Kelly Terlau’s title is Chief Operations Officer, but if she was being accurate about everything that she does at Investment Answers, her business card would be filled to the brim: marketer, strategist, planner, listener, advisor, cheerleader, dreamer. Kelly does it all as part of the company’s mission to make financial planning less daunting, working with her team to arm their clients with the tools and knowledge they need for a rewarding retirement.
I interviewed Kelly as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. We get very close to our clients and their brands during the brand development process, and when we see them doing great work and achieving great things, it’s very personal to us. They’re rocking their brands in exciting and innovative ways, taking the ideas we developed together and using them to grow their organizations. We find how a brand works out in the “real world” fascinating and hope you will, too.
See what Kelly has to say about when to start planning for retirement, where she finds inspiration and the value of an outside marketing partner.
1. Investment Answers has evolved a lot since your establishment in 2006. Why did you decide to rebrand, and what has been the impact of your new identity?
Rebranding our company allowed us to reinvest in ourselves. The branding process allowed us the time to focus internally on our business: to assess our strengths and to create strategies for our areas in need of improvement. It became a tool for us to measure ourselves, to set goals and to find consistent opportunities to reconnect with our clients.
The impact of our rebranding has been immediate. Internally, it affects how our team works—there’s an enthusiasm we bring to each day. We are proud of Investment Answers. We know our mission and we all subscribe to the same core values.
BMSD built us a Brand Brief—a positioning document that breaks out your audience, differentiatiors and unique selling proposition—and that is a fantastic tool when you’re building a business and developing your talent. When you’re “in the thick of it,” you have these core values posted that keep your mission focused and fed.
This brand is a beautiful representation of how we feel and how we strive to do our best to advocate for our clients. It’s something we’re proud of, so we want to share it with people.
2. As Chief Operations Officer for Investment Answers, part of your job is leading the marketing department. What are your goals for the upcoming year?
We have lofty goals, and we have realistic goals. If I were to describe our approach to 2012, I would say we did a lot of building and a lot of listening. 2013 is about creating content that is relevant and then finding appropriate ways for those messages to get out into the public. We want to break down some pretty complicated, dry material in a way that is palatable to you, the consumer. And we really want you to feel confident that you could talk with other people about these difficult topics.
Imagine you have a friend whose parent is very sick and she is trying to figure out how to manage the burden of paying for her parent’s care while still providing for her family’s own needs. That can feel pretty isolating. But imagine you have read one of our blog posts or been to an event of ours and you feel you’ve really learned something from Investment Answers about long-term care insurance. You can give comfort and share a little about what you have learned with your friend. It’s a great opportunity to spread a sense of relief from the stress of “it all.” Creating a survival strategy for your own finances empowers you, and being proactive gives you a sense of control in all of life’s madness.
The challenge for us is to communicate this important information in a way that is understandable and relatable. It’s a simple mission, but it can get very complicated very quickly. I love having strategy sessions where I can work with my team at BMSD and figure out how to reach people and help them listen.
3. Investment Answers specializes in creating personalized financial plans for clients. What is the biggest misconception people have about hiring an investment advisor, and what advice would you give them to ease the process?
My advice is to find someone who is qualified to help you build a budget and a financial strategy, and then my advice is to get started. Leverage time as an asset for yourself.
We don’t run into the same types of misconceptions that we used to. There has been a paradigm shift in the way our industry works, and the consumer’s needs are evolving. We used to get the perception that Travis was a “stock broker” or an “insurance salesman” when we said we owned a financial planning firm. Now people understand that we offer a wide variety of investment and insurance products and that we are a powerful asset when devising your financial strategy.
To personalize the message, I think people have a misconception of “when” is the appropriate time for themselves and their families to “start” the financial planning process. They don’t realize that once you are an adult, the process has started itself whether you’re participating in it or not.
And some don’t realize that while there’s a start, there’s never an end. Take the perception of “when you have small children, you buy life insurance.” Sure, that’s a great idea. But life insurance isn’t just a “buy and hold” type of investment. When it’s time to change out that product for another based on your life stage and changing needs, what do you choose? That’s why you need to take the time to do a self-reflection, state your goals, assess your assets and build a relationship with an advisor—someone who is qualified and who will help you stay accountable to your plan and adjust as it evolves.
For many of you who have procrastinated, I would be remiss if I didn’t stop for a moment to encourage you. Perhaps you know you’ve procrastinated, you may even feel (sort of) bad about it, and because you have let yourself down, you keep postponing planning for yourself. There is a sense of empowerment that comes when you commit to a plan and you execute it. I say, if you’re in a bit of a slump, focus on empowering yourself and your finances. It’s powerful stuff.
4. When we work together to develop marketing elements for Investment Answers, you are always very enthusiastic about sharing new ideas and expanding the brand in new ways—which helps our creative team know exactly what you’re looking for. How do you come up with these ideas?
I would describe myself as an “enthusiast” and as a “why not” or “what if” kind of a person. I listen—take it all in—and then I start really thinking cause and effect. “What if we did this? Well, what about that? Who will be listening? What is our message?”
I also feed off the energy of others. When my creative team from BMSD calls me and says, “Hey, we’ve really been thinking about you and we came up with an idea for X,” they know I’m more inclined to go with it because they’re inspired. My team has incredible talents, so if I have someone who is inspired—I’m inspired.
I also play a game for each piece of collateral (e.g., brochures, business cards, infographics, blog posts, YouTube videos, etc.). I want each piece of collateral for our company to work for me in six different ways. Playing this “six ways” game with each collateral piece makes me feel challenged to get each piece working—and to assess how each piece of collateral we’ve produced has been busy working for me. I do this same game for all of the content that we create.
5. Investment Answers believes in educating and building a strong community. Why is this so important to you and what have you done to support this?
Our firm comes from the perspective of being an advocate for our clients. Travis, our CEO, and I both worked in the health and medical fields when we happened to become immersed in the financial world in response to challenges that our own families were facing. We know firsthand how daunting it can be when you feel like an outsider looking in. If you can’t speak the language, you can’t take advantage of opportunities and you can’t really protect yourself.
We used our skills for research and communication to do the groundwork for our own families, helping to give them information and be their advocates. We believe an informed consumer is a powerful consumer—a core value in our community.
Now, you can’t really protect or help your family by being a “Google Expert,” but you can and should be using the Internet to learn as much as you can so you can “speak” a little estate planning. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg—being able to speak a little of the language. And it’s likely you don’t have the time or the interest to get into all of those little idiosyncrasies of estate planning. That’s what we’re here for—you don’t have to do that because we’re on your team. We prioritized continual education and licensing for ourselves because our goal is to be the most effective advocate for our clients that we can be.
In order for us to be knowledgeable and relevant—to make an impact—we looked to a wide range of investment and insurance products. When a challenge presents itself to a family, we already have a wide range of tools to address them. Also, the Certified Financial Planner’s designation (CFP®) helps our clients trust in our acumen—which allows us to work strongly on their behalf.
You don’t approach this industry the same way when you feel like it’s wacked your family around. We take this industry very seriously because we know just how an apathetic or a biased “financial planner” can impact a family. We describe those financial planners as being disengaged. We are not striving for perfection, nor are we a perfect firm. But the consumer is not well-represented in the investment and insurance communities. Being able to be an independent firm, where we work directly for the client—where they are the boss—is not a common phenomenon. We hold that responsibility close. We are honored to be that shield, that concierge, that translator, that sounding post—the client’s Financial Guardian.
6. What’s the best thing about working with BatesMeron as your marketing partner?
I love that we have an outside resource with its own skills, culture and expertise. I believe in the strength of specialists. They’re the experts at what they do, and I don’t feel like I have to burden myself or my internal team with a lot of these challenges and responsibilities. There is freedom in utilizing outside vendors instead of all of the work being done with internal staff.
Also, when everything is in-house, there is a status quo that’s hard to escape. You hear, “That’s not how we do it” or “I can’t believe she suggested that.” It’s hard to be creative and bring freshness to a marketing project when you’re so bogged down with everything else you have to accomplish. BatesMeron can approach a project with new energy and a fresh perspective. Our team at BMSD complements our internal team, and the sum of our parts combined creates an enjoyable process that produces great results.
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