Is your marketing program stuck in a rut? It's human nature to keep doing the same old things to attract new business — especially when you a) hate disruptions in your routine; b) are busy with clients you already have; and c) are not completely sure what works anyway.
But for the future of your practice, it's vital to step back occasionally and look at how to reach out more effectively to your target audiences. As the brilliant management consultant Peter Drucker used to say, “There are only two important functions in business: marketing and innovation. Everything else is cost.”
I asked several advisors and consultants for tips on successful marketing tactics. Interestingly, a number of the ideas they shared with me sprang from the work of planner Kathleen Rehl, an early and prolific innovator in marketing to a previously overlooked population (See “Working with Widows,” Investment Advisor, March 2014).
Expressing What You Stand For
Tip 1. Manage your brand, not just your business.
Christopher Norton, Creative Director, Blu Giant Advisor Studios: “A good brand program speaks for you when you’re not there. We work with one independent advisor who travels quite a bit and runs his business from the road. We rebranded his firm, launched a new website and created a video series. He's now able to leverage his website as a digital storefront, so he can serve clients all over the country and all over the world.
“You want to make sure you have your brand positioned in the best way. Sometimes it's as simple as updating your logo, or it might be a conversation about changing your business's name to be more reflective of what you do.”
Tip 2. Focus communications on your target client, not on yourself.
Janet Tyler Johnson, President, JATAJ Wealth Management and JATAJ Life Planning: “To develop an effective marketing strategy, you first need to get really clear on who your ideal client is. Then your website [and other communications] should speak to them about the benefits of working with you. Tell them about yourself in a sidebar.”
Tip 3. Express your key marketing message consistently, no matter what media you’re using.
Johnson: “Along with my advisory practice, I have a coaching business, a podcast and a membership site I run, all under the label ‘Corporate Hostage, No More!’ I’m also working on a new book by that title.”
Tip 4. Get expert help if you need it.
Brett Clarke, CEO, Blu Giant: “We help our clients distinguish themselves from other advisors through story-driven creative and innovative technology, an experience we call hypermedia. We do this in the way we organize the content [of your communications], leading people down a path that explains who you are, what you do, how you do it and why that matters.”
Making an Impact
Tip 5. Tailor your outreach to your target client's emotional needs.
Roberta Goldbaugh, RTD Financial Advisors: “My personal quest is to help women feel confident about their finances. I’ve led money circles that create a safe space for women, both clients and non-clients, to learn about money and explore their money histories. With our existing clients, I make sure that each woman feels comfortable calling me, knows she can ask whatever is on her mind and finds understanding and encouragement when she does talk with me.
“Through efforts like these, I’m developing a reputation as a go-to advisor for women who are seeking to expand their competence and understanding about their financial lives. Instead of the shame and embarrassment that they so often experience in money matters, they find encouragement and support with me.”
Tip 6. Reinforce your credentials by writing a book.
Barbara Shapiro, President, HMS Financial Group: “My husband, Herb, and I have a full-service financial planning and investment firm with a subspecialty in divorce. We wrote ‘He Said: She Said: A Practical Guide to Finance and Money During Divorce’ [published this year] after seeing divorcing couples make the same mistakes and wrong assumptions over and over again.”
Tip 7. Share information generously within your niche.
Kathleen Rehl, Founder, Rehl WEALTH Collaborations: “I assist advisors who work with a special niche: widows. I’ve created several tools to help their work, including how to market their firm. For example, advisors can download a free e-booklet, ‘How to Attract, Connect and Engage Widowed Clients,’ from my website.
“Even if you’re not up to writing a book or booklet, you can establish your credentials with your target audience by writing short pieces in the local paper, or in your own blog or newsletter. If you’re not a writer, hire a ghostwriter. Just make sure the ideas are yours.”
Tip 8. Seek out community organizations looking for a knowledgeable speaker.
Rehl: “The most important marketing tool I used as an advisor was giving seminars or workshops. I would work with an organization that people trusted, like a church or synagogue, to sponsor these workshops. It was always an educational event — I wasn't selling my services. But at the end of each event, people would approach me wanting to become clients.
“Public libraries, lifelong learning centers, garden clubs and the like are always searching for speakers. Look for places where your target clients congregate.”
Tip 9. Teach basic financial management in a lifelong learning program.
Sharon Rich, Founder, Womoney: “Starting out, I taught in a well-respected local program, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I did two- or three-week courses on financial planning basics such as filling out a net worth statement, figuring out a budget, and knowing what financial documents to keep or throw out. Another course I did was ‘Women & Money.’
“I found a lot of clients this way. These days, I’d likely do a course on ‘Best Apps for Managing your Finances.’”
Tip 10. Use online video to set yourself apart from the crowd.
Clarke: “Websites can be very impersonal. We think video is a wonderful way to make a personal connection with people, to get a sense of why they’re passionate about their work, which can elevate a website. Right now, we’re creating an animated video series for a client who focuses on socially responsible investing.
“You can only meet with so many people, but the reach of video is unlimited. As you’re looking to grow your business, leverage video to further your communications.”
Tip 11. Have a strategy for social media.
Clarke: “Helping advisors develop their social media strategy is an important part of what we do. Every [media] platform is different and requires its own strategy. You’ll have different audiences on different platforms. We help clients develop the right platform, and sometimes the right content, to attract the right clients.”
Tip 12. Keep a business card in your back pocket, even if you’re only going to take out the trash.
Christine Moriarty, President, MoneyPeace: “I picked up this bit of advice from Dee Lee about 20 years ago. After I moved to Vermont, I started taking it a step further because of my mom. One day she asked me to take a quick trip to the store with her to get my opinion on a pair of shoes. She was driving, so I didn't take my wallet. At the store we met someone who was interested in my work. Before I could finish saying that I didn't have a business card with me, my mom said, ‘I have one in my wallet.’ She pulled it out to hand to the woman.
“I now have cards in my car as well as in my briefcase and wallet. I’ve given my mom two or three cards that she keeps in her wallet. My husband does, too. I’ve even given extra cards to some of my closest friends. Each time, I say to them, ‘In case you’re ever with me and I do not have one of these, I’ll hope that you do!’
“In this day and age of social media, personal meetings and cards still work. And you never know where you’ll find an interested client.”
Tip 13. Network regularly with possible referral sources.
Rich: “In order to build up my practice, I’d try to have lunch twice a month with a potential referral source, someone to whom I could refer clients and who could refer to me, when appropriate.
“Estate and divorce lawyers, insurance agents, CPAs and psychotherapists were good resources. Often, I’d get names from other planners in the area and from clients to develop my referral lists.”
Tip 14. Share your resources with referring professionals.
John Finn, Principal, Finn & Rodriguez Wealth Management: “Because my practice concentrates on working with women who have undergone a spouse's death or divorce, I handed a few of Kathleen Rehl's books to an accountant and an attorney with a note about her work. They passed along these books to women clients who would read them, call me and become my clients. This happened several times.”
Tip 15. Give satisfied clients an opportunity to “sell” you to others.
Finn: “Our process focuses on collaboration and education of women in transition. One thing we did was to invite 20 existing clients to bring their adult daughters or friends to dinner as our guests. So these people, 20 of whom we didn't know, heard Kathleen Rehl speak. Afterward, half of them became clients of ours.
“Once you start working with these very vulnerable clients, they will literally drive new clients to your office.”
Tip 16. Volunteer in the community.
Judy Redpath, Founder, VISTA Wealth Strategies LLC: “I get many referrals as a result of the community work that I do. I am active in the local Chamber of Commerce and sit on several boards.”
Tip 17. Use social media to start dialogues.
Clarke: “A lot of people look at social media as an advertising opportunity. It can be that. But it allows you to listen as well as talk, so you can facilitate two-way communication. LinkedIn and Facebook are great places for referrals.”
Tip 18. A “soft sell” can include having fun.
Rehl: “I used to host events in my own home called ‘Sunday afternoon soirees’ with hors d’oeuvres and dessert. I invited my [female] clients, and they were invited to bring friends. We once talked about ‘fashion, food, fun and finance’: different ways to tie scarves and how to not get your finances in a knot!”
You Don't Have to Invent the Wheel — Just Get It Rolling
As a specialist in money psychology, I’ve spoken at a variety of appreciation events with advisors’ clients, friends and relatives as the audience. In my experience, an advisor who makes the effort to educate and entertain current and potential clients with a special event, an active program of blog posts or YouTube videos is emphasizing how much he or she values their trust and goodwill. That sends a warm “Welcome!” message to prospects.
These days, you can reach target audiences more easily and economically with a variety of high-tech tools, from creating and sending e-newsletters via MailChimp or Constant Contact to producing videos for your website or other digital media. Fidelity is one of your potential partners who offers assistance on creating your own videos.
To distinguish yourself as a savvy advisor, there's no better time to climb out of your marketing rut and smell the roses. I feel sure Peter Drucker would have agreed.
Marketing: It Works With Current Clients, Too
“It's my experience that advisors don't do marketing simply to get new clients,” Kathleen Rehl told me. “They want to retain existing clients.”
The benefit of a beefed-up relationship is especially clear in the niche she serves. After a husband's death, a reported 70% of widows fire the planner the couple used. “The advisors I assist are being proactive in strengthening current relationships with these women, as well as attracting new clients,” Rehl said.
For an example of succeeding with both audiences, she connected me with Jeremy Berry, CPA, director of advanced financial planning at Tennant Financial in Ballston Lake, New York. “At a long-standing client's request, we sponsored a financial workshop that would benefit an important charitable organization — his church,” Berry said. “By collaborating with the client on this project, we were able to show him our appreciation and further deepen our relationship with him. It was a win-win for everyone.”