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Beyond the Blame Game: 3 Steps to Incorporate Responsibility Into Your Business

In today’s climate, many sources are quick to place blame on the reasons for changes in our economy and overall market volatility. Likewise, many advisers have a tendency to do something similar when having to explain to others the state of their business. Statements like, “If the market would cooperate, I would be doing better,” or “Clients don’t see the urgency in getting together while the market is doing well,” are simply examples of excuses for not taking responsibility. The consequence in making those excuses is the possible outcomes. Attending to your clients and their portfolios during both up and down markets is vital.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he said, “No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.”

Successful advisers know that true growth is really up to oneself regardless of what is going on both in and out of your control. You must be willing to be honest about what is currently working and not working for you. Then, you must be willing to adjust and adapt to changing conditions. Next, you must decide on what actions will actually guide you toward positive results. Implementing those activities and continually assessing your results will keep you accountable to yourself and prevent the “because of everyone else” blame game.

Let’s take a look at specific steps for how you can incorporate responsibility into your business.

Step No. 1: Be Completely Honest

Honesty truly is the best policy and what better person to be honest with than yourself. However, many advisers find it difficult to admit that they themselves are the true cause of their own not-so-great results. Let me share about one adviser who I’ve worked with to identify his shortfalls and some solutions we utilized for replacing them.

Bill T. is a 15-year veteran financial adviser who found himself on a production plateau. After years of building up a client base, he simply stopped prospecting. His rationale was that he had “made it” and that anyone with his years of experience should not have to prospect. However, his company did not share the same point of view and thus was not happy with Bill’s level of production.

So, during one of our coaching sessions I asked Bill a number of questions to determine his honest view about prospecting. It didn’t take long before he realized that he needed to change his perspective about prospecting from being an obstacle to being an opportunity.

Step No. 2: Adjust and Adapt to Changing Conditions

One of the hardest things to do once you face the truth is to make the necessary shifts in both attitude and tasks. The best way to do this is to create a well-thought-out action plan. Take time to develop it and be realistic about your own expectations. In Bill’s case, he knew he needed to get back to prospecting but had no idea where to begin since it had been quite some time since he had prospected. So, we mapped out an action plan together.

We first determined his target market, which was business owners. Then, we worked on how to approach them by scripting out a formula for what to say during the initial contact. Next, we worked on brainstorming every possible objection he might hear and how to overcome them to set appointments. Finally, we practiced the process so that his first call would sound flawless.

Step No. 3: Implement and Evaluate Your Action Plan

Now it is time to implement in real time and constantly be evaluating (and tweaking) your action plan to fine-tune it to work optimally.

This is best done by determining what time of the day you will do particular tasks and sticking to that blocked time. You also need to allocate the time to record your daily activities and record the outcome on a daily, weekly and monthly.

After several weeks, Bill realized that his pipeline was starting to fill up with qualified prospects that were interested in meeting with him. Organically, he began turning those prospects into clients. His company took notice and asked him if he would be interested in teaching other advisers how he had turned things around.

Why Taking Responsibility Works

The reason why taking responsibility for your own success works is because it’s not anyone else’s responsibility for you to succeed. And choosing to blame the economy, the market, your firm or others will always result in a losing game.

If you would like a complimentary coaching session with me, please 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.


Is Your Firm in Growth Mode?

Over the years, I’ve worked with advisers at all levels of production and from all types of firms. Most tell me they are very busy—and they truly are. But as I often mention in our consultations, you don’t ever want to be too busy to grow.

Of course, most advisers have active day-to-day schedules. But at the end of the year, many haven’t added any new clients. They usually come to that realization when something goes wrong: several large clients pass away or assets are transferred away unexpectedly. Suddenly, they are interested in prospecting and gaining referrals, but those skill sets may have withered away from lack of use.

Having a firm culture that promotes growth is also tremendously important in attracting great staff and retaining them. Have you ever heard of someone eager to work in a place where everything stays the same, where there are no plans to expand, and where it’s basically as good as it’s ever going to get? Me neither. Growth in a firm benefits everyone—from advisers, to service folks, to support staff and operations. Practices in growth mode present opportunities for personal and professional development. Clients also benefit, as firms add resources and skills to their offerings.

Which brings me to your plans for growth in the years ahead. It’s okay to be particular when accepting new clients and to tailor your business to segments where you add the most value. But if you’re not growing, you’re dying (as the saying goes).

Since so many advisers are skilled planners, I’m taking it as a given that many of you have business plans that are thoughtful, strategic and in writing. (Let’s also assume that your entire team was engaged in the process of developing these plans.) To help determine if your firm is truly in growth mode, think about the past three to five years and ask yourself the following questions:

Did You Meet Your Growth Rate Goals?

If yes, why? Take a look at where you set realistic and stretch goals, and then spend some time thinking about where you succeeded. Did you undertake a marketing initiative that brought in prospects? Did you host an event where clients brought guests? It’s important to analyze where you’ve had favorable outcomes so you can build repeatable processes. It will also help you figure out what exactly in your team’s skill sets led to those positive results. For example, if your staff excels at putting on events and you meet great prospects that way, build more workshops and events into your calendar.

If you didn’t meet your goals, why not? Were you overly optimistic on a few RFPs you sent out, or did the pace of referrals slow down? Were prospects looking for expertise or services you don’t offer? Did you lose more clients than expected? The knowledge you gain here will be enormously helpful moving forward. The idea isn’t to blame anyone (either yourself or a team member). Rather, it is to learn from your experiences so you can plan ahead strategically.

One adviser I work with had three great prospects who came in to see him. Each had been very positive about working with him. But after the meetings, they all decided to go elsewhere. The adviser and his team spent some time assessing why and how they lost the prospects. They came to the realization that they needed to redo their office space. High-net-worth prospects didn’t appreciate the copier’s prominent position in their reception area, and the dingy carpet didn’t communicate the exclusivity they wanted to convey. A year after upgrading their space, they are again turning those prospects into ideal clients.

How Many New Clients Did You Add Each Year?

This is a pretty simple question, but I’m surprised how frequently advisers can’t answer it. Can you? You get bonus points if you track this information and can answer quickly and easily. Tracking new clients (e.g., who referred them, how you met them, how they progressed through your pipeline) allows you to understand where your new clients are coming from, so you can duplicate the process that attracted them.

Adding new clients to your practice is one of the surest signs of growth I know. It’s nice to say that you have 10 percent or 15 percent growth year over year. All too often, however, that’s due to market appreciation of assets. What happens when the markets work against you? You want to continually add clients to your practice, both for the new assets they bring in today and for the pool of prospects they might introduce to you in the future.

If you can, try to involve your staff. One adviser I spoke with gives his staff colored sticky notes to keep near their phones. If they hear a client say something that could lead to a referral (e.g., “My brother is moving to town”), they jot it down. The notes are then discussed at staff meetings and follow-up opportunities identified. Even if your practice is at the point where you don’t need many new clients (lucky you!), you should still be looking to add a few large, ideal clients every year.

How Many Introductions Did Clients or COIs Give You?

This is another metric that is worth tracking carefully. You should have a good handle on how many introductions you receive. A steady stream of referrals is a vote of confidence and worth noting, while a dwindling referral supply can indicate potential problems. Tracking helps ensure that you thank all the referees and helps you understand how many prospects you need to meet in order to gain a new client. Do you have a 4:1 closing ratio, or is it closer to 2:1? Understanding your key metrics helps you keep your pipeline full and manage client onboarding.

So, Are You in Growth Mode?

In evaluating your answers, does it seem like you are in growth mode? If you couldn’t quickly and easily respond to these questions, you may have your answer. But if you’re looking to create a culture of growth at your firm, there’s no time like the present to begin.


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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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.