Scrapping the office permanently? Four ways to grow your business remotely

This article first appeared in Professional Adviser.

Most of the financial advice community made a remarkably smooth transition into remote working when the first national lockdown hit last year. I take a look at ways adviser businesses can grow without an office…

We’re all aware by now of the huge time and cost savings working from home can bring to IFA businesses, but adopting such arrangements for the longer term means making some fundamental changes to how firms generate leads and keep existing clients feeling happy and valued.

For those thinking of scrapping the office altogether, there are a four learnings to factor into the company’s growth strategy.

  1. Face-to-face client entertaining isn’t any less important

It can be tempting to think that remote working means it doesn’t matter where you or your clients are located, but that simply isn’t the case. Regardless of the adjustments being made to a firm’s business model, some clients will still want to be wined and dined by their adviser in person.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here but, ultimately, if a client has become accustomed to lots of face-to-face contact, then you need to find a way of maintaining that over the long term.

We should challenge the notion that anyone younger than a baby boomer is only interested in an online/digital service. That clearly is not the case, or at least, not yet. Most clients still value human interaction.

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of client comms

Client communication is still seen as something quite fluffy by many, but will prove absolutely essential for those attempting to engage clients and prospects in a virtual world.

Newsletters and blogs are an age-old and effective means of staying in contact, while highlighting a firm’s key areas of expertise, but it’s those who think outside the box who will really set themselves apart from the crowd.

We all need to be more imaginative about client engagement outside of a normal meeting. I have seen some great events hosted online with entertainment packs being sent to clients beforehand. Some have been upmarket Champagne and goodies, others have been more ‘home spun’. I would bet that pretty much every firm has a client involved in wine sales or perhaps an artisan food producer. Using them can be a good way to be seen as supporting local business.

The excuse to host something doesn’t always have to be directly advice related. For example, some of our own advisers tell us they have achieved particularly strong engagement through events that help people understand how they can strengthen their mental wellbeing.

With a growing number of people in the pre-retirement market engaging with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, there’s also an argument for upping the ante on social media. Of course, every follower isn’t going to be a potential lead, but you need to have a presence to engage regularly with those who may need support.

Social channels should be monitored regularly so that you are able to interact if people get in touch, but also offer a great way of directing traffic towards client communications.

  1. Professional connections are key

Having a strong bank of professional connections has long been a valuable means of building up a business and its client base, but this will become even more important as we move forward.

The pandemic has triggered a real growth in demand for services such as estate and inheritance tax planning, which are both clear examples of where it would be beneficial to have strong partnerships with other professionals.

People rely on lawyers, accountants and IFAs at crucial milestones in their lives, with every decision having overlapping requirements. With this in mind, establishing strategic relationships presents a surefire way of generating a stream of clients you are well-equipped to support.

We have found that professional introducers have been very enthusiastic about joining online workshops and seminars.

  1. Working remotely makes it ‘easier’ for staff to leave

Undoubtedly, the ability to employ someone who is geographically miles away has been a real bonus but it can also make retention more difficult. Working from home provides benefits for staff and the business alike, but it will be much easier for employees to lose their emotional connection with a business. An employee who is largely unrestricted by geography has a much wider range of opportunities and salary scales.

Business owners need to be thinking carefully about how they ensure engagement and productivity remains high. Regular Zoom check-ins cannot replace the feeling of a business’s culture you get while sat in the office, just as it’s nigh on impossible to remotely train people from scratch to become top-notch advisers.

As soon as is safe, bring your team together – even if it’s only once a month or quarter – to sit around a table and generate ideas or go out for a few drinks. It will be a vital means of maintaining connectivity and ensuring that staff remain happy and engaged over the long term.

It’s clear that things will never be the same again for a lot of advice businesses but, through careful planning, firms needn’t have a conventional office to be able to thrive in their new normal.