What I learned when I left wealth management
Three years ago I left my role at an independent broker-dealer and RIA and became a self-employed consultant. The change unshackled me from many industry norms — most of all, it freed me to find and use my authentic voice.
During my 13 years at the broker-dealer, I had kept my work self and personal self siloed. On the personal side I was an outspoken advocate for women, people of color and human rights. In my work life, none of that could come through publicly. Our compliance policy around communications was conservative, so my only online presence, even when I was CEO, was a bio on our website and a skeletal LinkedIn profile.
When I started consulting, and had the freedom of representing only myself, I started posting regularly on LinkedIn and received positive feedback. I joined Twitter and started a newsletter. All those avenues have led me to business opportunities and introduced me to a range of people who have made my life and work more fulfilling.
Looking back, I realize there actually had been opportunities to express my passion and beliefs publicly. I just didn’t want to rock the boat by doing something so different from my peers. I can see now that standing out with a unique public perspective actually brings in synergistic business relationships, because the people who choose to do business with you know what you stand for.
Recently, I’ve begun to use my voice, not just as a reflection of who I am and the work I do, but also to advocate for issues that are vitally important to wealth management. By writing about how financial services can be more inclusive of women and people of color, I have finally found the intersection of my professional expertise and my personal beliefs.
“Brave.” This is the most common feedback I hear about my writing and speaking on taboo topics like sexual harassment and assault in the industry Interestingly, brave is not the feeling that comes to my mind. I know what the right thing is to say, and I’ve said it enough times in smaller venues or private conversations that I am well prepared when it’s time to have that conversation publicly. Perhaps this combination — knowing what is right, and practicing using your voice so it’s ready as needed — is bravery.
One example is talking openly about race, and the unearned benefits I and other white professionals have, simply by virtue of the color of our skin. This is a controversial topic, but I’ve discussed it so many times, often uncomfortably, that it’s finally become second nature. Now I have an uncommon skill in our industry — I can freely tackle a topic which others shy away from.
Finding your voice doesn’t have to take the same path as mine. Many financial professionals speak so frequently about an issue they become known for their expertise. Dina Isola and Tony Isola come to mind for being outspoken about the systemic ways financial services organizations and professionals take advantage of teachers.
The more I fine tune my own voice, and dig deeper into the specific issues, the more people want to listen. Conversely, I’ve seen that same passion alienate people. I get my highest unsubscribe rates from my newsletter when I write about human rights issues like race, immigration and gender. But the new readers far outnumber those unsubscribing. More importantly, being outspoken on these issues has attracted clients to me with whom I am thrilled to work.
Twice last year, people who I consider to be industry heroes, asked if I would work with them. Both times I was shocked, then humbled, then thrilled. Both times they told me they wanted to work with me because they had read my writing or seen me speak. They didn’t interview me against other consultants nor did they negotiate. They just wanted to be my client and already knew it was a fit. It took me no effort to show my value to their businesses because they already knew. Both are still clients and, working with people who have values aligned to my own is a delight.
I show up as my whole personal and professional self, which is so much easier and more pleasant than silo-ing these two sides.
On the pragmatic side, here are my anecdotal observations about what types of communications work, based on my experience with my weekly newsletter, public speaking, and a social media presence, and that of my RIA clients that I’ve helped with the same.
Email newsletter- A regular (at least monthly but preferably weekly or bi-weekly) newsletter brings the most readership and feedback.of all written communications. For example, a recent article I wrote about my take on Blackrock’s 2020 focus on climate change received 49% of its views via my newsletter, even though I have about 10 times the social media followers as newsletter subscribers.
Social media has its benefits, but for clicks, it pales in comparison to email marketing. For the same article I mentioned above, just 34% of the views came from all of my social media presence combined. If you want to reach people, be in their email inbox, weekly if possible.
Social media posts can grow your newsletter subscribers and introduces your unique perspective to journalists (who often engage with Twitter more than other social media platforms). They also help you expand your value to conference and event coordinators. Social media posts also make it easy for clients, prospects, or peers to share and share your content. I credit the success of my recent Do Better series to on social media. When a piece strikes a nerve or resonates deeply with people, they will share it, which amplifies your message, and brings more followers, newsletter subscribers, and hopefully clients.
But newsletter subscriptions, clicks, and reads don’t pay the bills. Offering your unique perspective in your authentic voice should bring people into contact with your business – through your website, newsletter or in person at an event. Once you have people’s attention, make it easy and compelling for qualified prospects to contact you. This means easy links for subscribing to your newsletter, easy to find email address and phone number, and open DMs (direct messages on social media) on all platforms you post on.
All these pieces work in tandem, and it requires time and consistency to see results. The more you find, hone, and use your unique voice, the more frequently deeply aligned clients will find you, and the more fulfilling those client relationships can become.