From the April 2009 Issue of Senior Market Advisor Magazine

In an ever-increasingly competitive marketplace, the need to stand out from your competition is greater than ever. To consumers, there is no immediate difference between you and the stockbroker who may have lost them money last year, or the wirehouse representative who simply plugged their life savings into some corporate-driven model, never to be heard from again. It is up to you to make your value known to your community and your target clients comfortable with the services and expertise that you have to offer. The proverbial “one-trick pony” or “one-size-fits-all” approach to financial advisory does not create value, nor does it allow you the opportunity to truly stand out from the competition.

To stand out and get ahead, focus on the fundamentals. Treat your clients’ money as if it were your own, position yourself as the go-to resource, build a reputation based on customer service and trust, and provide unmatched value to the clients and community you serve. Done effectively, not only will you create a unique and sought after niche for yourself and business, you will also eliminate the competition.

1. become a public resource
Become a recognized resource in your community by forming strategic partnerships with your local media. To maximize the effectiveness of media relations, it needs to be a mixed effort. A radio show is powerful, but will only expose you to radio listeners. Diversify your efforts, and take the radio content to television producers and newspaper editors or vice versa. Not only will you be heard, you can now been seen, read and eventually recognized and remembered by members of your community. By positioning yourself as the go-to resource for the media, community members will take note. Be top of mind if and when they have a financial question, ensuring they turn to you in their time of need.

2. create client connections
Although many advisors argue that monthly seminars are still the “silver bullet” to prospecting, the strategy is expensive and oftentimes, until the event is over, you cannot be clear if the attendees came for you or the food. Consider tapping into your company’s greatest asset to grow your business: your clients. Hopefully, you’ve brought structure and purpose to their financial affairs, creating value in your service offerings. Consider conducting on-going educational series, in lieu of public events, inviting your current clients and their friends and family members to come and learn about a timely and relevant topic, and how it applies to their personal finances and/or particular situation. Not only will you create value by providing need-to-know education, you will continue to build your position as the go-to resource for members of the community.

3. go the extra mile
It is in nobody’s best interest to serve a client one day, only to follow it up with limited or scattered communication in the future. The client-advisor relationship can only be a success if it’s treated as a true partnership. Your success as a business owner and advisor is based on the success of your clients, making it essential to put your client’s best interest first. Constant communication is key to building a lasting partnership. Weekly e-newsletters, monthly newsletters and phone calls, client appreciation events, annual reviews and such are part of the comprehensive communication process, however, take it a step further. Teach your clients how to best utilize your areas of expertise, and what life event would warrant a phone call to you and/or a face-to-face meeting. Being a partner, rather than just an advisor, and going the extra mile will create the value-add in the services you offer your clients now and well into the future.

4. value-add for centers of influence
It’s official: Not all complementary service professionals can offer the extent of recommendations and products that your independence allows for, even though the good-willed intent may be there. Oftentimes these centers of influence, such as credit unions and independent banks, may have a more recognized presence in the community, equating to a higher volume of clients. But by providing only basic financial recommendations, these institutions are leaving some of their clients underserved. Your services and expertise can be the other part to the financial equation. By partnering with a credit union and increasing the services provided, you could help its member satisfaction, retention and new member recruitment. You also obtain new clients and therefore it becomes a win-win for all involved. In my experience, I recognized that I could stand out from the competition for the foreseeable future by delivering this value-added element to the credit unions in my community. This equated to an all-encompassing financial experience for the credit unions’ individual members, corporate members and employees, accomplishing their objectives.

5. gain an edge and lose the competition
Financial planning does not solely incorporate financial services. A comprehensive financial plan may require legal or accounting assistance, tax planning, asset management, even health care counseling and more. While you may be considered the “quarterback” to building a complete financial plan, you may require the services of other team members to bring a plan to fruition. Rather than sending a client off to relay information to their legal or tax professional, hoping intricate information will be relayed accurately, and further, that the other trusted professional does not have their own preferred financial advisor for referrals … consider simplifying the process for your valued clients and creating a financial resource center.

For an all-encompassing experience, consider multiple “departments” under one roof, all operating independently yet well orchestrated and readily available to bring a comprehensive plan to light. A cutting-edge model, this organizational structure can be positioned in the community as “the place” for all important money matters. The ancillary services provide unmatchable added value for all, the clients and each participating firm. In addition to saving time and eliminating duplication and miscommunication, clients receive discounts on tax preparation services, legal documents and more.

By making a difference through your service offerings, providing ease in implementation and true value to their overall situation, a client’s positive experience can lead to a more rewarding 2009 and beyond.

Click the links below to read the rest of The Trends Issue:

Getting creative in a tough LTCI market
By Ed McCarthy

Playing it safe
By David Port

Even in a downturn life insurance proves its worth
By Joseph Finora

When the going gets tough, the tough start selling
By Adrian Miller