Tim Chase | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Tim Chase

Background:  

Tim Chase is one of the co-founders of WMS Partners, Baltimore’s largest independent fee-only wealth advisor, which manages over $3 billion in client assets. Chase serves on the board of Penn-Mar Human Services, an organization committed to improving the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

The Mistake:

I don’t normally think in terms of mistakes. When I read this, I thought, “Mistakes? Who thinks about mistakes?”

The thing that comes to my mind is we were super late in putting together a decent website. We had a really poor website up until about two years ago. Up until then I didn’t give the proper due to the notion of creating a really engaging, dynamic website. Our website was just sort of a business card on the web, and didn’t really give much information, and didn’t engage people. I just thought, “Eh, ours is a face-to-face business, we just get one referral to the next, what do we need a website for? We just need some place for people to go to when they hear our name, just to be able to read a bio or something like that.”

One of the younger partners metaphorically slapped us and said, “Hey, what are you thinking? We need a real website.” So we engaged a creative firm here in town to really take a long, hard look at what we wanted to do, and what message we were trying to sell and create. We created a really nice website, and it’s paid off in multiple ways for us.

Having that dated website limited our access to talent. I think talent self-selects, and by not having all the tools working for us you can never really know who self-selects out of the process. If we don’t have the right website, we don’t know who opts never to proceed with a conversation. But by having that website done in the right way, with the right amount of warmth, and creativity, and receptiveness, really allows us to bring in the best people.

One of the younger partners metaphorically slapped us.

The Lesson:

The lesson is don’t delay, do it now. And don’t be afraid to show your creative side. You have to show a little bit more of the human side to your firm. By showing the human side, it softens the edges and shows who you are. And that makes you approachable as a firm, it makes you approachable as people, and that doesn’t just help you with clients, it helps you attract the best talent.

We’re a financial advisory firm, and most financial advisory firms are very comfortable saying we do investment planning in this way, tax planning in this way, and they’ll create long, wordy lists of all the things that they do. It’s the very professional, perceived way of putting out all the things that you can do. Most professionals see that as, “Boy, this is an impressive list of all the things that we can do.”

It looks and sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher — the famous “wah wah” voice. That’s what most professionals sound like to their clients and prospective clients. They’re very good at impressing each other, but it all sounds like jargon.

So we engaged a creative firm to help us break out of that, and really boil our message down to what communicates effectively. And we did that with carefully selecting the right words and phrases to use, to present those words and phrases in the right way on the website, and use original photography. The photography is a key to doing things right. Most professional services firms will have the very classic, mugshot bio pictures, where you’ve got a professional standing in a stiff pose with a stiff smile on their face. It looks very posed and very unfriendly.

We went through this whole creative process of figuring out what are the messages that we want to deliver. We talk about values on the website, and you see pictures of staff, that are warmer pictures than your typical headshot. You learn about each person, what their job is, and what they do outside of work — you learn about who they are as a person.

We brought in a photographer who’s really very good at creating a relaxed environment. He would follow you around the office, take pictures in a normal conversation, and he’d get you laughing and smiling in the most natural setting. That’s what we used — they don’t look like pictures from other professional services firm.

WMS Partners is on Twitter at @WMSPartners.

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