Business Growth for Financial Planners in Five Easy Steps

Attracting new business: sometimes it happens by luck, sometimes by referral. Trouble is, "sometimes" just isn't often enough.

So, if you want to add new clients more frequently than sometimes, you'll have to try something else. And with a few common-sense, do-able, and easy steps, any financial planner can build business ? without resorting to lavish, costly marketing efforts or tasteless promotional hype.

Here is a five-step process that is affordable, sensible, and do-able. Make it part of your routine over the next several months, and it will become a second-nature, autopilot system that builds business steadily.

This process builds on my core practice-development premise: the professional knowledge and information you possess is also your best marketing tool. You can use it to get prospects' attention, because you're talking about something they care about ? their finances ? rather than touting yourself.

1. Build a good database of prospects and referral sources. A prospect is anyone you've met (this is key; names on a purchased list don't count) who could become a client one day. Anyone who has ever sent you a piece of business, or even just recommended you, also belongs on your list A database is a computer-stored list with all contact information for each person: mail and email addresses, phone and fax numbers. Missing any of these elements will deprive you of a valuable tool to reach your database. Computerizing is essential: it allows you to readily sort your list by categories. Software programs like ACT are best for smaller and mid-sized businesses: they offer the right mix of power, ease, and flexibility.

2. Use your database: communicate regularly with your prospects and referral sources. The key to building business is to remain constantly front-of-mind with the people most likely to hire or refer you. If you've been paying attention, those are the same exact folks who now populate your database. How to stay on their minds, without those pestering phone calls or scheduling 27 lunches a month? By sending them something useful, regularly. Monthly or bi-monthly is best. (This, I promise, it is do-able because creating the piece is going to be simple. See step 4?) And let's avoid that "What's the best way to send something?" trap that stalls many would-be marketing efforts. The truth is: some people prefer email, some snail mail, and you'll never know just who likes what. So we'll cover all bases by rotating the delivery means: an e-mail this month, an article in an envelope next time, an occasional faxed piece.

3. Make them want your messages. The way not to do this is to send them ads, promotions, or self-congratulatory pieces. Instead, send them meaningful messages with valuable information. A heads-up on a new mutual fund offering, perhaps, or a general suggestion for a new retirement planning strategy. Something based on substance, and that spotlights your expertise on the subject. Whether or not they need this particular bit of information right now is irrelevant. Your message reminds them you're out there, thinking of them, and that's all we want to accomplish.

4. Keep it simple. Your messages should be brief ? two or three paragraphs is enough. More detail than that is counterproductive ? it wastes your time, and the reader doesn't need it. If it's still a struggle to write it yourself, verbally brief a staffer, or whoever helps you with marketing, or a freelance writer, on the information. Have them create a first draft. It may not be perfect ? but you can then edit and hone it ? probably in a few minutes. Make this process uncomplicated because that is the key to getting it done.

5. Become a resource ? go to the media. With the steps above, you've become a resource to your prospects. Next, widen your scope by going to the media for free publicity. Media exposure puts your name, face, and expertise in front of new prospects, and it heightens your credibility and market value among those who already know you. Don't be discouraged that you are too small for the media to care. And don't think that you need to spend big bucks, or hire a costly firm. All you need to do is become a resource for reporters, too. Offer to explain the new tax law, or to share your year-end strategies with them. Send an email or make a call, suggesting a specific topic that you've been talking about with your clients lately. Chances are, it's a potential news story. With a little planning and luck, one that quotes you prominently.

Ned Steele works with people in professional services who want to build their practice and accelerate their growth. The president of Ned Steele's MediaImpact, he is the author of 102 Publicity Tips To Grow a Business or Practice. To learn more visit or call 212-243-8383.

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