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5 Steps to Grooming for Greatness

Have you ever wondered why some advisers build thriving businesses while others struggle to keep theirs afloat? For some advisers, their success is in part a bit of luck like being at the right place at the right time or taking over an existing book of clients handed to them by a relative or retiring colleague. However while coaching advisers for more than a decade I have identified some key qualities that all successful advisers possess. Follow their lead and you too can be groomed for greatness

1.) A Passion to Help People: I have asked countless top producers why they are in the financial services industry and their answers all revolve around helping people. For many, making sure that individuals have strong financial security for themselves and their families is an inspiration and motivation

2.) A Willingness to Learn: Recently, I said to a financial adviser client of mine who has $200 million of assets under management, “You are good at selling but you are not great at helping people understand why they should buy.”

“I want to be great!” she said. “What do I need to learn?”

Successful advisers never stop wanting to learn. Constantly evaluating your strengths and weaknesses is a good way to ensure you are consistently engaging in areas of growth.

3.) The Humility to Find Help: Great athletes know that the right coach can take their game to the next level. Successful advisers have the humility to find help for the same reason. “The value that you as my coach bring to the table is to help me to define my challenges even if I’m not sure what they are and to provide solutions that work for other successful advisers,” said a million dollar producer.

4.) An Abundance Mentality: Successful advisers aren’t intimidated or threatened by the so-called competition. “There are enough quality clients in this city for anyone to succeed if they want to,” said a top producer to room full of competitors during an FPA statewide association meeting.

5.) The Ability to Bounce Back: Years ago I literally was bucked off a horse. While battered and bruised with a black eye, a famous quote came to mind, “When you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on.”

If you don’t get back on the proverbial horse the fear of getting bucked off again will overtake you and will never ride again. Successful advisers are very resilient and they learn from their mistakes.

Finding Your Own Greatness
Obviously, there are many key qualities that help characterize those who are successful but find a few, like the ones above and focus your energies on fine-tuning them.

If you read this article and need help defining and focusing on some key qualities to ensure your success, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com to schedule a free complimentary consultation.

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


Mindfulness—Not Multitasking—for Improved Performance and Productivity  

You have only three minutes to read this blog post…that is before the sound of incoming email, the ringtone of your mobile phone, a LinkedIn alert or an associate wanting to talk to you will distract you. Your attention will almost inevitably be absorbed by one of these distractions and you will find yourself engaged in a new task before you finish reading this article.

The three minutes mentioned above is not an arbitrary figure, rather the result of a study by Professor Gloria Mark at the Department of Informatics of the University of California, Irvine. Her research paper concludes, “People in the interrupted conditions experience a higher workload, increased stress, greater frustration and more time pressure.”

Interruptions in the workplace are growing exponentially, as a result of two key factors: information overload due to ubiquitous technology, and open offices. According to organizational psychologist Matthew Davis, while open offices may foster a symbolic sense of organizational mission and make employees feel more laid back, they promote uncontrolled interactions, higher stress levels and lower concentration and motivation.

In order to maintain an adequate level of productivity in the midst of so much distraction human beings have developed a coping mechanism known as multitasking. The advent of the first handheld digital devices fostered the notion that technology can help us to accomplish several tasks at once. Consequently, multitasking became a must-have skill and the hallmark of efficiency and productivity.

Recently, science has definitively debunked the multitasking myth. A 2009 study by Stanford University concluded that multitasking makes individuals less productive and prone to errors and stress. One by the University of London Research demonstrated that individuals who engage in multitasking experience a slowdown of activity and a drop of their IQ. A Harvard University paper by Dr. Teresa Amabile and her research team found that multitasking “May engender cognitive strategies that allow no time to think creatively. Rather than jolting people into producing creative insight, it may instead make that insight all the more elusive.”

Multitasking lowers efficiency and performance, as contrary to our belief, our brain can only focus on one task at a time. When we attempt to do two things at once, our brain inherently lacks the faculty to execute both tasks successfully. A 2011 McKinsey Quarterly article titled “Recovering from Information Overload” concluded, “Multitasking is a terrible coping mechanism. A body of scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively that multitasking makes humans less productive, less creative and less able to make good decisions. If we want to be effective, we need to stop.”

Multitasking fittingly applies to financial advisers, who often embrace it to manage their busy practices. But, given its scientifically proven downsides, what is a viable alternative to maintain performance and productivity? The answer is: mindfulness.

Mindfulness teaches us the art of paying attention to our thinking, feelings and behavior in a non-judgmental manner. It empowers us to manage our thoughts and single out what is worth our immediate consideration among myriad of distractions. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness that prevents us from hyper-focusing on distractions. It helps us to pause and become more conscious of preconceived notions, motivations and preferences that hinder our ability to focus.

The practice of mindfulness can be highly rewarding for cultivating adviser-client relationships. By slowing down, being present and becoming mindful listeners advisers can attain an in-depth understanding of their clients’ true challenges and fears versus a perceived interpretation of the facts. Ultimately, this is an act of compassion that gives clients the tangible proof that they are being heard and that their problems are your first priority.

Mindfulness is much more than what I attempted to describe with a few words. However, I invite you to give mindfulness a try. Practice it to enhance your professional image, build enduring client relationships and grow your business, but most importantly to transform your relationship with yourself and make a difference in your life and those of your clients.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.

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8 Tips for a 45-Day Business Plan

Business plans are well-meaning documents. A business inspiration takes form as the aspiring entrepreneur digs into product/service design, scalability, market size, competition, pricing, selling tactics, operations, budgeting, and so on. Collecting thoughts into a single document builds a foundation that makes the risky step of starting a business manageable.

The Dusty Business Plan
That said, few entrepreneurs work with their original business plan. The often harsh reality of running a business day after day smacks against the plan’s clinical, step-by-step thinking. But, this breakage does not belie the truth that planning remains a core element of success, or, if not done, a major reason for failure. The absence of an active business plan leads to meandering services, less efficiency, less focus and greater risk exposure.

A lack of day-to-day connection is the primary reason why business plans get dusty on shelves instead of being a desktop guidebook. In other words, the initial plan developed a thread of “how things should work” and not the reality, once the business was formed, of “how things are working.”

The 45-Day Planning Cycle
A 45-day business plan merges the daily “to do” list with the business objectives that give a firm its purpose. It recognizes that new information comes up and adjustments need to be made, but it keeps sight of how those adjustments fit within a strategic context.

The planning cycle sequence creates a living document across a year. A post-cycle review connects the immediately past plan to the next one. An annual review looks back and evaluates what progress was achieved and where more effort is needed.

Each review studies the tasks and forces judgment of the value for the effort expended:

  • Where was progress made to the objectives, and where was it stymied?
  • What are needed changes to achieve the desired progress?
  • Is the work just completed making the firm more valuable?

45-Day Plan

Making it Work
Planning in 45-day cycles is tighter since the inputs used are more current and the learning timelier. The business engages in a virtuous cycle of planning, doing, and learning.

In an Excel spreadsheet or Word document, the 45-day planning structure is simple to set up, but daily diligence is important to success. While the full planning methodology is beyond this blog’s scope, the following is a quick outline of the structure:

  1. Strategic Objective Worksheets: The 45-day planning process is a set of worksheets; each worksheet should list one of the business’ objectives such as “Increase clients by 30 percent” or “Form five new referral relationships.”
  2. Integrated To Do List: Take the firm’s to do/project lists and assign each task to a worksheet if it supports the corresponding objective. Since these tasks align with objectives, they are priorities.
  3. Ordering the Tasks: For the tasks under each objective, order them according to the expected sequence; a project plan emerges.
  4. Non-Strategic Tasks: Some tasks don’t fit with any of the worksheets; they may be necessary but aren’t strategic (e.g. paying bills). These will be kept on a separate sheet called “Scheduled Work” (step No. 6).
  5. Maintenance: Each completed task is noted as such on its “Objective Worksheet.” New tasks that come up each day are added according to the process in steps No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. When a new objective emerges, a worksheet is prepared.
  6. Scheduled Work: The non-strategic tasks are worked on during non-critical operational time (e.g. after work hours; a weekend day). The key is the prime working hours are spent on priorities; they must get done for the firm to progress.
  7. Cycle Review: At the end of each cycle, schedule a meeting (preferably with key staff) and critically review the progress toward the firm’s objectives.
  8. Task Rollover: Some tasks can’t be completed in a 45-day cycle so they are rolled over to the same worksheet for the next cycle. If a task continues to roll, the review should identify if it’s simply a matter of project/task sequencing or a mismatch to the assigned objective worksheet.

One of the worst feelings a business owner can have is to look back in time and realize that few of the firm’s objectives were met. Working incrementally and with purpose eliminates this bad outcome.

Think of each 45-Day business plan as a stepping stone that leads across a stream. One step comes after another, and the sum of steps leads to clear progress. When looking back (i.e. the review process), these steps bring lasting achievement that ultimately translate into a more valuable business.

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

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Moving from Talent to Strength to Mastery

The Masters golf tournament provides a great example of talent in action. The name of the tournament represents what it means to the sport of golf and its participants. What does it mean to be a master of something? How do we get to that state of mastery? Perhaps a better understanding comes from looking at the stages to mastery.


Stage 1
In the first stage of mastery there is talent, where one witnesses or comes to know of an underlying ability. Awareness is key in this stage. The person possessing the talent may not be able to see it and an observant coach or parent may make the first observation, “You have a natural talent for _________.” Yet without action, talent can simply lie latent. Look at the word talent; swap the first “t” and the “l” and talent becomes latent. How interesting is that?

Stage 2
To move toward mastery the talent must be developed, a raw ability transformed into strength. A strength is defined as the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance. Strengths derive from talent, which is a natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving. Add to this natural talent the investment of time spent practicing, developing and refining your talents and boom, you have a strength. Think of physical development; we know that repeatedly taxing a muscle in a positive way leads to a building of that muscle.

Stage 3StrengthFinder
Mastery continues the investment in the talent through practice–both as a verb and a noun. Wearing the green jacket of the Masters comes not from just hitting thousands and thousands of shots, although that is part of it, it comes also from having a practice, a noun, describing the process of mastering. In this sense practice means having a discipline and a program around our development. A plan to help us move forward, refine our skills, develop our fitness and strengthen our mental toughness to keep us on the journey to the masters of our chosen endeavor.

To say that someone at the top of their game is “talented” undermines the effort required. We all have natural talents. What are yours and how are you “practicing” Mastery?

Discover your talents by taking the StrengthsFinder Assessment and find a coach for your practice.

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart, CFP®
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and Founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas

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Should You “Fire Fast” in the Client Relationship?

0514JFP.inddHave you ever heard the phrase “Hire slow, fire fast”? In part, it promotes a hiring process that is consciously deliberate. This process typically includes having multiple people conduct multiple interviews, carefully checking references, and making use of available testing services and assessments. Although this takes time, wise advisers know that a great hire is an enormous asset to the firm, while a poor hire is costly and can drag the firm down emotionally.

Even when such care is taken in the hiring process, however, a poor hire sometimes occurs. When this happens, it is in everyone’s best interest to assess the lack of fit quickly rather than stewing about a bad situation and letting it go on indefinitely. That is, it can pay to “fire fast.” Advisers have heard this multiple times, and many organizations have learned to heed it.

But can this same strategy be applied to clients? When is it appropriate to fire fast in your client relationship?

Identify the Outliers
Forget about the angst of deciding to prune small clients. Instead, focus on clients whose needs and desires simply do not match the way your firm does business. Remember, just as employees who are not a good fit may get into your firm, so can new clients who just don’t mesh. Once these clients do slide into your practice, they will need ongoing care and nurturing. To help prevent this scenario, take the time to identify “outliers.” These are clients, for example, who are:

  • Looking for only high-investment returns instead of a financial planning relationship that addresses their goals
  • More interested in frequent trading rather than looking at the longer-term strategies
  • Seeking only the latest and greatest new fad product or techniques, with little interest in balancing such approaches with those that have historically worked well

As soon as clients such as these have been identified as outliers, it is the time to fire fast. The longer such clients are serviced by your firm, the harder it will be to end the relationship.

Follow Your Instincts
The value of your early instincts in assessing client relationships should not be underestimated. If your gut tells you it was wrong to take on a new client and you feel regret, terminate the relationship before inertia sets in. In fact, the client will be more likely to understand the decision to sever the relationship early on, as opposed to prolonging the decision to a point at which both parties are not satisfied. In short, embracing fire fast can be beneficial for both the client and the firm. It may be a difficult process, to be sure, but will allow you to focus on and nurture the client relationships that are the right fit for your firm.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management

Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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21 Days to Define Your True Value

Working in financial services is not easy for many reasons. One of the most difficult aspects about being a professional in the industry is when you start to second guess your true value as an adviser or agent.

Take Bill J., a veteran financial adviser who after 20 years decided it was time get help with some of the negative beliefs he felt were beginning to affect his business success.

“What do you think is your number one challenge?” I inquired, posing a question I’ve asked individuals hundreds of times so I wasn’t shocked when he replied, “I’m not sure why I’m still in the business. I don’t even know if I’m truly helping anyone.”

Most advisers and agents at some point in their careers find themselves facing similar hurdles. The solution is not a quick fix but it most certainly with a bit of introspection can be remedied. “Let’s take a little time to find that out. In fact, let’s take 21 days to define and show you your true value.” I suggested.

Step No. 1: Ask Better Questions
Part of Bill’s challenge was that he was asking himself questions that had a negative connotation. I recommended that he focus on asking himself two positive questions at the end of each work day for 21 days, “Who have I helped today and how have I helped them?”

I told him to take at least five minutes to really think about those questions and their answers before he wrapped things up for the day. He was to put his answers down on a sheet labeled “My True Value” each day for the 21-day process.

This would reinforce and allow him to revel in his accomplishments—small and large—and hopefully fill him full of positive energy as he left his office which would likely allow him to start the following workday with an upbeat attitude.

Step No. 2: Review the List
Each morning he was to review his list of answers by reading them out loud before starting his day’s activities. Again, this would provide him with some motivation for what lay ahead for his day’s meetings and conversations.

Step No. 3: Increase Your Value
I told him to once a day find a new way in which he could help his clients. For example, it could be something as simple as deciding to make a monthly check-in call with clients or by creating a client survey to gather feedback. Chances are his clients already valued him but seeking out and validating that through more regular client interaction would benefit him.

Define Your True Value
Bill did this exercise for the 21 days and it didn’t take long before his self-worth was boosted. As a result, his confidence grew and he began to look forward to coming to work. Such things as client interruptions took on new meaning as a way to turn obstacles into opportunities.

He shared with me that he now realized that he was helping his clients every day. His true value had shown itself and was supported by his actions as he could see by keeping his 21-day log.

If you read this article and feel you at odds with yourself and you try to define your value, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com to schedule a free complimentary consultation with Dan Finley.

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

Editor’s Note: FPA offers a variety of webinars to develop client communication skills. Check out these top webinars, available on demand for FPA members, to help you sharpen your client relationship skills.

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Email Prospecting: 4 Tips to Make the Most of 2.7 Seconds

email-on-ipadOne of the biggest challenges for advisers when prospecting is to secure that initial meeting. Often the preliminary outreach to a prospect may take place via email and in that case getting a positive response—or a response at all—can be an arduous mission to accomplish.

According to The Radicati Group, a technology research firm, 1.9 billion non-spam emails are sent every day. To stand a chance to be acknowledged, email messages must be smartly crafted to grab recipients’ attention and motivate them to respond. Other consumer studies also revealed that it takes only 2.7 seconds for an average person to decide if they want to read, delete or reply to an email. This is in part courtesy of our increased use of handheld devices, which currently represent a preponderant portion of all email interactions.

A couple of industry statistics will help you gauge the impressive growth and usage of email on mobile devices:

  • 53 percent of total email opens occurred on a mobile phone or tablet in Q3 2014, from 48 percent in Q2 2014.
    (Experian, “Quarterly email benchmark report,” Q3 2014)
  • Mobile email opens up 180 percent in three years, from 15 percent, Q1 2011 to 42 percent in Q1 2014.
    (Campaign Monitor, “Email interaction across mobile and desktop, Q1 2014)

What are some of the key factors that prompt prospects to delete emails? Key culprits traditionally include convoluted language, use of industry jargon and failure to make a strong case for value—are you worth your prospect’s time? Will you be for her or him a valuable source?

Ultimately, it is not the service or product that you are pitching that will prompt your prospects to take action. Rather, your capacity to convince them that you understand their challenges and that you can help them achieve their goals will be the deciding factor. This is what will persuade them that getting additional information or requesting to meet with you will be a good investment of their time.

Here are some of the crucial factors you must bear in mind when crafting an email:

  1. Grabbing Subject Line: Use concise language. Do not exceed 50 characters. Be clear, consistent, use action words to inspire and, when possible, consider adding the recipient’s first name
    Length: The statistics above make a compelling case for prospects reading emails on mobile devices. Consequently, keep your emails short—preferably under 100 words
  2. Personalize: According to HubSpot Science of Email research, personalizing an email increase click through rates by 14 percent. So, conduct some specific research that can help address the recipient’s challenges and openly quote it in the text.
  3. Credibility: Do not shy away from name-dropping. If the prospect was referred to you by a third party, mentioning that individual’s name may significantly increase the odds of a response
    Value: The first couple of sentences should unequivocally state what you are offering and why it is valuable. To accomplish this goal, clearly state your value proposition. Also, go the extra mile by sharing any educational material you may have on the topic and clearly enunciate to the reader the benefits she will derive from reading such material.
  4. Closing: In closing your email, remember that your goal is to establish an ongoing conversation. Include a call-to-action and word it in a personal and engaging manner, be it a meeting request or a telephone call.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder
i-Impact Group
Greenwich, Conn.


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