You've made the decision to launch your firm—congratulations! You’re on your way to serving the clients you want, in the way you want, while building a business with enough revenue to live the lifestyle you want. That takes courage and commitment. Now that commitment will be tested as you prepare to launch and build a successful practice.
Whether you plan to grow a large or boutique firm, there are many actions you must take to legally prepare as you “open the doors” of your firm. With all these “to do’s,” one aspect that doesn’t get enough attention when building a successful pre-launch is... your sales or business development plan.
Let’s fix that!
*A caveat: Your situation will dictate the legality of the ideas. Non-compete agreements, non-solicits, compliance, etc., will factor in, so please use what fits your variables.
The components of your business development function
A miss of pre-launch business development focus and action leaves a gap for revenue and clients are needed post-launch. As you build your plan, there are several components of your business development or sales function needed for both pre-and post-launch:
#1: Marketing – branding, research, content, and campaigns.
#2: Lead generation – activities that directly fill the top of your sales funnel.
#3: Sales – activities and conversations that convert, onboard, and grow the relationship with the prospect.
Sales? That word makes many advisors cringe—especially if you're a fee-only planner who constantly fights the perception that your job revolves around product sales! But you do sell: you sell your services and advice. Your new firm depends on your ability to sell potential clients on the value you can deliver through your services and without paying clients, your new firm will quickly become a hobby, not a business. The good news is that when you approach sales genuinely, there is no coercion, manipulation, or aggression. If you are one of those advisors who struggle to convert leads into clients, you can learn how to develop an effective sales process for your firm. This podcast episode details how you too can convert financial planning leads to clients.
If you can shift your mindset around sales, the following best practices are actions to tackle in the months before your official launch.
The why, who, what, and how of pre-launch activities for RIAs to build client demand
Let’s outline the components for a successful pre-launch that will become the foundation of your entire business development function. Use these best practices to start your firm’s playbook. Your playbook becomes the go-to resource for you and future team members for all your business development efforts:
#1: WHY: Clarify your mission and values
#2: WHO: Focus on your ideal client profile or niche
#3: WHAT: Identify and develop your resources, and strategy for branding and marketing
#4: WHAT: Create your lead generation strategy and lead conversion process
#5: HOW: Equip yourself with the skills and mindset needed to connect with and convert your ideal clients
#1: Clarify the WHY of your business
Before business development starts, make sure your WHY for having a firm is solid and transparent. Without the strong why, the work, hours, and emotions can stop you in your tracks.
This clarity allows you to start your business development with confidence and commitment.
#2: Focus on WHO you will serve
Everything you do in your firm is affected by WHO you serve, especially your business development efforts. This could be a broad category like “retirees” or narrow like “veterans who served in Vietnam and have disability benefits.” These are who you want to work with and strive to serve well. Michael Kitces and many others have been pounding this niche drum for a long time, and for good reason!
As Luis Rosa of Build a Better Financial Future shares:
“I certainly wish I had been clear about my target audience. At first, I planned on working with anyone with a heartbeat just to keep the lights on.”
Identify your Ideal Client Profile or Niche. If you already have this focus, way to go! Move on to the next component. For the rest, the sooner you narrow in, the easier and more productive all your marketing, lead generation, and sales efforts become.
There are many ways to categorize potential ideal clients and the “title” or name of your ideal client isn’t as important as the specific information about them that allows you to create relevant content, messaging, and resources. To begin tailoring your ideal client strategy and messaging, identify these aspects:
1. Do their problems, opportunities, wants, and needs fit your skillset, service, and passion?
2. Where do they hang out, and who do they hang out with? This directs you to who else you should connect with and where to focus your energy.
3. Where do they get information from? Publications, individual interactions, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, YouTube, IG, TikTok, etc.
4. Who else works with them? Centers of Influence (COIs) to learn from, collaborate with, and establish a referral relationship.
If you don’t know the answers for certain, where can you find this information?
Informational interviews: Talk with those who can provide insight into the items above. Use insightful questions, listen, and learn. Luis Rosa suggests asking advisors who have owned their businesses about their challenges and suggestions for business development.
Community research: Geographic or online communities.
Data research: Anne Marie Webster of Curated Capital and Planning works with blended families with age-gap differences. She found multiple sites with this term that validated her observations and provided additional insight into the issues and thoughts of this group.
You don’t need to know it all before getting started with any activities. Start with what you know and then use your pre-launch time to learn more.
#3: Prepare WHAT your foundation branding/marketing items will include
This is what to do for branding and recognition. Identify your firm name, logo, URL, etc. These are more meaningful when you’ve identified Why and Who you are serving.
There’s much more to marketing and branding covered so well in this Mini Masters Course in Advisor Marketing and Step-By-Step Guide for Evaluating and Adjusting Marketing Ideas. The remaining 2 actions are specific to lead generation and sales.
#4: Identify WHAT your pre-launch lead generation strategy will look like
Armed with your ideal client knowledge, identify what your pre-launch lead generation strategy is. You’ve likely had no shortage of people telling you the way to lead generation. How many podcasts, websites, and articles have you “taken in” during the last year?
Each marketing specialty, whether digital, seminars, SEO, or LinkedIn, is certain their way should be your way. Too often, these decisions are either left to chance, to be worked on after your official launch, or haphazardly acted upon based on information from the latest podcast, article, or advisor you’ve connected with. There are so many decisions:
Which strategy should you choose?
How much money should you budget?
What will work for your firm?
How will you reach the right prospects?
What you need is a strategy for YOUR firm, a lead generation strategy, for what you will do pre-launch to build demand and have ready-and-waiting clients when you launch.
We call the specifics of your strategy the “touches.”
Lead Generation Touches for Financial Advisors
Each level of touch in your pre-launch strategy is important. Let me introduce you to the touches along with several thought-starters. There are 3 touches or types of activities that create an effective lead generation strategy:
#1: High-touch activities
#2: Mid-touch activities
#3: Low-touch activities
#1: High-touch activities:
actual conversations with a person who may be a prospect themself or who can directly connect/refer you to prospects or influencers. If you can muster the courage, skill, and plan to incorporate these high-touch conversations, you have a direct line to people...quickly.
- Networking conversations with COIs: Jenna VanLeeuwen of Aligning Wealth says, “I wish I had had more conversations with COIs.”
- The “1000 cups of coffee” challenge
- Conversations with advisors
- Information interviews with prospective clients, others who serve this group, and community members
- Cold calls
- Produce activities or events solo or jointly with a COI or group
- Networking events
- Trade shows
- Association meetings
- Board involvement for something you, or your ideal clients, care about
- Meetups—virtual or in person—where potential ideal clients or
- influencers/networkers hang out
- Prepare your website.
- Share your launch date, services, and who you can help.
Luis Rosa and Anne Marie Webster both recommend publicizing your launch through letters and emails to everyone in your network.
- Submit a press release to your local newspaper.
- Secure guest spots on applicable podcasts that go live after your launch date.
- Create content that can be repurposed. Start with a long answer to a question your ideal clients have asked with an article, blog, or post newsletter. Then create short videos from the content, tweets, IG posts, FB, and LI messages to be posted in a regular schedule quickly after launch.
- Prepare your association listings emphasizing your ideal client.
Your lead generation strategy is your launch pad in preparation for “go time.” You’ll adjust and refine this strategy once you’re officially registered and go live!
#5: Equip yourself with the How-tos: skills, toolkit, and mindset
Sooner than later, you will start having conversations that matter. How you lead and facilitate those conversations drives the value of the exchange for you and them. Unfortunately, this is where many advisors start to think they aren’t prepared or are concerned that they’ll drive people away. It doesn’t have to be if you prepare your mind, mouth, and messaging:
#1: Check your mindset
#2: Build the necessary skills
a. Lead generation skills
b. Messaging skills
c. Conversation and selling skills
#3: Prepare your toolkit
#1: Check your mindset
What’s your mindset around business development/sales? If you have a healthy mindset, you’re ahead of many others if you DON’T overanalyze, procrastinate, or search for perfection. If your mindset is not positive, think about why that is. Is it because of your personal experiences? Is it because you don’t want to look desperate or too “salesy?”
Flip those thoughts! If you believe people are better off working with you rather than doing nothing or working with someone else, don’t be the person who’s in the way of them getting help. Think about selling as the information exchange that allows the prospective client to work through their decision-making process to take an action or make a decision in their best interest. There are many approaches to selling. Select one that feels genuine to you. For example, at Sales Pro Insider, we tout the collaborative conversation approach.
#2: Build the necessary skills
Invest in yourself and the training, coaching, or people that will help you develop these essential skills such as:
a. Lead generation skills
You’ve heard that you need to “nail” your pitch— don’t! A pitch is something thrown at someone. In financial services, the pitch is often thrown at unsuspecting audiences who are quick to “duck” out of the way. Instead, identify what you do in terms of how you help your ideal clients. This includes effectively explaining your value proposition. People will ask what you do, COIs will want to understand you and your offer to vet out if you are referable, and members of groups may look to you for information.
- The people whom I help the most: ____________, are underserved, and I’m starting my financial planning to serve them.
- I work with tech employees to maximize the impact of their equity comp.
- I help young families who care about education and adventure to ensure their finances support their goals. This article on the XYPN blog provides more depth to value proposition creation.
b. Messaging skills
For overall messaging, create content and resources that aid the prospect along their decision-making journey. Tip: You can use the Donald Miller Storybrand book and make your Brandscript or hire out.
c. Conversion and selling skills
The conversation skills for your two-way interactions. These are conversations, not a presentation or an interrogation. Think of yourself as the guide to help others work through their process to decide on the next step. Many of your pre-launch interactions will be focused on what you are doing with the launch and firm. But hold on, these are really sales conversations that have a desired outcome and are important to start the demand for services when launched.
#3: Prepare your toolkit
Create the resources that support business development. These resources help the prospect get what they need throughout their decision journey.
- Documents to support the processes: As John Chesbrough of Trail Financial Planning shares, develop two, simple, one-page deliverables: One for "Who your serve, services you provide, and cost." A second for the service itself, "SOMETHING you could hand out to a VERY busy person to show that you have some competency."
- CRM full of contact information
- Sales playbook: Start this resource to refer to for all your business development efforts: Start with your Mission (Why), Ideal Client Profile (Who), and include your resources for the lead generation strategy and lead conversion process (What)
- Sales process: Identify the number of meetings in your sales process, what happens before, during, and after each iteration, the commitment you see from the person, and the resources used to support that outcome.
Your Pre-Launch Strategy Starts Now
There you have it! A roadmap for pre-launch. that YOU control. Start on this well before the actual launch.
And please note: action and conversations are the most important. When you talk with people, good things will follow. Tackle these 5 pre-launch activities with consistent action, and you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when your firm launches.
- Videos with even more specifics on the “how-tos” of sales conversations.
- Conversations That Sell which outlines how-tos for the sales conversation.
About the Author
Nancy Bleeke, MBA is a sales growth consultant focused on helping advisors find their genuine approach to building their firm. Her Genuine® branded training courses guide advisors to fill their funnel, convert prospects efficiently, and retain loyal clients with an authentic, collaborative approach. Non-work time is spent with outside activities, any time she can grab with her grown children, and travel. She also seeks opportunities for random acts of kindness each day.
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