Are you a Financial Adviser or running a Financial Advice business?

The dream of many Financial Brokers when starting out on their own is to build a successful business that they will one day pass to a successor or sell for a big sum of money to secure themselves in retirement.

For a smaller number, they simply want to operate as a lifestyle business, generating enough cash to live comfortably in the present. They don’t want to run a business; instead they are happy to stay operating as a financial advice practitioner. They are operating more like traditional insurance salesmen, living from year to year, with no great growth ambitions. There is nothing wrong with this as an approach if you have decided that this is what you want!

However there are quite a number of Financial Brokers in the market who very much want the former situation (to build a business), but in reality are very much still operating like the latter (still working as a practitioner).  So what is it that stops them from successfully transitioning into being a business?

No strategy or plans in place

One of the characteristics of Brokers who are living from year to year with little clarity of where they are going in the future is a lack of a strategy and firm plans – ones that are written down. These Financial Brokers may be operating very successfully today but are not really focused on the future and what they are actually trying to achieve. Good strategy and plans take reflection, challenge and commitment. Without these inputs, it’s very hard to clarify and chart your future direction.

Propositions tend to stay the same

It may be the consistency of your approach that your clients love in dealing with you – knowing what to expect, being happy with the service given. However times do change, markets and ways of working evolve, there are areas of improvement always available to you. First of all, you need to be able to clearly articulate your proposition. And then you need to review it on an ongoing basis, tweaking it and making improvements as opportunities emerge. If you don’t seek these out, competitors that are on a hungry growth path will develop more future proofed propositions and will inevitably overtake you.

This will leave you operating as you’ve always done, maybe generating sufficient income to meet your needs today, but remaining pretty static in terms of building a business.

It’s all about you!

Successful practitioners tend to be running at 100 miles an hour, usually 6 days a week! Earning a lot of money but knowing that without their input, there really is no business. This can leave them highly stressed, prevent them taking holidays and often leaves them quite dispirited. If they get sick, everything pretty much grinds to a halt…

A business on the other hand has the principal pulling the strings. Everyone else (hopefully) is very busy – seeing clients, managing the processes, dealing with client queries. The principal is still active, but it is in more of a strategic role – setting direction, finding new clients, advising high value clients only. In this scenario if the principal gets sick, it’s not game over. The business is robust enough to continue.

Another attribute that I see in businesses that have evolved from Financial Broker practices is in the quality of the people brought into the business. They tend to be of very high quality, really lifting the whole game of the business. And then there is a real commitment to invest in these people, keeping them at the frontier of best practices in the industry. Of course if you ever want to sell your business, for it to be attractive to a potential buyer, the higher the quality of the people around you the better.

Poor financial management

Another attribute of practices as opposed to businesses tends to be in the area of financial management. The former tend to have low / no reserves, regular cashflow challenges and poor financial management practices in place. Successful businesses on the other hand tend to excel in all of these areas. Earnings are at a level that the business can comfortably afford, there are strong reserves in place and constant visibility of all of the important financial metrics. All of these help in building a sustainable and eventually valuable business.

Where are you today? Are you running a lifestyle practice or a business? And more importantly, where do you want to be in the future?

Letting your communications drift

So you finally decided to start sending out a regular email newsletter or regularly updating the blog on your website. Well done to you! The first issue of your newsletter is full of promises about your new newsletter keeping clients and other contacts informed and educated. And then the newsletter delivers this in spades! Roll on to a month or two later and the next edition is due to go out. You’re busy, it’s the middle of pensions season and the markets are in turmoil. You just about manage to cobble the newsletter together, everyone moaning about not having enough time. And then that’s it, the next edition never see the light of day…

Unfortunately this happens a little too frequently among financial advice firms. So apart from a bit of a gnawing sense of failure within your own firm, what messages does letting your communications drift say to your audience?

You don’t have an opinion

Your clients and prospective clients want to hear your opinions about current events. Whether they are about how they should (or shouldn’t!) react in the current market turmoil, your views of any changing legislation that will impact the personal finance world or indeed developments within the life and pensions market. Your opinions may reassure investors, allow you to demonstrate your expertise and show that you have your finger on the pulse.

Of course if you’re not sending out these opinions, exactly the opposite applies. And then your clients don’t know where you stand on these topics. And of course then there is the very real risk that they will find their way on to the email database of another Financial Broker who provides them with this expert opinion all of the time. Who will they want to deal with – the person with their finger on the pulse or the person without?

You’ve run out of ideas

Of course email newsletters also offer you the opportunity to educate your clients and prospects. You can remind them of the value of getting advice from a Financial Broker, set out the benefits of having a risk appropriate investment portfolio, remind them of the importance of having the right income protection plan in place and how to ensure that their legacy on death is not a worrying tax burden for their loved ones.

But then when you stop, have you demonstrated all that you know, that you’ve shown the breadth of your knowledge? So what about the topics that are worrying your clients that you haven’t covered? You don’t want them thinking that maybe you just don’t have knowledge in that particular area…

At the end of the day, your clients can be a rich source of content ideas. Ask them for topics that they would like covered and then write about them!

You just don’t care

Of course this is the real worry… that your clients will think that you simply have lost interest and don’t really care about your marketing and your business. That you have simply slowed down a bit and are coasting…Of course this will set off alarm bells in their heads about your approach to your wider business, your clients and their personal financial affairs. Are you just punching in time there too?

At best, your clients might just see all of this as a bit unprofessional – starting a marketing initiative that you’re unable to continue. Is this how you want them to view your business?

StepChange provides content to Financial Brokers who don’t have time to write it themselves and a newsletter service to manage the whole process of sending out regular fully personalised and branded communications to your clients. And we’ll deliver these on time, every time!