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My biggest mistake in 2019

Chances are great that you are also making this very mistake. It happens naturally. Especially when you move from being an employee to venturing out on your own. And it doesn’t even matter which type of business or industry you are in.

Focusing on what I can do

I have been in the insurance and financial planning industry since 1998. During this time I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and be exposed to some of the best in the industry. I learned a lot, especially during the times I worked directly with clients. Experiencing what it is like to go through the entire process of getting a client, getting to know them, connecting with them on a deeper level, gathering all the relevant information, and you know the rest of the process.

It gave me perspective and real empathy for the work that financial planners do every day.

Through this, I cultivated my technical expertise with regards to tax and financial planning. Because of this, I helped several people to pass various exams ranging from the old RFP 1 and RFP2 to NQF 6 and the Post Graduate Diploma in Financial Planning. It was only a matter of time, looking back now, before I would naturally start to create my own content and venture into offering more training and support with regard to these topics.

I also have a keen interest in technology. I’ve used technology since day one to make my life and the lives of the planners and clients I worked with easier and more efficient. I spend a lot of time to understand various software solutions and how we can use them in business. I also develop various tools in Excel with advanced functionality, one of which is used by a big bank in Africa. I just love to design solutions to problems using Excel.

Then I love to consult. Getting to understand someone’s business, finding gaps, bottlenecks and other areas in the business that can be improved gives me a real thrill.

I also spend an inordinate amount of time on marketing. Understanding marketing is key, but practicing and testing what you know and to determine what really works, that is the real kicker. I’ve come to understand email marketing, website design, and social media marketing much better. I started a podcast, I make videos, write articles and do a bunch of other stuff.

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Well, to highlight the challenge that many of us sit with. Because of our practical experience, we can almost do anything for anyone.

Some may think “what a fantastic place to be in”, but it is really the opposite.

Since I started Francois du Toit Consulting and Technology in 2015, I’ve been focusing on everything I can do and looking for clients who may need what I can do. This is like standing on the street corner trying to sell every person that walks past an ice cream in the middle of winter. Even if you have every flavor you can think of, the chances of them buying is zero.

Versus what my ideal clients want

Steve Jobs notoriously said:

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

For me, it is very simple. Clients may not know what they want, but they do know what problems they have and what pains they experience. What they want is a solution. They often don’t know what that solution is or what it should look like, but they know they want a solution to alleviate the pain and get rid of the problem.

Even if you consider Henry Ford’s remark that people would want faster horses. They did not know that there might be a better way to solve their problem. However, they were clear on the problem which was that it took too long to get from point A to point B. They needed something faster. Henry Ford understood this problem and designed a solution beyond people’s wildest dreams at the time.

The same with Steve Jobs. He knew it was a pain to carry around a sleeve with 50 CD discs in them. It was a pain that expensive CDs got scratched, especially at parties. It was a pain that one had to buy an entire album when all you wanted was that one song. He wanted a 1000 songs in his pocket. He understood the problem and the pain. He then crafted a solution for it. And we know what happened after that.

We built the city

In 2019, we built several services and products that we thought were fantastic. Products and services that are needed if financial planners want to free up more time to spend with clients. We looked at overseas trends, local challenges, facilitated a focus group and spoke to a few people close to us. We were confident that the time was right, that financial planners needed this service, and that they finally started to see the value.

Then we launched and the take up was dismal, to say the least.

We spent five months doing presentation after presentation, leaving in high spirit because we had a good response, but then nothing would happen.

After analysing everything, we came to learn that we built something for us. That we thought was great. And that we thought financial planners wanted. We never understood the problem. We missed crucial feedback.

Chasing the butterfly

I noticed more and more people asking me “So Francois, what do you actually do?”. Even my children asked me the same question because they did not know what to answer when someone asked them what their dad did for a living.

And this is where the “I can help with anything” problem starts.

I marketed every single thing I offer and that I could possibly help with. I was hoping that somewhere someone would email or Whatsapp me back when they saw something that interested them. But I realised that this confused the daylights out of people. When people are confused they do nothing.

Have you ever chased a butterfly to try and catch it? They are agile little creatures. You may catch one now and then, but most of them will elude you. When you stand still a butterfly will often come and sit on your shoulder.

The biggest mistake is my most valuable lesson

I came to understand that:

  1. We must ensure that we clearly understand the problems and pains of our ideal target client;
  2. We must focus on our core, that which we are all about; and
  3. We must not provide a solution for every problem that exists.

The lesson is this.

Understand the problem and see which of your skills you can use to solve this problem. Then make this your core offering.

This may seem like common sense, but like most knowledge, when it comes to practicing what we know, we often still get it wrong.

If I really think about it, this wasn’t my biggest mistake. It was my most valuable lesson for which I am grateful.


  • Francois du Toit, CFP®

    Francois du Toit, CFP® holds a B. Com degree in Risk Management as well as the Post-Graduate Diploma in Financial Planning. He is an avid miniature figure painter with a passion for helping others succeed and for professionalising the Financial Services Industry. He holds the certification of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® or CFP® in good standing with the Financial Planning Institute of Southern Africa as well as being a registered Tax Practitioner with them and SARS. Francois offers a unique and powerful proposition to businesses employing Financial Advisers and Broker Consultants that leads to significant improvement in production and reduced advice risk. His practical experience, success, technical knowledge and understanding the challenges and opportunities in this field, ensure immediate practical application in the target market. Francois has designed and created very successful online courses for the Financial Planning Institute and has trained hundreds of financial planners, advisers and other trainers for among others Old Mutual, PPS, Liberty, Iress and atWork. His ability to answer questions that relate to practical on-the-ground issues is what sets him apart from traditional trainers who may not have been in practice.

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