Struggling to Grow? What Successful Firms Get Right

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Financial advisors are giving themselves a failing grade in business development.

More than half of financial advisors surveyed by the FPA for its latest study, "2014 Drivers of Business Growth," didn't give their business development process a passing grade, and only 9% described their process as very effective.

What's more, only 25% of the advisors surveyed said they had exceeded their business development goals, while 35% reported falling fell short of their goals last year. And only 13% of advisors said their firms had a very strong culture of business development.

In addition, less than a third of the advisors said they had a formal, written business plan. Although 33% of the advisors said they did define growth goals, but did not have a documented plan.

"Most advisors are struggling to grow their businesses in a way that is directly impacting their bottom line," concluded FPA Executive Director and CEO Lauren Schadle.


So what are advisors who are growing their businesses doing right, and what should other advisors be doing differently?

Advisors who have experienced growth success tend to be niche-oriented, says Valerie Chaillé, director of the FPA Research and Practice Institute, which conducted the study.

"They are more selective and more focused," according to Chaillé, who is also founder and president of SummitView Financial in Indianapolis. "The more intimately knowledgeable you are about a specialized area, the faster you can grow. Clients are more apt to refer you, and centers of influence refer you as an expert. But it's also scary to be exclusive, because it's hard to turn away other clients."

Advisors who have mastered business development also have instilled a culture of discipline at their firms says Julie Littlechild, founder of New York-based Advisor Impact, who collaborated on the study with the FPA.

"The successful firms haven't grown using ad hoc tactics," Littlechild says. "They have been very strategic, they clarify their goals and take control of the business development process. Things that will happen anyway, like market appreciation, can mask real growth. There's no magic bullet, but advisors can focus on execution and pick one or two things to work on and get better at doing them."

Advisors striving for growth success should clearly define what they do best and then articulate their value proposition, says Chaillé.

"Knowing what you're good at is the key," she explains. "It helps you and your team to focus and apply your skill set to the right client."

The study also showed that advisors striving for growth need to improve the way they interact with centers of influence, Littlechild says.

"Advisors have a love/hate relationship with COIs and are clearly struggling with those relationships," she says. "To me it screams executional challenge. Advisors need to take a long-term approach, nurture the relationships and if referrals result, see them as a happy byproduct."


Advisors with successful business development strategies were using both tried and true and innovative strategies, according to the study, which surveyed 434 professionals across the country, including FPA members and non-members in firms with a wide range of business sizes and models.

Successful advisors had a clear, defined business plan including a defined value proposition and business plan and implemented time-tested marketing tactics such as client events and cultivating centers of influence.
Although a relatively low percentage of advisors said they were focusing on newer tactics, such as thought leadership by building a personal brand or platform using social media, larger and growing businesses were more likely to be using this strategy.

That shift, according to Littlechild, was one of the study's most important findings.

"The fact that so many successful advisors referred to new forms of marketing such as thought leadership, content marketing and personal brand building signals a shift for the better into new territory," she explains. "It's still early, but the signs suggest that traditional forms of marketing may be changing.”

Those advisors that are moving beyond traditional marketing had a number of traits in common, the study found, including improving their websites and using social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google to achieve a more prominent public profile and a more visible identity leveraging a personal and team brand.


Asked to identify the most important thing they needed to do to improve their business development process going forward, the surveyed advisors answered:

  • Become more active in the community through social activities, events and deeper relationships with centers of influence.
  • Create a plan with written goals and use them to develop a written strategy on where the firm needs to be in one, two, five and 10 years.
  • Create a process which has an effective, repeatable client acquisition strategy, a formalized business development plan, a good lead-generation system and a systematic, cross-channel marketing plan that is implemented consistently and measured for effectiveness. 
  • Enhance the client referral process by creating a trusting relationship with existing clients, developing a formal process for client referrals and giving clients tools to help spread the story of the firm.
  • Focus on strategy with a solid message that matches the firm's image with its target clientele, connecting with and embracing the younger generation, clearly articulating the firm's value proposition and communicating what the firm brings to the table that no one else will.

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