Marketing & Client Acquisition
35 MIN PODCAST
Life happens … plan for it! It’s the motto of Karen DeRose and DeRose Financial Planning Group, a comprehensive planning firm in Chicago, and it perfectly captures how she approaches clients, business and everything else. A passion for making connections and a strong marketing and sales background have helped DeRose become a leading voice in the industry, as well as Lincoln Financial’s* top female financial planner.
A second-generation financial professional, DeRose’s practice has transformed in the past decade with the addition of her two sons. Learn how DeRose found a niche working with multigenerational families, and how social media marketing drives 20% of her new business.
Listen, and you’ll be asking yourself, “How referable am I?”
DeRose works with what she calls an “ensemble team” of eight — two advisors, three paraplanners and three support staff — and plans to add another paraplanner and a dedicated marketing person in the coming year. As a comprehensive planning practice, DeRose and her team are committed to an extensive planning process. “If you were to come into our practice, I'm literally going to take you through a fact-finding interview. I will walk you through a sample plan, how we get compensated, the depth and resources of our DeRose FPG team,” she says. “It's very comprehensive. It takes us about six months to take a client through our entire process. But it gets trust, and our clients get a lot of value out of it.”
She refers to her fact-finding as “doing a Columbo,” which, for those who don’t remember Peter Faulk’s iconic detective, means going back for one more question. “I will do Columbo and reach back out with either a resource, a name, a strategy, or some other thing that [a client] may want to consider. I'm always trying to ingratiate what we do and why planning is so, so important.”
DeRose recently celebrated her 25th year in the business, but she also feels like she grew up in it. Her father was a top insurance salesman when she was a child, and after a successful foray into sales, she decided she wanted to follow in his footsteps. At age 32, she asked her father if she could join his business. He agreed on two conditions: get proper training and learn financial planning, because clients need advice.
“I interviewed at seven companies and ended up at Lincoln Financial,” she says. “They were one of the few firms that was really talking about comprehensive planning. They had people who could mentor me.”
Soon after she started at Lincoln, DeRose’s father retired. But she followed his advice, found a partner with a certified financial planner (CFP) license, and got a CFP of her own within three years. She continued to work with her father’s clients, but only really became a family practice about a decade ago, when one of her sons decided to leave law school to join her firm as a paraplanner.
At the time, DeRose’s business had reached a fork in the road, one that many advisors may recognize. “I either was going to have to stop taking on clients or I was going to have to really grow,” she says. Her son’s desire to join the firm was a sign, telling her she should grow the practice. “And then, about five years later, my youngest said, ‘Mom, I don't think I want to be a doctor. I think I want to be in your business.’” DeRose says.
Bringing her sons into the business is the best thing that has ever happened, she says. The firm not only represents multiple generations, but it also works with multigenerational families: parents, children and grandchildren. “I'm working with my father's clients in their 80s and 90s. We're working with their children in their 50s and 60s. And now we're getting the grandchildren in their 30s and 40s,” she says. Younger clients can relate to younger staff members, and the firm has even started offering what she calls “a next-gen foundational plan” to help younger clients with buying a home, paying for school, understanding stock options and company benefits, and managing basic financial planning.
“We're really focusing on our clients’ children. I think the message that sends is you care about the family,” she says. “What do clients love most and care about? Their children. They want them to be happy. They want to be financially sound, right? So it's been working really well for us, and clients really love it.”
Having her sons in the business serves as a kind of succession plan, promising some sense of consistency for the firm as she considers her future. But DeRose stresses that what clients appreciate most is the powerful staff she has built over 25 years. “We are truly an unstoppable team,” she says.
“Everybody works on the client, meaning everybody knows everything about the client. We’re interchangeable.” So, if one staff member is away on vacation, everyone has the notes, background and familiarity with each client to be able to step in and help. “They feel well taken care of, and they feel like they're getting answers without having to go through a few people. Right? I mean, things are just getting done,” she says.
How referable are you?
Each year, DeRose analyzes where the firm’s new business is coming from. In the past year, about 75% of new clients were coming from referrals, 20% from social media or the website, and 5% from centers of influence or DeRose’s networking groups. “If your best referrals are coming from your clients, it begs the question: How referable are you? What are you doing to make yourself referable?” she asks.
For DeRose, it’s all about client service. She describes the high-touch process that new clients go through in the first three years of the relationship. “That first year, the client is probably touched 20 times,” she says. “And we're always being proactive and trying to bring new ideas into the annual meeting, keeping them on top of the tax laws” and other relevant issues.
She is also a resource who makes many referrals herself. If clients need anything, DeRose can help make the connection. She admits to having been in up to six networking groups when she first started out. Today, it’s closer to two, but they are still great sources of ideas and professional referral opportunities. “That's another reason why centers of influence enjoy working with me, because I'm constantly referring business. I’m trying to help the client, so they don't have to keep trying to vet other people that really may not have the expertise.” She recommends others build a really good network of people that you know, like and trust, and then introduce those people to your clients.
Think like a CEO (and other tips for new advisors)
DeRose has a lot of ideas to share with those who are new to the industry. Here are some of top takeaways:
- Don't go solo. Become part of a team.
- Learn from the bottom up. Be a paraplanner before becoming a financial planner.
- Embrace comprehensive financial planning. “Don’t become a commodity by just doing insurance or investments,” she says. “People want to pay for advice.”
- Become a CFP. DeRose refers to this as the fiduciary “gold standard.” But, she adds, don't just become one for the initials. “Really own it, practice it and really become a student of the business.”
- Mentor, coach. “In my career, I cannot tell you how many mentors I've had. I cannot tell you how many coaching programs I have been in. I totally believe in strategic coaching and mentoring.”
- Align yourself with a study group of peers in your industry to hold you accountable. Either within your organization, with other advisors or with members of different professions, find a group who can help you learn more about running your business.
- Think like a CEO. You are the CEO of your business, so you should have a CEO mindset.
*Karen DeRose is a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors.
Securities and advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. DeRose Financial Planning Group is not an affiliate of Lincoln Financial Advisors.