When markets tremble, communication is critical

By Ed Morrow

Intl. Assoc. of Registered Financial Consultants

Send every client and prospect a Year End Planning Memo. It does not matter if all of the details are perfectly applicable to them; that's not the issue, or the purpose. You are trying to reach out and touch them in a favorable format. What you are gaining is their appreciation, their loyalty, and eventually, referrals.

You could write this memo yourself, but that is not a reasonable use of your time. Your job is to maximize the time you spend face-to-face with clients, uncovering issues, conveying solutions, monitoring their holdings and following through on implementation.

Stimulate response by offering your recipients an easy way to tell you about their fears and their motives. Remember, you cannot reach out and "touch" your clients too often. And this also goes for prospects and other professional advisors.

Of course, with either the Newkirk brochures or WPI memo, you will still need to have all your clients in some type of Contact Manager or Client Relationship Management program to generate the cover letters and the envelopes or mailing labels, whereas Practice Builder includes that capacity.

Take action promptly. There is still time to send your Year End Planning Memo to your clients. You can even use a mailing service to assist you if necessary. Taking action now will set the stage for next year to be a one of harvesting new clients, rather than fighting to retain old ones.

You need four things:
    1. Client update memos. You must have a well-written and stimulating memo. It must balance offering valid information with proposing solutions. It must be carefully written and attractively formatted.

    2. Cover letter. Whether you send out your memo by postal mail or e-mail, you still need a short introductory letter that seizes the reader's attention and conveys all your contact information.

    3. Response mechanism. Your recipient must have an easy way to indicate their interest. It must be only one-page, and should provide an easy "check-off" method to isolate their areas of greatest concern.

    4. Reply methods. Don't require clients to figure out how to respond. If you are using postal mail, include a business reply envelope. Always provide an option for fax and e-mail response.
Are you Ernest Hemmingway?

Should you really try to write this yourself? Do you have the time? Do you write with great clarity? Do you format text attractively? Yes, you could do these things -- but that doesn't mean you should! What you should be doing is talking with prospects and clients -- face-to-face or on the phone. Your job is the verbal communication. The planning memo's job is to determine which clients are most concerned and measure their areas and degree of interest.

Delegation works

Many financial advisors have maximized the value of client communications with a six-step process.
    1. Postal mail the cover letter on stationery, the multi-page memo, the response form and a No. 9 Business Reply Mail envelope.

    2. Call every response immediately. This can be done by a staff person who simply probes for more information and schedules an appointment for your phone call or a physical mailing.

    3. Send an e-mail repeat. Yes, these persons have already gotten the postal mailing, but many will ignore it or simply procrastinate. 4. Staff calls your entire list. If you or a staff hasn't the time, then have a university student or someone temporarily unemployed make the calls. Their script is only two sentences:

    "Hi, this is Joe Smith, and Tom Jones, financial advisor with the Jones Financial Group, has asked me to call you about the Year End Planning Memo that was recently sent to you. Are there some issues about which you would like more information - by mail, by phone or in person?"

    5. You call everyone. Obviously, you should first call those who have asked for more information. And the key here is for you to have the notes from your staff person's conversation. But your clients, prospects and the advisors on your list really like to hear from you. Actually, you should mostly listen. The more you probe and listen, the smarter they will think you are.

    6. Arrange physical meetings. You'll want to schedule some of these people to come in to your office immediately. You may invite others to a group briefing session, to which you invite them, as well as their friends, business associates and family members.
There are at least three excellent sources for this type of Yearly Tax Planning Memo. Each has its advantages, and you will need to make the best selection based on your circumstances.

1. Practice Builder, a full-featured Client Relationship Management (CRM) software program, includes both a mid-year planning memo and a Year End Tax Memo in its software. Due to the timely nature of the Year-End Tax Memo, it is revised in the fall of each year to include the most recent events and government actions. It is available on November 1 for electronic download by the users, on a semi-automatic basis. Users simply access the Web site, download the update, and their material is automatically revised.

The users of Practice Builder are encouraged to read the multi-page memo first, to see if they want to make any edits in the Word file. Then it should be printed front and back to reduce bulk. The memo should be sent with a short, personal letter to every client and prospect. The advantage of using Practice Builder is that the financial advisor already has all the clients and prospects in the system, and all a staff person needs to do is insert stationery and start printing.

There is no additional cost to Practice Builder users for the Tax Memo, since this service is included. The stand-alone Year End Planning & Tax Memo is available, with marketing instructions and cover letter for $175. For more information on Practice Builder you can go the Web site: www.FinancialSoftware.com.

2. You can purchase a printed 16-page book from Newkirk for 50 un-imprinted copies at $1.75 per issue. Imprinted versions start at $2.40 for 100 and reduce in quantities over 200. It is extremely well done, and very detailed. This would have to be mailed in a 9 x 12 envelope, which adds to the cost and postage. Your clients are not likely to read the entire booklet, but they will certainly be impressed with the information and the opportunity you present to them. You should accompany each copy with your personal cover letter, not just attach a business card. You can also affix a firm or personal sticker to each booklet.

Rather than send it to your entire client and prospect list, you might decide to purchase a limited number of copies for just your key clients, and to send to other professional advisors -- and of course to read yourself. Accountants should already know this information, but attorneys will really value this brochure, and it might trigger a valuable client referral. www.newkirk.com.

3. You can purchase an excellent Year End Tax Memo from WPI Communications. The cost is $217 and they send you a printed copy, with a diskette containing the text in several formats. This will enable you to make any revisions you deem appropriate, and add a reference to your firm.

Depending on your type font selections and editing, the WPI file will generate a 7 to 10 page Tax Memo. This writing style is consumer-oriented, usually with some charts and no graphics. They also provide suggested cover letter for your use. For information on WPI Communications go to: www.wpicomm.com.

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