From Rainmaker to Thought Leader
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Thought leadership is a key step to differentiating your firm and making an impact on the advisory profession. It allows you to take control of the narrative, thoughtfully contribute to the field, and attract a broader client base. Building your firm’s thought leadership includes two steps: identifying potential thought leaders and distributing content around your expertise.
I’ll outline content ideas to help your top sellers, C-suite leaders, or founders emerge as thought leaders in the financial services arena while highlighting your firm’s expertise, raising visibility, and proactively identifying opportunities.
What Is a thought leader?
A thought leader is an industry expert recognized for their insights. You may be one already, even if you don’t feel it. Thought leaders drive narratives through content, such as speaking opportunities, articles, podcasts, and more. Thought leaders are sought after for their opinions and guidance on industry challenges, trends, and specific topics related to their areas of expertise.
How do you identify thought leaders? Start with your rainmakers
Rainmakers are the engines behind your firm’s growth. They are driving sales, closing deals and contributing to long-term sustainability.
Top performers at your firm can share winning approaches, niche expertise, and proven practices:
- Advisors and business-development officers typically secure new business, understand client concerns, and know the most about your service offerings.
- Those professionals have cultivated a reputation around their natural inclination for building relationships, sales presentations, or niche expertise in topics such as ESG investing, particular stock options, or the concerns of certain target market groups.
Your C-suite leaders and founders possess valuable insights and technical skills that other professionals seek:
- Within a growing ensemble firm, founders and other officers start to focus their energy on different areas of the business beyond advisor-client interactions, such as pursuing mergers and acquisitions, recruiting top talent, or building a values-based approach.
- These leaders can offer thought leadership tailored to their niche skills or expertise, such as operations, brand culture, human resources, and more.
Leveraging the diverse skills of your thought leaders will help your firm generate creative ideas and topics that align with industry trends and client needs.
The benefits of becoming a thought leader
Pursuing thought leadership opportunities and creating original content has various compounding benefits, including enhanced marketing efforts and:
- More firm exposure: Thought leaders bring more firm exposure when they’re featured as contributing authors, podcast guests, panelists, and more. It increases visibility in new markets, generates digital traffic, and allows audiences to learn about your firm through backlinks, bios, and social media channels. For example, one of Barron’s top-rated advisors, Richard Saperstein, the chief investment officer of Treasury Partners, is often featured for his investment and market outlooks with recurring interviews on CNBC and published articles on Business Insider and NASDAQ.com.
- Broader national voice: Becoming a thought leader provides a national stage to share expertise applicable to universal principles in the financial services space. It expands your reach beyond specific markets, attracting more ideal clients to your firm, which Kristen Luke expounds on in her new book, Uncomparable: The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Standing Out Through Niche Marketing.
- Increased social proof: Building an active audience as a thought leader builds social proof, which guides people’s behavior and enhances your credibility as an expert. (Read my Advisor Perspectives article about leveraging Google Reviews to gain more social proof). It serves as a selling point for potential clients, who value evidence, such as media features and awards, when selecting a financial firm.
- Greater reputation: Building trust opens doors to becoming a household name, attracting top-tier talent, merger and acquisition opportunities, and growth partnerships for your firm.
How thought leaders create content
Once you've identified potential thought leaders at your firm, you can begin developing content (hear from Sydney Squires, managing editor, at Kitces.com about developing content) and pursue opportunities to share your expertise. Here are five ways to get started:
Create authoritative content: Engaging content enhances SEO and gives thought leaders a platform to share in-depth insights. Here are tips to get started:
- Reflect on trending, unfamiliar, or concerning topics occurring in your daily operations, with your clients, on the boards where you serve, or in industry-related groups.
- Create engaging blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, or other content around the topics with your unique perspective to educate your audience. For inspiration, take Dave Zoller, CFP®, owner of Streamline Financial Planning and host of the YouTube series, Streamline My Practice: For Financial Advisors, who shares original content and interviews with industry professionals covering topics such as lead generation, business growth, and building a great office culture.
- Present your opinions confidently, back up claims with data, and include backlinks to credible sources and your company’s website to boost searchability and website traffic.
- Keep showing up online and in social media. This is the long game.
Partner with professional groups: Many professionals organizations are searching for guest speakers or contributors to deliver more value to their members; here’s how you can collaborate with them:
- Identify relevant groups and establish relationships by understanding their focus, members, and goals to tailor your introduction and propose suitable opportunities.
- Consider connecting with financially focused and niche professional groups that could benefit from your thought leader’s expertise. For example, based on the subject matter, you could potentially share insights with financial professionals, doctors, military groups, female entrepreneurs, or realtors. For instance, several advisors were recently featured speakers at the 2023 MilMoneyCon with an audience of military-focused financial professionals.
- Propose various collaborative opportunities like speaking engagements, podcast appearances, or article submissions for member newsletters.
Identify paid advertising opportunities: Beyond traditional ads, pay-to-play opportunities allow firms to pay to publish articles to targeted groups.
- Consider trade publications and communities such as Forbes Councils, a network that provides its members various benefits, including publishing on Forbes.com.
- When choosing an article submission for the paid medium, repurpose content that has performed historically well by rewriting for that audience.
- This model guarantees delivery, allowing thought leaders to provide value and reach a specific target market or niche industry.
Apply for individual awards: Submit individuals for awards in addition to your overall firm. Personal accolades further expand the thought leader’s social proof, credibility, and visibility.
- Stay updated on nomination calls from relevant professional groups, such as the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and The Business Journal, with “Rising Star,” “40 Under 40,” “Most Admired CEO” and other categories.
- Collaborate with skilled marketers to create a compelling narrative combining personal background, storytelling, and measurable results.
- List the awards you’ve won when building marketing materials, speaker sheets, and media pitches to further compound opportunities.
Engage on LinkedIn: Leverage your personal network to build credibility, dialogue, and referrals on LinkedIn. Here are some benefits and tips to get started:
- Staying active within your circle of influence can drive others to discover your expertise and refer potential clients.
- Thought leaders should comment on posts, share counterpoints, and provide fresh perspectives to establish trust and position themselves as experts.
- Repurpose and promote existing content, such as blogs, to drive traffic to your firm’s website and avoid starting from scratch.
Create opportunities for your firm
Cultivating thought leaders at your firm is ultimately about taking opportunities and brand visibility into your own hands. It’s an excellent chance to spotlight the expertise of your top performers and leaders while delivering value, improving social proof, and attracting limitless possibilities. With consistency and strategy, you can unlock the untapped potential of market-worthy talent at your firm.
Lauren Hong is president of Out & About, a full-service marketing firm that she founded in 2013.
A message from Advisor Perspectives and VettaFi: To learn more about this and other topics, check out our podcasts.