To accommodate the growth, Stearns hired four employees in November and December, going from three to six advisors. Two of the four new employees are currently SFSG clients.

Stearns says one of the new hires has been a client of SFSG for 15 years and worked as a consultant to technology companies on mergers and acquisitions. She told SFSG that she wanted to get away from the M&A business and was considering opening her own M&A research boutique. But in talking with her advisor, she kept asking about working at SFSG. Her job as an advisor at SFSG is to help business owners grow their business and plan for a successor or sale.

Notably, Stearns' growth plan is similar to Holland's in its focus on human capital. Of SFSG's 14 employees, six are advisors. The remaining eight are all financial planning specialists. Two of the eight planning specialists are Registered Paraplanners (RP), licensed by the CFP Board of Standards; one is a Chartered Financial Analyst and another is a candidate for the CFA designation and holds an MBA. Two financial planning specialists round out the staff; one holds a CFP license as well as a CPA and MBA, and the other is an RP who graduated from the Virginia Tech financial planning program.

Stearns says there are two key strategic components of SFSG's growth plan. One is focused on succession and liquidity-event planning for business owners, while the other is women in transition-widows, divorcees, and mothers with grown children who are returning to the workforce.

Stearns says SFSG for the last several years has been focusing on building the intellectual capital to serve women; all three of the firm's financial advisors are women who have been through a divorce. "They've all been strong influences in helping other women either figure out how to avoid divorce or go through the process, and two of them are trained in collaborative divorce," he says. One of the new hires is a divorced female CPA, who is now returning to the workforce after raising her children and "wants to reinvent herself," Stearns says.

To better serve women returning to the workforce, SFSG has held workshops helping women go through this major change in their lives. "We are counseling married female clients and widows on making transitions to the next chapter in their lives routinely as part of the financial planning process," says Stearns. "If we can find a way to help make them successful, their entire family will be happy, which goes back to our main objective of delighting the client." She will be writing blog entries on this topic.
Mark Colgan of Colgan Capital Management in Pittsford, N.Y., is combining ideas from a longstanding program by Alliance Bernstein on a "professional referral method" with a new "client driven practice" approach created by Stephen Wershing of

"Steve Wershing and I are putting together a wisdom council of respected attorneys in the community and we will meet periodically," says Colgan. "Part of the discussion among this group will be focused on explaining what it would take to provide the right mix of wealth management services for their clients." Colgan points out that the goal is not to try to get referrals, but to understand what these attorneys want for their clients that will make them want to refer clients to Colgan's firm.
But perhaps even more important is Colgan's focus on bringing in the right kinds of client.

Advisor coach Tracy Beckes asked Colgan to describe the type of client who could call him on a Sunday asking for a meeting immediately, and who he would not mind obliging. By imagining such a situation, Colgan says he determined that the client he would be happy to help even on a day off would have to meet some very specific criteria: They'd have to be deeply committed to legacy planning, have suffered the loss of a loved one, and meet Colgan's minimum of $1 million.

"If you go to now, all of the copy and messaging is geared to that individual," says Colgan. "We're going into a real niche."

Kenny Landgraf, who built an investment firm using an active-management strategy over the difficult decade since 2001, is also looking for growth in niches. Landgraf's firm, which manages $76 million, is located in Austin, Texas, but establishing a presence in Bartlesville, Okla. Landgraf says he already has several clients there and an advisor posted there, but he is now specializing in employees working at Conoco-Phillips who need advice on their 401(k) and retirement investing.

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