Starting a new business is hard. That’s true whether you’re working on a tech company or building out your book of insurance. Starting out a career in any field is, in general, a stressful, complicated, and exhausting experience. As a new entrant on a career path, you’re likely scraping on by. Your early days are spent hustling and struggling to get by, and as you gain the resources, skill set, and rolodex, you start generating more and more income. Yet, one thing that has struck me is that, for financial advisors, this early career stage seems doubly difficult.
For a few reasons. First, advisors face stiff competition – a great number of people decide to become financial advisors in any given year. The majority of them quit within a few years, but they’re still there trying to compete with you for business. Moreover, advisors have multiple focuses while starting a business – they have to prospect, sell, deal with administration, and do customer service and success. That is, they cannot focus on any one task, they are, instead, forced to do everything. All the while doing so with minimal resources. Finally, and perhaps the most damning, is that there is so little information available to new advisors on how to succeed in this business. Before writing this blog post, I scoured the Internet looking for tips for insurance advisors and financial planners who were just getting started in the industry – I found very little of value.
And that’s a frightening situation for young advisors trying to break into the industry.
But at Finaeo, I realized that we have access to quite a few very smart people. Two of our cofounders have built successful financial advice services, as have many of our angels and mentors. As such, I decided to talk to them about what they would recommend for junior advisors to do. I wanted to understand what they attributed their own success to, and what lessons could be learned by a new crop of insurance advisors and financial planners looking to break into the industry successfully.
The key underlying theme that successful advisors kept circling back around was that you had to have a strategy to grow your business. Relying on ad hoc methods for growth would lead to subpar results. In fact, when I texted a mentor of mine with the question, his verbatim response was:
“STRATEGY STRATEGY STRATEGY!!!”
Okay, great. So just tap your shoes three times and say “there’s no place like strategy” and you’re bound to wake up with a bigger book. All right, maybe not. But with his point of strategy taken, I started to dig in. I wanted tactics on what this strategy entailed. What I ended up with are five key strategies for a new advisor to really grow his or her book. I hope it helps.
1) Focus On a Niche Industry and Double Down
Probably the most important thing that junior advisors need to think about is where to focus their energies in the early days of their career. The best way to do that is to target a niche industry and double down on it. That is, the most successful advisors I have met have specialized on a handful of industries. This allowed them to get a strong understanding of the industry, stand out amongst the crowd of non-specialized advisors when dealing with members of that industry, and generate strong word of mouth within the industry. So how do you go about selecting the right industry? Well, this should be based on two factors:
- Which industries do you have experience in / understand?
- Which industries do you have access to?
Understanding the industry you target is paramount, so when thinking about where to target, it is highly recommended you base it on your own industry expertise / knowledge. Preferably, target an industry you’ve spent time in. Why is this so important? Well, if you’ve already spent time there, you’ll understand how the client better, including what pain points and challenges they face. Likewise, never underestimate the value of speaking the same language as your clients. One mentor of ours worked in a sawmill for years before starting as a benefits advisor. This experience meant that his first set of clients were sawmill owners – he was able to talk to them in a way that other benefits advisors could not. This was a huge advantage in an industry that was traditionally loathe to deal with financial advisors. He truly understood his clientele, their pains, their needs, and how to connect them together with something he could provide.
Access is another important aspect of which industry you should be targeting. For example, it doesn’t matter how experienced you are as a corporate professional if you move out of a big city and into a small town that doesn’t have any. Likewise, you may want to deal with high net worth individuals, but if you don’t have any in your social circles, it’s probably not a great fit. However, sometimes access can trump industry expertise. A great example is an ex-banker who became a wealth manager. His main clientele was composed of doctors and lawyers. While he had no real experience in medicine or law (though he knew a few lawyers from his days in banking), his career meant he had travelled in the same social network as they did. He would be invited to the same parties and after-work drink events. As such, he was able to leverage this access to jumpstart his fledgeling business. And these early customers became potent sources of referrals.
After deciding on your niche market, the next big piece of advice is to double down on it. In the early days, it’s incredibly tempting to chase every opportunity that comes your way. But, like a dog chasing his tail, you’ll just end up dizzy with nothing to show for it. Without focus, you will always struggle to build up real expertise in an industry. And without that expertise, you will end up with less word-of-mouth, fewer referrals, and more lost deals. Instead, focus on focusing! Devote your time and energy around this niche. Market yourself directly to these people: go to their networking events and maybe even help sponsor one, advertise in the publications they read, and go to the conferences they attend. And when you add value to a client, ask for referrals to other people in the same industry.
That’s how you win.
2) Once You’ve Chosen a Market, Do a Market Survey
The second big piece of advice that I wanted to relay was that after choosing a market, you need to do a market survey. Now, for the insurance people reading this blog, I’m not talking about a survey comparing different product prices. In fact, you should do this type of market survey before you ever worry about insurance products in the first place. Okay, so what is it then? A market survey is going from person to person in your industry and asking them what their pain points are. It’s trying to really understand them and their industry.
Notice that you’re not looking to solve their problem. This market survey isn’t about “solutioning a problem,” as our CTO at Finaeo is apt to say. If you come in with a pre-defined product solution, you’re not going to be in the right mindset to properly listen to your clients. Instead, you’ll be too busy trying to figure out how your solution solves the “problem” you want them to have, even if that problem is nonexistent or not what they’re actually concerned about.
It is, fundamentally, about discovering a problem. You don’t do this by trying to immediately solve their problem. In fact, I recommend when doing a market survey that you don’t focus on selling or gaining clients. Instead, focus on active listening and learning. Ultimately, you want to build real relationships with these people so that you can actually understand them and their problems. Do this with enough people in a specific market, and soon you’ll start seeing patterns and truly understanding your future clientele. From that point onwards, you can start figuring out how to solve their problems.
3) Test Out Different Prospecting Channels
Okay, so you have some market expertise and have done a good survey, what’s next? Well, the best part, naturally – prospecting! Now, at the end of the day, there are only so many ways you can get new clients. After all, there are only so many channels to target them through. Off the top of my head:
- Door to door
- Cold calls
- Events (for example, lunch and learns or golf tournaments)
- Social media & online marketing
- Mail campaigns
Now, this is definitely not an all-inclusive list – I’ve undoubtedly missed some channels. And I also can’t tell you which channels are going to be the most productive to your business to grow. If you’re going after high net worth individuals, hosting golf tournaments makes more sense than if your target market is composed of blue collar workers. Online marketing and social media make sense if your target market is millennials, and much less sense for retirees. Door to door sales during the daytime will be great for stay-at-home moms and terrible if you try to target people who are at work during the day by interrupting them during dinner time. The point is that any given channel will have its own strengths and weaknesses for your vertical – your job is to suss it out.
How do you do that? Hypothesize and test, test, test. If you’ve targeted an industry and done a proper market survey, you should have a hypothesis about what channels will produce the best results. Your next step is to actually test this hypothesis. Try out two channels at a time and track your cost of acquiring a client through each. Keep the winner, drop the loser, and then test out another channel.
Also, make sure you understand who the real decision maker is, or if there are a number of them. As one life insurance advisor told me, make sure the wife is there, because she’ll make her husband buy the policy. Likewise, if you’ve spent all your energy convincing a company’s President on the merits of buying employee benefits from you, nothing hurts more than finding out that he needs buy-in from the CFO who you’ve spent no time getting to know.
4) Find Good Mentors
Finding good mentors was also strongly recommended for financial advisors entering the industry. Over and over, I heard stories about the mentorship successful advisors received as they were starting in the industry. These were the people who inspired them in the business, and the people they wished to emulate. When it comes to mentorship, find the person you want to be in 10-20 years and start building a solid relationship. Advisors are busy, but most of them are willing to pay it forward. Reach out and ask to buy them a coffee because you want to understand how they’ve accomplished their success. People love this form of flattery, and will often take you up on it. And not only will you get great career advice, but you may form a working relationship. This could be useful for referrals of business they no longer want (or can’t handle), or even a future agreement to buy blocks of business that they want to pass along. It’s a great situation to be in.
In fact, before taking any other steps towards being an advisor, I challenge you to get in touch with a handful of advisors that you think have done great. Get face-to-face advice from them and see what you can learn.
5) Develop Some Serious Grit
Finally, the most important characteristic for a young advisor to develop is grit. To do well in this job, you have to have some serious resiliency and mental fortitude. I can’t stress this enough. The problem with financial advising is that it’s the kind of career that has a lot of upside, but takes years of being really broke to start seeing a consistent income stream. The second problem is that if you’re at the beginning of the path, you don’t know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Consider two scenarios. In the first, you’re panning for gold and no matter how much dirt you pull out in the process, you absolutely know you’ll eventually pull out your pan with a big chunk of gold. This is how successful, experienced advisors feel. They know that while they may get rejected 1000 times, the 1001st call may lead to a deal worth tens of thousands of dollars. Successful advisors have had those calls before – the types that turn a terrible month into a fantastic year. Now, consider a second scenario. In this scenario, you’re also panning for gold, but as you continuously pull out dirt, you start to believe there isn’t any gold. This is what fledgeling advisors often go through. See, a new advisor has never struck gold before – they’ve never had that amazing call that turned their year around. And because of that, they only know about the gold through hearsay and the experiences of others. Except, they don’t know if they’re maybe just doing wrong, or panning the wrong river. That’s where resiliency comes in. Successful advisors got that way because they stayed true believers. They believed in themselves and in the ability to strike gold. And because of that, they didn’t let rejection faze them. In the end, the difference between a successful advisor and an unsuccessful one is often that the former was willing to make the 1001st call without knowing, while the latter burnt out by call 1000. That’s the power of grit.
If you’re a new advisor, here’s what I want you to focus on next week. First off, write down three niche industries you think you can target. Once you’ve down that, focus on figuring out who you can talk to in each of those industries to better understand them. Remember, this isn’t about closing – it’s about actively listening to a prospect and learning everything you can about their vertical. Product experts can always build out solutions to problems – make it your job to become the detective who truly understands what your customers are going through.