The clients you attract
When it came to choosing the market for her firm, Zaneilia wanted to work with African American executives and professionals, because (as she put it) “there was a need in the industry for someone to reach out to that community.”
But fearing it was too small of a niche, she broadened her target. She says, “I tried to reach all women. But based on who was actually responding to me, I found there was a natural connection I was having with this particular audience.”
Her way to bridge the gap? Connect on a personal level — over high heels.
Zaneilia loves beautiful shoes, and they became a symbol of two things she preaches, “know yourself,” and “make smart decisions with your money.” She says, “Having a love of shoes is kind of frivolous. But I brought them into the conversation to differentiate who I am. I think the more that we look at who we are and the things that we love, and bring that into our branding, the more it resonates with the ideal client that you're trying to attract.”
The strategy worked. She says, “What I saw immediately was, because that was such a different angle, it gave my practice more attention from the media.”
The name, “Finance ‘n Stilettos” started out as the title of a presentation. Zaneilia got such great feedback about it that she turned it into the theme of her blog, and eventually, the title of her book. She says, “The connection I made between financing and stilettos was such an interesting perspective that people kept encouraging me to expand upon it.” Having this theme to ground her sparked her creatively, and she continues to find new ways to teach finance concepts by connecting them to shoes and fashion.
Seeing yourself reflected in the profession
The other differentiator for Zaneilia? Feeling like nobody in the profession was talking to her, as an African American professional. She wanted to feel represented and seen in conversations, discussions with her clients showed her she definitely wasn’t alone.
She gave an example of an executive woman who was supporting her extended family. This concept of ‘reaching back’ was important to her, but when she brought it up with people outside of the Black community (and in the profession), it didn’t resonate. Zaneilia says, “Not understanding or appreciating the cultural aspect of that, and who she is and why that's important to her, created a disconnect.”
This is why listening to your clients is extremely important, and why it’s so important to not bring your personal background into the process. The other critical element? Acknowledging your biases and working to openly address them. As Zaneilia puts it, “Bias can show in how you question and how you respond, your facial expressions, and your body language.”
Beyond acknowledging African American and Black communities in her work, Zeneilia feels like providing financial education to women in her community is her life’s purpose. She says, “When I die, this education and empowerment to my clients, that’s the legacy I’m trying to leave.”
Watch for patterns in your story
Zaneilia’s path to financial planning took a lot of encouragement. She says, “Every place that I've worked, there was always someone there who encouraged me to pursue this as my career. But when I look back, it seems like my steps were being ordered and guided, by different people who didn't know each other.”
The same thing happened when she decided to write her book. A friend of hers kept telling her that she needed to tell her story. At the time, Zaneilia blew it off. But then when she was building her practice, she met a client who said the same thing, ‘You need to tell your story.’ It became clear to her that she needed to go ahead and write the book. She wrote Finance ‘n Stilettos to share her personal story, and wove in financial principles in a way that was easy for readers to digest.
Zaneilia feels that being authentic and sharing your story is an important part of the profession — and branding for anyone looking to strike out on their own. She says, “When I first got into the industry, we hid behind whatever company we worked for. We had to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and speak a certain way. And there were only certain things that we could share. And it all just dealt with finance. But we're so much more than what we do. When you bring all of you into your branding, it makes connecting to people easier.”
Play to your strengths
Struggling to find a role in the profession that you love? Zaneilia’s strengths made her perfect for the role she created. She says, “My husband would say that I have a natural ability to make people feel comfortable sharing with me. When you're completely authentic with someone, I think it's amazing what information you gain.”
She also found that owning her own firm suited her well, although it wasn’t an easy thing to start. She says, “It was hard as crap! You're learning a lot of things, and you don't have any support in place. So you're doing everything. I just want people to understand that.” She also adds that some people aren’t meant to be entrepreneurs, and that’s okay. If you know who you are and what fits you, then you know where you need to be.
Most of all, Zaneilia emphasizes the importance of knowing yourself. “Just be and listen to your heart, and write everything down that comes to you. I cannot tell you how many times I've gone back to that to remember what was important to me about building my business. All the answers are inside you, you just have to give yourself permission to let them out.”
What You’ll Learn:
- How to identify your natural market
- How to find the principles that will guide your business model
- How to connect with your audience by being yourself
- How to align your efforts with signs that the time is right
- How to honor your strengths and needs as a professional
In this episode of YAFPNW, Hannah Moore, CFP®, and Zaneilia Harris, CFP®, talk about:
Interested in following Zaneilia ? Follow her on LinkedIn!