By Kirk Hulett
Many financial advisers stepped away from marketing for many years as a good economy and rising assets made acquiring new clients less of a priority. Given the current economic environment and practice revenues down 20 percent or more, advisers have to dust off-and beef up-their marketing skills.
Here are some things you can do to prepare yourself for a strong marketing push:
Refresh your brand and marketing materials. How long has it been since you updated your logo, marketing materials and photo? If it's more than two years, they need to be updated. The goal is to create the feeling that you have something new, and brand perception is part of that.
It's also a good idea to refresh the look of your office. While it's true that budgets are tight, you can probably do some bargain shopping at struggling retailers for a more contemporary look to furniture and décor.
Seminars: I hear they work again! Frankly, I'm not sure that seminars ever stopped working. Bad seminars never worked; good seminars are a different story.
There are basically two categories of seminars: prospecting seminars and referral seminars. With prospecting seminars, you are casting a net for new clients based on the content of the seminar. So the content needs to offer value to the audience and needs to differentiate you. The same old topics that a dozen other planners in your market are presenting will not be successful.
Referral seminars are educational seminars for your clients where you encourage them to bring friends who might benefit from the type of services you offer. These seminars have a dual purpose of adding value to your current clients and showcasing your client relationship and financial planning skills to prospective clients. This type of seminar also enables you to leverage your current clients as your best advertisement.
For both types of seminars, you need to do these things well:
- Create a flawless, fast and effective follow-up system. There needs to be a well-planned and efficient system to execute a set of tasks that follow-up with prospects timely and repeatedly.
- Control costs. Seminars can be expensive. You need to conduct them cost effectively without seeming cheap. Many meeting vendors (hotels, caterers, restaurants, etc.) are also looking for customers in a difficult economy. Use your best negotiating skills to cut a deal.
If you have the space, you can hold small referral seminars in your office conference room. Another option is to partner with another professional-CPA, attorney, etc. You can share the referrals as well as share the costs of meeting space, or even use their office if it's more suitable.
A word of caution: Regulators are very sensitive to seminars targeting seniors. Be very careful that your seminar is not a "free lunch" seminar that puts you in the sites of state or SRO regulators.
Newspaper and radio advertising have never been more affordable. Remember, however, it is still a challenge to capture eyeballs. You have to look different and say things that are new and different. A poorly executed, cheap advertisement will not get you any traction. Also, be very specific in your advertising messaging and the publication in which you're ad will appear about the type of clients you are looking to serve.
Don't overlook your current clients. Have you provided great service to your current clients? Have you communicated consistently since the start of the economic "panic" in September 2008? If so, you have a fertile marketing arena with your current clients.
Create a reason to have meetings with your current clients. Offer a 401(k) review, a retirement "re-planning" review or an income distribution review. Doing these things may uncover new assets and new planning opportunities. To make these review meetings most effective, be sure that you offer real, tangible outcomes-and the client service experience when the client visits your office must be impeccable.
If you do this well, it will also create opportunities to ask your current clients for referrals. Yes, you must ask, rather than simply assume that a happy client will refer someone. It's best to ask repeatedly, using a systematic approach. This might include adding a line to your e-signature, or sending out handwritten appreciation notes and making sure that every correspondence or communication with clients includes a gracious "ask."
I think the most important lesson of marketing is "do something." If it's not seminars, advertising or referrals-do something! Clients will not find you accidentally, especially in this market, and especially since many of your competitors are out trolling for people who feel that they have not been served well by their current advisers.
Kirk J. Hulett is senior vice president of strategy and practice management for Securities America, Inc., an independent broker-dealer based in Omaha, Neb., where he leads an internal consulting firm that assists financial advisers on practice management issues. Hulett also serves on the editorial advisory board of Practice Management Solutions.
Tools to Use
For a free workbook to Customize Your Referral Process, go to www.securitiesamerica.com/marketing101.html.