As much as we seek the Holy Grail to building a successful book of business, the truth is none exists.

With so many different strategies to approach potential clients, it’s difficult to really pinpoint which ones work better than others. Most successful advisors use strategies that best fit their talents and don’t use up an exorbitant amount of their time and money. It’s essential advisors identify their own unique way to get in front of prospects without over-reaching their natural talents and abilities.

Find a mentor

Without a doubt, referrals from existing clients are the easiest and most effective way to build a business. But fresh out of the gate, most rookies don’t have a client base.

Therefore, the first order of business is to find a mentor. Connect with a broker looking to retire or find advisors who are transitioning their books and are willing to assist in the process. Being able to pick another advisor’s brain and see how he or she runs the practice can provide priceless knowledge and experience.

Some rookies are able to work with a seasoned broker. If that isn’t feasible, working from scratch is a possibility but it certainly isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter how intelligent or personable you are if you don’t have prospects. Getting in front of as many potential clients as possible is essential. The first thing I learned about securing clients is you can’t do it while sitting at your desk.

The personal touch works

During my three years in the industry I’ve found the most effective way to get people interested in my professional services was through friends and acquaintances. Most often, I realized throwing in a plug about my business was relatively easy when I met someone outside of work.

While a summer student, I’d work as a cold caller selling event tickets. And in a room of 30 people, I’d be one of the top three in sales by the end of the day. So, I knew I could cold call successfully, but when trying to sell financial services, rather than an event ticket, something didn’t translate.

As a ScotiaMcLeod rookie, I spent countless hours making cold-calls from a boardroom. Typically, upon obtaining a list of prospects, I’d mail out letters and then follow up with a phone call after three days. But after dealing mainly with answering machines, secretaries, and an uninterested audience, cold-calling soon came off my list of ways to get in front of potential clients. That’s when I realized growing the business was not going to happen in an office tower, at least not by cold-calling people to solicit my services as a financial advisor.

So I decided to make my pitch on the pitch.

For me, soccer did the thing. My friends and I grew up playing soccer and after university we ended up playing recreationally for different clubs. To bring us back together we got involved with the local competitive men’s league and started our own team. Not only did it bring my friends and I closer, it helped me meet a substantial number of prospects.

In fact, my top prospects were almost all acquired directly from organizing and playing soccer. My determination to start a new team meant I was introduced to every other coach and manager within the city. It turned out many of them were rather affluent and heavily involved in the community.

Our league has regular meetings regarding rules, legalities, fees, field arrangements, awards and a host of other matters. In one meeting, I offered to help with the financial matters of the league. The league didn’t need my help, but it turned out others did. At the end of that meeting many people had asked for my business card.

I also found pre-game discussions between coaches and referees often ended up being about the stock market, and that gave me another sterling chance to showcase my knowledge and business acumen. The only red card I’ve ever received in my soccer career was from a referee who’s now a client, and who ironically asked for my business card after that match.

I also went outside my league to contact other coaches about organizing friendly matches between their teams and ours. Some of these connections opened doors for a few casual business lunches to provide investment portfolio advice.

Running a competitive soccer club is expensive. So when it came time to raise money for league fees, uniforms, insurance, and field rentals, it would have been much easier to approach restaurants and pubs – most restaurant managers were extremely interested in having a soccer team come out a couple times a week to eat.

Instead, I used the opportunity to call as many businesses as possible to ask for sponsorship. I essentially became a cold caller again, except that I was selling our soccer team. I phoned orthopedic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, engineers, and many other professionals and small business owners involved in the community. While chatting with them about soccer and the perks of being a sponsor, it was easy to find an opportunity to mention that I was a wealth advisor at ScotiaMcLeod. Very often, the topic would immediately switch to the stock market and investing.

Another approach I used to meet potential clients was to support local businesses as much as possible.

I’m quite injury-prone in soccer so almost every physiotherapist, massage therapist, and chiropractor in the area knows me by name. I’m not suggesting you become a hypochondriac to get in front of doctors, but when you need the services of others, it can be a good opportunity to get to know people and tell them about your business. I always kept in mind I needed their services first and was willing to pay for them regardless of whether they were interested in my services.

Referrals are critical

While this approach has worked for me so far, I was also fortunate to join an advisor with an existing book of business so I wasn’t completely dependent on my soccer network to survive. Referrals are still the leading driver for any new business. To grow the business by word of mouth with an already established book is less difficult than starting from scratch. Success is largely based on your relationship with the clients, and the ability to tactfully ask for referrals.

If you have an assembly-line approach, the relationship will most likely be perceived to be less than genuine. Clients who feel like just another number are less likely to provide a referral.

I have found that check-up calls to clients are often more valuable than calls with a specific purpose. Take as many notes as possible and build the business relationship into a genuine friendship. Most people have some great stories to tell, and if you’re sincerely interested in their lives and can contribute your thoughts and ideas, your professional relationship will flourish.

Some of the best referrals I’ve received have come from clients who don’t necessarily have great-performing portfolios. When an account is skyrocketing, picking up the phone to boast a bit and then ask if you can do the same for their friends is pretty straightforward. Not hiding from clients with underperforming accounts and continually providing service to them is what separates the average advisor from the successful ones.

During the crash, I called each one of my clients every month to see how they were doing. I steered them through statement shock and asked for their thoughts. They understood that nobody had a clue where markets were headed. I found it extremely useful to call clients regularly and solicit their input. The result was more trusting and candid relationships and after the dust settled, referrals started pouring in.

Rookies sometimes face rejection due to their lack of experience, but I’ve realized this can be turned around in your favour. The days of the broker being the only one with relevant information are well in the past. Pre-internet brokers who still think their value is derived solely from information and research are going to be challenged. Demonstrating work ethic, integrity, and sincerity will not only help you keep existing clients but also secure new ones.

Make clients feel special

Specifically Tailored Investment Management Solutions (STIMS) that are unique to each individual are a must. While many investments will overlap between portfolios, no two clients share the same financial situation. Investment portfolios must be created on an individual basis.

We try to avoid the mass-marketed products partially because of this reason, but fees and performance play a role in that decision as well.

Most clients like to have input into their investments and enjoy feeling like they have some degree of control over the management of their finances. After all, we are the advisors and they are the ones making the “yes/no” decisions. It’s important that clients take pride in their financial success. The experiences they have with you will determine what they say—or don’t say— about you to their friends and family. If they enjoy the relationship, and are able to candidly speak with you about professional and non-professional matters, investing becomes the easy part.


  • Stephen Verbeek is a wealth advisor at ScotiaMcLeod.

    Originally published in Advisor's Edge