From the January 2004 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

January 1, 2004

Fanning the Flames

How one financial advisor revamped her practice, reorganized her life, and reignited her flickering enthusiasm for her work

When Teresa Jensen-White of San Antonio first became a fee-based advisor in 1981, she was excited and inspired by her work. She earned her CFP in 1984, and over the years, she built a solid business. But around the 15-year mark, she knew something was wrong. "I hit major burnout," she says. She began searching for a way to re-ignite the passion she once felt for her job, but the seminars and training programs she attended all missed the mark in some way. "I was working extremely hard, and was very committed to the ideals that brought me into the business, but the challenge of trying to build a business with so little assistance in the area of practice management became increasingly difficult."

She explained that during the periods of prosperity, she would hire more employees and invest in new computing systems and other infrastructure--all of which added overhead cost. "The more 'successful' I became, the harder I had to work to keep up, and the unhappier I became," she said. The same was true for her peers. Marriages, families, friends, and personal interests all suffered. "I realized there were things that really needed to change if I wanted to make this the lifelong career I had intended it to be," she says.

To breathe new life into her business, Teresa zeroed in on what she considered her weak point: marketing. While her clients were very satisfied, she didn't feel like she had an organized, strategic marketing approach to systematically attract new clients. Teresa decided to use my "Effort-Less Marketing" process, which comprises five steps: (1) create your positive vision of the future, (2) target profitable and enjoyable niches, (3) research to learn how to add value, (4) position to attract ideal new clients, and (5) communicate your benefits to your targeted niche.

She has used the process over the past three years to build the business and the life of her dreams.

First Steps

Teresa's first step was one of the most difficult: She developed a long-term positive vision for her ideal life and the business that would support it. She documented that vision in writing.

"I was shocked at how difficult my vision was to articulate," she told me. "It became clear that my goals and dreams were too vague to ever become a reality. I was somewhat successful because I had strong values and beliefs, but I would never reach my full potential on such a weak foundation."

She began gathering information through a series of research interviews: with her husband, with her staff, and with her clients. Each interview moved her closer to a vision and mission statement. The information she received also prompted her to make a number of business improvements.

With her husband, Teresa discussed the "big picture"--how they wanted to live their lives, and how the business played a supporting role. She knew that she wanted more free time, as well as a business that integrated her personal values. To move in that direction, Teresa first had to determine where the business currently stood. She asked for feedback from her staff about the business and the way it was run. The entire office also filled out personality profiles. "These profiles helped us identify our learning and communication styles so we can build on our strengths and manage--not try to fix--our individual weaknesses," Teresa says. The surveys and profiles helped Teresa better understand her staff, and clarified some decisions. For instance, she helped one staff member find other employment--a move that significantly improved the harmony of the office.

The feedback also encouraged Teresa to create departments centered on the talents and competencies of the staff. To support this structure, the staff developed policies and procedures that integrated all aspects of client service, administration, trading, financial planning, and compliance. Teresa also upgraded the staff's licensing and the firm's errors and omissions insurance so that additional staff members could meet with clients under her supervision. "This gives me more time for business development, networking, and entertaining to attract wonderful new clients," Teresa says.

Feedback from her best clients also helped Teresa clarify a vision for her business. "A small group of clients helped me craft a business purpose statement and the brochure we use for our business," she says. "They helped me find specific words that would have attracted them if they were not clients."

The firm's marketing material openly discusses Teresa's values of faith and family, and her belief that you can have everything you want in life--provided that you help enough other people get what they want.

Clients were excited to be part of the process. "One of my clients in particular has become actively involved in introducing me to potential new clients," Teresa told me. "She also sends me newspaper and magazine articles with new marketing and relationship-building ideas."

Reshaping the Client Base

As she worked through the five-step program, Teresa also revised her service offerings, identified potential niche markets, and retooled the profile of her ideal client.

"The research interviews indicated that my clients were busy and wanted help with a variety of activities, from taxes and mortgages to shopping for new cars and negotiating employment contracts," she says.

To meet these needs, her firm now offers two categories of asset management services. One offers typical asset management and asset allocation services. The second tier offers a wider range of services for a higher annual fee. "Almost every new client selects the higher services option," Teresa said. "We can meet these higher services through a network of strategic alliances who are trustworthy and 'client-centered.'"

When she stepped back and examined her client base, Teresa realized that she served a large number of high-level military officers, many of them retired colonels. "Looking back, I had probably received more referrals from this group than any other group, but I didn't identify this pattern because I wasn't tracking it," said Teresa. "It truly is a growing niche for my business. I now have nine retired generals as clients and am well positioned to attract a continuous stream of these highly appreciative clients."

Focusing on military officers also helped Teresa increase the average net worth of her client base. Some retired generals pull in an income of $500,000 and more after they retire and set up consulting businesses, and they enjoy generous pensions as well.

"In their military lives, everything is handled for them," said Teresa. "I can help with the transition to their retirement lives, when they must make critical decisions on their own. They often have to operate like entrepreneurs in retirement."

Another niche Teresa discovered: families. "One of the reasons my client base was so broad was that we often received referrals within extended families," Teresa told me. "We realized families can be a niche of their own, and we started to perfect our outreach to this group." Now, Teresa's firm regularly reminds clients that some of their best work is with families. Since the business began focusing on this target market, referrals from family members have risen 60%. And because these clients are often served by Teresa's staff members, they receive high-quality service without requiring a great deal of Teresa's time.

Teresa also developed "Special Activities Surveys" to learn more about client interests and to help her plan effective client-related events. In addition, "Customer Satisfaction Surveys" solicit feedback on what the business does well, and where it needs to improve. "We actively call clients and listen to their needs," Teresa told me. "I have been surprised at how clearly my clients can articulate the future they desire. They just need 'permission' to do so, and a good listener. Clients know when they meet someone who genuinely cares about them."

Tallying the Results

While the number of Teresa's clients--at 125--has not changed, the profile of clients certainly has. Teresa now manages roughly $34 million, up from $18 million before she started the retooling process. "That's looking at current market value," she said. "So in a normal market, the increase would have been much more."

Gross income for the firm has increased 20%--a significant leap. And the average account size for new clients is $1.2 million, up from $350,000 in 2000.

With the business so focused, referrals are stepping up as well. "About 98% of our clients come from referrals now," she told me. "We used to get one or two referrals per year from a happy client. Now we get half a dozen introductions from one client."

The success that she has experienced spills into other aspects of life, as well. "I have begun to realize the freedom of not being in the office all day every day," she said. "My husband and I love to entertain and socialize, and now we have the freedom and flexibility to enjoy life."

She says she is at more peace with her job, which "smoothes out" the rest of her life. But she didn't wait for luck to strike, and she didn't just hope that everything would work out. She took action, and through a systematic approach, she reshaped her job into a calling that she is passionate about.

Teresa told me that my process required a lot of work, but created lasting change. While she had incorporated bits and pieces of seminars she previously attended, this process helped her transform her business to fit her values, her life, and her vision. "This process helped me find my center, then build my business from that," she said.

"Defining your vision and building your business around it changes you as a person. It changes your business, how you interact with family, friends, clients, and business associates," Teresa said. "It's making me passionate, happy, and fulfilled. I'm becoming the person and financial advisor I always wanted to be."

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.