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Path to Mastery: What Alex Honnold’s Free Solo Climb Can Teach Planners About Creating Conditions for Success

My husband rock climbs, and he introduced me to Alex Honnold a few years back. Honnold is a free solo rock climber that climbed the 3,000-plus sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in 2017—without ropes. By definition, a free solo is a climb without ropes. It’s just you, your bare hands, your shoes and a chalk bag.

It’s beyond words impressive that Honnold accomplished this feat. But what’s truly mind-blowing is that he did this climb—which takes serious climbers with ropes 3 to 5 days—in a blistering 3 hours and 56 minutes. Mind blown.

It’s a performance like Honnold’s that captivates me and that I’ve always sought to understand and replicate. If he can overcome the very real risk of death to climb a rock, why do so many advisers struggle to achieve their goals, much less perform the kind of kick-assery that Honnold and other top performers achieve? I mean if he can climb a near mile of sheer rock with his bare hands, surely you have what it takes to double your practice and take time off.

Honnold’s Success Model

Honnold’s 10-minute Ted Talk has lessons for us all. It’s not obvious, but when Honnold describes his path to mastery, he’s following the success model we use in coaching: mapping, mindset, methods, momentum. Success leaves clues, and when you follow those clues, you get a front-row seat to the thinking, strategies and habits that create the conditions for success:

  • Mapping: Honnold describes how he set the goals for and approached two very different climbs and the difference it made in his performance. The first climb that he expected to be easy was a struggle, and the climb everyone said was impossible was almost effortless. If he can do this, you can create clarity with your Vision and Goals and a map to guide your efforts with a Business Blueprint. What do you envision for your practice and for your life? Create a list of clear goals for all areas of your life—business, family, friends, personal growth, health, finances, recreation, romance and physical environment. Be very clear what you want. Then work on your blueprint.
  • Mindset: Honnold talks about his mindset and learning to lock his fear away. He speaks of how his quest for mastery included spending countless hours of mental preparation using visualization, repeatedly envisioning thousands of finger grips in his mind to condition himself for a perfect performance. If he can do this, you can face your practice with a new level of confidence by creating a mindset reset and mastering the 7 Mindsets of Success I have shared many times in both my speaking engagements and on the FPA Coaches Corner.
  • Methods: Both rock climbing and financial planning have best practice methods that shortcut the path to mastery. Honnold does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to tying knots or setting anchors (he uses ropes when practicing his climbs). He doesn’t buy the cheapest equipment, and he’s part of a close community that collaborates and supports each other. Mapping and mindset are essential ingredients, but you can’t make a masterful cake with mediocre methods.
  • Momentum: There’s no missing Honnold’s momentum as he describes the journey from secretly wishing to conquer El Capitan to making the decision and forcefully applying all his energy and effort on that single goal. The sheer size of his goal required momentum of a magnitude the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. Momentum is the force and velocity with which you apply your energy and drives the timing and level of your results. Your momentum advances you in the direction you focus your attention, so focusing on what you want is paramount.

Implementing Honnold’s Success Model

So here’s the straight talk on stepping up and rockin’ it Honnold style:

  • Be responsible (stop making excuses). One of our limitless practice coaches, Matt Jarvis has an amazing directness about what it takes to be more successful, and I call this The Matt Mantra: “Don’t whine, just work.” Matt never makes excuses. He just does the work. He didn’t start out making real money and taking off 100 days a year. His journey to limitless success began when he got tired of disappointment and wanting more. Like Honnold, Matt has no room for excuses because there is no room for mediocrity in his business. You are more like Honnold than you know because while your consequences are very different, it’s as true for you as it is for Honnold: mediocrity kills. Explore these questions: What would your practice and life be like in a year if you stopped making excuses? What would it be like if you’d stopped making excuses 3 years ago?
  • Show up. Seriously, that’s the secret. Just show up in your world, engage and do the work. At some point, many of you have jumped in head first on the journey to excel and others are wondering where to begin. It is quite normal to feel equal parts excitement and overwhelm. Excited, because you know what’s possible and that there is a way to start making it happen; overwhelmed, because you have a full-time job, a busy life and now on top of all that you have to find time to learn and implement the ways to radically improve your business and your life and there will work involved. When you start feeling overwhelmed, your brain hits the brakes. We are all here to support you.
  • Progress, not perfection. This is a Dan Sullivan (co-founder of Strategic Coach) saying, and I love it. Let me be unmistakably clear: you will not always do all the work, you will not implement all of the new tools and ideas you receive and you will not be “done” at the end of 2019. It took me years to create the success I now enjoy, so while I’m giving you some serious shortcuts, it’s reasonable to assume it will take time to build the practice of your dreams. The good news is you don’t need to “do it all” to shift yourself into high gear and get great results this year. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just breathe and eat the elephant one bite at a time. This gets a lot easier if you simply narrow your focus to the priorities that matter most to you.

I love studying Alex Honnold, and other people living The 5 Freedoms, to find and share the strategies and habits of top performance.

As I tell my children as much as they can stand to hear: your body can do most anything, it’s your mind you have to convince.

Stephanie Bogan

Stephanie Bogan is the CEO of Educe, Inc., and former CEO/Founder of Quantuvis Consulting (sold to Genworth Financial in 2008) and has spent 20 years consulting with the profession’s top advisory firms and enterprises. Educe is focused on helping financial advisors, entrepreneurs and executives build wildly successful businesses and lives that they love by expanding their mindset and business methods in ways that help them experience greater levels of success, happiness, wealth and well-being in their work. Bogan is a coach in the FPA Coaches Corner.


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How Financial Planners Can Make Summer Prospecting Enjoyable and Easy

The summer season sends many financial practices into the doldrums. Business-building efforts don’t stop completely, but they sure slow down. Clients might be away or not interested in coming to the office, and advisers and staff likely have days off or extended vacations booked. Summer days drift away from one to the next without much impact. Then September comes—and advisers realize the end of the year is going to arrive before they’re ready for it. And what were those business growth goals, again?

The Perfect Time to Prospect

This year, why not spend the dog days of summer building your business? Of course, have fun and enjoy some leisure time off, but also think of all the ways you can boost your firm’s visibility and attract your ideal clients. To help get you started, consider the following ideas—they will delight your community and are loaded with great prospecting opportunities.

Summer safety session. Schedule a summer safety session and invite parents and grandparents with young children. For example, a session titled “Keep the Kids Safe This Summer” could attract lots of people. For added reach—and a community event worthy of PR—invite a few guest speakers such as a pediatrician, lifeguard or water safety instructor. Whether you discuss sunburn, poison ivy, ticks or water hazards, a safety session can attract both clients and prospects. Take pictures, give small gifts of bubbles or sidewalk chalk, and you’ve got great talking points and pictures for your website and LinkedIn and Facebook pages.

Sports team sponsorship. Consider sponsoring a sports team for the summer. Think about it: your firm’s name and logo will appear on T-shirts worn by little kids trying to hit a ball off a tee or score their first goal in soccer. The pictures alone will make it worth the investment, as many towns put pictures of kids’ teams in local newspapers and on their websites. But you can do so much more:

  • Take pictures and put them on your website, with captions such as, “We’re proud to sponsor the Riverdale Green Hornets!”
  • Go to games and meet the parents and grandparents of the players.
  • Invite some of your clients to attend a game with you.
  • Sponsor a pizza party at the end of the season and mingle with the parents.
  • Bring popsicles or ice cream treats for the players and fans.

These simple activities can have a huge effect and get you talked about in the community, for very little expense.

Community events. If you’re a solo adviser or small firm, create an event for your clients that leverages a bigger event in your area. Many towns hold free summer concerts in a local park or show family movies on a big screen in a nearby field or stadium. Check out your local town’s recreation brochure or website to see what’s available, decide on a guest list and make your plans accordingly.

  • For clients with children, invite them to join you to watch family-friendly choices or the movie of the week. Tell them you’ll have blankets and refreshments ready and where you’ll be set up in the park. Bring coolers of soft drinks or ice cream novelties, have some boxes of movie candy and popcorn on hand, and you’re done!
  • For older clients, be sure you have lawn chairs available so that people will be comfortable, and bring some blankets in case the weather cools. If your town allows it, a simple wine and cheese picnic held outside while listening to music could be something your clients talk about long afterwards. And, of course, let your clients know their friends are welcome to join in the fun.

Ice cream social. Do you have a popular ice cream stand in your area? If so, invite clients to join you on a certain date and time and treat them to the ice cream of their choice. Yes, it really can be that simple! People are always looking for an excuse to get out in the summer, and who can turn down an ice cream cone? Especially one with sprinkles. Plus, you’ll be sponsoring a local business and having fun at the same time.

Putting Smiles in Your Posts

No matter what event you choose, don’t forget the power of pictures! Posting heartwarming photos of your events is an incredibly valuable way to spread your firm’s name and gain community goodwill. (Remember, you’ll need to get client approval for picture use, but most are happy to give permission.) Here are some simple ways to share the fun:

  • Post the pictures on your website, Facebook or LinkedIn page, or other social media platforms.
  • Send clients an email and attach a few pictures that they (or their children) are featured in. Your clients can post the photos to their personal Facebook pages—and hopefully mention your firm.
  • Create a collage of the pictures from your event and hang it in your reception area or conference room. This makes a great visual for prospects.

Making the Summer Sizzle

Summer can be the ideal time to plant the seeds for future growth. With some careful planning and creativity, you can turn the slow days of summer into growth momentum for your business.  Kristine_McManus_2_lg

Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University.


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Reinvention: Why It’s Required to Drive Lasting Success

Do you want your business to outlast you? Some advisers set this goal when they design a firm. For others, the focus comes as they anticipate transitioning their business to a new generation of ownership when they approach the end of their career.

There are no universals when it comes to timing for the business life cycle. The life cycle is the pace at which a practice evolves from inception to growth, maturity and eventually a final stage of decline. If there is no intervention to reinvent the firm, the natural life cycle of the business will rule. The length of each phase is unpredictable. For example, growth can come in a year or develop over many years. But is there a universal requirement for creating success that will endure? Yes. It’s the willingness to reinvent your business.

What Does Reinvention Require?

Reinvention requires a magnitude of change that ushers in an entirely new approach to doing business. For example, the introduction of the robo-adviser created a radically different way to work with clients. No matter what you think of this technology, it was radical enough to disrupt the industry. Since “robo-advice” was introduced, it has been continually improved. Today, the digital approach has morphed to add human service components. In turn, advice given by human advisers has shifted to include digital components. Another client-centric reinvention is the growing interest in responsible investing, as advisers respond to client demand by integrating environmental, social and governance factors into investment decision-making. These are only two examples of reinvention, but they demonstrate its essence: major transformation in response to market forces and industry changes.

Beyond Continual Improvement

Reinvention differs from the concept of continual improvement. Many advisers rightfully believe their business is improving all the time. Improvements may include streamlining the way data is collected from clients, implementing enhancements to customer relationship management, adopting new technology, updating forms for greater efficiency and enhancing internal communication. Although continual improvement is needed to run a solid business, it’s not as radical as reinvention.

Timing Is Everything

Every business is different, but one thing is clear: reinvention is essential long before a practice reaches the decline stage. If one waits that long, it will be too late to save the business. The faster the pace of industry change, the greater the need for reinvention. As such, an adviser needs to be prepared to reinvent his or her practice. In fact, it is likely that radical change will need to happen multiple times to keep a firm in the growth stage. The greatest danger is waiting too long to begin the reinvention process. Maturity can be a long or short phase. This means that strategic shifts should be part of every firm’s business planning process.

Is Age a Factor?

It isn’t a factor for everyone, of course. But as advisers age, some understandably do not embrace change with the same enthusiasm of their younger years. Many advisers keep all their energy focused on their next client meeting. Why stir the pot with worries of reinvention when business is good or when an adviser is moving to a lifestyle practice? Most advisers love meeting with their clients. The responsibilities of being the CEO and running a business pale in comparison. But if advisers lose passion for leading their business, it’s not likely that they will be leading the reinvention process. To guard against unforeseen problems, advisers entering the home stretch of their careers need to incorporate additional focus on strategic direction as part of the business planning process.

Nurturing the Life Cycle of Your Business

Some advisers might think that reinvention—a change of magnitude—is not possible due to the constraints of industry providers and government regulations. I believe that, despite these limitations, every adviser is empowered to adapt to change and adopt new tools, technology and practice models at every stage of a career and the life cycle of a business. The key is to embrace reinvention to keep the firm in the growth stage.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.