If the figure of speech, “jack of all trades, master of none,” rings true for you, then you should have little trouble agreeing with its corollary: If you want to be successful as an advisor, then you would do well to narrowly define your market, rather than pursue prospects indiscriminately.
“By focusing your practice on a niche market, you increase your value to the client and enhance both your reputation and your ability to be referred to other prospective clients,” says Bill Cates, founder and president of Referral Coach International, Laurel, Md. “You also get more and better targeted referrals because it’s easier to identify all the players in your niche.”
Advisors can enhance their value to prospects, sources say, in part by gaining a greater understanding of their needs than is possible when marketing to a more diffuse clientele. The producer who specializes in servicing restaurant owners, for example, gets to know in-depth the unique issues bearing on cash flow, employee retention the business cycle and, thus, insurance and financial planning needs.
Producers can learn, too, the formal and informal ways through which restaurant owners communicate with one another–through association meetings, study groups, newsletters, magazines, and the like. As they establish themselves within the niche and gain notice for good work, securing business with client prospects becomes easier because their reputation will have preceded them through word of mouth.
Michael Hamrick, a financial planner with AXA Advisors, LLC, New York, knows first-hand the benefits of such narrowly targeted marketing. Based in Nashville, Tenn., the nation’s country music capital, Hamrick does business chiefly with country music songwriters and artists, counseling them on such diverse areas as insurance, retirement, estate, charitable and business planning
An avid guitar player from an early age, Hamrick is deeply involved in the town’s music scene. He regularly attends the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum cocktails and receptions, invites musicians over dinner and bumps into artists at various gatherings. As a member of the Country Music Association, Hamrick also advertises his services in the CMA Directory and has access to a large contact list of songwriters, artists and management companies that he leverages for prospecting purposes.
That access, however, doesn’t always translate so easily into meetings with prospects. Generally, he says, songwriters can be approached directly. Meetings with artists, especially the more prominent ones who earn 7- and 8-figure incomes, typically must be arranged through “gatekeepers”–accountants, lawyers and management companies that oversee the artist’s various professional service needs.
“It’s easy to get introductions and referrals in this business,” says Hamrick. “What’s more difficult is gaining access. But there’s no silver bullet, no technique that will work every time.”
“At end of day,” he adds, “the key to success in this market is an advisor’s ability to build relationships, which can be long a process. This really is a market that requires great patience.”
For Brock Jolly, advisor at Capitol Financial Partners, Washington, D.C., access to prospective clients represents not so high a hurdle. And the reason has much to do with his soft-touch approach: Jolly meets with many of his target prospects–parents in need of counsel for funding a child’s education–through an introductory two-day course he teaches on the subject.
Offered through adult and community education programs located in Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun and Fairfax counties, Va., Jolly’s course reviews the requirements for securing various forms of college funding, such as grants and scholarships. The class also covers funding strategies when outside financial aid isn’t forthcoming. The central challenge for many parents, says Jolly, is devising a workable strategy when other potential sources of funding are tied up in illiquid assets, such as home equity and retirement plans.
At the close of the two-day course, Jolly offers the parents the opportunity to meet for a free follow-up consultation, an offer that most are quick to take up. On average 80% of attendees (generally there are 20 per class) agree to the free consultation and, subsequently, a client engagement. Many of these parents learn about the class through Capitol Financial Partners’ direct mail efforts. But a growing number, says Jolly, sign up for the course as a result of referrals from existing clients.
“The college funding space is by far our best-developed market, accounting for more than 60% of our book of business,” says Jolly. “The class offers parents a non-threatening way to get educated about this area and to learn about our services.
“To promote the course, we go to a lot of college fairs and back-to-school nights,” he adds. “Our message at these forums is simple: Now that you’ve chosen a school, you need to figure out a way to pay for it.”