OMAHA - The idea of an advisory council leaves many advisors apprehensive, but to generate new ideas, it is critical to speak with clients and prospects on a regular basis to find out what's wrong (and what's right) about your practice.
"I was really hesitant to put together an advisory council," said Ward Keever, an advisor in Wilmington, Del. "To be honest, the concept terrified me. Just the idea of my top clients sitting around and telling me what I did and didn't do well was frightening."
Keever sat on a panel at the Peak Advisor Alliance Excell Conference on Thursday with five other advisors discussing the pros and cons of an advisory council. He said his first advisory council was a "grand slam home run" and gave his firm opportunities to improve.
Ron Carson of Carson Wealth said it is critical for advisors to meet with a small group of clients, ideally eight to 10 clients, on a periodic basis. He advised meeting with their advisory council every six months.
"The feedback we received from our advisory council really fueled our practice and our best ideas," he said.
It is important to invite the right clients to your advisory council. Tom Stefaniak, an advisor in Denver, said when he did his first advisory council six to eight years ago, he invited his best clients, or as he said, the ones that "loved me the best."
"They told me I was the best," he said. "It was so sweet, my teeth hurt."
The experience turned him off from advisory councils. Then three years ago, on the advice of his coach, he launched a new group with a better cross-section of clients, who gave him better feedback. Stefanaik said that he has been conducting advisory councils twice annually since then.
Scott Ford, an advisor in Hagerstown, Md., said the hardest part of an advisory council is getting candid feedback. "These are clients that love and trust you and it is difficult to get honesty from them," he said.
Ford said he hired a professional moderator to run the session and left the room while they met.
"I still struggle with clients being brutally honest with me," he said. "But I get the best candor from my advisory council now."
Carson said a good advisory council opens the door to referrals and new business.
Ford, who has been conducting advisor councils for seven years, said that by asking one client to join his advisory council, he was able to get a larger share of that client's wallet.
Ford said, "It is a no brainer. Worst case scenario is you get to spend half a day with your best clients."