Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Actually, You CAN Judge a Book by Its Cover

Now is the time of year that thoughts turn to summer reading lists. Whether you’re a procrastinating student or a stressed-out professional finally getting some R&R, the dog days of August are idea for finding a cozy hammock or beach chair and delving into that stack of books we’ve been planning to get to all summer.

But, now is also the time of year that many of you are making your Summer Writing lists. I can’t tell you how many of you have promised me you’re finally sitting down to share with the world the book that everyone’s been telling you to write your whole career.

And you should. Our annual CPA/Wealth Advisor Confidence Survey finds that two-thirds of professionals (61%) believe publishing a book/eBook is a highly effective way to become a thought leader.

I wish I could tell I have “6 Easy Steps for Writing a Business Best-Seller”— but I don’t have even one. I’ll leave that up to the vanity press services that I’m sure have hit you up with one-stop instant book writing services.

I can only promise you this: To do it right, there’s going to be some hard work involved along with some serious introspection and mental heavy lifting. Maybe some drinking or binge snacking, too.

But there are ways to make the authoring process less daunting. Before you write Word One, you have to nail down your outline. Without an outline, it’s like building a house without a blueprint. You might be able to throw up a few walls and maybe a room, but sooner or later the structure will collapse on itself without a master plan. And before you put the outline together, always have a clear vision of the finished product in your head.

Exercise: Start with the end in mind

Try this fun exercise. Imagine you have finally published the book of your dreams. Congrats. How will radio shows and podcast producers introduce you? Imagine the host saying: “My next guest is [your name] author of the fascinating new book [Title].”

How would you want that intro to sound?

Then ask yourself the first question of the interview: “{Your Name} Thanks for joining us today. What made you decide to write this book and why now?”

One of the best ways to answer those questions is to noodle around with your book jacket and cover lines. You don’t need to download any apps or install software or start a trial subscription. Just take some blank sheets of white paper and a sharp pencil. Tape the blank sheets of paper to a sturdy hardcover book you have lying around your office. Start penciling in some titles, coverlines and the copy for the spine. Just for kicks, add a few pro forma blurbs from professional colleagues that you’d like to ask to review the book. What would they say about you and your masterwork?

Now put your “dummy” book on your bookshelf; then lay it horizontally on your coffee table. Will the title you’ve penciled in grab people’s attention (along with your author credit) when they have about half a second to notice it?

5 key questions to ask

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What problem does your book solve for the target audience?
  3. What will readers be able to do after reading the book that they couldn’t do before?
  4. Why are you uniquely qualified to write the book on this topic?
  5. Why has it taken so long for someone to finally write the definitive book on this topic?

I have plenty more “thought provoker questions” I’d be happy to send you at no cost or obligation. Just
ping me any time.


Whoever said “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” never had a successful book and wanted to be a thought leader. After all, your mother was right: “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

What’s your take? I’d love to hear from you.

#thoughtleadership #practicedevelopment #selfpublish #wealthadvisorconfidence #authorabook


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Don’t ‘Pitch’ Stories to the Media; Be a Problem Solver

“According to” are two of the most powerful words in credibility marketing. So, why do we make it so difficult on ourselves?

As a former financial journalist, I can’t tell you how many times some well-intentioned PR person pitched me a story that was completely wrong for our audience. She hadn’t taken the time to see what our readers really care about or he hadn’t even bothered to check out my most recent articles.
It's not that hard. Just check out the advertising media kit for reader demographics and job titles. Just search the journalist’s name and relevant keywords on Google or the media outlet’s search engine to scan their recent articles.

I know you’re really busy, but you can assign a few of your junior staffers or interns to do some of this basic due diligence on a small number or targeted journalists, bloggers and media outlets in which you’d like to appear. You don’t just want to show the journalist you’ve done your “homework”—you want to show them how you and your colleagues can solve a problem for the journalist by giving them one less hot story idea to come up with on their own and one less reliable source they have to track down for a compelling interview.

Crowdsourcing comes to journalism

There’s no substitute for doing the legwork described above, but you can also sign up for a number of free or low-cost services that tell you which stories certain journalists are working on in real-time. I recommend using both approaches.

My BlogU, Kiti (formerly Media Kitty), HARO (Help A Reporter Out), Source Bottle and Radio Guest List, among others are pretty solid. Just remember that journalists are often working on VERY tight deadline and you’ll be competing with lots of other “talent wranglers” to get your firm and interview. You’ll need to respond VERY quickly and be spot on with your pitch. Some of the above services will simply ask for emailed responses. That’s good and bad.

The pros to this approach are that you don’t have to worry about being misquoted and you can tee up your responses exactly as wish them to appear in print. The con: as soon as the journalist sees typos or rambling, you’re outta’ there! They don’t have time to edit your responses or ask helpful follow up questions. It’s also very hard to obtain the journalist’s actual email, phone number and Twitter direct message address. You often have to use a cloaked alias which makes it hard to follow up.

Services like Cision, MuckRack and ProfNet are also very good. But they’ll set you back a few quid and you’ll typically have to sit through product demos and a sales pitch before committing to a contract.

After using PR services like those listed above, you will start to see some trends emerge. A small number of journalists and bloggers will keep coming across your radar. After they’ve interviewed you and your colleagues a few times, they may start reaching out to you in advance before posting their interview requests publicly for upcoming stories they’re working on.

That’s how we obtained this one-to-punch in and Thrive magazine for our clients, Randy Fox (Two Hawks Consulting)
Investing During The Pandemic and Guy Baker (Wealth Teams Alliance) What Should I Do With My Money Considering All of the Volatility and Uncertainty Today 


As our annual CPA/Wealth Advisor Confidence Survey™ shows every year, four out of five advisors (78%) consider press mentions valuable. What’s more, firms expecting double-digit growth are 1.5x more likely than low-growth firms to consider press mentions valuable. Do you think there’s a connection?

What’s your take? We’d like to hear from you.

#investingpandemic #twohawksconsulting #wealthteamsalliance #mediaoutreach #mediaoutreach
#WealthAdvisorConfidence #HARO

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Young Money: Investing in Your 20s

By Michael Berkowitz, Guest contributor
Common mistakes and the proper ways to invest in young adulthood told by financial experts

As we head into July 4th weekend, I hope you have a great time with family
whether in person or virtually. Inevitably the subject of money will come up as the different generations get together over some fireworks, grilling and downtime.

Several of our clients, including Dr. Guy Baker, Ph.Dfounder of Wealth Teams Alliance (Irvine, CA),   Mark Rioboli, CFP, CFS Director of Wealth Management, Independence Advisors (Wayne, PA) and Matt Topley, President of Lansing Street Advisors (Ambler, PA) have been interviewed in the national media lately about investing advice for 20-somethings. Here are excerpts from their interviews.

Is now a good time for 20-somethings to be getting into the market? Why or why not and what are the consequences of waiting to invest?

Baker: Absolutely. Markets go up and markets go down. Now is the time to buy via dollar-cost averaging. There is nothing to make anyone think the markets won't increase over the next 50 years. The key is to NOT watch the markets day today. Invest in a widely diversified market-based fund and let it ride. Add as much as you can over time.
Rioboli concurred: No matter how high you think the market is, it will never be as high as it may be later in your life.  You can't time markets. Young people have such a long time horizon that moving into the market now is fine. If you are concerned about market volatility, you can dollar-cost-average into this market.

What are your best tips/rules for investing in your 20s?

Baker: Do not invest in target date funds. Invest in an all equity asset allocation fund. Be mindful of expenses and look for funds that buy both international and domestic.

Topley: Don’t get carried away with free stock-trading apps. Thanks to free online trading ups, young people and other inexperienced investors are jumping into this artificially supported market that is not based on fundamentals. Instead it’s being supported by record government spending on subsidized loans to businesses, extra unemployment checks and Federal Reserve purchases of trillions of dollars in investor debt. The stimulus programs that are supporting this market will not last forever.
Why do you recommend this strategy and why is it suited to a 20-something, rather than someone in their 30s, 40s, etc.? 
Rioboli: After stocking your emergency fund with 6 to 12 months of living expenses, I generally recommend a fairly aggressive allocation for 20-somethings. Early investors do not always have a good understanding of their cash flow. That’s why I suggest a slightly less aggressive allocation in the early years in case they underestimate their expenses and have to dip into their portfolio.
Baker has a different viewpoint: The investment strategy should be the same for anyone with at least 20 years to invest. When people get inside the 20-year mark, that is the time to change allocations and begin segueing towards a less risky portfolio.

Are there any investing mistakes that 20-somethings need to avoid?

Rioboli: Yes. Too often advisors recommend that young people load up on tax-deferred accounts. I generally don’t recommend investing solely in tax-deferred accounts. Twenty-somethings may face some capital-intensive years as they purchase a car or home or start a business. For this reason, tying up your money in tax-deferred accounts may not be the best idea.
Topley: Armed with free trading apps like Robinhood, the rush of new investors into the market is like the day traders who fed the boom of the late 1990s, before the market’s epic 2001 collapse. This will not last long.
Baker: Don't spend capital to pay off debts, especially student loans or credit cards. One dollar today at 7 percent will be worth $32 by age 70. So, every dollar that is taken from your long-term investment account to pay down debt or buy a car, or pay off student loans costs $32. Assume a car costs $20,000. If you use $20,000 of your investment capital to pay for the care, you are really paying $640,000 for that vehicle when you consider the opportunity cost of not having that $20,000 to invest.

All three of our experts agree on two things:

1. Never try to time the market, and
2. Focus on long-term holdings.

It’s perfectly okay to have a more aggressive portfolio when you’re young and already have a fully funded emergency fund. Making risky investments while you are young is beneficial for many reasons: a potential large payoff, enough time to recover from a loss, and self-educating. It’s vital to learn about investment opportunities and involve yourself in the stock market. Scared money makes no money.

your take? We’d like to hear from you.

#Investing #stocks #younginvestors #MarkRioboli #GuyBaker #MattTopley

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

High Performing Advisors Work the Press

Our newly released Wealth Advisor Confidence Survey™ 2020, shows that cultivating media relationships is something that high-performing firms do a lot better than low-performing firms. Garnering press was once again among the Top 4 thought leadership tactics for CPAs, Wealth Advisors and Estate Planners in 2020 with nearly four out of five respondents (78%) rating it effective. In fact, that number jumped 9 percentage points since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even more striking, firms expecting strong double-digit growth were nearly twice as likely as low-performing firms to consider media attention an effective thought leadership strategy. Case in point, here are some recent media hits from our clients who use our Just in Time Media Program:

As Marie Rourke noted in Smarter MSP (5 Tips for Working with the Press), getting mentioned in the “right kind of media outlet” can provide external validation for your products, solutions, and/or services. She also believes these earned media placements “tend to boost company rankings in popular search engines,” such as Google and Yahoo! as they carry more weight than paid or placed media, including press releases and company blogs—and they’re read and seen by customers and prospects. All this results in “increased relevance” that could lead to more business or new relationships, Rourke added.

What’s your take? We’d like to hear from you.

#Wealth Advisors Confidence #Media hits #Practice Management #Press mentions #thought leadership

Monday, June 08, 2020

Reader Feedback on SpaceX Delivering a Badly Needed Win for the U.S.

Last week’s post (SpaceX Delivers a Badly Needed Win for the U.S.) generated a wide range of responses. People saluted everything from the honesty of senior citizens (“They don’t make ‘em like your neighbor Fred anymore” ), to the lessons learned from mowing your own lawn (“Yes, Jews can and do mow!”) to the triumphs (and potential dangers) of letting private industry take over the U.S. space program.

Tom Hedberg
, MSc, PhD, Executive Director of the International Medical Crisis Response Alliance, and a proud Hebrew lawn mower commented: “The only cold water I'd throw on your post from last week comes from my agreement with astrophysicist, Neil Tyson, about private industry's involvement in international efforts at space exploration. The difference is between the space program as it has been--which was a purely scientific endeavor--and what it could turn into, which is a for-profit endeavor.”

Hedberg said the Falcon launch and docking “(which we all watched avidly, start to finish) was picture perfect.” But he said “it was more of a demonstration than a tactical mission” and it accomplished nothing that hasn't been done before and as much as 15 years ago by NASA in collaboration with multiple contracted companies.  “It's a great ego-trip for everyone but what was really accomplished?” Hedberg asked. 

“When we start talking about lunar stations and colonies on Mars, are WE going to need massive infusions of capital to fund research and development,” Hedberg wondered, adding that we’ll also need a focus again on pure science rather, than on the profit motive. “Imagine MuskMars, Inc. immediately starts mining copper ores and ‘accidentally’ contaminates and kills residual subsurface Martian lifeforms. Further, what kind of competition is this going to engender between megacorporate entities? How is that going to impact the safety of astronauts and the data they collect?” asked Hedberg.

The fact is that diverting 1/10th of our nation's military budget (over $721 billion) to space science would move us toward the moon and Mars faster and more safely that tossing this bone to the corporate hounds,” Hedberg concluded.

What’s your take? We’d like to hear from you.


In the 1960s—another time of tremendous turmoil in our country—President John F. Kennedy famously said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

History tends to repeat itself. Occasionally that’s a good thing. We can only hope.

#SpaceX #NASA #Falcon rocket #Falcon  #Elon Musk  #Neil Tyson  #IMCRA

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

SpaceX Delivers a Badly Needed Win for the U.S.

I was chatting with my 80-something next door neighbor over the weekend. Fred’s a conservative, no-nonsense ex-marine who lived through World War II and served in Korea. I don’t think we have the same political views, and he’s a lot better with tools than I am. But I’m okay in Fred’s book because we both sent our kids to public schools and because I’m the only other guy in our rapidly gentrifying neighborhood who still mows his own lawn.

Fred hasn’t seen the U.S. on a losing streak like we’ve had in 2020 since he was a kid during the Great Depression. We’re both hoping last weekend’s well-executed SpaceX launch will get us out of our collective funk.

The what launch?
Lost amid the 24/7 coverage of urban riots and pandemic resurfacing was a monumental leap forward in human space travel on Saturday and Sunday. For the first time ever, a private company (SpaceX) launched astronauts into orbit, nearly a decade after the government retired the NASA space shuttle program in the aftermath of the Challenger tragedy.
On Saturday afternoon, two NASA-trained U.S. astronauts lifted off from the same Florida launchpad that once served Apollo missions and the space shuttles. But the rocket and capsule they were piloting was built and operated SpaceX (not NASA). After bad weather scrapped the launch midweek, liftoff and orbiting followed the plan to perfection. Then on Sunday, the Falcon 9 rocket successfully rendezvoused with the International Space Station (ISS).

As The New York Times reported: “It was a moment of triumph and perhaps nostalgia for the country, a welcome reminder of America’s global pre-eminence in science, technological innovation and private enterprise at a time its prospects and ambitions have been clouded by the coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty and political strife.” 
My son is a college student majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace. He’s also a hard-core basketball fan, but I hadn’t seen him this excited since his school was blowing through the March Madness brackets over a year ago. He and his classmates were glued to their various screens and monitors all weekend whooping and hollering after each successful phase of the Falcon 9 mission. It’s another kind of passion the young generation has. But since they didn’t take their exuberance to the streets, the SpaceX/NASA mission—and young people’s excitement over it-- went widely unreported by the news media.

Historic firsts

Saturday’s mission was the first launch of NASA astronauts from the United States since we retired our space shuttles in 2011. Over the past decade, NASA has paid Russia’s space program an estimated $90 million per seat to transport our astronauts to the ISS. Acknowledging its own limitations, NASA has encouraged SpaceX and other private companies to take the lead in commercializing space flight and furthering scientific exploration.
While our space program has always been pretty good at launching huge things into the sky, it was not until 2015 that SpaceX figured out how to reuse the massive launch boosters rather than dumping them into the ocean--expensive and toxic trash never to be seen again. Watching the boosters coast to a pillowy soft landing on top of the waiting drone ship—completely intact--was arguably more impressive than the launch itself. This aspect of the public-private partnership is great for the U.S. space program, great for the environment and great for taxpayers. The massive cost savings can be passed on to future space travel customers.
More impressive than the technology and the public private partnership was SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s relentless pursuit his Falcon rocket vision. He has suffered numerous a very public embarrassing string of failures (YouTube) that would have been career enders for most government or corporate bureaucrats. But, he never stopped fighting and never made excuses.


Fred told me over the din of his weedwhacker the other day: “Two things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime: Figuring out how to re-use a rocket and a Jewish guy mowing his own lawn.”

Whether it’s race relations, politics, public health, space travel or lawn care, the more you can see the other side’s point of view, the faster we can get over our differences and become a productive society again. NASA figured it out. Why can’t the rest of our so-called leaders?
#SpaceX #NASA #Falcon rocket #Falcon  #Elon Musk

Thursday, May 07, 2020

As Clients Scramble to Update Insurance, Don’t Let Them Be Infected by Taxes

Businesses may have come to a grinding halt during the pandemic. But, the phones of many estate planners and insurance professionals we know have been ringing off the hook. Millions of Americans have suddenly been forced into contemplating the fragility of life; they’re dusting off estate plans and upping their insurance policies like never before.

But, one thing that often gets over looked in the mad-dash for peace of mind during these unsettling times is the tax implications of interest and appreciation on those life insurance policies—for yourself and your heirs. Fortunately, three of our clients are well-versed in this subject, and they have been sharing their expertise with the national media recently. Below are excerpts from their interviews:

Can interest gained on life insurance benefits be taxed?

There’s a lot of confusion in this area. According to Randy Fox, founder of Two Hawks Consulting, LLC (Skokie, IL) it depends on how the policy is originally funded. “If the policy is a modified endowment contract (MEC), then funds borrowed or distributed from the policy will be taxable as ordinary income. Otherwise, the answer is usually NO.”

According to Tom Suvansrifounder of Premier Trust Advisors, LLCin Stamford, Connecticut, the answer is Yes, if the policy is surrendered. “The interest earned above the amount contributed would be considered taxable. Also, if cash value is withdrawn above the amount contributed, then any interest earned would become taxable,” Suvansri explained. To avoid that situation, Suvansri said you can start borrowing from the life insurance company “once you've withdrawn your contributions.” 

So, would a trust help to avoid certain taxes?

Suvansri said yes, since there are “irrevocable life insurance trusts” that can be used to remove the life insurance proceeds from potential state and federal estate taxes. Fox said the appropriate trust will keep “insurance proceeds out of the estate of the insured and avoid estate taxes.” 
Our experts are also asked frequently if you can be taxed on cash-value policies?  

Fox said Yes, it’s possible you can be taxed if you withdraw money from a modified endowment contract policy.” Baker also agreed you can be taxed in certain instances, such as if you cash a policy—"but only on the gain over basis.” Suvansri agreed that yes, you can be taxed “if you surrender a policy with cash value and it exceeds the amount paid in premiums. Any gain would be considered taxable.  Also, if you withdraw cash value above the amount of the premium paid into the policy then it would also be considered taxable,” added Suvansri.  

What about gift taxes?  

According to Fox, every individual is currently allowed to transfer $11.58 million during their lifetime, adding that they are also allowed to give any other person $15,000 per year without utilizing any of their $11.58 million exemption. “Should they choose to give more than $15,000 to an individual during any year, that amount would be subject to a gift tax. At that point, they can choose to utilize some of their allowable exemption, but should file a gift tax return in order to track their total lifetime gifts,” added Fox, who is also the editor-at-large of the Planned Giving Design Center.

Baker concurred that a gift tax is paid on any gifts that exceed the $11.58 million lifetime exemption per spouse. “So only transfers of property greater than $11.58 mil (or $23.16 mil (in the case of a married couple) are subject to tax,” said Baker.


Back in 1789, another tumultuous time in our nation’s history, Benjamin Franklin observed that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. As was the case 231 years ago, it takes a crisis to get people to act. Don’t let your clients infect themselves and their loved ones with chronic taxes while rushing to get their affairs in order during these unsettling times. They’re counting on you.

#life insurance  #estate planning  #tax planning #pandemic #Randy Fox #Guy Baker #Tom Suvansi #Planned Giving