Editor’s note: In this edition of What’s Working Now, an AdvisorRADIO feature in which Horsesmouth members tell us about recent success they have had running and growing their businesses, we hear from advisor Dan Miller of Red Oak, Iowa, who is growing his business by using workshops to educate prospects on Social Security, including the recent rule changes. You can hear the full interview by clicking the audio file below. The following article includes edited excerpts of Dan’s comments.
Chris Holman, Horsesmouth’s Executive Coach, conducts What’s Working Now interviews. He also leads the Horsesmouth Group Coaching Program.
Advisor: Dan Miller
Red Oak, Iowa
Years in business: 12
Firm: Miller Financial Group
What’s working now: Implementing a Social Security workshop marketing strategy to extend the reach of my firm.
Who we are
We are a full-service financial planning firm in rural Southwest Iowa, kind of in between Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa. We have eight staff members here—three advisors, and I myself am a certified financial planner. I’ve been in the business 12 years, and actually this year is the 53rd of the firm—we’ve been in business since 1963. My wife and I purchased the firm from our predecessor on January 1, 2013.
Because of our location, we do have a lot people with ties to agriculture, and quite a few true farm families, but really our practice is pretty diverse. I have clients in 21 states, from the east coast to the west coast. We work with all sorts of people from all walks of life. We have clients in the metropolitan areas that are nearby—Des Moines, Omaha, and Kansas City. We are at about 110 million in AUM. So yes, we are in a rural area, but due to today’s technology, we’re not limited by that in any way.
Why Social Security?
In recent years, there’s been a lot of emphasis on the Social Security system, and we know there are approximately 10,000 baby boomers a day turning retirement age, and therefore Social Security age. So we just thought it was very important that we fully immerse ourselves in social security education.
As a certified financial planner, we look at all the pieces of the puzzle, and with retirement planning today, Social Security is a major part of the puzzle for most folks, and even if it’s not a major part, it’s still a part. And we just think it’s important that folks are fully educated and don’t fall prey to some of the misconceptions that are out there. We do full financial plans, and include the Savvy Social Security report as part of that.
Interest in Social Security as strong as ever
There were some regulatory changes in Social Security at the end of 2015 that led some advisors to say “It’s over, the loopholes are closing. Interest in Social Security is going to die down.” But the truth is, interest in Social Security is as strong as ever. The tidbits or the snippets that have been released to the media about those regulatory changes in November probably caused a little confusion, and therefore increased interest in Social Security, if anything.
Yes, some of the strategies have changed. But while we may have fewer creative income planning strategies with Social Security, the interest is still there. Folks are still confused, they’re still concerned that they’re not going to make the right move, and they still really need advice.
They need someone to show them the difference between taking it at 62 and 66. Or folks to point out that when one of the spouses dies, only one set of benefits is going to go on, so maybe it does make sense for one of the spouses to wait until age 70 so that the surviving benefit can be as large as possible. And again, all those choices are based on each individual situation, so the need for education is still there.
Serving as a Social Security educator
There’s a bit of a difference in the way we educate clients versus prospects. On the client level, we’re more apt to incorporate Social Security into their existing planning package using Horsesmouth’s Savvy Social Security calculators and other tools. But, from a prospecting standpoint, we’re mostly utilizing our Social Security seminars.
We started doing these presentations about three years ago. We schedule seminars around the area, and when I say “around the area,” we’re actually looking at three states. We’re in Iowa, but we can get to Nebraska or Missouri within an hour. Meaning, we’ve got three states in a one-to-two hour radius of our office, and we’re willing to travel. We’ve had a lot of great response with these workshops because the interest is out there. People hear the negative about Social Security and that makes them curious. They also know, “Hey, I’m just a few years away. I need to see how I’m going to be affected.” So, it’s definitely worth it for us to travel.
Every presentation we’ve done has been coffees and cookies only. We hold them at museums, libraries, or community centers. I do most of the presenting myself, although I do incorporate my staff, and sometimes my wife introduces me. I like to keep my groups 30 people or less, and most of them have been. We’ve spoken to groups as small as 10 or 12, but then we’ve had groups up to the size of 50. I’m not necessarily recommending that: It’s a little harder to control the room when the crowds get too large.
Successful marketing tactics
When I tell you this next statistic, you’re going to have a hard time believing me. We’re getting about a two to three percent response rate consistently on the mailers that we’re sending out for our Social Security seminars—and if anybody is familiar with seminar marketing, that’s phenomenal.
Let’s break down some of our tactics. We use a field marketing organization called U.S.A. Financial in Ada, Mich. We send two postcard-style invites, one week apart from each other, to homeowners between the ages of 58 and 66 with at least $50,000 in income. We mail 5,000 to 7,000 pieces within a 30-mile radius of the seminar location. We always offer a choice of two nights at the same location: The first seminar is held on a Thursday, and the next one on the following Tuesday.
The cost for the mailers and follow-up comes in at about $2,500. Add in the rent of the venue and the cost of refreshments, and we spend about $3,000 per pair of seminars, or $1,500 per night. At this price point, our seminar marketing has worked very well.
Extending our reach
In addition to holding workshops in various locales, we meet some prospects remotely during follow-up. We’ll do a little bit of traveling to meet with them the first time, depending on the prospect. Most of them will come to us as long as they’re within an hour’s drive of our office. But the nice thing is, after we build a relationship, we can then do a lot of video meetings. We do a lot of online conversations, and with today’s technology, being located in a remote area really does not slow us down.
I’ve got two young people in our office that are really good with technology, and they keep me on my toes. I enjoy working with it, so that’s not an issue once we get through that initial onboarding process. The older generation may want to see you a little bit more than the younger crowd, but more and more, we’re hearing people say, “Meeting once a year is fine.”
We’ll do a lot of work through join.me, GoToMeeting, and other similar tools which use video and screen sharing. For instance, I’ll be talking on the phone with a client, and then I can share my screen with them and we can do a personal review without being in the same room. I do this with clients and prospects from Maryland to California.
Results: Increased exposure and new clients
This Social Security workshop program has gotten us exposure in some new market areas. We’ve been able to get more true financial planning clients as a result of this because we try to incorporate Social Security as one piece of the retirement puzzle. You can’t just look at Social Security without considering the entire retirement income planning picture. As a certified financial planner, I have a fiduciary responsibility to do the right thing and the best that I can for my clients, and I don’t really feel like I can truly give them a good opinion on Social Security as a stand-alone issue.
For other advisors who want to take this approach, I’ll say this: You’ve got to educate yourself first. You’ve got to do that so that you can have an intelligent conversation with your prospects and clients regarding Social Security. And second, I would say you had better be talking to your clients about Social Security planning. Because I’ll tell you, I get people in here that I have acquired as clients and they tell me, “Well, my existing advisor has never spoken to me about Social Security. He’s never tried to incorporate that into my financial plan.” To me, it’s a must. Educate yourself, utilize the calculators. You’ll be glad you did, and your clients will be glad you did, as well.