Growing your business in a virtual world

frank lamjus

The world changed overnight and advisers rose to the challenge, adapting to a virtual reality with impressive speed and flexibility. Now, more than four months into the pandemic, it’s time for them to get serious about growth. Despite their herculean efforts to keep current clients satisfied, many advisers are ignoring […]

The world changed overnight and advisers rose to the challenge, adapting to a virtual reality with impressive speed and flexibility. Now, more than four months into the pandemic, it’s time for them to get serious about growth. Despite their herculean efforts to keep current clients satisfied, many advisers are ignoring the bigger opportunity: Winning new clients.

OLD TECHNIQUES FALL FLAT IN A VIRTUAL WORLD

The advisory game has changed, and old growth tactics won’t produce the same results anymore. At a time when advisers’ tried-and-true in-person networking events are off-limits, what does it take to attract the attention of new clients?

Growing an advisory business in this virtual world will come down to four key factors:

Adopt a growth mindset. Advisers tell their clients every day not to act emotionally with their money or make investment decisions out of fear. Yet financial planners are not immune to the same tendencies that plague clients.

It’s human nature to cling tightly to existing business and fight against losing it, especially during periods of crisis and economic uncertainty. However, that mindset is counterproductive to growth. Successful advisers take care of their clients without losing sight of the broader opportunity.

Experiment, then experiment some more. Advisers who grew their business during the early days of the pandemic have one important quality in common: They’re not afraid to fail. The secret to success is testing a variety of different strategies to engage and keeping up a strong volume of activity.

A few creative tactics to engage current clients and prospects include:

  • Virtual wine tasting (or gin, rum, craft beer … pick your poison)
  • Book discussion with the author
  • Wine drop-off
  • Gardening essentials and indoor herb gardens
  • Recipe sharing
  • Curbside meals delivered by the adviser
  • Delivery of board games, puzzles and books

Drive referrals by showing clients proactivity every single day. Referrals are still the No. 1 driver of growth, so a strong new business strategy needs to be built on a foundation of happy and engaged clients.

The worst thing advisers can do during periods of crisis is ask their clients how they can help. It’s the equivalent of a doctor asking a patient with a broken leg whether they’d recommend surgery.

Knowing how to help and what actions to take is part of the job. It’s why doctors and advisers are hired — for their expertise in times of crisis.

Don’t ask. Act and communicate. Start treating the broken leg. In the advisory world, it’s imperative for advisers to adjust and future-proof clients’ financial plans and make necessary recalibrations to make sure clients stay on track to meet their goals. When advisers are proactive, they can then tell their clients what steps are being taken to address their situation.

Establish a reliable communication process. The best new business strategy maintains a consistent stream of communications and runs like a well-oiled machine. It requires a lot of upfront work to set up but establishes strong momentum and a reliable system. Here are the basics:

  • Invest in CRM lists. An effective CRM database should capture an adviser’s full list of contacts, clients and prospects. Email communications are only as strong as the distribution list. Advisers looking to increase their audience can explore options to purchase relevant contacts and expand the reach of their CRM.
  • Establish a communication schedule and follow-up strategy. To start, advisers should map how frequently they plan to contact prospects and via what channel. Will they send an email every other week? Call them once a month? The answer will depend on where they are in the sales cycle and how close a relationship the adviser has established.
  • Define a cadence of thought leadership distribution. Set an editorial calendar or schedule of long-form content, blogs and webinars to distribute to clients and prospects. Whether the right cadence is weekly or monthly, establishing a process and fixed distribution timelines is key to staying on track.
  • Get creative with communications. Have fun with communications and experiment with new ways to break up traditional email outreach. Many advisers have tested the waters with BombBomb video emails to add a personal touch to their communications.
ADVISERS FIND THEIR NICHE TO GROW

Winning new clients comes down to offering a wealth management package that meets their unique goals and stands apart from the competition. Financial planners fall into the same trap that many corporations encounter: They think they offer a differentiated service, but in actuality their offerings are practically cookie-cutter replicas of what the competition sells.

In an age of commoditization in the investment and planning world, specialist advisers have the ability to stand out by offering marketing, communications and specific advice to their target audience.

To survive in the next decade and the digital age, financial advisers must zero in on their true differentiator and find their niche in wealth management. A few preexisting niches include an exclusive focus on millennials and Gen Z, financial planning for widows or small business planning.

The importance of declaring a specialty is especially true for smaller advisers and boutique lifestyle firms. In just a few years, small generalist advisers will be boxed out by digital providers’ prices and megafirms’ brand recognition and breadth of service offerings.

NEW NICHES ARE COMING

The pandemic will accelerate the need for advisers focused on hyper-specific market segments:

Advisers for the gig economy. Many entrepreneurial people with nontraditional income streams were hard hit by the pandemic’s financial blows. For instance, consider a 35-year-old who owns and manages five Airbnb homes in vacation hot spots. A few months without visitors could be catastrophic to their income and ability to operate and maintain the properties. One specialty that could emerge from the coronavirus pandemic are financial advisers focused on meeting the complex needs of the gig economy worker or gig economy business owner.

Planners specialized in managing health care expenses. COVID-19 put a spotlight on the burden of health care costs for the average American. A new niche of advisers could emerge who focus on financial planning for exorbitant health care costs, mitigating the likelihood of incurring the costs or helping people chart a path to financial recovery from staggering bills.

THE ROAD AHEAD FOR SMALL ADVISERS

Succeeding as a small advisory firm requires continual reinvention, flexibility and a willingness to change. These steps are a strong starting point but establishing a truly resilient business takes constant vigilance.

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t wait to act. Learn new skills. Experiment with technology. You can never predict what unexpected event could put you — and your business — to the test. Will you be ready?

John Anderson is managing director of the practice management solutions team for Independent Advisor Solutions by SEI.

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