You Are Not The Solution

Peter Montoya became famous for preaching that your brand is you.  David Grau now has research showing how that approach backfires.

Montoya has contributed a lot to advisor marketing. As much as I agree with a lot of what he has published, I have always disagreed with one of his precepts: that the brand is you.

The Breakthrough Company is the result of research into small companies that successfully became big companies.  The first principle of success they explain is to “crown the company” meaning put the interests and image of the company before yours as CEO. When you put the interests of the practice before your own, you recognize the shortcoming of putting the spotlight on yourself.

People are interested in how they can benefit from working with your firm.  When you say “I work with retirees with gobs of money to invest” or “I specialize in people who have just come into a lot of money through inheritance or selling a business” you talk about yourself, not about what’s in it for the client. You also limit both the growth potential of your firm and its value when it comes time for your own liquidity event.

It is this latter point that Grau has now documented.  And it makes sense.  If you have spent decades promoting yourself as the most valuable aspect of your business, a buyer will have to start all over again if they buy your practice.  The buyer risks losing clients during the transition to a new value proposition.

It can also cause you problems as your business grows.  I am working with an advisor now who faces this challenge.  For the past 20 years, she was the person the clients came to – it was her wisdom that people perceived as the value of the practice.  For the last 10 years, she has had a fully qualified advisor working for her.  It was the principal’s belief that either of them could (and did) provide good service and advice. Yet, she had a terrible challenge managing her time because all the clients insisted on talking to her.  When we conducted an advisory board meeting, we asked about the clients’ perception of roles in the practice. To her surprise, people thought the other advisor was her assistant – some actually referred to her as secretary. It will take a long time to adjust that perspective, get clients agreeable to taking advice from the other advisor, and give the principal back a little more control of her time.

It is much more productive to define your business in terms of a solution or experience clients seek. It may be one person or a team, but it is the business delivering the value. That opens up the opportunity to delegate or add partners smoothly. Avoid the ego gratification of naming your practice for yourself, and identifying your own attributes and skills as the primary value the business has to offer. Let people seek the firm to find what they are looking for, and you will realize it gets easier to run now and easier to sell later.

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