How do I describe what makes my firm different?

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Whenever we speak with advisors, we always ask, “How is your firm different from other independent firms?” Despite the advisors’ insistence that their firms are unique, we tend to hear the same general answers:

  • We truly care about our clients.
  • We have great service.
  • We actually do financial planning (unlike firms that just say they do it).
  • We follow through on what we say we are going to do.
  • We act in the best interest of our clients.

.While these all may be true and may help clients perceive you as different from other advisors once they are in a working relationship with you, these answers won’t help prospects understand how you are different from the other advisors they are interviewing. Every prospect is going to assume that you care, provide good service, do what you say you are going to do and are ethical. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be talking to you.

Three Steps to Differentiate Your Firm
So, how do you differentiate yourself from your competition? The answer is not just in your marketing, since your marketing simply conveys the message of how you are different.

You differentiate yourself by drawing on all areas of your business, including your vision, service model, ideal client profile, investment philosophy, client service process and organizational structure. Below are three steps to help you identify these unique factors.

Step 1: Answer the Important Questions
To define your differentiators, start by asking—and answering—the right questions. Once you answer the following questions, you should know what separates your advisory firm from others:

  • What niche markets do you specialize in (e.g., dentists, business owners)?
  • Which areas of expertise or life stage do you specialize in (e.g., retirement income distribution, young families)?
  • What services do you offer that are unique and that differentiate you from an average financial advisory firm?
  • How is your fee structure different from that of other firms?
  • How is your investment philosophy different from that of other advisory firms?
  • What is the size and structure of your business (e.g., national firm, team, solo practice)?
  • What unique or specialized education or designations does your staff hold?
  • How is your service model different from that of other firms (e.g. “We have a service model that grows as a person’s career grows, from their first job to retirement”)?
  • What is your reputation in the community?
  • What is your firm culture (e.g., how do clients feel when they leave your office)?
  • What results do you achieve for your clients that are different from that of other firms?
  • After you have answered all of these questions, ask yourself, “How does the client benefit?” If the client doesn’t benefit, then it doesn’t matter if it makes you different.

Step 2: Narrow Things Down
Once you have answered all of the questions, whittle the answers down to the ones that make you stand out the most. If your firm is different from other firms in only one or two ways, that’s perfectly fine. You’re better off being narrow and focused than too broad.

While it is good to understand all the ways your firm is different, you are going to be most effective in your messaging if you can focus on one overall theme.

Step 3: Develop Your Statement
Now that you’ve chosen your differentiators, you should use them to craft a short, cohesive statement. Here are two examples:

Example 1: While many financial planning firms are a jack of all trades, we focus on one thing: retirement income distribution strategies. That means we only work with people who are already retired and want to maximize their income from their retirement accounts, pension plans, Social Security and other investment vehicles they may have. Because we focus on just that one thing, we have the expertise in all the possible strategies that can help our clients make the most out of their retirement income.

Example 2: We are conservative investment managers. The types of clients who hire us are more concerned about protecting and preserving the money they have saved all these years than beating the market in bullish years. We aren’t exciting and that’s exactly what our clients like about us. They know our number one priority is protecting their money.

As you can see, you don’t have to be all that different from other firms in the industry to differentiate yourself to a prospect or client. You just have to understand the one thing that makes you different. Then you need to communicate that message over and over again. Only when you get this message out and are attracting clients will you be able to prove how you are different through your service and relationships, cementing those relationships in the long run.

How do I build a COI network?

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In the financial advisory business, client referrals are important, but so are referrals from centers of influence (COIs)—the attorneys, accountants and other professionals who also serve your clients. In fact, a well-developed, reciprocal network of COIs can bring in many more clients and help you keep your existing ones.

So, how do you find good COIs you can trade referrals with? Follow these steps to create a powerful COI network:

Step 1: List Each COI Your Clients Are Working With
When you work with clients, you’re bound to end up interacting with other professionals also working with those clients. Write down each COI’s name, company, the type of COI (attorney, CPA, etc.) and the name of the client. Once you’ve listed this information, reach out to these COIs and discuss how you can help each other gain and serve more clients.

Step 2: List Each COI In Your Professional Network
Who are the accountants, attorneys and other people within your network? Are you optimizing your professional relationships with them? Add them to your list of potential COIs and bring them into your network.

Step 3: List Each COI in Professional Associations You Belong To
Are you a member of your local chamber of commerce or another professional association? List potential COIs in these organizations and make them a part of your network.

Step 4: List Each COI In Your LinkedIn Network
Are you on LinkedIn? Which COIs are you connected to directly, and which ones are you connected to via other people? Ask the people connecting you to them to make introductions.

Step 5: Do a Web Search and Find a COI You Can Work With
If you’re thin on potential COIs, do a web search of accountants, attorneys and other influencers in your area. When you find a COI who you think would be a good fit, develop a relationship.

A productive reciprocal relationship is not something that develops overnight. Studies show that it takes, on average, two years of building trust before a COI begins referring clients. However, through hard work and relationship development, you may eventually enjoy a steady stream of new clients through your COI network. When this happens, all your effort will have (literally) paid off.

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