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Profile: How marketing as the local ‘go-to’person is paying off for this adviser

Six years after setting up Essentially Financial, director Les Conway tells Adviser Business Review why he’s targeted the local market around Pinner, developing a financial planning business in what he calls his ‘own style’ and contrarily, why he’s planning an exit strategy now

 

Adviser Business Review: What was your mission when founding Essentially Financial in 2010?

Les Conway: There were lots of reasons why I chose to set up Essentially Financial; it felt like the right time for me to strike out alone and I wanted to build a business in my local area. However, my primary focus was about creating an exit strategy. I always had it in my mind that I would retire at the age of 55. But once I’d got the business up and running, I found it rejuvenated me in a way that I hadn’t expected and my focus on retirement shifted.

ABR: How would you describe your typical client?

LC: We focus on the pre and post retirement group. From very early on in the industry, I always felt you tended to connect better with people your own age and today I work mostly with clients of a similar age to me and a touch older.

My focus is to build the business locally. My family has lived in Pinner for 30 years and it was important for me to service clients within the local radius.

ABR: How have you built your client base?

LC: I was aware from the very outset that we needed a joined up marketing strategy that would raise our profile within a localised area, otherwise we would simply be a well-kept secret. I became very good at establishing what did and didn’t work for us and I’m quite quick to make a decision if I feel something isn’t right.

Our focus is about differentiating our firm from the rest of the market and presenting me as the go-to person for advice.

We advertise in a local magazine, in the form of a Q&A article, which reaches 10,000 homes and has proved very successful.

I employed the former editor of the magazine as my marketing consultant and for the past 18 months we’ve also published fortnightly blogs. We include updates from the community and my personal life so that prospective clients can see a more human side to me.

Social media has its place too, I am very active on LinkedIn and it’s become the best public CV I could have hoped for. In addition, I’m chairman of the local business club, which gives me a good platform to talk about the work I do and we make sure we involve ourselves in local community events so we remain in people’s minds.

Around five percent of our turnover goes to our marketing strategy,
but it’s an investment I believe has paid off and helped keep us busy.

 

ABR: How would you describe your investment philosophy?

LC: I’m very passive in my investment philosophy and I really believe there’s no need to over-complicate things. Clients want to get from A to B and on the whole, they aren’t too fussed about the minute detail, so long as they can be assured they will reach their end goal.

When I first meet with a client, the emphasis is upon listening to their aims for the future, rather than me talking at them. I recently published a book about my financial philosophy, which we’ve sent to clients and various business contacts. In my mind, it’s about de-mystifying the process of financial planning so that the techy jargon is removed and everything is in plain English.

There’s a trend within our profession to follow the latest fads, but I prefer to take things back to basics – my focus has always been upon building a great relationship with clients and putting their mind at ease.

We use the Nucleus platform, and I encourage my clients to log on and take a look at what’s happening to their money so they have a better understanding.

I’ve very anti mainstream providers as I simply don’t trust them. My reasoning is that they can leave the market as quickly as they arrive if something doesn’t work for them and on that basis, I would much rather be linked to an impartial platform that isn’t driven by the need to brand themselves with particular providers.

ABR: You’re a business mentor for Bright Ideas Trust, what inspired your involvement?

LC: I was made aware of it by chance but it really appealed to me. It was set up by former Apprentice winner Tim Campbell and it’s a great way to lend help and support to those starting their own business.

I also work with Working Knowledge, which goes into colleges and gets youngsters prepared for the workplace. They put on Dragon-Den style events, where the students are encouraged to think through a business idea and put it to the panel.

On top of that, I’m a member of Discover Fortunes run by the CII through the PFS, which is designed to introduce students to a career in financial planning. IFAs are invited to go along and answer questions they might have about the profession.

Being involved in all of these groups is a fantastic way for me to impart some of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years and it’s nice to be able to give something back.

My key bit of advice to anyone wishing
to start their own business is be tenacious!

 

ABR: What is your exit plan?

LC: When I started the business I wrote the business plan and placed a flag in the sand where I would exit the industry at 55. However, I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed the work I’ve been undertaking with clients and being involved in the various groups educating on financial advice, have made it very personal to me so that goal post has changed somewhat.

I’m 53 now and I’m aware that exiting the business could take up to five years, including finding the right partner and making the transition as seamless as possible. Right now I’m starting to explore some interest but it’s very early on and what will come of it I really don’t know.

What I do know is that every house has its buyer, but it’s a matter of me having all my ducks in a row and finding the right fit for the business. What I don’t want to do is work beyond 60 and once I stop, I really do want to stop!

Essentially Financial facts and figures

Founded: November 2010

Staff: 1 adviser, two support staff

Clients: 90, 54 active

AUM: £20m

Visit the Essentially Financial website

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