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Control yourself: Better time management, better business

Financial planning is no easy gig.

It involves working nights, weekends, and overtime. That’s a lot of time poured into your work.

But according to the inaugural study by FPA’s Research and Practice Institute™, many planners don’t feel they’re in control of that time or their business.

FPA’s recently released 2014 Time Management and Productivity study indicated time management is an important aspect of a successful business and a self-identified shortfall among the 759 respondents.

“This study, and the resulting tools and resources FPA designs to help advisers positively impact their time management, are central to FPA’s focus on helping financial advisers run successful businesses,” said Lauren Schadle, CAE, FPA’s CEO and executive director.

The study, conducted in collaboration with Advisor Impact CEO Julie Littlechild, showed that when financial planners have a greater sense of control over their time and business, it leads to greater profitability and capacity.

In general, solo practitioners feel more out-of-control than their counterparts who were on teams. Only 13 percent of respondents feel in complete control of their time, and only 10 percent feel in complete control of their business.

Respondents indicated the top challenges they face when it came to productivity are trying to do too much, dealing with an increased administrative burden, and procrastinating. And business is affected for those hindered by these challenges.

Valerie Porter, CFP®, director of FPA’s Research and Practice Institute, said it’s important for planners to get a grip on time management and their sense of control.

“Obviously if only 13 percent of advisers feel they have complete control over their time there are going to be far-reaching ramifications on their businesses and their overall stress level,” Porter said. “As a practicing CFP professional myself, I know the impact positive time management has had on my business and my work with FPA and RPI.”

Tips for effective time management

While only 13 percent of respondents said they felt in complete control of their business and time, they have a few practices that other practitioners could learn implement for success.

  • Go through a time-tracking process to determine how you spend your time.
  • Have a set schedule of meetings every day. Time blocks don’t have to be rigid but make sure you schedule your priority activities.
  • Set specific goals for the number of client meetings you’ll hold per week.
  • Have a business plan in place that sets specific client retention goals.
  • Delegate tasks where you can. Advisers who feel most in control typically delegate things such as data collection, preparing documentation for client meetings, and conducting client-specific research, among other activities.
  • Have a block of time to respond to emails and phone calls versus responding to them as they come in.
  • Set aside time during the day to prepare for the next day.
  • Design a model day/week to follow to keep yourself on task.
  • Prioritize your tasks, tackle the most important ones first.

Take a look at the full study, which can be found here, for more in-depth tips on how to better manage your time.

The 2014 Time Management and Productivity study is the first in a series of quarterly studies from FPA’s Research and Practice Institute that are designed to help advisers run more successful businesses. Future studies will examine client communications, business development, and team training.


Ana2Ana Trujillo
Editorial Assistant
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.

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Carrying On When Life Happens

I can’t help but remember the Boston Marathon just one year ago—I live about a block from the finish line. While I wasn’t a spectator that day, I saw the smoke from the window of my condo and “sheltered in place” in the aftermath of the horrific events on April 15.

A year after the bombings, the stories of the victims and their families demonstrate the resiliency of the human spirit—the family that lost a loved one and now cheerleads for runners; the woman who is dancing again after losing part of her leg; the double amputee who is restarting his life with his fiancée and awaiting the birth of their baby.

Despite incredible loss, they’re continuing to pursue their goals and dreams. Their stories are a testament to our capacity to carry on—and thrive—in the face of serious obstacles.

Most of us will be fortunate not to experience a setback so severe. But at some point, negative events of some kind will likely intervene in an adviser’s life and business. Whether it’s health problems, the death of a loved one, or another unexpected event, the firm will be impacted while the adviser attends to these critical matters. That’s just life.

As Steven Covey points out, successful people make their business fit into their life—not the other way around. We can only try to take these events in stride, dealing with the issue at hand without losing sight of our goals. Take 2008, when the entire industry was suffering and a bit downtrodden. And now think about the recovery that’s occurred since then.

Whether in business or private life, we know that things don’t always go our way. Yet, it’s our resolve that determines the ultimate outcome. Life happens, but it doesn’t need to derail our dreams and aspirations.

Joni YoungwirthJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management

Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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The Waiting Place

What are you waiting for?

In Dr. Seuss’ Oh! The Places You’ll Go! he aptly describes the frustration of what he names The Waiting Place. Any time I feel stuck, jaded or impatient for what’s next, I re-read this insightful children’s book (I question whether it really is for children or, rather, for adults when we need a refresher on the exciting adventures life brings). I find comfort in the words that remind me that sometimes life includes transition stages that frankly can be boring.

Maybe you have to work for someone else a bit longer than you want to save enough cash to spin off on your own. Maybe you’re a few months into your new practice and you wish you were growing faster. Maybe you still have a year of CFP® certificant–qualifying experience to be allowed to use your letters. Maybe you want to move out of your home and into an office but haven’t found the right spot yet.

The Challenge and the Errors
The challenge comes in knowing when you’ve waited long enough and it’s time to charge forward. The error often is either (1) you are waiting for “the perfect time,” or (2) you waste the time while you wait.

For No. 1, you think, “If I plan and prepare perfectly then I will avoid failure.” Usually preparing 75 to 80 percent will get you where you need to be to take the leap. This way, you give yourself room to adapt as you view the reality of your next phase. Yes, have a plan; but know there is no time that is 100 pecent perfect to act. The longer you wait the more you fall victim to inertia. And that won’t help you create what you want.

The second error comes about as you get anxious or mad about the waiting. You focus more on what you don’t have and what you have to deal with in the present rather than draw energy from your future vision.

If you need more cash accumulated before you can go independent, then use the time in between to research technology, set up your firm, find outlets to reach your target audience, expand your competency, or get to know more professionals. Draft your first 10 blog posts you will use when you “go live.” As you can see, the options are endless.

Before you know it, you’ll be on your way out of The Waiting Place, and you’ll realize in hindsight it was a necessary respite.

How do you inspire yourself when you have to “wait” for your next stage? What’s stopping you from leaving The Waiting Place?

Kristin Harad 2014Kristin Harad, CFP®
Marketing trainer for advisers
San Francisco, CA

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Establishing Constructive Connections

There comes a time in every adviser’s career when he or she realizes how important good communication is with their peers, support staff, mentors and colleagues. But how does one know the best practices for establishing constructive connections without a guide?

Matt, a 26-year-old adviser, was just three years into the industry and found himself having to train and motivate a fellow “rookie” on the team, Jeff, who was 10 years older than him. After months of training, Matt began feeling that Jeff was starting to resent his help when his recommendations were quickly dismissed and Jeff continued to face the same challenges.

If this scenario sounds familiar, perhaps implementing the following formula will help you create constructive communications and better working relationships.

Start with the Positives
Let’s face it, nobody wants to be constantly criticized. Jeff would no sooner finish a cold call and Matt would be eagerly waiting to critique what he had overheard during Jeff’s conversation.

I coached both individuals, so knowing both sides of the story. I recommended to Matt that he make some notes then wait until the end of the day to meet with Jeff in private.  Then start the discussion with a list of positive remarks to reinforce Jeff’s great calling techniques. One example I suggested was: “You did a great job today following the format of the cold calling script…”

Transition with an Observation
It has been said that all manner of praise is irrelevant if followed by the word “but.” That’s because the listener will feel that any compliments given were a lead up to any true sentiments and hence insincere. To keep that from happening, it is important to transition with an observation. An example of this would be: “What I noticed is that you could be even more effective if…”

This example lets the listener know that you thought they were good at “X” and that by simply changing or adding a few things they could get even better results.

Recommend and Reinforce with Reasons
If you want to make an impact, you must give the listener a strong reason why they should apply your recommendations; explaining your own experience with the subject gives you credibility.

Here is an example: “You should add some of your own personal stories to your conversations. I did this and found that people were more receptive to speaking with me, because they could relate and they knew I was having a true dialogue with them rather than reading from a script.”

Putting It All Together
Now, here is how it sounds if you put the preceding three steps together:

You did a great job today following the format of the cold calling script, and what I noticed is that you could be even more effective if you add some of your own personal stories into your conversations. I did this and found that people were more receptive to speaking with me, because they could relate and they knew I was having a true dialogue with them rather than reading a script.”

This type of communication doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and preparation, but eventually you will find that it gets easier and it is well worth it as creating constructive connections always makes good business sense.

If you are interested in a complimentary consultation with Dan Finley, email Melissa Denham, Advisor Solution’s director of client servicing, at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley

Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.

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Removing Purchase Obstacles to Valuable Benefits

How expected benefits influence a purchase is a function of frequency and price. A purchase that is highly routine and at a low price (gasoline, for example) happens with little thought; both the buyer and seller know what benefits the buyer receives for the price paid.

Financial and wealth management services represent a dynamic at the other extreme, in which the purchase evaluation is infrequent, unfamiliar and high risk. These factors often derail a prospect from hiring the needed services and, consequently, stalling receipt of highly valuable benefits: financial and emotional security.

Few people would disagree about the life improvement gained from comprehensive financial planning, yet the majority of the market does without a plan or acknowledge that a current plan needs improvement. If financial planning’s benefits are understood, why do people remain on the sideline?

When dealing with unfamiliarity and big consequences, consumer psychology leads people to believe that the risk of doing nothing is more comfortable than the risk of making a mistake. This is consumer inertia. A practitioner who understands this force and works to counteract it accelerates sales conversions.

Overcome Inertia While Owning the Evaluation Process
Selling intangible services is difficult because you lack the ability to prove your “sales” words through a product demonstration, as can be done with a tangible product. This is why word-of-mouth recommendations are so powerful to a prospect evaluating professional services practitioners; the prospect uses others’ experience as a way to validate that what is being sold will actually be delivered.

Even with this base, the prospect still must undertake an evaluation and ultimately conclude:  “This practitioner is/isn’t someone I believe will value me as a client and meet my needs, anxieties, and aspirations.”  The problem is few prospects approach the evaluation confidently, thus eliminating from the start the needed force to overcome inertia.

Given little structure, you can fill this void with a due diligence guidebook and, in so doing, own the evaluation process.

A Due Diligence Guidebook for Evaluating Practitioners
You understand due diligence given the many times you’ve researched and evaluated financial and investment products. By taking your experience and assembling a packaged guidebook, you provide a useful pre-sale tool to your prospects while simultaneously producing an evaluation structure consistent with the benefit package your services deliver. An effective guidebook includes the following sections:

Section 1: Due diligence question inventory. Provide specific questions to ask during a practitioner interview/evaluation according to these categories:

  • The firm’s characteristics and resources
  • The services the firm does and does not offer
  • The practitioner’s capabilities and expertise and his or her ability to deliver the expected results
  • The planning process and sample output
  • The plan’s execution and monitoring approach
  • The services’ costs and fees

Section 2: Your answers to the due diligence questions. Repeat the question inventory, but provide your answers in a column to the right or in a row below. This allows you to persuasively position you and your firm to the questions themselves, while also setting a standard that competing practitioners must meet.

Section 3: Essential evaluation documents. Provide important documents to review, such as your Form ADV, a planning process diagram, your monitoring processes and so forth. By taking this initiative, your prospect will be inclined to have other practitioners provide similar documentation, yet it will be known that you took leadership in being prepared and transparent.

Section 4: Identify the benefit inventory. As noted above, every purchase brings benefits to the buyer. With uncommon services such as financial and wealth management, prospects vaguely understand these benefits and the top-of-mind list is incomplete. Provide a worksheet with the expected benefits your services and solutions provide for clients. (Note: you’ll have different lists based on segments such as retirees, business owners, high net worth, etc.)

At this early evaluation stage, use case studies/stories as a proxy to show how benefits accrue to your solutions and methods. Then, when your solution is more fully formed based on what you’ve learned from the prospect, you can document the expected benefits with greater precision in a formal proposal.

Giving a due diligence guidebook allows you to preemptively position your firm in a positive light while also communicating two important messages:

1) You know how to conduct due diligence.

2) You welcome the scrutiny such a process provides.

These messages of expertise and confidence connect directly to any prospect’s hiring criteria.

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
President, Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey  

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4 Steps to Managing Uncertainty

In the financial services industry, few things are certain; more times than not uncertainty is the norm. The one thing that you can count on is that if you don’t manage how you react to uncertainty, uncertainty will end up managing you. Being emotionally tethered to events that are out of your control can never be a productive way to run your business.

So, what are some ways you can intervene during uncertain times or unforeseen circumstances to become better balanced with your action/reaction(s)?

Step 1: Determine the Reality of a Situation
Most of the time, when an adviser is faced with wondering what might happen, with the market, the economy, a difficult client, etc., advisers tend to distort or exaggerate their view or possible outcome. It’s easy to focus on negativity because when your anxiety is high, equally are your concerns. Soon those anxieties and concerns multiply into additional thoughts that can spiral out of control. When this occurs it is vital to stop and ask yourself: “What is the reality of the situation?” Try to stay emotionally neutral when answering this question, and you may be surprised to find that the reality isn’t so bad.

Step 2: Determine Your Desired Outcome and What You Can Control
The second step in this process is to be crystal clear on what you want the end result to be. If you don’t determine your desired outcome, you more than likely won’t find it. Once you have done this, you must also examine what is in your control and what is not. For example, your desire to have a client earn better returns. Now, what is in your control? Can you control the market, the client’s risk tolerance or his or her ultimate decision to invest in your recommendations? No. However, you can decide to give them the best possible advice based on all of the information and expertise you can provide.

Step 3: Take Action and Track Your Progress
Map out your plan and execute that plan right away. There is something to be said about the saying, “action alleviates anxiety.” The way to sustain this momentum is to keep focusing on your activities by tracking your progress.

Step 4: Managing Uncertainty Example
Maybe you have a number of clients concerned about the market, you know that the market is out of your control, but you also know that you want them to feel at ease. So, you read your company’s weekly market commentary as well as economic reports. Then you translate what you have read into laymen’s terms and begin calling as many clients as possible to explain to them what is going on. Finally, you track how many client contacts you are making each day. Soon you will realize that your clients are happier just knowing that you are taking the time to connect with them, and they will appreciate that you are attempting to assuage their fears/concerns.

Think about this example and compare it to that last time you found yourself emotionally distraught over uncertainty, then ask yourself: “What type of adviser would my clients rather work with—the one who let’s uncertainty manage him, or the one who takes control of uncertainty as best as possible?” I am confident you know the answer.

If you are interested in a complimentary consultation with Dan Finley, email Melissa Denham, Advisor Solution’s director of client servicing, at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.

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5 Tips for a Successful Presentation

Throughout the years, many of our clients have requested our support to prepare them for speaking engagements. Whether they were invited to be guest speakers for an organization’s luncheon, industry event, or just speaking at their own client gathering, our goal has always been to make their experience a memorable and effective one.

Aside from training our clients on how best articulate and convey key messages, giving them the dos and don’ts of public speaking, and what to avoid during a presentation, we also exhort them to follow these five important recommendations to ensure their success:

Know Your Audience
Research and learn as much as you can about the organization or event at which you have been invited to speak and the type of audience you will address. If you get to your venue well before your speaking gig, invest some time talking to members and organizers to get information, insights and testimonials about the organization and the event itself. When you step up to the podium, this little investment will pay handsome dividends, as it will enable you to bring up ad-hoc examples and/or anecdotes that will resonate and engage your audience.

Rules of Engagement
Learn well ahead of time what are the rules and norms for speakers. Are you expected or allowed to use visuals and/or distribute handouts? How much time will you have for your presentation? Will that include time for Q&A? Will the organizer be willing to share a copy of the attendees’ list with their contact information?

Practice Your Technology Skills
At home or at your office, practice connecting cable computers, opening and closing flash drives, and pulling up PowerPoint files on your computer screen. Time it, so that you will know how long it will take you to set up your visuals in the unfortunate event that an IT person will not be at hand at the time of your presentation. In addition, make sure to save your presentation on a flash drive and/or a hard disk and have a couple of print copies, just in case the computer and/or projector decide to fail on you.

Be Flexible
If the organizers allow 60 minutes for your presentation, plan for less time. Frequently, events run into delays and often only a few minutes before stepping up to the podium speakers are informed that their presentation time will be reduced. So, be prepared to give a shorter presentation. This will avoid the pressure of having to fly through the presentation’s original format.

Give Yourself Extra Time
Traveling by air, train or car has become a gamble, especially around big cities. Allow yourself extra time when you book flights, train rides or drive to your destination. Contact the organizers to find out traveling time from the airport/train station where you will arrive. Also, ask them about the exact location of garages/parking lots and how far they are from the venue of your presentation. If your destination is a conference center, be sure to identify the closest entrance to your room/auditorium—in large conference centers, it takes several minutes to walk from one end to the other. Also, and this may sound  “old school,” but if you drive, print the directions and do not blindly rely on your GPS, especially if it is the first time you go to that particular location.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio Pannunzio
i-Impact Group Inc.
Greenwich, Conn.


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