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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.

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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.


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Strategies for Measuring Success

Many financial planners measure their success by the end tally of new accounts, new assets and additional gross revenue. Unfortunately, some planners give up before reaching their set goal. Thomas Edison said it best when he said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

I truly believe that Mr. Edison was correct. However, focusing on the journey toward achieving success rather than the destination itself allows for focusing on productive activities while celebrating accomplishments along the way. Isn’t that what we all truly want—to actually enjoy what we do for a living?

Let’s take a deeper dive with a stepwise approach that can help you continuously measure progress instead of using the ultimate endgame in mind as your barometer.

Step 1: Compartmentalize the Goals

Goals are an important part of achieving success however if you don’t break down your goals into daily actions, they are very difficult to accomplish. That’s exactly why Edison conducted 10,000 experiments in order to invent the light bulb—he just kept at it.

Here is a real-world example of how client of mine used this type of process:

Robert E. was an adviser/insurance agent with four years of experience when his boss told him that his life insurance sales had spiraled downward from any other month in production. When Robert and I met, he informed me that he no longer had company minimum production standards to meet upon his four-year anniversary, which he had just passed.

Unfortunately, his boss and the company were taking notice and they were not happy with him. It was time to redefine his goals and map out his daily activities.

Step 2: Create a Game

The next step was to create a game, something that would be fun to do on a daily basis. Having coached hundreds of financial planners and insurance agents, I knew exactly what game would work best for Robert. So, I explained a “cross-selling” campaign that I call the “Oh, By the Way” game.

The title itself was a simple reminder that whenever he was talking to a client, he had to look at the account to see if they had their life insurance with him. If not, he began the conversation with, “Oh, by the way I know that we have been working together for some time now but I see that we aren’t helping you with your life insurance, why is that?” Next, he had to wait for any objections and use one of our “Handling Objections” tools to overcome it.

If he was able to overcome the objection, then he got to mark the accomplishment as a point and then attempt to continue earning himself points.

Step 3: Beat Your High Score

Motivation is an important step in turning daily activities into a habit. The best way I know to do this is to try and beat your personal record and to have daily accountability. At the end of each day, Robert would email me how many points he had earned. Every time he beat his high score he would reward himself with some type of motivating reward.

So, what happened to Robert?

At the end of the month, I called his boss to get his opinion on Robert’s progress. “I don’t know what you did to him but he’s having the best month of his career!” his boss proudly exclaimed. In other words, Robert was now enjoying the journey and the bonus was that his business was picking up as a result.

Why the “Game” Approach to Success Works

The reason this worked for Robert was because he focused on deliberate activities, made a game out of those and kept himself accountable (both with rewards and by checking in with me). When you change your mindset, you can have a good time doing activities that might have seemed like too much work previously. Viewing it through the lens of a game changed his trajectory.

If you would like a free coaching session with me, email Melissa Denham, our 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.


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It’s Not Just About Salary: Purposeful Staffing

I routinely get calls or questions from advisers about compensation for a staff position or junior adviser. Whether it involves hiring/retaining a junior person, or a staff member trying to make a case to their firm about how underpaid they are, the conversation is less about salaries (although it does come up) and more about incentive or variable compensation and bonus. Instead of providing a number or formula, I’ve been asking what would it take that person to leave your firm and why are you doing things? If you know what kind of firm you’re running, and what your goals are, you can be purposeful with compensation.

What Behavior Do You Want?

Over the years, I have lived by a simple rule when it comes to compensation: compensation, especially with variable comp, should be used to drive better behavior. More importantly, advisers shouldn’t have to stick with the same variable comp structure every year as priorities and goals may change. I ask the adviser to think about the goals of their firm, more importantly the leading indicators of success and tie the metrics around those indicators.

As I said, the conversations are changing lately—they are becoming broader. Today, we start with a conversation about work environment. We answer and discuss:

  • Is there a clear vision and purpose for the firm (Do you know where you are headed)?
  • Does the employee have/want the opportunity to grow and is the path laid out for them?
  • Is there a sense that the employee is fulfilled?
  • Is the employee valued?
  • Is compensation really the issue you are trying to solve for?

In my mind, staff more often leaves a business for reasons other than compensation. The biggest reason is always around the vison of the firm and where they fit.

Purposeful Staff

In our most recent paper, “The Purposeful Advisory Firm,” my co-author Raef Lee and I discussed the concept of value engineering for advisory firms. The idea was that an advisory firm has a few levers they can pull that can determine the firm’s direction. Moving a lever in the right direction can propel the firm toward successful enterprise or to a lifestyle firm. I think the people (staff) lever is the most important.

How you use talent can be the key to your success, so it is critically important to understand, communicate and plan for the direction of your firm before you discuss variable compensation with the staff. How can you decide on a number if you don’t know what you are paying for or the direction that the compensation will take your firm?

Lifestyle Versus Enterprise: Questions for You

Before you get into the dollars and cents of a compensation plan, I think it is important to ask questions that can help move that value lever:

  1. Do you aspire to take your firm to the next level? (In addition, can you define what that next level looks like?)
  2. Do you have the appetite for adding (and managing) more employees?
  3. Do you have it in you to fire yourself as adviser and hire yourself as CEO?

If you answer yes to all three of these questions, you are heading down that enterprise path. You will be busy with defining roles, job descriptions and creating a path for all your team members to grow within your firm. Yes means looking at a team approach to the client service model and possibly a chief operating officer hire. The enterprise variable compensation will look at the big picture of the firm and how you are building it for the future.

If you answer no, then the lifestyle approach may be calling you. And figuring out that variable compensation is going to be even more important. You should create a plan that reinforces longevity, continuity and service. The lifestyle firm cannot afford huge turnover that will force the adviser back in the day-to-day operations of the practice. Morale and culture are very important to retain existing clients and strengthen the brand of the no-doubt personality driven firm.

Consequences

Not having a purposeful compensation plan in place leads to employee retention issues. A purposeful plan leads to maximizing the hire for the future direction of your firm. I am often accused of sounding like an attorney (or an economist). When someone asks me about compensation, instead of a direct answer, I now say, “It depends on you.” What kind of firm do you want to be?

Editor’s Note: Join SEI and FPA for a webinar titled, “The Renaissance in Charitable Trust Planning,” at 2 p.m., Eastern, April 18. Register for the webinar here. Also, a version of this blog post first appeared on SEI’s practice management blog, Practically Speaking.

John Anderson

John Anderson is the managing director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network. He is responsible for all programs focused on helping financial advisers grow their businesses, create efficiencies in their operations and differentiate their practices. He is also the author of SEI’s practice management blog, Practically Speaking.