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Back when I was an advisor who operated on a commission-based business plan, I made a big mistake. I tend to refer to this mistake as my "nightmare story" and it involved losing my biggest client (and his large circle of influence) because I failed to convey to him my value as an advisor. I slipped into the trap of being a salesperson instead of a fiduciary and it taught me a lesson I will never forget.

As advisors, we tend to focus on telling our clients what stock or retirement product they should buy, where they should put their money to retire on time, and why their investments are performing well or not. What we don’t realize is that this makes us little more than salesmen and does not accurately convey our value. When we work for a big firm and are stuck in a commission-based structure, it might be difficult to break out of this mold - especially if the firm owners don’t see the problem with it. (For more, see: Tips for Advisors Who Want to Grow Their Practice.)

However, I fully believe that it is our responsibility as fiduciaries to provide value to our clients that far exceeds the mere selling of products. Working in a fee-only structure makes it much easier, but it’s still possible to fail to show that value to those we work with. Here are three unique ways you can increase your value and make sure your clients know your worth.

Develop a Referral Network

How many times have you heard a client say something like this: “I really want to buy a retirement home somewhere sunny but I have no idea where to start looking” or “I know I need to make decisions about what to do with the money my husband left me, but I can’t seem to get out of grieving mode enough to make any plans.”

When you hear things like this, how do you respond? Try to offer a few pieces of advice then move on to the next subject? To provide more value, you should develop a referral network of professionals who can help your clients with needs similar to this. When a client is considering a retirement home, you can respond with: “Great, I have a friend who specializes in condos in Arizona and Florida, would you like him to give you call?” When a valued client is struggling with a death, you can pass on the card of a therapist you know and trust.

When you cultivate a network of professionals who can take care of your clients’ needs outside of the financial planning realm, you elevate your value to that of a mentor and a connector. (For more, see: How to Be a Top Financial Advisor.)

Build a Lending Library

I love to read and often get through four or five books a month that accelerate my learning and help me provide better service to my clients. I often find myself recommending these books to others, but I never know if they get around to reading them or not. You know what works better? Having the books on hand and physically giving them to clients who I think can benefit from them. Sometimes I never get the books back, but $12.95 a pop is nothing when compared to the value my clients get from reading them. When you build a lending library, you become a wealth of information. Your clients will not only talk about the financial advice you give them, but they’ll also talk about everything they learn from the books they’ve borrowed. Talk about increasing value!

Teach the Soft Sciences

Do you think your clients are aware that their biases, emotional reactions and deep-seated assumptions have a huge effect on the financial decisions they make? Are you even aware that the main reason clients fail to reach their financial goals is that they consistently underperform their own investments? When you study the soft sciences, you learn how vulnerability, risk tolerance and a host of other psychological factors play into the investment process. Once you’re aware, you can pass this knowledge on to your clients to help them better understand themselves and their behavior. The value in being a mentor who can guide them on this path is beyond measure.

Being a financial advisor should be about so much more than just handing out advice on which stock to dump or how much to put into an IRA. When you see your relationship with your client as a mentoring partnership, you effectively convey your value and word will spread.

When you become a mentor to your clients, deeply understand them, and guide them toward a better future, then you've learned the ways of a financial caregiver. You've come to know what it means. (For more, see: Advisors: How to Find Big Growth.)

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