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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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The Value of Time and Experience

I recently visited an adviser whose business had grown very quickly. In a five-year period, he went from one employee to five and his production tripled, easily putting him in the seven-figure range. In comparison with many other advisers with similar businesses, this adviser is 15 years younger, on average and has a commensurate 15 fewer years of industry experience. Listening to his business challenges—especially those having to do with human resources—gave me pause. Did this adviser have more people problems than most or was something else going on?

Getting Better Vs. Getting Used to Things
In considering this young adviser’s situation, I believed one of two things was going on:

  1. He had not yet developed the skills necessary to manage staff, which was actually contributing to his issues.
  2. He had not yet recognized that people issues are an ongoing component of managing a business.

For example, the adviser felt that he needed to revise job descriptions and re-create a compensation system that would more specifically motivate the behaviors he desired. He wanted his employees to take more responsibility for producing error-free work, instead of depending on him to review their work and catch errors. The issue extended beyond his support staff. He had recently brought on a staff CFP® and discovered that the process of guiding and mentoring the young woman required a significant investment of time to help her understand how to apply financial knowledge and theory to clients’ reality. That’s not to mention the time he was spending helping her evolve business development skills. When I asked how much time he was investing in managing the business, he said 50 percent.

But is that really too much? Comparing his story with that of other advisers with similar business scale and capacity, I found that they were far less verbal and seemed less frustrated with their human resource situation. What was particularly thought provoking was that the young adviser had assumed he must be doing something wrong or that there was something wrong with his organizational model.

We’re Never Done
There is no doubt that if we make the effort to improve, we get better over time. We learn how to manage resources—time, money and people—more effectively. What this young adviser had yet to learn was that he was doing just fine as a manager. The reality is that just when we have things lined up to achieve the perfect organization, a lot can change—someone gets sick, leaves for a different job or needs to implement new technology or procedures, which actually causes him or her to be less effective and may even lead to performance issues.

The longer we spend in a leadership position, the more we learn that when things are going well, all we have to do is wait a bit—they’ll change! The good news is that the reverse is also true. When things are not going right from an HR perspective, focusing your attention on the issue can help improve it. The fact of the matter is that we are never done managing our people. And that’s the real value of time and experience.

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
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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Create Time Budgets to Produce Results

An adviser’s time is precious. For each available work hour, there are countless ways to consume it, and with each hour productively applied, the adviser and his or her business prospers. However, advisers are not machines that can simply be programmed for completing tasks. There is a person at hand, a person with talents, skills, histories, ambitions and preferences.

Professional services firms connect an adviser’s work effort (see the blog “Your Product is You”) to the business. Essentially, the adviser and the business become one.

Important Business Work
An adviser’s direct client service—the firm’s product—can be captured within the broad categories of wealth and investment planning such that a client’s plan leads to investment execution. Advisers trained for these specialties find these activities intellectually appealing and personally fulfilling; it is a pleasure to do this work.

The business connection to these services arrives when a client pays the fee and the firm’s revenue increases. So far, so good.

A vibrant operating business requires much more than service delivery. Sales calls must be made to fill a sales pipeline; client reports must be produced; bills must be paid; employees hired, managed and nurtured; technology vendors evaluated and selected; investment research conducted; compliance requirements completed.

This list comprises many important activities that many advisers do not like to do. They are chores and are often held in limbo due to procrastination or even neglect.

Budgeting Time for Business Advancement

Like a financial budget that allocates limited monetary resources to the most important priorities, a time budget ensures that a business’s essential tasks are completed on time and within the optimal operating range. Tasks are linked together in order for efficient use of every employee’s time. Greater efficiency means less time on a task, and this is a worthy trade-off for important tasks, but those that are not personally fulfilling.

How a Time Budget Works
Foremost, a time budget is a planning document that considers specific allocations of time (i.e. a time block) according to business priorities, job responsibilities and task sequence. While similar to a project plan, a time budget integrates a person’s assigned tasks into a single view based on a rolling week-to-week evolution.

A time budget is not for regimentation but to be a guide as executed using these steps:

  1. While formal tools are available, an Excel or Word table suffices. Or, your CRM can be used to schedule activities through the workflow function.
  2. Divide the rows into one-hour time blocks and the columns into the days of the week.
  3. List the week’s tasks to be completed keeping in mind these parameters: tasks related to the firm’s strategic and operational priorities need to be given precedence.
  4. Batch related activities together.
  5. Without considering whether a task is loved or hated, ask yourself this question: what is the best time for this task to be completed optimally? For example, schedule sales and client service activities for the peak periods in the day. Place planning tasks at the beginning of the week (for assignment) and the end (for reflection).
  6. Place each task into its best time block day by day.
  7. For unappealing tasks, spread out the work over several consecutive days in order to have bursts of focus and avoid drudgery.
  8. Important tasks are scheduled when execution will be crispest such as in the morning or the beginning of the week.

Connecting Time Budgets
At the end of each week, evaluate the results from the time budget with these thoughts in mind:

  • If a task wasn’t completed, determine if it was from procrastination, interruptions or insufficient allocated time.
  • For repeating tasks week to week, consider if the results could have been better if allocated to a different time block.
  • For the next time budget, experiment with different sequences and time periods.
  • At the end of each month, compare the previous weeks’ time budgets and summarize the results achieved and the nuggets of learning.
  • Take the monthly summaries and use them with the chain of command for the next period’s business planning as well as employee reviews.

Time Budget Warnings
A time budget is a guide to reinforce results (good behaviors) and to inform about weak spots (procrastination).

Few things are more satisfying than looking into the rearview mirror of a year’s set of time budgets and seeing significant business results, on-time delivery, improved efficiency, personal growth and the absence of regret.

Kirk Loury

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


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Letting Go of Relationships

Compared with professionals in other industries, financial advisers typically enjoy uniquely satisfying relationships with their clients. One reason is that “clients for life” is more than a catchphrase. Given the myriad of critical financial issues, life circumstances, and market volatility that can occur in any 10- or 20-year period, it’s no surprise that deep relationships develop.

But what happens when it’s time to let go of these relationships so a new adviser can take over?

Time for transition
No matter how competent the new adviser, nor how well honed his or her relationship skills, the new adviser is often stepping into a situation where both the original adviser and the client are grieving the loss of the relationship. Two things can happen: in the healthy approach, the client and the original adviser mutually agree to let go of the past and foster the development of the new relationship. In the unhealthy approach, the client and/or the adviser holds on to the existing relationship for dear life, which could undermine or even sabotage the relationship with the new adviser.

For example, it’s not unusual for the original adviser to think that his or her way of doing things is best. Although a new adviser may do some things similarly, the likelihood that his or her way of doing business will be exactly the same is small. That’s true even when the new adviser is the child of the transitioning adviser. If the original adviser feels the need to swoop in and mediate, the relationship between the client and the new adviser certainly won’t get off on the right foot.

So what can advisers transitioning out of the business after decades-long relationships with clients do?

  • Acknowledge that leaving one’s career may create a sense of loss. For some, you may even go through a grieving period similar to when you lose a loved one. In such cases, it may be tempting to keep tabs on client relationships. If keeping tabs is purely personal or “golf-based”—fine. But the original adviser should avoid interfering with the professional relationship between the client and the new financial adviser.
  • Those transitioning out of the business should seek the counsel of those who have experienced the same process. Sometimes the transition out of a long-term career can lead to depression, especially in the last third of life. Another adviser who has already gone through the transition process may provide a good sounding board.
  • Plan for a transition early. Both the original and the new adviser should budget ample time for joint meetings with clients to transfer knowledge and to foster the transfer of the professional advisory relationship.

The bottom line is both advisers must do what’s best for the client—even when it means letting go.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

 

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


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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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Could an SBA Loan Take Your Business to the Next Level?

Raising capital in the various stages of your business can be tricky, time-consuming and frustrating process. Many small businesses need access to low-cost, long-term financing but have a difficult time getting banks to work with them. The Small Business Administration (SBA) exists for this reason.

So could a SBA loan help your business? Perhaps.

A 2014 Forbes article praised SBA loans for providing affordable financing to small businesses. However, the downside is that the process of getting SBA financing is highly document intensive and potentially time consuming. This didn’t stop the 14,718 businesses that utilized the 7A program (a loan less than $5 million) in the fiscal year of 2015. Due to the complexity in getting these loans, many companies used SBA Loan Packaging Firms to help them with the process. The SBA doesn’t actually make direct loans, according to a an article in Entrepreneur, but rather provide a loan guarantee to entrepreneurs, backing 75 percent of your loan if you ever default on your loan.

A small business by SBA standards is any business that makes less than $5 million a year after tax profit. There are 28 million small businesses in America that account for 54 percent of all U.S. sales. As a small business owner you provide 55 percent of all jobs and 66 percent of all net new jobs since the 1970s. Franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40 percent of all retail sales and provide jobs for some 8 million people. The small business sector as a whole occupies 30-50 percent of all commercial space, an estimated 20-34 billion square feet.

By guaranteeing to the bank 75 percent of your loan, the SBA fosters small businesses’ long-term success. It recognizes the role small businesses play in the national economy and aim to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation,” as the Small Business Association succinctly put it in their mission statement.

Before SBA was founded by Congress in 1953 and even today, it could be tricky for a young company to obtain the kind of capital needed not just to start a company, but also to grow their business. The federal government realized the important role small businesses play on a national level both by job creation and the fostering of innovation. They serve as building blocks for the national economy and are a key component of the local economy.

As a business owner, forecasting growth is key, if you want to take your business to the next level. Planning and preparing for events in the future and taking financial risk can yield sizable returns. The ability to invest money in your company to grow is key, and often neglected, can be a significant piece to reach of the puzzle to reach your growth goals. However, it takes time, money and preparation, all resources small businesses might not have.

Loan packagers, such as SBA Loan Group, could make the process significantly easier for a small business. Through SBA Loan Group you can borrow money on a low interest rate (less than 6.25 percent) and pay it down over a long time period (10-25 years).

We would first look at your tax returns and financials and make sure that you qualify for an SBA loan. Then we would gather all the data needed for a loan, pre-underwrite the data to make sure it meets SBA requirements, prepare and file your application with one or more banks that we work with. We will then obtain a letter of intent, and assist you in finalizing and funding the loan. We are then paid a success fee at the closing of the loan.

Since the government backs the program, the process can be relatively complicated and require significant documentation, which means it can take 8-12 weeks before you actually get the loan. Although, most banks today do require personal guarantees for business loans, all SBA loans requires personal guarantee from any individual who owns more than 20 percent of the borrowing company.

There are two types of SBA loans 7(a) and 504. The 7(a) loan can be used towards all legitimate purposes that relates to building a business. For example, working capital, purchasing inventory, acquisitions, sales and marketing, hiring personnel, purchase of real estate for the use of your business and all other general purposes. A 7(a) can be for up to 5 million dollars. The other program within the SBA, 504, is specifically for purchasing real estate and /or alterations to the real estate, these loans can be for up to 14 million dollars. When purchasing real estate, both 7(a) and 504, only require only 10% down.

If you are interested in finding out more please click this link to fill out the short form and we will contact you or feel free to call us at (646) 699-1344 any time.

TJHeadshotTonje Gjorven
Loan Manager
SBA Loan Group
New York, N.Y.

 

Editor’s Note: Other Financial Planning Association content that might be of interest to you includes: