If you’ve ever traveled by train into a major city like New York or Boston, you’ve felt that surreal sensation of stepping out onto the busy street for the first time. In an instant, as you step onto the sidewalk, you’re propelled into the hustle and bustle as millions of people whiz by you, all focused on getting to Point B.
Suffice to say, stepping out of summer into fall conference season provides an eerily similar feeling. As soon as we flip our calendars to September, conference ads start popping into our social media feeds at 10 times the rate as before, and leaders from all corners of the industry begin comparing conference schedules and prepping their corresponding company news announcements. Suddenly, we’re heaved into a tizzy of award ceremonies, conferences and panels.
In the midst of all the noise, a busy conference season can be extremely advantageous for your long-term recruitment strategy — and if approached the right way, can create a much more fruitful advisor pipeline for your firm in the year ahead.
When your firm is focused on recruiting quality talent, there are specific practices I recommend you adopt before, during and after each conference to ensure you’re getting the most out of your time, cost investment and network.
Stage 1: Due Diligence
There are many reasons your firm will want to attend certain conferences, like cost, subject matter and target audience. But consider the recruitment opportunities that may exist there, and how you can set a plan around leveraging those opportunities while you’re on site.
Understand where you are in the recruitment process: It’s like squaring up to the basket before you shoot a basketball — if you enter into a recruitment strategy with two feet firmly planted, you’re much more likely to make the shot.
Take inventory of where you’re at in your process. Are you simply canvassing the industry to see what’s out there, or do you already have a detailed plan in place for the advisor you’re looking to hire?
Know who the speakers, sponsors and attendees will be — and reach out: Begin networking before you even step foot at the conference by researching who the speakers and sponsors will be ahead of time.
Also, consider tweeting to popular industry hashtags like #FinTwit to see who else will be in attendance — this is a great tool for setting up introductions ahead of the conference.
Think beyond the conference (literally): If you’re traveling to a region you’d be interested in recruiting from, add an extra day to your trip to take meetings with advisors who live in that city.
The face time goes a long way, and the extra day gives you the room to still be fully present during the conference.
Get your message straight: By far the most important piece of homework before any business development strategy — know who you are, and what you can offer advisors. Write it, practice it, workshop it.
This is the crux of who you are as a firm.
Stage 2: Networking
Having already established the game plan before the conference, you should be better equipped to use your time more efficiently and intentionally. During the event, it’s important you surround yourself with the right network of attendees who will help move the recruitment needle long-term.
Go where the prospects are: If you do the proper due diligence before the conference, you can make an informed decision about which breakout sessions are the most worthwhile to attend.
Go where your prospects are and listen closely during the sessions to what they care most about. What’s being asked during the Q&A? What do the people sitting in the room look like? This is research that is critical to your recruitment strategy.
Know who your peer group is: Listening to success stories from a $100 billion firm can be inspirational, but if you’re a $250 million firm with three advisors, then you should be focusing on a different stage of growth and talking to like-minded peers about how to get there.
Be vulnerable with your peers on-site. Ask them what they think about your firm’s value proposition and let them know where you are in the recruitment process. This can be a huge help to you and your leadership team.
Network with your current partners: broker-dealer, custody platform, tech vendors, manufacturers, wholesalers, etc.: If (and only if) you have a clear understanding of who you’re looking to recruit, your existing partners can be a major asset to your search.
Scope them out at the conference and ask them what networks or resources they have that can put you in front of viable prospects.
Always go to the after-party: Every good business relationship stems from a deeper-rooted personal connection.
I always make it a point to attend after-parties, because this is an opportunity to relate to people on a personal level. Get to know what people are interested in, where they vacation, and what their kids are like. These conversations are the ones they’ll remember and will go much further than any business transaction.
Stage 3: Building Connections
Your work really begins after the conference is over. Because while you were out there networking and making connections with folks who’ll move the needle for your business, so was everyone else. So, here’s how to make sure you’re remembered, even after the conference is over.
Keep an organized Rolodex: Business cards are still one of the best tools for conference networking.
I encourage people to take notes on the back of cards — including any personal facts that may be useful to remember down the road — and use digital tools like ABBYY or CamCard, which can scan the cards into a digital Rolodex right on your phone. Do this directly after the conference is over, while the connections are fresh.
Email one week later with personal notes: Block off time on your calendar to email your conference connections one week after the conference is over.
Remind them who you are and how you can help them. Show gratitude for their time and open the invitation to meet again.
Sync up on future schedules: If you meet a prospect or a connection who you want to meet again, ask upfront what their conference schedule is for the weeks ahead. This will give you an opportunity to schedule some quality time and make the most of your upcoming conference.
When we place an intentional focus on how we show up at conferences, they become so much more than a string of sessions and after-parties. They become a critical part of our overall recruitment strategy, and a basis to build relationships that can blossom into strategic partnerships, star advisors and long-term growth.
In the end, your conference strategy boils down to one important thing: how it can help you, help advisors. Because that’s really what we’re all here to do.
Ryan Shanks is co-founder and CEO of FA Match, a digital recruitment platform that launched in 2019 and connects wealth management firms with advisors seeking meaningful career transitions.