Given the rollercoaster market we have experienced these past two years, some advisors are still spending the majority of their time focused on reassuring existing clients rather than trying to recruit new clients. It's not a bad idea to cut back on your business development activities during tough times - and, as we all know, it takes more work to gain a new client than to keep the ones you have, so the "client first" mentality is certainly sound.
But as we head into 2010 - and hopefully better times - people in your target market are likely to be more open to your suggestions. In other words, now is the time to ramp up your marketing efforts, whether you are in the process of going independent or working to build up an existing FA practice.
Many of the smartest advisors I know have been poking their heads up out of the foxholes and stepping out in new ways to gain market share. Here are some quick examples of what your peers have been doing, paired with some suggested New Year's Resolutions for you.
Resolution #1: Work Some Media Magic
Rick Ferri, CFA(R), CEO of Portfolio Solutions, Inc., a nationwide independent RIA with client assets custodied at Charles Schwab Institutional, ramped up online visibility through a series of newswire blasts and online article placements.
Ferri, a prolific writer and the author of several books on low-cost investment strategies, has used his investment acumen, writing abilities and media connections to place numerous articles in industry trade publications such as Financial Planning magazine and consumer outlets such as Forbes.com.
After taking a trip to New York City to meet with journalists in April 2009, he enjoyed a nice-sized profile in the Wall Street Journal - a piece that generated over 80 new client inquiries. A mention in the New York Times produced another 20 or so inquiries.
If you don't know how to work with the media, you'll want to get some training and advice. Read this blog entry to get quick tips on how to do your own PR, find professional resources and improve your media savvy.
Resolution #2: "Celebritize" Yourself
Karen Lee, CFP(R), ChFC, CLU, founder of Karen Lee and Associates, a fee-based advisory firm, also stepped up and into the spotlight by speaking at industry conferences, writing articles for Financial Planning magazine and the AICPA, appearing on CNN's Your Money with Ali Velshi, and undergoing a complete rebranding process that will better position her as the go-to advisor for select clients in the Atlanta area. Her new website will be unveiled soon and she's writing a book called Its Only Money: So Why Does it Cause So Many Problems?
Thanks to all this buzz and many years of experience honing her financial planning and client counseling skills, Lee landed a plum assignment: She was asked to serve as a "Family Budget Boot Camp" financial planning expert for www.Parenting.com. In another unexpected outcome of her enhanced visibility, a journalist who met and worked with Ms. Lee was so impressed with her style and substance that he and his spouse have now become clients.
Lee is affiliated with independent broker/dealer Securities America, Inc. and is a part of one of their biggest branch office support systems, Integrated Financial Group, so she receives plenty of practice management and back office support. This allows her to focus on working with the media, meeting with clients and writing her book.
For more information on how to gain more visibility, watch for an announcement about the release of my book in 2010, Become a Media Magnet: Strategies and Advice for Do-It-Yourself PR. In the meantime, here are two excellent books on the subject of branding yourself as the go-to-expert: Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort by Steven Van Yoder and Celebritize Yourself: The Three Step Method to Increase Your Visibility and Explode Your Business by Marsha Friedman. Both books can be found on www.Amazon.com.
Resolution #3: Expand Your Reach
Jill Hollander, CFP(R), CDFA, and Brian Pon, EA, CFP(R), partners in the RIA firm, Financial Connections Group, Inc., decided to add hourly financial advisory services to their traditional financial planning and asset management services. This move will allow the firm - guided by Kris Remedios, the newest planner on staff - to serve a wider market, especially people who many not currently be able to meet the firm's minimum investment management fees.
With hourly and/or flat-fee project-based services, Financial Connections can provide a second opinion to people who are currently working with an advisor but who may be thinking about making a change. Some people are not good candidates for the firm's traditional AUM-based fees; they simply need periodic advice without ongoing investment management and financial planning service.
Working with these people on a limited service basis allows the firm to generate new revenue, whether or not those clients ever convert to AUM or retainer services. Offering hourly advisory services also enables Financial Connections to conduct reviews of people's 401(k) investments, providing some guidance on fund choices and asset allocation, while building relationships with people who may choose to become clients when they're ready to retire and rollover their investments. Adding a new service line also gives them lots of reasons to step up their public relations and media outreach.
Hollander joined Garrett Planning Network, a training and support network started by industry pioneer Sheryl Garrett, CFP(R), to help streamline processes for the new hourly and project-based work. Hollander's firm custodies client assets at TD Ameritrade, and is a member in good standing with both the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA). All four organizations give the firm access to training and practice management education, professional coaching, peer support and media leads.
In addition to tweaking the firm's service model, partner Brian Pon conducts seminars for Money Management International/California Northern Centers for Financial Education on topics such as budgeting, cash and debt management, and introductory investing. Pon believes that by giving back to the community through education, he is providing consumers with critical skills while at the same time building awareness of Financial Connections.
Financial Connections issues news releases to the local press, and sometimes via newswire to boost online visibility. By drawing attention to their local educational efforts, they position themselves as concerned advisors who are committed to giving back to the community. TheStreet.com and the San Francisco Business Journal picked up their most recent news release, thus adding to the firm's positive online presence.
In 2010, Financial Connections will add Social Media to their marketing mix. They are currently working on setting up professionally-branded blog and Twitter pages.
In my next installment, I will provide tips on using Web 2.0 and online social networking strategies to expand your reach and generate positive search engine results.
But, if you are hungry for information on using Web 2.0 and social media to build buzz and create additional traffic to your primary Web site, you might want to sign up for the Using Web 2.0 and Social Media to Build Relationships webinar being offered by the Financial Planning Association (FPA) on January 20, 2010, at 1:00 pm CT.
I'll be hosting the virtual learning session and will be joined by compliance expert Nancy Johnson Jones (www.compliancemaze.com), who will tell you what you can and can't do under FINRA and/or SEC regulations, and multi-media expert Kris Hall (creator of "fast, fun and informative" Practice Management tips at www.AdvisorPod.com) who will give an overview of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, podcasts and other tools you can use to build relationships with people online. You do not need to be a member of the FPA to attend; everyone is welcome.
I will be at a number of industry conferences this year and would love to hear your marketing success stories. You'll find my ever-evolving schedule of events at www.impactcommunications.org.
Of special note: I'll be speaking at the T3 Technology Tools for Today conference in San Diego, February 18-20, 2010, and the FPA Business Solutions conference in Dallas, March 1-3, 2010. My team and I are also leading the Web 2.0 and Social Media Boot Camp being offered by FPA as a pre-conference option on February 28, 2010 in Dallas (FPA early bird incentive ends January 22, 2010). Don't hesitate to tackle me and strike up a conversation!
Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, a marketing and PR firm that for over 17 years has worked exclusively with independent financial advisors and the institutions that serve them. Follow her on www.Twitter.com/marieswift and read her Best Practices in the Financial Services blog at www.marie-swift.blogspot.com.