The client of your dreams

Starting out as an independent financial advisor, you probably took on all types of clients—a great-aunt, college friends, a golfing buddy. But a few years down the road you might have noticed that you enjoy working with some clients more than others. In fact, sometimes it's obvious that both you and a particular client would be happier working with someone else. There's nothing wrong with that—they're just not your ideal client.  

Having a clear picture of who is your ideal client can not only help you better serve your existing clients—it can accelerate growth through referrals and targeted marketing. Schwab's 2020 RIA Benchmarking Study found that firms that adopted an ideal client persona and client value proposition attracted 28% more new clients and 45% more new client assets in 2019 than other firms.1

To zero in on your ideal client, start by asking yourself these five questions.

1. Who do you want to work with?

Woman looking at diverse individuals

The first step in identifying your ideal client is to recognize that investable assets are only one of many factors to consider. Just because someone has a lot of money doesn't mean the relationship will be good for you or your business.

Age, gender, marital status, occupation, wealth, and other factors can have a big influence on what a client needs from their advisor. What kinds of people do you communicate with best? What life stages are you especially good at helping clients navigate? What are your revenue goals both now and in the future, and what level of wealth will help you meet those goals?

2.What kind of relationships are you looking for?

Some investment styles just don't mesh. For example, if you take a rule-based approach to portfolio management, a client who likes to chase the hot stock of the week will be frustrating to work with.

Communication styles also matter. Do you like talking through options with clients and taking the time to consider every angle, or are you looking for clients who will trust your advice and don't need to be heavily involved?

Values can be important too. Do you like working with clients who want their investments to make a difference in the world? Do you find that your clients' charitable causes are important to you? Are there client goals you like to work on that are about more than money? These factors and more can make a big difference in your ability to build strong client relationships.  

3. What are the primary products or services you want to offer?

Man choosing products and services to offer

It can be helpful to have a niche. Maybe you work with high-earning professionals to help them build wealth over decades. Or perhaps you're especially good at advising retirement plan participants. Trusts, equity compensation, debt management, tax planning, education savings—there are so many ways you can make a difference in the lives of your clients. When you focus on what you do best, clients can better see the value you deliver, and it's easier for you to know how to reach prospective clients.  

4. What challenges are you particularly good at helping your clients solve?

Life is complex. You can't be everything to everyone. But there are probably moments when all of your skills, experience, and intelligence come together in just the right way. Maybe you're good at helping big families plan a transfer of wealth or understand how difficult it can be to make financial decisions after the death of a loved one. The more you can build your practice around these moments, the more loyal your clients will be.  

5. What do your clients value most about working with you?

A survey might be the best way to answer this question, but even if you're working with anecdotes, you probably have a good sense of what your top clients like about you. Whether it's personality, investment philosophy, or a particular skill you bring to the table, be intentional about cultivating what makes you stand out, and make sure you communicate it to current and future clients.

Are you noticing patterns?

Two people looking at graphs and noticing patterns

Once you've asked yourself these questions, look for patterns. Can you picture your ideal client? Consider sketching out a persona—a kind of biography of a fictional client. Who is this person? Where do they live? What do they like and dislike? And most important, what do they need from an advisor? The more vivid your ideal client is in your mind, the easier it will be to attract and serve them.

Why just one ideal client?

You might be tempted to pursue multiple client segments as if they all were your ideal clients. But this lack of focus won't help you improve your practice, and it won't help you reach your AUM goals. What makes choosing one ideal client so powerful is your ability to zero in on exactly what that client needs and deliver it thoroughly and efficiently. The result is happier clients and more profit—a win-win for firms seeking to grow.

What you can do next

  • Enroll in our Virtual Practice Management series, Forming Your Foundation. These programs will help you identify and reach your ideal clients by developing a strong ideal client persona and client value proposition.
  • Consider a custodian that invests in your success. If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, contact us to learn more about the benefits of a Schwab custodial relationship.


1 Charles Schwab. 2020 RIA Benchmarking Study, July 2020.