By Rob Methven, Forum Partner

After a diverse career encompassing public accounting, small business ownership and finance and sales roles in large corporations, I embarked on a new role as a financial advisor in 2007.

Setting out on this new career with no clients and no income, there was plenty of motivation and no shortage of advice. People would tell me to make a list of 100 people I knew or identify a niche such as doctors or dentists. My favorite suggestion was to “offer seminars.” But all of this advice missed the mark.

What I struggled with was the assumption that to be successful in gaining and retaining clients, I had to be an expert in investment management, insurance, estate planning, tax planning, essentially everything. I eventually realized that technical knowledge grew from working with clients as much as it did from conferences and personal study. Each new client situation added to my bank of technical knowledge, which in turn made me more comfortable in conversation with potential clients — a virtuous cycle.

However, what I failed to understand early on is that clients are not generally looking for technical knowledge when they choose to work with someone. As a result, I ignored the value of my own life experiences. My client meetings were more presentation than conversation and just an opportunity to show how much I knew.

Over time, I learned to get comfortable injecting my true self into meetings, whether with first-time encounters or long-standing clients. I also learned not to force my views into a conversation but instead say, “Would you like to hear how I dealt with a situation like this?”

Most who know me know that I have five children. My two oldest children were in high school when I started in this business. As a result, I found myself having a lot of college-planning discussions in meetings with families. Basic questions about 529 plans ultimately led to conversations about how to set an expectation with your children about how much you can afford to pay in tuition and what age to have that discussion with them.

Now, as I get older, my approach continues to develop from new personal experiences like helping aging parents and living in an empty nest. I have no advice to give on weddings (yet).

In some ways, you have to earn the right to have many of these deeper conversations, and they don’t always happen at the first meeting but rather as trust develops. What I am describing is equally valid for a 30-year-old advisor as it is for a 40-something starting out. Even at a young age, your experiences are not limited to what appears on your resume.

Sadly, my father died at age 50 (when I was in my 20s). He was underinsured. That did not make me an expert on insurance, although referring to my mother’s experiences when answering a client’s question about how much life insurance to buy has added meaningful value to the conversation.

If I could have a do-over on my first couple of years in this business, it would be to worry less about lacking technical knowledge and to feel more comfortable being me. It’s about the conversation, not the presentation.

We help advisors establish and grow successful wealth management practices. To learn more about how we can help you amplify your life’s work, contact us at You can follow us on Twitter@theWAAlliance and on LinkedIn.

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