Elevate Clients to Advocate Status by Providing a "Sounding Board Service" to Their Friends and Family

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By Jeff Watson, CPA/CFP, WealthCare Financial Group, LLC

As a solo practitioner, the demands on my limited time and resources make effective practices and processes absolutely critical to the continued success of my enterprise.

My 15 years in financial advisory have taught me again and again that the most powerfully effective path to growth is by helping my clients develop into outright advocates for my firm. When they feel they’ve “landed somewhere special”, my clients are confident and proactive about letting others like them know about how we work together for their benefit.

Both clients and their CPAs or financial advisors, however, can often themselves be the roadblocks to referral opportunities. Clients are often hesitant to refer an advisor to a family member or friend whom they worry might be sold to or pressured into buying a financial product. CPAs and advisors may feel awkward asking for names or may feel compelled to work with someone who is the cousin, brother or coworker of a good client only to discover too late that friend or family member has no aptitude for understanding money concepts or lacks a willingness to follow their advice.

By highlighting a value-added service to my existing clients, I’ve eliminated many of these concerns while putting them in a much better position to be advocates for my firm.

Here are three ways I’m currently introducing my “Sounding Board Service” in common conversations:

  1. When clients raise concerns about the economy/election/Europe/inflation/debt:
    “With all the financial uncertainty out there, a lot of people have questions today. As an additional service to my best clients, I make myself available as a sounding board to any of your family and friends for a free, one-hour consultation on any tax or money subject.”
  1. When critical financial events occur in the lives of my clients or those they care about:
    “In moments like these, most people have questions about what to do next financially. As an additional service to my best clients, I make myself available as a sounding board to any of your family and friends for a free, one-hour consultation on any tax or money subject.”
  1. In the normal course of everyday conversation with clients:
    I often ask my clients– as all of us do – “How’s it going?” After I listen actively and sincerely about the latest information about their family, occupation and recreation, they frequently finish by asking me “How’s business?”, to which I respond:
    “It’s funny you should ask because I just had a couple of clients recently introduce me to friends and family members who have questions about tax and financial situations. You remember the process if that happens to you, right? As an additional service to my best clients, I make myself available as a sounding board to any of your family and friends for a free, one-hour consultation on any tax or money subject.”

In this way, when clients make a referral, they know that there will be no pressure on their friends or family members to transfer any assets or do any further business with me. As I constantly remind my current clients, my goal is NOT to see how big I can get, it is to see how small I can stay!

The commitment I do make to my clients is that I will make a sincere effort to help those people they send my way or see that they are put in touch with other professionals who can help them.

At a sounding board session, no request for a commitment is made. That comes as a welcome surprise to most people. In these meetings, I like to discuss what’s important about money to the new prospect. What are his or her concerns? I might begin the conversation with something like this:

“Let me start with this ground rule: We will make no decisions today. Our purpose in meeting today is to work together to answer any questions you may have. Only if we mutually conclude that we have a fit for working together in the future will we set a second meeting.’’

We spend the hour talking about whatever is on the prospective client’s mind, whether it be tax questions, investment advice or the state of the economy. If the person has an interest, I explain to him or her how my practice works, how I am compensated, and I answer any additional questions the person might have about my services. I end the meeting by telling the prospect something like this:

“Stop by my assistant’s desk on the way out. We’ll set up a phone meeting for a couple of days from now. You think about it, I’ll think about it, and we can decide then whether we have a fit.’’

Delaying this decision for two days gives the client time to naturally build his or her own motivation to work with me, and gives me time to determine whether this is a person I will be able to help. When I call the client a couple of days later, I ask, “Have you been thinking about our conversation?”

One prospect told me that she had talked with her husband about how different this meeting was from her expectations. “You didn’t pressure me at all to move ahead. You didn’t ask me for any of my statements. We just thought that was wonderful. What do we do next?”

Here’s what’s so powerful about the sounding board service: the very worst outcome is you have made your client feel good about making the introduction, you’ve made the person referred feel comfortable with having met with you and in control of what happens next, and you remain in control of the decision of whom you add to the clients you choose to serve!

Jeffrey L. Watson, CPA/CFP® is the owner and founder of WealthCare Financial Group, LLC, a fully-integrated wealth and tax planning practice specializing in the needs of professionals, business owners and corporate executives. His 15-year-old firm is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.


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