When I speak with advisors about their vision for their practice, the topic of growth frequently comes up. The desire to grow one’s firm seems to be universal at most stages of an advisor’s career. But the best way to achieve momentum—and success—is different for everyone.
To gain insights on growth strategies for financial advisors, Commonwealth held a panel discussion at our National Conference in October 2019. There, a group of top Commonwealth advisors talked about the choices that propelled their success, as well as the opportunities and challenges they faced along the way. Each speaker’s story conveyed the depth of expertise, passion, and humor needed to initiate and maximize business growth.
Starting today, I'll be sharing some highlights from these stories.
Zale Crawford: Growth Over the Long Haul
When Zale Crawford, CFP®, ChFC®, founder of Pillar Financial Group (headquartered in Lacey, Washington), started out, he didn’t think too much about the size of his firm. Like most advisors, he was primarily focused on finding great clients, and that’s where he spent his time and energy. Once Pillar Financial Group made a name for itself, however, Crawford realized that he had enough clients and that he could shift his focus to working on his business. He knew a few advisors who were looking to leave their broker/dealers and join an independent firm. After conversations to determine whether their goals and approaches were aligned, Crawford decided to join forces with two of those individuals.
Be the Change Agent
The new partners worked well together, but you could say that the firm’s growth was pure serendipity in the beginning. Then Crawford hit a plateau, where driving growth was harder than at any other point in his career. He attributes his difficulties to his reluctance to ask for referrals, as well as his tendency to keep doing the same things to attract new clients. After a few years of flat growth, Crawford realized that if he wanted things to change, he needed to be the change agent.
As he says, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Looking at the competitive landscape and what clients were asking for, Crawford realized the advantages to creating a stronger multiadvisor firm. He developed and acted on a business plan for this growth model, which included buying a practice and bringing in new advisors. That was five years ago. Pillar Financial Group now has eight financial advisors in five locations in two states, and the firm’s growth plans call for the strategic addition of even more advisors and locations.
Rely on Your Team
Within Pillar Financial Group, advisors are responsible for setting their own goals for the coming year. They share their business plans with each other, invite feedback, and bounce ideas off one another. The advisors are based in multiple locations and have little coordinated marketing, so this process is crucial to their working well together. Without the group’s input, each advisor might feel that he or she is working in a silo.
Crawford also recognizes that a multiadvisor practice allows him to leverage the other advisors and resources in his firm more effectively. Every person brings something unique to the table, and it’s up to Crawford to ensure that he’s learning all he can from his team. For example, one advisor on Crawford’s team is particularly skilled at hosting high-level client events. He never struggles with attendance and often gets high-quality referrals from the participants. Crawford knows everyone in the firm can benefit from learning this advisor’s strategies.
Say No to More Vacation?
This is a tough one for Crawford, but he doesn’t want his practice to become stagnant. Like most advisors, he loves what he does and makes a fine living. Yet, despite his enthusiasm for his career, he says he could easily fall into complacency and stop working so hard. As an avid outdoorsman, he would enjoy spending more time fishing or hunting with his sons. The idea of more vacation time is very appealing. But Crawford wants to grow his business for the long haul, and he knows that consistent discipline is what’s needed to thrive in today’s challenging environment.
Words of Wisdom
Crawford feels a bit sheepish saying this, but, nonetheless, his strongest piece of advice is, “Ask for referrals!” Undoubtedly, you know that referrals are one of the best ways to grow your advisory practice. But it’s hard to make this task a habit, and many advisors feel like they’re really bad at it. Yet, when they do ask for referrals, clients are frequently willing to help. So, to jump-start your business in 2020, make it a point to ask clients (who know and love you) if you can help the family and friends they care most about.
And network! Opportunities abound at Rotary clubs, estate planning meetings, and every social and philanthropic event in your community.
Plan Your Next Move
This story represents only one of the many possible transformative growth strategies for financial advisors. Your path to success may be very different. Revisit our blog often for more ideas on how to grow your advisory practice and other business fundamentals.
This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.