Investors have become savvier in recent years and firms that want to grow must stay ahead of their better-educated clients, said Linda Cook, managing partner and founder of Gilbert & Cook, a private wealth management firm based in Des Moines, Iowa.

“A firm’s reputation is becoming even more critical” to the growth of the firm, she said in an interview. This is particularly true since many clients may be making decisions by themselves and advisors want to be there to help, which in turn means growth for the firm, she said.

The landscape to cement that growth has changed, Cook said in advance of a panel discussion on “Secrets of High Growth Firms” that she will be part of at the DeVoe Elevate Conference opening today in Nashville, Tenn.

Opportunities for firm growth abound in the financial field, Cook said, and the opportunities are built on creating a brand that resonates with the firm’s target audience.

The formula for achieving sustained growth for a firm is not a ‘"one size fits all" formula, added Angela Giombetti, senior vice president and head of marketing at Wealthspire Advisors, who is also on the panel, in an interview. Wealthspire is a national firm based in New York City with $19 billion in client assets. “It involves building a culture of growth that is defined in the marketing of the firm,” she said.

A firm’s growth is driven in part by the referrals it receives. Female clients in particular should be mined for referrals because women are more inclined to share good words about a firm’s services than men, said Allison Hillgren Warner, chief marketing officer of the national financial services firm Beacon Pointe Advisors, who rounds out the panel, in an interview.

Growing a firm by acquiring more wallet share from existing clients is “the low hanging fruit,” Warner said. Growing by acquiring new clients is harder, but just as important. Beacon Pointe focuses a lot of attention on connecting with the next generation of clients through workshops and community events, she said.

“We also make sure the corporate branding creates a digital footprint that matches the advisors’ local efforts,” she added. “We want to create an appropriate story that the local advisor can leverage.”

“The tried and true key to sparking firm growth has not changed: It is taking care of the client,” which helps firms grow both organically and inorganically, said Joe Anthony, president and co-owner of Gregory FCA, a public relations firm that services financial services clients, who will moderate the panel.

“There has been a lot of growth from mergers and acquisitions over the last few years, but now the firms have to back up their growth with service,” Anthony said. More tools to research a firm exist now than ever in the past and “reputation matters, even for small firms – they have to be found to grow.”

Knowing the client well always generates firm growth and referrals. “There is no quick fix answer that results in firm growth,” Giombetti said.

Warner agreed with her colleague. Firm members have to put in the effort to create growth, but, when that is done, the successful efforts become scalable.

Firms can be found by potential clients when the firms share their stories with others through marketing and through providing good services – those fundamentals do not change, the panelists said.

“You have to demonstrate your value to the community” and make sure the firm and its advisors are seen, Cook said. The value to the client and his or her family also has to be made obvious. Gilbert & Cook does this, in part, by having family meetings for clients and by addressing such things as estate planning, as well as the daily financial planning.

A growth mindset must be established among the advisors as well, and part of that means supporting the team of advisors within a firm and creating career paths for the advisors who generate the firm growth, Cook said.

Beacon Pointe undertook a rebranding of the firm about five years ago that was designed to align the firm’s wealth offerings and its life planning, Warner said. Wealthspire also rebranded last year focusing, in part, on who visited the firm’s website. What the firm learned was that advisors who want to grow their businesses were among those visiting the site. “We want to show them how to focus their efforts,” Giombetti said.

The job of marketing a firm also has changed over the years as part of the efforts to create growth.

“It used to be once a client was on-boarded, we were done,” Giombetti said. “Now the marketer’s job is more extensive” with client education and on-going support being part of the job description.

Firms that ae looking for growth should not underestimate the value of what is in their existing books of business, Cook said. These are relationships that need to be nurtured.

“The amount of wealth that will transfer to women in the next two decades is astonishing. Some advisors are not putting enough focus on women clients,” Giombetti said. “I would also extend that to the next generation of clients.”

The guiding light to growth should always be to keep the client first and it follows that good things will happen for the firm,” Warner said.