Every financial advisor needs to act like an entrepreneur. It doesn't matter whether you are a self-employed business owner who coordinates all of your firm's moving parts yourself, or you're an employee at an organization with a huge infrastructure. Either way, you've got to manage your business wisely so that you can create long-term success.
Of course, doing so is one of the biggest challenges any advisor will face. My friend Michael Gerber, author of the bestselling book The E-Myth, recently summed it up nicely for me: People who go into business to do work they know how to do often make a fatal assumption - that because they know how to do that work, they therefore know how to build a business that does that work.
But that's simply not the case. In many instances, advisors spend so much time working in their practices - dealing with the day-to-day minutiae - that they have no time to do what great entrepreneurs must do: work on their businesses to create great enterprises with lots of value.
This is one reason why, when we conduct focus groups with advisors, they typically report these kinds of problems:
*We're working harder, but not seeing bigger results.
*We have a good revenue stream, but we're not profitable enough.
*We're not on the same page as our partners.
*We can't seem to execute as a team.
It's hardly surprising that nearly 40% of RIAs surveyed last year by my firm, CEG Worldwide, said they were not highly satisfied with their level of success.
With that in mind, here are some ideas Gerber and I came up with to unlock your inner entrepreneur and make sure you give the same level of care and consideration to your business you give to your clients.
1. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES
Too many advisors hope to stumble upon success, thinking if they keep at their work long enough, the opportunities will present themselves.
Yet when we talk to top financial advisors, they are expanding their businesses actively - largely through building relationships with other professionals. They seek out and work with professionals who have all the clients these advisors need. They also conduct exclusive group presentations to targeted members of their ideal niche markets.
In short, they go out and make things happen to generate new business opportunities.
2. BE INVENTIVE
Being an inventive entrepreneur in the advisory space doesn't require you to create a new product or service. It means seeing your business' promise and potential, and organizing your firm to deliver that potential, better than anyone else. It's about inventing a way to do your work as an advisor that no one else can replicate.
Entrepreneurs constantly look for a better way to do what they already do, but produce a better result. Think of your company as a special, unique system that can solve your clients' problems predictably, again and again.
This requires you to develop a vision of your firm and its future - a compelling picture of what your business will look like, say, five years from now, when you have successfully built a world-class consultative wealth management firm. Having a vision is important because it's irresistible - it pulls you into it and you feel yourself moving toward it.
Why are you in this business, and what is truly important about this business to you? Get past the easy answers that crop up initially, such as making money - that only scratches the surface. Go deeper in your thinking until you get to a clear and compelling purpose.
Knowing what you want to offer your clients, and what impact you want to have both professionally and personally, can give you a deep clarity of purpose and keep you excited even on days when you feel overwhelmed and overworked.
3. SHARE YOUR VISION
Great as your vision may be, it won't do much good if you don't share it and enlist others to buy into it. You must work to inspire people toward the desired results.
To get buy-in, you need to inspire your team, build trust and embed the right values. Your goal is to make your vision contagious. Your focus should be greatest on those who are in a position to help you most effectively - your team members.
There are two steps to this: First, gain their full commitment to your vision. Then provide leadership that motivates them to take their own efforts to a higher level.
To motivate others, you must communicate your vision in a clear and direct way that moves and touches people. Relate it to their own hopes and aspirations. And incorporate your own history - a compelling story that reveals the truth about who you are will attract others, both team members and potential clients.
To be a motivational leader, you must also walk the walk. Hold yourself to the same high standards that you have set for your team, and consistently demonstrate your passion for your business, your clients and your team.
4. BE SYSTEMATIC
Every person in your firm - including yourself - needs to use intelligent systems to produce consistent results. Your firm has to consistently replicate its work, no matter who is doing it. Without such orchestration, there is no scalability for your business or predictability for your clients and staff.
There are two key areas to systematize. One pertains to client experience: the steps you take to acquire, serve and communicate with clients. The other centers on business processes: things you do internally to manage the firm, generate revenues and profits, and build long-term equity.
To systematize these areas, work with everyone who has responsibility in each of the functional areas. See how they currently do each task and develop a workflow that eliminates repetitive steps and ensures that nothing falls between the cracks. Then document each step.
You'll end up with a best-practice document for each function. By creating a specific set of repeatable systems and processes, you can define a high-quality experience for clients and prospects (and staff) that can be duplicated time and time again.
Make sure that all workflow documents are shared among team members and with new hires, and that the information is easily accessible at all times. Your systems will only work if people follow them - so make it easy to do so.
The documentation can also increase the strategic value of your business by creating turnkey solutions. For example, well-documented best practices will show potential buyers that they can essentially come right in and run the firm without any interruption in service quality.
5. QUANTIFY RESULTS
The concept of doing better should always be measurable. If you're looking to improve the quality or quantity of new prospective clients, for example, you need to set goals and benchmark against them regularly.
Benchmarking your results against those of other advisors is another smart way to achieve success. By comparing yourself to your peers, you'll be able to see your overall position - and, more important, identify those areas of your practice where you are lagging or merely on par.
Make no mistake: Bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to your business takes a lot of thought, planning and effort. If it didn't, there would be more hugely successful entrepreneurs out there. But if you truly want an elite-level practice that generates great results now while simultaneously building significant equity down the road, it's imperative to think and act like an entrepreneur.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.