Why did you go originally into business with your partners? And as a follow up: how long did it take you to think of an answer to that question?

I’ve worked with some advisor teams that seem like a natural fit. They finish each other’s sentences. Complement each other’s expertise. And even use the same words to tell their story. It’s usually a clean, simple story, too. One was a quant head, the other a people person, but they both served the same kind of clients. Or maybe they both have a special interest in eldercare issues, SRI or some other specialty. It’s relatively easy to walk them through the process of developing their brand and honing their value proposition. They already believe in their purpose; they just need help articulating it.

Then there’s the other kind of team.

At some firms, every attempt at macro messaging dissolves into internecine warfare. People pick apart web pages and questionnaires and press releases until they don’t even make sense in English anymore, all in a vain attempt to please everybody and get the whole firm on board. It’s death by consensus.

Or, firms give up on consensus entirely. They tell me, “That might work for Joe, but I don’t work in that market. I need my own website, my own brochure, my own video.” I often hear, “We all own our own businesses here.”

Okay, then why are you in business together?

Here’s the fundamental economics of the situation. Brand equity is a key part of goodwill—the value of your business as a going concern. Strong brand equity is a competitive differentiator. It boosts client acquisition, improves retention, and enhances the value you could potentially realize from a sale, merger or other transaction. You couldn’t possibly afford to build brand equity for every individual advisor in your firm. Imagine creating a formal positioning and messaging document, a communications plan, a backgrounder, a speaking tour, a web site, a video, a content marketing strategy, and so on, for every single person in every office in your organization. We’d get rich, but you’d go broke. And we truly don’t want that. Plus, you wouldn’t have added a penny of value to your firm: as soon as advisors left, all their brand capital would walk out the door with them.

Obviously, the smarter strategy is to create one cohesive overarching plan for your firm. And it has to be imposed from the top down, not bottom up. That’s how you leverage your brand.

Some firms can execute a cohesive plan, while others can’t. I think the difference is explained by the distinction between accidental business owners and intentional entrepreneurs. The accidentalists are groups of people who succeeded at building individual practices. Then they all woke up one day and said, “We could share administrative costs. Let’s hire a CEO.” The result is a group of unrelated practices under one brand silo. Without a brand strategy, unified marketing plan, or at least agreed upon macro and micro messaging for the firm, it makes no sense.

By contrast, other firms are born of a consistent entrepreneurial vision. Their founders looked at the opportunity from a business management perspective, asking what their ideal clients might look like, and how they could add value to these clients as a team. Then they build a service model to deliver it.

This distinction isn’t academic. Firms that lack a shared vision are missing out on a big opportunity to take a major leap forward. Right now, a number of super regional firms are quietly growing by leaps and bounds through a strategy of intentionally building out their brands. While other advisors were busy getting distracted by tech and robos and gadgets, these firms created a whole new kind of business model. And it’s succeeding.

You might be able to do the same thing in your own firm. You simply have to agree to do it together first.