Stop writing marketing plans

Plans are useless, but planning is indispensible. – Dwight D Eisenhower

Today’s message is inspired by a blog post by my friend Josh Patrick who reminds us that financial plans are not as powerful as we might like to think and that a more productive approach is to frame it as designing a life rather than planning a life. I won’t go into all of the comparisons and benefits that he lays out because what he wrote is excellent and I encourage you to go read it for yourself.

It reminded me of the revelation I had many years ago when I was doing financial planning full-time that persuaded me to stop thinking of myself so much as a planner but rather as an advisor. Early in my career I was taught that we should draft plans for people and tell them what they needed to do to reach their goals. Over time, I found that telling people what to do has some pretty serious shortcomings. I gradually converted to saying “I’m not going to tell you what to do. You’re a grown-up – you don’t need me to do that. What I can do is to encourage you to think about some issues that I know are important but mostly what I can do for you is to draw on my expertise to help you understand the likely outcomes of the different decisions you could make. You tell me how much you can save, what you would be comfortable with in your portfolio, what provisions you have made for your family in the event something happens to you and other things you might do, and I can tell you how that’s likely to affect where you are down the road. If you’re not happy with the outcome, I can suggest different decisions you could make now that would affect where you end up. All of the decisions are yours to make.”

It was a turning point in my career. It changed my relationship with clients. But it also made it a much better experience for them. And just as Josh discusses the benefits of thinking about it this way in regard to a financial plan, the same is true for marketing plans.

Part of the futility of drafting detailed plans in my work is that referral marketing as a discrete discipline is such a new idea to most advisors. Many of the ideas and practices I work on with advisors is such a departure from anything they have done before that it is not valuable to plan too much. Like Josh, I make a lot of use of mind maps to capture and organize ideas about what outcomes we want and what strategies we will employ to promote an advisor’s business. We explore some concepts, try things, get feedback (learn) from the activities, and make changes. It orients us to being flexible. To taking the good ideas, discarding the bad ones, and to keep experimenting. It helps us get to a point where the advisor can stay in a marketing frame of mind – prepared for the opportunities that arise.

Consistently trying out referral marketing ideas and staying in that frame of mind gets you in the habit of involving yourself in referral generating activities on an ongoing basis. Of subconsciously asking yourself questions like:

  • What’s my special value here?
  • How is what I’m doing different than other advisors?
  • How can I better communicate that?
  • What kinds of things to my clients most appreciate?
  • What gets people talking about me?

As Josh points out, it’s not about the plan. It’s not even really about the goals. It’s about the trip. Making the most of the journey may help you discover destinations you had not considered but find more appealing. Even if not, it certainly makes getting there a lot more rewarding.


Wonder what your referral marketing plan might contain?  Contact us and find out what we can design for you.

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