How to be a 'trusted adviser' in a crowded market

Expert shares business strategy tips in time for summer

How to be a 'trusted adviser' in a crowded market

As we come closer to the end of the year, advisers will be looking forward to a well-earned summer break - however, it will also be a good time to take another look at your business strategy, to reflect on the past year, and identify new opportunities for your business.

The focus on being a ‘trusted adviser’ has been particularly strong this year, given the start of the transitional licensing phase, and the upcoming move to full licensing. Many advisers have had to reshape their business models completely, and with almost 10 months of operating within the new regime to reflect on, this will be a good chance to identify what has worked, what hasn’t, and what still needs to be improved on.

When it comes to business strategy, business expert and coach John Spence says that there are several key elements to being seen as a trusted adviser - particularly in a crowded market, where competition tends to be tough.

“To me, there are a lot of levels to being a trusted adviser,” Spence said.

“At the base of it is that you’ve got to know what you’re doing. You need to understand what’s going on in the market, what the new products and services are, what’s going on generally in the business world in New Zealand and across the world, and having good, strong business acumen.”

Read more: How new advisers can push their businesses through COVID-19

“The second level is that you need to be really good at understanding your own industry,” he explained.

“What kinds of technological trends are emerging, what kinds of tools are coming into the market? Where do you see the shifts and changes happening in the industry? If those changes are two or three years out, can you start preparing today?”

“The third level is being able to understand your competition, just so that you can position yourself appropriately,” Spence said.

“You need to understand what you’re competing with, how your competitors price things, what products and services they’re offering - discounts, specials, whatever it might be. If there’s something you can take on, or something you can do that they can’t do, then that’s an area to focus on to gain a competitive advantage.”

Commenting on the use of business plans earlier in the year, The BD Ladder founder Ben Paul said that there is no use in simply sticking today’s date on last year’s plan - a trap that many time-pressured business owners can fall into. He said a fresh plan should be drawn up at least once every year, and advisers need to identify specific goals and timeframes for what they want to achieve.

Read more: How to get your business plan to actually work

Spence noted that it is also important to look at your core business offering, and think about what you are doing that is unique and difficult to replace in the market. He acknowledged that mortgage advisers might find this aspect more difficult - however, he said that making use of a brand, of data and of a strong team is a good place to start.

“I believe there are four key things to focus on to build a good strategy,” Spence said.

“First, what can you bring to the marketplace that is unique and compelling, and second, will your target customer be willing to pay for it? Number three might be difficult in the adviser industry, but that is about bringing something that’s difficult or impossible to copy. And number four - something that you can consistently deliver with excellence.”

“There are only a few things that meet all of those criteria, and the first is talent,” he explained.

“Are you really good at what you do, and are your people good at what you do? Then there is having a culture that engages your people, customer relationships and brand. If you have a very famous brand or partner with one, you can gain the credibility of that trusted partner, or build up a personal brand if you’re a solo adviser.”

“Finally, you have data,” he said.

“Most organisations are sitting on a goldmine of data and don’t use it appropriately, or maybe you have unique and proprietary data that might allow you to gain a competitive advantage.”