One of the things we decided on back then was to have greater involvement in our local community. For the remainder of this article to make sense, allow me to tell you a little about Cranleigh, where we live and work.
Cranleigh is one of several places in the country to claim the title ‘largest village in England’. It’s a hefty sized village, in reality, a town in everything but name. But it retains a lovely village atmosphere.
Like all places in the South East of England, the village has changed a great deal in recent years and will continue to change a lot in the future. New housing estates are being built at such a rate that, for the first time in 36 years of living here, I no longer know all of the road names.
Which brings me back to our decision to get more involved in the local community. We realised the future of the business lay with the affluent clients on our doorstep. Cranleigh is nestled in the Surrey Hills and is very much stockbroker belt, despite losing its train station in 1965 during the Beeching axe.
In common with most of the Financial Planners I speak with, our existing client base has always been well spread, geographically speaking. When I joined the firm in 2002, I was responsible for looking after corporate clients in Liverpool and Birmingham, as well as private clients in all parts of the South of England. There were often weeks when I would spend more time in the car or on trains than meeting with clients.
With house building continuing apace across the South East of England, driving to meetings or catching a train into London has become a miserable experience. Get your timing even slightly wrong and the drive to our nearest mainline rail station, a mere nine miles away, takes over an hour.
So there are lots of good reasons for a local focus. Knowing that our prospective clients live on our doorstep and that travelling further afield to see clients is becoming a less enjoyable and productive thing to do, the question becomes how we engage with more clients locally.
By getting more involved in our local community, we’ve done just that over the past five years. I was prompted to think about the progress we’ve made during that time after a couple of events at the weekend.
On Saturday morning, it was the 5th birthday for Cranleigh parkrun. If you’ve not come across parkrun before, it’s a global phenomenon, now 15 years’ old, with hundreds of events offering a free 5km timed run every Saturday morning at 9am.
I spotted a request from our local council to create a parkrun in the village back in 2014, jumped at the chance and formed a core team of volunteers to bring the event to Cranleigh. Since then, I’ve volunteered there as a run director on 75 different occasions.
The event itself, which I’ve since handed over to other volunteers to manage, has taken place 267 times, attracting 3,780 different runners, who have completed the course a whopping 21,297 times. In the process of volunteering and running, I’ve made lots of new friends among the regulars there and engaged with several runners as new clients.
Client engagement wasn’t the main reason for getting involved with parkrun; I love running, and it’s been a great excuse to get out of bed on a Saturday morning! But along with other volunteering activities in the local community, it’s been a very effective way to grow our business.
From the parkrun birthday celebrations, via a shower and change of clothes, I went straight across to the Surrey Hills Wood Fair. As chairman of Cranleigh in Bloom, I had been invited by the mayor to plant one of the first of 1.2 million new trees being planted across Surrey by 2030, to tackle the climate change emergency.
A tree-planting ceremony with a group of local dignitaries is not my usual idea of a relaxing Saturday morning. But the opportunity to chat with influential decision-makers and continue the mission of raising our profile was too good to miss.
With Extinction Rebellion in the news again, and a growing realisation that current habits are unsustainable, I see an even more significant move toward local business in the future. Staying local and doing business locally has so many benefits, in addition to the environmental. All of that time spent hauling ourselves up and down the country can be readily replaced with productive time instead.
For those clients located a little further afield, the improvements in video conferencing technology in recent years have been incredible. The majority of my non-local client meetings are now virtual, using HD video and screen sharing. I prefer it to avoid the long drive or train journey, and the clients seem to love it too.
Martin Bamford FPFS
Chartered Financial Planner
Managing Director, Informed Choice Ltd