An advisor running his own RIA firm recently wrote a how-to book, fulfilling a long-held dream to become a published author. But, he wonders, how much time can he devote to marketing the work without it seriously taking away from his client relationships? We sought comments from our panel of experts: Hellen Davis, president of Indaba Training Specialists, a management consulting and training firm in Treasure Island, Fla.; Philip Palaveev, senior manager for Moss Adams, a Seattle-based accounting firm specializing in financial advisors; and Chip Roame, managing principal of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, a Tiburon, Calif.-based market research and strategy-consulting firm for financial institutions and investment managers.
From the time he was a child, Matthew Tuttle, 38, wanted to be a best-selling author. Finally, in late 2006, three years after starting Tuttle Wealth Management, a Stamford, Conn.-based RIA practice, he published a book, a financial how-to aimed at retirees and soon-to-be retirees. Since then, Tuttle has done radio interviews, written newspaper columns and given speeches, all in an effort to market the book. But, with just about $30 million in assets and having recently entered into an additional business partnership, Tuttle is in a quandary: What's the right amount of time to spend pushing his book? And just how much can he focus his efforts on publicity without hurting his work with clients?
Tuttle got his start working for a subsidiary of State Street Bank in Boston after graduating from Clark University in 1990. He ended up as senior-relationship manager in the bank's stock transfer department before leaving to get an MBA from Boston University in 1997. After that came a series of financial services-related jobs: He was an institutional fixed-income salesman at Bear Stearns, then a financial advisor at Prudential Securities and Metropolitan Life. Finally, in 2003, Tuttle decided it was time to go out on his own and he formed an RIA, targeting retirees and clients on the cusp of retirement. He now has two full-time assistants.
But Tuttle had long dreamed of producing a blockbuster how-to — he fantasized about becoming “the next Suze Orman,” as he puts it. He also figured that if he wrote a book, he'd aim it at his target client demographic. With smart marketing, he felt he could increase his visibility considerably and give his practice a boost. Two years ago, Tuttle decided to take the plunge and got to work. A year later, after a series of fits and starts, he completed the book, titled Financial Secrets of My Rich Grandparents: A Guide to Help Retirees Avoid Financial Mistakes and Create an Inspiring Financial Strategy, using iUniverse, a self-publishing firm, as the publisher.
Then came the hard part: marketing. As soon as the book was published, Tuttle embarked on a time-consuming publicity effort, spending two to three days a week giving speeches to groups of retirees and near-retirees, doing radio interviews and writing articles for various publications. After a few months of that, however, Tuttle began to fear he'd created a monster. Publicizing the book, and turning it into a top seller would require more work than he'd bargained for — and that could seriously affect the rest of his practice. Already he was spending considerably less time with his 60 clients; previously, he had devoted about 80 percent of his week to meeting with clients, each of whom he typically sees four times a year, and often more.
In addition, last summer Tuttle became a partner in a new practice called the Private Client Group, a Marblehead, Mass.-business that helps accounting and law firms set up their own wealth-management arms. He hopes the relationship will help solidify ties to accountants and attorneys — an important source for referrals — as well as provide a lucrative additional income stream. But marketing the book could take time away from that venture as well.
Recently, Tuttle started scaling back on his publicity efforts, turning away requests for speeches and radio shows. He was asked to do his own national radio show, for example, but, figuring it would take five hours a week, he rejected the idea. Still, he remains torn, trying to find a way to keep pushing the book, which has only sold 234 copies so far, while also continuing to expand his practice.
He's got a problem. Book promotion is a full-time job. What's more, to turn something into a best-seller could cost him $250,000 or more, and it could take two to three years to build momentum. Realistically, the chances of his succeeding at this are slim to none. Especially with his new venture; he doesn't have time for it.
A bigger question is: Should he become a nationally known author, what will that ultimately accomplish? If he sells some books in Idaho, what good will it do him? Also, legally, if he could be considered to be offering investment advice when he gives speeches or does radio shows, he must be sure he's registered in the state where that advice will be received. What if the radio program has listeners in all 50 states? He would need to get licensed in all 50 states.
What is his reason for writing the book? If he wants to get the message out there about his practice, then he should give the book away. I think he should look on it as an expensive calling card. For example, he needs to ask his clients for referrals, and then send a copy of the book to those people. He could give most of the proceeds from any book that he sells to local charities, and publicize the fact that he's doing so. Those charities could also display the book at fundraisers and other events, which would help to build name recognition.
If he's going to seek publicity then he should submit articles to local or regional business papers that target the area from which he draws clients. If calls come from Idaho, he should say no. Seeking out coverage in the local press would get him out there as an established author, and turn him into a regional expert. He'll be the person local TV stations will call when they need a quote.
What is the most positive use of his time? The answer to that question lies in an understanding of what, exactly, his goals are. If he's trying to build the most profitable advisory practice possible, then he needs to spend his time in a way that achieves that objective. On the other hand, he should follow a different path if he's trying to balance a childhood dream to publish with the requirements of running a large business. What may be best for the man who wants to build a larger professional practice may not be best for the man who is most concerned with achieving his childhood dream.
I think the book can be very useful in marketing and creating demand for his practice. Giving away copies to clients is not a bad idea. But in my experience with advisors who publish books, establishing a national reputation does not necessarily help the practice. In fact, I can't think of any advisor whose business has benefited from writing a book. Works of this kind tend to generate interest from a mass-market customer, while most advisors want to attract more upscale clients. Also, if you look at practices built around radio shows and books, they work with consumers of every size.
There's also the question of the probability of his success and the size of the payoff. What is the payoff from successfully selling the book versus focusing more on his practice? There's a much better chance that he can build his practice if he focuses his undivided attention on the practice rather than devoting all of his energy to marketing his book and becoming a nationally recognized author.
Still, my gut feeling is that if his personal definition of success involves being a published author, he should make that a priority and spend some time publicizing his book. That's not a business decision; it will be a labor of love. If he's really not spending enough time with clients, he'll recognize the signs. His practice won't be expanding enough. And he'll start hearing from clients. They'll let him know.
I think he faces much bigger issues than deciding how much time to spend on his book. He needs to have a focused business strategy. This is a classic case of an advisor who has too many balls in the air. We have profiled leading advisors, and what they have in common is a narrow business proposition. If his business strategy is being a localized RIA then he has to do marketing that supports that.
As I see it, the point of writing this kind of book is being able to repurpose a lot of the content. If the book is 20 chapters long, you've got 20 articles. And when he gets feedback, he can use it in the second edition. He should clearly try to get his work into local newspapers or magazines. He should also try to be quoted in those places as an expert, with the name of his book included as well as the rest of his title. The book could be a great strategy if he follows through on all the pieces of how best to use it. But he needs to have a system for accomplishing that.
One needs to allocate time by first deciding what the core business is. Whatever time you give to marketing should be devoted to activities that directly benefit that core business.
Ultimately, he has to keep up client service, because that's what will drive referrals and bring in most of his future clients — it's the real growth engine.