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A Client’s Evolution

It’s no secret that advisers want to have a client base made up of loyal clients. However, most advisers may not take the time to fully understand why some clients are one-time customers while others are lifetime advocates.

Let’s take a brief look at what I call “the client’s evolution”—an evolution that we all have with our clients to some degree—so that you can better comprehend how you can build client relationships that last a life time.

The Customer

More than 20 years ago, I began building my business by following some simple advice from my branch manager: Find a good double tax-free municipal bond and tell everyone you can about it.”

As an eager rookie I did just that and soon I was opening up new accounts with what I thought would be “forever” clients. Unfortunately, I soon realized that many of those clients were simply one-time customers—people who had decided to buy a product. They were trying to find the best-yielding bonds and it didn’t matter who they were buying from. Some of those individuals bought additional bonds but for the most part I was one of several advisers they were working with and my value was merely a function of how well my product was doing at the time.

If you have several “customers” working with you and you would like to forge stronger relationships with them, you must find a way to show your value to them. One of the best ways to do this is to stop being a product pusher and start being a problem solver by getting to know them. Once you do, you can find their needs and fill them.

The Client

As my practice grew, I decided to take a different approach and offer prospects a complete plan to help them achieve their financial goals. This opened the door to creating solid connections from the start because I was able to identify specific needs that the prospect had and share with them how my products and services could be their solutions. I was no longer pushing any specific product but rather solving their financial concerns. As a result, these types of people became clients.

If you have customers you’d like to turn into clients and get to know even better, it’s time to get to know them on a more personal level.

The Friend

After a number of years, I noticed that some of my clients had turned into close friends. Just as any friendship evolves with communication and respect, so can an adviser/agent/client relationship.

I never started out to form friendships with my clients, but friendships occurred naturally over time after I showed genuine interest in their lives. They were no longer just clients to me, but friends who I wanted to help—not only with their financial goals but in any way that I could.

The Advocate

At some point in my career, I realized that a select group of clients whom I had formed friendships with had an interest in my success. I had developed a level of professional and personal trust with them and they were absolutely convinced that I was not only capable of helping with their financial advisory needs, but that I truly had their best interests at heart.

That’s when I realized that I had what I now called “advocates” or clients who willingly wanted to help me succeed by introducing me to their friends and family. In addition, some of these people shared their own experiences in business and suggested marketing, staffing and even branding strategies to help me.

Why Clients Evolve

I’m sure by now you might relate to having clients of every stage that I mentioned. The secret to evolve your client base is to evolve as an adviser yourself and be involved with your prospects and clients from the very start.

If you are ready to evolve your practice, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley

 

Daniel C. Finley
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.


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Stay Productive: Change the Way You Think About To-Do Lists

Have you ever gotten to the end of a busy workday and you think, “What did I even accomplish today?” You know you did a lot but you’re unsure if you made progress in the key areas of your business. This is common for many advisers.

To increase our productivity at work, we need to change the way we organize our most important tasks (see this Streamline My Practice blog post on the secret to planner productivity). What most advisers do is create a to-do list. But there are three problems with these lists that have caused high performers to find a better way.

Problem No. 1: To-do lists continue to grow as the day goes on. To-do lists quickly become an unending wish list of things we hope to get done. It becomes another burden in our already stressful life.

We have more to do than what can be done and we are guaranteed to have multiple fires show up every day. When those fires happen, we are going to focus on the urgent, rather than the important. Adding these things to our lists adds the extra mental stress of knowing that we won’t be able to accomplish it all.

Problem No. 2: We want to check of the shortest item on our list. It’s proven that people get a good feeling from checking something off on a to-do list. Our brain is getting a little shot of dopamine every time we do this. Checking more things off our list makes us feel better. We are prone to finding and accomplishing first the easiest things on our list, rather than tackling the big, most important projects.

Problem No. 3: To-do lists do not identify length of time for a project. Some of our highest value activities can be listed as one to-do item, which might take 90 minutes to complete. Looking at a to-do list will give us no idea how much time we should be budgeting to accomplish these things.Thankfully, there is something you can start doing today that will greatly increase your productivity.

Live from Your Calendar

Top advisers and other high performers don’t use to-do lists. Rather they focus all their energy on their calendar. If they want to accomplish something, they schedule it. They live from their calendar.

Using the calendar approach will free your mind. One of the best things about using your calendar as your project manager is that you will never have to have the feeling of wondering what you did all day. By starting the day looking at your calendar, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. You’ll be able to accomplish the most important thing you have on your list at the right time.

Here are a few helpful tips to test out this method of using the calendar:

  1. Schedule in chunks.
  • When do you do your best work? When are you most focused? If it’s early in the morning, then it makes sense to schedule time for your high-focus actions in the morning. Blocking all else out during that chunk will help you focus.
  • When do you enjoy talking to clients the most?
  • Think about what’s most important in your life: exercise, family, work, etc. Make sure time for these things is blocked off.
  1. Plan ahead.
  1. Reschedule when something gets in the way.
  • When a true emergency “fire” eventually does get in the way of one of your calendared tasks, reschedule the task for another time or day.

Take the next step and try using your calendar this week to schedule your most important tasks. At the end of the week, reflect to see if you got more done.

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL


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Communication: The Foundation of Your Business Results

We all know what it feels like when there is a breakdown in communication—not being heard, not saying what needs to be said or receiving false information all leads to uneasiness. For your business to function at a high level you must have a consistent communication plan and all associates must commit to it.

We all know the importance of client communications, but do we neglect this vital need for our own employees? It is easy to get caught up in the day’s responsibilities and forget to effectively communicate with our team. Yet, when internal communication breaks down, challenges brew. Efficiencies decrease, errors increase, stress levels rise and employees can become dissatisfied.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; you need to create a plan that works for your business. Be sure to include the following critical elements:

  • In-person and electronic communication
  • Frequency and location
  • Ownership, attendance and participation
  • Purpose and agenda
  • Priority system
  • Action plan and follow-up

In-person gatherings should be purpose-driven—having meetings for the sake of having meetings is a waste of everyone’s precious time! Monthly and quarterly meetings are often more project-driven and strategic in their purpose, whereas daily and weekly huddles are more task-driven and tactical in nature. Consistency is vital to effective communication; if a team meeting is established for Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m., then no associate should schedule anything during that time frame. As to location, planning sessions should be conducted off-site so you can focus on strategy and eradicate interruptions.

While all should be encouraged to participate, team meeting responsibility should be owned by one individual and should be agenda-driven to maintain consistency and organization. This helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that all associates stay knowledgeable about specific project updates. Some agenda items will remain constant while others will come and go depending on the business focus.

In today’s changing world, it is critical to include standards regarding electronic communication. Using a networked contact management system (CRM) and calendar should be a foundational element of your plan. Multiple calendars and different systems to capture notes waste time and create confusion. Every associate should update the CRM as activities are completed or new ones are assigned, and all should be expected to enter client updates daily.

One of the most frequent communication challenges is not understanding priorities. We recommend establishing a simple system to ensure that all team members know what the real priorities are for the day or week. Use three simple words with clear definitions in order to be efficient and to meet expectations. You might choose words such as urgent, important and low to represent the priority, or simply be sure that every task is assigned with a specific deadline.

People are the most important element of your business, and a lack of good communication is the number one reason problems occur. A consistent communication plan can make a difference to both the revenue and efficiency arenas of your business; the plan can even mean the difference between associate retention and departure. So ask yourself, what actions do you need to take to drive more effective internal communication?

Sarah E. Dale, President of Know No Bounds, LLC

 

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

krista_sm

 

Krista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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Conquering Time and Organization Management

Philosopher William James once said there is “nothing is as fatiguing as the continued hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

It’s quite simple—doing the same things in the same way yields the same results. It’s not rocket science. Working harder at doing the same or ineffective activities is self-destructive, zaps your energy and enthusiasm, and steals away precious time, yet we often persist in doing things our “old” ways.

Why? Because it’s often easier; change takes effort and not everyone wants to change. In fact, many people are so frightened of change that they’ll often settle in life rather than face their fears.

In order to conquer your time and organization management problems, improve your practice or experience personal and professional growth, you must do things differently.

I recently assembled a research and development team of advisers to explore the problems associated with poor time management and organization. We identified six categories that included at least 30 obstacles to effective time and organization management.

The six categories and a few examples include:

Organization: Clutter distraction, poor file/information retrieval and no repeatable system.

Goals: Lack of clear, measurable goals; a lack of belief in your ability to achieve goals; and a lack of specific, measurable action steps to achieve your goals.

Habits: Poor listening skills; poor work flow; “seat of pants” approaches; no sense of urgency; and a lack of balance between personal and business needs.

Practice Management: Lack of delegation; lack of effective delegation; no repeatable processes; solving the same problem over and over again; and crisis management being the norm.

Technology: Faulty equipment; not leveraging time-saving tools; and poor or no training.

External/other: Not knowing how to deal with interruptions; being a slave to emails/voicemails; can’t say no; negative attitudes from self and others; and poor health.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Let’s look at some actions you can take to conquer organization and time control issues.

Time wasters. Discover all of your time-wasting activities and what gets in the way of organization. For each time waster, create an action plan to either totally eliminate it or reduce its impact.

Define your workflow. Determine all of your necessary activities each week and allocate the ideal amount of time it takes to accomplish each one.

The perfect week. Create an ideal workweek. Physically block off time in your calendar each week to accomplish each activity you identified above along with the amount of time necessary to accomplish each activity.

Reserves. Block off reserve time to catch up on excess work, uncompleted tasks or, if you’re totally caught up, head home early.

Laser planning. Set aside time every day to review today and plan for tomorrow.

Follow-Through Strategies

There are strategies to employ to help you follow through.

First, create bold, compelling reasons why you need to follow through on your goal of getting more organized. Make it more painful to not move forward with your organization plan than to do so.

Second, get into the habit of getting started, then add the required actions to achieve your end result.

Third, reward yourself for both getting started and staying on track. It takes energy to create new habits. You might experience some mental soreness. Be prepared for it.

Motivation Strategies

Some additional suggestions to help you stay motivated in conquering time and organization management issues.

Don’t delay getting started.

Tough it out. Do whatever it takes to stay on track for the first few weeks.

Focus. Consider cutting back on the number of projects you want to undertake.

Don’t go it alone. Partner with associates so you can keep each other accountable.

Consider how bad you’ll feel by not getting organized. The more you exaggerate this consequence, the more likely you’ll follow through on your plan.

Believe in yourself. Belief in the attainment of any goal, whatever it might be, is a critical requirement in the achievement of that goal.

Identify what works for you. Whether it’s writing out affirmations, visualization or giving yourself rewards for incremental progress, figure out what works for you and employ it.

To paraphrase Tom Peters, business author and speaker, only those people who constantly re-tool themselves have a chance at sustained success in the years to come.

Look for that opportunity when embarking upon change. Good luck on your journey to success.

Bob Azrt
Robert Azrt, CLU, ChFC, LLIF 
CEO
Polaris One and InsuaranceCoachu.com
Alameda, Calif.

 

Editor’s note: Arzt is offering FPA Practice Management Blog readers a complimentary coaching session if you mention this article.


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Portfolio Management Beliefs and Practices That May Harm Clients

A number of beliefs and practices have grown up in the area of portfolio management that may be detrimental to the financial well-being of clients. Here are a few of them.

The MPT problem. Modern portfolio theory is an elegantly wonderful confluence of insight and mathematics. Efforts to implement MPT have not been as beautiful as the theory itself.

To build an “optimal” portfolio you must know three things—the future expected returns, volatilities and correlations of the asset classes in your portfolio. Unfortunately, no one knows what those numbers are.

Optimal portfolios are like unicorns—they don’t exist in real life. Nevertheless, we act as though our capital market assumptions have a magical predictive quality. If they tell us to trade, we trade, thus incurring transaction and tax costs.

Let’s recognize that our capital market assumptions are guesses about the future, but the fees and expenses we incur trying to stay locked onto our optimal allocation are real.

The rebalancing problem. Even if our expectations about the future have not changed, we feel compelled to tweak our portfolios to bring them back to our “optimal” mix. This is called rebalancing.

Research suggests that its utility is dependent on factors such as time period, the direction of the market and the relative future expected returns of the asset classes being rebalanced. Yet we employ simple, mechanical rebalancing strategies that generate plenty of transactions, but add little or no value. A more thoughtful approach could improve results and reduce costs.

The style-drift problem. Just to make sure everyone knows how much we love our optimal mix, we punish active managers who commit the sin of “style drift.” Forget the fact that the manager was led astray by a perceived opportunity to make money. We want them to strictly adhere to their mandate. Even though we hired them for their skill, we want them to be closet indexers.

The asset class selection problem. Another problem is that most of us do not have a scientific process for selecting the asset classes we use in our portfolios. We just keep adding asset classes until it feels about right. Remember, every additional asset class brings with it additional transaction and tax costs.

Fear of volatility. Ah, volatility reduction. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing, or does it depend? Certainly all things being equal we’d like less volatility rather than more. But we rarely have the choice of getting the same return with less risk if Mr. Market is being efficient.

We get paid to take risk and to generate the returns our clients need; we must experience some volatility. Let’s not become overly fixated on eliminating it.

The data-mining problem. It has become popular to use our massive computing power to mine data in search of winning patterns in the historical tea leaves. Some of these patterns take the form of “factors” that, we are told, will allow us to tilt our portfolios in one direction or another to give us an edge.

In investing, there is no strategy that always wins. The future rarely replicates that past. Let’s set our expectations and those of our clients accordingly.

Conclusion. Every portfolio we manage has a client attached to it. We should examine our beliefs and practices to make sure they are consistent with the best interests of those clients.

scott-mackillop

 

Scott MacKillop
CEO
First Ascent Asset Management
Denver, CO


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Building Growth Through Succession Planning

Succession planning isn’t just an “end-game strategy”; it is the key to growth and sustainability.

The specific goals of the succession planning process depend on the founder and his or her circumstance—including age, health and family demands—and they vary case by case. The point, though, is to take a methodical and practical approach to building a business that will endure beyond the builder. Four key areas to concentrate on are:

  1. Building strong, sustainable growth;
  2. Creating a focus on the bottom-line;
  3. Implementing a practical and reliable continuity plan; and
  4. Designing an income perpetuation strategy for the founding owner

The first is perhaps the most important. Building strong, sustainable growth for the business is supported by a clear succession plan in two ways. First, by incorporating next generation advisers who will be investing financially and physically as they buy in. One of the most effective ways to grow a business is to help the next generation build on the foundation the founder has already created and gradually transition ownership—and leadership. The next generation will learn not only how to “think like an owner,” but to be an owner. They will connect the daily goal of revenue production with the long-term goal of producing sustainable revenue in an efficient and scalable manner. They will make decisions that benefit the whole, not just themselves.

Second, growth through succession is about even more than just improving numbers. Strong, sustainable growth demands that the business owner increase their own capabilities as a leader—not just as a producer. As an executive of a multi-generational business, building the strength and depth of the entire team fuels continuous growth.

Cultivating ongoing growth in this way allows a founder to realize exponential value in the business they’ve built, while allowing them to plan for life after advising without worrying about the future of the business or the clients.

Unless the world of professional financial advisers discovers immortality or the fountain of youth, 100 percent of today’s advisers will see their careers come to an end, one way or the other. The only question is how you’ll help your clients transition from your advice and care to someone else’s. Will it be through a professional and carefully crafted succession plan; a last-minute sale to a friend or colleague; or will the clients be left to fend for themselves?

Building a business is about building for the future—your future and your clients’ futures. With a solid succession plan you not only promote growth—you build a legacy, and most importantly, you provide for your clients’ needs beyond the length of your individual career.

david_grau_sr

 

David Grau Sr., J.D.
President and Founder
FP Transitions
Lake Oswego, Ore.


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New Idea? Try a Reality Check

Planners and advisers often ask about ideas they heard from another adviser, a conference speaker or something they read about in an industry publication.

These ideas generally relate to some type of marketing concept or client event. “Do you think this would work for me?” they ask. A good way to conduct a reality check is to ask yourself these four questions:

1.) What are you trying to accomplish? Every activity, communication or process that you put into place should have a clear purpose related to the vision you have for the practice you are building. Ask yourself whether this idea will move you closer to your vision for your ideal practice. If it does, it may be worth considering. If not, look for something else that will.

2.) What would this communicate to your clients or prospective clients? One of my core principles is to examine every decision from the perspective or viewpoint of your clients. Would this idea or concept enhance the value you bring to them in terms of your planning or advice? Would it step up your level of service to them? Would it enhance their perception of you as a professional?

3.) Is this the best way to accomplish what you are trying to do? Think about what you are trying to achieve and then consider all the ways that goal could be accomplished. Many times, we will hear about an idea, but don’t stop to consider alternative approaches that could be more effective and at a lower cost.

4.) How will you define success? It is amazing how frequently planners and advisers will implement new ideas, even marketing strategies, with no idea how to measure the results relative to the time and resources spent. Obviously, some results are easier to measure than others, but you should never undertake a new strategy or activity without clearly defining for yourself exactly what success would look like.

By taking the time to ask yourself these questions about any new concept you are considering, you are much more likely to pursue the strategies that make the most sense for you and your practice, and most importantly, for your clients.

susan-kornegaySusan Kornegay, CFP®
Consultant/Coach
Pathfinder Strategic Solutions 
Knoxville, Tenn.

 

Editor’s Note: Read more of Kornegay’s blog posts at the Pathfinder Strategic Solutions “Perspectives” blog.