BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Once a year, financial advisor Geri Eisenman Pell sits down with her team to analyze which clients are jiving most with her practice.

Pell, who serves as senior financial advisor at Geri Pell & Associates at Ameriprise Financial asks her Rye Brook, N.Y.-based team four questions. That includes: Who generates revenue? Who do I like, as in who would I like to have dinner or lunch with? Who is easy to do business with? And, who gives the team referrals?

Pell’s team then compiles the answers to those questions to identify their three top clients. From there, they take those clients out to lunch and thank them for their business.

“Then, it can lead to a whole conversation about where are more of you?” Pell said Tuesday at the Women Advisors Conference in Boca Raton, Fla.

Tapping ideal clients for referrals to more clients just like them is one of the tactics that Pell and other women with multi-million dollar practices have employed to expand their client base. Building a successful practice also requires having a distinct identity and resilience to challenges, financial advisors said during a panel discussion titled “The Multi-Million Dollar Woman.”

“I do think it’s really important to do some soul searching and be accurate about what your niche is,” said Julie Neitzel, president of the Miami Family Office of GenSpring Family Offices. “What value can you deliver with where you are today?”

Maintaining that professional identity often comes down to resilience to life’s upheavals—from personal divorce to the global financial crisis, panelists said.

Pam Ghezzi, a financial planner at Sequoia Financial Group, found that during her own divorce. After sharing a practice with her husband for many years, they had to unravel it. The situation challenged her to handle the transition while still maintaining her professional relationships.

“We are resilient, and you just force yourself day by day to get through. My clients were wonderful,” Ghezzi said. The changes prompted her to move to Sequoia, where she now practices the way she always wanted to, she said.

Christina Cleveland, senior vice president and wealth management advisor at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, said she also found that her personal circumstances surrounding her own divorce challenged her professionally.

After building her practice for seven years, Cleveland said she saw her professional ranking in her organization slip as she grappled with her personal circumstances. From there, she set out to rebuild her customer base one client at a time. After years of effort, Cleveland was able to grow her production to more than $1 million.

Building that stronger practice made Cleveland more resilient when the financial crisis came around. Cleveland said she was constantly making phone calls and kept a box of tissues handy in her office in those uncertain months.

“A lot of people really took it to heart,” Cleveland said. “The reality is that this is just the stock market. It’s going to come back…we’re going to have to just ride through it.”

Putting up a strong front for clients is particularly important for financial advisors, which Pell said she compares to how a neurosurgeon needs to act. If a neurosurgeon were to walk out two hours into surgery and talk to a patient’s family while on the verge of tears, they would become very nervous. Financial advisors also need to keep that same calm exterior, Pell said.

“The most important thing is for us to be strong and consistent and never crack in front of people,” Pell said. “We cannot show that we’re nervous or insecure in front of clients ever.”

For more information, please visit the Women Advisors Forum web site at, and join us at the next WAF conference on April 26 in New York City.

Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.