It’s no secret that most owners of independent advisory firms today want to grow their businesses. And you don’t need a security clearance to know that many their efforts aren’t very successful.

This is because the first step most owners take is to research “marketing” online. What they find are suggestions about creating a social media presence, doing podcasts, creating video blogs, etc. And owners typically get so overwhelmed that they simply make a few changes to their websites and see little to no results.

After a couple months or so, they decide they can’t handle these marketing efforts on their own, so they go to a “marketing firm,” which will suggest changes similar to what they read online and will charge an arm and a leg.

Having watched this scenario play out many times over the years, I’ve come the conclusion that for most advisory firms, there is a better way to boost growth — without spending a dime on marketing. The key is to realize that “professional services” businesses are different from the “retail sales” firms that business school marketing programs were created to help.

Simply put, retail sales are about products: cars, TVs, cell phones, etc. But as the name suggests, “professional services” aren’t about products; they’re about services. And services are provided by people — in this case, financial professionals. Selling professional services isn’t about the “firm,” it’s about the professionals themselves.

The best, fastest and most successful way to grow an advisory firm is to grow your “story.” Start by writing out how, when and why you started the business, what your core values are and what you’ve learned since you began your career.

Next, share that story with everyone in your firm and ask each of them to write their own story of why they are working with you. Also, have staff share these stories with the whole firm. By doing so, it will become clear who and what your firm is.

Once these steps are done, you — and everyone in your firm — can answer the question: Who are we? And, just like rumors, stories start to spread.

Step Two

Another powerful way to grow is to turn some of your staff into highly visible experts in your community. Some firm owners prefer not to shine a light on their team’s talent, because they fear losing this talent from the resulting attention these employees receive. This may happen, but why not make your talented staff members as viable as possible while they are with you?

Telling  clients, prospects, friends and acquaintances what is the true value of each member of your team makes your firm more professional, more resourceful and better able to help your clients.

Finally, until you’ve mastered the art of telling others — clients, employees and friends — your story and those of your employees, you can forget about your firm’s website. No amount of updating is going to help your marketing efforts until you learn to tell with the world the story of why you created your firm in the first place.

After that’s done, get back to work: Client service and the people who deliver it are the best marketing methods of all. Do that well, and you’ll have plenty of people talking about you.