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Rocks In The Jar

16 February 2024

Financial Planners – Have you been trained to ask your clients really ‘open’ questions?

Things like, ‘Can you describe what a great life and lifestyle would look like to you?’

That’s a really great open question that focusses on the human outcome.

But, the problem is, it’s too ‘open’.

It’s an overwhelming question that will result in one thing.

A closing of the mind.

Which is the opposite of what you want it to be.

Would an Architect start with, ‘Can you describe to me the details of your ideal house design?’

No, they wouldn’t.

Largely because they don’t need to –  as 80% of the design specification for a house is already fixed by:

  1. Physics – it needs to stand up.
  2. Building Regulations – it needs to meet standards.
  3. The realities of life – it needs to cover the basics. No amount of fancy wallpaper will make up for a house that doesn’t have the right number of bedrooms or is in the wrong location.

Items 1 and 2 are self-governing, so that only leaves number 3.

And the Architect is experienced enough to know that there are four big items that make up most of Number 3:

  • Number of bedrooms
  • Location
  • Kitchen
  • Garden

So, that’s where they start. Everybody will have an immediate answer to what they want or need for each of those items.

Then, once those core requirements have been agreed, the last 20% of the unique stuff can be added.

And Life Planning is the same.

Instead of asking really open questions, start with some reasonably closed ones.

Because you’ve been doing this long enough to know that when designing a great life and lifestyle, the first rocks in the jar are;

  • Family
  • Career
  • Leisure & Hobbies
  • Holidays & Travel

So, ask directly about those.

If you already know where they should be starting, why make their life harder by watching them fumble around, trying to answer a ‘killer question’ that you read about in a book?

Once you have those rocks in the jar, you can start to flesh out the really unique stuff.

But only then.

Your client’s brain is not going to let them muse about their deeply held ‘wants and desires’ if they are in doubt about whether the plan ‘stands up’.

Just like it’s hard to focus on the fabric choice for the sofa if you have no roof.

But even then, some people can find it hard to open up and visualise what they want from even the most basic of items.

In that situation, the best place to start, is where they are now.

If a client can’t articulate what they want from their new house, the Architect will ask them what they don’t like about their existing house and sit back for the tirade.

And then you simply need to invert it to give a starting brief for the new house.

So, if someone can’t tell you what they want from their new life – ask them what they don’t like about their current one!

And away you go… – Software, Training & Business Services for Financial Planners


  • End-to-End Lifestyle Financial Planning Process & Software
  • Full Financial Planner Back Office System
  • Coaching for Financial Planners


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