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7 Top Strategies for Advisory Success

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In this series, I am going to lay out the seven strategies I believe are both necessary and sufficient for success in this industry. There is a “best way” to deploy these strategies. Many of these best ways (Good ways?) are written up in my Research articles and white papers. I have reviewed many and posted them, free as always, here: As the series of articles progresses, the best practices library will grow.

I did a survey once to see if I could identify “the only secret to spectacular success.”

What was the “secret”? I got 1,200 replies to my survey and spent many hours tweaking my survey-crunching software. My primary methodology was to compare survey responses of the top 20% and bottom 20%. I excluded anyone not in the business at least three years.

No matter how I twisted and turned my tabulation parameters, no “one thing” jumped out of the mass of accumulated data and announced: “I’m it!”

But nagging voices kept whispering, “Keep looking. It’s there.”

And it was. When it eased out of its hiding place, it was apparent that the people who made it to the end of the rainbow had done more of the “right things.” In some cases, they were also spectacularly better at one thing.

That survey led me to a strategy that I believe is a path, if not the path, to the success you seek: Implement more best practices.

There you have it. Thank you very much. Goodbye. Good luck.

OK, OK, let’s take a closer look.

In my experience, you have to be good to great in seven areas. Let’s call these areas “success strategies.”

Each strategy area has its own best practices. Fail in one of these strategies and success is mediocre at best. Fail at two or more and, well, I don’t see how you can stay in business.

Before digging into these success strategies, let me point to some very important, if not vital, factors not covered. The reason I’m not covering these is that you either have these or you don’t. I’m not convinced these can be taught. Let’s call these personality factors.

Among these are: engaging personality, burning ambition, smarts, integrity and ability to sell. If you have this ability to sell, you can improve your persuasive skills. But there is an X-factor, an ability to persuade someone to do what they might not have otherwise done. Missing that, all the sales courses in the world do not seem to help.

With these personality factors set aside, here are the success strategies.

  1. Invest Wisely.

  2. Prospect Constantly.

  3. Manage Sales Pipeline.

  4. Control Time Allocation.

  5. Present Ideas Persuasively.

  6. Become or Remain Sole Provider for All Clients Who Follow Advice.

  7. Delegate All or Most Non-Sales/Non-Advice Functions.

Investment Strategy

Obviously, you need an investment strategy. Google the phrase “types of investment strategy” and you will get 202 million hits in 0.24 seconds. This vast number of alternatives does not mean none are right. One is right—for you. But you have to find it.

Probably 50% of your career success will depend on being able to invest wisely. Most likely, your early strategy must involve use of third party managers. By learning to hire experts, you can then sell their expertise. Assuming you hire the right experts, you buy yourself time to master the craft yourself.

One FA I know honed his skill by interviewing hundreds of money managers. He just called them, talked his way through the screener and convinced these managers to explain their methods. He then cherry-picked tools and ideas and added those to his own kit. Today, he’s a very good money manager himself, personally managing a portfolio of over $1 billion.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that success in any field requires an enormous amount of time. He called it the 10,000-hour rule. Spend 20 hours a week at a task for 10 years. Success is yours. Yes, you do have 20 hours a week for the next 10 years to do this. But you can also starve to death by only focusing on investment strategy.

Success requires the other success strategies.

Prospecting and Time

Unless you are going to be an analyst, you need clients. In my experience, a key best practices approach is: (1) Always be prospecting. (2) Have at least one channel, other than referrals, to develop new business—the prospecting equivalent of “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

If you would “always be prospecting,” you must also get control of time management. Early on, you allocate time every week to new business development. By spending time every week prospecting, you will either develop a hunter frame of mind, or your business will plateau or fail.

At some point, the hunter mentality is part of who you are. You don’t have to think about allocating time to prospecting any more than you have to think about allocating time to brushing your teeth in the morning.

But until that mentality has taken root, you do need to allocate the time.

The people who make it to the end of the rainbow are always hunting. I was with a client at a meeting in Dallas. He manages about $2 billion. The meeting room next to us was a group of MDs of some kind. I saw him down the hall with a faint smile. He held up a booklet. When he approached, I asked “What’s that?”

“It’s their attendee list,” he said. “I’m always hunting.”

Multiple Channels

I know a few advisors—not many—whose business is growing rapidly from client referrals. But for most FAs, “referrals only” is the marketing equivalent of a catfish lying in a warm stream waiting for a food particle to drift by. It’s just not enough.

So too for most FAs. You need at least one other channel to bring in new business.

There are at least 11 channels to develop new business. There could be a few more, of limited significance. You need at least two of them. And if you cannot achieve your new-client/new-asset goals with two, you need three—or four.

I divide these channels very broadly into three categories: relationship marketing, mass marketing and exceptional marketing.

Exceptional strategies rarely work, but when they do work, results are exceptional. I’m not going to spend any time on them except to note them.

Obviously, first try to develop your new business from existing relationships, but if you don’t have enough relationships, or they are not the ones you want, then you have to become proficient at one or more mass marketing channels or exceptional channels.

Relationship marketing channels are: Client referrals. Strategic partner introductions. Client introductions. Networking.

Your mass marketing choices are: Seminars. Cold calling. Cold walking. Direct mail.

Exceptional strategies are: Radio. Trade shows. Newspaper advertising.

Each of these 11 channels has its own best practices. For instance, there is a best way to cold call. That “Good Way” includes: Best way to write a script; best way to select a list; best way to sound; best way to evaluate a campaign; best way to make a second call.

If your cold call campaign is failing, you have implemented worst practices, or you are just not doing anything. It’s that simple. You need to take a hard look at what you are doing and make fundamental changes.

In subsequent articles in this series, I will delve into more success strategies. And no, I have nothing to add on investment best practices. Not my area of expertise. Yours.