Outside-IN

It's almost 2018 — what's your marketing plan?

Here are crucial tips to get your creative ideas flowing and your advisory business growing in the new year

Dec 20, 2017 @ 5:36 pm

By Megan Carpenter

The year is almost over. That means it's time to write your annual marketing plan. (You do have a plan, right? I hope you aren't spending your marketing budget without one!)

Let's face it. Most of the time, an annual planning meeting is kind of a downer. It starts by looking backward. What did we achieve against our business plan? Where did we fail? What do we think worked, what didn't? No firm reaches 100% of its goals, so there are bound to be some disappointments.

Strategic planning meetings do not have to be cumbersome. By implementing a few simple ideas when beginning your marketing-planning process, you'll give yourself a much higher chance of having an actionable plan that will drive business results.

(More: How to better engage with clients and prospects)

It starts with the focus of your meeting. I recommend conducting these sessions as an offsite that is 100% focused on ideating, brainstorming and thinking creatively. Forewarn your clients. You can't think in an atmosphere of constant interruption. Go away. If you meet in the same old room you work in every day, you're going to come up with the same old workaday ideas.

Another tip? Be corny. The fact is, offbeat methods really do work. Get physically active. Turn those phones off. Make people stand up, move around the room, walk, exercise, draw, create. Start with the future, not the past. Reviewing your business plan every year is important — but it's a terrible way to start a brainstorming meeting. Get help if you need it. If you really want to shake things up, do what we did: Put your meeting in the hands of a skilled, experienced strategy meeting facilitator.

NO FILTER

Once in the right environment and ready to get to work, remove your filter and be fully transparent and honest. When it comes to benchmarking progress against your business plan, get down to the nitty-gritty. Broad generalizations about prior successes and failures are too vague, and will not properly inform future plans.

Be brutal. Ask tough questions. Pore over your spreadsheets until you have objective answers. Has your favorite charity gala ever resulted in a lead? Do the same few people always come to your events? It's great to know your clients' golf handicaps, but do you know their profitability?

Don't forget that the single most critical marketing component of your business plan is identifying the constituencies you want to reach. In other words, your target markets. Your clients should always be one constituency. Centers of influence are typically another.

If you're trying to reach new prospects, they're a third constituency; you'll need to define who they are and what they look like. Those constituencies will drive everything else in your marketing plan. For each constituency, you must specify a realistic goal and a strategy to achieve it.

THREE PLANNING TIPS

1. Define your goals more realistically. What would you say to a prospect who walks into your office and says his goal for next year is to win the lottery? You'd think he was nuts. Be aspirational and aim high, but there is a difference between pipe dreams and stretch goals. And if you're really stretching, your strategies, tactics and budgets need to be able to stretch right alongside.

2. Define your goals less individualistically. You're writing a marketing plan for your entire business, not just for certain advisers.

3. Define your goals more strategically. About half of the adviser marketing plans I see list "Updating our website" as a major marketing goal. That's not a goal. It's a tactic. Instead, what about focusing on increasing web traffic by X%? Keeping visitors on the website longer? Increasing inbound leads via your website by X%? These are specific and can be measured easily.

Finally, you're ready to budget. Once you have your basket of ideas, and specific measurable goals, you can prepare your budget accordingly — not everything will make the cut (marketing is not cheap) but you can always set some components aside for next year's plan, get a little head start.

Remember that building an actionable marketing plan shouldn't feel like a chore. It should be fun! In fact, it should feel almost as exciting as starting a business. Because that's really what you're doing when you make an annual plan. You're re-launching your business for the future.

Megan Carpenter is CEO and co-founder of FiComm Partners.

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