.

How do you make your service stand out in this sea of sameness? You need a process that allows your particular wisdom to be deeply customized to the personal and financial needs of your clients. And you need to focus on a more specific clientele that is served by this process. The more specialized the offering, the more attractive it becomes to the subset of people for whom it is intended.

In fact, studies show that niche/specialty firms grow three to four times faster than generalist practices.

“Scaling special” starts when you define services and touch points that will be compelling to the subset of clients you seek to serve. The narrower the audience, the more focused your services can become and the easier it is to systematize services and experiences.

This approach requires deep knowledge of the client. Take Adam, a lifestyle advisor who was stuck at $225,000 in revenue and feeling exasperated. In 18 months, he narrowed his niche, doubled his revenue and took enough time off to fulfill his dream of getting his pilot’s license.

How? He decided he could do his best work with optometrists. He developed a clearly defined service model relying heavily on his customer relationship management technology. That left him free to schedule and deliver a set of tailored services particularly appealing to optometry practices. He implemented what we call “model meetings,” which cover the standard planning agenda items, but then focused his discussions with the clients on aligning their finances with their life needs and goals. Adam began delivering a highly specialized meeting experience, in a very efficient 75 minutes.

From here, he and his assistant implemented client meeting “surges”—the practice of holding client review meetings twice a year, typically during the spring and fall. All client review meetings are held during these six-to-eight-week windows, following a systematized, staff-driven process that allowed Adam to deliver deeper, more personal advice than he had before.

The surge process recaptures the time required for truly special client attention and advice. When an advisor like Adam streamlines and systematizes the standardized tasks that consume attention and staff time, his time and attention are refocused to the personal aspects of the agenda.

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