13 MIN READ
Being a virtual RIA owner is all the rage lately, and with good reason. It allows for more flexibility, versatility, and accessibility. And, ultimately, offering your services virtually allows you to reach far more potential clients.
But being a virtual business, whether you’re working in financial planning or another profession, is not without its challenges.
The biggest problem I find virtual financial planners run into is that the virtual life gets lonely. Even for someone who is intensely introverted, going days or weeks without face-to-face contact with your colleagues or clients can be draining.
More than that, experiencing the pressures of being a business owner without the built-in support system of an office environment can be seriously challenging. We tend to second-guess ourselves, and the fear of making the wrong choice can feel insurmountable when we’re going it alone in a virtual practice.
Although loneliness is a problem many virtual business owners face, there are a few other issues to be on the lookout for, like failing to network, missing out on a community that supports your personal and professional development, and missing opportunities to engage with clients and prospects that local-facing advisors might be better able to capitalize on.
Finding ways to engage as a virtual RIA owner is key to your long-term success. Typically, I like to break professional engagement into two categories to make it easier to come up with a game plan: engaging for your benefit, and engaging for the benefit of your clients.
One isn’t necessarily better than the other, and you’ll likely find that both of these types of virtual engagement are going to be an important part of your strategy for growth within your practice.
Why Engage Within the Financial Planning Profession?
It always surprises me, but I inevitably end up having this conversation with a large percentage of coaching clients:
Me: Who are you regularly networking with? Do you have anyone who you can look to for support?
Client: Kind of, but I’ve been spending more of my time networking to meet clients and prospects and grow the practice.
This is obviously a boiled down version of this conversation, and I honestly see where advisors are coming from. As a business owner, you’ve largely been trained to grow, reinvest in your client base, and focus your energy on networking with and helping them.
That’s a beautiful thing. But focusing on networking within the financial planning profession and engaging with colleagues instead of clients occasionally can be a colossal help both to you as an individual and to your practice.
Engaging within the financial planning profession allows for commiseration, celebration, information sharing, space to ask and answer questions, and the opportunity to dip your foot into a pool of advisors with different experiences and backgrounds—all of which are a fantastic way to expand your knowledge as a planner, individual, and business owner. You also don’t have to engage solely within online communities or forums if that’s not something you’re interested in.
You can find ways to network with others through virtual happy hours, Twitter chats, listening to podcasts, and finding small groups of other advisors who have the same engagement goals as you do. This might mean giving back to your community by sharing your expertise through a webinar, or reaching out to other advisors as you work to grow your list of referrals.
There are also several groups available to you that can help you grow one aspect of your financial planning practice. For example, there are Facebook communities that focus on advisor marketing, professional development, and more. This might be an optimal option if you want to engage, but also want to keep your energy focused on growing one specific element of your practice, and need the support from colleagues to help motivate you.
Engaging For Your Benefit
When you find ways to engage virtually as a business owner, you’re accomplishing several different things:
- You’re finding a community of like-minded, growth-focused financial planners who want to support you and encourage your growth (and vice versa).
- You’re finding a network of advisors who are bound to make quality referrals for clients who aren’t a great fit for your growing practice, and who will refer qualified candidates your way.
- You’re actively engaging in a learning environment that will help you grow as a planner.
- You’re learning different skills from other planners and business owners (some of whom may also be virtual) that will help you grow as a business owner.
- You’re actively combatting the loneliness that comes with being a virtual business owner.
I’ve seen people get involved virtually to network and learn, and they end up finding a lifelong support network of colleagues in the financial planning profession - which is pretty much a best case scenario for a virtual advisor! Still, even if you’re saying, “That sounds like exactly what I’m looking for!” it can be tough to find the right places to engage virtually without feeling like you’re wasting time. So, where do you go to find the fee-only financial planning groupie tribe you’re longing to be part of?
Engaging in Industry-Facing Communities
The best place to find people who are also virtual and looking to engage is through industry-facing online communities. Sometimes these groups will be on social media, and other times you may find more success heading to a members-only online forum through a professional network you belong to. A few of my favorite are:
- XYPN Radio VIP Community (open to everyone, not just XYPN members!). This may be a shameless plug, but if I’m being honest, some of the best virtual conversations I see happen right here in this Facebook group. People are incredibly supportive, and are always willing to offer up solutions or answer questions. We’re big on being honest with one another without the awkward shaming that happens in way too many other online communities whenever someone asks a question.
- FPA Activate. This group is geared toward new planners, but is open to everyone. You don’t have to be an FPA member to join! I love how supportive this community is, and how often they offer free tools and resources to support new planners, answer questions, and encourage networking.
- FinCon Community. While only open to past (or future) FinCon attendees, this group is pretty amazing! It’s fantastic for financial planners because it’s made up of all finance writers and professionals - not just planners alone. I think this gives a really unique perspective on some topics you may not talk about often with your planner community like writing, marketing, course sales, business ownership, and so much more.
- NAPFA Engage (members only). This members-only forum isn’t on social media, and it’s for NAPFA members only. However, it is incredibly informative, and can be a fantastic resource to share information with other planners and to get your questions answered.
- FPA Connect (members only). Again, this is a members-only, non-social-media forum that I’ve been impressed by as a non-planner member. This is not a fee-only group, but the wisdom here is solid and can help you connect with a variety of folks in the industry.
- Garrett/XYPN/ACP. Each of these networks has their own members-only community forum, as well. If you’re a member, make sure you’re checking them out and maximizing your membership!
Connecting with these industry-facing communities may feel overwhelming at first, especially if you’re a member of multiple networks. I suggest committing a few hours a week to exploring these different communities and finding a handful that you really connect with. Every community is unique and will have different advisors who are engaged, and therefore will bring you different perspectives. And that’s okay! You need to find what’s going to work best for you. Creating a short list of things you want out of your community engagement can help you guide where you invest your time and energy.
Engaging For Your Clients’ Benefit
As a virtual financial planner, you likely have run into the frustration of not knowing exactly how to engage with your virtual clients in a meaningful way. There are rarely in-person meetings when you run a virtual practice, and eventually it may feel like video calls just aren’t enough to build the type of long-lasting relationships you’re invested in creating with your clients. There are two sides to this coin. Yes, being able to meet clients in-person can be beneficial to cementing your relationship. But there are ways that being virtual serves them that being tied to a location and local clientele can’t.
This isn’t to start a debate over which is best, because I believe that every advisor should build and grow a practice that makes them happy and fits their unique needs as a business owner, and as a person. However, if you’ve chosen to go the virtual path, fear not! There are definitely still ways available for you to engage with your clients meaningfully as you continue to grow.
Engaging With Your Clients Virtually
As a virtual business owner, you’ll likely need to engage virtually with clients. That might mean you don’t get to throw awesome craft beer brewing events for your close-knit group of clients, but it does mean that you get to put your creativity cap on and find ways to connect with people virtually to add value to their lives and get to know them better over the course of your engagement.
Let’s start with what type of events you can throw as a virtual financial planning practice. First of all, you aren’t limited to an event-free existence for the rest of your career just because you’ve chosen to be virtual. A large number of the XY Planning Network’s staff are virtual workers, and we still throw events all of the time. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:
- Virtual happy hour using a shared Zoom room.
- AMAs (Ask Me Anything) hosted on either your Facebook page, in a Facebook community, or on Twitter using a shared hashtag.
- Virtual brown bag lunch where you invite your clients to step into your virtual “office” (Zoom room or Google Hangout) with a shared link to chat casually, meet one another, and meet in a way that isn’t focused on their finances.
- Client participation projects where you encourage them to go on a scavenger hunt, use a branded gift you’ve sent them (like a notebook, pullover, or mug) and post photos with a shared hashtag - get creative here! You can even send them a mini photo album of all your clients’ photos once the project is over.
Joining Them Where They’re Hanging Out
One of the pieces of marketing advice I give out readily is that the best thing you can do to network with prospects is to find them where they already are. The same rule applies for trying to engage with prospects and clients in a meaningful way online. Do all of your clients have a Facebook profile? Connect with them and engage with their posts! Do a large number of your prospects belong to a specific online community? Join it and interact with community members by answering questions and providing value where you can.
Facebook groups are particularly good for community engagement, but that doesn’t mean you only have to find clients there. I’ve seen people have tremendous success using platforms like LinkedIn for communication, Instagram for sharing and interacting with the lives of their clients and prospects, joining Twitter chats that are specific to their niche market, and more. You have so many different options available here that you shouldn’t limit yourself. Find a way of engaging that feels authentic to you, fits within your schedule, and works for your target market, as well.
When You Want to Grow
Growing as a planner isn’t limited to becoming better at financial planning. You can also grow professionally by investing time and energy into learning more about your clients and ideal prospects. Get clear on who your niche is, then pursue opportunities that will help you learn more about them. A few examples might be:
- Joining online communities that are niche-specific and engaging to understand their pain points, successes, and frustrations
- Attending a conference that’s niche-specific (there are conferences for almost every profession or personal interest under the sun - so you’re bound to find at least one a year!)
- Finding out what virtual communities exist for your niche - what groups or memberships do they belong to? How can you get involved there?
- Researching what content hubs your niche market follows. For example, are you working with doctors? Try to follow, share, and interact with the White Coat Investor, or any number of other medically-focused publications and organizations.
- Asking other professionals if they’d like to guest post on your blog or be a guest on your podcast. You’ll be “borrowing” their audience while still promoting the work they’re doing. You can even ask others if you can be the guest on their blog or podcast!
Finding ways to engage with your niche online doesn’t just help you grow your business. It helps you to learn more about your ideal client and how you can serve them best.
Building Your Own Support Network
Sometimes, as you move through different ways of engaging online, you might find that the best answer is to build exactly what you want. Typically, this takes the form of a mastermind group. Sometimes, though, it may be something as simple as an informal Facebook group where discussions among a close knit group of advisors (virtual or not!) can take place. Although building a group or a less-interconnected group of colleagues can be time consuming, it’s absolutely worth the investment.
As a business owner, you can’t work in a vacuum. It’s just not sustainable to be constantly forced to make big decisions about your life and your practice by yourself. When you don’t have someone you can vent to, commiserate with, or who can support you in an ongoing way, you’re more likely to burn out. Even if you push through a period of burn out, it’s entirely possible that you won’t be providing the best service possible to your clients during this time period, or that your business’s growth may stumble. You want to put your best foot forward, and knowing that you’re not going it alone (even as a solo, virtual advisor) is key.
To get started building your own virtual community and support system, I recommend starting in a few different places:
- Putting together a virtual mastermind group.
- Seeking out a mentor.
- Finding an accountability partner.
- Working with a coach.
You might even consider finding a virtual assistant or paraplanner to help balance the feeling of loneliness and disconnectedness you’re currently experiencing and to help free up your time to engage even more both within the financial planning profession and within your prospect’s social circles online.
Ask For Help
At the end of the day, virtual work may still be fairly new to you. Even if you’ve been technically “virtual” for a while, you may have had colleagues within a larger firm, or a coworking space where you were connecting with people in person regularly. It can take time to ramp up to a place where you feel confident and comfortable engaging in an authentic and organic way online.
The good news is you don’t have to figure this out by yourself. If you have questions on engaging virtually - reach out! Shoot me an email, ask Carolyn McRae (our new, fabulous XYPN Marketing Coach) what she thinks is a good course of action for you, or post a question in our XYPN Radio VIP Community. We’re all here to support you in this exciting, nerve-wracking virtual journey of yours!
About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.