How’s that winning team of yours?

So here we are again at this stage in the market cycle… Even though the economic picture is somewhat cloudy, activity remains high in most advice firms, income is holding up and one of the biggest challenges for many firms is beefing up their advice teams. Those who are recruiting are looking to pick up experienced advisers from other firms, which in turn is creating a retention challenge in these other firms.

So what can (and are) advice firms do today to keep their best people?


Recognise your best people

Might seem a bit obvious, but some business owners are afraid that they’ll rock the boat if they recognise their best people. So they say nothing and hope the winners won’t leave, which unfortunately they are likely to do if they don’t feel valued.

Yes you might have to back up this recognition with tangible benefits, but at least this is keeping you in control of keeping your best people. It also sends a clear message out to the weaker members of your team of your expectations and that you are monitoring their performance. This may make them uncomfortable and indeed these weaker team members could possible leave. This might not be what you’re looking for, but it’s a lot better than losing your best people.


Support your best people

The temptation of business owners and sales managers is to spend a disproportionate amount of time with their weaker team members; coaching them, monitoring them and trying to lift their performance. While at the same time assuming their best people are “grand” and will just continue to get on with doing a great job. A dangerous assumption.

Spend time with your best people too. While you may not be able to improve their performance by the same amount as you can for the weaker members of your team, they will appreciate all of your efforts to help them grow, even by small amounts.  And small improvements by successful people will make a big difference to your revenue numbers.


Challenge your best people

Again many managers will look for ways to challenge their weaker team members, driving them to better performance by “turning the screw”, doggedly seeking higher levels of performance from them. The level that you do this depends on the individual’s personality and the level of under-performance.

However also look for ways to challenge your best people. This should be done in a very positive way, finding ways to enthuse them, to drive them on. You might ask them to manage some difficult clients, open up new lines of business or new target markets or to take on some projects in addition to their normal responsibilities, all the while recognising these additional efforts in a fair and equitable way.


Improve your best people

Yes, you have to be prepared to pay your best people more. But money alone is not the answer. As someone else can always offer your star performers more money. So look for ways to improve them and to help them in their careers. Maybe you could look to pay for them to do more study and to help then in terms of the time required to study to become a CFP? Or if they are not interested in doing more study, maybe they would benefit from and really value time with an external mentor, funded by you? Maybe you can give them greater levels of flexibility in where and how they work? Your best people will recognise your efforts to improve them as people, and at the same time hopefully you will gain from even better performance from them.


Provide a clear career path for your best people

At the end of the day this is the most important factor in trying to keep your best people. It is also the hardest for business owners to deliver as there may be a really significant price to be paid. Your best people will inevitably want to enjoy a greater share of the rewards of the business. And this means ownership of the business, either yours or their own. So if you want to hang on to your best people who may be delivering a significant share of the profits of your business, you need to ask yourself if you are willing to take them as a partner in your business? Because this may be required to keep them into the future. Let them go and watch your firm suffer, or give them some share in the business and grow it together – the choice is yours.

What’s the right niche for your business?

As someone who runs a niche business myself, concentrating solely on the financial advice sector, I’m a real believer in the potential to run a niche financial advice business. I’m also aware of lots of financial advice businesses that are pursuing niche strategies.

I’ve written before about how niche strategies can make your life so easy. When you build expertise in a specific target market, you can then market your services to this group with a laser like focus. You have the opportunity to stand apart from the crowd by establishing your credentials as the specialist within that target market. And having that deep knowledge of a client sector and constantly talking directly to that sector enables you to build a deep and valuable connection with them.

One of the biggest challenges that advisers have when going down this route is to identify the best niche for themselves. I personally don’t consider a focus on business owners as a niche strategy as the group is simply too broad to be considered niche.

So how do you identify the best niche for you?


Who do you enjoy working with?

This is as good a place to start as any! Working with people you like will result in greater effort from you and it makes your working life so much more enjoyable and rewarding. When I established StepChange, I knew I wanted to work with the financial adviser community. I was fully aware of the value you add to your clients and I wanted to be part of that journey. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to wake up every day and dread conversations with clients that you have no time for….

Of course you need to be confident that the niche you would like to work with is big enough, the chosen target market must be capable of supporting your business at the level you want it to. This requires research and groundwork before you commit to specialising within your chosen sector.


Can you add increased value?

Once you know who you want to work with… now how can you stand apart from the crowd? This is typically going to be through deeper and more specialised knowledge of your chosen sector. As an example, let’s assume you have a real passion for the entertainment industry and decide to target freelancers who work within it. To stand apart from other advisers, you need to understand the nuances of this sector better than other advisers – how people in the sector are paid, the nature of contracts, their working environment and unique challenges and what are their specific pain points. When you understand their lives better than other advisers, now you have an opportunity to stand apart from the crowd and become the go-to person for that sector.


How can you demonstrate that value?

It’s all well and good knowing who you want to work with and building the expertise in the sector, one of the biggest challenges is establishing your presence as the best adviser for your chosen sector. This is where the hard work really starts, as there is no single silver bullet to demonstrating that value. Instead it’s going to come from many small activities executed well and delivered consistently over time.

Testimonials from existing clients within your chosen target market, case studies of work you completed that demonstrate your specialist knowledge of the sector and an online presence that speaks directly to your target market. These then need to be supported with a regular stream of fresh content that speaks to your target market about their specific challenges – maybe in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts or webinars etc.


What’s your route to your target market?

Then you need to build your presence within your target market. Of course, this will include working from the “bottom up”, one client at a time. However, you also should be looking at getting out in front at an industry level too – this might be through partnerships with other sector specific professional firms (accountants who specialise in the sector, agencies etc.), industry bodies, trade associations, sector publications and any centre of influences within the sector. Building links with them takes time, effort and patience, but if done well it will deliver strong dividends over time.


Does a niche strategy rule out other clients?

The bottom line is, no it doesn’t. A niche strategy enables you to narrow your focus in terms of the clients that you are going after, but it doesn’t prevent other clients from outside your niche approaching you about your services. From my own experience, people from outside the financial adviser community have approached me over the years to determine if I’d be willing to work with them. You are then in the fortunate position of deciding who you want to work with.


I’m a fan of niche businesses. Do you know who you want to work with?