September 28, 2009


The best-kept secret to advisor success is collaboration in the form of permanent teams.

Does this surprise you?

This finding comes from two trusted names in research: McKinsey and LIMRA. They surveyed 1,200 experienced US advisors selling insurance and financial services. There's probably some validity for other types of advisors and small businesses.

I learned of this study during an intriguing and thought-provoking presentation by LIMRA's Brent Lemanski entitled Forces of Change: Issues Facing Distribution Leaders.

Let's explore further.

Types of Advisor Teams
Advisors can work in different ways
  1. solo: 55%
  2. solo with low support (1 assistant): 22%
  3. solo with high support (2+ assistants): 14%
  4. multi-advisor: 9%
Moving from low support to high support increases income by 39% for advisors with 3-9 years of experience. Would you turn that down?

Another report shows that the average net income for categories 3&4 (multi-advisor or solo with high support) is 80% higher than categories 1&2 (solo with no or low support).

Let's define success as having 250 clients and being in the top quartile of all advisors in financial services. The likelihood of success
  • more than doubles with low support (2.1x higher) or high support (2.4x higher)
  • more than triples with a multi-advisor team (3.4x higher)
    What's Wrong With A Solo Practice?
    Here's what Brent suggested. If you work solo, you have few clients in the beginning. So you can spend plenty of time on each one. You learn inefficient techniques and don't develop systems. As your practice grows, you spend an increasing proportion of your time on administrative work. Now you're too busy to manage your smaller clients well. Adding an assistant would add revenue and increase client satisfaction at limited cost.

    Have you read the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber? This must-read classic advises you to build a business you can sell or franchise (even if you plan neither). You need systems and procedures that others can follow to provide consistent, quality results. A solo practice which relies entirely on you is called a job: you haven't constructed a business that anyone would want to buy.

    Three Benefits from Teams
    Members of teams benefit from
    1. building skills by getting mentored (95% agree)
    2. succession planning (89%)
    3. reducing personal expenses (77%)
    As you'd probably guess, solo advisors underestimate the value of teams. They answered 75%, 72% and 54%, respectively. That's a big difference.

    If you're solo --- like most advisors --- do consider creating a team. Brian Tracy says you're only working when you're prospecting, presenting or following up. An effective team frees up your time to do what matters most. Yes, there are hassles when you turn your job into a real business but look at what you can gain. Maybe you can experiment at low risk and low cost with a virtual assistant (see Marketing Reflections | Issue 3). What do you think?


    September 21, 2009

    Picking the Right Mobile Internet Solution

    There are three kinds of death in this world. There's heart death, there's brain death, and there's being off the network. --- Guy Almes

    All I need is the air that I breathe? Not anymore. In business, we need air conditioning and always-on Internet access too. Cheap, reliable, high speed access is a competitive advantage for cities and countries. In Canada and the US, we pay plenty for little. We don’t have much choice.

    With a netbook computer, you’re likely using the Internet extensively, which makes online access essential. Here are your options.
    1. WiFi
    2. WiMax
    3. Cellular
    Let’s examine each in more detail.

    WiFi is the best choice ... if you can get a signal. That’s the problem. Not enough places offer free access. Each network has its own login process. From my downtown Toronto office, I get signals from
    • the University of Toronto (but I’m not a student, which means no access),
    • OneZone (which blankets downtown but costs $5/hour, $10/day or $29/month plus tax)
    • various other closed networks
    If I only needed access from my office, OneZone would be viable, but I travel.

    Starbucks gives two hours of free access per day. That's great but there’s no Starbucks near me and I don’t frequent coffee shops. It’s not practical to go to go somewhere else each time you want a signal. There’s free WiFi from Toronto Wireless, but I'm out of range.

    Unfortunately, Toronto does not have much free WiFi. The US is more progressive. In lower Manhattan, a business coalition provides free WiFi. In San Francisco, bus stops have free WiFi as an incentive for riders.

    If only there were aggregators that would give you low cost access to different networks. Enter Boingo Wireless and iPass Connect. Each has 100,000+ hotspots. There’s considerable overlap. Hotspots include Starbucks, OneZone, McDonalds, FedEx Kinkos, and even some hotels (with iPass). The cost? A reasonable $10 US per month.

    What if you're often in locations without accessible WiFi? Like your client's office. You probably can't connect to their network.

    Security is also a concern. How safe is a public-access WiFi network? Can your transmissions be intercepted and decoded? The true risks may be limited with appropriate security on your computer and use of sites secured by SSL or VPN. I haven’t evaluated the risks but would not bank online over someone else's WiFi network.

    WiMax was meant as the solution for stationary mobile Internet access. It hasn’t taken off. You get reasonable prices (30 GB for $50/month) and decent speeds with Rogers Portable Internet (see blog post). I used it for ages but stopped because the modem needs an electrical outlet. That gets to be a hassle. If your netbook or notebook runs on batteries, why can’t WiMax run from a USB port? The power consumption requirements must be too high.

    If you can get a signal on your mobile phone, you can get cellular internet. You simply plug a USB modem or aircard into your computer. You can even buy a computer with an embedded receiver, which is convenient but stops you from moving your connection to another machine. You have access while moving too.

    Speed is surprisingly good. The problem is cost. In Canada, you’re paying $30 for 500 MB, $35 for 1 GB, ..., $85 for 5 GB. In addition, you pay the hefty cell phone surcharges for system access and 911. Then taxes get tacked on.

    How much data will you need? Hard to say. Luckily, some plans are tiered. If you use more than your allotment of data, you’re bumped up to the next band. So if you use 600 MB, you’re charged the rate for 1 GB. This can save you money over picking a 2 GB plan and using much less each month.

    With reservations, I opted for cellular internet access for true mobility. I picked Bell Mobility (which claims wider coverage) over Rogers (which claims faster speeds). I’m told that in real life, speeds are similar but could not compare.

    Overall, I’m very pleased with the speed. I’m using 30-50 MB/day with email and light web surfing. That's more than I expected. There must be applications running in the background that chew up bandwidth.

    How can you save money? You can bundle services with one provider (cable/satellite, home internet, home phone service, mobile phone). You might have access corporate rates through your employer or your spouse’s.

    Since data rates will likely drop, I picked a one year plan.

    Imagine always-on Internet access that’s too cheap to measure. Maybe someday. At least we have workable mobile solutions today. With mobile Internet and a netbook, my smartphone is becoming more of a paperweight.


    September 14, 2009

    Do you annoy your clients without knowing?

    You don't intend to annoy customers but maybe that happens. Let's look an example and a possible solution.

    The Situation
    I wanted to send an agent $10. PayPal makes this quick, simple and flexible
    • use the recipient's email address or phone number
    • pay from your PayPal balance, bank account or credit card
    • transact from the PayPal website or your mobile phone (US only)
    • free except for credit cards (you decide whether the recipient or you pay the fee)
    This agent required the use of a specific service. Let's call it "2PAY". The registration requires that you're at least age 18 and have a mobile phone from selected providers. That's not too onerous. Registration includes the following mandatory fields
    • your date of birth
    • your occupation [how can this matter?]
    • username [why not use your email address?]
    • mobile PIN [one more thing to remember]
    • two security questions [why not one?]
    • language preference [even though the whole page is in the language you choose]
    You also provide access to your bank account or credit card --- restricted to MasterCard or VISA. American Express cardholders aren't welcome here. Once you add a credit card, there is no way to remove it.

    Enter your postal code in the usual format (e.g., A1B 2C3) and you'll get an error when you Submit. This wipes out some other info, which you get to input again.

    To activate your account, you get a lengthy mixed case confirmation code on your mobile phone. You input this on the "2PASS" website on your computer. A link then gets sent to your computer. You click on it and enter your logon information.

    I sent the $10 after wasting 20 minutes on a service that falls well below expectations and Internet norms. In contrast, PayPal takes mere seconds and accepts Amex.

    Terms of Service
    Here are excerpts from the Terms of Use
    You agree to have access to computer with a minimum web browser version of Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or 7.0, or Mozilla Firefox 1.5.0 or 2.0, and the ability to receive and read e-mail [users of Google Chrome or Apple Safari are breaking the rules]

    ... not a deposit account and may not be insured by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation or any provincial deposit insurance program [but you're responsible to pay them anything you owe]

    You agree that we may keep any benefits provided by a financial institution that holds these funds.
    [how is this fair? why kind of benefits are contemplated?]

    In addition to the fees that we charge, you acknowledge that you may also be required to pay fees and charges to others [you get to pay and pay]
    The terms go on and on. PayPal provides free protection with no limits on eBay
    "So go ahead, shop with confidence. PayPal is with you every step of the way."
    You get no guarantees with "2PAY". If you have a problem, that's your tough luck.

    There's More
    I passed some feedback to "2PAY" directly on their website and got this form letter reply
    Thank you for your email. Due to the security vulnerabilities of email communication, it is [our] policy not to respond to inquiries specific to a particular account by email. We apologise for any inconvenience. [I didn't send email. I used an online form. They sent me a copy by insecure email.]
    For assistance with matters particular to your account, please give us a call toll-free at 1-888-XXX-XXXX anytime between 11am and 8pm EST. ["anytime" excludes weekends and early birds.]
    The folks at "2PAY" didn't intend to annoy with their PayPal clone. You have noble intentions but may annoy too. How would you know?

    Objective feedback is difficult to get. Here's a different idea. Invite observant communicators outside your target customers (and family) to review what you take for granted. Things like
    • the clarity of your marketing material
    • the quality of your handouts
    • your follow-up process
    • your voicemail greeting
    • your email signature
    • the overall impression you create
    Any volunteers?

    September 7, 2009

    Beat your Blackberry (or iPhone) with a Netbook

    I never wanted a Blackberry or iPhone. Don't get me wrong. I'd be lost without my Blackberry. My aging 8703e is very reliable and solid. Convenient size. Crisp screen. The battery lasts all day. However, I'm in no rush to upgrade because smartphones have severe limitations.

    A smartphone works best as a phone and calendar. Dialing is effortless when you select a contact from a list and without your calendar, how do keep track of your appointments? Synchronization with your network protects you if your device breaks or disappears.

    Problems with a Smartphone
    Needs evolve. Even the latest "gee-whiz" smartphones like the Palm Pre or iPhone 3GS compromise with tiny screens and tiny keyboards.

    Reading an email that runs more than a few lines is an ordeal. You can't see highlighting or comments typed in italics or a different colour. Forget about file attachments. Browsing the web is a pain after the novelty wears off. Composing multiparagraph emails isn't much fun either.

    A smartphone is too dumb and a notebook computer is cumbersome. How about something in-between?

    The Netbook Advantage
    You can buy a netbook, a tiny notebook computer, with wireless access and long battery life for $300-400 (and falling). Compare that with the price of an unlocked smartphone. You get a 10" screen with 1024x600 resolution, a 160 GB hard disk, 1 GB of RAM and a single-core 1.6 GHz processor and Windows XP. The keyboard is only slightly smaller than on your notebook computer. The netbook weighs less than three pounds and fits easily into your bag or onto an airline tray.
    A price exception: Nokia's first computer, the Booklet 3G costs a staggering $820 US.
    Get Bluetooth to make unlimited phone calls for only $2.95 US a month with Skype to any phone in the US or Canada. Compare that with the System Access Fee on your smartphone.

    You won't find much difference in netbooks among brands, which makes buying easier. Manufacturers don't like netbooks because they make about $6 on a $300 unit. These margins have kept Apple out and Toshiba just entered recently. Retailers don't make much either. Microsoft loses $50 US of potential revenue when Windows goes on a netbook instead of a notebook. What choice do they have Linux is free? Intel loses $250 US of potential revenue compared with a high end chip in a notebook.

    All this translates into value for you.

    What You Can Do
    At first, a netbook looks like an expensive toy. Indeed, a netbook makes a great computer for a student. Or for portable web surfing around the house. Road warrior Mitch Joel opened my eyes to business uses.

    Perceptions mislead. You can run Office 2007 in a pinch. If you're using the Internet, you'll find performance is fine. If your current computer is several years old, you may find the netbook runs faster.

    Here's where a netbook shines over a smartphone for email, web surfing and cheap phone calls. There's no learning curve because you already know how to use a computer and can install the same core applications.

    The Positioning
    A netbook does more than a smartphone but less than a full-featured computer. And that's just perfect.

    This week, I'm starting to use my netbook for presentations. I'm also investigating mobile broadband for places WiFi isn't available. I'll share the findings.