If there is one thing a financial planner wants to get right, it’s the financial plan. The obligation to the client and the dark shadow of a vengeful regulator keeps most of us on our toes. That’s the way it is, and because many of us aren’t good at self-regulation and self-discipline, that’s the way it should be.

A few weeks ago I was asked by the team at Axa to talk to their annual conference of planners at Hamilton Island. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Nice work, if you can get it. Well, it is a tough assignment, and someone has to put their hand up to do it. I am that man! The job was to help these business owners and their key staff to improve their businesses or business performance. After 20-plus years of analysing and talking to the best in small and big business for my gig as small business editor for The Australian and my hosting of Talking Business on Qantas, there are those who think I might have an insight or 200. In fact the best small business book I have ever read — 350 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, which just happens to have been written by yours truly – shows I know at least 350 innovations that could help your business.

I’d like to claim that I hate to be so self-promotional, but you would know I am lying. In fact, as a former educator, I feel an obligation to blow my own trumpet. You see, small business people, and often professionals, are poor at marketing – particularly inexpensive, direct marketing. And here’s the second lesson I’m teaching you: market the socks off your business. You should think about ads on cars, ads on business cards and going to networking events with an actual plan. You might have learnt scripts for these events that are subtle ads that plant a seed that comes back to help you down the track.

You might be asking, what about the first lesson? I didn’t spell it out but I wonder if you picked it? The first and most important lesson comes in the title of the book — 350 Ways To Grow Your Small Business. This was never going to be the title of the book but Harper Collins asked me if there was a way to get a number into the title because business books with numbers in their title sell really well. As I always want to learn from experts in their field, I agreed and decided to analyse the 78 case studies we had in the book to see what they did to make a difference and to get ahead of their rivals. I thought I might have got a sexy title such as “33 Ways” or “66 Ways” but a whopping 350 ways turned up!

And that became the lesson — no matter how good you are at business there will always be other innovations or ways to grow your business. I actually asked the planners at Hamilton Island if they were financial planners or business owners. The reason is, if you think of yourself only as a financial planner you could fail as a business owner. It will be hard to grow a business that succeeds without you changing — the most important innovation. This will be a hard business to sell and a hard one to grow, especially as the old ways of this industry come under challenge in coming years. Building a wonderful reputation and brand name has to be our number one goal and that will complement your aspirations to grow your business.

Over the past few years, I have built up Switzer Business Coaching, which now has eight coaches around the country, who deliver their coaching modules via telephone and the Internet. And apart from showing businesses how they can create a business that is systematic, that eliminates problems and becomes a pleasure to work in, there is a major marketing lesson taught about the calibre of the message people like us put out there. This message is our unique selling proposition or unique value proposition and it has to answer a key question that our marketing has to ask: Why should I buy from you? As financial planners we must answer that question in our marketing for potential customers.

And here are two tips. First, it must show your uniqueness and it must be succinct. Second, it has to say who you are and what you stand for. Thinking or strategising about your business is crucial to growing a great business. It is all about that wonderful cliché that has driven our business coaching — small business owners spend too much time working in their business and not enough time working on their business.

Peter Switzer is founder of Switzer Financial Services — www.switzer.com.au

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