Remember the predictions about how the growing use of computers and machine-readable text would reduce the amount of paper we would use in business and at home? That forecast turned out to be only partly true–witness the rise in e-mail and instant messaging and text messaging and the decline of the old-fashioned handwritten letter. It was also partly way off base, as a glance at the top of my desk shows me and as the struggle to build paperless offices shows advisors (though yes, some have done so successfully). Moreover, despite a rise in popularity of e-books and PDFs and recorded books on tape and CD, in the U.S. alone there are still nearly 5,000 trade magazines in print. Moreover, old-fashioned book publishing is still quite in fashion. R.R. Bowker, the authority in book publishing, reported that in 2004, there were 195,000 books published–that’s new titles and new editions–with 5,226 falling into the “business books” category, including personal and corporate finance. When asked to compare those numbers to past years, a Bowker spokesman told me that in 1995, 113,589 books were published in the U.S., with 4,891 of them covering business.
The Economist magazine estimates that eight to 10 million books that could broadly be defined as “business” books are sold here each year. Take Jim Collins’s Good to Great, which has sold nearly two million copies and has remained firmly entrenched on The New York Times bestseller list for years.
If the books read by advisors and the speakers that pepper conference agendas is any indication–and it is–there’s a never-ending thirst out there for learning how to build successful businesses and market yourself.
There is no shortage of self-appointed marketing mavens eager to help advisors. But it’s my contention that just as in investing and in life, no one is expert in all areas. Thus our cover story (page 48) this month. The IA staff put our heads together, came up with a list of 15 smart, incisive people (several of whom already write for us on a regular basis–Larry Chambers, Andy Gluck, and Steve Moeller) who understand both marketing and the advisor community, and asked them to share with you their best ideas. We also asked them to tell us advisors’ biggest marketing mistakes.
The overarching theme that I gleaned was this: you must make a marketing plan and, just like an investment portfolio, you must monitor that plan, rebalance, and reallocate it as conditions change. Those of you hoping for a return of the mighty passive referral shouldn’t hold your breath. Those of you who think the best clients will beat a path to your door because you’ve invented a better investing mousetrap will have a long wait. There is nothing unethical or d?class? about telling the outside world about your accomplishments through advertising and public relations. There’s no shame in asking people to give you their business. You won’t insult current clients by asking for referrals. You don’t have to be an egotistical maniac to suggest to clients and prospects that you’ll do a good job as their advisor. You don’t have to consider yourself the next Hemingway to write explanatory articles for your local newspaper or national trade magazine. After all, you are good, aren’t you? You’re always looking to learn more, to do a better job of meeting client needs, to be ethical, right? Who is better positioned to inform and educate the investing public than someone like you? It’s okay to be honest, even if that honesty puts you in a good light.
I believe you can discern a consensus on the biggest marketing mistake made by advisors: Failing to make a plan. Andy Gluck puts it well: Marketing is like exercise or dieting–any plan is better than none. As Larry Chambers argues in his column this month (page 96), the lazy days of summer are a good time to start your plan. Just do it.