Several of my friends and clients predicted that my most recent article, “How to Deliver Powerful and Profitable Seminars,” would produce more responses than any article I had previously written. They were correct. To date, I have received more than 110 emails and more than a dozen phone calls from people who have read this article. Obviously, many financial advisors are interested in seminar marketing, even if only a minority are currently using this practice building strategy.
Why all the excitement? If you use seminar marketing correctly, seminars get you in front of a large number of highly qualified prospects at one time. Clearly, this is much more efficient than one-on-one marketing. For one to three magical hours during the seminar, you get to romance these prospects. You get to tell your story without any competition. A skillful presenter will have the complete and rapt attention of the audience members. In your seminar, you can show 25 to 200 or more people how you can help them achieve their financial dreams. If you do a good job, you have a unique opportunity to turn a large number of prospects into clients. For all of these reasons, seminars can be a catalyst in creating a massive professional practice.
At the end of the article I wrote on seminar marketing, I asked for your input. I wanted to know what seminar formats, concepts and ideas worked best for you in 2001 and what is working best today. I promised to share your wisdom and experiences in a future article. This is that article.
The Hottest Seminars of 2001
As you will see, many of the best seminars of 2001 are based on timeless themes that worked prior to 2001 and that will undoubtedly work well in the future. However, some of you did develop powerful, compelling new seminar concepts after September 11 and/or as a response to the Enron meltdown. In this article, I’ll examine both the timeless tried and true and the hottest new topics in seminar marketing.
These seminars are not listed in order of effectiveness or importance. A seminar format that works well for one financial advisor may not work well for another, depending on the type of practice you have, your interests, strengths and weaknesses and your personality. Here is what you reported worked best in the world of seminar marketing in 2001.
I. Retirement and Pre-Retirement Seminars
By far the most popular seminar topic was that of retirement and pre-retirement planning. Some advisors wrote to tell me that they had been offering these seminars for 15 years and they still continued to draw attendees. However, other reported that the seminars had been “overdone” or “over-exposed” in their areas. They reported that retirement planning seminars still continue to work—but only if you add new twists.
Due to a few enhancements in the promotion of their retirement planning seminar, Christina Jesperson and Tom Gray of Redondo had to turn people away (for the first time) from their most recent retirement planning seminar. They mailed to a slightly larger group of people and also got the restaurant featuring their seminar to promote it. Joe Kiely of North Carolina called to tell me that he and his three partners now have more than $250 million in assets under management, which they obtained mostly through seminar marketing in the past few years. Kiely’s seminars are also primarily aimed at the retiree and pre-retiree market.
From reading all of your emails, it is apparent that the key to success in offering retirement and pre-retirement seminars is to distinguish yourself from all the other financial advisors who are speaking on this popular topic. Jesperson and Gray focus on how retirees can avoid major financial mistakes. Joe Kiely emphasizes how to beat the majority of investors, keep fees down and rebalance portfolios. If your retirement planning seminar follows the typical generic mold, it probably will not be very successful. However, if you have a compelling USP—Unique Selling Proposition—you can rapidly grow your practice with retirement planning seminars.
II. Pre-Packaged Seminars
Many of you wrote to tell me you were using pre-packaged seminars (sometimes called canned or off-the-shelf seminars). There are a number of companies selling these seminar packages. Some of you reported they didn’t work (after buying five or more different packages!) and others loved them.
You reported that the key to success in this area is customization. Not one advisor reported that he or she purchased a pre-packaged program, did the program exactly as instructed, and made a fortune. If life were that easy (and if these pre-packaged seminars were that good), we would probably have many more multi-millionaire financial planners.
Some financial advisors told me that if a pre-packaged seminar company does not allow customization, they won’t buy the package. The most successful financial planners are passionate about customization. Popular forms of customization are adding client stories, providing updated financial and statistical information, adding new slides or graphics, using media stories, adding humor, adding personal stories and adding urgency to take action. Several advisors told me they also had to customize pre-packaged seminars to make them fit their personal style. Customization of a pre-packaged seminar can make it several times more effective and can mean the difference between acquiring five new prospects from a seminar or fifteen new clients. If you take all of the above steps, you can make a lot of money and have some fun with pre-packaged seminars.
III. IRA, Roth IRA and Stretch IRA Seminars
Tens of millions of Americans have IRAs and it seems that almost everyone would like some help in managing them. Tom Gau, the superstar financial planner with SunAmerica Securities, mesmerizes his audiences with multi-faceted seminars that cover more than a dozen topics. In the IRA segment, he tells some hair-raising stories about IRA roll-over mistakes that people have made with disastrous consequences. Seminar participants realize that they shouldn’t try to do an IRA roll-over without skilled professional assistance.
Roth IRAs have been a hot seminar topic for several years and interest in this retirement planning vehicle continues to intensify. Show your seminar attendees how a Roth IRA can enable them to retire with $1 million or more totally income tax free and they will see you as their savior. Show them how to use a Stretch IRA to turn a $1 million IRA into a $3 million IRA for future generations and they will think you are a financial genius.
- Asset Allocation and Diversification.
The meltdown of Enron’s retirement programs, heavily invested in company stock, has made this subject suddenly sexy. Millions of Americans are nervously eying their monthly retirement plan statements and brokerage statements and are wondering how to get out of over-concentrated positions in company stock. Your seminar will provide the answers they seek.
Joe Kiely makes extensive use of Morningstar data to show his seminar attendees how to allocate assets and diversify their portfolios. He told me that he focuses on “educating and empowering the seminar participants.” Many of the seminar attendees, impressed by his knowledge of these and other subjects, decide to become his clients with the result that he and his three partners now have more than $250 million in assets.
V. Employee Stock Option Seminars.
More than 11 million Americans now have employee stock options and almost no one knows how to manage them. Companies are afraid to give advice, which spells great opportunity for financial planners and CPAs who are knowledgeable in this field. Millions of Americans with employee stock options (ESOs) don’t know the difference between qualified and non-qualified options, they don’t understand vesting, don’t know when to exercise their options, and they don’t understand the tax consequences of exercise. If you cover these topics in your seminar, you have a chance of acquiring a number of future millionaires. In some cases, financial advisors have acquired several hundred million dollars in assets under management and have built their entire career by doing ESO seminars for just one company.
Few people talk about ESO seminars or ESO marketing. Those in the know are largely keeping mum, and that silence has shrouded the lucrative field of ESO seminars in mystery. There are now several powerful software programs that greatly simplify the task of advising optionaires (soon to be your millionaire clients). I’ve been studying this field intently and may devote an entire article to it in the future if interest is significant. The catalyst for practice building in this area is that once employees exercise their options and buy company stock, they need to sell some of it and diversify into mutual funds and other investments. This is where you can add so much value—and possibly create clients for life.
- Real Estate Seminars.
Americans own trillions of dollars worth of real estate. According to a U.S. Census survey in the mid-1990’s, about 10 million individuals or couples own single family rental houses and more than seven million individuals own multi-family (apartment) properties. Due to the recent two year slump in the stock market, Americans now have more of their net worth in real estate than they have in equities. Many of the wealthiest people in our country primarily own real estate. These high net worth people seldom or never consult financial planners whom they see as stock pushers. How then do you entice these wealthy property owners to attend your seminars? Do seminars on real estate!
A few years ago, as a novice real estate investor, I joined the Apartment Owners Association. Starting small, I ended up with a 25 unit apartment building, five townhouses, a seven unit apartment building and two rental homes. I also met a number of other apartment owners and was shocked to learn that many of them owned no stock and few if any mutual funds. During the periodic crashes that every real estate market suffers, highly leveraged investors lose everything! These millions of investment real estate owners desperately need your help in setting up a financial plan.
Perhaps the hottest seminar idea I have come across in this area is the 1031 tax-free exchange. I only wish I knew about this when I owned all of my apartment buildings. It is now possible to exchange a management-intensive apartment building for a professionally managed commercial property and pay no taxes. The taxes can be deferred almost forever and upon death, the heirs can receive a step-up in basis. Very few real estate owners know how to do this. An apartment owner who is burned out on termites, tenants and toilets can exchange his $2 million, $5 million (or $250,000) equity in his apartments or rental houses into a passive real estate investment that produces a relatively high rate of return. He or she can retire and possibly earn more money from this passive real estate investment than was every earned from the headache intensive properties previously owned.
Why would you want to show a property owner how to do a 1031 tax free exchange into a professionally managed real estate investment? Several compelling reasons: 1.) Most importantly, it is great for the client. 2.) Seminars on this topic can attract high net worth people who would never attend a seminar on mutual funds or the stock market. 3.) Because these professionally managed 1031 exchange vehicles are securities (Reg. D offerings), they are not offered by real estate agents and can only be sold by those with a securities license (you!). 4.) You can earn a fair commission of about 4 ½ % on possibly millions of dollars. 5.) You get an opportunity to build relationships with a highly affluent segment of our population that normally makes little use of financial planners. Once you have these wealthy real estate owners as clients, you will find that many of them have significant cash holdings that you can then help them intelligently diversify into mutual funds and other assets. All in all, these 1031 tax free exchange seminars are a big win-win for both financial advisors and their clients.
VII. Slash Your Taxes.
Spring is a great time of year to do seminars on “How to Reduce Your Taxes—Now!” November and December are also outstanding months for this seminar offering. High net worth people are especially concerned about tax reduction because so few legitimate tax shelters are left. The majority of CPAs are score-keepers: they report results to the IRS but do not pro-actively help their clients manage and/or reduce taxes. This void creates a great opportunity for savvy advisors who have some knowledge of our Byzantine tax code. Over several years in the 1990’s, I led seminars for more than 1,000 CPAs who held their securities licenses with HD Vest and other top firms. I was surprised to learn how few of these accountants themselves offered seminars. They were (and probably still are) missing a tremendous marketing opportunity. That leaves the field wide open to you.
The interest in tax reduction is overwhelming. Money given to the government is lost forever. In your seminars, you can show high income earners how to turn tax dollars into personal net worth. Frequently, basic ideas are all that are needed in these seminars. It is amazing how an intelligent couple, each working 60 hours weeks and also trying to raise a family, can find no time to master the tax code. Help them. In your seminars, talk about how to earn 5% totally tax free, about the tax credits that are still left, about laddered munis, tax-free muni bond funds, hidden exemptions and credits and getting refunds on tax payments from prior years. Your seminar attendees will think you are the Oracle from Delphi and they will flock to you for help.
A special advantage of “Slash Your Taxes” seminars is that they only attract high income earners. Poor people don’t worry about their taxes. Your seminars on this topic will attract the kind of people you most desire to have as clients.
I’ve been hired to analyze and improve the seminar performances of many professionals. By far the most powerful close I have ever seen in these seminars is the offer do a FREE analysis of someone’s tax return to see if you can find any additional deductions, credits or refunds. The seminar participants see this as an offer of free money. If you do this properly, you will be astonished at how many seminar attendees want to book appointments with you. Having several hundred people eagerly coming to your office plants the seeds of a massive professional practice.
VIII. Other Hot Seminar Ideas
I could write entire articles on each of the topics discussed here. I’m too busy working with my clients to go into great detail on these subjects (and you are probably too busy to read much more!) and so I will just hit the highlights. Remember: just one great seminar idea could make you hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in extra income (just ask Tom Gau, CFP). As you read through the seminar concepts and formats below, ask yourself, “Is this the seminar I should be offering?”
- Pension and 401 (K) Management.
I’ve been hired as a consultant to multi-billion dollar pension fund managers Frank Russell Company and Patterson Capital. These august firms do not want to manage the thousands of small multi-million dollar pension plans that are scattered all over America. That spells great opportunity for you. If you are truly ambitious, take action and go for it. Do seminars for the participants of these plans and senior company executives, and you could garner hundreds of millions of dollars in assets under management in record time. When I worked with Patterson Capital, they had only about six employees and had more then $3 billion under management.
While you cannot be directly paid to manage 401(k) assets, you can provide advice to 401(k) holders for free. Why would you want to do such a thing? It gives you the chance to be a great humanitarian (I’ve given away millions of dollars worth of advice), plus you get to establish a personal relationship with hundreds or even thousands of nice people. If only 5% of those people become your clients, you are set for life. Therefore, fire up your 401(k) seminars!
- “Avoiding an Enron in Your Future” Seminars.
Enron is the story that will not go away. Enron will be studied, analyzed and discussed for generations to come. How could the seventh largest company in America fail so completely and so quickly? How could billions of dollars of shareholder equity and employee retirement plans vaporize almost overnight? How is it possible that the top financial publications and best analysts in America rated corrupt Enron a “strong buy”? Can we trust accountants? Are financial statements accurate? Is your company the next Enron? These are the questions that millions of Americans are asking themselves. Financial advisors who provide answers at their seminars have standing room only crowds.
On a recent business trip, I shared some ideas on practice building with one of my new clients who works in wealthy Palo Alto, California. This financial planner is not highly successful. In fact, he had been struggling. After our session, he took action and contacted a local newspaper about the possibility of writing an article about the Enron debacle. Of course they were interested. The article just recently ran and now they want him to write a column.
- Slash Your Estate Taxes.
Yes, estate taxes are still with us. High net worth people still worry about them. Estate taxes are decreasing every year but in a few more years, due to sunset provisions in the law, they may revert back to the confiscatory 50% plus levels of just a few years ago. Seminars on “Slashing Your Estate Taxes,” attract the highest of the high net worth prospects.
I wrote and copyrighted full page newspaper advertisements for one of my clients in Florida who specializes in reducing estate taxes. These advertisements were for seminars that showed participants “how to slash your estate taxes by up to 90%.” My client gets all of her clients from these seminars and earns about $750,000 to $900,000 per year while working only from about November 1 to April 1. She takes the rest of the year off. If you offer seminars that help wealthy individuals and families reduce their estate taxes, you can attract some of the most affluent clients in America.
- Seminars at Sea.
While I have taken a number of cruises and while I have conducted hundreds of seminars, I have not yet conducted a Seminar at Sea. However, some financial advisors are now utilizing this exciting new form of marketing. The Seminar at Sea format is becoming so popular that it is now even being offered to financial planners. I know that both Don Phillips of Morningstar and Tom Gau have spoken at such Seminars at Sea.
What are the advantages of conducting a Seminar at Sea? You get to present your story, without interruptions or competition, to a relaxed group of people. The participants are having a great time on this cruise, they are feeling good and they are looking at and listening to you. Do you remember what Pavlov found? Positive associations get carried over. You and your practice are the beneficiaries of all these positive emotions and associations from the exciting cruise these people are taking.
Cruises do not have to take a long time. Some cruises are as short as 3-days such as the cruises to Baja Mexico that leave from the Port of Los Angeles. This is the cruise I am thinking of using for my seminar, “How Financial Planners Can Get Published and Get Famous.” One entire day is spent at sea. There is not a whole lot to do on that day at sea except relax, enjoy the sun and sea and great food—and take in a seminar. You should set up a seminar on one of these cruises (or one out of Florida) to show people how you can help them manage their money and achieve all of their financial goals.
- Client Appreciation Seminars.
The selling that takes place here is so indirect as to be almost invisible. Set up a Client Appreciation Night at one of the finest hotels in your area. One of my clients in Florida, Max Linn, held his Client Appreciation Night at an art museum. He had a live band and delicious food. He had every client bring a friend to this Client Appreciation Party. There must have been more than 200 happy people in attendance. Clients and their friends had the full run of the museum. It was a classy and elegant affair and yet also relaxed and informal. Everyone I encountered seemed to be having a great time.
During one of the band’s intermissions, Max grabbed a microphone and spoke for a few minutes. He thanked everyone for attending and told them how much he appreciated having them as clients. He briefly spoke about how his clients had outperformed the market that year and wished them a happy holiday season. Two of the guests who were seated at my table were very eager to meet Max and later set up an appointment with him at his office. It is no accident that Max Linn is one of the most successful financial planners in Florida.
In the 1990’s I did a series of professional training seminars for financial consultants at Merrill Lynch. I traveled to several cities in the Midwest and the West to do these seminars with Keith VanderVeen, a superstar financial consultant at Merrill. One of the many keys to Keith’s success was the Client Appreciation Night he held every December at one of the finest hotels in Chicago. Keith encouraged his clients to bring their children and grandchildren. Along with gourmet food, Keith provided childcare and entertainment for the younger generation. During these Client Appreciation Nights, Keith met his next generation of clients and bonded with them. Instead of losing the next generation, as so many financial planners do, Keith formed deep relationships with them and became their trusted financial advisor. Client Appreciation Nights can do the same for you and your practice.
- Keep Innovating.
If you do what the average financial advisor does, you cannot expect to be any more successful than the average financial advisor. The best financial advisors constantly innovate. It does take some time and energy, but the payoff is huge. Your seminars can make you rich and can give you the opportunity to meet and help hundreds of new clients. I am myself developing a new series of seminars based on this MorningstarAdvisor series on Practice Building. If your broker-dealer, wire house, insurance company or wholesaler is planning a conference, have them contact me. I will soon be offering the first seminars in America on how financial advisors can get published, get famous, get on TV and radio and write articles and books to rapidly build massive practices.
Our world is rapidly changing. How are you innovating? By staying one step ahead of your competitors and by offering powerful seminars, you will gain market share no matter what the stock market or our economy does.
What is the Most Important Lesson You Have Learned About Offering Seminars?
Some of you have asked me to write a regular column devoted exclusively to Seminar Marketing. I don’t have the time to write such a column now, and I do have about twenty different topics I want to cover in future installments of this Morningstar Practice Builder series. However, I will be writing one more column on the subject of seminar marketing and this piece will be devoted to the greatest lessons you have learned about this powerful marketing format.
What was your greatest success in seminar marketing? What did you learn from it? Can you duplicate that success? What was the biggest mistake you made in seminar marketing? Frequently people learn more from their mistakes than from their victories and I want you to share those mistakes. I will respect your privacy and will not mention your name unless you give me permission to do so. I need your help. Send your greatest learning experiences about seminar marketing to DrMoine@aol.com. I will share some of the best responses and learning experiences in my next column. In this and my previous column, you have learned powerful techniques and strategies of seminar marketing that could make you hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra income. Now, you will learn how to avoid mistakes in this area. Together, this body of marketing knowledge could help you make 2002 your best year ever in this fantastic business.
Dr. Donald Moine, based in Palos Verdes, California, is a Sales and Marketing Psychologist specializing in helping financial advisors rapidly build massive practices. A popular seminar leader and success coach to financial planners across the United States, Canada and Australia, Dr. Moine is the author of seven books and more than 200 articles. He is currently designing a new series of seminars for financial planners based on his popular MorningstarAdvisor series on Practice Building. He may be reached at DrMoine@aol.com or at (310) 378-2666.