With all the volatility in the markets, we're likely to see a lot more money in motion toward the end of the year. To capture that money, it's important to be visible, clear on your offerings and be able to demonstrate your value in a way that resonates with potential clients - particularly those who feel they've not been well served throughout these volatile times.

Even if you're dealing with your own fallout, it's still a good time to ensure your practice is well poised to take on new business. I'm not just talking about getting new clients in the door, I'm talking about attracting them to what is unique about you and your firm.

When I ask every advisor what is unique about his or her firm, I almost always get these answers: "We give superior service" or "Our service is unsurpassed." I have never met anyone who announced that they provide lousy service.

If you think your service is extraordinary, line up because there are thousands of advisors with the same "unique" service. Consider replacing your inclination to use the word "service" with the word "trust." As I see it, there is no better differentiator than the trust your prospects and clients have for you and the work you do.

But to help you identify something that may really be unique, consider some fundamental business tools to get you thinking differently. First, you've probably heard me talk about having a mission and vision statement. Even if you have these, revisiting them can help you crystallize your unique offering.

 

ON A MISSION

Your mission statement is your "now" statement of who you are, what you do, who your clients are and what needs you fulfill. This statement helps you define your client base, your target market and, more important, how your firm should focus its efforts.

To illustrate this, I like to look at corporate mission statements. Kellogg's is: "To drive sustainable growth through the power of our people and brands by better serving the needs of our consumers, customers and communities."

General Mills, maker of Cheerios, says this: "Our mission is to nourish everyone by making their lives healthier, easier and richer. General Mills is nourishing lives."

Notice how Kellogg includes "sustainable growth," while General Mills focuses its efforts on nourishment. Both are in the food business, both make cereals, but their statements are carefully crafted to reflect their unique approach to their business.

Consider the Domino's vision statement: "Exceptional franchisees and team members on a mission to be the best pizza delivery company in the world." While surely Domino's is concerned about product variety, service consistency, team safety and security, among other things, the words the company has chosen demonstrate their primary focus on delivery.

Do you see how subtle differences can create a significant change of focus in the direction of a company? If you have a mission statement, decide if it really reflects the focus you want. If not, craft something that is more fully in keeping with what you are doing today.

Next, let's look at a vision statement. The vision statement is your aspirational or "gonna be" statement, and generally answers the question, "Where do you want your firm to be in five or 10 years?"

 

REFINING THE VISION

Amazon.com has what I consider one of the best vision statements. It's very succinct: "Our vision is to be earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."

In recent years, Amazon has added many more products to its website, so you can now buy most anything you are looking for through their site. They are moving in the direction of their vision.

Notably, Amazon does not say anything about its service, which is arguably superior to many competitors' service. The firm's business model makes it easy to purchase, ship and track your items with little effort. And Amazon follows up, asking you to rate its large stable of third-party providers, ensuring that they are providing customers with reliable and consistent service.

In your effort to uncover your uniqueness, consider designing a list of your firm's core values, those attributes that form the framework for your priorities, decisions and actions. Your core values are really your culture, or "soul," statement, the words that give meaning to the life that you and members of your firm ascribe to.

Some value nouns that are worth considering: accountability, integrity, innovation, balance, efficiency and empowerment. Think. What are the inherent qualities of your firm that you consider sacrosanct?

Write down those that occur to you and share them with your colleagues. Invite staff to contribute to ensure that these values fully reflect your firm's culture.

After spending time formulating your "now," "gonna be" and "soul" statements, you're ready to discover your brand. It's your promise to your clients and prospects. It's the essential foundation of your practice's marketing efforts and is uniquely you and your firm.

Brand equals trust. I used to call it the "one thing" that you are known for but, crafted correctly, it can be so much more. It is the differentiator between you and everyone else out there.

 

YOUR BRAND HERE

There are many ways to brand, from logos to short statements and taglines. Sometimes, the branding is so strong that the brand becomes the name for all the generic products, too. Think about Jell-O, Kleenex and Band-Aid.

How do you design a branding strategy? Start by asking yourself and co-workers the following questions:

* What is the one quality your firm is known for?

* What do clients say about your firm?

* What adds dimension and character to your firm?

* What are some adjectives that describe your firm?

* Who is your audience?

* What does your audience have to say about your firm?

* What defines you best?

* What are your fiercest local competitors known for?

* What describes them best?

Look at your answers and compare them with your "now," "gonna be" and "soul" statements. Do your answers reflect the essence of you and your firm? If not, spend some time going over and carefully refining them.

As you think again about your responses to the branding questions, ask yourself what words or phrases pop out? What words or phrases recur?

For the past 10 years, my firm has used "Planning to Live Well." We believe it expresses our mission to improve the quality of our clients' lives. It's important that your brand be a pure reflection of your own unique offerings, core beliefs, mission and vision.

The final organizational tool that cements your work and motivates you and your firm to action is what we call the battle cry. If you've seen the movie Braveheart, you'll remember William Wallace preparing to lead his rebels against the English tyranny. His rallying cry ends with: "They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!"

What is your firm's battle cry? What will motivate you and your colleagues to achieve your vision? And how deeply will it resonate with prospective clients?

 

Deena Katz, CFP, is an associate professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University. She is also chairwoman of Evensky & Katz, an advisory firm in Coral Gables, Fla.