Advisors, if you’re building a business around your investment advice, portfolio management, company valuations, estate and retirement planning, at some point you need to look at your growth and ask:
Are we on course? Are we growing at the pace we should be? Is what we’re doing enough? Or are we settling into a rut?
If you begin to lapse into complacency or accept business as usual, you run the risk of losing the passion that attracted you to financial services in the first place. So maybe it’s time to jumpstart your growth with strategies that will help you:
- See your agency in the context of the bigger picture
- Identify what your clients want
- Differentiate your services through your value proposition
- Create a winning company culture, and
- Fine-tune your marketing strategies
To find the competitive advantage you need in order to grow, you first need to determine where (as a business) you are today…and what you envision for tomorrow.
1—Take the Temperature of Your Business
Before you can build a growth plan, you need to fully evaluate the business you have and how effectively it meets the needs of clients today. But don’t stop there. Now is the time to start thinking ahead to where you need to be in the next 10 years.
According to the conclusion of a recent SEI and Financial Planning Association study, “Advisory Firms in 2030: The Innovation Imperative”: “…consumer demands keep growing, and technology keeps evolving. As a profession, we need to get ahead of what’s next and create meaningful ways to engage with clients on their terms. Those who can will likely thrive. The rest may get left behind.”
- Know Your Numbers—Start by creating a benchmark for today. What page do you come up on in an online search? How many follow you on social media? Have you received a client from social media? How much are you spending on marketing and outreach? What’s your rate of return? Do you need to attract more leads? Are your clients providing referrals? And if you have earlier numbers, are you growing faster or slower than before?
- Know Your Competition—Your agency doesn’t operate in a vacuum. You need to know your competition and what they offer almost as well as you know your own business. A good place to start is by reviewing the messages posted on their websites and social platforms.
- Be Honest About Your Strengths As Well As Your Weaknesses—It’s important to know your strengths so you can tap into them. But if you can identify a weakness and turn it around or spot an untapped opportunity ahead of the pack, you may just find your competitive advantage. Think about this exercise as a variation on the business plan SWOT. Don’t overlook any of the ways your competition may be hindering your growth.
- Set Realistic Goals…Then Push the Envelope—Where do you want to be in one year? Five years? Even 10 years? What’s it going to take to get there? Will you need to expand the breadth and depth of your services? Are you staying current on technology and providing the services your clients expect? If you’re preparing for the services and technology, do you need to focus more on your marketing?
Technology is something that advisors have historically been reluctant to embrace. But the advisors who do integrate new tools and resources into their practices and workflows tend to outperform those who don’t. Rodney Jarrell from Carrollton, Texas is someone who comes to mind as an advisor who’s winning with advanced strategies.
With over 40 years of experience, Rodney Jarrell, MBA, CPA, CFP® has discovered how to proactively plan for retirement by designing customized strategies that emphasize tax planning, investment planning, Social Security, Medicare, and long-term care. His firm, Lakeview Financial Solutions, uses a variety of advanced financial planning tools, portfolio management solutions, and tax strategies to help investors succeed in all areas of wealth building and retirement planning.
Rodney is just a regular advisor like you, but he’s shown a willingness to push the envelope a bit and look towards the future. You could benefit from doing the same.
- Evaluate Your Range of Services and Expertise—What will it take to meet the needs of clients and surpass the competition? If you decide that you need to expand your services and expertise, will you add more advisors to attract new business? Perhaps you will advance your skills and those of your existing staff. Or will you look to develop strategic partnerships with other businesses and professionals?
2—Deliver What Your Clients Need
While education has always been an important component of the advisor’s professional advancement, to compete today you need to think beyond the continuing education credits and certifications.
You need to always be learning: Developing new skills. Watching trends. Studying investor behavior. Honing your presentation skills and referral techniques. Staying current with seminar strategies and online marketing.
You can do this through any combination of books, workshops, webinars, or resources, but I’d highly recommend checking out the Virtual Financial Advisor Summit, which takes place on February 10, 2021. It’s the #1 virtual conference for financial advisors, RIAs, and retirement planners.
It might also be helpful to join some sort of accountability group with other advisors or business owners. Not only will you get pushed, but you’ll learn powerful tactics from one another.
As you equip yourself, make sure you’re putting yourself in a position to meet each client’s financial needs:
- Understand Your Client’s Financial Goals—Talk with your clients to really understand what they want to achieve. This is more than a conversation about life goals and risk tolerance. You need to understand what financial freedom means to your client. Ask the right questions; then actually listen. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions. Ask what they want to do now that they aren’t currently doing? What do they want help with that isn’t already being addressed? What does their ideal retirement look like?
In order to make this happen, you’ll need to get laser focused on who your target audience is and what makes them tick. This is something advisor R. Michael Malone of the Financial Retirement Group does really well.
As a Registered Representative, with over 24 years of experience in the industry, Michael and his team have helped hundreds of pre-retirees and retirees realize that the best way to make money is to have a strategy to help limit losses. While it is natural to be concerned about saving for retirement— it is important to have an income strategy, too.
Do you see how laser focused Michael is on both his audience and the value he offers? If you don’t have that same level of focus, you need to take some time to iron out the wrinkles in your strategy.
- Become an Indispensable Source of Information and Insight— Become the trusted advisor that delivers on all fronts: Financial expertise and insight. Proactive action by being ahead of the curve with advice and warnings. Wider range of services. Help prepare the next generation. Be available and responsive. Communicate and share new ideas. Collaborate with client’s other financial service professionals (e.g., tax attorney, accountant, estate planner).
This is more important now than ever before. With all of the changes to tax laws as a result of political shifts and the pandemic, clients are relying on their advisors for specialized advice very heavily.
I think about advisors like Steven D. Cox, a financial advisor to business owners and entrepreneurs from SDP Personalized Planning in Salt Lake. He works with his clients to identify opportunities for year-end planning in 2020, saying: “Given the opportunities made available only in 2020 through the CARES Act, and coupled with the likelihood of tax rate increases in the coming years, 2020 can be an especially potent year for year-end business and tax planning. A few strategic moves now could be game-changing.”
How can you speak up and speak out to become an indispensable source of information and insight? At some point, you have to put yourself out there – just like Steven.
- Balance the Professional with Personal Relationship—Care about your clients, and don’t be afraid to show it by building strong customer relationships. Knowing your clients as people helps you show empathy. Want to know what they really want from you as their financial service provider? Then spend time talking outside the office. Take your clients to lunch or dinner. Set up events and activities that help them see you outside the office.
Finally, think about the lifetime value of your clients. How can you serve them throughout their life and business career? Remember, the greater the trust you can build into your relationship, the more needs you’ll be trusted to handle.
3—Perfect Your Value Proposition
Trying to sell a service can be challenging, especially when you focus on the same basic offering as everyone else. Of course you focus on the needs of your client. Who doesn’t? And yes, you protect and look after every investor’s money as though it is your own. You work hard to help your clients build a secure future.
That said, you need a value proposition that defines what you can do for your clients while distinguishing your service from that of everyone else. And it must be more than a tagline or slick slogan. Focus on how you can differentiate your brand of financial service:
- Focus on Your Knowledge and Expertise—Explain in detail how you are going to help your clients build their investment portfolios, grow their money and prepare for retirement. Be transparent. Help them see in their mind your skills at work.
- Focus on a Niche—A niche is different than a target market. It’s a specific specialty or subset within a target market. For example, within the High Net Worth market, your niche might be focusing on the needs of entrepreneurs under the age of 35. Your niche can be an industry, age group, or special problem or need that you can address better than anyone else.
Or you could be like Mark S. Kapsky, Licensed Insurance Advisor, who serves businesses and retirees with innovative and customized health care cost management solutions.
That’s Mark’s niche – what’s yours?
- Be Proactive—Demonstrate your readiness to stay on top of the market and your client’s position within the market. Discuss how you anticipate the changes in your client’s life, career, age, etc. and how you work to prepare them for a smooth transition. Make working with you an incredible customer experience.
- Provide the Breadth and Depth Clients Can Rely On—Many prospective clients today want a financial advisor who can address a wide range of financial and business needs—from investments and retirement planning to business valuations and tax strategies to meeting their philanthropic goals. Take a holistic approach to financial services, and be open to collaborating with attorneys, estate planners and tax specialists.
4—Create a Company Culture of Excellence
If you’re going to grow your agency, you need the support, enthusiasm and commitment of everyone on your team. In other words, you need people who look forward to coming to work.
According to a Dale Carnegie study, companies with happy, engaged employees outperform their peers by up to 202%. Now, given that 71% of employees report that they are not feeling fully engaged at their current company, you have an opportunity to get the jump on much of the competition.
Build a company culture that is about people. When your employees are happy, they go the extra distance for your clients. In this way, your employees become part of your value proposition.
Want happy employees? Encourage new ideas, challenge your people to step outside the box and foster an environment in which initiative is seen as a plus. At the same time, use your leadership to show by example the difference between innovation and recklessness.
You have a passion for your business; share that passion with your employees. Let them identify with your passion from the very first job interview. Don’t make a secret about what you’re about and the kind of culture you are cultivating. Be a great communicator.
Encourage collaboration and camaraderie. At the same time, you want every individual to grow and be the best they can. Give them the opportunity to be proud of both their individual and group achievements.
Instill trust. It starts with you and extends to your team. And above all be consistent in who you are, what you expect, and the kind of company culture you are trying to build.
5—Build with Marketing Strategies that Work
Marketing is critical to your business today. It’s also a point of great concern to many financial advisors because of the need to comply with industry regulations.
You shouldn’t have a problem if you follow a few basic rules. First, understand that the basis of compliance is to not provide financial advice as part of your marketing or social media message. This is because what may be appropriate and even good advice for one person may not be good for another. Advice is for the individual…so save it for your individual clients.
Second, develop any advertisements, printed materials, web copy (anything that could be called “static copy”) early enough that you have time for a comprehensive review. Static copy requires pre-approval.
Third, while your social media comments and conversations in forums (both forms of dynamic content) do not require pre-approval, you need to keep records documenting your work.
Fourth, always keep your compliance officer apprised of what you’re developing. This way you can avoid potential problems early. And when in doubt, turn to FINRA or SEC as final arbiters. Regulatory compliance is serious. A failure on your part could result in losing your license to practice or, at the very least, a fine.
That said, here are some marketing ideas for growing your firm:
- Define Your Target Market—One of the biggest mistakes advisors make is thinking that they are marketing to everyone who may want financial advice. You need to focus on your target market—your ideal client. You should be able to define your market clearly and precisely in terms of demographics (age, education, wealth, etc.) and/or firmographics (e.g., the characteristics of the companies or organizations you want to target).
- Use Content Marketing to Become a Thought Leader—This type of marketing has grown in importance with the Internet. It is any of the online information you share—from articles and blog posts to video, podcasts and social media. Any of these can become the perfect vehicle for expressing your ideas and the unique insight that will help distinguish you from the crowd and position you as a thought leader. Working to develop a voice and message online will help you raise the bar on your presence and recognition in the field.
- Look Like the Professionals You Are—Websites and social platforms are easier to develop today. Whether you’re running a WordPress website or a LinkedIn page, you, your marketing team and everyone on staff need to be mindful of the content and images posted. Often your LinkedIn profile and website provide prospective clients with their first impression.
- Be Responsive and Persistent—Starting with the work of Dr. James Oldroyd, much is now known about response and follow-up strategies. According to Oldroyd’s Lead Response Management Study, your chances of qualifying a lead can drop by a factor of four between a response time of five minutes and waiting 10 minutes. Wait a full 30 minutes and your odds of qualifying a lead drop 21X. Furthermore, research suggests that 80% of sales require 5 follow ups after a meeting, and yet 44% of people give up after one follow-up effort, and 92% quit after four tries. Go the extra distance and be among the 8% who are getting 80% of the business.
- Generate Leads Through Social Media—Don’t overlook social media (particularly LinkedIn) as a source of leads. According to the Putnam Social Advisor Survey, 92% of advisors say they are getting new clients through social media. This number is up from 66% just five years ago. You can post articles, news, brief blurbs that link to your blogs or just share interesting third-party content, but don’t overlook the power of LinkedIn.
- Get Those Referrals—Your happy clients are an important component of your marketing. According to a study by CustomerThink and Heinz Marketing, 84% of B2B decision makers initiate their buying process based on a referral. Nielsen studies also show that consumers are generally four times more likely to buy when a friend refers the product or service.
Start today to build the agency, the client base, the services, and value proposition that will serve you tomorrow and for many years to come. And keep your passion percolating.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.