As the new year ramps up, many planners will be hoping the worst is behind them in terms of regulatory change and overall uncertainty.
Notwithstanding an upcoming federal election, for the moment at least there appears to be cause for optimism, making this is an ideal time to start thinking about how your business should be positioned, where it is headed, and how this is communicated.
Planners are now in a position to start thinking about their business strategy and long-term plans, including what kind of clients they want to attract, how to retain the ones they currently have, and how to start overcoming some of the issues and question marks that have surrounded the profession in recent years.
Integral to this will be the way that planning practices communicate with clients. Having open lines of communication that operate in a useful and timely fashion is one of the best ways to be seen as transparent, honest and reliable.
The key word here is “useful”. It is important to be aware that communications is not the same as sales. Too often, businesses use their communications activities to only talk about the areas that interest them – a new appointment or promotion, an award, or an internal event. This isn’t the sum total of what clients want to hear, and most will tune out pretty quickly from this kind of communication.
Knowing your audience
The first step is to think about what you want to communicate, within the context of what clients and others need to know.
It’s likely this will be different for different audiences – for instance, communications with existing clients may be different to those with potential clients, and different again for former clients. Equally, the messages to communicate to staff may be also different. It is important to spend some time identifying each of these groups and then working out what is of interest to them.
With client communications, a useful approach is to think about some of the issues that crop up and need to be discussed in regular interactions with them.
For example, clients may have seen recent news reports and asked about headlines saying not all advisers will be need to be degree qualified any more.
This kind of mixed messaging from government and regulators needs to be handled carefully and appropriately. It may be tempting to criticise the regulators or ministers involved, but this will only create more uncertainty and concerns for clients. Instead, think about what they need to hear, such as the qualifications already in place at the firm, the experience levels, or future plans to achieve professional development.
The best way to go about it is to prepare three or four key messages, which can then be used confidently and consistently in all communications, including in emails, in conversations, and on any documentation, and then adjust it according to the audience you are communicating with.
Reaching your audience
Next, think about the best way of reaching the different groups. You may enjoy using LinkedIn and feel very comfortable on it, but is this where your audience is? What kind of channels are they most likely to use?
Don’t disregard the traditional ‘snail mail’ approach. Everyone gets dozens of emails a day, but personal posted mail is increasingly rare. For practices with older clients, a client communication received in the mail is much more likely to appeal to them, and helps you stand out from the crowd.
Choosing your words
Thirdly, consider details such as format and language. Again, an older audience might require a larger font, or find reading white text on a coloured background difficult. These kind of details matter.
Likewise, avoid jargon and technical language, even if some of the audience is well-educated. It doesn’t make people sound more intelligent, and if the audience can’t understand the message, then the time and effort put into it has been wasted. A good rule of thumb is to communicate ideas as if you were communicating them to an elderly parents. If they can’t understand what you are saying, start again.
Perfect your timing
Finally, develop a communications timetable, remembering consistency is key. If clients see an update or newsletter appear in their inbox or mailbox once a month on the dot, they are more likely to read it, value it and look for it, than if it appears randomly and without any real context.
Similarly, staff communications that are sent regularly will be welcomed by employees, and looked forward to, if they know when to expect it and if the information it contains is relevant to them.