Ok, I’ve said for years that the most important decision you’ll make for your business is who you target as your market. This is especially crucial for those of us who want to hunt elephants — those high-value, high-visibility clients that can make your entire year when you finally bag them.

With that in mind, consider this email I received from a member earlier this week:

“I am at a real crossroads in my career.  It has been an awful year this year. I have spent way too much on marketing with zero and I do mean zero results. I am very confused about what direction to go in. I changed my firm & name to concentrate on charitable lead trusts and charitable remainder trusts.  But it is such a specialist area it takes time to get going. I need a game plan to generate consistent and predictable income/results. I don’t have much time from a perspective of resources. I’m not sure how to ask but I am really confused on what level to choose and whether to embark on this business owner market or not.”

Hunting elephants is fun. But it can be intimidating, too. Elephants take time to identify, and stalk, and bag. If you don’t have some gazelles or wildebeest or meerkats to snack on while you’re hunting, you can get really hungry really quick. Most advisors build that “foundational” business first before setting off to bag the big game. But is it possible to do both at the same time? Here are three ideas to help accelerate that process:

First, I would define exactly what problem I want to solve, and focus my marketing on the problems rather than the solutions. Charitable lead trusts and charitable remainder trusts are solutions. They may sound similar, and structurally, they are. But they solve very different problems. Charitable lead trusts let clients accelerate several years’ worth of deductions into a single taxable year in order to offset a slug of unusually or exceptionally high income. Charitable remainder trusts let clients avoid tax when selling appreciated assets. They solve two different problems and address two different pains. There’s no reason not to pursue both directions. But those efforts will be more effective if focused on problems rather than solutions.

Second, I would pay attention to smaller opportunities to serve those elephant clients on the way to bagging those charitable trusts. Most clients have a hierarchy of needs. It starts on the bottom with day-to-day bookkeeping, accounting, and tax preparation. It moves up with routine tax-planning, financial planning, and wealth accumulation planning. And it culminates at the top with one-time and special challenges like selling a business or transitioning from wealth accumulation (work) to wealth distribution (retirement). Elephant hunting generally involves shooting for those highest value business opportunities at the top. But you do yourself a disservice by overlooking those lesser-value opportunities you’ll uncover while you’re waiting for your elephants to make their way down to the watering hole!

Third, as with any marketing campaign, once you’ve identified your prospects you’ll find it’s easier to go to them than to draw them to you. If you’re marketing charitable solutions to solve tax problems, invest time establishing yourself in the charitable/donor community. Join their boards, attend their galas, and pitch in with their projects! Make yourself visible and earn the right to have those conversations that lead to that business. You can’t just throw a few ads up on Facebook and call it a day. Remember, the higher you move up the financial food chain, the less important any kind of cold marketing is, and the more important referrals and relationships become. It won’t happen overnight.

I’ve actually just started doing some of this work myself as a new trustee of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. I’m having a lot of fun getting to know the staff and fellow trustees and learning about the orchestra’s history and mission. I’m even hiring the lead violist to play at my Christmas party tomorrow night! And yes, I’m hoping to use my expertise to help donors get maximum tax advantage from their contributions. But I haven’t had any of those conversations yet. And if you’re looking to support a worthy organization this holiday season, you can certainly do worse than the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra! (You see what I did there?)

Christmas is almost here, and this holiday season will be full of difficult choices. Which red wine should you pick up as a hostess gift for the next party you attend? Which video game does your sister’s teenage son want for Christmas? And do you really have to wait for January snowflakes? Or are December snowflakes good enough? We can’t help with those sort of weighty dilemmas. But we’re happy to help with holiday business-building challenges. And remember — success stories are never off topic!

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