(Investor's Business Daily) Prospecting is the lifeblood of most financial advisory businesses. Financial advisors routinely ask clients for referrals even if they are just starting out or decades into their career.
Advisors often emphasize either through emails or direct mailing that the best compliment a client can give is referring friends or family. It's standard practice — and clients are accustomed to such entreaties.
Enterprising advisors take it a step further and engage with their community. They may lead public seminars on financial topics, write a column for the local newspaper or speak on radio shows as a money expert.
These outreach efforts attract prospects in need of financial advisory services. The more introductory calls and leads you receive, the more people these advisors can hopefully convert to clients.
Other advisors blaze a different path. They adopt unusual prospecting strategies instead of sticking with the traditional methods.
"I rarely ask for referrals," said James Hegland, an advisor in Rochester, Minn. "Yet I get them all the time, and I don't do any advertising."
Instead, Hegland is a prodigious sender of friendly letters. He jots handwritten notes to a wide range of acquaintances, including clients, which convey admiration, support or other positive sentiments.
Hegland keeps his letters short and sweet. And he never raises business matters or even hints that he'd like the recipient to refer others to his firm.
Warm personal notes can resonate with readers. Because writing letters is becoming less common, they stand out more.
For example, Hegland wrote a congratulatory message to a client's young son who became an Eagle Scout. A few days later, the client called and told Hegland, "This is one of the most meaningful notes my son has received."
Within weeks, Hegland gained a new client as word spread of his kind act. He says this often happens because recipients — and their families — tell others.
Hegland began sending handwritten notes on a more regular basis in 2012. He estimates that he has mailed over 700 letters each year since then.
When he chats with clients and others, he might inquire about their family or show interest in other aspects of their life. Their responses often trigger a follow-up note.
If a client mentions that he recently took a long hike with his children, Hegland will promptly jot a note, "I'm so proud of you for hiking five miles with your kids." It not only shows that he listened, but also that he likes what he heard or finds it inspiring.
He adds a few eye-catching touches to his letters. For starters, he writes "personal" on the lower corner of the envelope. He also uses stationery — and even stamps — with splashes of orange to add a distinctive flourish.
"I'm very particular about all of this," Hegland said. "And I never enclose a business card or anything else" with the letter.
Host an Event
For some advisors, prospecting and socializing go hand-in-hand. Hosting festive gatherings for clients and other guests leaves a lasting positive impression, which in turn can generate leads.
Megan Jones, an advisor with AE Wealth Management in Topeka, Kan., throws an annual birthday party for all clients who turn 70-½ during the year — to celebrate the age they start taking required minimum distributions from their tax-advantaged retirement accounts. They bring their children and grandchildren and enjoy cake and refreshments.
"We give them a funny cone hat to wear when they come in," Jones said. "We had someone post a Facebook photo of her husband wearing the hat. Others saw it, including someone who contacted us and became a client."
To attract prospects to her firm, Jones also leads monthly "lunch and learn" programs in her office's conference room. Along with guest speakers, she covers a range of educational topics including estate planning, tax reform and market updates.
For many advisory firms, local engagement doubles as a prospecting tool. By banding together to volunteer on a project, from providing services to the homeless to sponsoring a road race that raises funds for a nonprofit organization, advisors build their visibility while giving back to the community.
At its core, prospecting flows from strong client relationships. By maintaining strong connections with clients on an ongoing basis — through periodic calls, emails and other communication — advisors reinforce their value. This in turn triggers referrals, as clients are more likely to share their positive experience with others.