You might be surprised to learn that you possess one of the most powerful tools for making new connections and attracting affluent prospective clients — and chances are, you’ve never used it or even noticed it.

That tool is your personal story. Sharing a powerful story about yourself — one that gives the person listening to you some insight into who you are, what you value and why — quickly creates an emotional connection and makes the listener want to associate with you further. It’s a great way to set the stage for a long-term, mutually profitable relationship.

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The most powerful stories convey not just successes, but also mistakes. The story that will grab people is often about how you came out of the valleys.

The reason: The financial advisory business is no longer about selling products and services—it’s about selling an experience. People today want to be wowed. When most affluent investors meet a financial advisor and he or she talks nothing but numbers, they get bored.

When it comes down to it, what they really want to know is who you are as a person. They are wondering, consciously or subconsciously, how you will act when things are tough, and what are you made of. They also want to know that you care about serving them, in particular—and where that desire comes from.

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Shy? It's still important to share personal stories with clients. Here's how
Many advisors feel like they don't have a compelling personal story, but they probably do — they just have to discover it.

Step 1: Find your story. At my consulting firm, CEG Worldwide, we have been coaching financial advisors to tap into their personal stories for years. When we start the process, most don’t think that they have a story at all—or at least, nothing that would interest affluent prospects or potential business partners.

By the end of the first session, they no longer believe that’s true. The fact is, you do have a story that will move others. But you probably don’t know what it is just yet, so you have to discover it.

To begin to find your story, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Who has influenced my belief systems? You may notice that there are some people in life you moved toward, others you moved away from and still others you moved against. What was it that you saw or felt in those relationships that caused you to rethink how you would act in the future? For example, one financial advisor we have coached found himself focusing on the values he learned from his parents and their experiences living in a Japanese relocation camp during World War II.
  • Which events have moved me the most? These can be personal experiences, such as the birth or death of a family member, repairing a lost friendship, or standing up to a boss or a parent. They can also be external events, like an economic downturn or a natural disaster. How did these experiences and events shift your worldview and bring to you where are you today—as a person and as a financial advisor?
  • What have been my valleys? The most powerful stories convey not just successes, but also danger, remorse and big mistakes. People don’t connect with people who act as if they have never struggled. All our lives are filled with peaks and valleys. The story that will grab people often lies in how you came out of the valleys.

After reflecting on these questions, begin to write your story down. In two or three paragraphs, write the story of how you became a financial advisor. As you write, keep in mind that your story should focus on who you are as a person and why those characteristics led you to this industry. You might also think about a single event that was a turning point for you in your decision to become an advisor. What did you do after this event, and what were the results of your actions?

Even once it's polished, your story shouldn’t be perfect, says John Bowen. The biggest mistake is reporting your story like you're a broadcaster. Instead, people want humanity.

After you get something written, read it closely and go deeper. Ask yourself what it is about your story that really shows the essence and spirit of who you are—and then write that down in a few sentences. Now write your story again, capturing the most intense moments and feelings from what you wrote above. Make it come alive with this intensity.

When we coach financial advisors in this way, they inevitably come up amazing, engaging stories about who they are and what drives them to do what they do for their clients. They might discuss growing up poor and how they watched their families struggle to make ends meet, vowing to one day help other people avoid the same predicaments. Or how they persevered to make their high school football team or another key goal that they were told was impossible.

Step 2: Hone your story. Once you have this initial version of your story, commit to telling it at least 10 times to 10 different people over the next two weeks—such as trusted business associates or your family (but not to actual prospects or others you want to market to). As you do, take note of your listeners’ responses and reactions as well as your own responses. Pay attention to these questions:

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Most advisors don’t think that they have a story. But they just have to discover it.
  • At what points of your story do you find yourself most enthusiastic?
  • At what points do you really connect with your listeners?
  • At what points do your listeners light up?
  • At what points do they lose interest?
  • At what points do they want more detail?

Armed with this information, take out the parts that are less important or that don’t evoke a response in your listeners (or in yourself). Add more detail to the parts that your listeners find most interesting. By making small adjustments, your story will become better and better with each telling. An advisor we worked with actually has a few personal stories that he has at the ready, depending on the type of person he’s talking to and their concerns (raising values-conscious children, financial security, and so on).

Step 3: Use your story. Once your story is polished, you'll be ready to go live with it and present it to prospects, centers of influence, strategic partners and team members. (Include it in written marketing content, too, such as white papers.)

Remember that in telling your story, you won’t be perfect—and you shouldn’t be. No one wants that anymore. The biggest mistake you can make here is reporting your story like you are a broadcaster. We don’t trust newscasters anymore because they are guarded. They are not open. People want humanity—someone who had to struggle to get there and who is willing to share that struggle. Those are the stories people really want to listen to because they’re relatable, and they will connect with you like you won’t believe.

In doing so, your true values, concerns and passions will shine through. By opening up in this way to others about what’s important to you, your listeners become much more inclined to trust you with what is important to them. Your story makes you real and believable to them.

The upshot: The more personal a story you tell, the more connected you and the prospect will be. The more connectedness you build, the more business you’ll build too.

John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global coaching, training, research and consulting firm for advisers in San Martin, California. Follow him on Twitter at @CEGAdvisorCoach.