As Commonwealth’s chief business development officer, I work with financial advisors on a wide range of growth strategies. My consultations may focus on anything from gaining introductions and referrals, to planning client events, to developing marketing and website strategy. But in nearly every conversation, the topic of branding comes up.
Quite often, I’ll consult with advisors who are in the process of transitioning to Commonwealth and want to build their brand identity. These advisors might be coming from a wirehouse channel, where they’ve never had the opportunity to brand themselves, or another broker/dealer that didn’t allow them the freedom to brand their firm. Branding a business can be an exciting yet daunting task—I’ve seen advisors become so consumed by the process of choosing a strategic firm name that they are unable to move forward. So, in this post, we’ll talk a little bit about some branding best practices.
Promote Your Firm’s Brand
Branding refers to how you position your firm and services to attract ideal clients. To build your brand identity effectively, it should be evident in all aspects of your marketing, from your website to collateral to social media. Done well, it can help you to stop chasing after ideal clients and start attracting them to your practice.
Create a strategic firm name. A key aspect of your brand is the name you choose for your business. In the independent channel, many advisors have historically chosen to use their own names in their firm’s business title, such as McManus Financial or McManus Wealth Advisors. And that can work well when an advisor’s name is reasonably sure to attract prospects; perhaps your family has been in the area for generations and your surname is well known, or you were an outstanding athlete in your town. But think honestly about this—is your name alone really a draw?
At Commonwealth, we generally don’t encourage advisors to name their firms after themselves. They can do so, of course; as independent business owners, they make all the decisions for their practice. But we’ve found that when advisors choose to include their name, it can be limiting to their growth prospects long term. Here’s why:
- It’s less appealing for seasoned advisors to join. Many advisors want to grow their practice and have a business plan to attract other great advisors to their firm. But it’s hard to convince a seasoned pro to leave his or her own firm and come join yours when that person’s name won’t be on the door. Think about it; would you be more willing to join my firm if it were named McManus Financial or Summit or Heritage Financial? Exactly. So if you plan to add advisors at any point, think twice before naming your new firm after yourself.
- It’s less appealing for junior advisors to join. When your name is the firm’s focus, it can also be harder to attract junior advisors to your practice. Even people just starting in the business might hesitate to join your firm because that’s what it will seem to be—your firm, not theirs.
- It can be harder to reassign clients. As you increase business and move toward a higher-net-worth client, you might want to shift clients who are no longer ideal for you—perhaps your B and C clients—over to an associate. But clients will want the person whose name they see on the door, website, and marketing materials, and it could take more convincing to have them work with a junior advisor. And even at that, clients might perceive they’ve been relegated to the second string and leave.
- It can be tougher to sell your business. Even if you are decades from retiring, this should matter to you, and if you’re within 10 years of retirement, proceed with caution. The biggest obstacle to growth that otherwise successful firms face is the ability to define and deliver a value proposition that goes beyond the skills and expertise of the original owner. When someone wants to buy an advisor’s business that’s named after him or her, they will want to pay less. That’s because the value of your name, and any goodwill, is discounted the second you are no longer around. Would Apple’s transition after the death of Steve Jobs have been harder if the name of the firm was Jobs Computers? When choosing a name with lasting cachet, always start with a long-term view in mind.
Tell Your Story
So, what should advisors look for in a name? There’s no one right or wrong answer. The key is to build your brand identity around something that’s important to you, as your firm’s name is part of your brand. Make sure your story is one you want to tell, because people are going to be asking how your firm got its name for years to come.
For those of you who are thinking of naming your practice after yourself, I hope I’ve given you food for thought. But what should you name your new business? In my next post, I’ll take you through some ideas to help you find a meaningful, strategic firm name that will resonate with clients. Stay tuned!
What steps have you taken to build your brand identity? How does your firm’s name help to attract ideal clients? Please share your thoughts with us below!