3 Steps to Run Your Business Like a Genius

Albert Einstein is not the only genius to acknowledge that whether the subject is something as vast as the universe or as microscopic as an atom, there is a process involved.

In order for something to work effectively it must be rooted in a foundation of a successful process. Your business is no different. In order for you to be effective in building, running and maintaining a successful business, you need to have well-thought-out systems. You can operate your business in one of two ways: leave your success up to chance, or map out your methods and procedures.

Successful planners know that mapping out a new system, method or procedure is a process in and of itself. Let’s take a look at specific steps to incorporate new stepping stones into your business future.

Step No. 1: Understanding Where You Are

As a professional development coach, I’ve said often that when it comes to your business you must be completely transparent with yourself. That’s why it is important to look at every aspect of your business and ask, “Where am I with this?” In other words, what is working, what is not working and why.

John D., a 20-year veteran financial planner who realized that most of what he was doing in his business was reactive in nature, in areas such as time management, client servicing, prospecting and even with his sales process—he didn’t have a systematic, step-wise approach to any of these aspects of his business.

Ironically, not having a process was his process, so when a client called with a question or request, he dropped everything and took care of it. When he did decide to prospect by asking for referrals, he’d typically say, “Who do you know that I could introduce myself to?” This was followed with the client replying, “I can’t think of anyone but if I do I will let you know.” It’s interesting to note that in this example he actually did have a process for asking for referrals. However, it was not at all effective.

Step No. 2: Understand Where You Want to Be

Sometimes it can be difficult for a planner to realize that they have been running a reactive business simply because they have never been taught any other way.

In John’s case, I simply explained that successful planners have a proactive business model because they have an effective and repeatable methodology for everything! As I went into the details John began to recognize that having this type of business was exactly what he wanted (and needed).

Step No. 3: Learn and Implement

Then it was time to map out and create a business systems manual for John to refer to any time he found himself wondering how to manage something. This is best done by taking each facet of your business finding a colleague or mentor who has an effective approach that you desire to emulate.

So as to not overwhelm John, we started with time management. I showed him tools and techniques for architecting structure for his day, a way to prioritize interruptions and make a game out of sticking to the steps with a daily reward and punishment incentive. It didn’t take him long to start feeling more in control of this time. Once John felt he had a handle on one business facet we went onto another one.

Why Running a Business like a Genius Works

Repurposing another’s successful systems means you don’t have to craft something from scratch—which can be overwhelming. You do have to implement and follow whatever steps you outline for yourself. Having a plan makes sense and you don’t have to be Einstein to know that.

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.








The Reality of CFP Exam Prep

Back in 2003, when I was single, 26, not working and freshly minted with my master’s degree from Texas Tech University, I was singularly committed to studying for the CFP® exam.

I passed the exam on my first try.

My two months and 250 hours of study rule of thumb is good if passing the exam is the only priority in your life. It worked for me because I was not working and laser-focused on studying for the exam.

I realize my situation is not the norm. While I won’t get into the battle of which study prep outfit is better—it’s all subjective and should be determined based on how the individual chooses to study based on their learning preferences. The part I will give recommendations on is study time and study behavior—even if you don’t have all the time to study like I did.

The Honest Assessment

If the exam is not the only thing in your life and you have other commitments, you have to do an honest assessment of your life leading up to the exam and go beyond my two months and 250 hour studying rule. Assess how important passing the CFP® exam is relative to everything else in your life.

Here’s a quick assessment to do:

  • Write “CFP exam” in the middle of a piece of paper.
  • Do you have a spouse or significant other? Put that person’s name above the exam.
  • Do you have a job? Put that above the exam.
  • Do you have kids? Put their names above the exam.
  • What other time commitments does your life demand? Put those down, too.
  • For every item written above the exam, add 20 to 25 hours of dedicated study time. Don’t spread this time over more than a couple of weeks.

My experience was to eat, breathe and sleep the CFP® exam with absolutely no other commitments for my time. I spent about 10 weeks or 250 to 300 hours of study while also enrolled in a long-form review course.

When I was preparing for the exam, the financial planning faculty at Texas Tech were offering an eight- or 10-week review course on campus. I took a random day off each week to decompress because I had more time than commitments. I studied more on days we had class and at least four hours on days we didn’t. Being a recent graduate, I was still able to use the university library and reserve a private study room. I had saved enough money during a semester in Singapore that I didn’t need to work to cover expenses. And, renting a room in a house also helped me save money.

The Time Commitments

Most people’s reality is they have a full-time job in the financial planning profession, and many have a spouse or significant other.

Be realistic about your time commitments. Your job takes up 40 hours a week and the odds are high that you will not be able to study during work hours.

Your relationship requires time and attention. Life happens. You need to have a serious conversation with your spouse or partner as you build out your study calendar. If you are trying to cram 250 to 300 hours into 10 weeks, it will take sacrifice and understanding. There are 1,680 hours in 10 weeks. You sleep for 560 of these hours, assuming you sleep eight hours a night. No one bounces out of bed ready to go, so budget another 100 hours for getting ready for and winding down from the day. Your job requires at least 400 of these hours.

If your average commute to work is one hour each way, there goes another 100 hours. While this time can be used to listen to relevant podcasts and recorded lectures, it’s not full-on study time. We are down to 520 hours.

You can see where this is going—we haven’t even scheduled time with our loved ones and 70 percent of our time is spoken for. If you have children or other commitments, they will require your time and attention through this process. You need to find a way to carve out three to four hours of dedicated and uninterrupted time in your day, every day.

The Big Mistake

As you can see, time is precious. Don’t waste time studying what you already know. The biggest study mistake I see people make is doing just that.

Your mind is going to draw you to spend time on what you know because you get the answers correct and it makes you feel good. But you must be disciplined and study the things you hate and aren’t good at. In my case I have a bachelor’s in corporate finance and a master’s in personal financial planning. Outside of the classroom time devoted to investments and tax, I never cracked open my Dalton materials to those sections. However, the retirement and estate planning sections of my books were marked up, flagged and tattered by the end of it.

Behind the Curtain

I wish I could say that I was a model student with a natural ability to efficiently prepare for exams—I was not. I wish I could say that no one was surprised I passed the CFP® exam the first time—they were.

But the one thing that I did have to my advantage was that I understood the seriousness of the CFP® exam early on and adjusted my study habits to fit the challenge (thank you to the late professor Robert E. Barnhill III for showing me how demanding the CFP® exam was going to be).

Accepting the Challenge

While it might feel like an impossible feat to pass the exam when you have a full-time job and other commitments, it is doable. You must be honest with yourself and your loved ones about how demanding the exam preparation is going to be. There is no way to study just enough to pass—you must be over prepared. If that means three months and 350 hours of study for you, take ownership of the process and move forward.

Jason McGarraugh

Jason McGarraugh, CFP® is a financial adviser with Neal Financial Group. Connect with him on LinkedIn

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the February issue of the FPA Next Generation Planner. Download the app (in the Apple App Store and Google Play) and issue today if you haven’t yet done so for more CFP Exam tips. 

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Stay Productive: Change the Way You Think About To-Do Lists

Have you ever gotten to the end of a busy workday and you think, “What did I even accomplish today?” You know you did a lot but you’re unsure if you made progress in the key areas of your business. This is common for many advisers.

To increase our productivity at work, we need to change the way we organize our most important tasks (see this Streamline My Practice blog post on the secret to planner productivity). What most advisers do is create a to-do list. But there are three problems with these lists that have caused high performers to find a better way.

Problem No. 1: To-do lists continue to grow as the day goes on. To-do lists quickly become an unending wish list of things we hope to get done. It becomes another burden in our already stressful life.

We have more to do than what can be done and we are guaranteed to have multiple fires show up every day. When those fires happen, we are going to focus on the urgent, rather than the important. Adding these things to our lists adds the extra mental stress of knowing that we won’t be able to accomplish it all.

Problem No. 2: We want to check of the shortest item on our list. It’s proven that people get a good feeling from checking something off on a to-do list. Our brain is getting a little shot of dopamine every time we do this. Checking more things off our list makes us feel better. We are prone to finding and accomplishing first the easiest things on our list, rather than tackling the big, most important projects.

Problem No. 3: To-do lists do not identify length of time for a project. Some of our highest value activities can be listed as one to-do item, which might take 90 minutes to complete. Looking at a to-do list will give us no idea how much time we should be budgeting to accomplish these things.Thankfully, there is something you can start doing today that will greatly increase your productivity.

Live from Your Calendar

Top advisers and other high performers don’t use to-do lists. Rather they focus all their energy on their calendar. If they want to accomplish something, they schedule it. They live from their calendar.

Using the calendar approach will free your mind. One of the best things about using your calendar as your project manager is that you will never have to have the feeling of wondering what you did all day. By starting the day looking at your calendar, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. You’ll be able to accomplish the most important thing you have on your list at the right time.

Here are a few helpful tips to test out this method of using the calendar:

  1. Schedule in chunks.
  • When do you do your best work? When are you most focused? If it’s early in the morning, then it makes sense to schedule time for your high-focus actions in the morning. Blocking all else out during that chunk will help you focus.
  • When do you enjoy talking to clients the most?
  • Think about what’s most important in your life: exercise, family, work, etc. Make sure time for these things is blocked off.
  1. Plan ahead.
  1. Reschedule when something gets in the way.
  • When a true emergency “fire” eventually does get in the way of one of your calendared tasks, reschedule the task for another time or day.

Take the next step and try using your calendar this week to schedule your most important tasks. At the end of the week, reflect to see if you got more done.



Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL