How a Semi-Annual Book Club Keeps Me Top-of-Mind With Clients and Prospects

Nov 18, 2022 / By Karen Coyne
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What’s Working Now: Sharing motivational books like Atomic Habits with clients and prospects has created an ongoing conversation that keeps people aware of this advisor’s work and value—plus builds ties with top clients.

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 Karen coyne, who started a semi-annual book club that strengthens client relationships and keeps people interested in what she is doing.

The following article includes edited excerpts of Karen’s thoughts on the benefits of the book club and more, or you can watch the full interview below.

Book club as part of an annual theme

Starting in 2020, we were rebranding as Clarity Planning, and at the top of 2020 we had sent a bunch of our clients and friends this book called The Wake-Up Call by Beth Fitzgerald, who I know personally. And the subtitle is “Daily Eye-Opening Motivation for You to Live Your Best Life.” We sent this out kind of as a New Year’s gift.

Quick Overview

Guest: Karen Coyne
Hagerstown, Md.

Years in business: 22

Firm: Clairty Planning

What’s working now: Starting an online book club with clients

So, we decided on this theme for 2020 and it was 20/20 vision, tying in with our new identity as Clarity, and this motivation to live your best life. The Wake-Up Call consists of these daily entries for you to ponder. It’s different types of prompts, and you can journal if you like. So, we’re like, “Oh, this is perfect. This will give us stuff that we can then build on and talk about with our clients throughout the year.”

I asked Beth, “What would you think about joining us for a book club? We’ve sent this to a bunch of our folks. So it would be just jumping on a call and having an informal discussion.” And she was like, “Yeah, that’s great.”

So she joined us, I think we did our first book club on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening around 6 p.m. She jumped on and talked for about 20 minutes, tying the book in with the pandemic, because by then, the pandemic was underway. Everyone was so engaged, everyone loved hearing from Beth, and just sharing with each other. And, again, I believe it was still in the first half of 2020, so we were still freshly in the thick of it.

So, it was very timely in terms of providing this support and this hope and inspiration in a very difficult time. That was not exactly the way that I, of course, envisioned the path for the book club and for the conversation, but it still ended up being very valuable. And the people that were on the call, mostly existing clients, told me how much they really enjoyed it.

Atomic Habits

The first year of the pandemic, I don’t even know if I read an entire book. I was just in survival mode, and I did not have any energy to read books. So, it was roughly last year when I said, “Self, you have got to get back into picking up a book here and there.” And Atomic Habits by James Clear was one of those books I picked up and it just blew me away right off the bat.

I think we see so much in the work that we do, when people think about goal setting, it’s always this big, hairy, crazy goal—or New Year’s resolution! And then by the end of January, mid-February, we’re so frustrated. We’ve run out of steam. We’re off track. We’ve fallen off the wagon, rolled down the hill and fell in the river.

What I love about Atomic Habits is it reframes that whole approach to goal-setting. It’s almost anti-goal-setting, in a way. Instead, I love that it starts with identity and makes that shift to identity.

How it works with clients

This applies to clients. One thing I hear a lot from new clients around finances is: “I hate this stuff. I hate math. I’ve never been good at money. I don’t know anything about this stuff.” They’ve identified themselves as “bad with money.”

And it’s like, “Wait, hold up. You just told me you have been contributing to your 401(k). You have this money and maybe you don’t know what to do with it, but you’ve been doing a lot of right things.” So it’s thinking about some of these words that come out of our mouths and how we see ourselves.

When we change that identity, like “I can be good with my money,” it kind of becomes more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is easier to do the things you want to do. It’s easier to lean into if you’re already identifying with it as opposed to just constantly bumping up against it. That’s problematic. So, yeah, I love that it kind of shifted the focus: Let’s not focus on the goal, let’s focus on identity and let’s focus on the process.

Book club around Atomic Habits

So, we also did Atomic Habits as a book club read. And we had a coach who was working with some members of my team—Austin Brown, of Routine Coaching. I invited him to join us for the online book discussion of Atomic Habits. He added a lot to the conversation, and he broke the framework in the book down a little bit more and kind of workshopped it.

So, we talked about some things we want to accomplish in our lives and who we are trying to be—whether it’s business goals or, personal goals. We reframed those things with identity statements, and then wrote out what that looked like.

For me, mine looked like: “I will write at 7 a.m. in the kitchen, after I make my coffee.” But for example, I might think: “I am not a morning person.” And whenever I hear the words coming out of my mouth, I’m like, “Karen, just stop saying that. Stop saying you’re not a morning person. Maybe you don’t love getting up in the morning. But you can get up on Tuesdays and Thursdays and brew the coffee and sit down in the kitchen and write for an hour.” And so, I’ve done that a couple of times, working on building that muscle and getting those reps in. And I have found that it’s so satisfying and so rewarding when you do it.

Another example that came up during the web discussion was a young mother who has this desire to learn Italian. For her that “cue, craving, response, reward” from the book could be as simple as “Looking up a word a day in the morning while I’m making my coffee.”

It might not seem like it’s groundbreaking to say, “OK, I’m going to look up a word a day while I’m making my coffee.“ But when you’re in the moment, life is coming at you, you’ve got little kids, you’re running a business, you’ve got a dog, there’s always something. I think it was really valuable to take a step back and say, “Oh, OK, I can do this. I can do this by breaking it down into the smallest little increments.”

Having an annual theme

I do love the idea of a theme. So, again, having a theme that we can carry through the whole year. So that’s what we did with Atomic Habits this year. We said, “Hey, we’re doing this Clarity community, we’re going to focus on Atomic Habits this year and small changes making a big difference in your life. And so we’ve had one book, then a quarterly touchpoint, like a conference call, and I think we’ve had two guest speakers under the umbrella of Atomic Habits.

So we found some guest speakers to join us for a few of these meetings. And then it has given us content to build on throughout the year. So, it might be sharing other podcasts. For instance, there was a podcast that James Clear was on with Brené Brown, we directly shared that as well as other blog posts that James Clear has done. It’s just given us this kind of golden thread to weave throughout the year.

What’s the value of posting on social media?

For the first book club meeting, we sent the invite to everyone and put it in our monthly newsletter. We did a specific follow-up with the people that we had sent the book to—those we sent it to as a New Year’ gift. (So, you don’t have to send out the book to everyone.) And then I believe we also shared it on social media and just said, “Hey, we’re doing this if you want to join us.”

Regarding posting these things on social media, I feel like even if people don’t join us, just the fact that they see, “Oh, Karen’s doing this,” is valuable. I feel like it’s OK if you post something and share it, and 500 people don’t sign up. There’s still value in people seeing that you’re doing these things that might be of interest to them. Maybe the time isn’t good for them right now, but they know that you’re doing it.

They know that you’re doing these things, and they value that, and they appreciate that. I’ve had people tell me, “No, I haven’t listened to your podcast, but I saw that you were talking about x-y-z.” That’s great. Or “I didn’t join the book club, but I saw that you’re doing Atomic Habits, and I definitely want to read that. I’ve heard so much about it.” So, there is still value, even if 100 of your clients don’t sign up, there’s still value.

As advisors, we are always so set on, “Well, how much business am I getting? Is this going to increase my AUM? If I do social media, what’s the ROI? If I’m not getting likes, I’m out.” Personally, I don’t approach it that way.

Just because people don’t hit like or don’t engage, that doesn’t mean that they’re not paying attention. So some of those metrics, I take it with a grain of salt. I don’t get too wrapped up in that; just do your thing and stay focused on that. Because if you just focus on the vanity metrics, you can really get derailed.

Zoom meeting best for book group

With The Wake-Up Call, because that was our theme that we wanted to carry through for 2020, we did buy the book for some select clients and prospective clients. And, again, we had sent it out at the beginning of the year; instead of doing a Christmas gift, we sent it as a New Year’s kind of gift.

The book club meeting was a nice intimate type of group with roughly a dozen people. Not too big and not just two people. We did it as a meeting format in Zoom—or you could do a webinar. There’s pros and cons to both. I think if you’re going to do the meeting, you do have to be prepared to mute people who still don’t know how to mute themselves. But if you have just 15 people or less, it’s nice, to have that conversational environment.

Beth, who is very conversational, was willing to take questions. So, I prefer to do the meeting format for those types of events. If it’s too big, then it might not work. You might want to switch to a webinar format. We took questions and conversations and commentary, like, “Hey, this section that I read really resonated with me because…” So just kind of sharing and connecting.

Why a book club is right for rocky times

The response was very positive. Again, this was not something that I did with the intent of booking 20 new clients the day after the web event. It was more about deepening relationships, just staying in touch, showing value….

The world and the markets are spiraling. And when that happens, I think one of the most valuable things that we can do as advisors is refocus, reframe the conversation. What is it in our lives that we can control? Because we can’t control the markets, we can’t control China or Ukraine, and there’s plenty of things that we can’t control, but let’s dial in and look at things that we can control.

The Wake-Up Call is similar to Atomic Habits in that it’s looking at small pieces of our lives where we can maybe make a little change for the better, whether it’s with our thoughts, words, actions or habits. So, the response was very favorable. People felt like it was a good use of their time, and you want people to feel like—especially at six o’clock in the evening—that time that they’re taking is well spent.

Make the club easy for people

When I first came up with the book club idea, I toyed with doing monthly or quarterly, but then landed on semiannually.

The Wake-Up Call, it’s such an easy read. It’s like daily prompts. It’s not an Anna Karenina. You can skip around. But people were still like, “Oh, my gosh I haven’t finished reading the book.” And so, as we were doing follow-up for this, we were very clear in communicating and trying to overcommunicate that, “It’s OK if you haven’t read the entire book!”

And so if you are going to do a book club, understand whether you have picked a book that everyone needs to read from cover to cover. Is it OK if they’ve just read a portion of it? I mean Atomic Habits, honestly, I think even if you just read two chapters, you have stuff you can work with. You don’t have to have read the entire book.

But that might not be true for every book. So, we settled on once or twice a year at the most. And, again, books that, it’s OK if you haven’t read the whole thing.

Clients don’t need another economic update

I find that most clients don’t want another economic update. They can hear that without even trying. With today’s technology, you open up your phone and you’re going to see what the market’s doing or you can get plenty of economic updates. So that’s never my go-to thing that I want to talk more about.

I like opening up the conversation around how we can enrich our lives and all the other things that we might not get to talk about during a routine meeting. And I have found that people really lean into that.

There’s a number of different ways that you can shape and build this. You could do multiple books throughout the year. You could do one theme. It’s all about what is important to you and your clients.

I mentioned that we had a couple of guest speakers, but that’s not necessary either. I mean, if you just want to lead the discussion, that’s fine too. You know your clients, so I think that’s the cue. Who are you doing this for? And is it going to be in alignment with what they are craving? And what they’re going to find of value?

But, again, I think especially when the world just seems like it’s crazy on any given day, it sounds like the sky is falling, let’s kind of help reframe that conversation. This is just a nice little way that you can do that, that I think also just really sets you apart, because probably most practices aren’t doing something like this. It’s a way to stay connected.

4 pointers for getting started with a book club

If you’re not sure about a book club, talk to some of your top clients, and start with them. What would be of interest to them? Do they want something more technical? Do they want something more lifestyle? Are they interested in having these conversations quarterly or semi-annually? Or would they be good annually? Maybe start with that very informally, tack it on to the end of your review meeting, “Hey, by the way, question for you, something I’m thinking about.”

If you have a better idea of what your clients are interested in, then don’t overthink it. I’m the type of person who just follows my interests and even if it seems like it’s totally disconnected, I’m like, “Well, this is what I’m interested in, so this is what we’re going to do. And whoever wants to come along can come along.” And it seems to fall into place. So, I’d say, don’t overthink it.

Know what your objective is. Again, for me, it wasn’t picking up 20 new clients. It was deepening relationships, staying in front of people. So, I think you have to also know what your objective is.

And lastly, going back to Atomic Habits, use some of these tactics from the book to implement your own strategies. Make sure that you are setting time in your practice on a regular basis, weekly and monthly, to plan some of these things out. Because I know a lot of folks do an annual, big one- or two-day offsite meeting, and that’s OK. But if that’s your marketing for the year, you need more touchpoints in between to keep it going. So set time aside to plan. And it does take a little bit of planning, but not too terribly much. And then the rest will take care of itself.

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