2 Comments

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

There is a topic that has come up in so many conversations I’ve had this past week, it was like the universe was screaming at me to please help some folks with this issue.

So here it goes: How do you decide what to do?

Making decisions can be difficult and professionals today are inundated with so many options that it only adds to the pressure.

  • What should you specialize in?
  • Should you choose a niche or be a generalist?
  • What organizations should you join?
  • Should you join an organization at all or just go it alone?
  • Where should you spend your marketing efforts?
  • Where should you spend your marketing dollars?
  • Who should you hire to help you with technology?
  • What should you do next to grow your business?
  • Should you hire someone?
  • What should you hire someone to do?
  • Who should you refer business to?
  • Who should you ask for referrals from?
  • Should you work from home?
  • When is the right time to move to an office if you are working from home?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea and you’re probably having serious stress flashbacks by now.

The ability to quickly make a decision—and then act on that decision—is a key ingredient to success.

Staying stuck not knowing which direction to go just leaves you, well, stuck! As in nothing is happening.

Not making a decision keeps you in reaction mode instead of “conquering” mode! While some folks can’t make a decision that will get them off the starting block, others have a different issue—they constantly make new decisions.

The problem with too many entrepreneurs, or folks who are responsible in any way for their own paycheck, is they jump from thing to thing to thing and never really give anything a chance to work.

Just like with so many of our half-hearted attempts at weight loss—if the approach doesn’t work instantly to solve all of our problems, we quickly abandon it for the next shiny promise of success.

Looking for some concrete advice on how to make decisions? Here’s my framework for the top three issues that come up in my conversations.

Challenge: Analysis Paralysis

Solution: Set a timer. Seriously. Set a timer or a deadline, do whatever research you feel you need to do and Make. A. Decision. This is a skill you absolutely need to develop if you want to be successful and being stuck in “un-decision” mode is just fear stopping you from moving forward.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received around decision-making was from six-time New York Times bestselling author and one of my personal mentors, Larry Winget. I’ve heard him say this repeatedly: “Make a decision. And make it right.”

Stop dwelling over every little detail of what will or won’t work—make a decision—and then commit to doing what you need to do to make sure it works!

Challenge: Too Many Options for Limited Resources

Solution: I talk to a lot of people about this. Where should you spend your marketing dollars? There’s social media, companies that sell leads, BNI and networking groups, funnels. You name it; it’s out there.

Some people will throw coaching in this category as well, but be clear, that is a completely different situation. Coaching is an investment in learning how to be successful. The rest of these are marketing strategies. This is a very important distinction.

In terms of which marketing strategy you should get behind, think first about what you’re already naturally good at doing. Like I mentioned before, they all work if you stick with them. And if you’re already a bit of a natural in one area, you’re going to have a greater chance at success learning how to dial it in strategically in order to grow your business.

Already spend half your day on Facebook? Then go with social media. Are you a natural go-getter sales person? Then investing in leads could make perfect sense.

What doesn’t work is picking a strategy that you already have negative feelings about but doing it because it’s the marketing flavor of the month. I do a lot of work with my clients around getting over their fears and taking action. But if you have limited resources and can only invest in one or two marketing strategies, give yourself the best chance at success!

And stop switching strategies at first sign of conflict. It’s not failure, it’s feedback!

Take the feedback you get from your efforts and tweak what you’re doing. Don’t abandon the ship prematurely.

Challenge: When to Hire Team Members

Solution: This one is actually a simple math problem: if you are doing $20-an-hour work that keeps you from doing $100-an-hour work, then you need to hire someone.

When you first start out you have time on your hands. You can afford to bootstrap your efforts and do all sorts of work yourself because you don’t yet have clients to serve.

As you get going, your two main focuses must be growing your business (getting new clients) and serving your current clients.

How fast your business grows is in direct relation to how much time you can spend on getting new clients—which means how fast you can hire people to do all the things that are not necessary for you to be doing.

A final word of warning—and hopefully some wisdom. There is one mistake I see people make more than anything else: treating every little decision as if it is the end all, be all, biggest and ONLY decision you’ll ever get to make. There are absolutely zero things I can think of in my history as a professional or business owner that I didn’t get to adjust or tweak if it wasn’t working out.

Have I tried marketing strategies that didn’t work? Absolutely.

Have I hired coaches that ended up not being a good fit for me? Yep.

Have I hired team members that didn’t live up to my expectations? You bet.

All of these things are fixable! Every single one of them.

So get out there. Make some decisions. Even better—make some mistakes and then fix them! You’ll be all the more successful for it.

Image-1-2

Erin Marcus is a nationally renowned speaker, author and consultant who has been creating business success for more than 20 years. Her combination of a street-smart upbringing, formal education and real world business experience provides a unique point-of-view and ability to relate to her audiences and clients. For more information on Marcus, check out her website at: www.ConquerYourBusiness.com.


Leave a comment

What If Being Customer-Centric Was Actually About…the Customer?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the terms “customer-centric,” “client-centric” or “customer-first,” just over the last few months, I’d probably have about eight bucks. Don’t get me wrong, I think these terms are important for every financial planner (and indeed, anyone who works in or owns any type of business) to understand and value. My beef is with how they are being used: “buy this product,” “purchase this data,” “take this course,” and you, too, can suddenly become more “client- or customer-centric.”

It seems to me that too many of these messages are about more—more data, more tools, more strategies, more insights. Personally, I think most of us (whether we are business owners, employed by a business or individual practitioners) need just the opposite. We have plenty of data; the issue is in finding ways to use it effectively on a consistent basis. We have tools at our disposal; if we’re not using them to the best of our ability now, are we likely to suddenly change our ways when we get new ones?

Understanding the Customer is About Learning How to Use Your Data (Not More Data)

I don’t think customer-centricity is something we can purchase, and more data for more data’s sake is only likely to further muddy the waters. To truly understand our customers, we must learn how to use the data we already have, simplify how we will use it moving forward and stick with our plans long enough to measure whether they are successful.

This is, of course, easier said than done, but I have an idea that I think is worth trying to help you get started, and it starts with one of my least favorite marketing terms: personas. Used effectively, personas can be an extremely valuable tool in enhancing customer understanding, but I’ve personally never been in an environment where they made a positive difference. It’s one thing I’ve seen fail more often than succeed in my time as a marketer.

When customer experience is the topic of conversation, the discussion inevitably turns to spending money on personas, and because the creation of personas is so enigmatic, mysterious and cool (i.e., so few people understand it), everyone gets excited about the initiative…until they receive them. Then, internal teams start changing them to fit their own biases, some are removed entirely while new ones are added and the hotly debated question of whether or not “Randy, age 55” actually does like to go to the movies ends up killing productivity for weeks. After that, they’re forgotten or relegated to the company shared drive, and everyone agrees that the agency really didn’t understand “us” well enough to get us what we needed.

HINT: If you think persona creation is about you, and not expressly about your ideal clients or customers, then your customer-centricity project was doomed to fail from the start.

Improving the Customer Experience by Starting Small

The idea is this: if there is truly an ideal customer, member and client out there for all of us, what would happen if we tried to create an exceptional customer experience using just one avatar (just so we don’t have to use “persona” again)? If we focused on crafting just a single avatar using the data we already have available, and committed to using it to test every interaction, we would find it simpler to make the improvements required to actually move the needle on customer/client experience. Further, the focus of this avatar is not on its creation, but on bringing it to life as part of our daily work.

I’m not saying that your avatar’s profile, interests, needs, wants, wishes and dreams should be arbitrary—far from it. I just want you to avoid getting bogged down in creating the “perfect” avatar, so that by the time you’ve achieved perfection, everyone involved resents what you’ve built. Creating the avatar should be fun, but it can be done relatively quickly as a group exercise. In addition to the standard profile items (age, gender, name, AUM, etc.), make sure to draw a picture or find one online, and to focus on the emotional and human side of your avatar, as these things will make him or her more real and tangible. Put a deadline on this part of the project, and when the group is done, you’re done (no adjusting—your avatar has been officially brought to life, warts and all).

Integrating Your Avatar: Meet the Newest Member of Your Team

Now comes the most important phase: deciding how you and your colleagues or team (if applicable) will use your avatar. This is so critical that you might even consider creating a social contract and having everyone sign to represent their commitment to seeing the process all the way through. I like to think of this part as inviting your avatar (let’s call her Perry for now) to join your team and to take part in every meeting, every discussion about programs and initiatives, and every company event…oh, and Perry is also copied on every email and participating on every inbound and outbound phone call.

You can take it as far as you want to, including leaving Perry a seat in the conference room for larger meetings, or having a specific place she sits and takes notes during client meetings. As you may not wish to weird out your clients, you can decide whether you want to let them know that Perry will be joining you in spirit, but you and she know that she’ll be there (and maybe just a little bit late, because that’s so Perry). You and your team will begin to see every touchpoint a client has through Perry’s lens, and begin to make decisions based on how she would perceive an idea or adjustment to the status quo. You can start with questions like:

  • “What would Perry think of this idea for a client event? Would she want to come and how would we make her feel comfortable enough to stay?”
  • “Would Perry approve of this prospecting email? How would it make her feel? How can we improve it so that it would make her happy and interested?”
  • “How would Perry have changed the environment or direction of the discussion in the last client meeting? How would she have felt afterward? What could we have done differently, and what should/could we do after the fact that would make her feel more comfortable and less fearful?”
  • “What would Perry think of the inflatable plastic pineapple in our conference room? Would she think it was odd, or should we add more things like that to make the environment more Perry-friendly?”

Common sense though it may be, customer- or client-centricity is about putting the customer or client first. That means making decisions with the customer or client at the forefront of your mind, and doing what they would want you to do, not what you want to do.

If you like the idea, how you go about it is entirely up to you, and you can make myriad changes based on personal preference. The most important pieces are that you and your team/group agree on who your avatar is and feel a connection to it, and that you’ve committed to integrating the avatar as much as possible.

Remember, the Primary Goal is Getting to Truly Know Your Ideal Client

This concept won’t be for everyone, and that’s OK. For example, you may have more than one type of client you are attempting to attract, and this may not (and potentially should not) change your focus. It does, however, force you to choose a very specific ideal construct, based not exclusively on asset size or life stage, but on who you actually want to work with.

I do believe that simplification can often provide us with insights we may not have been able to see through all the noise we are forced to sift through every day. If you choose to go down a path like this, you can measure many different outcomes, but if, at the end of the experiment, you and your team feel closer to your current and prospective clients, and have a better understanding of your ideal customer, you have set yourself up to be of great value to a host of future Perrys.

Dan_Martin_Headshot

Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional membership organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.

Disclaimer: The Financial Planning Association is independent of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (“CFP Board”), a 501(c)(3) organization that grants the CFP® certification to CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals in the United States. CFP Board owns the trademarks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.”


1 Comment

The Financial Adviser’s 3-Step Guide to Perseverance

Advisers come to me for coaching as they find themselves working harder and harder to focus on what they want their outcomes to be, only to find that, at some point, they aren’t living up to their own expectations. When this happens, they feel frustrated, disappointed and anxious.

Successful advisers know they must dedicate themselves to working smarter by figuring out what works for them to lead them down the path to greater success, and what activities are time wasters and would be better off retired. The mantra needs to be, “Never give up on reaching your goals, just find innovative ways to persevere.”

William Feather said it best: “Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” In order to keep “hanging on,” you must define your purpose, continuously evaluate your activities and let your progress guide you to your destination.

Let’s take a deeper look at some best steps for this process and how they have helped one adviser.

Step 1: Know Your Purpose

If you want to see any great endeavor through to completion, you have to find a great reason to keep going. The best reason of all is knowing your purpose. The most important thing to do initially is define “why” you want to accomplish your goals, not necessarily “how”—that is secondary.

Todd, a 15-year veteran financial adviser, was frustrated at being on a production plateau when I first started coaching him. He asked me how he could work smarter and not just harder. Before getting into the details of what to do, I first needed to know his why. He confided in me that his mission was to help as many people as he could to set themselves up for a comfortable retirement.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Activities and Actions

Once you land on your purpose, it’s important to understand what’s working (or not). In other words, you must evaluate your activities and action steps to analyze if what you are doing is leading you in the right direction.

In Todd’s case, it didn’t take long to determine that he was working hard because he was using the wrong tools. Look at it this way: If your goal is to chop down a tree and you use a baseball bat, it’s going to take you a long time (if you ever get the tree down at all). All Todd needed to do was understand what prospecting tools were best for him, learn how to use them and establish a systematic way to evaluate the results. Over time, we did just that and he started to move people into and through the pipeline.

Step 3: Let Your Progress Guide You

When you know your purpose and sharpen your skill sets, you will increase the likelihood of successful outcomes. If you are struggling, it is so important to remember the proverb, “nothing succeeds like success,” and continue moving forward by using your recent milestones as stepping stones to reach new levels.

Todd saw the fruits of his labors and was excited because he was helping more people—and with much less effort than he had ever done before. In addition, he was no longer frustrated because he was off the production plateau that had prompted him to want to be coached. As a result, I explained that if he wanted to keep helping more people he had to regularly reinforce his purpose and fine-tune his skill sets.

Why The Adviser’s Guide to Perseverance Works

The reason this way of thinking works is because you have a tangible process for motivating persistence. In tough times when you feel like giving up, it is important to have a proven technique for creating tenacity.

If you would like a complimentary coaching session, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley

Daniel C. Finley is the president and co-founder of Advisor Solutions, a business consulting and coaching service dedicated to helping advisers build a better business.