Partnering with local libraries to bring financial education to interested people in her area has been a successful route to prospective clients for Darla Main, of Main Advisory, inc. in McMurray, Penn.

Main began her educational programs after participating in Horsesmouth, a subscription educational service for financial advisors.

 “One of the things they offered was a complete educational program on social security planning,” she said. The program was time-consuming – “like drinking water from a fire hydrant,” Main says – but by the end she was extremely knowledgeable about a topic that many people approaching retirement do not understand.

Social security planning is “a real hot button for the public in general,” she said. Many people worry about social security but few understand that they can maximize their benefits through a well-thought out plan.

After educating herself, Main began offering her presentations on social security at local libraries, which are often looking for content of interest to their customers. The libraries usually provide a free room, as well as free promotion of the event through newsletters and flyers. The presentation is not a sales pitch, she stressed, it’s an information session, and she will only contact audience members who give her permission. So far, she said, the sessions have been very well attended and have led to a number of new relationships.

Main said the demographic of people who come to this kind of library presentation is well matched with the type of client she serves. Many of the participants are pre-retirees and they often have substantial investable assets.

After the success of the early presentations on social security planning Main has also developed other topics, like one on dividend investing. And she has been able to take her social security expertise to other venues, providing other opportunities for client contact. For example, she said, she recently gave the presentation to a group of lawyers at a local elder law firm, and now that firm is referring business to her practice.

Not everyone who comes to one of her library presentation is going to feel the need for a full-service financial planner, she noted. But she offers a social security analysis for a minimum fee for these clients who are just interested in learning more about that piece of their financial picture. In some cases, that first meeting will lead to a bigger relationship.

The biggest key to her success, Main says, was that she found a topic that was of interest to a large swathe of the public and took the time to become a real expert on it. “I just devoted myself to learning that material,” she said. Other planners may feel other topics are of more interest to people in their community, but can follow the same path.

Main says that she tries to position herself as different from other planners and everything from her Web site to her marketing materials reflects that. She said that in the recent redesign of her site she knew from the outset that she didn’t want something that looked like everyone else’s – so, as she joked, that meant no pictures of lighthouses.

  She also writes a quarterly newsletter for clients that includes, along with the usual discussion of financial topics, personal stories about her staff and features about clients’ vacations.

While many planners write daily or weekly blogs nowadays, Main said she feels that she can give a quarterly publication the real attention it deserves, and make sure everything is in compliance, without it taking over all of her time.

“I have clients from California to Delaware, Florida to Wisconsin. They’re everywhere. I wish they were all in a 15 mile radius but they’re not,” she said. “That newsletter gives us a human connection to those folks that you wouldn’t get with something you buy off the shelf and put your logo on and send off.”