How to Prospect — 16 Ways to Land More Clients

How to carve out a competitive advantage for your financial or professional services business

By Gene Walden

New clients are the life blood of any professional services business. There once was a time when finding new prospects was as easy as hosting a seminar or sending out fliers. But growing competition has changed the game in the financial services and professional services markets. You need to try harder, do more and step outside your comfort zone if you hope to gain a competitive advantage in acquiring new clients.

What follows is more than just a list of 16 prospecting steps. It’s the blueprint for an entire marketing and business development campaign, with each step complimenting the others, all 16 intertwined to weave a comprehensive strategy for building your brand, elevating your image and driving a steady flow of new clients to your doorstep.

1. Start With a Better Website

All roads lead to your website. It’s the first place people go to learn about you and your business. Whether they’ve met you, seen you, heard of you, or read about you, if people want to find out more about you, they’re going to go online to check you out.[show-hide showtext=”Read More” hidetext=”Hide Text” style=button color=”blue”]

It may start with Google or Facebook or LinkedIn, but ultimately, they’re going to land at your website. That’s your first, best, and probably last opportunity to impress them. Competition is fierce in your profession, and competitive advantages are few and far between. If you really do want to take advantage of a rare marketing edge over the competition, you need to go the extra mile to create a web site that is different, distinctive, professional and compelling.

You probably already have a web site. Everyone does, which is why a web site alone is not a competitive advantage. The good news is making yours better may not be as hard as you think. The bar is set very low. For whatever reason, many financial and professional service providers tend to make their web presence a low priority. As a result, their sites tend to be unimaginative at best and drab, dry and amateurish at worst. A great site really stands out—which is exactly what you want. With a little time, effort and commitment on your part—and the help of a professional with skills in web creation—you can launch a site that will blow most of your competitors away.

What are the components of a superior site? It begins with an attractive, distinct lay-out and design, creative content, easy navigation, a concise encapsulation of your strengths, and a thorough explanation of what you do and why you do it better. Other features can also help, such as a personable, professional bio of each member of your team, original articles or video shorts that demonstrate your expertise, handy tools such as interest calculators, and perhaps an RSS feed or links to helpful articles.

Then give them a reason to register at your site—a special report, a white paper, a portfolio analysis, or a newsletter—in order to collect their contact information for future reference.

Driving prospects to your web site is not easy. It takes time, hard work and money. When prospects do land on your site, make sure you project the most positive impression possible with a distinctive, inviting, professional website.


 2. Get Out There

In a business as competitive as professional and financial services, customers don’t walk through the door. You have to drag them through. But first you have to meet them. So join some organizations, such as your local alumni club, a business group, a social group, or religious institution. The more networking meetings you attend the more people you can add to your prospects list.

3. Take a Professional To Breakfast

Try to hook up with professionals in other specialties to build strategic alliances. If you’re a financial advisor, you should try to form alliances with accountants, attorneys, mortgage brokers, architects, and other professional service providers. The relationship can work both ways, you may refer some of your clients to them for their specific services and they may refer some to you for yours.

4. Decide on an Expertise

What do you most enjoy doing? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What area do you believe is the most promising for the future of your business? Once you figure that out, make it your specialty, and begin positioning yourself as an expert in that specialty.

[show-hide showtext=”Read More” hidetext=”Hide Text” style=button color=”blue”]For instance, if you’re an investment advisor, what do you do better than most others in your industry? Is it income investing, tax savings, IRAs, retirement planning, covered calls, mutual funds, ETFs, estate planning, comprehensive insurance, specialized insurance, college savings, or a certain style of money management? Pick a specialty and make it your own.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t continue to offer your other services. But you need one specialty as the focus of your marketing and brand positioning. It’s how you introduce yourself, it’s what you say on your business card, on your marketing materials and on the home page of the web site. It’s what you write about, speak about, teach about, and pitch yourself to the media about.  That expertise will give you an identity and elevate you above the legion of other generalists in your industry.

Best of all, you’re not tied exclusively to that specialty. You can add to, modify or change your specialty as your business evolves. But the sooner you decide on your area of expertise, the sooner you can begin to set yourself apart from the crowd.


5. Use the Right Leads Program

As obvious as this may seem, many people shun leads programs. While they probably shouldn’t be the foundation of your entire sales effort, leads can be an important part of your prospecting campaign. Although a bad leads program can be nothing but a waste of your time and money, the leads generation business has been thriving for many decades for a reason—leads work when properly utilized.

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You’ll give yourself a better chance of success if:

1) You have a strong, specific message (which is why it helps to have a particular expertise)

2) You use a reputable service that delivers qualified leads

3) You contact the leads as soon as they hit your inbox.

Best bet, get in touch with several lead services and see what they have to offer. Don’t hesitate to bargain with them—you can often persuade them to come down on price. Then narrow the field and test the services that seem the best. Once you’ve tried them, dump the ones that are a waste of your time and cut the field to the one or two services that seem to work the best.[/show-hide]

 6. Teach a Class

Are there community education programs in your area? You can make dozens of new connections by teaching a course at one or more of these educational venues.[show-hide showtext=”Read More” hidetext=”Hide Text” style=button color=”blue”] If the obvious educational institutions can’t accommodate you, look for other possibilities. Community centers, senior centers, places of worship, and libraries may all welcome an expert like you, who would willing to offer a course on your area of specialization for their patrons.

Teaching classes may not have an immediate impact on your business, but it gives you a chance to become involved in the community, share your expertise, and build your prospect list for future reference.


7. Volunteer to Speak

Associations, trade groups, business groups, community centers, places of worship, senior centers, libraries and other organizations are constantly looking for speakers. If you can do a good job of enlightening individuals on important areas of their finances or their personal or professional life, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to speak.

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When you have a chance to speak, remember the message isn’t about you or your business. The audience is there for real information and real answers. Stick to the topic. Enlighten, entertain and invite questions and interaction. It’s okay, during the course of your speech, to refer to anecdotes from your business to illustrate a point, but the less self-promotion you do, the greater the appreciation your audience will have for you.

That’s not to say, you can’t make this an effective marketing opportunity. Here’s how:

  1. Pass out a program or summary sheet—something nice that they will want to hold onto—that lists the key points of your speech and includes a short bio of you along with your contact information. Invite them to call or email with any questions.
  2. During your speech, mention a special report or website that details some important points from your topic that they should read.  Mention it again in closing, and promise to send them a copy or a link if they give you their business card. If you write a periodic newsletter, promise to put them on that list, as well. Make sure there is an obvious and easily accessible station where they can sign up or drop off their business card.
  3. Before and after you speak, mingle with the crowd, introduce yourself, answer any questions that you can and make as many new contacts as possible.
  4. Give a great speech that demonstrates your competence and compassion.

You probably won’t close any clients the day of your speech, but if you’re on your game, you can make a great impression on a roomful of people and walk away with a fistful of promising prospects to add to your list.[/show-hide]

8. Have a Social Media Presence

Cyber space is full of possibilities. Some people soak it all in, others stay a safe distance away. You may choose not to tweet your every insight and misadventure to your universe of followers, but, from a business point of view, you probably should have a presence in the social media realm.

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Professional services sites like LinkedIn can help prospects find you, learn about your services, and connect to your web site.

Is a listing at Facebook vital to the success of your business? It certainly has its advantages, since there are about a billion members of Facebook. It’s a great way to help people find you, and help you connect with the outside world. But if you’re one of those who has an aversion to sharing your special moments with the Facebook world, marketing through Facebook is not absolutely essential. But for those who understand it and learn to exploit it, social media marketing can be an important and effective tool in directing business your way.


9. Host Unique, Enjoyable Events

Everything you’ve done to this point leads to Event Marketing. It is the cherry on top, the medium that brings everything and everyone together.

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But don’t think of an event as just a banquet where you stand up and thank everyone. Make it fun. Give people a reason to want to come. Meet at a winery, a bakery, a brewery, a flower garden, a museum, or a historic mansion. Bring a musician or a magician or a comedian or a speaker on a topic that may have nothing to do with your business. Or invite them to golf lessons or a pool tournament or a dinner aboard a boat.

Who should you invite? Invite your clients and ask them to invite some friends. Invite all the other professionals you’ve met at your breakfast meetings, all the people who have signed up for your newsletter, all the good prospects from your classes and speeches, all the promising social media contacts you’ve made, all the local prospects from your leads program, and all the people you’ve met through your clubs and associations. If your list is too big for one event, that’s great. Host several events. Make sure your events are small enough that you’ll time to visit with everyone there.

Events are vital to your marketing mission because they give you the chance to press the flesh, put on a good show, thank your clients in person, interact with your prospects, and give everyone a memorable experience.

But event marketing can require a significant investment of time and resources. To get your money’s worth, you need to do it right, from the invitations, preparations and decorations to the follow-up prospecting process. That probably means enlisting the help of an event planner or professional who can coordinate all the details for you and make sure the event rolls along without a hitch—so that you can focus on other things. It also means blocking out some time on your calendar immediately after the event to send out thank-you notes to everyone who attends, and update your prospect list with the new guests from the event.


10. Do Your Own Newsletter

If events are the medium that brings your marketing campaign together, your newsletter is the glue that keeps it together. It plays into almost everything you do. It gives you a tool to stay in touch with your existing clients and prospects and a marketing vehicle to attract new prospects.

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You can offer it to everyone who visits your website, all of your leads, everyone you take to breakfast or meet through networking meetings, and everyone who attends your classes, your speeches and your special events.A good newsletter really can be a competitive advantage…if it’s something people want to read. Unfortunately, most of the time, it’s something even you don’t read—a canned economic or industry report from the home office or a subscription service that you put your picture on and email to your list

ere’s the problem. Most people don’t want to read complex industry or economic jargon or review the weekly trends charts. That’s why they hired you—so they can spend their time doing other things: gardening, cooking, working, golfing, shopping, going to little league games.

So what do you do instead? You make it personal. You send out your own e-newsletter.

The good news is, publishing your own newsletter is as easy as writing an email. Just pretend you’re writing a note to your mother to let her know what you’ve been up to.

Your email message should have 8 simple elements: 1) cheerful greeting, 2) brief personal note about something going on in your life, 3) a sentence or two of shop talk, 4) an attachment or link with additional information, 5) what’s hot with your clients, 6) a reason to contact you, 7) reminder of any upcoming speeches or events, and 8) a quick, cheerful sign-off you can punctuate with an exclamation mark! Here’s a sample e-letter with all 8 elements (it took about 3 minutes to write):

Happy April!

Spring is finally here. I just cleaned out the garage—good to get that out of the way, but Joan and I still have the flowers to plant. I hope you’ve been enjoying the nice weather.


As you may have noticed, the markets have been a little shaky lately, but we’ve been pleased that our balanced fund has continued to stay strong. I’ve attached our new April Economic and Markets Report, in case you’re interested in reading more about the markets.


We’ve been busy lately helping clients deal with the new regulations regarding retirement savings plans. I’ve attached a page that summarizes the changes. If you have questions, please give us a call or drop us a line.

We’ve had a good response for our Spring Lunch Event at the Harriet Rose Garden on May 1. Horticulturalist Anne Simmons will be giving us a lesson in flower gardening. If you plan to attend, feel free to bring a guest. Please let us know how many will be attending by April 23. Call us if you have questions.


Enjoy your spring!

John P. Doe, President, Doe Asset Management
(contact info)


This is also a good opportunity to attach any articles or columns you or your staff members have written—or to refer to new content on your website.

Larger firms may also choose to do a more formal newsletter with their own commentary on market trends or with helpful articles on timely issues, such as taxes, housing, legal matters, retirement savings, college funds, etc. That type of newsletter can be helpful for clients. But if you want the best possible chance to connect with your audience, you still need to take the extra five or ten minutes each month to write a more personal message—like an email you’d send to your mother.


11. Write Articles on Your Specialty

If you want to be recognized as a specialist in your area of expertise, one of the first things you should do is to start writing articles on the subject. Post them at your website and send them out with your newsletter.

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You might also send them to the local media to see if they have any interest in following up by interviewing you for a story on the subject.  Informative, well-written articles can draw traffic to your website and demonstrate your expertise in that specialized area. It gives clients one more reason to have confidence in your abilities and gives your prospects one more reason to move their business to you.


12. Engage the Media

Everyone wants good publicity, which is why it’s so hard to come by. You can hire a publicist who will churn out news releases and contact the media for you, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to land you any press coverage.

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One of the benefits of developing an expertise is that it gives you a topic to pitch to the media when your area of expertise is timely. For instance, when something comes up in the news related to your specialty—tax changes, retirement scams, IRA rules changes, commodity fluctuations, etc.—that’s a great time to contact media sources to offer your expertise. Seasonal events can also present a good opportunity for you to reach out to the media. For instance, year-end issues such as taxes or IRA contribution limits can be a sound basis for pitching the media on a story.

How do you know who to contact? Read your local publications and figure out which reporters or columnists generally cover your area of interest. Those are the people you will contact when the timing is right. You should keep a list of your media contacts and send them any articles you write on your area of expertise. Continue to call or email them when your topic is timely, relevant or in the news. If you’re persistent, odds are you’ll ultimately stumble on a slow news day when one of your media contacts needs a timely idea for an article. If you do a good job as a source for that first article, more media opportunities will follow.


13. Write a Column for a Publication

One way to get your name in front of the public is to write a regular column for a local newspaper, magazine or web site. You might not land a spot in a major metropolitan newspaper, but publishers of smaller, lower-budget publications are constantly looking for good copy from experts.

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You’ll soon find, however, that a column is a lot of work and a never-ending commitment. You would be smart to find a good assistant or professional writer to do some of the work for you to keep you on schedule.

As a prospecting tool, having a column helps you in many ways—it raises your profile, enhances your credibility, increases your exposure, calls attention to issues that you are in business to address, and gives you a chance to demonstrate your expertise in those areas.

For your existing base of clients and prospects, a column gives you another touch and elevates your credibility. It also adds one more helpful attachment for your e-newsletter.


 14. Write a Book- and then Promote it

First, let me try to talk you out of this one. While there’s no question publishing a book can have many benefits, do you really have time to write one? Writing a quality book is a major undertaking. Even with the help of a ghostwriter, you can plan on spending most of your spare time for the next six to 18 months getting your book written and published—and that’s just the beginning.

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But if a book burns within you, writing and publishing it can certainly give you a competitive advantage in your field. Being an author elevates your status as a professional in your field, as a speaker, as a writer, and as a media source. In other words, it’s a great way to get yourself and your business in front of a lot of people.

A book can also serve as the perfect gift—personally autographed—to give to every client and prospect.

The cold reality, however, is that as difficult and time-draining as a book may be to write, getting it published is just the beginning. Getting the maximum marketing bang for your business from your book requires a long, aggressive promotional campaign that takes both time and money. Not that that should be of any concern to you right now. First step, get something down on paper—an outline, a title, a concept—for this book you hope to write. Figuring out how to promote it is likely years away.


15. Produce Informational Video Shorts

A series of helpful two to three-minute videos discussing (and illustrating) your areas of expertise could add a new dimension to your web site. It’s one more enticement to draw your visitors in—especially those who are predisposed to watching rather than reading.

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If you’re the type of speaker with the ability to talk lucidly in two- to three-minute stints on your areas of expertise, producing a series of video shorts should be a fairly simple and cost-effective process.

But don’t compromise quality with your production. It’s your image that’s at stake. As Marshall McLuhan famously proclaimed, “The medium is the message.” If your medium is sharp and professional, that’s the image viewers will associate with you and your firm. If the sound is muffled, the lighting is uneven, the backdrop is dull, or the accompanying charts, graphs and illustrations are poorly produced, that dim image will reflect directly on your business. So if you’re considering videos, go big or go home. Do it right or don’t do it at all.


16. Automate Your Follow-Up

Superior follow-up is your final competitive advantage. At this stage, in fact, it’s the only competitive advantage you have left. That’s why you’ve assembled a battery of follow-up tools—newsletters, articles, social media, special events—to systematize your follow-up process. Add to that a calendar of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, and your follow-up database will be complete.

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Once your client and prospect list is set up, your follow-up campaign should be almost automatic—and that list will become part of nearly everything you do and every piece of literature you produce.

Don’t hesitate to call through your list periodically. An occasional phone call can help lead to the close.

Without proper follow-up, all of your other marketing efforts could be wasted. It’s the final and probably most important phase of your marketing campaign.

In the end, it’s unlikely that you’ll make it through all 16 of these steps. Nor is it really necessary. The best advice: try everything you have the time, interest and resources to do. Keep doing what works. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it. Over time, your efforts will pay off with an enviable competitive advantage and an avalanche of new prospects that will keep your business growing for many years to come.


Gene Walden, the director of IWS (, specializes in helping financial and professional services firms polish their brand and market their services. An experienced columnist and the author of more than a dozen best-selling books on business, personal finance and marketing, he has helped many professional firms with web copy, newsletters, press releases, and ghostwriting.