One of the many challenges of developing and growing a business is making yours stand out from the crowd. How can you become distinctive enough for clients to select you above the competition, and for fellow professionals to choose to partner with you?
There are of course the tried and tested techniques of building and developing relationships, effective networking and making reciprocal referrals – all these are as effective as ever. But on top of these I would add a few incredibly powerful tools that financial planning businesses can use to position themselves as leaders in their field.
Not all of these will work for everyone – all I can say is that they have worked for us. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope the four that I’ve suggested here will provide some food for thought. Let’s start with the least obvious.
1) Increase your qualifications
Whilst there's a bunch of reasons for increasing your qualification level (including continuous development, becoming a more proficient professional and becoming more confident in your business) it also makes you distinctive. Everyone in our profession is at least diploma qualified, but how many of us are certified? Or chartered? The numbers might be rising but the proportion is still pretty small (and to be perfectly frank, I’m working towards both but haven’t yet completed either!).
Also, if corporate benefits are your topic of choice, or if you’re helping SMEs with auto enrolment, have you taken and passed the pension management institute's auto enrolment examination? (This time I can say that I have!).
Increasing your qualifications is both hugely beneficial personally and also shows clients and fellow professionals the sheer depth of your commitment. Of course, as the numbers of chartered and certified advisers (and those with specialist qualifications) increase, you might find that the higher level you worked so hard to attain eventually becomes the 'new normal'.
In which case, you may need other things to help you stand out. On to number two…
2) Win some awards
Over the last couple of years we've been fortunate enough as a business to win a number of awards and be highly commended in quite a few others. We’d like to say it was unexpected, but the reality is that entering these awards was quite intentional. Applications take time, and often you've no idea if your entry is strong enough, but for me the practice of entering awards signifies three things. You're not afraid to be compared against your peers, you aspire to make your business the best it can be, and you’re happy for your business to be put under scrutiny. So although there are plenty of fantastic financial planning and corporate consultancy businesses out there who have decided not to enter awards, we decided that doing so would be another way to set ourselves apart from them.
So our awards have helped us stand out from the crowd. But at the same time, we’ve also worked on making ‘the crowd’ smaller. Which brings me onto my next tip.
3) Find your niche(s)
Many business we speak to have a genuine fear of focusing on niche markets. This is understandable. Why would you close your doors to potential opportunities? Why wouldn't you want to show the world you're capable of 'doing it all'? What's the benefit of potentially restricting your market?
However, we've found that being more specific about what we offer in terms of specialist expertise has actually attracted more clients and (more importantly) more of the right kind of clients to our business. If you develop a niche you're interested in, and one where you can be perceived as the expert in this area, this is possibly one of the most powerful things you can do.
Bear in mind, though, that too much ‘talking technical’ can put potential clients off. Which brings me to my fourth and final tip…
4) Let your personality shine through
In business, the heart can matter at least as much as the head. Most people buy from people (or brands) they like, know and trust. And to know, like and trust someone you need to know a bit about them. This is why we like to share our ideas, thoughts and knowledge, and add a sprinkle of humour and personality!
I think many people in the world of money try to avoid doing this in order to maintain an air of professionalism. I completely understand this concern. However, if you're doing this and so are most other businesses in your sector, is that making you all look the same? Are you still standing out in the way you'd want?
I know that I want to work with people I like. I expect you do, too. Therefore, whilst your knowledge is massively important, it's also about your values and what you stand for. Traditionally this has been done by networking face to face and working with fellow professionals. Now we’ve also got online articles and the power of social media to let us express our personalities and appeal more to clients on a personal level.
So there you have it. Those are some of the things that have worked for our business. What do you do to ensure your business stands out from the crowd?