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Business Planning: Déjà Vu with a Twist

Another December—and another opportunity to write up goals for the coming year. It feels like déjà vu. Some of you view writing and revisiting your business plan as nothing more than practice management mumbo jumbo. To the rest of us, it is an essential business management habit. For both groups—those of you who go through this exercise every year and those who do it reluctantly—I have some ideas on how you can set up your business plan in a way that will pay off by the time you’re sitting in this same spot next year.

Keep It Simple
Too often, I see written business plans that are beautifully designed and bound but also big and cumbersome. I am usually left wondering, where’s the beef?

You can have meaty content without loads of pages. Keep things simple: all you really need is a document that outlines the vision, the long-term direction of the firm over the next five years and a set of SMART goals for the upcoming year. You want just seven or fewer of these goals (which need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bounded). By keeping the number small, you can narrow your focus on the few things most important to the firm.

Personally, I like to include one or two stretch goals even though they don’t quite fit the “R” (realistic component) of SMART. Doing so pushes you outside the comfort zone. It works as long as you don’t get hung up or feel like a failure if you don’t reach one—or any—of your stretch goals. More likely than not, you’ll at least move beyond what the realistic goal would have been. Just remember that beating yourself up when you don’t reach a goal is totally counterproductive.

Additional documents that support your plan warrant attention. For example, a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis tends to embody why you think the goals for the current year are important. You can also fold in analysis of the previous year’s goals to provide a contextual lookback that will enhance your planning process.

Here’s the Twist for 2017
One new concept for 2017 concerns the “time-bounded” component, or the “T” of SMART. Many of us are inclined to set all our due dates to December. New research tells us to do one thing at a time instead. It even suggests that multitasking is bad for our brain.

So this year, instead of putting December 31, 2017, on each of your goals, prioritize and schedule them one after the other. While you may not be able to do it perfectly, staggered due dates can help you focus on each goal and enhance your brain function at the same time.

Find the Missing Ingredient
There are no guarantees. Just because you’ve written down that you’re going to do something, the action still has to happen. The plan only goes so far in keeping you accountable.

In fact, the one missing ingredient of what business planning and goal setting can specifically provide is accountability. The way goals are written matters here. Clearly designed SMART goals can be measured. They can also increase accountability. You’ll be absolutely clear on whether you have achieved your goal or not if you’ve written your goals in such a way.

To make sure you do, it helps to find a coach, consultant, colleague, boss or mentor who can keep you on track. You want someone who will help you stay focused on your goals and your progress toward achieving them. Any associated expense will be worth it when you solidify the right goals and realize you have a support system grounded in your long-term strategy.

The closer you can keep your firm tracking toward your vision, the more likely you’ll realize value from your business planning efforts. Perhaps this time next year, planning will have become a welcome habit.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web
Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.


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A System to Establish Good Habits

IMG_9280There is no such thing as “priorities.” There should be only one priority at a time.

James Clear, entrepreneur and weightlifter, said as much in his session on breaking bad habits and developing better ones at FPA Retreat 2016. Building better habits, Clear said, will serve both you and your clients, and it starts with changing the way you do things.

The first order of business: banish multitasking. Second: change up how you approach the goal.

Multitasking isn’t helping you. Focus on one priority at a time. Banish the concept of multiple priorities from your brain and focus only on one at a time.

“Busy doesn’t equal important,” Clear said. Juggling multiple projects at once­­­­ drains us.

“The more that we close these half-finished projects and free up the memory and capacity to focus on one priority,” Clear said. “It increases our ability to get things done.”

Clear said the way to start kicking bad habits and replacing them with new ones is to start with the small habits. Maybe you look at a goal and it may seem intimidating, but if you start with one small thing a day, you could end up achieving a lot.

“Small habits aren’t just nice to have, but they have significant benefits,” Clear said.

Give yourself two minutes. Clear explained that you will experience the Zeigarnik Effect—intrusive thoughts about something that we started and left incomplete—if you don’t finish things. Channeling David Allen, find all the unfinished projects you could do within two minutes and get them done.

Automate your decisions. “Decision fatigue” or “ego depletion” will set in if you have to make too many decisions at a given time. Automate the decisions you can—like pre-packing your gym bag, picking your outfit or packing your lunch.

Set up “hot triggers” for yourself. A “cold trigger” is something that could be ignored, like a Post-It Note on a mirror reminding you to do your run. Successful people set up hot triggers—like alarms or recurring emails—to remind them to do something.

Pre-commit to good habits and know that motivation ebbs and flows. You’re more likely to stick to something if you have already made a commitment to do it. Also, motivation doesn’t come before you do something; it usually comes as a result of doing something.

Have an environment for success. If you want to stop eating junk, arrange your pantry so the junk food is harder to get to, because our default mode is to grab whatever’s easiest.

“Design the environment so that the default options are better options,” Clear said. “Behavior is a function of the environment that you are in.”

Never miss twice. Pre-commit to stick to a habit for a certain number of days, and know that it is OK to miss a day of doing it, but never miss two days in a row.

“Break the inertia of a bad habit as soon as possible,” Clear said.

Measure your progress. Develop a consistent system of measurement to see how far you’ve come.

If you missed the FPA Retreat session, you can download Clear’s presentation at jamesclear.com/habits.

Did you miss Retreat this year, or just want to register for 2017 early? Join us next year at Château Élan in North Atlanta, Georgia April 24-27, 2017. Use this code (PARET17) for $100 off if you register before May 31, 2016.

AnaHeadshotAna Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.

 

 

 


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The Value of Being a Client’s ‘Chief Editing Officer’

It’s been said that if you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t much matter which direction  you’re headed, because you are certainly bound to end up somewhere. This parable, while likely outdated, could not be any truer in today’s world of infinite choices.

There are literally thousands of different things clients could be doing with their lives every day. The number of trips, shows, apps, movies, jobs, people and organizations that people have the opportunity to watch, visit, work for, talk to or engage with is dizzying. Fifty years ago there were five channels, now there are 500. The same proliferation of choice can be applied across virtually every aspect of life. iPhone apps anybody?

It is this proliferation of choice that makes focus and clarity so critically important in our lives today and therein lies the opportunity for financial planners.

The Idea of a Chief Editing Officer
Jack Dorsey, the chief executive officer of Twitter and Square—yes, he works 60 hours a week at both companies—has been often quoted as saying that as CEO he is the “chief editing officer” of his organization. What he means by this is simply that each and every day, every employee has brilliant new ideas and visions of how to enhance each respective company. Engineers have ideas on how to redesign Twitter to engage more users. Square marketers have ideas on how to build a stronger brand to help drive sales growth.

And as chief editing officer, Dorsey sees his most critical function as being able to provide clarity of direction for his organization by sifting through all of the noise—amazing ideas from really smart people—and pulling out and focusing on the one or two things that are critically important to the long-term success of the company. Everything else is cut in favor of pinpoint clarity around one main purpose.

What if, as financial advisers, we operated as the chief editing officer of clients’ lives? Sure, ultimately the client must choose what their main purpose is, but what if we could help facilitate that process in a more structured way?

And no, “How much do you want to spend in retirement on a monthly basis?” is not clarity of purpose.

Clarity Around Values
Financial planning is about creating an orderly framework for evaluating trade-offs in a world of limited resources—time being first, money being second. Which is why skipping over this critical first step of clarifying values (i.e. what is most important to clients) can be a huge mistake. Most plans require some give and take, whether that is “we’ll spend a little less now, so we can save a little more to be able to retire a little earlier,” virtually all planning requires trade-offs.

And without clarity around values and purpose, there’s essentially no great way to decide what that trade-off is. Which is why it is essential for us to create a consistent process for uncovering what is really important to clients before jumping into the trade-off discussion.

Take for example, an exercise that behavioral coaching firm, Think2Perform, offers. There are roughly fifty cards in the Think2Perform card deck, all listing out certain values. From money to health, work to religion, friends to family, cards list out all kinds of different values a person could hold. During the exercise, which works great in an initial discovery meeting—or what I like to call the clarity and organization meeting—clients are asked to narrow down their selection from half the deck, then to their top 15 choices, then to top 10, then to top five.

Once a client has narrowed in on their top five values it becomes considerably easier to make the hard trade-off decisions later on. For example, if a client lists: family, health, integrity, security and community as their primary values, then we have a framework for helping to evaluate trade-offs once we get into the planning.

Clarity Around Critical Behaviors
Enter the technical side of financial planning. Yes, after all, the technical side of financial planning is important, but it isn’t the only piece to the overall puzzle. Once clarity is established with a client it becomes our job to determine what behaviors are critical to success (i.e. the plan).

Just as there are a million different things clients could do each and every day, there are also thousands of different options when it comes to how they might arrive at their ideal destination safely. This is where the chief editing officer comes back into the picture. We must help clients understand—and then hold them accountable for—the critical tasks and behaviors that must occur consistently over long periods of time to achieve their vision of a perfect life.

For example, should a client be saving into a Roth or traditional IRA? Saving into an HSA? Buying term or whole life? The decisions are endless and our job as advisers is to help build clarity around where exactly a client wants to go and then edit out all of the less desirable actions that are necessary to get there.

 

image by Dan Phillips Photography - Cedar Falls, Iowa

Matt Cosgriff, CFP®
Financial Adviser
Lifewise powered by BerganKDV
Minneapolis, MN
@matthewcosgriff

 

Editor’s Note: The following Financial Planning Association content may be of interest to you:


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Fundamentals for Success: 4 Practice Management Themes for 2016

Every March I host the Independent Advisor’s Implement Now Practice Management Virtual Summit. I interview about two dozen industry thought leaders to crystalize the key how-to advice they have to offer to propel advisers to their next level of success. This year’s content reveals four practice management themes that entrepreneurial advisers must pay attention to if they want to achieve their full potential.

Here are the four fundamental focus areas for  advisers that surfaced from my conversations with the 24 entrepreneur industry experts who participated in this year’s summit, which was held on March 14.

1. Personal Brand: What is the story you want to share with the world? How do you relate and connect with people? Clever marketing tactics, fancy web sites, high quality video and daily social media blasting will not help if you are not 100 percent clear on who you are as the leader of your firm, what defines your value system, and what you want your audience to appreciate and understand. When you bring to life your personal brand and reinforce it consistently over time, you will stand out, especially in the digital arena. Personal and professional are no longer separate worlds. The intersection of the two is where most clients live, and you need to show up.

2. Technology to Scale: Technology for technology’s sake can be cool, but you should care about the innovation that occurs because it will allow you to scale your business. You can impact a greater number of people whom you want to help when you leverage technology to support you. Open your eyes to what’s possible now, learn and apply the tools you already have, try out new solutions to improve your service delivery, stand out against robo-advice, streamline your practice operations, support healthy habits, increase productivity and upgrade your overall lifestyle.

3. Build Teams and Systems: Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited is the most referenced book in Implement Now. Are you working “in” the business, mired in the technical or administrative day-to-day work? Or do you approach your business thinking in systems and processes that free up more of your time, money and energy to focus on leadership? Whether you offshore tasks to a virtual assistant, hire a part-time HR consultant or expand your firm with more advisers, you need to define clear systems and processes, be willing to delegate, and find the right kind of people for the job or jobs at hand. This will not only improve efficiency and increase the value of the firm but it’ll improve your life and relationships outside the office.

4. Financial Planning: With more low-cost money management solutions on the market and a growing consumer desire to address basic every day cash flow management both in Gen X and Y and the retiring boomer segments, financial advice cannot rely on the retirement portfolio. The financial planning element of advisers’ service offerings must take the lead. How are you helping your clients navigate the complex trade-offs and decisions they make to create a fulfilling life? When you are their go-to resource to make emotionally powered choices, your clients will stick with you in the ups and downs and happily spread the word about you.

The wrapper around all of these essential areas is clear, consistent and frequent communication with your prospects and clients both in a public domain and in one-to-one outreach. With a clear personal brand, technology and teams to support you and a focus on the planning your clients need, you will achieve more success—whatever that means to you—this year.

To learn the recommended actions behind these themes and view all the expert interviews, visit http://implement-now.com for participation details.

 Kristin Harad 2014Kristin Harad, CFP®
Marketing trainer for advisers
www.kristinharad.com
implement-now.com
San Francisco, Calif.

Editor’s Note: The following related Financial Planning Association content may be of interest to you:


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Avoid the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: “I’m Not Good at Managing People”

I’ve often heard advisers say that they are not good at managing people. I want to shake them and scold, “Don’t say that!” When you make such a declaration, you are doing nothing more than creating an excuse for not improving your skills. You may even be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which your assumption that you aren’t good influences your behaviors and actually causes you to be less of a good manager than you naturally would be.

What Do Employees Want from Their Manager?
You can make a huge improvement in your self-perception, as well as in the perception of your employees, by focusing on some basic employee needs. Among the things employees want, there are two items that stand out, according to research by Gallup: knowing what’s expected of them and how they are doing in meeting those expectations.

These are fundamental needs of employees. That’s why human resources departments tell managers to have up-to-date job descriptions (to define what’s expected) and give employees performance reviews at least annually (to check in about whether expectations are being met). These two actions are not much to ask of an adviser and require that you learn just a couple of skills:

  • How to work with an employee to create a job description
  • How to have a meaningful conversation with an employee about his or her performance

Investing in Your Employees
A little time spent defining roles and responsibilities can go a long way for an adviser who wants an employee to be an important part of the future of his or her organization. Existing employees can be asked to do much of the task.

If you start with an employee who does not have a job description, give him or her a template that asks the employee to outline the key five to eight responsibilities of the job. You can make your own list for that position and then compare the two lists together to create an official description. From there, you can add the values you want to drive internally among everyone who is associated with the firm.

Use the description as the basis for performance reviews. A job description, although not perfect, is a good benchmarking tool and certainly better than using nothing. Again, work from a template to give employees the opportunity to outline how they think they have done in fulfilling their position’s key responsibilities over the past six months or year. If you do the same thing, comparing assessments will give you the fodder for great conversations regarding each employee’s performance.

Half the battle is making this investment in employees a priority and taking the time to do it. Based on the above approach, the time investment is really only a few hours per employee. That’s a good return on investment for employees whom you want to be part of the future of your firm.

Is that all you have to do be a great at managing people? No, but it’s a good jumping-off point. Above and beyond defined expectations, employees are highly influenced by the culture of an organization. We’ll talk more about that next time.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

 

 

 


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Is There a Downside to Setting Goals?

I recently read an article about the downside of setting goals. To me, someone who has always abided by the virtue of goal setting—and, more specifically, the value of setting SMART goals (specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and time-bounded goals)—this was heresy! What could the downside be?

Resolutions vs. Real Goals
Without these, reaching your goal is likely more luck than anything else. But setting both personal and business goals that are well thought out is something I’ve always preached, as well as subscribed to personally, throughout my own career.

What Could Go Wrong?
So what could be the downside of goal setting? There are a couple of concepts related to goal setting that cause concern.

First, if goals are too absolute, a “failure syndrome” can occur. For example, let’s say I’m not used to exercising, and I set a goal that I want to exercise 40 minutes every day in 2016. But then I only exercise 40 minutes four times a week. Most people would hardly consider that a failure, but it is a failure to meet my exact goal and might discourage me from further efforts for fear of additional failure.

The failure syndrome can be avoided by setting a realistic goal and a separate stretch goal, or by setting a goal range. Using the example above, if I change the goal to say that in 2016 I want to exercise three to seven times per week for 48–52 weeks, I have established a feasible range. Fear of failure becomes less of a reason not to set goals and more of an excuse to avoid seriously thinking about the direction I want to move in and what range of change I seek.

A second downside to goal setting is that goals might incline people to be overly focused on future results at the expense of present-day opportunities along the way. In fact, many people live in the past or the future and miss the whole concept of living in the present. Focusing on a particular goal for the future can blind them to an opportunity right under their nose that might not have existed at the time the goal was set.

To counter that, I would argue that you could either acknowledge that you have set the wrong goal or recognize that there is a new opportunity available. It seems like the logical thing to do is simply to change that goal and move on.

Goals for Business
Business planning starts with envisioning the future and ultimately driving toward those goals that align the present with where you are heading in business. If there is a downside to business goal setting, it might be that goals become like trees in the proverbial forest. If you get too hung up on your goals (trees), it is easy to forget about the vision (the forest). The reality is that you need to be cognizant of both simultaneously to succeed.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.