Personalized service is what allows you to compete with the Merrill Lynches and Fidelities of the world.

Thousands of financial professionals are fighting for their small portion of clients. How can they compete with the Merrill Lynches and Fidelities of the world? Huge marketing dollars are spent every day, overwhelming the ability of single, independent producers to compete for assets. The reasons that people will do business with the big box companies won’t be the same reasons they do business with you. Even though the big boys try very hard to make the client experience a pleasant one, they are missing one element that you can afford to provide: a personal touch.

When was the last time anyone received an email from a large company showing concern for a loved one who was sick? Can corporations like Merrill send a sympathy card to an individual client? Can they comment on a great picture of someone’s grandchild? Will they drop in just to say hello? Will they have an ongoing discussion about favorite alma mater football games? Can they discuss politics and religion without losing the relationship? The answer to all of these questions is ‘no.’ Giant corporations simply aren’t equipped to deliver very personal service.

A private practice can do all of these things and more. Do you text clients with the latest quip about a national or local event? Have you emailed someone an article that might be useful or interesting? Though small and seemingly insignificant, these gestures endear you to prospects and clients.

Recently, a friend asked me to help him understand and make a decision on how his funds should be invested in his deferred compensation account at work. Since I know Roger, I am uniquely qualified to give him some help. I happen to know that he is a lieutenant in the local police force with a very nice salary, and he is retiring in less than a year on approximately 70 percent of his current income. Since he is also going to work in security after he leaves the police department, he will have even more income than he has now for at least ten years. Because he has at least a ten-year time horizon, he is able to be more aggressive and ignore the daily, monthly and even yearly performance of his investments. He can just let her drive toward excellent market returns. He can ignore volatility.

I cannot be paid for this advice because his savings are not accessible … today. They will be in about a year. He said that he wants me to help him when he retires. That’s what I like to hear.

Many advisors want to help people, but they have no vision. Their practice is smoldering instead of on fire because they don’t take advantage of their practice’s strength: personal customer service. When was the last time you took a client to lunch or dinner without asking for business? They know you want to do business with them. There’s no need to pester them. Just be a friend. They know what you do, I hope. A monthly e-newsletter should inform them. That’s the impersonal side of a practice. All you have to do after that is continue to add the personal touches. Think about my friend, Roger:Is it possible that when he has a colleague who is confused, he will refer them to me? I’m counting on it.

This has been mentioned before, but I would like to re-emphasize it here. Snail mail can be your secret weapon. For some strange reason, people like to get letters. I like to write letters. My handwriting is not great, but it is legible when I take my time. Letters are saved. Handwritten letters are saved more frequently. Older clients love letters even more. They don’t like email. Email comes with clutter, which makes your message appear to be clutter as well.

Write someone a letter. Stick a stamp on it. Become more personal. It’s your practice’s best opportunity for active marketing that works.