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The pointless search for a USP and why I’ve stopped watching Dragons’ Den

I used to look forward to Sunday evenings; it invariably meant watching Dragons’ Den and following the reaction on Twitter.

In recent times, that’s changed; I’ve lost interest. The Dragons increasingly preen and pose, seemingly more interested in themselves than the nervous entrepreneurs pitching for a life-changing amount of money.

Two things have become particularly annoying.

Firstly, I can’t be the only viewer to have noticed how the Dragons leap to condemn entrepreneurs who overvalue their business. Yet give a ‘pass’ to those who make the same mistake when it’s a business they want a slice of.  

Secondly, the constant search for a USP:

“Your patent isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

“This idea can easily be copied.”

Well, dear Dragons, despite your undoubted success, I don’t see many of you with truly unique concepts. Yes, you might have had first mover advantage (think Yo! Sushi and Moonpig) but there are many alternative telecoms companies, health food stores and menswear shops available.

Which brings me to my point; despite what the marketing textbooks and theory might say, finding a USP for a financial planning practice is frankly impossible and really rather pointless.

I’m happy to be proved wrong, but I’ve never seen a financial adviser or planner do something which is truly unique. Naturally, there are some who will offer a service which only the minority do, but something which is genuinely unique? I’m yet to see it.

And no, adding TM next to your planning process does not make it unique!

Why you don’t need a USP

To build a successful financial planning business (whoever you choose to define success) you don’t need a USP.

However, you do need three things:

  1. A niche and a proposition to meet its needs

  2. To be easily found when consumers in your niche experience a trigger (the reason they are seeking expert advice)

  3. To convince the consumer that you’re the person to solve their trigger

Let’s look at the third of those in more detail.

You certainly don’t need a USP to convince potential clients that you are the right adviser or planner for them. However, it’s essential to communicate the factors which differentiate you from others. 

This isn’t a list which includes honesty and trustworthiness; they are hygiene factors. It’s a combination of things which demonstrate that you have the expertise required to address their trigger.

So, what might these points of difference include?

  1. Independent: Perhaps less of a differentiator than in years gone by, consumers are more aware of it than almost any other title we use. Furthermore, the financial press still recommends ‘seeking independent advice’ and it sounds far more appealing than the ‘restricted’ alternative.

  2. Chartered: Despite it becoming more widespread, most firms aren’t Chartered, neither are most advisers. It’s, therefore, a point of difference.

  3. Accredited: Even fewer firms are accredited than Chartered. If your business holds both, that’s a significant differentiator.

  4. Demographics: A minority of advisers and planners are young, female, or both. Only you will know how comfortable you are promoting them as a differentiator.

  5. Fixed fees: Only a minority of financial planning firms charge a fixed fee for initial advice, even fewer for ongoing services. If you are one of them, that’s a real differentiator.

  6. Social proof: Testimonials, case studies, ratings (VouchedFor, Google Reviews, TrustPilot etc) and client videos are powerful differentiators because they are based on the views of clients who’ve benefited from working with you.

  7. Awards: Despite scepticism from some, awards are a great way of differentiating your business from others.

  8. Press coverage: Being regularly quoted in the press demonstrates your expertise and builds trust. Most advisers and planners never receive such coverage, if you do, that’s another genuine differentiator.  

  9. Charitable and community work: While not the main reason for undertaking these activities, they will certainly set your firm apart.

So, what now?

Two things.

Start by building up a picture of your differentiators; what have you already achieved? What else can you work towards?

Then develop a strategy to ensure they are effectively communicated to potential clients, explaining why each makes you different and how they benefit your clients.

Hopefully, this blog will help put to bed the myth that you need a USP to build a successful business.

You don’t.

But you do need to know how you’re different, why consumers should engage with you and then communicate both.

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