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3 Critical Practice Management Areas That Demand Attention

The industry has changed and it is more important than ever to have a plan, not merely to survive, but indeed to thrive in today’s environment. Creating a simple road map can be the difference between growth and stagnation.

At a minimum, we believe that you should consider these three critical questions, commit your ideas to paper and create an implementation plan with time frames and accountability.

1.) How will you drive retention?
Client retention is the foundation for the long-term viability of your firm. You must consistently deliver the appropriate client experience for each of your client segments.

  • Communication: Do you have a systematized client communication plan? Are you communicating value with the right frequency and maximizing your delivery mediums? Are you offering educational opportunities to help clients better understand their plan and the financial terrain?
  • Appreciation: Do your clients know that you appreciate them? Do you need to go beyond birthdays and holidays and deliver more creative or personalized appreciation?
  • Expectations: Do you really know if you are meeting, falling short, or exceeding client expectations? Do you execute surveys or offer service commitment or expectation meetings to review the value of your deliverables? Do clients understand the totality of your offerings?

2.) How will you drive efficiency?
In an increasingly complex industry with expanding requirements, efficiency and scalability are critical to long-term success.

  • People: Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined and aligned? Are you leveraging your talent?
  • Systems: Are all repeated activities systematized? Do you have standard operating procedures documented in a shared folder for all to access? Is your business scalable?
  • Time and technology: Do you really know where and with whom you are spending your most precious resource—time? Technology can be a time-drain or a time-saver. Is every team member maximizing technological resources?

3.) How will you drive growth?
We could all fill our days by simply dealing with the reactive; however, high-performance financial planners stay committed to growth.

  • Organic growth: Do clients consider YOU their primary advice provider? Have you fully served them? Are you developing multiple generational relationships? Where can you leverage your existing relationships?
  • Introductions: Are you referable? Do your clients proactively provide qualified introductions? How robust are your centers of influence? Are you delivering value to partners who have the propensity to connect you with ideal prospects?
  • Marketing: How strong is your brand identity? Who is your niche audience and how can you attract more ideal prospects through off-line and online marketing avenues? Based on your demographics, what type of marketing (advertising, seminars, mail campaigns or event marketing) makes sense for your practice?
  • Expand the team: For firms that are fully systematized but at capacity, you may consider bringing on new advisers/planners as your most vital growth strategy. Be sure to consider your “ideal” candidate and conduct full due diligence so as not to upset the culture of the firm.

What decisions will you make and what actions will you take to drive retention, efficiency and growth in 2017?

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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Goal Setting: How to Make 2017 Your Best Business Year Ever

Investing time to strategically plan their goals for the upcoming year is the single greatest return on investment an adviser can make. If you’re looking to create a breakout year and accomplish your most important goals, read the following to make 2017 your best year ever.

STEP ONE: Review Your Year
This step helps you focus on what you should be doing more of and what you should be quitting completely. Identify your successes and where you came up short. Figure out what worked and what didn’t. Which were good decisions and which were bad?

Answer these questions to properly reflect on your year:

  1. What did you accomplish this past year that you’re most proud of?
  2. What did you do to earn this accomplishment?
  3. What disappointments or regrets did you experience this past year?
  4. As you look back, what was missing from last year?
  5. What are three things you want to stop doing next year?
  6. What are three things you want to keep doing next year?

STEP TWO: Define Areas of Attention in Your Business
There are seven main areas of your financial practice that you want to be in optimal shape to see breakthrough success. Rank each area on a scale of 1-10 to see which are the lowest and need your attention.

  1. New business and client acquisition. Are you talking to enough qualified prospects and turning them into clients?
  2. Marketing and branding. When people get introduced to you or your brand, can they quickly identify how you can help and benefit them?
  3. Do you have all-star employees who are easy to manage?
  4. Client service and experience. Are your current clients receiving the right amount of contact and care so there’s no reason they would ever leave you?
  5. Do you have the systems and processes set up so that the office can run if you’re not there?
  6. Time management and productivity. Are you spending time only on $1,000-per-hour tasks rather than $10-per-hour tasks?
  7. Expertise in planning and investment management. Are you continually increasing your knowledge in order to offer the best advice and recommendations to your clients?

STEP THREE: Create Your Future
Here’s the framework to follow when identifying your goals. Use this framework to develop five to seven goals for the next year:

  1. Write it down. Research shows that written goals are much more likely to be achieved.
  2. Suspend reality. Decide later if a goal is realistic.
  3. Think big. Have goals that are challenging enough to demand your full effort
  4. State in the positive. Focus on what you want to move toward.
  5. Have actionable goals. Write your goal as if it is already achieved. For example, say, “I have hired one new all-star employee that handles all paperwork prep and processing by 6/30/2017.”
  6. Time bound. Make sure there is a date of completion.
  7. Be specific. The more specific the goal, the better.

STEP FOUR: Bulletproof Your Goals
Advisers who achieve their goals are the ones who are motivated and who have a compelling reason why their goals must be achieved. So you can create powerful motivators for each of your goals, which will increase the chances that you’ll achieve them.

Take these steps to create motivators for your goals:

  1. (Again) write down each goal.
  2. Connect emotionally and logically with each goal by determining why the goal is important and what is at stake (both the positive and negative).
  3. Write down the top three to five motivators
  4. Review them regularly.

STEP FIVE: Take The Next Step
The last step—the most important step in the process—is where we start to take action to make our goals a reality.

  1. Don’t over plan. We naturally are attracted to planning. But sometimes it turns into a fancy way to procrastinate. We want to make sure we get started on our goals as soon as possible.
  2. Work backward and break up your big goals. Imagine the goal is already complete. What do you need to do each month in order for you to that moment? This will help identify manageable action steps.
  3. Schedule your goals. Set aside time each week to review your goals, motivators and progress. At the end of each session, identify the next step you need to take to reach this goal.
  4. Celebrate the small wins to motivate yourself.
  5. Start now.

Download this step-by-step worksheet to help you with this process.

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL

 


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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.


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What We Can Learn from Career-Changer Advisers

Do you know a career-changer adviser or have one on your staff? They bring a certain skillset that many lifelong financial advisers may benefit from.

One individual I know retired from the military and began his career as a financial adviser when he was in his 40s. He was quite comfortable in his role as leader of a growing ensemble firm. He was adept at enhancing efficiency through the use of consistent processes, attending not only to the firm’s top line but also to margin and profitability, delegating to staff, focusing on teamwork, mentoring young advisers and building a culture of camaraderie. These aren’t usually the responsibilities advisers say they excel at; instead, most say they much prefer spending time with their clients than managing the business.

Can we assume, then, that some career-changer advisers are better business managers than financial advisers who have spent their entire careers in this industry?

What Career Changers Bring
There is no actual data to validate my hunch, but if you think about it, there are a few reasons why an adviser who came from the military, engineering, health care or some other industry would find success as a business owner. Let’s look a little closer.

Lifelong financial planners often have no formal business training; after all, you don’t get CE credits for learning how to be better businesspeople. In fact, at conferences, there’s a built-in incentive to go to the sessions offering CE credit and a built-in disincentive for the practice management sessions. Consequently, developing or enhancing leadership and management skills or business acumen in general plays second fiddle.

When an individual starts a second career, however, there is an opportunity for a do over. You get to assess the new industry you are joining and learn best practices to apply from the get-go? (if you had the chance to start your financial planning career over, wouldn’t you do some things differently?) Plus, those who change careers have often learned from their earlier experiences and know how to avoid certain bad habits the second time around.

Of course, career changers are often older and more mature. That maturity may also be accompanied by greater financial stability than a newbie adviser just entering the industry would have. For example, instead of taking on every client to make ends meet, the more established individual can select the clients who best fit his or her niche and how he or she wants to present the firm to the public.

Last, there is something to be said for bringing external knowledge into this industry. That’s probably true for any industry. It’s not a leap to suggest that prior experience leads to increased wisdom.

If This Is True, What Difference Does It Make?
If you have a career changer in your firm, perhaps that individual has insight that could be useful to you as the leader of the firm. If you are considering a career changer as a successor, that individual may possess some valuable skills less commonly found in the financial services industry. Consider also that, as our industry shrinks, perhaps we need to recruit from non-traditional niches.

If it’s logical to assume that career-changer advisers often possess better business management skills, then it follows that financial planners who switch industries might be observed to have exceptional relationships and, of course, financial planning skills. It’s just that financial planners seldom move on to a second career. Why would they, when this one is so gratifying?

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


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The Art of the Referral

You will hear this your entire career: increasing your ability to gather referrals will make your practice more successful. Establishing referrals early in our career is even more important. But the reality is that many of us don’t put a lot of emphasis on referrals and do not learn this early in our career. How great is a warm referral from a credible source like a client or another professional?

There are two reasons why we lack successful referral methods. First, there is risk in the referral—there is risk for you and there is risk for the person making the referral. Second, it can be awkward asking for it because people feel the sales aspect of it. As great as it sounds it is simply not that easy.

How do we present a more effective referral? First, we can focus on who it is coming from. Work on developing a professional relationship with a person who can provide consistent dependable referrals that fit your perfect client profile—that may be a CPA or estate planning attorney. Identify that person and develop the relationship with the emphasis on what you provide compared to another adviser. Attention to detail, technology in your practice or an advantage you will bring to that professional. This type of relationship, and referrals from these types of professionals, are invaluable.

Take the sales feeling out of the asking for the referral. Don’t use the typical cliché “is there anyone else you know who could benefit from my service or our relationship?” This has been used hundreds of times. Put your asking for the referral into context so the client doesn’t feel it as a sales ploy but a real offer to help.

Try this: ask the client if they are the beneficiary of someone’s estate. Ask them if they understand how the estate is set up to transfer—most think they do but really don’t. Ask them if the beneficiaries are clear on the transfer of their estate. There are many things they may not be aware of but need to understand. Now instead of saying “Great, please refer me to them so I can help,” say, “Let’s bring them together so we can make sure it is crystal clear and nothing is left for interpretation.” This will bring the referral right to you in a no risk opportunity. A review of information for your client with the referral in the room to help facilitate that explanation will show the true value of your detail and help you gather more referrals. This is a unique approach that many advisers don’t take advantage of.

Building a successful referral method will take time, but if you start to perfect this early on in your career it will be promising and fruitful from the start.
scott-huff

Scott Huff
CEO of Yourefolio and an IAR of JK Investment Group
Cleveland, Ohio

 

Editor’s note: FPA members receive $200 off Yourefolio software, plus a money back guarantee. 


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What Comes First—Changing the Tech or the Staff?

Firms are struggling with technology adoption because they believe their executives or staff can’t change or learn new methods of operating. So they stop implementing the tech (aka the change) and instead start interviewing potential hires to replace their current staff who appear unwilling to change and learn. This stoppage and hiring effort creates a dark cloud over the mood of the staff. It sends a message that the firm isn’t prepared to improve nor invest in change management. Rock star-quality staff take this stoppage as a sign and ultimately stop recommending improvements and cease their championing of change. If the stoppages happen often, your best staff might even start interviewing at other firms or start their own firm.

How do I know if my staff are able to learn new systems?
The easiest way to test the team’s ability to learn is to sell the change before implementing it. As the firm owner, you must believe in the change, know the benefits, and persistently encourage productive feedback. Remember that the administrative person might care about reducing data entry work, while the adviser will want this change to help them onboard a new client more efficiently. Staff that can’t adopt the change will stand out immediately. If they are your key team members, have your executive team talk with them and explore why they are resistant to the changes. Then, and only then, will you know if it is time to search through the resumes and start to recalibrate the staff with a new hire.

Do I lay off a loyal staff person when they can’t learn?
We all know it is very expensive (money, energy, time) to lay off and hire someone new. Any new hire requires you to use energy and time to train them on your firm’s method of operating, philosophy regarding client service and expectations. It is best to NOT lay off those who seemingly can’t embrace change and instead invest in training and change management first. Training can be in the form of scheduled weekly webinars, paying an outside expert or software provider to provide customized training, or having a staff person train his/her peer. Change management comes from the top. If you are not sure you are managing change properly, you can hire a coach to learn how to do this effectively now and in the future.

While you invest in training and management, you should also be scouring the earth for potential hires. A great employee, successor, or partner hire won’t fall into your lap the minute you decide you want to re-calibrate your team. It is never too soon to start networking and doing informational interviews and building your pipeline of candidates. If the training and change management does not produce the results you want, you know you can call upon a pool of qualified candidates.

Change isn’t easy—if it were, everyone would be doing it! Remember that any meaningful technology change—even implementing a new software program—takes more than 66 business days to adopt. Give your staff time to embrace the new tech and provide continuous training, positive reinforcement and examples of the long-term benefits. Most importantly, be sure to give yourself time to lead the troops with a positive attitude and realistic change management goals. Progress may be slow but as long as you’re seeing change transpire, rest well knowing your firm is on the right track.

Jennifer Goldman

 

Jennifer Goldman
Founder
My Virtual COO
Boston, MA

Editor’s Note: FPA members receive a $500 member discount on a My Virtual COO consulting engagement. You can find more information here


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The W’s of Successful Outsourcing

There was a time when the word “outsourcing” was barely mentioned. Today, outsourcing is as common in the office as a laptop or smart phone. Outsourcing has allowed companies of all sizes to grow quickly while reducing costs—which only adds to the bottom line.

Professional outsourcers can handle virtually every type of task, from answering emails to marketing and website development. It doesn’t stop there and can include compliance, reporting, ghost writing and much more.

WHEN do you make the choice to outsource?
When your firm experiences the following:

  1. You need a quick turnaround time on certain projects
  2. Staff is overloaded
  3. There is no time, ability or resources to train the staff on a specific skill
  4. Staff has no interest in doing certain types of work

WHAT do I outsource?
The easiest items to outsource are non-client facing, back office work or repetitive, non-technical work. The favored outsourcers currently are: bookkeepers, portfolio reconcilers, compliance firms, website designers and virtual planners. We believe these are the favorites as they have clearly defined roles and are not client-facing. Managing a person with client-facing responsibilities can be nerve wrecking for a newbie manager. Also, client-facing staff members are valuable and should be part of your core team. Your clients value your staff and the personal relationship your firm offers with them.

HOW can I outsource while remaining compliant?
We recommend following these five steps to remain compliant and operate effectively:

  1. Seek vetted, experienced experts in the industry
  2. Establish CRM processes and repeatable tasks with instructions for the outsourcer to complete and you to monitor
  3. Use secure communication platforms such as document management systems, CRMs and encrypted email
  4. Sign a formal contract with the outsourcer that protects your data, your documents, your proprietary business procedures and your clients
  5. Schedule a biweekly call with each outsourcer to review outstanding tasks, answer any questions and provide overall guidance on how you would like them to operate

Finding and onboarding the right outsourcing company takes time. Be patient, ask peers for recommendations, and remember that the first few months are always have a learning curve for you and the outsourcer. Also, you will want to carve out time to monitor their work closely for the first 60 days and confirm they possess the skills and ability to deliver. After 60 days, you should be able to trust their work and method of delivery and more easily manage them.

The W’s of outsourcing don’t have to be overwhelming. Your staff, you, and clients will feel the positive effect of hiring an expert outsourcer. So try one out, follow the five steps, monitor the work and enjoy the newly reclaimed energy and time.

Jennifer Goldman

 

Jennifer Goldman
Founder
My Virtual COO
Boston, MA

Editor’s Note: FPA members receive a $500 member discount on a My Virtual COO consulting engagement. You can find more information here