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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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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. 


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The 3Cs to Enhance Your Negotiation Skills

A new calendar year represents a fresh beginning and an opportunity to think anew about the adviser-client relationship. Financial advisers know that their annual planning conversations with clients may need to address sensitive topics related to the changing regulatory environment, particularly as we near the proposed timing for implementation of the Department of Labor’s Final Rule. These issues will certainly be on the agenda if you are transitioning to a fee-for-service model.

But the ability to engage clients in potentially difficult discussions is always key to building a successful business.

Central to these discussions is the ability to negotiate—a skill I have spent years cultivating through personal successes and failures, and through teaching thousands of business leaders and professionals at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. I consulted on a Janus Labs program, titled the Science of Negotiations, to prepare advisers to have better planning meetings. The core tenets of the program, and negotiating generally, are what we call the three Cs: commitment, candor and credibility.

Commitment: We know that as a financial adviser, your commitment is to serve as a trusted counselor to your clients. Working in a client’s best interest isn’t something new that rules require—it’s what you’ve always done. You need to convey this commitment clearly and consistently in order to build and maintain the kind of trust that allows for open dialogue. By reminding clients of your commitment to them, and connecting your actions to that commitment, the value of your relationship and services should always be top of mind for them. This way you can raise sensitive issues when the client can hear and process them fully, not simply because a deadline requires it of you.

Candor: We’re big proponents of the “radical candor” used at Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google. For advisers, this means demonstrating that you care personally about each client, while also directly addressing how DOL-related changes will affect them. Be a straight talker. Don’t beat around the bush: be clear that this is a difficult subject but the new services you offer are commensurate with what the client needs. Telling clients about the products and services you are not recommending is also important. Transparency is key. When you reveal information that’s not necessarily in your best interest, but is clearly in the best interest of the client, you build trust.

Credibility: Openly and willingly revealing information about products and fees increases your credibility, and research shows that credibility is the single most important asset of effective negotiators. Your credibility rests on expertise, competence and trustworthiness. It means that: 1) you bring your clients valuable knowledge and insights; 2) you apply your expertise to their benefit with skill and diligence; and 3) you consistently use your expertise and competence to create long-term value as a trustworthy counselor.

Strong negotiation skills will help you communicate more effectively in all your interactions. Demonstrating that you are credible, candid and committed will put you in a position to better navigate the sensitive topics that are inherent to financial advice, including fees and regulatory concerns. And this is a good time to start strengthening those skills, as you begin scheduling the conversations that will guide your client relationships throughout the new year.

For more information on how to use The Science of Negotiations for meaningful conversations with your clients, please contact your Janus Director or visit www.janus.com.

G. Richard Shell

 

G. Richard Shell
Legal studies and Business Ethics Professor
University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School
Philadelphia, Pa.


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Educate Yourself About Complex Products

Regulators have been focusing on complex products for many years and we don’t anticipate a shift anytime soon.

Here are just a few regulatory references relating to complex products with one thing in common across all of them—education! It would be wise to familiarize yourself with them.

  • NASD Notice to Members 03-71 (Non-Conventional Investments) reminds members offering non-conventional investments of many obligations to include training advisers regarding the features, risks and suitability of these products.
  • NASD Notice to Members 05-26 (New Products) encourages firms to consider the complexity of a new product during the vetting process—whether the complexity would impair investor understanding of the product, and how complexity would affect the marketing and sale of the product. The notice highlights practices employed by some firms that NASD believed others should consider to comply with their various suitability obligations, avoid conflicts and plan for appropriate training and supervision. Every firm should ask and answer certain questions before a new product is offered for sale, including:
    • Does such complexity impact suitability considerations and/or the training requirements associated with the product?
    • Will the product necessitate the development or refinement of in-firm training programs for advisers and their supervisors? If so, how and when will the training be provided?
  • FINRA Regulatory Notice 12-03 (Heightened Supervision of Complex Products) identifies characteristics that may render a product “complex” for purposes of determining whether it should be subject to heightened supervisory and compliance procedures, and provides examples of appropriate procedures. The notice clearly states that advisers who recommend complex products must understand the features and risks associated with those products. The adviser should be adequately trained to understand how a complex product is expected to perform in normal market conditions as well as the risks associated with the product.

How Do Complex Products Impact Commission Structures and Regulatory Requirements?
Certain complex products may involve a higher commission structure than less complex products. Regulatory requirements place a heightened focus and obligation on the adviser when recommending such products and that may justify the higher commission.

As discussed within part one of the Exemption FAQs released by the DOL and preamble to the BIC Exemption of the DOL Conflict of Interest Final Rule, firms can pay different commission amounts for broad categories of investments based on neutral factors, such as the time, complexity and level of expertise associated with recommending investments within different product categories.

During a recent webinar hosted by AI Insight, Marcia Wagner of The Wagner Law Group, stated, “Providing evidence of training for the distribution of more complex investment alternatives would support a finding that level of expertise was an appropriate neutral factor.”

Regardless of the training policy you and your firm may have, if it is not adequately followed and documented, it didn’t happen.

michael-kell

 

Michael Kell
Vice President
Program Management and Business Development
AI Insight
Worthington, Ohio
 


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How to Sell the Benefits of Financial Planning

Do you ever struggle to communicate the value of financial planning to prospective clients, such that they are willing to sign your planning agreement and write a check for the deposit, enabling you to move forward?

That was the question I was asked recently by a financial planning practice. They sent me sample copies of their proposal as well as examples of their executive summaries, action plans, fee schedule and even some success story descriptions.

I am confident that this is a practice that provides an excellent planning process and product—certainly well worth the fees they charge.

So what did I recommend? Here are the steps I suggested:

Before your Introductory Conversation:

  • Thank them for their interest in learning more about you and your practice.
  • Send a link to your website, pointing out any description or case studies you have there about your planning process and results.

During your Introductory Conversation:

  • Learn enough about them to determine whether they’re a good fit for your business model and how you can help them.
  • Explain your background and approach to help them understand whether you’re a good fit for what they need.
  • If you provide different “tracks” based on your clients’ situation (such as plan only, plan plus solutions or even solutions only), describe them. Tell them that the basis for determining which track is most appropriate generally becomes clear in discovery. Avoid discussing fees at this point; you want them to understand that you will recommend the track most suited to their needs.
  • At the end of the introductory conversation, if you believe they are a good fit for moving forward, say something like: “Based on what you told me about your situation, and how we generally serve our clients, I think we’d be a good fit to move forward to our discovery process.”

During your Discovery Meeting:

  • Your goal during discovery is to develop a list of the problems they need to have solved—the ones they’ve identified already and the ones they may not have realized they have.
  • At the end of discovery, you can talk through the list of issues to be addressed, particularly focusing on the ones you uncovered.
  • Then you can say something like: “Based on what we talked about today, and to help you address each of these concerns, I believe X is the most appropriate track for you.”
  • Then stop and listen. Test for agreement to move forward.
  • If they’re ready, provide your planning agreement and set an appointment and expectations for next steps.
  • If they’re not ready to sign your agreement today, go ahead and schedule a follow-up meeting and give them what they need to prepare for planning. Assume they will be moving forward, but need a bit more time.

In the case of the financial planners I spoke with, they were accustomed to sending a planning proposal that was mostly about how they would review, analyze and evaluate, but little about the specific benefits their clients would experience.

Instead, use your analytical skills during discovery to uncover issues that your prospective clients didn’t know they had and then help them see the benefits you can provide in solving each one of them.

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

 

Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on the Pathfinder Strategic Solutions “Perspectives” blog. 


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Pushing Past the Upper Limit Problem

Have you ever wondered why you are not consistently having record-setting years? Oftentimes while coaching financial advisers and insurance agents, I have noticed specific behavioral patterns that kick in soon after individuals have experienced success.

the-big-leapGay Hendricks, the author of the book The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level has coined a term for this that he refers to as “the upper limit problem”—which he defines as the amount of success that you are willing to allow yourself to have.

Here is how it works: We all have an “inner thermostat” that is set on just how much success we are willing to allow ourselves to have before we do something to self-sabotage and get back to our comfort zone. Unfortunately, most people don’t know their thermostat’s setting, much less a process for inching to a higher setting.

How to Reset Your Inner Thermostat and Resolve Your Upper Limit Problem
Hendricks said that in order to get to the next level, you cannot solve the problem that is holding you back; rather you need to resolve the problem by gaining a new level of awareness about it. Let’s take a look at the four main zones that he refers to that explains where people get stuck.

The Zone of Incompetence. One of the most common zones that I’ve seen advisers and agents revert to when they start to experience success is The Zone of Incompetence, which refers to spending time doing activities we are clearly not good at. Take for instance the last time you were having a record month: as the days went on did you find yourself doing activities that your assistant could be doing? If so, it was most likely because you were self-sabotaging your time by not doing activities that could have contributed to your continued level of success.

The Zone of Competence. Let’s say that you are great at doing what should be your assistant’s activities, you’ve done them for years and you find yourself saying things like, “Well, she’s got plenty to do so it’s just easier if I do this one thing for my client instead.” The challenge with this is that it’s never just one thing. If you are finding yourself doing these tasks, you are in The Zone of Competence. You both could be doing these activities but the truth is that if you are already having a successful month you essentially are now giving yourself permission to stop doing your job and tackling items that your assistant really should be completing.

The Zone of Excellence. Successful advisers and agents find themselves in The Zone of Excellence when they are accomplishing activities that they do well and are getting compensated. Unfortunately, this can create a comfort zone which in the long term will hold one back from reaching their peak potential. In addition, you may find yourself falling into a rut doing what you do well but not liking what you are doing. In other words, if you are great at public speaking but are sick of doing seminars you may not be happy and thus need to find things you are good at and like doing. You will burnout otherwise.

The Zone of Genius. At some point, you need to ask yourself the tough question, If you couldn’t fail at your business, what is it that you really would love to be doing differently?” The answer to that question will lead you to The Zone of Genius, in which you are doing what you love to do. As a result, work won’t feel like work. In this zone time doesn’t fly but instead it flows; you are not exhausted, you feel fulfilled. Granted you will still have to work to make a great living but you would also be happy and passionate about your professional life.

Taking the Big Leap
Take a moment to determine what zone you are currently in. If you want to live your life’s purpose, then you must take a big leap of faith and commit to becoming the person you are meant to be by finding the work you love to do. Then express to your target market your unique abilities and genuine willingness to help them so that one day they too could be in a position to afford to do what they love to do. If you can take this leap, you will have done what Hendricks meant by conquering your hidden (or unknown) fear and taking yourself to the next level of work and life.

If you are ready to take your big leap, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at Advisor Solutions.

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