Help Your Clients Prioritize – Organize – Simplify
You want me to what? Create a financial strategy, fill out all this paperwork, learn how to manage my finances, know what I want beyond my divorce, be a productive functioning person, all while taking care of my kids and overcoming the tidal waves of emotion I am struggling with every day? These are just some of the challenges our clients face, daily! Helping them to have a structured roadmap through the divorce process will help them enormously. In addition, it will assist us as divorce professionals to move our clients beyond the stress and uncertainty they are experiencing to a more fulfilling life.
When I work with clients, I guide them through an approach that helps them focus on their future, while creating a strategy to keep more of what is important to them (including to attain a more substantive life). We work through three steps: Prioritize ~ Organize ~ Simplify.
Taking this approach will make the process easier, reduce the potential stress levels, and help with securing the outcomes the client would like to achieve. In fact, this method really applies to all aspects of your life. Some key matters to focus on (and this approach covers all of them) are your mental, your financial, your future, and your children’s wellbeing. Let’s see how Prioritize ~ Organize ~ Simplify works.
Prioritize – Take time with the client to identify what the client needs through the process and would like once the divorce is over (you may have to insert some reality testing into the conversations). This could include the custody of the children and their wellbeing, their schooling, the client’s wellbeing, financial security, keeping the house, reducing debt, and more. Anything that is not a priority is clutter and can be used to negotiate a better outcome. This will also uncover new skills that your client may need to learn, for example, finance managing, and creating a budget because the spouse always handled these important matters in the past. The client will be better off if he or she understands ahead of time what specific goals are being worked toward. I work with my clients to identify their priorities as well as to look at how their spouse’s priorities match up. This can highlight where the difficult negotiation points may occur, what you have to give up in order to get more of what you want, and helps you focus on what is important (understandably, it is amazing how many ways a client can get sidetracked). It is also the genesis of a strategy they will build on.
Organize – Create a game plan! Remember the divorce is only the first step your client will take toward your future. Or looked at a little differently, a divorce is the first chapter in the rest of your client’s life, not the last chapter in this part of his or her life. This may take the support of a team of professionals and today you have more skilled professionals than ever – attorneys, financial coaches, divorce coaches, therapists, real estate professionals etc. It sounds counterintuitive, however, adding professionals to the team can reduce costs, improve the outcome, and simplify the client’s life. You may be able to group some priorities together. For instance, if a client is struggling emotionally, you can bet the children are too. If you stack rank what is important to your client (prioritize the priorities), you can help them put actionable steps in place to achieve their goals. Celebrate the wins with them (the big and small accomplishments) as this will build confidence, lower stress, and help create a more positive outlook. Building a game plan can be challenging as you need to meet the client where they are and then guide them (read that as having to sometimes push them) forward.
Simplify – your client’s life is about to become a whirlwind and complicated. Having narrowed your client’s focus to what is important to them (removing the chaos that is everything else they have going on) and having a game plan, will simplify your client’s life. For a client, having a game plan and being held accountable to it will reap many rewards. One example is to work with a financial coach. A financial coach can help set up a realistic budget** and help a client to learn how to manage their daily finances. Creating the budget is one major step to making sure finances are simplified. It can also simplify the negotiations as you have identified what is needed moving forward. Clients will grow stronger as they knock off items on their priority list mentioned above. Having the right attorney can simplify the mediation and/or court process significantly. Working with a divorce coach and/or therapist can simplify your daily activities and angst. A real estate professional versed in the challenges of a divorce can navigate the personalities and get the home sold.
** A side note on budgets: When I help my clients build a budget, I create a budget that is specific to going through a divorce. We look at essential spend first and separate to the discretionary spend (as well as spending habits and pitfalls). This divorce budget becomes a crucial part of the strategy and negotiations as you now have a floor you cannot go below and a starting point that leaves room for compromising. Additionally, this will let the client know what their quality of life will look like which, in turn, will reduce much of the fear they would otherwise experience without that knowledge.
Hopefully, this has helped you in prioritizing your thoughts on working with clients. I would love your thoughts and comments on what I have shared or if you would like for me to expand on any of the ideas in this article.
Written by: Hirsh Serman, MBA, CPA is the founder of Lifecycle Financial LLC, a company that helps those going through Divorce and other life cycle transitions to navigate the financial pitfalls of a new life dynamic. The company was founded through personal experiences in divorce and watching the changes in an aging parent. He has worked in finance for over 20 years (including financial planning and tax) and has taught on the university level as well as conducted seminars for Fortune 100 companies as well as high school youth on personal finances.
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