Today’s Post is written by Dave Grant, CFP®. Dave is an internationally known planner specializing in how younger financial planners can excel in their career (he founded NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young, fee-only planners). Dave writes a column in Financial Planning magazine, speaks at conferences, consults with financial planning technology companies, and has earned various awards for his work. Learn more about his new, re-branded practice, Retirement Matters).
Over the last three years, I have run an RIA focusing on K-12 educators in Illinois. It hasn’t grown as I intended or needed it to. I’ve had numerous side hustles throughout the entire three years, and the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was when my client roster started to shrink and I was projected to run out of money in six months.
Despite marketing hard over the last three years, I decided to take a step back from the niche-focused approach and try a slightly more generalized approach in attracting clients.
Having been very niche focused for the last three years, I wanted to try something different. As a NAPFA member, I know that NAPFA referrals can drive a certain number of clients to a practice to assist in its growth. Being in Chicago and having worked for Chicago-area planning companies, I know it works. However, in being niche focused, it hasn’t worked for my practice.
From looking at the NAPFA zip code locator I located a nearby wealthy town where, in a 10-mile radius, there were no NAPFA advisors. I then decided to set-up a virtual office in that town and try to play to the zip code feature on the NAPFA search site. It worked – I gained 3 clients in 2 months by using this approach).
Because of how I’d set up my company, I had designed it in a niche fashion all the way down to the corporate naming structure. As I intended to keep my teacher-focused blog, I wanted to rename my S-Corp to my new company name, and have my blog branding and revenue be a sub-section of that S-Corp. That involved dropping my primary name, re-naming it to my new company (Retirement Matters, Inc.) and then putting my original name in place as a sub-section of my S-Corp. Very confusing.
I had no idea how to do this so brought in the assistance of my accountant. I had been referring my clients to him throughout my three years, so I told him my problem and he said he’d help me for free but I’d have to pay for filing costs. This cost ended up being $170. There’s a friend if ever I’ve had one.
Marketing & Website Design
Along with a new approach, comes a host of new things – company name, website, and marketing material. If I were to hire a web designer, graphic designer, videographer for my intro video and print shop, I could have blown through $5,000 easily. However, I decided to do some research on my own first. I drew mock-up designs for marketing materials myself, had them put together as computer templates in VistaPrint, paid a freelancer on Fiverr to provide me some examples, and then paid $20 to have some cards printed. This then led to contacting my favorite print shop and having them tweak the design, draw up and print the professional cards, letterhead and envelopes for the rebrand. As I have built up my own arsenal of video recording equipment for video blogs, I shot this one myself in my basement, and spent 3 hours editing the footage to where it passed as an introduction video. I then contacted a freelancer to do custom music and intro vignettes to make the piece look more polished. The all-in cost for the rebranding, design, and printing was $1,100. By doing a lot of the conceptual work and educating myself on video production, it brought down the price significantly.
But more importantly, I needed a new website
This is where I went the non-traditional route. As I write professionally, I called up a website design company and made a barter-exchange. I told them I needed a website but needed to be cost conscious about the process. However, I was able to provide writing services in exchange for a new website. We struck a deal, and everyone won. By utilizing the powers of people’s different skills sets, the only cost I incurred in my website design was that of stock photos – a total of $45.
This is where it paid to be educated on everything needed in the compliance department of my firm and with FINRA. I was also on first name terms with the head of the Illinois Securities Department so I sent her some questions, got clarification on what needed to get done, and put my head down for a day. It resulted in new contracts, a revised ADV, and an amended filing with FINRA all done on the same day. Compliance changes were easy and quick in comparison to everything else.
Location, Software and Payments
As well as the face and name of the company, I decided to completely reconfigure the back-end structure of my RIA.
- I added AUM services by utilizing Betterment, after getting verbal confirmation from clients they would be moving assets. From asking clients before doing this, I found that it will increase revenue by approximately $15,000 in the next twelve months.
- I changed my payment processor for clients who retain me on a monthly structure, cutting my processing fees by 50%.
- I changed my calendar software to one that could be used across various websites/brands, but still retain an individual look across both. This was an increased cost, but a more customized solution.
- Due to the new company name, I had to get all new bank accounts and credit cards for the company – even though the EIN remains unchanged. No, banks can’t just change the name on the account.
- Finally, I added a virtual office (as mentioned above) which resulted in an address change for the company. As well as the banking changes, I had an address change with every software, vendor and subscription service I had tied to the company. By being virtual, the office adds a monthly expense, but has already paid off with attracting new clients.
While these changes did not cost an extraordinary amount, it did take an amazing amount of time. Spending multiple days in a bank getting everything applied for and switched over was frustrating. Adding the fact that clients had to sign new contracts to acknowledge the name change, and entering all of the details into a new payment processor meant I had to spend a lot of time in conversation during the summer about these changes and walking people through their next steps.
Timing & Outcome
I gave myself a strict deadline of 8 weeks to complete all of these changes.
I timed it during the summer when I have client reviews for teachers on summer break, but most of my other business slows down. It meant working a lot of out-of-office hours on strategy and design, while tending to client and business needs throughout the day. The end result is something I’m very proud of, and can’t begin to thank all of those involved as much as they deserve. It was a daunting process to start, considering I changed so much inside of my company at the same time. However, the end result is a more-refined practice that has quality branding to attract consumers – and mostly those in the affluent suburb of Illinois where my office is located.
For those looking to make a branding or structural change to your practice, understand that it will take work, and I wouldn’t do it the same way again. I would separate the design and structural changes to ensure that a level of sanity can be maintained. It also doesn’t have to be as expensive as you imagine – can you barter with some of your service providers, or look to bring in freelancers who are searching for work? The biggest to note is that these changes must move your company forward – anything less, and it’s waste of time and money.
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