The need to truly "wow" your clients with exceptional service and customized attention has never been greater than now, when affluent investors are evaluating (and reevaluating) their advisors more closely than ever. That means it's hugely important to manage your business as effectively as possible.
Delivering superior service and optimizing your business practices don't just happen on their own. To get these jobs done, you need to blueprint the right systems and processes to ensure your whole team moves forward in the right direction.
When I say system, I mean integrated components that work together in a predictable fashion. Process refers to a sequence of specific activities performed repeatedly to deliver a consistent result. And blueprint is the description and documentation of these systems and processes in a business plan. This means writing down procedures in detailed steps, often using a flowchart for clarity, and then updating that blueprint whenever you make an improvement to a system or process.
If you want to position your practice at the elite level, your business must become your product. You must create a turnkey operation almost anyone could run, even if you exit. Your goal is to build and blueprint the systems and processes your firm uses to acquire clients and deliver superior service, as well as the business systems and processes that support those efforts and keep your business performing at the top of its game.
KEY SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES
There are two major categories of systems and processes every successful financial advisory business needs to build, master and blueprint. The first consists of your client experience systems, which are dedicated to acquiring, servicing and communicating with customers.
There are four major systems in your business directly responsible for the client experience, from the time a person first becomes a prospect, knowing that your prospects and clients come into direct contact with these systems. Each must be defined in detail, proven and perfected to a world-class level, then blueprinted in detail:
* The marketing system, which makes members of your target market niche aware of your firm and its expertise in addressing their financial challenges;
* The client acquisition system, which pulls qualified prospects into your firm;
* The client service system, which ensures a high-quality experience for every client;
* The client communication system, which makes certain all clients are receiving the type and amount of contact they want.
The second major category of systems and processes is your business systems. These internal systems are collectively responsible for efficient management, generation of profit and creation of equity for your business. These are the systems that you, your partners and staff encounter every day. Each of these systems and processes must also be defined, perfected and blueprinted precisely in your business plan. You should have four primary business systems:
* The business planning system, in which you define and progress toward becoming the practice you want;
* The human capital system, in which you identify, hire, motivate, evaluate and compensate your staff and free agents;
* The financial system, in which you develop and use a robust set of reporting and control tools;
* The compliance system, in which you ensure that your business satisfies the range of regulatory requirements.
CREATING SUCCESSFUL BLUEPRINTS
Chances are you already have ideas about how various tasks should work. There are two problems, however, when these systems and processes exist only in your mind and are not blueprinted: The systems never become a clear reality for anyone else in the firm and, because the systems exist only in your head, they are probably changing often.
By creating a specific set of repeatable systems and processes, you create a defined and high-quality experience for clients and prospects that can be duplicated time and again. You also create that type of experience internally for your staff. When those processes are blueprinted, the documentation itself increases the strategic value of the business by creating turnkey solutions. For example, complete blueprints will show a potential buyer that your records are thorough and that you're running the business well.
That's why every system and process your firm uses should be benchmarked and blueprinted. All employees must become entrepreneurs in their own right. Operations must be transparent, with each key person understanding your financial, operations and marketing strategies. All employees must be responsible for their decisions - and for making the right decisions.
To create successful blueprints, take these three steps for each of the systems and processes above:
* Collect the best practices. Work with every individual or group with responsibility in each of the functional areas of all systems.
* Document standards. Go through every system, process and procedure step-by-step. Record how each step is performed along with how each fits in the big picture. If necessary, create a flowchart for clarity.
* Make the blueprints accessible to all. File all system and process blueprint documentation in an electronic file that's easily accessible to everyone in the firm.
Advisor James Twining of Financial Plan in Bellingham, Wash., and his team have enjoyed major benefits from their blueprinting efforts. They invested considerable time defining the steps involved in all the firm's key functions - from the secretary's daily activities to the client on-boarding process to the full range of compliance duties and beyond. "We are an office of only six people, but even we found the organizational challenges to be overwhelming much of the time," he says. "The time to outline all the steps in our processes was substantial - don't expect it to be a quick job - but the payoff has been great."
Twining cites examples such as all staff members knowing exactly what they need to do each day, and a seamless client service process that lists duties before, during and after meetings with prospects and clients. "Everything is spelled out in writing - from what beverage the client likes and how the office should be set up to what paperwork needs to be ready," he says.
:The client experience is so important these days [that] when things fall through the cracks it really shows. Well, nothing is falling between cracks anymore because everyone knows exactly what to do. So clients feel like we have anticipated all their needs. That also allows us to do more. We have three advisors and can run nine high-level meetings a day with no problems or mistakes because we are so efficient now."
To ensure the entire team is on the same page, Twining created a tool in Excel that any team member can use to access a procedures manual for a particular process. That comes in handy, especially for complex tasks such as compliance. "We have pages upon pages of step-by-step compliance duties. Instead of trying to remember all the things that need to happen, I can quickly find those tasks and go right through the list."
To capture the benefits that blueprinting offers, be deliberate about the process and devote the time it requires. Because everyone will be working from the same book, the documentation will set the standard for your entire company. Gain consensus from your staff on the importance of building great systems and processes to ensure a great client experience at every contact.
By getting your systems and blueprints in place - taking the time to be introspective, documenting each step of your operation, taking the focus off yourself and being consistent in your plan - you can create a turnkey business that will perform at a world-class level, where your staff enjoys working and someone else can walk in and run without disruption.
John J. Bowen Jr. is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm dedicated to helping advisors become more successful.