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 Kathleen Fish, who has developed her business by focusing on empowering women and creating a consistent digital strategy. You can hear the full interview by clicking the audio file below. The following article includes edited excerpts of Kathleen’s comments.
Advisor: Kathleen Fish
Years in business: 27
Firm: Fish and Associates
What’s working now: A focus on empowering women.
Starting from personal experience
My story starts when I entered the business in 1990. It sounded like something that was going to be interesting and fun, and would help people. I was married at the time and still had the old school idea that a man takes care of all the major finances. Then, about 18 months after starting as an advisor, I found myself divorced and a single parent. At that point I had an epiphany that I couldn’t desert my financial responsibility or my personal happiness. The buck stops at the individual and I did not need to rely on anyone else for my financial security or happiness.
I’ve been an independent advisor since 1992. My office has a total of five staff members, and we are the only all-female firm in Memphis, Tenn. My daughter works with me and is also a certified financial planner. My firm works at empowering women around financial decisions. So, although we do have male clients, probably 80% of our leads come from a female relationship or contact. We are very much out there as the go-to firm for women.
My niche seemed to evolve organically. Women seem to be attracted to other women who want to empower them. When I was starting out, I was very deeply in debt from an irresponsible spouse. I didn’t know how I was going to work my way out of the hole, but I dug in my heels. One of my long-term goals was to become one of my top 10 clients, which I have accomplished through hard work and savings. I think in my earlier years I was embarrassed to tell that story, but I ran into people who were in similar situations, and they felt powerless.
I started telling my story so that nobody could say this type of thing couldn’t be overcome. I had done it. Is it difficult? Yes. Can it be done? Absolutely. And that’s given me the drive and the passion to be honest with clients when they come to not sugarcoat things, but also to help them prepare to have the best life possible with the resources that are available to them.
A man is not a plan
In the 90s I did a lot of educational seminars, and I would have equal amounts of men and women come in. Back then, a lot of husbands were drawn to my business because they wanted to make sure their wives would have someone they would be comfortable with. Most men think they’re going to die first, even though with women working as much as they are, those statistics have changed.
I always want to make a connection with both parties. Unlike a lot of male advisors who deal man-to-man, I always want to have the wife come in and be involved in the financial planning, even if she doesn’t want to come in on a regular basis. It’s important to hear her voice. I’ve gotten referrals just through that process.
I was doing the seminars on “Successful Money Management” and “Financial Strategies for Successful Retirement.” That’s how I grew my business from 1992 to 2000. They were three- or four-part workshops that were two- to two-and-a-half hours long, so by the time people finished going through the classes, we had developed relationships with them. We got a lot of business from people who were just looking for somebody to help them prepare for retirement.
I found in the early 2000s that people were less willing to spend eight to ten hours learning. So I still did workshops, but they tended to be on one subject at a time, whether it was something on estate planning or on long-term care. Then I started writing a blog called “A Man is Not a Plan,” which turned into a workshop and presentation.
The things I wrote about (and continue to write about) on my blog come from my own personal experience. It talks about all the things that need to be taken into consideration to empower yourself to take control of your financial future and security, taking a more comprehensive approach. It looks not only at the money but other aspects: where you live, family, purpose. Are you living a life on purpose? How do we tie all those things together?
I’ve seen so many women over the years that let their husbands take care of everything. But they’re still concerned about whether they will be OK. So these seminars are meant to point out that every woman should be planning, and has a right to plan no matter what her marital status. The same goes for same-sex couples. Females are good at sticking to it if they make the decision, “Yes, I am going to lead this in my family or lead this on my own and make sure that I’m OK no matter what happens.”
The title is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it gets people’s attention. I’ve had a lot of male advisor friends who share my blogs with the females in their lives, because a lot of men don’t really want that responsibility. They would like a partner in making decisions. But, money is still taboo to talk about.
A good website
My blog eventually became part of the Fish and Associates website, and was renamed Kathy’s Blog. My current website has a section for women, so that people know we have a particular interest in working with women. But we don’t want to alienate the guys, so we don’t say we work only with women. We get married couples, but I tend to attract women who are wanting to get their financial life in order, and then they’ll get their husbands to go along with it.
We add fresh content regularly through blogs and newsletters. We subscribe to a service called Vestorly. For our weekly newsletter we pick a topic that clients are interested in—financial or not—and search for timely articles among the hundreds or thousands available through Vestorly. The articles are then posted to the website. It’s important to always have fresh content, and it can help drive people back to your website and increase your search engine optimization.
On the website, there’s also a calculator called “What’s your financial identity?” that we use for all our new clients. It’s a really great tool to give you insight into how someone thinks, and how much input they want to have. We have maybe one or two people who go on our website and actually choose to do their financial planning on their own. But, when we send the link out to people, I would say that 90% of the time they send it back completed. People appreciate that we’re trying to get some insight into our clients. It has things like what kind of risk tolerance they have and some personality questions.
These days the blog is written by not just me, but other office staff. We encourage our staff to write about something they are interested in, and we’ll put it out there. For example, our office administrator Amber did something on “Networking for Women.” We put on young-professional programs about three times a year. My daughter is a millennial, and she sees the need for young professional women to have access to good advice, even if they don’t necessarily have a lot of assets at this point. We’re targeting women from age 30 and up.
Now we’re redoing our website. We got all-new photographs taken and developed a new logo. I’ve had the same logo for 20 years, and I wanted a new look to go with my new building and new website. We looked at the content and are breaking out more. We’ve got case studies to go up with different examples and different types of women. We’re also going to add an intro video that tells about us and our place in the community.
Social media connections
Social media is great for advertising for seminars. We put something on our website, and create a Facebook event, and put it on other sites just to hit people where they access. I definitely still use direct mail, but I overlay it with social media.
The wider advertising of Facebook led one woman I had never met to call me even though she couldn’t attend the Social Security seminar. Because I was targeting women, she wanted to come in and ended up becoming a client. She had almost $800,000 in assets.
I’ve also been giving Horsesmouth’s Savvy Cybersecurity seminars. I sent out a client survey earlier this year asking what educational events people wanted, and cybersecurity or identity theft made up about 75% of the responses.
Have a cohesive strategy
You have to be very intentional with how you’re branding yourself and what you’re putting out into the world. So much of what we do supports women and families, and that happens because everybody in this office is a woman. We know what we’re interested in hearing and how we like to be approached. When everything fits in cohesively, it leaves a good impression and people decide to call your office. You need to send a clear impression; it can’t be disjointed.
Finally, you need to be patient and not give up. It takes time to develop a strategy. You can’t do seminars a couple of times or only for a year then give up. I have to believe that and keep up with the online presence even though there haven’t been many cases where someone comes in saying, “I saw your website,” or “I saw what you do on Facebook.” But I think we do a pretty good job, and I’m always looking for ways to improve myself.