Structured Marketing planning is worth €,€€€’s

One of the biggest challenges in my job? It’s sometimes convincing Financial Brokers of the importance of taking a step back and carrying out structured marketing planning.

“I don’t need it” I hear them say or “I know exactly what I want to do”. And with the very best of intentions, they set off down a poorly planned path working on an ad-hoc marketing activity, with little qualification of what they are trying to achieve and little consideration of what actually is the best marketing activity to help them achieve their goals. There’s little thought given as to the cost of the activity in relation to their overall marketing budget (if they have one), and usually no thought given to the measures of success.

So eventually after spending valuable time, money and energy, I often see frustration. They don’t get the results that they expected. My question is what were those expectations based on… If Financial Brokers cannot be convinced of the value of planning, well who can be? After all, Financial Brokers spend every day advising clients to avoid diving in and buying financial products (think marketing activities), and instead to base their product decisions on the outcomes of their financial plan (think marketing plan).

Marketing is about identifying your target market, planning and executing activities, with a view to enabling sales. Successful selling is based on fully leveraging those marketing activities. So to help you to achieve those sales objectives (whatever they might be), you need to give yourself the strongest base to work from. And that means delivering the optimal set of marketing supports, aimed at the right people at the right time. This can only happen through structured planning. Getting crystal clear on your marketing objectives, pinpointing your target audiences and then choosing the right set of activities to achieve those objectives are critical to helping you achieve your overall business goals.

Many Financial Brokers think that their time is always best spent prospecting and selling. And that marketing is an activity to be carried out when they don’t have people to contact and clients to go to. Yes marketing costs money and time. In relation to the cost and while there are no Irish statistics available (as of yet!), in 2011 according to the FAInsight “Study of Advisory Firms: Growth by Design” in the US, financial advisers spent on average just 1.7% of their turnover on marketing or business development! That is incredibly low when compared to any other industry. Most businesses in other sectors spend anwhere from 5% to 20% of their turnover on marketing. Why is this different for financial advisers? After all, there aren’t many people queuing up outside Financial Brokers’ offices looking to buy their services…

Yes, marketing does require investment. In recent years though and with the explosion of the web and social media as a core part of marketing strategy, the investment requirement has shifted. Previously it was a high cost drain on a firm’s financial resources. Now instead it can be a much lower cost activity, but one that requires your time. If you don’t have time, well then you can outsource the work and pay for your marketing in euros instead – today it is about achieving the right balance for you between time spent and euros spent.

 At the end of the day, sales is all about the “here and now”. Marketing is about the future of your business – building your brand, establishing your market position, engaging potential customers and building a loyal band of customers, supporters and advocates of your business. Can you really afford not to do this properly?

Photo credit to pixabay user 742680

The Lessons of a 4 year old SME Owner…

4 years go, I took the foolhardy / brave step of following my career dream. I left a secure, well-paid job with a brilliant employer and set up my own business. Ever since I did an MBA 10 or so years ago, this was something I’d wanted to do. In this article, I’ll set out a few observations of what it’s like being a “newbie” SME owner, and next month I’ll set out a few observations about the people who have enabled me to put bread on the table over the last 4 years – the Financial Broker and wider Life & Pensions community.

There’s loads of goodwill out there

This was the first sentiment that hit me like a welcome breeze – the amount of goodwill out there. From the off, I received so much encouragement from all quarters. Some Financial Brokers hired me straight away, even when there was possibly a level of risk involved! Others, even though they weren’t in a position to engage me at that time (remember we were in the teeth of the recession at that stage) helped in so many ways; an introduction to someone, some free advice, business ideas, sometimes a cup of coffee and some encouragement. All very much needed and very welcome!

You learn lots of new skills

One of the biggest challenges and also one of the most enjoyable aspects of running your own business is the array of skills that you suddenly need. Apart from developing my strategy and marketing (which I felt I knew a little about…), suddenly I realised I was also the IT department as I tried to set up desktops, printers and devices and the finance department as I tried to make sense of managing cashflow, invoices and VAT and understanding financial accounts. And on top of that were the admin and sometimes the office cleaning…

You need courage and to back yourself

I’ve learned that I could spend my life second guessing myself and getting nothing done; who should I be approaching, is my proposition right, is my pricing right, are the suppliers I’m dealing with the right ones? Yes, I’ve made mistakes in all of these areas, but hopefully I’ve learned from them! Navel gazing and doing nothing is a luxury I just cannot afford, as doing nothing doesn’t move you in any direction…

This was a big lesson, as in corporate life you tend to get more time to carry out proper analysis before a decision is made, there are lots of people to bounce ideas around and you still get paid during this time. Not so in your own business. So often I’ve found I just need to back myself and go for it!

You must never neglect business development

Ok hands up, it hasn’t been a constant upward path. In fact I had a pretty poor year in 2013 and it was all down to neglecting my pipeline of potential new business. I was really busy with lots of projects underway coming into 2013, I put the head down and delivered these as quickly as possible over the first few months up to the middle of May. I delivered this work this and then nothing… I had completely neglected business development and didn’t secure any new business until after the summer. Then I had to deliver the work and then wait for payment. It meant a poor year but a brilliant lesson. No matter how busy I am now, business development is a constant activity…

Social media really works

I believe 100% that without LinkedIn, I wouldn’t be working for myself any more. If used properly, LinkedIn is unbelievably powerful in helping SMEs to build effective networks and generate new clients. It has been a constant source of new clients for me. Do you want to know how? Please give me a shout and I’d love to deliver a workshop on it to you and your staff!

Get a sounding board

We’ve all heard it, ”Work on the business, not in the business”. Easier said than done when you’re busy. But one of the best things I’ve done in the last two years is working with someone in this vein, taking a few hours out and getting a second opinion on some key moves. This has helped me decide to take on staff, to manage some financial aspects of the business better and simply to bounce some ideas around.

The bottom line? I wouldn’t change it for the world! Yes, there have been (and I’m sure there will be more) bumps in the road and a consistent pay cheque certainly has its attractions. But the last four years have been the most exciting, challenging, enjoyable, uncertain and satisfying years of my career to date and I’m definitely looking forwards, not wistfully backwards!

Photo credit to Marvel Comics