Who knows your firm better than anyone else?
The answer is certainly not as simple as you’d think. Although it’s true you – the owner, the leader, the entrepreneur – have been with the business since day one, growing it year after year, it’s also true you may not be the most objective source when it comes to examining your strengths and weaknesses. Our profession may champion unbiased advice, but like all humans, it’s difficult to be impartial when so much of who you are has been woven into what you do.
So, if you (and your amazing stakeholders) are too close to remain neutral on what needs to be improved or developed within your service offering, who do you turn to? The experts you need are those who are equally invested in your success while also distant enough to see the big picture. They are your clients.
Start Planning Your Client Advisory Council
Let’s face it, the long days and beautiful weather that accompany summer can make planning a huge undertaking like a client advisory council fall to the bottom of your list. But, with nearly half of the year gone, there’s no better time than the present to begin implementing those untouched WIGs if you plan to make significant strides in 2017. After all, if executed correctly, client advisory councils are a low-cost, high-impact way to glean a wealth of information while simultaneously deepening relationships, increasing client knowledge of your menu of services, and gaining referrals.
We recommend giving yourself a couple months to make it through your client advisory council to-dos before your first official meeting. Sixty days may seem like a long time when you’re eager to hit the ground running, but, realistically, there is a lot to coordinate between now and then.
Your to-do’s include:
- Deciding who should serve on your council and determining the frequency of meetings
- Inviting those clients both personally over the phone and formally via email
- Setting a date when everyone can attend
- Creating an agenda and council rules
- Finding a facilitator to allow you to completely engage
Start Filling the Seats
Choosing the right members of a client advisory council is akin to selecting the team that serves beside you. A variety of complimentary skill sets, backgrounds, ages, and lifestyles helps widen your influence, rather than limit your scope. It may be tempting to gather your A+, ultra-high net worth clients to participate, but more important than the quantity of their business is the quality they’ll bring to your meetings. Instead of basing your council on AUMs, intentionally reach out to those clients who you are most enthusiastic about replicating. Naturally, some of your best clients will be among this group.
Some other characteristics to consider are:
- The ease of your relationship with the client thus far
- The field where their expertise lies (i.e. finance, marketing, human resources, customer service, etc.)
- The experience they have with business ownership
- The centers of influence associated with this client
- The balance they bring to the council (i.e. a mixture of single and married, retired and employed, men and women, etc.)
Start Asking the Right Questions
As the date of your client advisory council approaches, remember your sounding board is only as good as the questions you ask them. To get genuine feedback geared towards what’s working and where they want to see your practice go, create open-ended questions and send them prior to the meeting. Not only will this give your client advisory council adequate time to reflect on their responses, it will also promote honesty and eliminate blanket agreement.
Additional guidelines for worthwhile discussion:
- Carefully narrow down the topics you’ll discuss so as to concentrate focus in certain areas
- Avoid overly explaining or defending what you currently do as it appears defensive
- Join in the conversation, but don’t immediately dismiss or agree to an idea without researching it first
- Follow-up with a thank you and a summary of what you plan to act on
- Before the next meeting, share the results of your findings and the subsequent implementation
Start a Rhythm
With one advisory council under your belt, develop a system going forward. Your team can assist you in pinpointing changes that may need to be made, as well as resolving ownership of advisory council related tasks.
Your council members are not contributing their valuable time for monetary rewards. They’re involved because of their desire to help YOU. Never doubt the influence a small group of thoughtful, committed clients can bring to improving – and growing – your business. They may forever change the trajectory and sustainability of your firm.