How to make a million dollars as an advisor

By Brian Lucius

Gradient Financial Group

These days, perception is reality, and your business needs to look like a million dollars. Unfortunately, I encounter many advisors who feel their corporate image is unimportant. A great example of this is a Web site. I regularly hear advisors say, "My clients aren't online." Those advisors will hate a recent study from Harris Interactive.

The new survey released last month by Harris Interactive shows that adults between the ages of 50 and 65 spend an average of 15 hours a week online, more time than the average of the 18-24 year olds surveyed. The survey of 2,029 adults showed that seniors over the age of 65 spend an average of 8 hours a week online, with only 4 percent of those surveyed saying they are online less than one hour a week.

While some may feel that brand and image are not that important, I urge you to reconsider and take a look at your lifestyle. Think about the clothes you wear, the car you drive, and the groceries you bring home. Most of what you buy is based around a feeling you have about those brands as a result of the image they have created. You spend so much time telling people how professional you are, but does your existing marketing collateral project the same image and message?

You are a product, and someone is considering buying you. However, I see many successful advisors with the image of a "fly by night" operation. They have zero to little Web presence or a "fill in the blank" Web site. Their business cards look like they were printed at home. If they have brochures, they are often something the advisors are not proud of. Looking average is fine, if you are okay with being perceived as average. I guarantee an average image will be another thing tying you down to average production.

There are several instances where your brand and image come into play. For this article, I will address your first impression and your existing relationships.

Psychologists, business leaders, and seminar gurus say you only have 17 seconds before someone forms an opinion of you. In today's technology and information age, those 17 seconds are not always face-to-face. Seminar invitees, referrals and anyone seeking financial advice will most likely view your Web site or event invitation before meeting you personally. (This is all assuming you are marketing and advertising your business.) What does your existing brand and image say about you? Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Second, let's address your existing relationships. No matter how close you think you are to your existing clients, they are constantly bombarded by other financial services professionals. Your clients are making comparisons among you, your competition, and the large wirehouses. Think about it. I am happy with my cable TV company, but I am always looking for something better. Does that not sound like a fair comparison? No? Why? Because cable companies are a commodity? That's my exact point. If you are using a Google picture as your logo or some form of "fill in the blank" template Web site, you have commoditized yourself. While there is nothing wrong with what I just mentioned and many advisors select this route, that's the problem. You look as unimpressive as the next guy.

Now, what can you do? You need to be willing to invest -- not spend -- invest money in your image and brand. You'll need to contact a local design group, or your marketing organization should be able to provide help in this area.

I have consulted on image and branding for leading plastic surgeons, luxury home builders, and several consumer companies who must have an elite image to do business. Lucky for you, in our financial services business, your competition hasn't raised the bar that high. By simply investing a few thousand dollars to upgrade your image, you'll be able to create the perfect brand for you and your clients.

Successful companies and entrepreneurs know image is 90 percent of what they are selling. Image is not just the way you dress. It's your Web site, business cards, brochures and any marketing collateral used to support your brand. You need to start thinking seriously about your image and your brand. Remember, a brand isn't what you say it is; it's what "they" say it is.

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