In this practice development case study, new risk specialist adviser, Tatiana Coulter, shares how she started her practice from scratch. She talks about the marketing and lead generation strategies she employed to grow her client base, and offers tips for other advisers starting out in their own businesses.
At a glance
Submitted by: Tatiana Coulter (Tats)
Business name: Monarch Advisory Group
No. staff: 1
Average premium per client: $7,000
One of the first recommendations Tats received, from friend and Financial Planning Association CEO, Mark Rantall, was to develop a ‘white paper’ on how her advice business could look. In writing the paper, she talked to other advisers to get an understanding of their business models and advice processes, and did significant research into the type of licensee that would fit best with her goals.
The planning process took nearly 20 months. During that time, Tats signed-up with licensee Securitor, designed a brand, produced marketing materials and, most importantly, organised finance for the business.
“Having the finance in place before you start is really important,” she says. “It means you’re not anxiously waiting for your first client to sign-up just so you can pay your bills. In the first few weeks I would have appointments where I could tell the person wasn’t ready to sign-up. Having the finance in place meant I didn’t have to rush them through the advice process, and could spend the time on the education side of things. You want to get clients across the line, but you also don’t want to come across as too pushy.”
Establishing a Board of Advice
During the initial planning phase, Tats engaged a number of industry peers, seeking their advice on her business model, and how to go about attracting clients.
“I didn’t really think of it initially as a Board of Advice (BoA). I thought I would launch my concepts to my friends and peers as a way of letting them know what I was doing, and get their input on branding, etc.”
There are now seven BoA members, who meet every six months to discuss the business and how Tats is tracking against her plans.
“They keep me accountable. We talk about how the business is evolving, how I’ve been tracking against the initiatives we discussed six months earlier, and then we run through the business development ideas that I’m going to implement over the next six months.
“There have been times when I’ve put forward an idea and the BoA has advised against it. I may not give up on the idea straight away, but if there are red flags, I know I need to do some more research.”
Repositioning for growth
Five months after establishing the business, and having attracted mostly friends as clients, Tats decided to reposition her business.
“In all honesty, I probably went about it a little bit the wrong way at the start, because I was really focused on building an ‘insurance only’ business. But I was losing out on potential clients, who said they were looking for someone to help them out with everything, not just their insurances.
“I decided to reposition myself as a holistic financial planner, with a specialisation in insurance.”
Tatiana also moved into an office with two mortgage brokers, who have subsequently become a significant source of referrals.
“Having a successful referral partnership really comes down to trust. I had worked with one of the brokers in a previous role, so we knew about each other’s work ethic and the way we were with clients. We both knew there was no risk in partnering. And now that we share office space, the introductions can be really seamless.”
Referrals are also flowing from the local chapter of Business Networking International (BNI). According to its website, BNI provides a structured system of giving and receiving business through the establishment of a ‘formal’ relationship with dozens of other qualified business professionals.
“There are 34 in the group at the moment. There’s an accountant, lawyers, but there’s also a builder, a dentist, a florist, a hairdresser – it’s so broad.
“We meet weekly, and everyone has a job they need to do for each meeting. It is time consuming, but the formula works. My last five clients have come through that channel.”
Generating leads through marketing
“If everyone’s going right, I want to go left,” says Tats of her approach to marketing. For example, Monarch Advisory Group sponsors one of the players in the newly-formed Greater Western Sydney (GWS) AFL club, the Giants. When the player is introduced onto the field, or if they score a goal, the Monarch logo appears on the big screen at the ground.
“Because they’re an up and coming team the club really values the sponsorship and support. They’re really proactive; I’ve got direct access to the players and CEO, Dave Matthews. I’ve even met Kevin Sheedy (the coach) a couple of times. They’re not too big for their boots. They really appreciate you.”
Tats also joined the prestigious GWS Members ‘Captains Club’, which is aimed at attracting high-net worth individuals to support the club.
If everyone’s going right, I want to go left
“The tipping point for joining was actually that there were no other females in the Club. Because you’re the first female, they tend to promote you a bit, as well. They say: ‘You’ve got to help Tats. She’s just started her business and she’s the first female Captain’s Club member. She’s supporting us, so why not get behind her as well’.”
To communicate regularly with her clients, Tats uses social media.
“It’s doing exactly what we set out to do, which was showcase my personality. When I started the business, I was worried that I may have to change, to become really serious and technically-focused. But one of my friends pointed out that people who seek out a professional service buy the person. So if people don’t ‘buy me’, they’re not going to want to be clients. That was probably the best advice I received. People can Google the technical stuff; I focus on sharing anecdotes and real stories, because my clients can relate to them.”
Tats attributes much of her success to the support of other financial planners.
“Through Securitor I have met some other advisers, all older gentlemen, and they’ve just been fantastic. They offer as much help and support as you could want. I’ve sat with them for hours, talking about issues and challenges that I’m struggling with in my business. I also have two planners who I met when I was a BDM, who I know I can call any time for their support or advice.
“My recommendation to others wanting to start up their own business is to begin talking to people as early as possible. Not only will they have ideas and advice for you, but it also means they’re already thinking about whether they have any leads they can send your way, well ahead of your first day of business.
“On day one, you need to focus. You don’t want to be worried about your website, your business cards or setting up your office. Set yourself up first, so you can focus on getting the clients in the door from day one.”