Guest Blog: Evan Beach on the Importance of Focus, and Why Sometimes Less Means More
In today’s blog post, we feature Evan T. Beach, CFP®, AWMA®’s article, “Why Small Firms Need to Turn More Prospects Away,” originally published on the Financial Planning Association (FPA) website.
Financial planners have done a great job of differentiating themselves from stock brokers and sales reps, but not such a good job of differentiating themselves from each other. Look carefully at your favorite clients and find the common threads among them to identify the kinds of clients for whom you have developed a deep understanding and expertise.
“If you can’t be the absolute best at what you are doing, do something else,” Beach writes. Become the best firm for a specific niche of clients, whether it be dermatology surgeons in the D.C.-metro area; those over 55-years-old in the Alexandria, Va., suburbs; millennials; or new parents. By becoming known as the go-to expert for that particular niche, when someone in that niche needs financial advice, your firm’s name will pop up.
Ideal client and target market identification provides leverage in your marketing and client service model, and allows you to deliver superior service to clients. At Qii Consulting, everything we do is in the context of providing you a fulcrum on which to compound the growth of your business. Over the past few weeks, we’ve shared how crucial your shared mission and vision are to your firm’s future success. Along with Beach’s approach to focusing on ideal clients, they provide clarity and motivation for the team members you hire and lay the building blocks for the work you do — and, yes, they keep you focused and intentional in your actions.
Read Beach’s full article below:
Why Small Firms Need to Turn More Prospects Away
A little over two years ago, my wife and I decided to sell our home in Washington, D.C., and move to the close-in suburbs of Alexandria, Va. Those are words I never thought I would speak, let alone write in a national publication. After a brief period of denial, we set out to find a realtor.
Of course, there were the obvious choices: Century 21, RE/MAX, Sotheby’s, etc. But when we walked through our neighborhood, almost every single “for sale” sign had been hung by Fulcrum Properties Group. Their office was right down the street from our house, and it was clear from our first conversation that they knew everything there was to know about the neighborhood: the best streets, the best places to market the property, the right price. And they came with a group of potential buyers.
We decided to hire them instead of a good family friend who had represented us in a previous transaction. Within a week of listing, our property sold above list price. I honestly feel that there is no one better equipped to help you buy or sell a home in the Hill East neighborhood of Washington, D.C. No, this is not an advertisement for Fulcrum, it’s just an important lesson: If you can’t be the absolute best at what you are doing, do something else.
Do One Thing Better Than Anyone Else
In Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great, he outlines the “hedgehog concept.” The hedgehog concept is a deeper dive into doing one thing better than anyone else. Think about it this way: If you needed open-heart surgery, would you want a general emergency room surgeon? Would you want the second-best heart surgeon in the country? No! You’d want the absolute best heart surgeon who does nothing but open-heart surgeries.
As I write this at 2 p.m., I am drinking an iced coffee out of a Yeti cup. The ice looks exactly as it did at 7 a.m., when I put it in. Does Yeti make the coffee? Do they sell ice? No, but arguably they make the best (and most expensive) cups and coolers to keep your drinks colder for longer. This “cup” company had sales of $469 million in 2015, as reported in Inc. magazine.
Don’t Broadcast; Narrowcast
Ric Edelman, who has taken his company from a two-person family business to a $22 billion behemoth (before the Financial Engines acquisition), was interviewed on Michael Kitces’s podcast. Edelman said that if he were to start over, he would not “broadcast” to the entire country, as he currently does through radio and television. Rather, he would “narrowcast” to a subset of people that he could provide significant value. I would like to echo that sentiment.
JP Morgan has sponsored the U.S. Open tennis championships since 1982. The internationally broadcast event provides exposure to a massive group of affluent prospects. It is estimated that in 2013, JP Morgan Chase spent $60 million to $65 million on sponsorships alone, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report (sponsorship.com). That’s significantly more than almost every registered investment adviser’s total revenue.
My point: You’re never going to keep up with the big players by trying to serve everyone with money. However, Comcast is based just a few miles from Vanguard headquarters and has 164,000 employees. By spending a few months learning the ins and outs of their benefit programs, you could serve Comcast employees better than any general service at Vanguard, or anywhere else, for that matter.
You Can Turn Away Prospects
I know what you’re thinking: “I already have a random group of clients of different backgrounds and different financial situations.” Or, “I can’t afford to turn away a good prospect.” I’m here to tell you, you not only can, but you must. By doing so, you’ll provide exponential value to a specific group, and they will become the backbone of your marketing strategy.
I spent about six years at a firm with no specific client target and no minimums. When I joined my current team, it killed me to send away someone $50,000 below our $500,000 minimum. It was even harder to send away someone with $1 million who was just a few years younger than our age-55 minimum. I later learned that there was a multiple of people who would come to us, because they were over age 55.
We will sit with a client in a Social Security office to make sure her benefits are maximized. All of our portfolios are managed with a dynamic overlay to mitigate downside for retirees. I could tell you, line by line, what will happen on your tax return if you turn on income from specific sources. Thinking about a CCRC? I know which local ones would be a good fit, based on your goals.
Our clients pay a premium to hire someone who has already seen everything they will encounter in retirement. We give them their time back. There will never be a good time to turn a prospect away. Just like the field of dreams, if you build it, they will come.
Your Niche Is the Key to Growth
Your growth has the potential to hockey stick if you provide a valuable service and market specifically to those you can serve. The more specific your niche, the easier the latter becomes.
Because we advise those over age 55, we are frequently invited to speak at Lifetime Learning Institute, AARP, retirement communities, etc. It is easy to find our prospects. The same could be true if you served millennials. You could work with HR groups to do employer education sessions. You could work with realtors to educate their clients on first-time home purchases. Daycares would love to have a financial planner teach new parents about how to manage cash flow.
You need to become a pillar in whatever community you serve. When someone says that Mark and Susie are about to buy their first house, you are the name that pops into that person’s head.
No Fortune 500 company will ever completely get rid of its sales and marketing campaigns, and neither should you. Business development must be an ongoing effort because money changes hands at life events and at death. Your business won’t continue to grow unless you replace those clients. That said, niche marketing will make a lot of your leads inbound.
As just mentioned, you want to be a name that is synonymous with some event, profession, age, etc. How do you do that? Give your clients a soundbite. It may sound something like: “XYZ Wealth is the only firm in the D.C.-metro area that works specifically with dermatology surgeons.” If that’s a true statement, you suddenly have an “in” with every residency program training dermatology surgeons. If you drip that soundbite frequently enough, any time finance and dermatology surgeon are mentioned in the same sentence, your name comes up.
Get Out of the “Better” Game
General financial planning is now a commodity. That’s why Vanguard is doing it for 30 bps. Get out of the “better” game and get into the “best-at-something-different” game. Most of our clients come from advisers at bank wire houses. These firms are certainly more recognizable household names than we are. We are not claiming otherwise; we’re simply saying, “They did a great job getting you to where you are; we focus only on getting people like you where you are going.”
Despite your already negative reaction to “people like you,” I cannot stress enough the importance of the concept. Nobody wants to be your richest, poorest, youngest, or oldest client. They want to know that when they have a problem, you’ll know how to solve it because you work only with people “like them.”
Whether you realize it or not, I am asking a lot of you. I am begging you to put hundreds of hours into becoming the very best at your craft. I am asking you to turn away those who aren’t a good fit to create capacity for those who are. Why? Because I have lived it and know it is worth it.
My team sees almost 700 new prospects in our office each year. We take on only about 40 to 60 of those as new clients. This year we are tracking $80 million in new, organic assets, as a firm managing about $550 million. It took me about a year to get over the pain of turning prospects away. Today, I wouldn’t do it any other way.
Evan T. Beach, CFP®, AWMA®, is the Director of Wealth Advisory with Campbell Wealth Management in Alexandria, Va. Evan is a Kiplinger and Credit.com columnist and has also been published in Bloomberg, CNBC, TheStreet, Yahoo Finance, and U.S. News and World Report. He earned his CFP® designation at age 26, becoming one of only 3.3 percent of CFP® practitioners in their 20s to do so at that time.