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How Advisors Can Make Better Use of Their Time

Dedicate office hours, a time for "brain-picking."

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“Can I pick your brain for a moment?” This question used to bring me so much angst. Not anymore.

I started my solo consulting career as a sustainable investing consultant, and as my networking and marketing efforts began to bear fruit, so too did the requests to “pick my brain,” or to “chat for 30 minutes to see if we have common goals.” 

As a new business owner, I said yes to a lot of those meetings and calls, hoping some of them would lead to new business. I quickly found that most people asking for my time in this way fell into one of three groups:

  1. Financial professionals who wanted to get to know me or had a quick question about ESG but weren’t ready to or couldn’t be clients for some reason.
  2. Job-seekers who were mostly women getting into finance asking for tips on how to navigate discrimination, and young professionals looking for how to enter the sustainable finance space.
  3. People who wanted my expertise and access to my network for free and at their convenience.

As a financial advisor, perhaps you field similar requests: someone who has a “quick question” about college planning, someone who reads your social media or newsletter and wants to get to know you more personally, or someone looking to get into the financial advisory business. Perhaps you’ve found that you can’t chat with everyone while still having time left to serve your clients and grow your business.

That’s where office hours comes in. This concept may ring a bell; if you went to college, you probably went to see a professor or teaching assistant at the specific times they were available in their office. Applying the same concept, virtually, in business, is surprisingly transferrable. And with last year’s rapid adaptation to a virtual work environment, it’s even easier now.

How it Works

I’ve held weekly office hours for about five years and have tried many iterations, from different times of day, to different days of the week, to drop-ins versus pre-registration. Now that I’ve refined it, it is simple, takes just an hour a week, and brings me much joy (more on the benefits below). I allow for up to four attendees and require pre-registration.

I include information about office hours in my newsletter and on the main navigation of my website. I have seen advisors use the practice as a business development tool by proactively posting invitations on social media and in email campaigns. A variation to consider is themed office hours based on timely topics prospects and clients might be interested in discussing.

You’ll need some tools to run your office hours smoothly.

  • A website with a page dedicated to brain-picking: The page should set expectations and include a link straight to booking. Here’s mine, which you are welcome to use for inspiration. I include my hourly bookings on the same page for people who prefer one-on-one conversations, at their convenience. If you don’t offer hourly consults, skip that part.
  • Template response email: Mine is similar to the wording at the top of the "pick my brain" page. Both my assistant and I use it to direct networking and “pick your brain” inquiries to the office hours page.
  • Zoom (paid version): You don’t want the free version of zoom timing you out partway into a good discussion.
  • Calendly (paid version): The paid version allows for group meetings. I set up a recurring specific availability, and I limit to the number of users who can RSVP to four.

And here’s what my office hours look like:

  1. Each Wednesday, just before 11:00, I look at Calendly to see who has registered and what their questions are.
  2. Once everyone is in the Zoom, I set expectations for what to expect from my office hours. (It will be 40 minutes long, I’ll do my best to answer questions, and I encourage participants to answer each other, too--it’s more conversation than Q&A.)
  3. After short introductions, I choose someone to ask their question and we’ll discuss the topic for five to eight minutes. We repeat for each participant until all the main questions are discussed. I keep an eye on the time and occasionally have had to cut off a topic so we can cover everyone’s questions.
  4. At the end, there’s usually five to 10 minutes of open discussion. This is often the best part. People frequently exchange contact information in the chat and help each other out. I’ve even seen people get job interviews through office hours!
  5. I thank people, invite them to come back again, close the Zoom, and use the remainder of the hour to send any resources or make any introductions that I promised on the call.

Sometimes all of the week’s questions are somewhat related and the conversation flows naturally. Sometimes the topics are disparate and we have to move from subject to subject; even on those calls, which are a little harder to manage, participants usually express gratitude for learning something different in addition to the subject they had in mind.

Benefits

In addition to the time-saving benefits of office hours, it’s given me the ability to address all the people who ask for my help. I can help groups 1 and 2 (professionals who aren’t clients, job-seekers) in community. Sometimes those attendees later turn into clients. As for group 3 (the people who want my expertise for free at their convenience), office hours will filter them out. They just don’t sign up.

In addition to using office hours to build my brand and my business, the practice has also helped me build community, be accessible to everyone--not just people who have reason and resources to be my client--and meet lots of people I might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. And it brings me so much joy connecting with people, helping, and learning from other professionals.

Anna N'Jie-Konte, MBA, CFP, founder of Dare to Dream Financial Planning, has attended my office hours and has now added it to her own practice.

“I've long been troubled by my limited bandwidth to help all of the people who come to me for advice on breaking into the financial-services industry or diversifying their existing firm,” she says. “I recognize just how difficult it was for me to create my own path without having a role model from a similar background. I get so many requests to talk to people about this, many of whom I've spoken to one-on-one. However, I felt guilty for not dedicating more time/effort to individual mentorship.”

Anna’s initial intention was to offer one session per month with 10 slots per session. The response was so overwhelming that the sessions fully booked out for three months. After being inundated with messages from people who couldn't get a slot, she increased the total capacity to 15 people per session and has booked out through May again. “To say that I'm gratified by the response would be an understatement,” she says.

Sonya Dreizler is a speaker, author and consultant focused on fostering candid conversations about gender and race in financial services. She is also a subject matter expert in ESG and responsible investing, and a former chief executive officer for an independent broker-dealer/registered investment advisor. The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Morningstar.

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