We often hear from advisors that they’re too busy to plan and execute their marketing. But the truth is anything worth doing is worth putting on paper. When it comes to growing a business by communicating effectively with clients and prospects, the best firms commit to a 12-month plan.

There’s really no other way to ensure your efforts are generating an acceptable return. Many principals may have a marketing plan in their head but they lack the time and discipline to build it, execute it and measure its effectiveness. The truth is, it’s not as scary as it sounds. A documented plan is the easiest and best way to stay organized, focused and grow your business.

Getting Started

It may sound basic, but identifying goals for new client acquisition and net assets while taking into consideration retention rates, etc. is the first place to start. Those goals drive the tactics designed to target specific client types.

Take a look at the competition. Competitors’ websites not only provide intelligence on what others are doing, but insights on how to set your firm apart; you can focus on refining a unique value proposition that sets your firm apart in a business that has become all too commoditized.

Before you jump into specific tactics, whether it is planning events or publishing newsletters, check with your clients. What are their preferences? What do they like to read? What events are they most likely to attend?

Here are five tips to ensure you’re building a consistent, actionable and winning marketing plan:

1. Know Your Audience(s). Be very specific:Who is your ideal client. Are they medical professionals, c-level execs in the telecommunications field, small business owners who are part of the Chamber of Commerce in XYZ city? Take a look at existing clients to see commonalities among life stage or profession. Are your clients accumulators, in maintenance mode or retirees facing income decisions? Are they family stewards or investment focused? You have to know who you want to reach and how to speak their language. Segmenting your clients using multiple factors, not just on asset size.

2. Write it Down. An elaborate plan is not necessary, but a marketing activity calendar is. It makes it easy to documentthe marketing activity each month. Get the office involved. Assign tasks and know who is responsible for doing the work and the budget. And speaking of budget…

3. Develop a budget and stick to it. Create a realistic budget and provide the resources necessary to implement your plan. Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, but it will require you to invest in your business. And if done right, your investment will provide a sufficient return. A good place to start is around 2 to 3 percent of net revenues, but that number can go down as revenues go up. The key is to spend enough to make an impact.

Mitch Walk, at Investment Management Partners in Florida, spends about 8 to 10 percent of total revenues on marketing. He will spend about $1,300 on an event for about 30 clients and their guests. Generally, the event will lead to five or six solid leads, three meetings and one new client. If that client brings in $1 million of investable assets, it generates about $10,000 in annual revenue. Do the math, and that’s a 769 percent return.

4. Measure it. Any good plan identifies goals, whether measured in new clients, new client assets, new assets from existing clients, or revenues. They may be more nebulous like “client calls made” or “meetings conducted,” but whatever you select, track progress and adjust as necessary. If you can’t measure it, don’t do it. Again, the whole office should be involved and allowed to view what is working and what isn’t. Everyone has to be accountable for the plan and his or her part in it.

5. Know when to ask for help. Marketing may not be your strong suit (and why should it be?). Since executing marketing tactics can be time consuming and no doubt take away from your focus, how about a paying an intern from a local university’s marketing program? Or consider hiring a marketing consultant to help you create or refine your plan. Finally, leverage marketing tools and services from your financial providers. They have expertise in reviewing plans and assisting in the execution… use them! 

Jerry Lezynski is Managing Director, Marketing and Communications for the SEI Advisor Network. He is responsible for the overall strategy, development and execution of marketing and communications initiatives for the firm's more than 5,400 independent investment advisors.