One of the most misunderstood areas of advisory firm’s growth is marketing.

Simply put, the vast majority of marketing advice is for the general public — to get people interested in products sold, not professional services businesses delivering special care and tasks to potential clients. Plus, there’s a lot of “misinformation” out there about how advisory firms “truly” grow and gain additional market share and clients.

From data we’ve compiled, we’ve found the fastest-growing advisory firms succeed in three primary ways: via referrals from existing clients, loss leaders, and mergers and acquisitions. Let’s focus on how firms can grow from referrals; I’ll discuss loss leaders and M&As in future blogs.

Think of referrals this way: If you are serving 100 clients and each one of those clients refers one client per year, and you close 100% of them, what happens? Boom, you double your size without spending a penny on marketing. Now, what if you had 1,000 clients?

This compounding formula is what the fastest-growing firm leaders focus on. They consistently ask themselves and their leadership teams: How can we get the clients we already have to talk more about us, refer at least one client each year?

When starting an advisory firm from ground zero, many owners must do some sort of marketing and rainmaking to get their first clients. But what many advisory firm owners don’t realize is that as your client base grows, the clients you serve (if served well) will do the marketing for you.

As a result, in the growth process, once you get more than 25 clients, the marketing you do transforms to “internal” (or inbound) efforts — such as the promotion of services to existing clients and employees — and to a focus on “sales” throughout the remaining growth stages of the firm, even in the largest firms.

However, many firms don’t transform to the “internal.” They get caught up in the belief that “outbound” marketing (like podcasts, SEO, websites, rainmaking, etc.) is the way to grow, because that’s what they had to do in the beginning.

The result is that they waste resources on marketing programs and plans that don’t work and continue to swim upstream in their growth process. Have you ever looked at the websites of some of the fastest growing firms in our space? Some are terrible, and there’s a reason for it.

Instead, start by reviewing your “sales” materials. The vast majority of advisory firms don’t do “sales” — after all, it’s a negative word to many, especially those who left the brokerage world. But if your team cannot educate and close at the highest level, no amount of marketing will help you.

Provide Materials

Think of ways you can make your team look smarter and increase clients’ awareness of your abilities. Create client handouts, such as “how to protect yourself from cybercriminals” and/or “how you can overcome tax law changes.”

Sales materials begin with educating your client base. You also should send clients “lists” of things you do that they might not know about.  As you do this, they begin to appreciate everything you do and can do for them.

If You Build It …

Most advisors are taught to ask for referrals, but we’ve found the best firms don’t do this. It’s far more effective to share “internally” your knowledge with your client base, using your own intellectual property.

Write articles for advisory firm websites that showcase your team’s expertise in financial advice. This also helps your clients to better understand financial services and how they can best use them to their advantage. This also can go a long way in establishing the credibility of your firm.

Credibility is what you are going for. Deeper brand credibility is established within the people you already serve, and it greatly increases referral rates.

By taking these steps, clients will talk about your firm more, which starts the wheel turning for “word of mouth” marketing, the least expensive of all marketing programs. From there (assuming you keep at it), you’ll have plenty of clients — and a far less expensive way to grow your business.

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Angie Herbers is Chief Executive and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Company, an independent management strategy consultancy for financial advisory firms. She can be reached at www.HerbersCo.com.