Sometimes the Battle Picks You

The Taoist wisdom of my five year old son who is discovering and exploring opposites… “Papa, the opposite of forward – is backward… The opposite of fast is slow… The opposite of outside is inside…”

He said these things to me out of the blue as he and I drove to the urgent care facility tonight. We have severe colds we would normally just ride out. But we’re about to get courses of antibiotics. We’ll also be getting flu shots because even though that sauce is pretty weak this year, it’s better than nothing. And this year I’ll be looking for every edge I can find. Every. Single. Edge.

He can’t possibly understand how relevant those words are in our lives right now… Can he? He knows a few things but doesn’t understand their implications yet… Does he?

He knows his 11 month old baby sister Danika is his favorite little girl in the world. And he knows, because we’ve started talking about it, that he’s not going to be able to give her hugs for a while if he has anything that feels like a cold. He knows he’ll have to move a little slower with her before he jumps in close for a hug-n-a-smooch, just to be safe. Because we can’t risk an infection right now.

He knows Danika has a problem inside her tummy that’s going to have to be removed to the outside. He knows that it might look like she’s becoming tired or getting sicker before she gets better in a few months. Or maybe a year. He knows that’s almost how long his sister has been alive so far.

Maybe he gets it. Maybe more than we do?

He doesn’t understand chemo therapy. He might understand what a surgery is; he’s heard some stories about some of mine.

He has no idea what a Wilms Tumor is. Or what it’s like to have two of them – one growing from each kidney. And I’m not sure he has a concept for what cancer is, exactly. Or what Stage 5 means.

But he knows his baby sister has it. He knows we’re going to go backward in order to move forward for a while. We’re going to slow way down and think, move smoothly, before we can move faster again. He knows that in a couple of months, Danika is going to have a surgery so that the problem inside can be brought to the outside. And he knows we’ll keep working the puzzle until it’s really complete, which is going to be years after it’s started. He understands that we keep working the puzzle. He doesn’t really understand what five years feels like.

Then, again… He is five, after all. Maybe he does understand what it means to spend a lifetime working a puzzle.

It’s what we do here. Danika knows it, too. And she’s about to be immersed in these lessons fully.

Your first war, littlest one. Sometimes the battle picks you and avoiding it is not an option. Your soul will be made stronger in this fire. We’ll be with you every step of the way. And we’ll all be made stronger for it.

Today, we prepare. We attack at dawn. We fight… Here.

The Most Important Discipline

Of the many “disciplines” I write about, there is one that I maintain is the most important of all. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was just one thing you had to do that would solve all the other puzzles? The answer is, yes, it would be. And, in a very real way, you get your wish.

Now, before I wrap this up in a bow, I have to point out that there are nine big pictures areas of mental discipline that I write about. I refer to these as The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth, or sometimes just the Nine Disciplines. I’ll skip their definitions here because they are easily found on my website or in my book (Grow on Purpose: The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth), but they are the Disciplines of Living, Learning, Planning, Practicing, Restoring, Attracting, Loving, Creating, and Centering.

Sometimes this whole big list of important subjects can seem to be intimidating. It doesn’t need to be a huge challenge to make sense of it all, but sometimes it helps to have a place to get started before digging into everything else.

So… Where to begin? What’s the most important thing on that list?

I’ll spare you the game of cat and mouse and skip the many reasons I could say that each of the Nine Disciplines is the most important. They’re all important in my view or I wouldn’t include them in the model at all. They all do something I think is vital to long term sustainable growth.

But the single most important of all Disciplines is the Discipline of Practicing. Why…? Because it provides a real starting point. It lets you dig into whatever you’re interested in or whatever your role is without feeling like you have to satisfy a bunch of other external requirements. If you just get started at doing what you’re passionate about in whatever way you’re able to, you’ll learn along the way and discover all the various puzzles you could encounter – AND, you’ll probably find solutions to those puzzles.

If a person got started in a profession with almost no preparatory training and sincerely intended to improve along the way, I believe he or she would probably discover all of the other disciplines along the way and figure out how to manage them. It might take longer than having these things spelled out early in the game. But puzzles would present themselves and a resourceful human being would seek out or develop solutions to those puzzles. It’s what we do.

But there is no substitute for getting started. You can make a lot of other mistakes and not scuttle your entire opportunity to succeed in a given role. But if you don’t get started and get busy with your craft, you’ll go nowhere. Time will pass and you’ll still be wondering how things might have worked out for you if only you would have… tried. Put in the effort. Given it a shot. Taken the risk. If only you had faced the task of beginning and then stayed with it.

I’ll give you one aspect of the Discipline of Practicing to add to this most basic and most important of all concepts. Here it is… Ready? Make consistent daily effort. Do something every day to chip away at your practice. If you believe it’s important, be all about it. If you want to be stronger, hit the weights, every day. Rest days are overrated. You can always vary your intensity and your routines. But until your practice is highly refined, you don’t need days off. You need practice.

Do you want to learn to play a musical instrument? Piano, maybe? Practice. Every single day. Open up the music book and put your fingers on the keys. Play a scale. Do it again. And, again. And, again. Until it’s easy. And, then practice more.

I’ve heard it said that amateurs practice until they can do it right. Professionals practice until they can’t do it wrong. I might take it a step further and say that virtuosos practice until they are beyond right or wrong, and whatever they’re doing is beautiful in its own way. How good do you want to be?

Do you want to make more sales? Talk to someone today. Do it again tomorrow. Take no days off. OK, maybe you feel like one day per week should be a family day. Fine. Give yourself ten minutes that day to review your product or service information to refresh your memory. Role play an interaction in your head. Touch that role every day.

Brain wiring is formed by frequency of repetition over time and emotional significance. If it matters to you, the brain wiring will be stronger. If you touch it daily, you’ll keep those perishable skills from falling away. Take days off and watch how hard it is to pick it back up again after a break. You’ll need a hammer and chisel to chip off the rust and then the rationalization and excuse making will kick in. It’s harder to start up again than it is to just keep doing the important thing every day. Don’t let society fool you into thinking you’re weak and that you’ll burn out. Just change your intensity or adjust your program here and there for variety’s sake, but touch this activity Every – Single – Day.

Just practice. Just train. Less talk. More action. Get after it.

Go.

On Fear vs Love: Choose your motivations wisely

In the martial arts world:

I generally see people moving in one of two directions. They’re either moving toward something they want – or away from something they want to avoid. You could say they’re either motivated by fear or desire, depending on which direction they’re moving. Another word for desire – a stronger word that puts the motivation on a higher emotional plane – is love.

I’m not talking about base level motivation; that natural or automatic driver of behavior. I’m saying we have the ability to choose our motivations and decide for ourselves which to pay attention to. Fear is the easy one. Desire is also pretty easy and automatic. But to choose a course of action out of love will require you to look more closely at what’s really driving your behavior.

Are you training (in martial arts) to avoid getting beaten in some scenario (neighborhood/community/competition, etc.)? That’s training driven by fear, which is a perfectly fine motivator, but it won’t take you as far as you can possibly go. Why not? Because eventually you’re going to figure out that your self-defense needs have been met or that you’re done with competition or that you’ve moved to a better neighborhood and the active threat is gone. Then what? Training loses its appeal and you’re done. Then you stagnate. Then you atrophy. Then you slide backwards into old age and decline. Eventually, you wish you would have kept training, but you know how hard that road is and you probably won’t pick it back up again…

Are you training because you want to be stronger? That’s desire. That might work for a good long time. The desire to be stronger can work as a vacuum to pull you forward into your training for a good long time. Until you age beyond the time when your body is willing to add muscle tissue and in fact starts to lose muscle mass no matter how hard you train or how much protein you consume. Eventually, age gets us all and we go into some level of lesser overall strength. Your original desire won’t carry you through your training forever.

Now, to elevate this to the level of being motivated by love, you need to look at WHY you want to be stronger. Maybe it was that you value health and longevity and that high value can be channeled into loving yourself. Maybe you value health and longevity (and you do need to survive in order to have both of those) IN ORDER TO be present for and with your family for as long as possible. Ah… That’s love. Maybe you have such affection and compassion for other people that you want to be able to step in to defend others should the need arise. That’s love. Maintaining your training and your skillsets can do those things for you – for a lifetime. And it is very hard to do this functionally out of any other motivation other than love of something or someone. It might be love of yourself and that’s highly functional and valid. It might also be love of something or someone outside of you.

In the business world:

Now, to apply this idea to other pursuits, like career or business activities outside of the training hall, we need to, again, give thought to our motivations.

Are you pursuing career or business growth simply to avoid having to live under a bridge someday? That’s fear. And, it may come as a surprise, but a very high percentage of successful people are driven by this very specific fear. That fear does drive them to become materially and financially successful, but at what cost? What relationships do they lose sight of along the way? What higher values do they forget about to avoid living under that bridge? Only they can know…

What about pursuing financial growth and gains in order to be able to buy nice things; the house, the car, maybe horses (horses are expensive in more ways than one.) That’s desire. And that might take you pretty far… Until you realize that having all the pretty things hasn’t bought you a LIFE. This is a fairly common starting point. But it’s not a motivation that leads to a fulfilled life or a real sense of enjoyment.

To take it a step further into being motivated by love, consider having a look at WHY you wanted to be able to afford the nice things in the first place. Was it because you just like nice things? OK, maybe you could focus that appreciation into a sense of gratitude for excellent design and become a patron of the arts. That’s love. Was it because you think nice things will attract a certain kind of mate? Maybe you could focus on having clarity about the kind of person you would prefer to be spending your life with – and what kind of person you need to be in order to attract your perfect mate. That’s love. And once you do that, you’ll still be able to fulfill on your intention of strong financial growth while also recognizing that the money isn’t the most important thing to you. You may see that your love is actually not the money and that the money is just a tool that can be used to support someone or something else that you actually do love.

Give thought to what’s driving your behavior. Fear is effective in the short term and it can get you started. Desire will take you pretty far as well, but will eventually fade. Love, on the other hand, turns out to be more powerful and longer lasting. It’s much more constructive and truly sustainable in the long run. This is worth as much meditation and focus as it takes to find a loving motivation for whatever you’re doing, and it’s a strong personal choice to decide to stop running away from things in life and discover for yourself who and what you love and choose those sources to inspire your decisions.

I consider this a step in the direction of sustainable growth and working with all the tools available to us as human beings.

On Learning Styles

While teaching a new student in a Tai Chi class recently, I noticed that he followed the movements of his hands with his eyes, especially when his hands were in a new or unusual position. While he was learning the movements we were working on, he almost HAD TO track his hands with his eyes. This is interesting and important given that the nature of Tai Chi and qigong breathing exercises is to pay attention to the internal aspects of the movements – the feeling of the movements, themselves – more than the appearance of the movements.

Natural Learning Style vs Developmental Goals of Training

What was happening for him was that his natural and preferred learning style was engaging, and that has to be recognized along the way. In the long run, in the practice of Tai Chi and qigong, the student is going to have to adjust away from looking at the positioning of the hands and move in the direction of feeling the overall position of the body, which is ultimately a key purpose of this kind of training. It’s a simple change – but not an easy one.

Others have different learning styles. Students with an auditory learning style may prefer to hear descriptions of the movements we’re doing in the class so they can process through what they hear and follow those verbal/auditory cues. Others may feel compelled to talk through the movements and describe what they’re doing. These two styles are similar, but they work in different directions. One prefers to hear what they’re supposed to do while the other is compelled to speak and express their understanding of what they’re supposed to do.

Variations

There are variations on these styles that can be based on other skills or talents a student may possess. A visual learner who has a strong background in drawing or sketching might benefit from drawing pictures of the movements or postures they’re learning. A verbal processor may benefit from writing in a journal about what is being taught. Some who feel compelled to verbally express what they’re doing need to also hear where they are accurate or inaccurate in what they have expressed; they need feedback. Another variation of the verbal processing style is that the student isn’t really interested in hearing where they’re on track or off; the point for this student is that they just need to talk while they move.

Some learn best while doing movements in coordination with others. This is a collaborative learning style. Others don’t need that as much and prefer to learn something (through whatever their learning style may be) and then work off to the side on their own without further collaboration.

There is also a kinesthetic learning style that simply prefers to move and be physically involved in learning. Not surprisingly, this style lends itself very well to learning martial arts, dance, and other sports. Any movement oriented activity is likely to land well with this individual. This learning style is an advantage at first, and it is a very natural style in a quiet practice like training in any type of kung fu, but all the learning styles can be put to good use over time.

Introversion vs Extroversion

But then there is still another aspect of how a person prefers to learn. It’s the orientation of whether the student’s preferred focus is internal or external. To put it in the language used by personality typing systems, it’s the question of whether the student is introverted or extroverted.

The introverted student is more likely to stay in his or her own mind and body while also using whichever learning style works best for him or her. The extroverted learner is likely to talk more or watch and/or interact with others more. To confuse this even further, there are some students who are what I would call social introverts, meaning that while they do prefer to focus inwardly, they also thrive on having some time to talk things through with other people. Learning styles are not always simple.

The Essential Nature of Tai Chi and Qigong

As it turns out, Tai Chi and Qigong are internal kinesthetic practices. That suggests that the introvert who is also kinesthetic in his or her learning style is most likely to go immediately into the aspects of the practice that are naturally emphasized. But all of the learning styles can be used along the way and it is very common for students to engage their preferred learning style when working with something new, but then go deeper into the internal practice as they become physically and mentally comfortable with what they’re doing. Once the movements have been memorized, it becomes easier for the visual learner, for example, to stop watching his or her own hands moving in the air. Then they can engage their physical senses to find the feeling of where they are in space. At that point, the practice is becoming more internal and less external, which is one of the main goals of the practice.

All of the learning styles are valid, especially in processing new information. The farther a student goes in this form of training, the more they are likely to develop a sense of connection with their bodies. But their original learning style is unlikely to change. The person doesn’t necessarily change. But they do develop a new ability to quickly sense where they are in space and understand what they’re doing physically.

In the long run, what matters most is the practice itself and how that triggers the evolution of the individual over time.

Phases of Training and When to Engage Different Learning Styles

All of this knowledge about learning styles suggests that there are some distinctions that need to be made in the various phases of training:

  1. Learning: absorbing NEW knowledge, movements, skills, techniques, etc. Of course, all of these phases involve “learning” but in the discussion of learning styles in the context of practicing something that inherently funnels a student into a practice mode that is different from his or her preferred learning style, it’s important to point out the differences and the right time to change methods. Consider making allowances for the student’s preferred learning style when teaching content that is new to the student.
  2. Practice: the ongoing repetition of something that has been “learned” in the past. The movements may not be new, but they have not been fully absorbed or internalized. Nor should a student ever assume the mindset or belief that they are done learning, regardless of experience level. During the practice phase, the student should attempt to emulate the internal method of focusing attention in an introverted manner and paying close attention to the kinesthetic feeling of the movements being performed. This will develop new brain wiring more effectively and help the student gain insights into the movements at the same time.
  3. Study: the student who is trying to deepen his or her understanding of a movement or combination of movements may isolate those movements and perform a large number of repetitions in order to focus on just those movements for a period of time. This might be done during a single practice session or over the course of a series of sessions to leverage the effect of that focus. The student’s preferred learning style should be employed during this phase when possible. For example, even though the practice of Tai Chi is generally carried out in silence to enable the internal focus, a collaborative learner with a preference for verbal learning would benefit from working with a partner or small group to repeat the movements while talking or take frequent breaks to discuss what is being practiced. The challenge in this idea is keeping a balance between moving and talking. It is easy for the talking to take over and the movement to take a backseat, which is not fully constructive, either. Balance is the key. It may also be very difficult for students with polar opposite learning styles to work together in this regard unless one or both of them is willing and able to flex into a different style for a period of time.
  4. Teaching: using discernment to determine which method to allow or encourage at any given time, depending on the students involved.

These concepts relating to learning styles are all being addressed in the context of studying Tai Chi and Qigong. But most of this material would transfer into other activities, as well, with the main differences being found in the essential nature of whatever the other activity might be.

What are you learning? And what’s your preferred style?

Pain is Temporary: On Mental Toughness and Focus

There is a story in today’s Washington Post that beautifully illuminates the role that can be played by mental discipline and focus. If it’s important to you to work or play at the highest levels, there will be times when it is necessary to keep moving through a tough stretch.

Here are the basics of the story…

Bill Hurley III just won the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at the Congressional Country Club, yesterday. This wasn’t just any old golf win. This was a story of composure and finesse under pressure throughout stresses that are much bigger than the game of golf.

Bill Hurley just won his first major golf tournament. He’s not a big name in golf. By appearances, he should have been elated at the victory. He should have been jumping for joy. But his story goes much farther…

He’s a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer who has been recognized at least twice for his ability to drive a 10,000 ton ship under challenging circumstances. He has also just gone through some major family stress. His father, a former police officer, had gone missing for nine days, last July. Hurley had done a press conference prior to the tournament to help get the word out to his father to please come home in case there was a chance his dad checked out the golf websites and happened to see the message. They made contact, but a few weeks later his father was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This is a story about enduring a sadness that has never left the family throughout the last year as they try to understand an event that seemed so out of character for who they knew their father and grandfather to be.

Yesterday, on a golf course in Bethesda, Maryland, Bill Hurley III lived his values as a mentally disciplined, highly focused professional who is capable of staying on his game throughout a period of withering diversity.

He was partnered for that round with Ernie Els, a top player who is well regarded in the sport. It may have helped that Els is a class act who was encouraging and supportive throughout the day, but something tells me Hurley was rising to the occasion no matter how the game would have been played that day. Hurley also beat out Vijay Singh for the day, defeating another top name.

I looked it up. Ernie Els is ranked 238th in the world. Vijay Singh? Vijay lands at 119th. Bill Hurley…? His win yesterday moved him up in the rankings from 607th to 169th. Hurley credits his experiences as a Navy Officer with having helped him develop the mental toughness and focus that carried him through this period of his life and, ultimately, this victory on the golf course.

My bottom line on this story: There were literally hundreds of golfers on the PGA tour (at least 606 of them) who were ranked better than Bill Hurley III going into this tournament. There were at least a couple of guys there who were widely recognized “household names” in golf who didn’t play as well as Hurley, and many top names who didn’t show up to play that day. But the guy who won showed up with everything he had and kept his head in the game, regardless of whatever thoughts may have been chirping around in the back of his mind.

Well played, sir. I offer my condolences on your family’s loss; my congratulations on this win, and may there be many more to follow. May the pain of your family’s loss be temporary. May your pride in this accomplishment last forever…

(For the full article on Hurley’s win: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/golf/hurley-wins-quicken-loans-national-the-way-only-an-officer-and-a-gentleman-can/2016/06/26/d4d2dcae-3bae-11e6-80bc-d06711fd2125_story.html#comments )

Send The Memo

We live in interesting times. Election moments are crazy. Policy issues are being debated that can decide the fate of many nations. Great Britain just voted itself out of the EU…

If you’re an advisor of any kind (whether financial advisor, coach, consultant, analyst, etc.,) right now is a great time to, you know… advise people. Reach out. Send an email or a short standard letter if your clients would appreciate that approach. Do you have an email contact list of people who receive newsletters from you? Take a minute when BIG things happen that make people wonder “what’s going to happen next” and write out your thoughts. Combine the insights you pull from your own wisdom and experience with the views of your favorite research and analytical professionals and get the word out.

This is the time when your clients would love to be able to literally read your mind. Be a communicator.

Send the memo.

On Showing Up

I consider myself a craftsman. Most people think of crafts like building, sculpting, painting, engraving, etc. The work that I do as an executive coach and as a kung fu teacher is all designed to build stronger people and stronger organizations. That’s the nature of my craft.

I’m writing this after finishing one of my kung fu classes. In an unusual turn of events, there was only one student who showed up for a group class. This happened to be one of the students who has been training with me the longest. I opened my kung fu school in 2010 and this is a student who has been training with me longer than five years. Not coincidentally, he has progressed to a level that has him preparing for his test for the black sash rank.

When others are “too busy” or “too tired,” the one who shows up is the one who is going to continue to advance.

This is true no matter what pursuit or craft we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building a financial services practice, running any kind of business, or trying to improve in a martial art or a sport of some kind. We all have to identify the fundamentals of whatever game we’re playing in the world and be about the business of showing up and doing those things. Some days it’s fun. Some days it’s not. Some days it feels good. Some days it’s tiring and painful. Other than to avoid damage or recover from injury, none of that really matters.

If you want to improve; if you want to advance; if you want to learn more, be more, or get more – you have to show up.

My hat is off to those who continue to show up for whatever it is they do, day in, day out. There is a certain kind of flow that comes from consistent effort and only those who show up every day to put in the effort will ever find it.

On policy and beliefs

What’s occurring to me and on my mind at the moment is our current events in the United States. Our elections. Our policy discussions. Our beliefs as a society.

Increasingly, I see cultures as interconnected and influencing each other greatly. But I don’t think it’s necessarily permanent. I think it’s the way it is right now.

There is an illusion that our movement as a culture or as a species is linear. That it is only a one way progression or regression. We’re either moving forward to a more enlightened time together or we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.

In my view, our path as a species is non-linear. We exist on a moving point and the pendulum is swinging continually. I don’t think we’re necessarily progressing or regressing, but moving from positives to negatives and back with each generation learning lessons that have already been seen in the past and that will recur.

I DO think that human society is moving upward in consciousness over time. It’s just that the ascension we’re approaching is something that changes slowly over millennia. We are currently changing some things with a rapidity we’ve never seen. Communications connectivity, for example has never been higher. On the other hand, there are still sections of the world ruled by warlords where slaughter of weaker populations is a common occurrence. We’re seeing that play out in Syria and Iraq right now. It’s continually happening in parts of Africa and in Central and South America, even though it doesn’t make the news as much in our sphere.

Principles from history seem to continue to play out. Never quite the same. Never very different. A few phrases come to mind:

History repeats.

Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.

The past is prologue. Therefore, study the past.

My suggestion for today is that we take some time to breathe. Be neither worried about our future, nor complacent about it. The pendulum is continuing to swing. The future is not a fixed point and it will continue to evolve along with us.

Study history. Keep changing into the future. Keep working the puzzle. There may be no immediate solution. Just make the next most reasonable step.

Continue.

Three lessons advisors can learn from website designers

My painful task of the week is selecting a website designer to do a “facelift” on the website for our coaching practice. If you, or someone in your practice, has been through a similar task – my condolences. The most painful part of the process for me is reading proposals. It’s as if 99% of website designers went to the same Lame-o Proposal Writing School.

Here is a snippet of a proposal, with names changed to protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent).

“Dear Client,

We have extensive experience in HTML5, CSS3 and Bootstrap to make a website mobile responsive from SEO point of prospective. Our core skills are Wireframing (Axure, Balsamiq, MS Visio), Interaction Design, Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML5, CSS, JS, and Mobile Design (Responsive Design). We provide low cost, high quality, reliable software solutions to our customers. Our difference is our people. We are the best. No one else can design your website as well as we can.

Sincerely, Best Design in the World, Inc.”

Urrrgh.

Where do I start? This is terrible marketing, for one. And, in my experience, financial advisors are not immune to making similar mistakes. So, get your own marketing copy / e-mail newsletter / brochure / website out, and let’s take it from the top.

1. The Black Marker Test – Put your materials side by side with one of your competitor’s. Now, get that marker out and black out the names. Could your piece be mistaken for another company’s piece? Could you simply cut out your competitor’s name, and substitute it with yours? Is it possible that your prospects might not know the difference?

Our friends at Best Design in the World, Inc. have clearly failed the Black Marker Test. There are about 50 designers who have submitted bids on my project. My big challenge? Telling them apart!

 2. The Alphabet Soup Test – Does the piece overwhelm the reader with technical jargon and abbreviations that don’t mean anything to the non-initiated crowd? Does it focus too much on inputs and features, and not enough on outputs and benefits? Best Design in the World, Inc. scores very low in this category, with its HTML5, CSS3, JS, and MS Visio references. They might impress another designer with this lineup, but I remain unmoved. After all, I don’t know CSS3 from a hole in the wall, and don’t care to learn it. I want a beautiful new website that works well, and a designer who is easy to work with.

3. The BS Test – Does the piece burst at the seams with things any company could say and no company can prove (“We are the best”)? Does it make empty promises (“Our difference is people/quality/service”)? All things being equal, I have no reason to believe one designer any more than I do another.

 Would you like to see a good proposal? Here is an example.

“Dear Natalia,

I have reviewed your current website and the job specifications. You are absolutely right – making the changes you have spelled out in the task description will unclutter the look of the website, and give your prospects and clients easier and cleaner access to the information they need. The great news is, I have helped lots of professionals like you get a modern look and feel for their website (here is a link to 3 recent testimonials from my happy clients.)

My approach is pretty straightforward. While I am technically savvy, I’m not just about the latest widgets. I pride myself on being a great communicator, and love to exceed my clients’ expectations when it comes to both budget and schedule. I understand that you want this project managed well, so that you can focus on what you do best. That’s exactly what I do for my clients, and I would love to work with you.

Let’s connect via e-mail to determine the next step!

Kevin Anderson, Website Developer”

I think Kevin Anderson just moved up in my potential contractor list. Would you like to do the same for your prospects? Here is a list of 3 takeaways.

1. Review your marketing for the use of same-o language. Blah-blah-blah is the worst (and least effective) form of marketing. How do you avoid it? By learning to speak prospect language about prospect problems. If you do that, you are more likely to be seen as a partner, not a peddler. You will gain trust, earn respect, and become highly referable. If you’d like more tools around this, e-mail me (Natalia@AutenriethAdvantage.com) and let’s talk!

2. Review your materials for the pitfall of focusing on your HOW, not on the prospect’s WHY. There is no nice way to break this to you – prospects do not care about your algorithms, models, degrees, certifications, patented 12-step client intake process, and proprietary software. All of that is just noise to them. Interestingly enough, the more you try to sell your HOW, the more you sound just like your competitors. Talk about your ideal client’s needs, outcomes, and desires instead.

3. Challenge yourself to “prove it!” Prospects assume all advisors are the same. Offer proof through third-party confirmations, or verifiable facts.

And with that, I am off to get a strong coffee and read more designer proposals. What will you do?

Five reasons you are getting bad referrals (and how to fix them)

telling-secretsLet me guess.

  • You do GREAT work. People should refer to you on the basis of your great work alone, shouldn’t they?
  • You HATE asking for referrals.
  • You are not getting enough referrals.

Another common complaint I hear from financial advisors is this: “I get plenty of referrals – the problem is not quantity, but quality!” Have you ever been sent a well-meaning referral from a colleague / friend / family member, only to discover that the prospect is not the right fit? To borrow a phrase from David Newman, did you wish you had a get out of referral jail card?

Well, I have not found that card just yet. But there are a few things you can try to fix your referral process. These steps are borrowed from David Newman’s “Do It! Marketing,” as well as from my experience as a coach. Read on to generate more and better referrals with less pain and suffering.

  1. Ask for what you want. Be specific.

Important note: you cannot do this until you are yourself crystal clear about your ideal clients and prospects. Once you are, don’t be afraid to get very specific!

A common referral request is, “I’ll talk to anyone who needs financial planning.” Do you see a problem with that? Is it any wonder that you get “anyone” walking through the door? How about, “I am a great fit for successful women entrepreneurs who want to stop worrying about investments.”

If someone in your network came across your ideal potential client, how would they know it?

2.       Line up fantastic testimonials (if you are allowed by compliance to do so.)

Let’s be honest: a big reason why people don’t refer is because in making a personal recommendation, they take a risk. What if their friend / colleague / family member has a bad experience with you? It is difficult to completely remove that risk, but you can minimize it with great testimonials.

Pull together a referral testimonial / success story sheet with 2 kinds of quotes. One set is the client success stories – quotes from people who have been referred to you and became happy clients. This next detail is important, and most professionals don’t do it: include referral success stories – quotes from your referral sources about how good they looked for making the referral.

This may not apply to you for compliance reasons; if it doesn’t, let’s consider the next point.

3.       Train your referral sources.

Very few of your referral sources can naturally describe your service offering as well as you can. Don’t believe me? Schwab backs it up!

According to a recent study by Schwab, when clients describe the firm, they are not able to explain the offering or experience in a way that’s compelling enough to inspire the listener to actually set up an appointment.

So, train them (in a nice way). Better yet, give them the tools to make the referral process painless and easy for them (and coincidentally perfectly crafted for you). I am talking about a referral blurb. Don’t have one? Send me an e-mail and I will send you a sample one! Natalia@AutenriethAdvantage.com

4.       When a bad referral lands on your desk, help your referral source tune the GPS

Bad referrals happen. When they do, kindly and gently turn down the opportunity that is not the right fit for you – and tell your referral source what happened, and what to do differently next time. This is a delicate communication, so you will want to be sensitive and thoughtful in your wording. Be sure to thank them for the referral – regardless of the final outcome, the trust and the risk were very real, and in that sense every referral counts. Describe where the candidate profile was perfect, and where there was a disconnect. Apologize if your decision to not take on the prospect causes a relationship strain. This is a tricky balance to get right, so if you would like a template for this, I am happy to share one.

5.       Give and you shall receive!

Give good referrals to the professionals in your network! To do that, learn to ask great questions of your colleagues, vendors, partners, friends, current clients. Are them about their best clients, how they could tell the prospect would be a great client fit, and specific key words / details / pain points that you should be listening for on their behalf. In doing that, you are modeling what you want them to do.

The last advice is carving out the time, space, and discipline to do these things in a regular structured way – consistently, patiently, and graciously. Sporadic referral cultivation works no better than sporadic gardening.

What will you try?