by Megan Elliott
Financial advisers, it’s time for a wake-up call. Many of you are in desperate need of a marketing makeover. Too much of the profession is dressed in the marketing equivalent of an ill-fitting, rumpled suit—stuck on strategies that may be serviceable but that don’t make a firm look its best, or do a great job of attracting clients.
Recently, the Journal of Financial Planning put out a call for a few volunteers who were ready to step up to the plate and receive a marketing makeover. In exchange for their bravery, they’d receive expert advice from two of the industry’s leading marketing experts—Kristen Luke, CEO of Wealth Management Marketing, and Kristin Harad, CFP®, a marketing consultant to entrepreneurial financial advisers.
The case study subjects are on opposite ends of the advisory firm spectrum. One is a new firm that is eager to begin marketing, but isn’t sure where to start. The other is an established RIA that wants to do a better job of attracting high net worth clients so it can achieve the next level of growth. Luke and Harad, who each have several years of experience working with advisory firms at all stages of growth, analyzed the marketing challenges facing each firm and then offered some in-depth recommendations on what the firms could do to achieve success.
Case Study 1:
Fort Henry Capital
Wheeling, West Virginia
Founded: January 2014
Employees: Two advisers, one receptionist
AUM: $65 million
Annual revenue: $500–$600K
Client base: Approaching or already in retirement; blue collar workers to physicians
Founders: Russell Dunkin, CFP®, and Jeremy Lowe, CFP®, both age 36
Russell Dunkin and Jeremy Lowe worked for several banks and wirehouses before ending up at the same RIA in 2006. After realizing that they shared the same philosophy about doing business and serving clients, Dunkin and Lowe decided to start their own firm in January 2014.
A passion for working with people drives both of the firm’s principals, who each have been working in the financial industry for about 15 years. As advisers, they are committed to spending more time with clients, not less. Both prefer doing hands-on planning and advising and aren’t interested in handing off those responsibilities to junior advisers. Creating Fort Henry Capital, a fee-only, independent practice, gave them the freedom to work with clients one-on-one and use the expertise they’ve accumulated over the years to directly benefit clients. Their goal is to keep their firm small so that clients can always be confident that they’ll have a personal relationship with their adviser.
Overview of Current Marketing
So far, Fort Henry Capital hasn’t invested much in marketing. Instead, the firm has focused on traditional pounding-the-pavement strategies to generate new business, such as networking. Although Dunkin and Lowe each host occasional public speaking engagements and center of influence (COI) lunches, word-of-mouth is their most profitable lead source. In fact, they rely more on referrals from clients they consider to be nontraditional COIs who are vocal in their community—including coal miners and stay-at-home dads—than those provided by CPAs, estate planning attorneys, and bankers.
Both family men, Dunkin and Lowe find that attending community events such as school activities or children’s sports games yields better marketing results than professional networking functions. In their experience, simply being visible and talking to the right people has been an effective way to establish a pipeline of prospects.
When it comes to online visibility, the firm has a basic website, although both principals agree that it needs improvement. They also make a basic market update available to clients at the end of each quarter, and are moderately active on Facebook and Twitter.
The firm doesn’t anticipate growing to be a large regional firm. Instead, the goal is simple: to continue to work directly with clients. While some would consider that goal modest, Dunkin and Lowe would also like to have $100 million in AUM and be registered with the SEC within three years. Other goals are to focus more intently on targeting young professionals—physicians, attorneys, and other business people in their mid-to-late 30s—and administrating 401(k) plans for small professional practices.
Challenges and Recommendations
With both founders focused on onboarding clients to their new practice, they are buried in paperwork. For now, finding time to market is their biggest challenge. They need marketing strategies that don’t infringe on their time with clients. With a broad client base that spans multiple ages, states and professions, they believe it might be time to start developing a niche or clear target market.
Challenge 1: Finding Time to Market
Kristen Luke: When you start a new business, there is never enough time to do all you want, including marketing. But if you let this become a permanent mindset, you’ll never have time to market. Eventually, you’ll hit a market downturn or other challenge, and by then it may be too late to prevent permanent damage. It is important to get the flywheel spinning now. These efforts will pay off down the road.
Russell and Jeremy should focus on systematic, ongoing marketing that requires a one-time setup. Consistently implementing a few marketing activities well is all they need to reach their goals.
Kristin Harad: Jeremy and Russell need to shift both their mindset and attitude. Marketing is fundamental to running a successful practice, large or small. First, they need to make themselves known by adopting a “must share” mentality. Marketing does not equal bragging—done well, it creates awareness, generates interest, and attracts the right kind of prospects. Once they embrace marketing, they’ll have no trouble making it a top priority.
Because marketing can be time-consuming, I also suggest divvying up responsibilities between the two partners. Evaluate each person’s strengths and decide who will take on which tasks. Scheduling a weekly marketing check-in will help each person hold the other accountable.
Challenge 2: Creating a Marketing Strategy
Luke: Because Russell and Jeremy lack time, their strategy should focus on improving current marketing activities. I recommend:
- Creating a systematic follow-up process for all networking activities. This might include CRM workflows that remind them to follow-up with networking contacts at regular intervals. They could also create a drip marketing system so that contacts receive regularly scheduled communication from the firm.
- Maximizing referrals. Since Russell and Jeremy started the business, they’ve received quite a few referrals from people who are interested in supporting the new business. They need to thank these referral sources and encourage them to continue referring. An established workflow will remind them to personally reach out to these referral sources on a periodic basis. They can also create a reward system for referral sources, such as sending thank-you gifts or invitations to exclusive events.
- Updating their website. The website is the first place a prospect will go to learn more about the firm. Currently, the website (www.FortHenryCapital.com) is limited—there’s a lot of room for improvement and for them to better explain what Fort Henry Capital does and who they help.
Harad: Before any real marketing work can begin, Jeremy and Russell must be absolutely clear on who they want to attract with their marketing (I’ll discuss this more in my recommendations for challenge three). They also must be able to clearly communicate how the firm helps them.
These are my suggested marketing must-haves:
- A website that clearly speaks to the target client and includes a list-building mechanism (for example, offering free information, such as a white paper in exchange for a prospect’s name and email) and an option to request a consultation.
- Online listings through Google Places, Yahoo! Local, BingPlaces, Yelp, and association, network, and local directories.
- Branded social media profiles, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube.
Once they have that foundation, they need to get out and market to target clients. Because both Russell and Jeremy are experienced and comfortable writers, I suggest making their blog their marketing “home base.” Delivering a weekly post focused on target clients will build the firm’s brand and reinforce their expert position.
Next, I recommend identifying organizations, associations, media outlets, and blogs that have a following that aligns with their target client. Partner with these people and organizations by sharing blog posts and articles or conducting joint events.
Finally, as a new firm, media coverage will lend credibility. Identify five to 10 journalists who write for publications whose readership overlaps with the firm’s target client. Russell and Jeremy should follow these journalists on Twitter, comment on their articles, introduce themselves via email, and provide three specific areas where they can be a resource. If they’re interviewed, they should share the story on social media and email it to their list. They can also use press release distribution sites like PRWeb.com to introduce their firm.
Challenge 3: Focusing on a Target Market
Luke: Choosing a well-defined target market will make it easier to market. It will also dictate the networking events Russell and Jeremy attend, the COIs they focus on, the clients they network with for referrals, the speaking opportunities they take, the events they host, their website messaging, social media strategy, and content marketing topics (blogs, ebooks, etc.).
Russell and Jeremy should start developing an ideal client profile by identifying the clients they most enjoy working with, can best serve, and are profitable. These clients should have multiple common characteristics—not just fit a general category like pre-retirees and retirees with a minimum of $1 million in investable assets. Jeremy and Russell indicated an inclination to work with young professionals, which is a natural market for them. This underserved market has a lot of potential, provided they develop a profitable service model, as young professionals may have lower asset levels than older clients.
After Russell and Jeremy have defined their target market, all their marketing activities need to center on this market and speak directly to their unique needs.
Harad: Jeremy and Russell should begin by deciding on their first target client, not their forever target client. They shouldn’t let the limiting connotation of the terms “niche” or “ideal client” trip them up. A target client is not the only type of person a firm is “allowed” to work with—it is the description of the client they most want to attract. Make the description of that target client as specific as possible, for example, independent, professional men in their late 30s and early 40s who live within one hour of our Wheeling-based firm and are supporting a family with school-aged children.
After defining a target client for Fort Henry Capital, then they can drill down into that client’s fears, aspirations, attitudes, and needs. They should embrace and commit to marketing for this target for one year. This focused effort will reinforce their expert position while keeping them sane. For each marketing opportunity, they can ask, “Will this help me reach my target client?” If no, they don’t need to invest resources.
The Bottom Line
As a young firm, Fort Henry Capital has many marketing opportunities. To avoid getting overwhelmed and spreading themselves too thin, they should commit to a few core activities that allow them to get the word out about their firm and establish a strong brand without taking time away from serving current clients. Consistency, along with a strong marketing strategy and a clear focus on their target market, will help them grow their firm in a sustainable way.
Case Study 2:
Buttonwood Financial Group, LLC
Kansas City, Missouri
Founded: Firm founded in 2002; RIA firm established November 2009
AUM: $350 million
Annual revenue: $1.5 million
Client base: High net worth individuals and families with multi-generational planning concerns
Founder: Jon McGraw, 46, principal
Jon McGraw spent more than 10 years managing a regional office for a nationwide investment brokerage firm. When that company was sold to a large bank, he decided it was time to strike out on his own. In 2002, he founded Buttonwood Financial Group with the goal of serving affluent families with multi-generational planning concerns.
Today, Buttonwood Financial Group serves more than 200 clients in the Kansas City area and around the U.S. Some of those family relationships have stretched across three generations, and McGraw sees his firm as filling the role of “family CFO” by providing comprehensive financial strategies and advice to clients with complex planning needs.
Overview of Current Marketing
Buttonwood has already implemented a number of creative marketing strategies. McGraw, who has a passion for the arts, created the Buttonwood Art Space, a community art gallery that shows area artists’ work while also raising funds for local nonprofit organizations. The gallery hosts between four and six shows a year, helping to introduce the firm to new clients.
The firm also focuses a lot of energy on nurturing relationships with current clients and centers of influence (COIs)—people may receive boxes of custom “Buttonwood Chocolates,” bags of “Buttonwood Coffee” or Christmas wreaths. In addition, McGraw is involved with a variety of local organizations, including the Kansas City Club and Kansas City FilmFest. The firm also has a website, blog, hosts educational events, publishes a newsletter, and is active on social media.
Since 2009, Buttonwood Financial Group has seen a consistent 20 percent plus growth rate. McGraw would like to maintain similar growth while also doing a better job of connecting with affluent clients who are in need of the firm’s family CFO services.
Challenges and Recommendations
Despite the firm’s success, Buttonwood would like to attract more clients with $5 million to $10 million in net worth and complex financial concerns. Although the firm’s events (especially those at the Buttonwood Art Space) and McGraw’s community involvement are getting them in front of many people who fit their ideal client profile, they struggle to identify those individuals and then convert them into clients. Despite his busy schedule, McGraw has also taken the lead on most marketing activities, but he does not have the time to do everything efficiently and effectively on his own. Finally, the firm needs to do a better job of differentiating its family CFO services from the offerings of other RIA firms.
Challenge 1: Connecting with and Converting Ideal Prospects
Kristen Luke: While Jon’s current marketing is impressive, he is casting a wide net and capturing people outside his ideal client profile. The firm doesn’t have investment minimums, which works against his goal of being a multi-generational family CFO. If he wants to become a true multi-family office, he needs a service model that supports that goal, meaning he needs to set minimums and price services for the multi-family office client. (No more hourly work!)
Jon also needs to market to his ideal clients. This means more exclusive events for clients and people in their networks, or even one-on-one events. He should also focus on relationships with COIs who work with high net worth families. He’s doing too much broad marketing (such as his art events), which leaves little time to nurture potential referral and word-of-mouth relationships, although that’s where he’s most likely to find clients in the $5 million to $10 million net worth range.
Kristin Harad: Creating a lead-scoring system will help Jon connect with prospects who are likely to be good clients. He can start by writing down a detailed description of a target client. Which attributes earn a star and which detract? Then, he can test the system by scoring existing clients (use a five-star system to keep it manageable) and adjusting the scoring criteria as necessary.
Next, he should score new leads at his events. By prescreening for desirable attributes and offering VIP status to higher-scoring people, he can easily identify them at the event. He can also capture names at events and score them after having a conversation with them.
All the firm’s advisers should be trained to use the scoring system, and also know how to use the firm’s CRM to create a lead follow-up system. Determine what communications leads will receive based on their score. Assign each lead to a team member for high-touch follow-up, and build in automation emails for lower-scoring leads. Jon should also evaluate lead quality immediately after each event, as well as six months later to see who converts. Then adjust event type, invite methodology, and schedule based on the outcomes.
Jon also needs a way to capture leads on his website. I recommend adding a “guide” or other resource that will appeal to five-star leads (for example, “Run Your Family’s Finances Like Your Business: Strategies for Protecting Your Wealth for the Next Generation”), and then collect names and emails to build a list. When gathering these leads, he can also incorporate three or four questions, such as main concerns, type of business, etc., that further segment the target. Lastly, he should develop a follow-up communication series addressing the target client’s pain points.
Challenge 2: Divvying Up the Marketing Activities
Luke: Jon likes to manage his own marketing. He’s also an “idea guy” who will never run out of new ways to market his business. But he’s only one person, and his full-time job is running his business and working with clients. There’s simply not enough time to do it all. Jon should consider hiring a marketing coordinator who will execute his ideas (perhaps with the help of freelancers). Alternatively, he could hire an outsourced marketing partner. This will allow him to generate ideas and maximize time with clients and prospects, which is more valuable to his business than coordinating marketing.
Jon is near capacity as far as working with clients, but has three advisers who can take on more work. Because Jon is the rainmaker, he is primarily responsible for bringing in new clients. As the firm grows, this responsibility must shift to other advisers. Jon should offer them opportunities to execute their own marketing strategies and bring in clients. While he needs to be careful not to create silos, allowing each adviser to have their own campaigns will spread the responsibility for bringing in new clients.
Finally, all marketing should focus on a relationship with the firm—not just a relationship with Jon. Building the firm’s brand equity makes it more likely that a prospect will be willing to work with any adviser, rather than insisting on a relationship with the principal.
Harad: Jon must spend his time where he’ll have the greatest impact. I recommend he focus on five-star leads and assign other leads to his team. He also needs help, either from current staff or a new hire, managing day-to-day marketing. A detail-oriented project manager will help him stay on track. While he can write articles and conduct meetings, he needs to stay focused “on the business” rather than spending too much time “in the business.”
The firm does a fantastic job appreciating clients, but it’s time to take it to the next level. Jon should use his scoring system to segment clients and determine services for each tier. Then, he can focus on the “diamond” level, investing more face-to-face time with top-tier clients and referral marketing initiatives, such as small group dinners and high-touch personalized events.
Challenge 3: Differentiating the Firm’s Services
Luke: Differentiating an advisory firm is always a challenge. In the consumer’s eyes, all advisers are the same, whether they are at a wirehouse or a fee-only RIA. Jon’s clear differentiator is that he provides multi-family office services across generations and acts as a family CFO. Yet, right now, only about 10 percent of his clients fit his ideal client profile.
Changing his website messaging will help Jon differentiate his firm. When you visit the “What We Do” page of his site (www.buttonwoodfg.com), he lists family CFO in addition to financial planning, asset management, tax planning, risk mitigation, and estate planning. Mentioning all those services may seem like it would show that Buttonwood Financial Group offers comprehensive services, but it actually makes the firm look like a jack of all trades. All website messaging should focus on one service—the family CFO.
The best way for Jon to truly differentiate himself is in his relationships with clients, prospects, and COIs, as well as by demonstrating expertise in a particular area through educational opportunities. Jon can use his website or brochure to tell people how different his firm is, but prospects won’t really understand it until he shows them how he is different. To that end, all educational materials (blogs, newsletters, ebooks, videos, etc.) should focus on the unique concerns of high net worth clients. An article about the rising cost of college tuition will not show these people that you truly understand their financial issues.
Finally, Jon should spend more time with current clients who fit his ideal client profile. The stronger the relationship, the more likely those clients will tell others how Buttonwood is different from other firms.
Harad: First, Jon should talk with his current four- or five-star clients and find out why they hired him. What do they expect? What does he do differently from other firms? What are their specific worries, needs, and aspirations? Then, he can shift his marketing based on these conversations. He should hyper-target his blog, educational events, newsletter, and social media to address their needs. By writing as if he is talking directly to them, he’ll attract his target clients.
Finally, I also suggest Jon revamp his website messaging. The website should focus on the target client, not a broad audience, and not the firm. Currently, nearly every section starts with “Buttonwood Financial …” Instead, the website should ask questions that resonate with the target client: “Are you at that successful point where …?” “Do you worry about …?” “Does this sound like you …?” I suggest adding a “Who We Help” tab on the navigation after the home page and moving the success story examples to this page if they match the new client profile and will help a prospect self-select in or out of the sales funnel.
The Bottom Line
Jon must learn to delegate and focus if he wants to grow his business and attract more of his ideal clients. He also needs to refine his firm’s marketing so that it appeals directly to high net worth individuals who would be interested in family CFO services. Finding people who can help him implement these changes and manage day-to-day marketing activities will free Jon to build strong relationships with existing five-star clients and promising COIs so that he is more likely to achieve those goals.
When advisers really commit to marketing, they tend to see results. The strategies don’t have to be flashy or expensive. The keys are consistency and focus. Picking a few marketing initiatives that are directly related to specific goals and then systematically implementing those strategies is the path to marketing success, whether you have 10 clients or 1,000.
Megan Elliott is the senior copywriter with Wealth Management Marketing Inc. (www.wealthmanagementmarketing.net), a firm specializing in outsourced marketing department services to RIAs and fee-only financial planning firms.
About the Marketing Experts
Kristen Luke is the CEO and president of Wealth Management Marketing Inc. (www.wealthmanagementmarketing.net), a firm specializing in outsourced marketing department services to RIAs. She is also co-founder of The Mercato Advisor Marketplace (themercato.net). She recently announced a merger between Wealth Management Marketing Inc. and Angie Herbies Inc., creating a new brand and a new company name to be announced later this year or in early 2015.
Kristin C. Harad, CFP®, is a marketing coach and co-founder of The Mercato Advisor Marketplace (themercato.net), an online marketplace featuring do-it-yourself tools, templates, and training for advisers, helping financial advisers develop their content marketing strategies. She is also a regular contributor to the FPA and Journal of Financial Planning Practice Management Blog. She offers hours of free marketing training at www.kristinharad.com.