By Audrey Carleton, The Globe and Mail
Amid the day-to-day demands of being a financial advisor, investing time to expand a clientele base can easily become an afterthought. But creating sustainable growth is essential to ensuring the longevity of a successful advisory business.
Julie Littlechild, founder of Absolute Engagement, an education platform for advisors looking to improve client engagement, has witnessed this first hand.
Ms. Littlechild, based in Toronto, and her team coach advisors across Canada in the art of building their business – which they approach by “helping financial advisors to drive deeper engagement with their clients, and then to grow on the basis of that,” she says.
Through her training, one-on-one sessions with advisors, research on investors and online educational tools, Ms. Littlechild has led a number of advisors in expanding their client base. With this experience in mind, she spoke with Globe Advisor about the following key strategies for attracting and retaining clients:
1.Know yourself, your purpose and who you serve
Central to attracting and retaining new clients, Ms. Littlechild says, is knowing exactly who you are as an advisor and, in turn, the clients you best serve and the ways that you can best serve them.
“Those [advisors] that I think are succeeding, start not with [growth] tactics, but just getting really clear on who they are, who they serve and what value they deliver,” she says.
“If we can start by defining who we’re trying to attract to the business, then become an expert in all things related to that target group, I think that’s the key starting point,” Ms. Littlechild adds.
2. Market online in the way that works best for you
An increasingly popular way to attract new clients is by establishing what Ms. Littlechild calls “thought leadership” online. By crafting engaging content on topics that are relatable for your target clientele – such as personal finance – you expand your internet presence and establish your trustworthiness as a source for financial insights.
Ms. Littlechild says she’s witnessed advisors achieve growth by “becoming an expert in their target market, and then using things like blogging or social media or podcasts to really set themselves up as that credible resource.”
However, finding the time to create and market content on top of handling clients and day-to-day responsibilities can be daunting. To that end, Ms. Littlechild suggests choosing the medium you enjoy the most and sticking with it.
“Find the method that fits you. Is it a video? Is it podcast? Is it writing? Most of us have some natural inclinations.”
3. Design a client-first website
Also essential to cultivating a strong online presence is having a clear website that is easy for prospective clients to navigate.
“If I come to your website, is it clear who you work with?” Ms. Littlechild asks. “If I come to your website is there some sort of lead generator so that I can give you my e-mail address so that you can stay in touch with me?”
Designing a straightforward, client-first website is something that even large, well-established investment advising firms struggle with, according to Ms. Littlechild. Many advisors use their websites as spaces to talk about themselves rather than thinking about how their website can address clients’ needs and inquiries.
“We just haven’t figured out the questions clients have when they come to the website, which, it turns out, isn’t all about you, the advisor. It’s more about what’s on their minds.”
4. Personalize the client experience
While using tools to market yourself to new clients is one step in building business, keeping your new and existing clients happy – and, in turn, loyal – is equally important. Central to doing so is to customize each client’s experience according to their needs.
“Where we’re seeing more true differentiation is with advisors who are … co-creating value,” Ms. Littlechild says. “Not a lot of advisors ever think about shifting toward involving the client in defining what the experience looks like.”
She suggests meeting with new clients and discussing their needs, goals and aspirations clearly and early on in the relationship.
“Frequency of contact, scope of the offer, kind of communications that they want to receive, what topics are of interest, these are all ways that we can customize,” she says. “Providing education that is focused maybe less on the markets and more on what their aspirations and goals are.”
5. Seek client feedback
“I’m a huge proponent of client feedback, in a variety of different forms,” Ms. Littlechild says. “Measuring how you’re doing and asking questions that get at change,” are essential for ensuring client satisfaction further down the line.
Ms. Littlechild says advisors can take either an “informal or structured” approach to doing so. In the former category, she advises meeting with clients semi-regularly to check in, reflect upon their work together, and ask about any needs that remain unmet.
In the camp of structured exercises for seeking feedback, Ms. Littlechild advises speaking with “a few key clients and asking them to describe the most extraordinary client experience they’ve ever had” in any industry except financial advising. Collecting these responses and reviewing them as a team can help to illuminate what it means to be extraordinary in their own work.
“What’s really interesting about that process is it’s kind of elevating your thinking on what extraordinary looks like,” Ms. Littlechild says. “Have everybody on the team go through that, and then really unpack it. And then I think that starts to tease out, okay well if that’s what extraordinary looks like, we may not be in the same industry or business, but what can we take back, and think about with our own client experience?”