Ever wonder why the top senior advisors market their practices? Because it works.

Marketing can help sell nearly everything, from retirement planning and long term care insurance to college funding. It’s not enough to know everything there is about the senior advisory business: If nobody knows you know it, then you’re probably not maximizing your business potential.

While many advisors are coached early in their careers to select a niche in which to practice and then concentrate on maximizing that channel, very few are actually advised on what might be the best way to promote their practice.

Some like to do a good job and then let word-of-mouth marketing handle the rest, which can work. Others like to get more aggressive and turn to direct mail, cable television or radio and newspaper ads. Still others try their luck on the seminar bandwagon, while others aim to create a more lofty image of themselves by employing a media-relations strategy.

The fast start

New advisors entering the business may be leveraging their results at a faster speed than previous generations by harnessing the power of “new media.” Going beyond basic e-mail-based marketing, social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are being used to spread the word about oneself more effectively and with a wider range than anything that’s come before. And while this was once considered a “young person’s” medium, there’s no reason others cannot utilize these tools.

“Facebook is home to an extremely desirable demographic — educated 18-26 year olds — and it’s where they feel comfortable,” notes Steve Holzner, author of “Facebook Marketing: Leverage Social Media to Grow Your Business.” “Facebook excels at connecting users with friends and keeping them in touch. That’s what social networking is all about.”

Another benefit is that with this type of marketing you can learn a great deal about your client/prospect base whether you make a sale or not, and begin to compile potentially useful information while spreading your business reputation.

LinkedIn, with some 35 million registered users, is technically a general social-networking Web site, but is mainly used for business purposes. Facebook boasts some 235 million users around the world. Other sites with a special appeal to boomers include the once very youth-oriented MySpace (USA Today says almost 7 million of its 130 million users are 55-plus), as well as a social networking community hosted by AARP.org, with 1,700 different discussion and topic groups.

Making connections on Facebook
Facebook, the giant of the sites, is strictly a social site that is increasingly used for business purposes by participants. These include people such as advisor Jackie Willse in Wilmington, N.C., who uses it to promote the Wilmington Young Professionals Network, a grassroots business-development/social group.

“The area lacked a young professional’s group,” recalls Willse, who started ramping up her organization in February after moving back to the area. It now has some 230 members, nearly all under the age of 40. Groups founded online operate in a faster dynamic than their more traditional counterparts such as chamber of commerce or Rotary groups.

“Facebook is great for keeping yourself in front of those who you wish to stay in touch with,” says Willse. “It’s faster than traditional means of communication–you can learn so much more about a person or promote information about yourself and have it read much more quickly than a traditional way. It can give you a fast start.”

This was critical for Willse, who wanted others to know she’d returned to the area and was working to grow her financial advisory business. The group’s first social night, held at a local restaurant, had initially received some 30 electronic RSVPs. Ultimately, about 90 young professionals attended the event.

“Once others saw on Facebook who was attending, interest grew and more people made an effort to come,” says Willse. “You cannot duplicate this type of action with mailed invitations or cold calling. The social networking builds a kind of excitement and interest grows.” With social-networking sites, when one posts information on their profile, “friends” those who’ve asked to correspond with you and your network, automatically receive it, providing extraordinary marketing reach with minimal cost and effort.

Willse has yet to close any new business as a result of her online connections, but it has definitely made many more people aware of what she does and in the process, she’s had a lot of fun. “Face-to-face marketing is never going to go away, but with social networking,” she says, “things will move at an accelerated pace.”

Keep your eyes open
For Larry Kennard of Kennard Financial in Cleveland, Ohio, marketing has been about finding what works and using it … but always being on the lookout for something that might work better. The 30-year veteran initially entered the insurance industry after a short tenure as a school teacher. Despite limited industry contacts at the time, he firmly believed he could offer something to improve his prospects’ financial lives.

“The promise of better coverage for a lower premium was a reliable conversation starter,” recalls Kennard, who says he had those discussions with nearly everyone he knew, largely out of a need to jump-start his business.
“I had a family to feed. That was all the motivation I needed.” Like many of his contemporaries, Kennard exhausted his Rolodex of contacts but would ask for referrals nearly every time he met with someone. He later added financial services to his practice and earned his CFP designation.

“If I had my car in for service, I’d talk up the mechanic by asking what he paid for life coverage. I’d then tell him I could get him better coverage for less and that we could put the balance to work in an investment,” says Kennard.
That slow-but-steady, personal approach eventually paid off. Today, most of Kennard’s new business comes from two areas–providing more services to existing clients and through his ever-expanding referral base. “I advise new people entering this business to start marketing as soon as they can,” he says. “They need to find what works for them. It may not be what worked for me or for someone else.”