To DBA or Not to DBA?
Advisors who haven’t established a DBA will often tell me, “Well, I know I need to have a DBA if I want to be successful…”
But that’s not necessarily the case.
When you’re considering whether or not to create a DBA for your financial firm, there are two key questions to consider:
- Do you want to be recognized for your broker’s primary service?
- Are you certain your services will align with your broker’s for your entire career?
Leveraging the Brand
If your broker is known nationwide as a life insurance company and you focus on writing life insurance policies for your clients, then it could actually benefit you to keep your original “John Smith with Life Insurance Broker” name. You get to leverage all of your broker’s credibility as a life insurance agency by maintaining that affiliation and brand recognition.
Don’t Get Pigeonholed
Sometimes though, when you’re affiliated with a specific company, you get incorrectly pigeonholed into whatever their specialty is. People might assume you only do life insurance because you’re an agent with a life insurance broker, even if you also offer business succession planning, investment management, and retirement planning. In that case, creating a DBA is one of the best ways to prevent the pain point of being incorrectly labeled. When prospects and clients assume you only offer a specific service—like life insurance—they might hire someone else to do a job you could easily help them with, like investment management or college planning. When you know you excel at multiple financial services, you want your clients to come to you for all of them—the last thing you want is for a valued client to work with someone else they don’t have a relationship with because they’re confused or unaware of your services. Creating a DBA can help eliminate this service-specific branding.
Flexibility for Growth
If you’re confident that you’ll stay with your broker no matter what direction your career takes, cobranding could be a viable choice. That said, you don’t always know what the future of your career will look like. I’ve had clients who didn’t intentionally target a specific market (like teachers), but their circle of influence and client needs pushed their career in that direction, so they leaned into it. The same can happen with the services you offer your clients. If clients consistently ask for help in a certain area, your business might grow in a direction that your broker doesn’t really specialize in or isn’t known for—and it can be hard to send the right message about the services you specialize in if they don’t align with your broker’s core services.
Similarly, if you do cobrand, but your business evolves in a way that you feel the need to become independent or switch brokers to better align with your services, you’ll lose the name recognition you’ve built in the time you spent with your original broker. Creating a DBA can allow you to brand yourself more holistically so you have the flexibility to expand or alter the focus of your firm in the future.
Making the Choice: What do you want to be known for and what services you specialize in?
Some really successful advisors end up with clients who come to them mostly for investment advice or retirement planning—and if that’s what their broker is known for, they might not create a separate DBA. It all depends on how an advisor wants to be recognized in the field. So, the choice to create a trade name isn’t necessarily a mark of how successful an advisor is or hopes to be, but who you want to serve and what services you specialize in.
If you want folks to see you as a truly holistic advisor and not someone who does solely what your primary broker does—someone they can come to for retirement planning, investments, business succession plans, whatever your specialties are—then creating a DBA makes sense. Doing so is generally the best route to avoid being pigeonholed into specific services. If that sounds like you, go for it.
Remember, creating a DBA doesn’t mean you’ve lost faith in your broker or that they don’t add significant value to your firm. You’ve chosen your broker for a reason, and you can still honor that relationship when you create a DBA. You can brand your firm as its own entity and still leverage your broker’s reputation, too. By creating a DBA, you simply have a clearer way to tell clients who you are and what you do—then you can be as open as you want about your strategic alliances and why you choose to work with them. In our next two blogs, we’ll cover how to choose the right DBA name for your brand, and whether you should use your own name as your DBA.
If you have more questions about creating a DBA or how to best brand your firm, please feel free to reach out! We love helping advisors clarify their message and improve their branding.