Despite all the gloom and doom in the press about the stock market meltdown, many financial advisors are having their best year ever. What is their secret? A large percentage of them are using the power of seminar marketing to tell their story. However, not all seminars are effective. A recent experience points out the mistakes some financial advisors are making with their seminar marketing efforts.
A financial planner I did not know called me and tried as hard as he could to control his voice as he recounted what had happened at a recent seminar. The financial planner had purchased a heavily advertised “seminar marketing package” at a cost of more than $6,000. The seminar marketing company told him he would obtain approximately 60 prospects from the seminar. In fact, only 39 people signed up. Most of those were couples and the actual number of buying units was only 23. He followed the script the seminar marketing company provided. At the conclusion of the seminar, only three couples and one individual wanted to meet with him for a private consultation at his office. None became clients. “I’ve learned that seminars just don’t work,” he told me. He then asked for my advice on other ways he could build his practice.
“Seminars do work,” I explained to him, “if you do them right.” In fact, almost all of the million dollar producers I work with use seminars to gain new clients. Some top producers use seminars as their sole marketing tool.
What mistakes did the above financial advisor make? First of all, he purchased a seminar “package” that had been over-exposed in his geographical area. Secondly, he counted on the seminar marketing company to select the mailing list and to do the mailing. The mailing ended up going out a few days late and that cut down further on the seminar attendance. Third, the seminar lacked urgency and his close or call to action was weak. Fourth, he didn’t know how to close the seminar attendees who did book an appointment at his office. Fifth, he spent too much to promote one seminar. Had he done it properly, he could have spent less money, had higher attendance, had many more people coming to his office and could have turned many more of them into clients.
Every few weeks I get a call from a financial advisor who informs me that “Seminars don’t work.” Thanks for the advice, but please don’t tell that to the financial planners, brokers, insurance agents and others who are rapidly building massive practices through seminar marketing. I know financial advisors who have individually brought in more than $300 million dollars in assets under management in just a few years through seminar marketing. One estate planning attorney with whom I have worked has acquired more than 3,000 clients through seminar marketing. An insurance agent client of mine earns about $750,000 a year working only from November through March and she acquires almost all of her clients through seminar marketing. How do they do it? In this article, I will share with you some of the most powerful secrets for success in seminar marketing today.
The Economics of Seminar Marketing
Why is seminar marketing such a powerful practice building tool? It is much more effective to market to a group of people than to market to individuals one-on-one. Individual marketing is extremely time consuming and hampers your productivity. Selling through the use of seminars is like selling bananas—you want to sell them in a bunch rather than individually. Of course, prospects do deserve personal attention. Insight Number One: Once prospects become clients, you can give them all the personal attention they want and need. But before they are clients, make the MOST of your time by selling them in groups.
There has been much press recently about stockbrokers and financial planners who are leaving the business. In my experience, many of those burned-out stressed-out financial advisors are overly dependent upon one-to-one marketing. Giving the same individual presentation several hundred times a year to couples and individuals frequently leads to burn-out, regardless of whether the market is up or down. One planner told me he felt like “a human being tape recorder,” from going over the hour-long basics of financial planning, his practice, asset allocation, etc. with so many individuals. Why not explain all the basics to groups of people rather than solely to individuals and couples? You will not only make more money, but you will have less stress and more free time if you use seminar marketing to build your business.
Seminar marketing does not have to be expensive to be successful. Some of my clients do workplace seminars. The costs are minimal because the employer sends out flyers and posts notices on bulletin boards and on the company web site. Todd Taskey, CFP of Bethesda, Maryland has a $1 million a year practice and actually gets paid to conduct workplace seminars on financial planning topics. Even if you have to pay to do a mailing to promote a seminar, the cost does not have to be great. Frequently, I have found that a well-written persuasive a black and white mailing piece pulls just as well as a fancy full color brochure.
Some of my clients do use wedding style brochures or even full-page newspaper ads to attract seminar participants. However, even in those cases there are ways of keeping costs down. For example, you can print up all of your wedding style invitations for the year at one time and get a major break on price due to the quantity discount. Then, when you do the mailing, you can have a small slip of paper included which has the date, time and location of your next seminar. If you are doing newspaper advertising, you can start with smaller ads in smaller regional papers. Some of my clients have had outstanding results by advertising their seminars in low circulation newspapers serving highly affluent smaller towns. The coststo advertise in those newspapers is quite low.
Don’t let the small investment you must make in seminar marketing scare you off. In many cases, you can expect a $5 to $10 return on every dollar you spend on seminar marketing. When was the last time you found a stock or mutual fund that returned five times or ten times your original investment? Besides the financial payoff, seminar marketing will enable you to grow your business much faster than it otherwise would and to have a much more enjoyable lifestyle with more free time.
Factors Hindering Seminar Success
Economics or a lack of money should not prevent you from offering seminars. As mentioned above, you can do workplace seminars at practically no cost. You can also offer seminars through your local community college or adult education group without paying any promotional expenses. In some cases, they will pay you! Todd Taskey receives almost $4,000 a day on the days he does seminars, but he has an exceptional program.
If there is no economic reason not to do seminars, then why don’t more financial advisors use this powerful practice building tool? More than any other factor, negative thinking keeps financial advisors out of seminar marketing. Recently a broker from a major wire house called me to ask for help. In a booming authoritative voice, he informed me that seminars do not work in today’s bear market. I asked him the date of the last seminar he had offered and he told me it was more than four years ago. I then asked him how his business was doing. He told me he had lost a number of clients in recent years and that his income was half what it used to be. Despite the fact that his business had declined every year since he stopped offering seminars, he was absolutely certain seminar marketing would not work for him. He told me that seminars used to work in his city but didn’t anymore because people were “seminared out.”
As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can—or you can’t—you are right.” I told this broker that I knew a client in his city who had doubled his business over the past 18 months through seminar marketing. The broker calling me was dumb-founded.
The belief that “seminars don’t work” is widespread today (especially among the less successful financial advisors)—and that is good news! It means that you now have fewer competitors when you offer a seminar. In traveling around the country working with financial advisors, I do as much research as I can on the financial planning and investment seminars advertised in local newspapers. Seminar offerings have declined in number and frequency all over America! Many cities and towns that used to have a large number of seminars now have very few. Some have none. That spells opportunity for you!
Proof of the Public’s Desire for Seminars
We all love seminars. Over the course of a year, as you attend meetings and conventions, you probably participate in dozens of seminars. Sometimes you arrive a day early or stay a day late to take in a special all day workshop. I know because I have conducted hundreds of these seminars and workshops on four different continents and I have met some of you in my seminars.
The general public loves seminars as much as we do. When financial planners and stock brokers can’t or won’t fulfill the public’s thirst for seminars, others will rush in to fill the void. This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in today. Charles Schwab is now doing seminars. They are taking out large advertisements in newspapers around the country to promote their seminars—which appear to be quite popular. Don’t blame your lack of business on the bear market. You may not be engaging in the actions you need to take to make this your best year ever. Seminar marketing could be your key to success. How can I say this with
Wade Cook is one of the most prominent (some would say notorious) investment seminar leaders around. According to SEC filings, his seminar firm lost 89% on its recommended trades during 2000. Did that hurt the seminar business of Wade Cook Financial? Not at all. Financial planners are amazed when I tell them that non-financial planner, non-college graduate, ex-cab driver Wade Cook has been paid more than $28 million by his seminar promotions company just since 1996. Again, this is according to SEC filings. Think about these figures. $28 million is more money than many financial planners have under management and that’s what Wade Cook has earned in five short years from doing financial seminars. Do you still think that no one wants to attend seminars anymore?
I am not recommending Wade Cook or his methods and he is not a client of mine. However, he is Exhibit #1 in establishing that the public has a deep hunger for financial seminars. Why else would thousands of people pay him up to $7,995 to attend his two day programs? If you think you cannot offer a free seminar and get dozens of highly qualified people to attend, you must readjust your thinking (or what you are doing to promote your seminars).
In the 1990’s I worked with a gentleman who had published two best selling books on financial topics. While many of my financial planner clients at the time were telling me that no one wanted to go to financial seminars, I had to train more than 40 speakers to meet the nationwide demand for my client’s seminars and workshops. On some weekends, he and his speakers were conducting seminars in more than a dozen major cities all over the country.
Financial advisors love to go to seminars and so does the general public. If you don’t offer financial planning seminars, someone else in your area will. One of my purposes in writing this article is to encourage you to try seminar marketing. It is truly one of the most powerful practice building strategies ever developed.
Does Your Firm Want You to Do Seminar Marketing?
I’ve had a number of brokers and financial planners tell me that their broker dealer is against seminars. In a recent conversation with a financial planner, I was told that “it is impossible to get any seminar approved by a compliance department nowadays.” This is untrue. Wire houses and broker/dealers themselves realize that seminars are one of the most effective marketing and practice building techniques in existence. I don’t know of any financial planning firm, brokerage house or mutual fund company that is against seminars—yet many representatives believe they are!
Rather than being against seminars, many firms will offer you assistance in sponsoring a seminar. The assistance may include helping you design the program or even offering a pre-packaged ready-to-go seminar. Some mutual fund companies or wholesalers may offer financial assistance. They may pay for meals for your attendees or help subsidize marketing or advertising costs. They may help pay the cost of a consultant to help you design or customize a seminar. Ask your favorite mutual fund company or wholesaler what type of seminar support they can offer.
The Pro’s and Con’s of Pre-Packaged Seminars
Many readers of this column have written to ask my opinion of pre-packaged seminars. I do not sell any of these pre-packaged seminars and therefore I can be objective in writing about this topic. While I will not comment on individual seminars, properly used, these “ready to go” seminars can help you build your practice much more quickly. Designing a seminar from scratch is a lot of work. I know this from personal experience because I’ve designed, written and redesigned dozens of seminars. Even though I know many time- saving and effort saving techniques to produce a high-quality compelling seminar, it is still a lot of work—and thus the allure of pre-packaged seminars.
Tips for Success: If you are going to offer a pre-packaged seminar, I would strongly suggest you customize it. Most pre-packaged seminars are rather bland. Some are downright boring. A broker from one of the largest firms in America called me last year to ask for help in redesigning a seminar he had just used. He had decided to use a pre-packaged program his company offered because it had already gone through all of the compliance checks. There were no compliance problems because the seminar was bland, boring and gutless. The broker spent a fair amount of money on newspaper advertising to promote this boring program. Do you know how many people registered for his heavily promoted seminar? Exactly one. The bland pre-approved advertising copy was so non-persuasive that only one of the ten thousand or so people who read the newspaper advertisement decided to register for the seminar. When I showed him how to customize the ad and the seminar content (and get compliance approval), his success rate soared in future seminars.
Evaluating the Pre-packaged Seminar: To effectively customize a pre-packaged seminar, you must first objectively diagnose its strengths and weaknesses. If you use a pre-packaged seminar, ask yourself these questions: “Would I attend this program? Why or why not? What are the strongest parts of the seminar? What are the weakest parts?” By answering these questions honestly, you will know what to concentrate on in redesigning and customizing the seminar. It is also a good idea to practice delivering the seminar to several of your friends and/or business associates. Don’t just trust your own judgment. You need some additional sets of eyes and ears to evaluate the program.
Make sure that whoever gives you feedback on the seminar is objective. Without honest feedback, you won’t be able to make the program as powerful and effective as it can be. I will be meting with two financial planners tomorrow to co-architect and polish their seminar. While their program had received many positive reviews from attendees, it was not bringing in the business. One of the financial planners called me and said, “Well, we are ready to get criticized.” I corrected her. “No,” I said, “you are ready to get better.” In my opinion, feedback is only beneficial if it leads to an increase in business. Happiness ratings, smiles, applause and pats on the back do not pay the bills.
If you can, tape record or videotape your seminar. Studying and analyzing those tapes can lead to rapid improvements in your seminar performance. I’ve been rewriting some seminar brochures for an attorney in Florida who earns several hundred thousand dollars a year in extra income through his seminars. I knew he was serious about his seminar success when he informed me that he had videotapes of his programs that he wanted me to analyze. We will be meeting in a few weeks to go over these tapes and make his seminars even more powerful and effective.
Do not take the above comments on pre-packaged seminars as criticism. In fact, I have found that most pre-packaged seminars are fairly good. Usually about 80% of the material is worth keeping—and using that already assembled material can save you a tremendous amount of time and money you would otherwise have had to spend if starting from scratch. If you customize the other twenty percent of the program, you should have a powerfully effective seminar. Just don’t expect to buy a seminar off the shelf and bring in hundreds of new clients with it. If it were that easy, then everyone would be making $1 million a year from their practices.
Additional Tips: If you are buying or licensing a seminar from one of the pre-packaged seminar companies, make sure you find out exactly how many other licensees they have in your area. “Retirement Planning Secrets” may look like a hot seminar offering to you—until you find out that 13 other financial planners in your town have offered the same seminar during the previous two years. Tip #2: make sure you ask about both current and previous seminar licensees. Some companies will tell you they only have two licensees in your city. That’s now. What they won’t disclose (unless asked) is that they have had 27 licensees in your city in the past few years. The seminar you are so excited about is old hat in your area. Tip #3: Make sure you get their claims in writing. Some pre-packaged seminar companies will tell you almost anything over the phone (“We’ve only got three licensees in your area.”). Yet if you could see the facts in black and white you would notice that they have had 39 licensees in your city over the previous several years offering the very same seminar. This tip alone could save you $10,000 or more and help you avoid the mistake of buying a canned seminar that people in your area will see as a re-run.
The best seminars combine education and group involvement with trust-building and a little entertainment. An effective seminar must offer content of genuine educational value. Product specific seminars or “sales” oriented seminars usually turn off prospects and lack effectiveness. While it is perfectly acceptable to have a goal of bringing in many new clients from each seminar, you should make sure that everyone who attends—even those who do not become clients—receives something of value.
The Best Seminars for 2002
In conducting hundreds of seminars myself and in working with several thousand financial planners and advisors over the past twenty years, I have closely tracked the most popular and effective seminars of each year. The financial seminars that work today are very different from the ones that drew standing room only crowds in previous years.
In my next column, I will present the best seminar ideas for 2002. I need your help. One of the most rewarding aspects of writing this column is the feedback I receive from financial advisors all over the country. What seminars worked best for you in 2001? What seminars are helping you bring in tens of millions of dollars in assets under management today? Email me at .
By sending me an email, you will be giving me and Morningstar permission to share your ideas for the best practice building seminars for 2002 in my next column. Through our collective experience, we will be able to share ideas that could help you have your best year ever as a financial advisor.
Dr. Donald Moine, based in Palos Verdes, California, is a Sales and Marketing Psychologist specializing in working with financial advisors, mutual fund companies, brokerage houses and wholesalers. A popular seminar leader and marketing success coach, Dr. Moine is the author of seven books and more than 200 articles. He has just designed a new series of seminars for financial planners based on his popular MorningstarAdvisor articles on Practice Building. To receive a free copy of his new report “How I Help Financial Advisors Rapidly Build Profitable Practices,” write to or call (310) 378-2666.