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Expanding Your Practice

Taking your business beyond city limits requires specialized interest, strategic alliances and a willingness to follow the customers.

By Peter H. Calfee, CLU, CFP, AEP, CPA

Take your practice beyond local boundaries—it sounds easy but has proven difficult for many advisors. There are a lot of things to consider when contemplating this move, but the most important is passion. What charges you up about your clients? The answer to this question is the key to finding the type of client you want and could be the first step to identifying a regional or national market for yourself.

Here’s an example from my own practice: I’ve done a lot of work with independent, nonprofit schools. At first, I became viewed as a local expert in Ohio. Then, my clients began referring me to schools throughout the Midwest. Having been a product of independent education, I know what these schools can do for students. My passion carried over into the planning of head-of-school contracts, compensation designs for principals and faculty, and working with board members.

Let’s look at what happened here. I turned inward to find what made me happy and found that I enjoyed working with the heads of independent schools. I also learned that successful board members are almost always in need of financial planning. Also, the heads of schools are often migratory, so my business naturally traveled to neighboring regions and eventually over the eastern half of the United States.

If consumers are willing to reach beyond their town limits, maybe you should, too.

Strategic alliances
Here’s another personal example: I enjoy working on strategic alliances and have cultivated a number of accountants, lawyers, benefits people and investment managers who believe in the work I do. This cultivation sounds easier to do than it really is. Many advisors have a hard time referring leads. They want to, but they do not work in a referral state of mind. I spend my time, however, developing contacts with those advisors who do referrals, because in me they find a financial advisor who is mindful of what an alliance means.

These relationships have encouraged me to become licensed to do business around the country. My alliances essentially became extensions of my office and uncovered leads for me. I use my allies’ skills often, so they know that when I call, it means business for them. Their practices are regional and national, and mine became that way as a result.

Have what it takes
Do you have the skills that are in demand beyond your local practice? Let’s face it; we plan, chart, do cash flows, analyze and recommend. But there are advisors who do this in every major market of this country. So how do you separate yourself from the other planners?

For me, I added a number of professional certifications over time. This made other professionals view me as a holistic advisor who could coordinate lawyers, accountants, benefit specialists and property and casualty agents, unify their recommendations and make sense out of what they suggest to clients. Truly independent advisors are harder to find, but consumers want independence. My task is to reconcile independence with the revenue streams I want from planning and product sales.

Because of this, I redefined my presentation to consumers and the other advisors they use. I now emphasize that I am a fee-based financial planner and am paid in advance for my advice. If this is all a client wants, that’s fine with me. And if I am brought in to present a specific product, that’s fine, too.

I believe in full disclosure through my ADV form (ADV is an abbreviation for ’advisor,“ and the form is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission), and I want clients to tell me how they wish to compensate me for my advice. This approach has led me to planning cases across the country because consumers cannot find my type of service locally.

I also maintain a website ( and visit each client at least once a year, wherever he’s located.

Overcoming a image
Presenting your skills as you compile experiences from across the country will help you overcome the image of not being local. Consumers of financial services want less hand-holding and more knowledge and up-to-date advice from their advisors.

The future of financial planning is going to be based on the transmission of expertise, experience and knowledge—for a fee. Consumers are looking for advisors who can provide this kind of advice. Consumers don’t mind commissions as long as they know what the commissions are buying and that all appropriate products and services are considered in the process.

The nature of the evolving market is prompting consumers to look outside their localities and develop relationships with advisors who can deliver what they want, regardless of where the advisor is located. If they are willing to reach beyond their town limits, maybe you should, too.

Peter H. Calfee, CLU, CFP, CPA, AEP, is president of Calfee Financial Advisors Inc., which specializes in advising the owners and shareholders of closely held businesses on the accumulation, conservation and transfer of wealth. His address: 1215 Superior Ave., Suite 410, Cleveland, OH 44114-3289.

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