I can remember being 8 years old and racing home after school to tell my mother what happened on the playground that day. I still smile recalling that feeling-having a story so important you couldn't help but burst at the seams to tell it.
I'm reminded of that feeling when I watch my colleague, Buckingham Asset Management principal Larry Swedroe, tell people about our investment strategy. Larry's enthusiasm is obvious when he speaks, regardless of the audience. He may be at an internal advisor meeting, a large conference with attendees from across the country, a seminar of investors or just while he's sitting with a middle-age couple looking for investing help.
Having someone serve as your practice's champion and dedicated advocate is a crucial move many planning firms fail to take. It can bring new opportunities and exceptional growth you can't get through ordinary marketing techniques.
Our firm has grown tremendously over the past 17 years. Buckingham now has more than $3.2 billion in assets under management, plus another $11 billion in assets under administration through our sister firm, BAM Advisor Services.
None of this would have been possible without such dedicated efforts by Larry. When he joined our firm in 1996, his role sounded simple: He would teach the principles of passive investing to our associates so they could best serve our clients. We estimate that half of our assets is due in part or wholly to Larry's work. That's a pretty good return on any type of investment.
There's more than one way to be a terrific and effective advocate for your practice. Larry has written 10 books on the science of investing, showing why passive management should be the preferred investing strategy. He has also written articles for many publications, including this one (see "Foolish Ideas," on page 148) and maintains a blog on MoneyWatch.com.
It's up to you to decide what gets your focus. Even with such a wide-ranging buffet to choose from, there are several principles to keep in mind for becoming or having a dedicated voice for your firm.
SELLING YOUR FIRM'S STORY
How can you or one of your colleagues be an effective advocate for your practice? These principles came to mind as concepts anyone can follow:
* Be passionate. No matter how knowledgeable you are or how much speaking talent you have, it won't matter if you don't care about your topic.
* Stay educated. Not being up to date with what's happening in the investing world is not an option. You will find that a lack of knowledge will be exposed quickly.
* Let your enthusiasm spill over. In his classic book, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell called the trickle-down principle of knowledge-sharing the law of explosive growth-developing others so that they in turn can develop a multitude themselves.
* Ensure the firm practices what you preach. When people come to us after Larry speaks or after reading one of his books, they have expectations of what we will deliver. They expect us to use the investing solutions best suited for their situation. They expect us to design a plan that puts them in the best position to reach their financial goals.
One reason we have so successfully capitalized on Larry's efforts is because we are in sync. He preaches about the right way to invest, and we practice it every day with our clients.
* Be accessible. There is a difference between having someone promote your firm and having someone dedicated to being your firm's advocate. Many firms have people who can speak to audiences, write articles and books, do media interviews, etc.
However, most of these proponents likely don't have the time to answer the inevitable questions resulting from their efforts. This is vital because these situations are when connections are made.
It's one thing for a prospective client to sit in the audience during a speech. It's quite another to get direct, one-on-one help regarding one of the most important aspects of his or her life. Larry gets scores of emails, and he takes the time to see they are answered, either by him or another expert who can give a better answer.
* Keep plugging. If you haven't heard of Carl Richards, who formed Prasada Capital Management, you should check out the The New York Times' Bucks Blog. Long before he had the exposure he does today, Carl started off not knowing whether anyone was reading what he was posting online. But he enthusiastically kept at it.
He shared the example of a boomerang. The first several times you throw it, it might not come back. The first time it does comes back, it might smack you in the mouth. You just have to keep at it, and eventually you'll get the hang of it.Carl now reaches a wide audience through his blog and website, behaviorgap.com, focusing on investor behavior and the decisions we make.
For many advisory firms, being able to hire or dedicate someone specifically for advocacy and publicity will be difficult, if not impossible. That's understandable because resources can be scarce. But don't let that stop you from finding a person who'll help your business grow.
I've seen the success of having someone dedicated to advocacy in other firms, as well. Matt Hall, a good friend, is a principal of Hill Investment Group in St. Louis. Matt's firm has more than $300 million in assets despite having only four people on the payroll and being just six years old.
Matt knew the importance of having someone take on the responsibility of sharing his firm's story, having worked with us (and Larry) prior to starting Hill. "The best thing I wanted to do for [the firm] was be that person, because I had seen other examples," he says.
Like Matt, Brad Wasserman of Wasserman Wealth Management in Farmington Hills, Mich., focuses on advocating for his firm. Brad blogs (wassermanwealth.blogspot.com) and keeps in contact through Twitter (@wassermanwealth).
The key, he says, is contributing as much as possible without neglecting other duties. He blogs a few times a month, but is much more active on Twitter, usually posting several times a day.
This doesn't mean you have to become an expert in all areas of finance and speak out on every conceivable topic. If there's one topic you are most passionate about, focusing on that may not only simplify your schedule, butalso give you greater enjoyment.
You may also want to start pooling resources. For example, the Bright Sky Group is a collection of 21 wealth management firms that share a common vision and outlook on how to serve clients best. It made sense to use their collective wisdom to get their story out there.
If you're not in the position to have someone dedicated exclusively to being your firm's advocate, that's okay. It doesn't have to be a full-time position right now. But not having someone at all means there are fewer people hearing your story and how you can make a tremendous impact in their lives.
Adam Birenbaum is a principal and CEO of St. Louis-based Buckingham Asset Management (www.investmentadvisornow.com). He is also a principal of BAM Advisor Services (www.bamadvisorservices.com).
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