Our job as insurance brokers or financial advisers is to help people protect their lives and assets and prepare for the future. But if we don't know how to attract clients, we can't help many people.

If you're a knowledgeable, honest, caring adviser to your clients, eventually referrals will make up the bulk of your business - and we all know that referrals are worth their weight in gold. But what can you do when you're first starting out? Some of my previous columns have outlined various ways to find clients; this month I want to look at one method in particular: the seminar.

Seminars come in many forms. They can be costly presentations involving a full dinner and drinks for 50 guests in an upscale restaurant. Or they can be small wine and cheese receptions for just five or six people. Seminars can even be small, in-office presentations with coffee and pastries. They are a wonderful addition to any insurance or financial professional's sales and education techniques. But if they are done badly, they can be costly disasters. How can you make sure you do them right?

First of all, it's imperative to remember that seminars are a numbers game. Even if you are a great presenter, you're still not going to make every attendee a client. Believe it or not, there are people who go to seminars just for the food or the education, with no intent to actually purchase a product or invest. Who can blame them?

When planning your event, figure out how many new clients you need to take on to cover your costs. If that number is unreasonable, do something smaller. A simple cake-and-coffee presentation in your office may produce more results than an elaborate display at Chez Henri. Hold off on expensive seminars until you've got a lot of smaller presentations under your belt, you're having success, and you can fit them into your budget even if they don't produce a single client.

Always keep in mind that many people are a little skeptical when they come to a seminar. They can be a bit wary of getting swindled. Therefore, it's imperative that you establish a solid sense of trust and consideration right off the bat. High-pressure sales might net you more scheduled appointments that night, but I guarantee that very few of those people will actually keep their appointments. Fewer still will become clients.

Think of the seminar as a classroom setting, which is really what it should be. Give a presentation that the attendees will actually learn something from. They should walk away with knowledge they didn't have before, even if they don't become clients. If you focus too much on selling, and not enough on establishing that teacher/student sense of trust, you are more likely to have a negative outcome.

Education, trust and honesty are the building blocks of a good seminar (a little humor always helps too), but you also need to incorporate some sales techniques if you want to walk away with new clients. The word "sales" shouldn't be off-putting. High-pressure sales is what has given the word a bad reputation; as long as you are considerate and appropriate with your selling techniques, you won't jeopardize the trust you've established.

Every broker or adviser has their own method of closing, but for me, one method works best. It may or may not work for you, but I definitely recommend giving it a try. I spend a good, solid hour with guests, teaching them, answering questions, joking around, and creating a trusting, comfortable environment. At the beginning of the evening, I pass around an informational packet with brochures, etc., and in that packet is a form they can fill out with suggestions, criticisms, questions, and the like. Also on that form is a place where they can put their phone number if they want me to call them and schedule an appointment.

This is a somewhat passive method of selling, but the important stuff has already been done. I have proven to them that I am knowledgeable and trustworthy, and that I care about them as people.

If they are looking for a new broker, they will put down their number. It's very important to call these clients by the next day. The passing of too much time will make them forget just how much they loved you!

Carst is a self-employed broker and consultant. She is the co-founder of Women Insurance Professionals, a non-profit organization that helps women with the licensing process and career support. Reach her at amycarst@hotmail.com.

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