How to build a referral network


Have you struggled to build a really effective referral network for your business?

You already know the value of a strong referral from a trusted professional, especially in the financial field – CPAs, attorneys, and insurance professionals, for example.

But if you’ve made any effort at all before, you know how hard it is to get even their attention, leave alone their trust.

  • They’re already bombarded with solicitations
  • They’re too busy with client work and/or prospecting
  • It’s hard to help them see the value for them in working with you.

But there’s a simple way to accelerate that process.

The key is to build a system that generates its own momentum. 

If you feel daunted by the thought of starting from scratch, we boiled down the whole process into five steps you can start working on right away.

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Identify Your Referrers

Begin by narrowing down the list of professionals who are most likely to be working with your ideal prospects. Typically these are:

  • CPAs 
  • Attorneys – estate, divorce and family law, elder law, business law
  • Insurance specialists – life insurance, insurance brokers for small businesses

Pick the top one or two professions who are most likely to refer new clients to you, especially if they’ve  already done so in the past.

Ideally, find out who already serves your existing clients in these capacities. By identifying them, you’ll start off with a readymade pool of potential referrers you can help right away.

Step 2:  Find the Value Overflow Areas

Next, think about where there is an overlap between your work and the work of these professionals.


  1. When do their clients’ financial affairs give them headaches that you can help solve? 
  2. What issues cause bottlenecks or roadblocks for this profession that you can help with?
  3. What work do you do for your clients that makes their lives easier?

Let’s see how this works with CPAs, for example:

Where clients’ financial affairs create complications for CPAs:

Clients’ investment transactions may create tax complications for their tax accountants Or they may be making retirement financing decisions with only cash flow implications in mind, not the tax impacts.

Reaching out to your clients’ other service providers will help you identify these areas of stress, and start adding value instantly by providing know-how and perspectives to help

Where CPAs face bottlenecks:

Your clients may have significant stock transactions as part of their compensation package. The tax impacts may be complex and may become evident to the client only at tax-time, creating undue delays to their accountants.

Your expertise and experience puts you in an excellent spot to identify these and help mitigate them in advance.

Where your work makes the CPA’s life easier:

As a wealth professional, you already consider tax implications carefully in developing suitable strategies for your clients.

For example, in developing retirement distribution strategies, you probably consider not only cash flow but also the taxability of these distributions. And of course, you’re probably already doing meaningful tax-loss harvesting for your clients’ portfolios.

Create a simple content agenda for each profession based on this brainstormed list of ideas – this will help you build content effortlessly over the long haul.

Step 3: Set Easy Interaction Formats 

For your referral network to work, your referrers must be attuned to hearing from you consistently on matters that help them, inform them and make their lives easier.

The best way to do this is to find a couple of communication formats that are easy and natural for you. Once you find these, stick to them for at least 6-8 months.

How to build a referral network
Photo by  Roman Kraft

Here are some choices:

  • Webinar / Zoom conference call
  • Personal letter
  • Printable handouts for them or their clients
  • Newsletter / commentary or simple letter with your own professional perspective 
  • 2-5-minute audio or video clips recorded on your phone camera
  • Slide presentation
  • Teleconference or virtual summit where professionals can ask you any financial topic-related questions for 30 – 60 minutes

As you hit your stride over time, consider expanding into no more than one new format at a time, until you’ve normalized that mode of communication

Step 4: Set a Plan

Bring your engine to life with a planned calendar and 2-3 simple metrics to monitor how you’re doing.  

Here is an example:

Build these into your calendar to ensure you stay on track.

Let’s jump to the best part: capturing the benefit.

Step 5: Harvest the Benefit

All this hard work isn’t worth much if you can’t reap the harvest of what you’ve sown.

For your network to be of value, your professional colleagues must know you, like you and value your contribution to their work.

Take these steps to stay top-of-mind with your referrers:

  • Create a separate mailing list for COI’s (this is a must-have)
  • Consider building a separate section on your website for your COI’s.
  • Provide access to valuable content (such as on-demand webinars, your handouts, etc.) in exchange for their email address
  • Increase visibility with low effort via a quarterly newsletter, for example, that helps your entire network with limited effort on your part

You’ll soon see that the professionals are reaching out to you for help and more collaboration – because you’re making every interaction beneficial to them and to their clients.

Photo by Brienne Hong

Do Even Better

Take your system to the next level with these bonus tips:

  1. Start by working with the professionals who already serve your clients. Ask them what challenges they face with your clients, and what you can do to ease their work.
  2. Create simple 1-2 page evergreen handouts that your professional colleagues can use for themselves or hand out to clients: provide information, tips and tools that give instant value.
  3. Run joint events, webinars or Q&A with your referrers for their clients on areas of your common expertise – the implied credibility you get is priceless.
  4. Share the content you create for your clients with your professional referrers – jointly branded with you, that they can share it with their clients – this way, you both win, and their clients end up getting to know and trust you more.

You now have the best-kept secrets of the greatest referral network builders.

What profession are you going to choose to build out your referrals? What’s the first action you’re going to take?


So many times I feel that marketing complicates things needlessly.

Do you feel this way too?

Take, for example, the most basic of all marketing activities: figuring out who your ideal clients are, and how to find them and help them so they become fans of you and your business.

Having this picture with high-fidelity, high-resolution clarity in your head can do wonders for your rainmaking:

  • Maximize the productivity of your time  – only engage with people you’re likely to close
  • Sharpen your approach so it feels resoundingly convincing to those you do want to serve
  • Increase your focus – find the exact types of clients you’re most likely to succeed with

So how do you create this picture-perfect image in your head?

Do even the most preliminary search on Google and you’ll find your head swimming with all the terminology, the techniques and needless obfuscation.

Forget all that complexity. 

Here’s a simple approach that if you spend just 30 minutes with a pen and paper in a quiet spot, can pay you back at least 30 times over – saving you time and needless frustration.

But first, I want to introduce you to someone very important –  the persona.

What Is A Persona

“Persona” or “Ideal client persona” is just a fancy term for making very tangible and real all the details and dimensions of your ideal client.

It’s a true-to-life picture of an actual person you could imagine talking to, and dealing with.

How to develop a client persona

Photo by Flavius Călin

Which of these two approaches gets you energized and confident about finding, engaging and converting to a client?


How to create a client persona

Or this:

Don’t you feel a lot more confident that you can track down and close a deal with Peter – more so than with the vague “45 to 60 year old employed executive”?

For example, you now know:

  • Where to find Peter – Linked In would be a great channel, for example, because he’s spending a ton of high-focus time on it everyday, and in a professional, business-like mindset too.
  • What problem to hook his attention with – anything to do with smart tips for college planning, or catch-up retirement planning strategies, for example, will likely catch his attention
  • What points to highlight about your offering – it’s clear he has an inaccurate picture of the financial advice industry. So educating him on the different models of financial planning and pricing would be a great way to earn his trust and give him value
  • How to craft the journey to a successful relationship  – it’s clear Peter doesn’t like to admit what he doesn’t know, probably because of his distrust of the industry. So an approach that highlights what other smart investors or individuals like him do to safeguard their finances will probably be much more effective to win him over.

At a stroke, you’ve gotten clear answers to the biggest questions that will make or break whether you’ll succeed with Peter – and the thousands of others just like him who are also a great fit for your offering.

Now that you’ve seen the power of the persona, how do you go about creating one?

Do even a little bit of online research, and you’ll see there’s hardly any consensus on what needs to be on your persona, how you find it, or even how best to use one once you have a persona.

A Simple Way to Build Great Client Personas

I’ve done the work and simplified it for you, so you can have a pretty good answer in 30 minutes or less.

Of course the more effort, thoughtfulness and hard data you can bring to this exercise, the better your results will be.

But even a quick-and-dirty focused session can get you immense improvements in your targeting, messaging and engagement.

Let’s get to it:

Step 1: Identify The Candidates

How many personas do you need to build for your business?

It depends on how big your business is. To begin with, experts recommend creating no more than 2-3 personas.

How do you find these personas?

  • Take a quick look at the full list of your clients, past and present
  • Find what patterns pop from the data: are there clusters around:
    • Demographics – specific age groups, occupations, family statuses?
    • Service offerings – of you offer more than one specialization – are there some that are more popular than others? For example, is your “business owner” package more popular than your “employee plan” package?
    • Investment profiles –  Is there an over-representation of people who have a specific type of investment preference?

It may help to run some basic analytics to see if there are invisible patterns that show up.

If you’re just starting out, then focus on the types of clients you’d like to serve.

From this, pick at most 2-3 clusters that pop and resonate with you.

How to build a client persona

Photo by Mathieu Stern

Step 2: Stake Out the Angles

The goal is that when you’re done, you want to have everything you need to find, attract and engage this person as effectively and efficiently as possible. In other words, you want your persona to act as both a compass and a roadmap.

What dimensions do you need to get you there? Start with these seven:

  1. Human dimensions that make your persona identifiable: this means their gender, age, occupation, family status, where they live, education and of course, their income and /or net worth. If you’re really playing for the prize, I’d also consider adding ethnicity and affiliations. Most important, give your persona a name
  2. Problem – What is the specific financial problem that’s disturbing their equilibrium. How do they experience it? What areas of their daily life does it impact?
  3. Relief needed – What’s the “pain-killer” that will make this pain go away? Is it the comfort of having a plan? Is it the emotional assurance that comes from having an expert they can rely on? These may feel like details but understanding these small nuances is incredibly important to crafting a razor-sharp marketing approach
  4. Information channels –  Where does this prospect get their information? What are their hangouts?  Where do they get “social” information? And where do they get their “serious, business” information about their finances, career, etc. Who do they trust?
  5. Barriers and fears – What does this person distrust, fear or dread the most when it comes to your offering? Is that barrier internal to them? Does it relate to your entire industry? Or just your profession? 
  6. Persuaders and influencers – What emotional factors nudge this person towards a “yes”? Is it the recommendation of friends? The authority of industry rankings? The likability factor of having a chat with you? who do they listen to for advice on their finances?
  7. Experience expectations – What do they expect will happen in this relationship? Are those accurate? What do they expect to see, feel, hear and have happen? When? How can you remove misconceptions and build more realistic benefits-based expectations instead?

Step 3 – Build a True-to-life, Fact-based Picture

No that you’ve created the frame for your portrait, you need to fill it in. 

At the end of it you should have a such a human picture that you can visualize your ideal client walking into your office and having a real, meaty conversation that you’re more than ready to tackle.

How do you get this realistic, pulsating picture?

  • Recall client and prospect conversations you’ve had. Jot down everything you can remember relating to each of these seven dimensions. Use the same words, language and expressions that you have heard your clients and prospects use
  • Do internet research – visit blogs, Facebook groups, and even subreddits dedicated to this subject and demographic to identify what they’re really thinking and feeling – that they may never tell you in a face to face conversation. While you’re at it, dig deep into book reviews on the topic of your offering. 
  • Talk to your colleagues and staff to generate more ideas – you’ll hear different but equally valuable perspectives that will inform your picture and make it much richer
  • Be careful to grab at least 1-2 quotes that pithily capture your persona’s mindset, attitude to life, preoccupation or concern

Capture all of this in a simple template similar to the one I shared before.

You don’t have to get fancy  – a simple Powerpoint slide or even Word or Excel document is plenty

Pro-tip: Don’t forget to add a photograph that’s representative of this client. You can find free, high-quality pictures at or an even bigger selection at any of the paid services such as

How to build a client persona

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem

Getting Value Out of Your Client Persona

Don’t make the mistake many other businesses make in spending an enormous amount of time in building out a shiny persona – and just letting it sit on a hard drive somewhere.

Your persona is only valuable when you use it.

Here are four ways to use your persona to drive better marketing:

1) Select the right channels:

Use the right channels to build awareness for your business and platform. A word of caution: just because your ideal client is on Facebook a lot doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll respond to your Facebook marketing. It’s a delicate combination fo the channel and purpose. If they come to Facebook mainly for entertainment, their eyes might glide right past your earnest announcement of a free webinar.

2) Position your business for leadership:

The key to success in marketing is being the “one and only” in your prospects’ minds. But how do you carve this spot?  

To get this right, look to a combination of both characteristics unique to YOU as well the things that THEY consider important.

For example, if your persona is big on community participation and leadership, emphasize that your firm’s long presence in and service to the local community.

3) Craft the perfect content:

Stuck for content ideas? Your persona will give you all you need and more.

Look to the fears, challenges and barriers your ideal client faces to shape the content you write about. When you do this, over time you’ll begin to look like the heaven-sent, perfect answer to your ideal client’s financial problems  – in EXACTLY the way they’re looking at it.

How to create a client persona

Photo by Jess Bailey 

4) Be there every step of the journey

There’s an even bigger content benefit that compounds over time.

Because you’ll cover topics that become important at different stages of their commitment journey, you’ll have content that appeals to them no matter which stages of the process they’re at, making your foresight seem almost magical, and making you look like a genius

Beyond these four immediate uses, having your persona front and center delivers ongoing and repeated benefits to your business. For example:

  • Keep this picture in front of you to write compelling client communications
  • Write your market commentaries as if you’re speaking to this person – and addressing their specific fears, questions and challenges from whatever the market is doing at the moment
  • When crafting new service offerings, ask what this person would think of it? Or if you need an entirely new persona to take advantage of all that you have to offer.

There you have it. To get started, a focused 30-minute session is more than enough.

Who’s your ideal client?

How to find new markets for financial advisors


A few years ago, a couple of business school professors wrote a book called “Blue Ocean Strategy”. 

The book has a simple premise – if you fish where everybody else is fishing, you won’t gain much and you’ll also waste a lot of energy in the bargain – this is the “red ocean” – red because of the constant competitive fighting.

Instead, say the authors, go where the ocean is blue – where there aren’t many others fishing.

This sounds like typical stuff from business school professors who don’t have to sell for a living – and can afford to theorize in economic comfort.

But as I continue to dig deeper into the market for financial advice and wealth management, I started finding hints of many patches of blue amid the standard red fields that everyone seems to be fighting over.

Fertile hunting grounds that no one seems to pay any attention to.

Here are four candidates. How many more can you think of?

The Blue Oceans of Wealth Management

#1 – The Cinderella Prospects 

Cinderella of the fairy tale really wanted the glass shoe to fit. But she didn’t think it was meant for the likes of her, a lowly humble palace help.

Just like Cinderella, there are prospects who never think to try wealth management because they think it’s not for “people like them”.

It’s likely they qualify by many wealth mangers’ asset or income standards – but have a deep-seated belief that wealth management is for “other, rich people” – presumably the ones who fly around in private jets and have their own chefs.

They also can’t visualize how their lives could be significantly better – in tangible, important ways, without the material that will help them see this better future.

Think of the quintessential entrepreneurs that Thomas Stanley wrote about in “The Millionaire Next Door” – the ones who drive a Ford Focus and feel more at home in the workshop than they do in the luxury shop.

But who just happen to have founded businesses that are now with millions. Or just saved up a LOT of money.

Find them, show them how your work enhances what matters to them, and you’ve got a client for life.

How to find new markets for financial advisors

Photo by Mitchell Griest

#2 – Non-mainstream Audiences

My favorite pastime is to visit the websites of all kinds of wealth management and financial planning firms because I am inordinately curious about marketing.

The images I see are almost exactly the same – they represent the typical mainstream audience. I have never once seen anything that would make someone like me, for example – a well-educated female Indian entrepreneur, feel like I belonged there.

Even if you have a tightly defined niche, entrepreneurs between the ages of 45 and 60, for example, how deeply have you explored non-mainstream audiences within that tight niche?

In this example, if you serve entrepreneurs 45-60 years old, do you address the concerns of 45-60 year old entrepreneurs who are:

  • Female
  • African American
  • Veterans
  • Single, divorced or widowed
  • belonging to a blended family
  • Disabled
  • Belonging to a particular faith
  • Of a certain ethnic heritage

Each of these groups is likely to have the same problems as every other 45-60 year old entrepreneur you want to work with and are hungry for help because no one else typically pays attention

What attractive sub-niches have you ignored?

#3 – The Deniers

I have a friend who is a prime candidate for almost every wealth manager I know. She’s a delegator, wants someone else to manage the financial headaches, and could really use the help.

I’ve referred her numerous times to incredibly competent, warm, helpful and very well-regarded wealth managers – but she has never reached out to them.

The REAL reason is not obvious.

Just like many people won’t go to a doctor because they’re afraid to hear some unpalatable news (e.g., need for weight loss, better diet or exercise), many won’t go to a financial planner because they’re afraid they’ll hear news they can’t withstand – even if it never is too late.

What they need is someone to help them over this hurdle and to validate the fear. Once they can emotionally accept that it’s never too late and there’s always opportunity for action, this market opens wide up. 

#4 – The Value Skeptics

One of the big challenges in getting a promising prospect over the finish line is demonstrating value to justify cost.

This is especially true with the Value Skeptics.

These are the people who get exactly what you do and how it helps them – they’re smart and educated. But they have a problem justifying to themselves why what you do is worth the fee you charge.

Rules of polite behavior may preclude them from telling you the real reason they disengage or disappear – they may quote other socially acceptable reasons for pulling back.

But the reality is that they just don’t see that you bring enough to the table to justify the cost.

If you can demonstrate to their skeptical minds that your value is objectively more than worth the cost, your chances of getting in the door skyrocket.

How to find new markets for financial advisors

Photo by pine watt

Smart Fishing in Blue Oceans

Traditional approaches hamper firms and providers from succeeding in blue oceans. 

Typically, firms tend to ignore the special concerns of first time buyers and their unspoken fears of the financial “monster under the bed”. They’ve also been late to the game in addressing clients’ increasing preference for specialists who’re at the top of their fields. 

But you don’t have to create a special marketing approach for every “blue ocean” opportunity you may uncover, now and in the future.

Take these smart steps to set yourself up to find and succeed in many fertile fishing grounds – now and into the future.

#1: Explicitly Address Challenges First-time Buyers Face

Tweak your marketing to ensure you: 

  • address first-time buyers’ fears of dealing with any provider of wealth management
  • educate them on the process, the experience and tangible benefits of getting professional financial help

Talk about the challenges of DIY financial management – the uncertainty, the stress of not knowing what you don’t know. Highlight the benefits of a rational and professional approach – with specific examples.

#2: Validate and Address Emotional Fears

Call out the fear of not knowing what you don’t know – and validate it immediately. Draw parallels to similar situations in health, for example.

Demonstrate that this is a common problem you see with the clients you do help. And show why this could be a misplaced fear – with concrete examples, possibilities and steps they could take.

Photo by Belinda Fewings

#3: Consciously Address Niche Clients’ Concerns

Look through your own client roster from time to time. Find the ones that don’t fit the mainstream model.  Take the time to understand what specific challenges they face and what they struggle with more than others. Then, incorporate these challenges into your marketing message – whether subtly or explicitly.

Here’s an example: If your minority client articulates a challenge about feeling intimidated dealing with financial professionals, subtly highlight your approachability and friendly culture in your marketing.

#4: Highlight Concrete Benefits That Make a Difference

Research by MorningstarVanguard and others has shown that there is a clear return advantage to financial planning. This extra return comes from customized planning, emotional factors and the inclusion of goals in financial planning that go beyond “beating the market”.

Show this clear, credible and irrefutable evidence in support of having professional financial advice  prominently in your messaging to your audience.

To many skeptical and jaded prospects, this low-key, solid and highly believable finding could be the single thing that gets them past the finish line.

How are you going to find your next blue ocean?


How to write newsletters


Think about the last time you were planning a big purchase.

Maybe it was an appliance. Or even a car.

Did you decide to buy it the moment you came across it?

Even if you had done your research, even if you knew all the facts – chances are you waited – until you were sure you could trust the decision to purchase.

Why would you think your prospects are any different?

But here’s the catch – unlike an appliance store salesperson, you can afford to neither badger your prospects to buy, nor can you spend limited time endlessly on individual prospects until they’re ready to take the plunge.

But you don’t have to be stuck with this hard choice.

You can continue to build the trust without spending hours on each prospect – by leveraging the power of newsletters.

The Case For Newsletters

I know what you’re thinking now – newsletters are boring, overused and ineffective…you barely read a couple of the dozens flooding your inbox everyday. So why spend more energy just add to the clutter?

Think back to your own habits – if you’re like me, you probably ignore 99% of the newsletters that land in your inbox.

But I’m willing to bet there is at least one email that you look forward to getting. Chances are, it’s because it gives you:

  • The inside scoop on something really important to you
  • A cupful of empathy and support with tough challenges, personal or professional 
  • Information-to-go that you can use instantly
  • Hard-to-find tips, hacks or tools that make your life easier

You can be that person for your prospects  – if you get your newsletter right.

Once you nail down the exact right recipe, you can use it forever to engage your circle of prospects, their friends and families, and even your professional referral sources – all with just a little effort and thoughtful upfront planning.

Ready to take the plunge? Let’s crack the code to great newsletters.

How to write newsletters

Photo by CDC 

The DNA of A Great Newsletter

Every great newsletter is different but it nails four components down to perfection:

  • Audience –  who is this addressed to? You may already be writing a newsletter to your existing clients. But your clients are mentally in a different place than your prospects – unlike with your clients, there is still the one big worry or open question about their finances that hasn’t yet been resolved. Creating a clear focus on someone whose problem hasn’t been solved yet (i.e., your prospects) allows you to wield your scalpel much more skillfully than a blunt all-in-one newsletter covering a mishmash of topics that whets no one’s appetite.
  • Purpose – What do you want to have happen after your audience reads your newsletter? You already know that to be a successful rainmaker, you  must help your prospect buy. Your newsletter works well if its goal is to raise awareness, generate interest, demonstrate expertise, or engender trust. The way you do that is unique to you, of course, but the end goal is the same.
  • Value – What’s in it for your reader? You’re asking for their time – how will you make it worth their while. The value can be different in each issue, or uniform across the series, but it has to be crystal clear and immediately evident. Which of these does your reader get?
    • Insight or information 
    • Help with resolving a niggling or uncertain decision or issue
    • Guide to action
    • Emotional support
    • Humor or entertainment
    • Access to something that has financial value (e.g. the “deals and coupons” mails that you get from many retailers)
  • Tone –  Picking a tone that’s consistent with your “brand” and how your clients perceive you is absolutely critical. What adjectives do clients most often use to describe you – and how can you infuse this tone consistently in your communications? Are you seen as thoughtful, quirky, serious, no-nonsense, irreverent, caring, empathetic, diligent? Pick three that make an interesting and unique combination and write with that voice

Take 5 minutes to craft your view on these and see a big difference.

The Secret Sauce

You can nail all the factors we talked about but still miss that special “something” – the thing that makes your newsletter spring to life.

Your newsletter must be addictive, rewarding and habit-forming.

Newsletters that are rewarding and addictive have three elements that make them stand apart. They

  • Make life better: They offer something that makes your reader glad that she took the time to read it. Because your email was insightful, useful, humorous or exciting, even in a small way. As the famous quip said, most people lead lives of quiet desperation, and a tiny spark of relief is welcomed with eagerness. 
  • Get results fast: The results don’t have to be big or life-changing. But they do have to be immediate. And results don’t have to be tangible, take-it-to-the-bank cash either. Anything that transforms the reader’s mind qualifies – perhaps she gets a new angle on an existing problem, a small tip to improve her situation, or a tool or simple action she can take right away.
  • Are appetizing: Newsletters get read when are a pleasure to consume
    • Conversational in tone
    • Readable even when your reader is distracted 
    • Human – with points of view, stories, examples, metaphors
    • Attractively formatted – with white space, bullet points and graphics

How to write newsletters

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor 

5 Steps to a Great Newsletter

With all the secrets up your sleeve, putting together an irresistible newsletter is easy:

  1. Give it a catchy title – a good headline is 80% of the battle. Keep the same every issue or mix it up – but make it compelling
  2. Adopt a standard format – It can be a chatty letter, a tight bullet-point form missive or anything in between. But stay consistent. That way, you’ll train your reader to expect (and therefore feel that little spark of pleasure when the expectation is met every time)
  3. Blend education and entertainment – Make them feel smarter and better effortlessly. Museums do a great job of this. They show us a little blurb about an art piece and suddenly we’re experts on painting – or at least feel like we are. Use the same principle.
  4. Get personal – Tell a story, share a point of view or comment on a topical matter. But let the human shine through. Nobody likes to read “botmails” – the kind that look they were churned out by some dystopian artificial intelligence.
  5. Habituate – Make the arrival of your newsletter a much-anticipated and reliable event in the daily life of your reader. This is the easiest way to integrate yourself and your offering into the fabric of your readers’ routines – and nothing can beat the power of habituation!

Write like a human talking around the campfire on a topic of intense interest to your fellow-humans- and you’ll be golden!

There you have it. You’re ready to be a newsletter ninja.

What’s your newsletter going to be?

How to get market insight


Russell Conwell was a Civil War veteran who went on to become a Baptist minister and a celebrated orator. He was also the founder of Temple University.

His life story is engrossing, with tales of alleged desertion, sacrifice and heroism.

But his fame rose spectacularly with a talk he gave called “Acres of Diamonds”.

In this lecture, he tells the tale of an Arab man who went to faraway lands seeking his fortune, spending years in hardship…only to discover later that his backyard had been full of buried diamonds all that time.

But he had no clue…so he never bothered to look.

I’m reminded of this story many times in the context of marketing.

Are you seeking the Holy Grail of marketing too? The secret passcode to your prospects’ hearts.

You don’t need to go far to find it – you’re sitting on a big heap of treasure right where you are – and you’re handed even more of this stuff every single day – whether you realize it or not. 

The Secret Sauce of Marketing

What makes marketing powerful, irresistible and compelling?

Think about your own life and the companies who make the products you love.

You like them because they seem to speak singularly to you in a way that strikes at the heart of how you feel and what you need.

They use the precise words, the tone, the cadence in a way that makes them a natural participant in the conversation going on in your head.

They offer you the exact thing that scratches your itch.

If you want to be as compelling to your market, you must do what they do well – you must nail this deep understanding of what’s at the heart of your prospects’ needs if you want to succeed.  

  • Their primary triggers
  • Their need for a solution – in emotional AND rational terms
  • Fears, concerns and anxieties
  • “Wishlist” for an ideal remedy

You may think you can’t access that kind of insight without spending a fortune on “market research”. 

Not true.

Like the Arabian traveler in Conwell’s story, you’re sitting on a mine of diamonds right in your figurative backyard – if you only look for it.

Want to know how? Read on.

How to get market insight

Photo by dylan nolte 

Three Steps to Your Treasure

To access your own treasure, you need to:

  1. Understand exactly what it looks like
  2. Dig in the right place
  3. Use it where it’s worth the most

Step 1: Identify What You Need.

You’re looking for the list of things that are most vital to moving your prospects to action:

  • The worries and anxieties triggered their unease to being with
  • The emotional relief they’re looking for, to relieve their stress
  • The things they feel most ignorant and therefore most worried about
  • Their biggest objections and hesitations to moving forward with you 
  • The buried reasons that make them say “yes” to moving forward with you (usually emotional)
  • The silent killers make them walk away
  • The “happily ever after” picture they seek to experience

With this list, you’ll be able to spot the real stuff from the ore when you start digging, so don’t skip it.

Step 2: Dig in the Right Spot

Here’s the key to unlocking Conwell’s secret: the closer you are to the horse’s mouth, the greater the value of the “treasure”, i.e. unfiltered, direct market insight.

Your best source of insight is people you already deal with every day: your clients and your prospects

Each day – across prospect calls, meetings, and client touch bases, your target audience is telling you exactly what they fear, need, and want.

  • I turned 50 last month” – means that milestone birthdays are triggers
  • How does this process work?” – means they’re looking for emotional reasons to say yes
  • What will the results look like?” –  means they want logical reasons for buying

But this is not all. There’s a lot more free and valuable information you can gain from the real world.

In my experience, the best of these are book reviews, followed by forums such as reddit.

Pro tip: I’ve found book reviews to give you the best cost-benefit payoff for financial topics.

For example, I once studied 143 book reviews across three books on the subject of women and investing and came away with a clear picture of the top 6 things women wanted from investment related information – the entire exercise took me only about an hour and a half and cost zero money – a pretty attractive  payoff.

How to get customer insight

Step 3: Use It With Impact

Here’s how:

Look for specific words and turns of phrase:

These are what capture the heart of the prospect’s mindset. For example, in talking about retirement planning, you might hear phases like these:

  • “Get my ducks in a row”
  • “Don’t know what I don’t know – and that worries me”
  • “The thing that keeps me up at night is…”

These are the phrases and words you want to use in communicating with prospects and clients as much as possible. You’ll see the results when the light bulb goes off in their minds.

Use them in as many channels as possible including:

  • Direct conversations with prospects
  • Blog posts, newsletters and other prospect and client communications
  • Your web pages, specifically those that talk about “Who We Serve” and “Our Offering”

Make the system automatic.

  • Create a short survey form with 5-6 questions that prompt responses on the biggest topics – even a Google form is plenty.
  • Automate or arrange for your team to answer this on some regular basis, perhaps every 4-6 weeks.
  • Review the results to see if any changes or warranted, or better, any new trends or nuggets emerge.

You may be surprised at the glittering treasure that show up.

What treasure are you going to mine next?

How to create one of a kind content


Imagine you’re wandering through a summer fair on a sunny Saturday afternoon and come across a cake show.

There are many different types of cakes: layer cakes, plum cake, mousse cake – cakes to suit every taste and fancy.

Your eye is drawn to a smiling chef standing at a corner with a small crowd buzzing around him.

What’s all the fuss about?

He’s talking about the cake that occupies the pride of place at his table –  a gorgeous creation.

His love of this cake is palpable in the details: the hours of preparation, the 15 different ingredients that go into it, the intricate steps that demand the greatest attention to detail.

The recipe has been handed down in his family over six generations.

It has graced the weddings of luminaries and celebrities.

The clincher: when his great-grandmother escaped a genocidal war, this recipe was one of the few things she smuggled with her to freedom.

Which is the one cake you want to taste now?

The principle is simple:

Any item that comes with a personal twist, a human touch, and an accompanying story will always attract instant attention and hold interest for much longer than one without.

How to create one-of-a-kind content

Photo by Annie Spratt 

Same goes for content.

The problem I see with a lot of content is that it’s a tad worse than generic layer cake – it’s more like old layer cake minus frosting and minus any color.

It may be tasty but you don’t feel like having any, so you’ll never know either way.

You don’t want that to happen to your content.

Any item that comes with a personal twist, a human touch, and an accompanying story will always attract instant attention and hold interest for much longer than one without.

Truly one-of-a-kind content stands apart because of three things:

  • An intriguing topic
  • Solid, transformational solutions
  • An element of story, that makes the whole piece come alive

If this sounds like a tall order, relax.

I put together a simple, fail-safe formula to easily help you create one-of-a-kind content, reliably and repeatedly, even if your mind is completely blank.

What Makes Content Unique?

Content that pulses with life stands apart form its boring country cousins because of human factors:

  • A distinctive point of view
  • Unique experiences that inform this point of view
  • Beliefs, especially those that don’t toe the party line
  • Expression that’s uniquely you – whether it’s your worldview, your dry sense of humor, or even your heritage

But having only these human elements without substance won’t work: it’s like being given only icing with no cake – it’s stifling and leaves you empty and unsatisfied.

To make the experience truly satisfying, you also need substance.

But not all substance is created equal:

  • A boring post on the how, what, why and where that reads like a college lecture won’t cut it
  • A commentary that only recites facts without drawing out implications won’t cut it
  • Incredibly well-researched posts that explain the how, what and why but don’t offer the promise of a transformational solution at the end also won’t cut it.

For the substance to truly stand out, it needs to not only inform, but also engage and captivate because of compelling relevance and value.

how to create one-of-a-kind content

Photo by Jasmin Sessler

Ingredients of One-of-a-kind Content

Which brings us to the ingredients of one-of-a-kind content.

Here are the four elements you need to build this kind of content:

First, start with a universal PROBLEM.

What kind of problems?

The problems that repeatedly confound your target audience, cause them the most pain, or somehow stump them and prevent them from doing the things they badly want to do.

These might be:

  • A lack of knowledge
  • Ignorance about solutions
  • Anxiety caused by having to make choices or decisions
  • Inability to take the actual steps they know they need to take

The list is endless – anything that stands between your client and their desired destination that you see repeated over and over qualifies.

Second, pick the ANGLE

Why did you pick this problem now? 

Components of one-of a kind content are:

  • Did you just see an extraordinary or egregious example of it?
  • Is it now more topical or urgent?
  • Did you see new data that changed how you view this problem?
  • Has the problem suddenly become relevant because of anew law or some other development?

In other words, figure out what gives relevance to this topic right now. And talk about that.


The key here is “transformational”. 

But transformational doesn’t mean that your readers’ life has become magically problem-free.

All it means is that your content delivers something that provides resolution or closure.

The way to do this is to offer one of three things:

  1. Provide insight so they can understand their problem or situation better. 
  2. Help them make a decision so they can leave uncertainty behind and get clarity on the path forward. You don’t have to actually make the decision for them – you just need to show them the way to a decision they themselves can take and feel good about.
  3. Give them a path to action – so they can leave inertia behind and feel the pleasure of having taken control, of having actually done something

Any one of these three things will leave them feeling significantly better off than they were before.

In fact, you should never create content that doesn’t offer a transformational solution of some kind, no matter how small.

Fourth, throw in a PERSONAL TOUCH

What can you add that’s uniquely you that they can’t get anywhere else?

This doesn’t have to be a deep secret about your childhood.

It can be as simple as:

  • An incident that happened to you
  • Something you observed during the course of the day
  • An interaction with someone that triggered a thought, an observation or as an example of what you’re writing about
  • A current event, with your comments or perspective on it, or what it reminded you of relating to your work
  • A personal pet peeve or passion – for example, the one thing that saddens / gladdens / frustrates you the most about this problem
  • Even a joke you enjoyed, or a story that really resonated with you

The only requirement, of course, is that it’s relevant to the topic at hand.

Don’t worry about having to be as funny as a stand-up comedian or as eloquent as an orator.

The only bar, and it’s a low one – is that you show up as yourself and that you have something pertinent to say.

Mix well and voila! 

You’ve got all the ingredients you need for one-of-a-kind content.

How to create one-of-a-kind content

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum

Putting It Into Action

Now that you have the ingredients, let’s jump to the recipe:

Here are the steps to creating engaging content over and over, without having to sweat bullets:

  1. List all the problems you see your clients running into that exasperate or frustrate you or otherwise get a reaction out of you
  2. Identify what specific aspect of this problem makes it stick in your mind or gets you frustrated
  3. Articulate one thing that will reduce or eliminate the problem for your clients – describe it in a way that they can implement right away
  4. Look about for a story, a feeling, or any other human element you can add that will give the extra emotional wattage to bring the piece to life

Simply pick the one problem that speaks most to you at this moment.

  • Talk about why you’re writing about it – with a story, or incident or other background detail
  • Talk about why it’s important – paint the picture of what life will be like (not good) if this problem isn’t addressed
  • Walk through 1-3 simple solutions that will provide immediate insight, decision guidance or action path
  • Explain the answer in more detail if that works
  • Invite engagement – either by asking for a response or inviting your readers to take action (sign up for more, get additional help, or to talk to you)

Problem solved!

What burning topic are you going to write about next? 


6 secrets of persuasion


On a cold December day, a balding, bespectacled man dressed in a sharp black suit with a white bow tie stood up to greet the monarch and to be honored in return. The day was December 10, 2002, and Daniel Kahneman was in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics from the King of Sweden for his work in behavioral economics.

Why am I telling you this story?

Kahneman’s work popularized for the first time how and why humans behave in completely confounding ways – ways that defy logic, and ways you’d never predict, even if you were the person in question.

The findings from this new field, together with insights from psychology, transform how we view the task of persuading others – which is, of course, your central concern as a rainmaker.

Here are six big insights that are easy to understand and simple to implement – secrets that can transform your effectiveness in building new business.

Ready to dive in?

The Six Secrets

Some are obvious, others, not so much. How many of these surprise you?

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

When people are repeatedly exposed to an idea or a thing, they unconsciously begin to associate familiarity with liking. In other words, just because something looks familiar, they come to believe that it is also what they like.

When you talk to someone who isn’t ready to commit, do you simply move on to the next one?

Bam! You’ve just violated this principle.

They haven’t seen enough of you yet– and they may unconsciously mistake unfamiliarity with not trusting or liking you.

Stay top of mind constantly through simple means:

  • Regular and helpful emails
  • Newsletters
  • Media appearances such as guest posts and blogs

Doing so will increase their minds’ exposure to your name – and by implication – their level of liking and trust of you and your firm.

6 secrets of persuasion

Photo by Charles Deluvio

Activate the Web

Every concept in our minds is stored as an idea. But each idea is associated with many other ideas, in an intricate mental spider web.

Many of these ideas are neutral or weak.

But some have incredible drawing power – especially when they represent ideals. 

Think of the Statue of Liberty and you probably immediately think of freedom, equality, opportunity  – ideals that have deep meaning and tremendous power to mobilize action.

The key to activating this power is to associate your value to deeply-held ideals.

The websites of many wealth management firms and advisors tout “living with intention” or “peace of mind”. 

But these are not ideals  -they don’t provoke the visceral reactions that ideals do.

Ideals like

  • independence
  • self-reliance
  • contribution
  • achievement

The next time you’re talking about what you bring to the table, look for deeply-held ideals with which you can associate your offering.

A tip – don’t insult your audience’s intelligence by making the connection explicit. Just provide enough dots they can connect themselves.

Elicit Energetic Emotions

Just evoking ideals isn’t enough.

To mobilize a prospect to take action, you must also elicit emotion – emotions that come loaded with energy. 

Desire for future peace of mind, or living with intention evoke mellow, positive emotions. These may be great for mental wellness but they don’t pack any punch in triggering action.

To move someone to take action, infuse energy-filled emotion, preferably positive:

  • Warmth
  • Happiness
  • The anticipation of happiness
  • Amusement

All of these come loaded with energy that is essential to get people moving.

Simple ways to do that?

Infuse warmth, humanity and other energetic emotions –  in the content you write, the words you speak, and every other medium you use to reach your tribe.

Aim for the Act, Not the Attitude

The single biggest mistake many persuaders make is to get people to change their minds.

They may do this by selling the importance of financial planning or or having a professional take care of finances.

Doesn’t work.

Instead, focus on the actions you want them to take, with two important caveats:

  1. Start small.
  2. Focus on the first steps

For a prospect, this could translate not to a big scary commitment like meeting with you and discussing all their intimate financial concerns – doing that can trigger all their internal barriers of whether they should engage an advisor, whether you are trustworthy and so on.

Instead, focus on a small act like signing up for a newsletter or even a simple informational document you have put together for their situation.

At every step, remove the invisible barriers that create roadblocks and prevent people from following through.

This could mean making it easy to sign up for  email, all the way to making it easy to submit information and documents prior to a first meeting.

But always focus on the action. The attitude will follow.

6 secrets of persuasion

Photo by Alexis Fauvet

Help Them Get What They Already Want

I know what you’re thinking:

“I already focus only on their goals, that’s the basis of the entire conversation, and even of the relationship.”

Yes, but no.

Here’s what your current efforts may look like:

  • Focus on positive future goals
  • Highlight the many benefits they get from professional money management 

This approach has two big problems:

  • People are more motivated to avoid bad outcomes than they are to achieve good ones – so positive goals don’t sell as well
  • When you sell more than one benefit of doing something, they mentally average out the benefits rather than adding them up. So if benefit one is an 8 and benefit 2 is a 4, they’ll mentally average it out to a 6, versus giving you an 8 if you had just sold the one biggest benefit.

What does this mean for your rainmaking efforts? 

To become really effective:

  1. Probe skillfully for the single biggest issue that’s keeping them up at night
  2. Show them the one biggest benefit from what you do that will kill the pain

This is the key to opening the door for a longer conversation, which is where you can introduce other benefits.

But without the singular focus on the one thing that’s the problem (not the goal), and the single benefit that will eradicate the problem, your pitch will lose the punch it can deliver.

Shape the Expectation of the Experience

People largely experience what they expect to experience – objective reality has very little to do with it.

And we know people make decisions based on their subjective experience, not on the objective reality.

Want proof?

Look at the dozens of blindfolded taste experiments that have been done on everything from fine wine to Coca Cola.  The results are pretty clear:

When consumers don’t know what they’re tasting, they can’t tell the difference between the market giant (or expensive option) and the no-name or cheaper one.

What does fine wine have to do with finance? 

How you shape your prospect’s expectation will have everything to do with how they perceive your services.

But you don’t have to violate any laws to do this – there’s no need to set up expectations about performance.

Instead, focus on what makes your firm different and unique.

(You do believe you’re different, right? That’s why you’re pouring your heart and soul into this business.)

Take every aspect of what makes your firm unique and translate it into an expectation or a picture of what that experience looks like for your prospect:

  • When the stock market moves significantly, you can be sure to hear from us within 24 hours – so you won’t have to sweat for days in anxious worry”
  • When you get a statement, you’ll also get a friendly call explaining what all the numbers mean in simple English – without having to ask and “look silly””

Think of every aspect of the client relationship and what that looks like differently for you versus every other firm – and build the picture into your prospect communications.

So they are already expecting to like you – increasing the chances significantly that they will.

Pulling It All Together

6 secrets of persuasion

Photo by Susan Holt Simpson

Okay, so you’ve wised up to being brain-smart in persuading your prospects with some advanced insights.

What next?

Take these practical steps to translate your insights into action:

  • Start collecting prospects’ emails immediately. Then sign up with a simple email marketing program to manage these emails compliantly.
  • Go over the last 10 prospecting conversions you had. What were the “emotion” words they used that were closest to ideals? List them and use them in your next pitch. Keep refining until you nail it.
  • Look at the last 5 written communications you sent to clients, prospects or professional referral sources. Honestly rank each for these:
    • Does it elicit warmth?
    • Does it connect to happy subjects? Even remotely? 
    • Does it have any amusing thoughts?
  • If it doesn’t, try rewriting one or two to include even a mild dose of these emotions. See the difference? So will your prospects and clients. Far more than you do.
  • Mentally review your prospecting process. What’s the first active step you ask your prospect to take after they first encounter your business? How big of an effort is it? Can you make that step a little easier?

Set a small target. Test your way slowly into a new way of persuading.

You’ll never look back.

What’s your first step going to be?

Source: 7 Secrets of Persuasion: Leading-Edge Neuromarketing Techniques to Influence Anyone, James Crimmins.



You know you need to write those nasty things – you know – blogs, newsletters, columnseven client communications.

But writing for most people is about as much fun as getting a root canal – on the dot once a week, forever. 

Here’s a simple way to kill the dread and generate compelling topics easily – for a long time to come.

All you need to know are eight words – simple, workaday words even a fifth-grader knows. 

Continue reading “8 Simple Words to Generate Killer Content Topics – the Easy Way”

Define the target market


There’s one golden rule in marketing – you must have a well-defined target audience.

Marketing without a target audience is like throwing single-use darts blindfolded at a dartboard, and hoping you’ll hit the bullseye every time. 

But getting down to the nuts and bolts of defining your specific target audience can be daunting – it’s a big, vague task with no beginning and no end.

To make it easy for you, I dug through a lot of material to get you to the answer quickly.

Continue reading “Hit the Bullseye with Your Target Market- A Practical 5-Step Process”

How to communicate in a crisis


By now, the shock waves from the sudden emergence of Covid-19 are settling in.

There’s work to do in caring for yourself, your family, and the welfare of your clients.

You know this is going to last a while, and the workload will only increase.

If it’s overwhelming to think about everything on your plate, that’s normal.

But navigating your way out of this overwhelm is not impossible.

Continue reading “A Powerful Framework for Communicating During a Crisis”