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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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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
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
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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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
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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3 Keys to Creating an Engaged Workforce

What does it take to have an engaged workforce? Is it a ping pong table in the breakroom and unlimited vacation and sick pay? Is it a flexible work environment allowing employees to set their own schedules?

If your eyes were rolling and you were wondering just how you were going to make that happen, worry no more. According to research conducted by Gallup®, these types of fringe benefits are not what make an engaged workforce. The things that do will cost you less in hard dollars yet require you to engage with people, who are often confusing and sometimes overwhelming. Engagement in the workforce is the same as the romantic engagement, it happens between people.

There are three keys to creating an engaged workforce:

  1. Selecting the right people seems so obvious, yet all of us have either hired or had to work with someone who just wasn’t the right fit. Good hiring goes beyond the ability of someone with the skills to perform the job. Mindset, attitude and culture also play an important role. Beyond the initial hiring process, what weighs more heavily in employee engagement is selecting the right managers. More often than not, people don’t quit jobs, they quit the manager. When you consider the process by which most managers get selected, they are either star performers or have been with the company the longest, so it’s easy to end up with managers not prepared to manage others. When selecting a manager, focus on their ability to get to know and develop others while keeping an eye on the metrics that drive performance.
  2. Developing employees’ strengths will be one of the most productive roles your manager performs. According to Gallup®, employees who have the chance to use their strengths every day are SIX TIMES more likely to be engaged on the job. Remember what the lack of engagement can cost? Managers are uniquely positioned to come to know and develop the strengths of the people on their team. Using a tool such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment will help both the manager and the team better understand the unique talents of each individual as well as the potential that lies within.
  3. Enhance employees’ well-being. This at first glance appears to be a rather large undertaking. If we break it down, we can see how a company and its great managers can influence well-being. Most people spend at least one-half of their waking hours in the work environment and we know that work influences home and personal life and vice-versa. In studies conducted among its client groups, Gallup® has found that engaged employees are generally in better health and have healthier habits than those not engaged. In turn, these engaged employees have fewer chronic health problems and miss fewer days of work. These are also the same employees likely to participate in a company-sponsored wellness program. Well-being also includes community and social involvement as well as financial well-being. An entire book could be written on just this topic, and it has! Well-Being by Tom Rath and Jim Harter is a great compliment to the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and the assessment.

So where should you start in engaging your employees?  A conversation focusing on strengths can go a long way in engaging your workforce. Take the Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment for yourself and discover your strengths. You will see just how empowering this knowledge can be. If you would like a plan for implementing strengths or either of the other two keys in this article, connect with me at barbara@acceluspartners.com.

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas


8 Tips for a 45-Day Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45-Day Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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