Combining old-school methodology with social media technology to open individual company 401(k) investment advice relationships

My individual company 401(k) retirement plan participant prospecting began in the summer of 1999. I started prospecting my existing clients. At the time, I wasn’t aware of any other investment advisor who was offering to analyze an individual investor’s company 401(k) retirement plan account.

Today, providing investment advice to individual company 401(k) retirement plan participants is my investment advice niche. I was able to carve out that niche by combining my old-school prospecting skills with social media technology resources.

Before you contact your first prospect, make sure you’ve built a solid online presence. If you Google my name, “ric lager,” you’ll find the entire first search page is filled with links to my company website, bio, and articles in online publications.

I post a blog article weekly to my company website, LinkedIn publishing, LinkedIn groups, google+, Twitter, Facebook groups, and my local Patch web site. The most important social media habit that I have developed over the years is to consistently post new content every week.

I never talk about investment products. I never discuss investment returns. I never ask anyone to “call me and send me money.” I don’t offer a white paper or newsletter. Instead, I write about current issues that face individual company 401(k) retirement plan participants.

Every day I read articles on investment advice web sites. Most of my content gives my opinion about the content of an article that I find. I add a link to the original article in my blog post.

My Google ranking is higher than if I paid Google for ad words. In fact, a search of “401(k) advice in Minnesota” ranks my website right below firms that paid for ad searches.

If a client or prospect ever takes the time to Google me, I am confident that I will show well. I have established a solid online presence in search rankings and on my LinkedIn profile. It is not enough, however, to have a strong presence on social media. You still have to prospect for clients.

The mechanical process of finding individual company 401(k) retirement plan participants to call begins at the company level. The best online resource that I have found to identify local company 401(k) retirement plan providers is the Department of Labor Form 5500/5500-SF Filing Search web site. The link can be found here:

https://www.efast.dol.gov/portal/app/disseminate?execution=e1s1

My firm is an independent registered investment advisor with no broker-dealer relationship. I need to find local company 401(k) retirement plans that have custody relationships with my preferred company 401(k) retirement plan custodians.

Charles Schwab and Fidelity dominate the 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) retirement plan provider and custodian landscape in my local market. I need to determine how to access individual company 401(k) retirement plan accounts through my existing independent RIA custodian relationships.

Once I have identified my targeted local companies, I use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find individuals at those companies. The second step in my individual company 401(k) retirement plan participant prospecting strategy is to approach company employees through LinkedIn connections.

Bill Good from Bill Good Marketing, Inc. taught me the most important prospecting principal of all back in 1985. That is, “Always prospect a list on which word-of-mouth can occur.” Thirty years later, the best tool for that prospecting campaign has become LinkedIn.

After two LinkedIn connection message attempts, I then move the prospecting process over to corporate e-mail messages. Again, I will make at least two attempts to get an e-mail response from each individual prospect.

In the last few months, I have begun to experiment with contacting prospects through LinkedIn Groups. I have also set up my own LinkedIn Group called 401(k) PCRA. The results so far from prospecting LinkedIn group members are very promising.

The last part of my individual company 401(k) retirement plan participant process is my favorite pastime. That is, cold telephone calling individual company 401(k) retirement plan participants during daytime working hours.

I know what you are thinking: “What do you say on your cold telephone call?” After 34 years of making cold prospecting telephone calls, much of what I do is spontaneous. My compliance consulting firm, NCS Regulatory Compliance, has provided tips on what not to say:

  • Never say anything that is remotely false or misleading in any way.
  • Never use promissory language or marketing hyperbole, which is inherently misleading.
  • Never guarantee success or a particular outcome.
  • Never discuss investment performance or specific securities.
  • Never mention clients’ names or imply what they think about your services.

Statements regarding clients’ experience with your firm might be viewed as testimonials, which are forbidden. Furthermore, you should never encourage clients to give you favorable reviews on social media, because you might inadvertently violate the rule prohibiting testimonials. Testimonials should be removed from all social media over which you have control. In addition, never call yourself an “expert” on a particular subject unless you can prove that description to examiners with objective evidence.

If you’re uneasy about winging it on cold calls, work from a script that has been preapproved by a compliance consulting firm like NCS Regulatory Compliance.

I have had great prospecting, LinkedIn, Google search, and social media teachers over the years. Some of the time and money was wasted in hindsight. But some of the time and money spent has completely changed my investment advisory career.

There are compliance-friendly, low cost, and profitable social media prospecting strategies that you can put in place in your investment advisory practice. It all starts with authoring one content piece per week and making sure it gets to the right places.

Ric Lager