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It’s no surprise that most owner-advisors I work with, or talk to these days, are interested in growing their businesses. And it’s also no shocker to hear that they are looking for marketing programs to help them grow.

While marketing can be a helpful tool for growing a business, it shouldn’t be the first step. Before you can successfully “market” your firm to anybody, you have to have a very clear vision of what you’re selling — and be able to very clearly articulate it to anyone who’s interested.

Typically, there are two components of a “brand:” the verbal and the visual. I suspect because it’s easier and more fun, most firm owners focus on the visual — logos, printouts, brochures, websites, office furnishings, etc.

Yet, in my experience, these branding visuals do very little to either attract clients, or to keep them with an advisory firm. It’s the verbal component of branding that brings in new clients, retains clients, and motivates existing clients to refer prospective clients.

Simply put, “verbal” branding is what attracts new clients, and retains existing clients, in most advisory firms. We all know people who look “well put together” — nice clothes, well-groomed, tasteful accessories — but when they open their mouths, they just don’t say anything that you find interesting.

The same is true for advisory firms. They can look good on paper, but if what is said about your firm isn’t interesting to prospects and clients, you’re not going to attract or keep them.  

Yes, advisors need to have both — but what you say is more important.

Branding Basics

The verbal component of branding is called “messaging”  —  how you deliver your message. And if you do it right, other people can and will spread your message for you.

The first step to creating effective messaging is imagining that you have no “visuals” when you talk to a prospective client: no website, no brochure, no business card, logo, etc. You only have your mouth to deliver a message.

Now, to create this message, you are going to need to answer three questions:

*What services do you deliver to your clients? Nobody can do everything, and everyone knows it. So to have a credible message you need to be very clear about what services you provide: financial planning, investment management, retirement planning, college planning, insurance, etc. And it’s also powerful to be very clear about what you don’t do.

*How do you deliver your services? This is where you talk about your client  “process” from onboarding to ongoing services and advice. A clear, though, and reasonable process goes a long way to establishing that you know your business.

*To whom are you delivering these servces? This  can be a demographic, a specialty, or an overall approach. We deliver financial advice for people who want financial peace of mind, etc. The goal here is to establish that you know what you are doing—and to set realistic boundaries and expectations.

The bottom line is that, if you really want to grow your business, you don’t need to redesign your logo, website, etc. You just need to know what to know who you are and be able to clearly explain that to everyone who asks. So, open up a Word Doc and start writing.

Angie Herbers is Managing Director and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Company, an independent growth consultancy for financial advisory firms. She can be reached at angie@angieherbers.com.