Building a Practice on Personality and Performance
Personal Branding and satisfaction guarantees—a powerful combination
The common model for building an independent services practice is hardly individualized. Typical is the one-day-at-a-time entrepreneur who uses “special offer” or generic marketing, or no marketing at all. Marketing efforts are often minimal, since there’s little incentive to build relationships with clients who see the entrepreneur as identical to the rest of the pack in his or her industry. This route provides an income but little more.
However, a growing number of independent professionals are cultivating business from related professionals and growing their businesses through referrals and solid business planning. These advisors are building practices around strong Personal Branding and the guarantee that the service they offer will be satisfactory for their clients. Service-based professionals who employ this business model do so because it offers unique benefits that go largely untapped by their commission-based counterparts:
• Greater differentiation from other industry professionals through branding
• Business built on relationships, which enhances the value of the brand
• The promise that clients will be satisfied with the service they receive
• Client perceives relationship as inherently fair
• Allows the entrepreneur to be seen as partner versus sales person
• Allows the professional to pick his or her clients by choosing who he or she attracts
What is Personal Branding?
Personal Branding defies the generic marketing model – or no marketing model – relied on by most independent professionals. Simply, it’s the marketing of the business person’s personal strengths and a carefully-developed market image, rather than products or affiliated organizations.
A carefully crafted “brand identity” emphasis on relationships and high quality production are all hallmarks of Personal Marketing in financial services. It’s a philosophy that is gaining in popularity as fiscal prosperity creates an ever-greater demand for services such as portfolio management and asset allocation.
Advisors engaged in Personal Branding replace template industry junk mail, cheap print ads, special offers, coupons, and business cards with high-quality, brand-building brochures, custom logos and other tools designed to sell prospects on their unique strengths and create a person-to-person—instead of an professional-to-client—rapport.
1. Targeting the Advertising Dollar
Niche marketing—which systematically excludes some market segments—seems crazy to most professionals because it excludes as well as attracts. Because it does a great job of repelling less-desirable clients, it’s extremely effective at attracting the clients you want most.
“Because of my specialization in this business I have immersed myself in
their world and I know their potential financial pitfalls better than
they do,” says Stephen Wolff, a financial advisor who has built a thriving practice by focusing solely on families who own automotive dealerships. He currently has 35 such clients and grosses over $1 million per year in fees.
Wolff has built a powerful marketing strategy based on his unique niche. His tactics include:
• Renting exhibit space at the National Automotive Dealers Association trade show
• Advertisements in the industry magazine “Automotive News” offering a 12-minute audiocassette of dealer-specific information
• Articles written about him in those publications
• Speeches to various automotive trade organizations
• Networking to 60 CPA firms specializing in auto dealers, as well as law firms who also specialize in his niche
• Attendance at auto manufacturer sponsored events
“In three years, I expect to have 150 auto dealership clients, based on my current marketing plan,” says Wolff, who limits his services to these clients to succession planning and estate tax planning.
2. Guaranteeing their Satisfaction
Some industries, like financial services, law and real estate, have rules and regulations that impact how independent professionals markets themselves. However, in any commission- or service-based field, an entrepreneur who guarantees his services by offering to refund commissions speaks volumes about the level of service he or she provides. This promise one of the most powerful brand differentiators: the guarantee of satisfaction.
Most consumers are generally distrusting of the commission system in any given industry. Strong Personal Marketing can educate your clients on how commissions work – and how your guarantee ensures a win-win situation. By speaking honestly about your fees, and promising their satisfaction, you stand heads and tails above the competition.
• Personal Marketing example: A caterer creates a direct mail postcard campaign offering small corporate luncheons for mid-sized businesses. Her message is simple: she is so confident in the quality of her services, meals, and personal abilities as a cook that she will refund the cost of the meal if her clients’ aren’t completely satisfied. During her six-month campaign of weekly mailings, she receives more than three dozen catering jobs. In nearly 40 lunches, she is asked to refund two meals. The majority of her new clients, however, quickly become confident in her abilities and become repeat customers. By taking a risk, and making a personal promise using her name, her business expands to a new level.
The guarantee of satisfaction, or conditional guarantees allow independent professionals to market client empowerment. Guarantees give clients the sense that they are in control of your business relationship, a powerful incentive to respond.
3. Relationships Instead of Orders
A guarantee-based practice is more interactive and open-ended, requiring advisors to maintain an ongoing relationship based on consistently strong service. For entrepreneurs using Personal Branding, a position as a provider of highly personalized service is an irresistible differentiator.
• Personal Marketing example: A real estate professional decides to launch a series of free community round tables. Each month, he mails invitations to a target audience of prospects in a different neighborhood in his marketing area, then rents a hall and holds an evening question and answer session for the respondents. At each event he distributes high-quality personal brochures, and over a period of months, builds a reputation as a community leader who listens, spends time and cares about client relationships.
Fact: People do business with people they like, and sophisticated consumers like sophisticated individuals who surprise them with more than they expected.
4. Visibility Over Ability
Embracing Personal Branding demands that you be willing to put your practice, your fee structure and your personal beliefs into the marketplace to be tested. It requires a paradigm shift from reliance on standard industry brands, images and the strength of products to reliance on a professional marketing strategy and personal “brand.”
Visibility is more important than ability, because even the most gifted professional will never communicate his abilities to prospects in a boilerplate corporate brochure. Marketing your practice demands individuality, candor, and a willingness to change the way you approach business development. For example:
• Hiring a professional writer, designer and photographer to create a high-quality personal brochure and website. This is the foundation of any service-oriented professional’s career – the must-have.
• Using public relations professionals to develop a full-scale PR campaign centered around ghostwritten articles, public appearances and press coverage.
• Developing a personal slogan that captures “mind share.”
• Changing networking tactics from Rotary clubs and Chambers of Commerce to other financial professionals in related fields who can generate prospects.
5. Branding Demands Rethinking
Some independent professionals find this approach a difficult leap. It’s more costly than corporate marketing, demands more time and commits you to a higher level of service. That’s precisely what makes it so attractive to fee-based advisors, who have already based much or all of their income on a system where they must produce results to pay the bills.
If Personal Branding of your fee-based practice sounds appealing, answer these questions:
• Are you willing to hire professionals to help you strategize and create quality marketing materials?
• Are you comfortable focusing your marketing efforts on your personal and professional background, and on committing yourself to a certain level of client service in writing?
• Do you have the time or the staff to implement a regular, repetitive Personal Branding and Marketing Campaign using direct mail or other methods to attract prospects?
• Are you prepared to back up claims of customized service with action?
If “Yes,” then Personal Branding can take your career to a new level.
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Mark Montoya has been working in personal branding for more than a decade for hundreds of online and offline companies, small businesses and individual service professionals. His focus has been toward improving the way jobseekers find employment on the Internet. He has synthesized his expertise by helping job seekers obtain their ideal choice of employment over the Internet on his sites MyOnlineCareerSpace.com and MyOnlineCareerCoach.com, and through his books 101 Tips Every Job Seeker Should Know and The Ultimate Online Job Search eBook.
“It is the responsibility of the individual to reject the prospect of mediocrity and to strive for the betterment of society as a whole” ~ Mark Montoya