5 Steps to Grow an RIA: A Mini Masters Course in Advisor Marketing

10 min read
August 08, 2022

This article is a whole new format for RIA marketing education. “How to grow your RIA” is a big, dynamic topic to tackle in 5 steps and a single blog post, but I believe there’s power in simplicity. If you Google “how to grow an RIA” today, you’re met with more than 25 million results. Marketing your firm is an intimidating task as is, and with millions of articles you could read, it’s no wonder independent advisors are stressed.

Consider this resource to be your “mini masters course” in RIA marketing—it outlines the true essentials. 

My hope is this blog can help you grasp the concept of RIA marketing so that it’s no longer intimidating. While marketing is not an easy or seamless part of owning a firm, the process and ingredients for growing an RIA are straightforward. I want every advisor to feel confident stepping into this new responsibility.

5 action steps for growing an RIA

Before we dive in, it’s important to know that these marketing steps below build upon each other. They are most effective when done in order and with adequate time for consideration.

The 5 action steps are:

  1. Know who your ideal prospect is, through and through
  2. Create a bank of tailored messages
  3. Share your message through various channels and formats
  4. Tie it all together with marketing funnels
  5. Adjust messaging and format based on feedback—forever

Let’s dive into each, and describe the specific To-Do items.

#1: Know who your ideal prospect is, through and through

In order to get more prospects, you first need to define who you want to attract. An avatar is the marketing tool that prepares you for this step. The ideal prospect avatar will come from your vision. You’re the firm owner; it’s your job to decide who’s an ideal fit for the firm you want to build.

The exercise of developing an avatar is much more specific than having a niche or target audience—an avatar is a vivid picture of one person.

To start, give the avatar a name and demographic profile. For example, Jerry is 34, engaged as of last month, has two golden retrievers, and lives in Florida. Then, outline this person’s mindset, personality, hopes, dreams, fears, and challenges. Make them real. While the avatar will eventually represent your ideal prospects, you have to focus on creating one ideal prospect in your head while completing this exercise.

There are two specific resources I’ll point you toward for this step. First, read Running Lean, by Ash Maurya. It’s a short, digestible book. Use the “problem interview” script within Ash’s framework to interview 8-15 people in your target. This exercise alone will supercharge your avatar.

Second, for members of the XY Planning Network, complete the on-demand course Create Your Firm’s Ideal Prospect Avatar in XYPN Academy. There, I’ll coach you through the process of creating your avatar to make them real. The exercises within that course challenge you to pause and define this person in specific, vivid detail. If you’re not a member, find an avatar worksheet online—like this one.

This is not a step to move through quickly. In fact, a loose understanding or surface-level empathy for your ideal prospect is a sure-fire way to make every proceeding step of marketing difficult.

Once you’ve created an avatar, make every marketing decision through this lens and attract people like them. More on that next.

Mapping your marketing funnel is the first step towards developing an effective  marketing strategy and a valuable tool for evaluating the health of an existing  strategy. Download our template to get started!

#2: Create a bank of tailored messages

In all marketing initiatives, you need effective copy. You cannot successfully write a blog, build a website, craft an elevator pitch, or shake hands with people in real life without the right words. It’s your responsibility to have compelling, tailored messages to share.

The more tailored your messages are to your ideal prospect, the more likely your firm will grow from marketing efforts. So, what does your avatar want to hear from an advisor?

To answer this question, look at your avatar from Step 1. Work through the details you know about your avatar and write a message to directly address each part—mindset, personality, hopes, dreams, fears, and challenges.

For instance, they want X, so we should be sure to mention that we offer that service. If one of their potential roadblocks is Y, then we can speak to this challenge in a reassuring way. If they’re deeply motivated by Z, we can mirror that sentiment back to them so they feel heard and understood.

Each line of your avatar can, and should, inspire a bank of tailored, strategic, and effective messaging. Be relevant to their life now. Be specific in your word choice. Speak to their motivations, needs, and wants.

While brainstorming, collect all of your messaging in a centralized document. I like to call it a “Message Bank.” This document will become a hugely valuable asset to your firm. Anytime you engage in marketing, refer to the Message Bank and use exact phrases, elaborate deeply on one of the sections, and/or let it inspire your next campaign.

You can (and will) come back to your Message Bank regularly to expand and update it as you understand your ideal prospect more. I suggest advisors spend no less than 8 hours on the initial Message Bank, and schedule routine updates to the document at least once per quarter—sometimes as often as weekly.

Once you feel satisfied with the initial Message Bank, we move on to Step 3.

#3: Share your message through various channels and formats

Now it’s time to spread your message. You have compelling things to say to your ideal prospect, so let’s get your message out there. This is the step most advisors imagine when they think of “marketing,” but in fact, it’s just one step in the vital five.

When I say “channels and formats,” I’m referring to communication vehicles. This part may seem to be getting technical, but we’re just putting labels on the things happening all around you. Common marketing channels today are email, advertising, social media, organic search, and events. Formats exist within these marketing channels. These include written communication, verbal communication, and visual communication.

Let’s put channels and formats into context:

  1. You may have found this blog (written communication) through an email from XYPN (channel).
  2. Your newest client originally called because their friend (channel) mentioned your name (verbal communication) at a dinner party last month.
  3. A peer posted a video (verbal communication) on Twitter (channel) last week.
  4. Your latest Instagram post (channel) was an infographic (written and visual communication) about college loans.
  5. You’ve been working to improve the SEO (channel) of your podcast (verbal communication) so more people might find you there.

Here’s some data on the various channels advisors are trying:

Most Widely Used Marketing Strategies By Financial Advisors

Please acknowledge this data is showing the popularity of using any given channel of communication, not necessarily if it’s working. It’s up to you to determine if the channel fits you and your ideal prospect.

When choosing marketing channels, it’s best to focus on methods of communication that fit your strengths, and the preferences of your ideal prospect. For instance, if you don’t like to write, then don’t start a blog. On the other hand, both you and your ideal prospect might scroll through Instagram daily. In this case, it would be smart to choose Instagram as one of your channels to market your firm’s message.

At this point, it’s time to look back on what you know about your avatar again, and select 2-4 marketing channels to focus your time on. Once you make this decision, spend a few hours researching best practices for each and get to work sharing your message on those mediums. Be sure to play around with different formats of communication within each channel to see what sticks with your unique avatar.

Step 3 is where the ongoing marketing work happens. You need to show up regularly to these strategies in order for them to bring in new business. It’s not fair to try a channel for a few months and then deem it “doesn’t work.” Marketing a financial services firm requires time; you’re working to build the interest and trust required to convert a stranger into an excited, paying client.

Tip! I see many well-intentioned entrepreneurs procrastinate Step 3. It can be scary to put yourself out there. Our minds begin to worry, What if it doesn’t work? What if my stuff isn’t good? Don’t fall into this worry trap. The way you get clients is by connecting with people. You need to share your message. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Step 5 will be your safeguard.

#4: Tie it all together with marketing funnels

By now you have a target prospect, a bank of marketing messages, and multiple channels for sharing that message. Now you’re ready to tie it all together with marketing funnels.

Advisors who work with me often say they’re frustrated that their marketing feels “all over the place.” You might have a website, email newsletter, some social media pages, and host regular in-person events. But are they really working together to drive business? Each individual thing is doing fairly well, but the efforts feel disjointed and lack strategy.

This is where marketing funnels come in. A marketing funnel is a step-by-step experience you create to guide potential prospects from their first introduction to their first meeting. It’s your responsibility to offer a guided path to make your prospects' experience as valuable and pleasant as possible. Without intentionality, your audience will likely get stuck interacting with one piece of your marketing (like reading your newsletter for a year) without taking action.

Step 4 has the most literal action items. First, simply write down the exact steps a person could take in their journey from stranger to prospect. There are likely multiple paths they could take, so start by outlining 3-4. Chronicle their entire experience, from becoming aware your firm exists to booking their first meeting with you.

Here’s a quick example funnel:

  1. Search Google for “help with young family money management”
  2. See my blog post advertised in the top 3 results
  3. Read the blog post and are impressed with my take on the topic
  4. Click the CTA to follow me on Facebook
  5. See my Facebook posts for 3 months
  6. Sign up to attend my monthly webinar
  7. Open my follow-up email
  8. Click the CTA to read “My Story” in the follow-up email
  9. Read “My Story” on the website
  10. Read the Services page
  11. Text their significant other to make sure they’re ready to have a
    meeting with a planner
  12. Click the button to book a meeting
  13. Complete the flow with Calendly
  14. Come to the meeting

Next, review your marketing assets to make sure you’re clearly directing them from one step to the next with prominent calls-to-action (CTAs). In the example above, you can clearly see where different calls-to-action exist to encourage the prospect to move through the funnel. Blog articles point readers to follow on Facebook, Facebook followers see great content and are invited to attend monthly webinars, monthly webinar attendees are pointed to the website, and so on.

Look at each piece of marketing and ask yourself, “When a stranger arrives here, is it clear what they should do next? Why would they want to take that step? Are we making the benefits clear?” This thoughtful time spent on strong calls-to-action pays off. Without them, people get stuck and don’t move forward with you. It could be the thing missing from your marketing today!

#5: Adjust based on feedback—forever

Marketing is an ongoing series of experiments. You get an idea, try it out, and then adjust your next marketing idea based on the feedback you receive.

Adopting an experimentation mindset will set you free from the grips of perfectionism. There is no perfect marketing plan. The goal is to learn what works over time for your firm and keep experimenting with new ways to reach ideal prospects until you don’t want any more clients.

In order to learn what works, schedule times to look at the feedback, and adjust your marketing accordingly. I recommend firms look at their marketing performance and metrics either monthly or quarterly. You need enough time to pass to allow for insightful feedback to build up, but not let campaigns go too long without being monitored. Take a moment now to create this recurring event in your calendar.

What should you look at during these feedback reviews? Feedback on your marketing exists whether you elicit it or not. Once your marketing is out in the world, different feedback mechanisms will show how they’re performing.

Here are some examples of feedback across different channels:

Here are some examples of feedback across different channels

(Source: The importance of marketing metrics in digital advertising, Amazon Ads)

While most of these examples are metrics-based, marketing feedback goes beyond numbers. Feedback can be qualitative, too. Comments on your content, email replies to your newsletter, or answers to questions you deliberately ask your audience are all examples of valuable qualitative feedback.

The second action item within Step 5 is to decide what you want to learn from your efforts and identify the feedback mechanisms you’ll look at when the monthly or quarterly reviews happen. This will allow you to easily measure your success so you don’t get confused by your experiment when it comes time to review. You don’t need to go overboard here. Start by tracking key moments in your funnels, and maybe 2-3 feedback points if you launch a new campaign.

When you look at the feedback, you’ll be able to gauge how well the marketing idea is performing compared to your expectations of it. If it’s doing worse than expected, adjust it. If it’s doing better than expected, continue the course and increase the resources spent on that strategy—if possible.

The name of the game for this last part is experimentation. To reiterate, marketing is never “done” or perfect. Regularly experiment with your ideas and look at the feedback so your next idea is better for it.

Let the 5 be your guide

That was a jam-packed blog! My hope is you work through these five steps at your own pace. Intentional action is more valuable than perfection, so there’s no need to feel guilty about your marketing plan if it is working for you. If you ever find yourself struggling with marketing, come back to this piece, identify the step you’re stuck on, and rework the preceding steps in the flow to rebuild.

Still craving 1:1 guidance when it comes to your firm’s marketing? We get it—who wouldn’t be? That’s why XYPN members get dedicated coaches alongside other invaluable benefits to help you promote and grow your firm. Check out the rest of our member benefits here.

Bonus resources:

Carolyn Dalle-Molle

About the Author
Carolyn Dalle-Molle is a professional marketer with several years of experience helping small businesses reach their growth goals. Her approach to marketing is both creative and analytical; helping people achieve a creative flow that’s unique and exciting while using tracking and metrics to learn what actually works for their business. Based in Boston, she's honored to work with XY Planning Network from coast to coast. Outside of work, she enjoys volunteering with the elderly, making videos, and traveling with her friends and family.

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