Over the years, I’ve worked with advisers at all levels of production and from all types of firms. Most tell me they are very busy—and they truly are. But as I often mention in our consultations, you don’t ever want to be too busy to grow.
Of course, most advisers have active day-to-day schedules. But at the end of the year, many haven’t added any new clients. They usually come to that realization when something goes wrong: several large clients pass away or assets are transferred away unexpectedly. Suddenly, they are interested in prospecting and gaining referrals, but those skill sets may have withered away from lack of use.
Having a firm culture that promotes growth is also tremendously important in attracting great staff and retaining them. Have you ever heard of someone eager to work in a place where everything stays the same, where there are no plans to expand, and where it’s basically as good as it’s ever going to get? Me neither. Growth in a firm benefits everyone—from advisers, to service folks, to support staff and operations. Practices in growth mode present opportunities for personal and professional development. Clients also benefit, as firms add resources and skills to their offerings.
Which brings me to your plans for growth in the years ahead. It’s okay to be particular when accepting new clients and to tailor your business to segments where you add the most value. But if you’re not growing, you’re dying (as the saying goes).
Since so many advisers are skilled planners, I’m taking it as a given that many of you have business plans that are thoughtful, strategic and in writing. (Let’s also assume that your entire team was engaged in the process of developing these plans.) To help determine if your firm is truly in growth mode, think about the past three to five years and ask yourself the following questions:
Did You Meet Your Growth Rate Goals?
If yes, why? Take a look at where you set realistic and stretch goals, and then spend some time thinking about where you succeeded. Did you undertake a marketing initiative that brought in prospects? Did you host an event where clients brought guests? It’s important to analyze where you’ve had favorable outcomes so you can build repeatable processes. It will also help you figure out what exactly in your team’s skill sets led to those positive results. For example, if your staff excels at putting on events and you meet great prospects that way, build more workshops and events into your calendar.
If you didn’t meet your goals, why not? Were you overly optimistic on a few RFPs you sent out, or did the pace of referrals slow down? Were prospects looking for expertise or services you don’t offer? Did you lose more clients than expected? The knowledge you gain here will be enormously helpful moving forward. The idea isn’t to blame anyone (either yourself or a team member). Rather, it is to learn from your experiences so you can plan ahead strategically.
One adviser I work with had three great prospects who came in to see him. Each had been very positive about working with him. But after the meetings, they all decided to go elsewhere. The adviser and his team spent some time assessing why and how they lost the prospects. They came to the realization that they needed to redo their office space. High-net-worth prospects didn’t appreciate the copier’s prominent position in their reception area, and the dingy carpet didn’t communicate the exclusivity they wanted to convey. A year after upgrading their space, they are again turning those prospects into ideal clients.
How Many New Clients Did You Add Each Year?
This is a pretty simple question, but I’m surprised how frequently advisers can’t answer it. Can you? You get bonus points if you track this information and can answer quickly and easily. Tracking new clients (e.g., who referred them, how you met them, how they progressed through your pipeline) allows you to understand where your new clients are coming from, so you can duplicate the process that attracted them.
Adding new clients to your practice is one of the surest signs of growth I know. It’s nice to say that you have 10 percent or 15 percent growth year over year. All too often, however, that’s due to market appreciation of assets. What happens when the markets work against you? You want to continually add clients to your practice, both for the new assets they bring in today and for the pool of prospects they might introduce to you in the future.
If you can, try to involve your staff. One adviser I spoke with gives his staff colored sticky notes to keep near their phones. If they hear a client say something that could lead to a referral (e.g., “My brother is moving to town”), they jot it down. The notes are then discussed at staff meetings and follow-up opportunities identified. Even if your practice is at the point where you don’t need many new clients (lucky you!), you should still be looking to add a few large, ideal clients every year.
How Many Introductions Did Clients or COIs Give You?
This is another metric that is worth tracking carefully. You should have a good handle on how many introductions you receive. A steady stream of referrals is a vote of confidence and worth noting, while a dwindling referral supply can indicate potential problems. Tracking helps ensure that you thank all the referees and helps you understand how many prospects you need to meet in order to gain a new client. Do you have a 4:1 closing ratio, or is it closer to 2:1? Understanding your key metrics helps you keep your pipeline full and manage client onboarding.
So, Are You in Growth Mode?
In evaluating your answers, does it seem like you are in growth mode? If you couldn’t quickly and easily respond to these questions, you may have your answer. But if you’re looking to create a culture of growth at your firm, there’s no time like the present to begin.
Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University.