To succeed as a financial advisor you must stand out as unique, be able to articulate your value in a clear and compelling way, and be visible in the right circles. This may be easier said than done given the erosion of trust that we’ve seen with consumers since the 2008/09 banking crisis and Wall Street scandals.

Consumers are more skeptical and slower to trust. At the same time they are worried and there is a heightened sense that getting some professional advice would be wise. People close to retirement age cannot make any mistakes, as they may not have time to recover from those mistakes.

Client-centered advisors have, of course, hunkered down and focused on taking care of their clients. But some still struggle with finding time for marketing and devoting any energy to it. The truth of the matter, though, is that you can be the most competent, caring professional in the world but your business won’t grow as it could if you are not visible and credible in the right circles.

CHALLENGES FOR ADVISORS TODAY

A recent Fidelity Investments® poll, taken at the company’s annual Executive Forum client event, finds that broker-dealer reps and registered investment advisor (RIA) firm executives (“executives”) believe the greatest concern for the industry today is “increasing competition and the need to differentiate.”

Underlying this sentiment are a number of changes in investor behavior, shifting business pressures and evolving technologies that are challenging brokers and advisors to renew their focus on innovative services and strategies in order to remain relevant and position themselves for growth.

The greatest change on the investor landscape, according to two-thirds (64%) of the executives surveyed, is that investors are more risk averse. Possibly as a result of their lower risk tolerance, executives reported that the next most significant shift is that investors are more engaged in the investment process (12%). The need for greater transparency and a desire for increased communication through email, text and social media were tied as the third most significant changes in investor behavior (at 7% each).

While investor behavior has changed, executives’ business realities have also shifted. Compared to ten years ago, they are spending 73% more time and resources on risk and compliance. This is causing them to spend less time and resources on marketing/business development (19% less) and client service (10% less).

The problems, according to the Fidelity 2011 Benchmarking Study, were most notable in RIA firms with less than $100 million in assets under management, because they are less insulated from market turbulence. Add to the mix that the firms with under $100 million now have to deal with state regulators. The increased time they have to spend on compliance means that much less time to spend on trying to grow.

Read more about the Fidelity findings here and here.

SIMPLE WAYS TO TAKE ACTION

In preparation for my presentation at the Loring Ward national education conference in June (see my prior Marketing Maven contribution with marketing insights from Bo Eason and John Bowen), I spoke with three advisors who are a part of the Loring Ward circle. They told me what they are doing to market their firms and to build trust with prospective clients. None of these firms are ginormous, but all have experienced good business growth over the past few years:

Firm #1 – From $0 Revenue (and No Natural Market) to $100 Million AUM in 8 years

Firm #2 – From $400,000 Gross Revenue to $1 Million Gross Revenue in 5 Years

Firm #3 – From $40 Million AUM to $78 Million AUM in 3 Years

So, if you struggle with finding the time and energy to market your business, their simple but effective marketing ideas may inspire you to take action.

JUST ANOTHER BORING GUY?

Jeff Helms, CFA®, is principal of First Coast Advisors. He ran an independent broker/dealer before establishing his own independent wealth management practice in 2004. “I moved from Washington, DC to St. Augustine, Florida,” he recalls. “I had no contacts, no natural market.”

“In the first three years, I built my company up and it looked pretty much like an average financial planning practice,” he said. “Then I got into the CEG coaching program and found Loring Ward. This was a transformative experience for me. I changed the types of people I served, the size of clients I courted and focused on becoming a true wealth manager.”

Today, Helms has $100 million AUM. A typical client is a pre-retiree or recently retired person who “stays up nights worrying” and has $1.5 million in investable assets.

He has been successful with a tactic that many try but fail at: building strategic alliances with other professionals (especially CPAs). Why?

Helms created a formal structure with economic glue. These licensed solicitors position his practice and share his wealth management process with right-fit clients. He provides a private-label brochure for the firm to announce the strategic alliance relationship. He takes the partners through the process as if they were clients. Jeff offers a second opinion service and teaches his strategic partners a script that talks about the benefits of the service.

He also holds exclusive educational events for clients – for instance a luncheon where he’ll speak for just 20 minutes to a dozen clients and their friends about the wisdom of Roth conversions, or a roundtable discussion in one of his partner’s boardrooms. The events have to be 12 people or less. “I don’t want the event to be perceived as a seminar,” Jeff says.

He also hosts affinity events where clients bring friends. For instance, a holiday social where the choral group from a local high school came and serenaded his guests, a holiday party where guests made their own Christmas decorations at an art gallery, a holiday tour in trolley cars to experience what the town was like 100 years ago. There is almost always a charitable donation element to all of these parties.

“I try to make all my events experiential – not just drinks and hors d ‘oeuvres. I want people to leave feeling enriched,” he said.  The “blow out” was an evening at a cooking school: “I hand-picked several clients. Sixteen of us spent the evening studying a region of the world and preparing a four-course meal together. Everyone left with a bottle of wine.”

While Helms is technologically proficient, he has not yet embraced social media. “People come to me because of my reputation and/or a referral from a friend or another trusted advisor,” he said.

He uses drip marketing tactics such a monthly e-newsletter – which he says is light and funny (“a cross between Walter Cronkite and Stephen Colbert”) – quarterly performance reports and letters, birthday cards and calls, etc. “We don’t talk to clients any more or any less when the markets are volatile,” he says. “We create normalcy for the client.”

He said there is “nothing sexy” about what he does. “I just want to be seen as a subject matter expert.” To that end, he offers a series of workshops called Reinventing Your Retirement.  The purely educational content, which is derived from a book he authored, is intended for municipal employees – firefighters, policemen, public administrators, etc. who are 50+ years old. At one time, he was on retainer to come in and do workshops for 9 municipalities.

He also finds the time needed for these marketing endeavors by leveraging videos and other collateral materials available from Geneos Wealth Management and Loring Ward. And while Helms is a CFA and could competently manage his clients’ money on his own, he outsources investment management and back office duties to Loring Ward. As a result, he has gone from $0 revenue (and no natural market) to $100 Million AUM in eight years.

Next week, I’ll share insights from a “niche master” and a “PR machine”.

If you believe that your brand of personal advice and investment acumen needs to find its way into the lives of more right-fit clients, stop procrastinating and pick two-three simple marketing initiatives to start now. Time to get off the sidelines.