Steve Jobs' business career is remarkable by any standard. His ability to go from boy wonder co-founder of Apple Computer, to Chairman and CEO of Pixar, to the largest individual shareholder of The Walt Disney Company, to ousted executive who returned to save Apple and turn it into a seemingly unbeatable brand, is simply amazing. While he made plenty of mistakes in his youth, he matured into a very successful businessman with some profound thoughts on business success. While Jobs’ ideas are applicable to broader business, upon close examination they seem tailor-made for the financial advisor in particular. 

“Connect the dots.”

Over time, all of us have incredible life experiences, sometimes positive, and sometimes  not. Regardless of the outcome, they ultimately shaped the person you are today. Everything that has happened to you in your past has the ability to positively affect you in the present—if you connect the dots. Jobs relates a story about how on a whim, he dropped in on a calligraphy class while he was attending Reed College back in the early 1970s. At the time, he found the class utterly fascinating, but totally useless. It wasn’t until 10 years later, when he was designing the Macintosh computer, that he was able to connect the dots. The result…the Macintosh became the first computer with beautiful typography and it became a huge hit in the desktop publishing industry.   

Think for a moment about some of your life experiences. What lessons have you learned? What stories can you create from these lessons that you can share with your clients to deepen your relationship with them? Stories are the best way to turn a complicated idea into an understandable teaching point, so don’t be afraid to leverage your life experiences, even those you think have no bearing on your current reality – connecting the dots can be a powerful method of uncovering your inner innovator.  

What dots can you connect to make your business better?

“Say no.”

There is no shortage of opportunities in this business. However, there is a shortage of conviction. The easy thing to do is to go to a meeting, hear a few good ideas, then go out and try them. When that does not work, you go to another meeting or hear another speaker and repeat the process with similar unacceptable results. Soon, you find yourself literally trying everything, and successfully completing nothing. Jobs does the opposite. He’s an obsessive focuser on a small number of things that are truly important to him.

How many major products does Apple sell? Essentially four: the Macintosh computer, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. With just four main product lines, Apple has a market capitalization of more than $200 billion. Despite pleas from analysts and other pundits, Jobs has resisted the call to offer lower-end products and milk the company’s great brand. He said, “It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” Having a well thought-out and focused mission statement is a great place to start. A quality mission statement can act as a “not to do” list. If you’re considering new opportunities, check your mission statement. If the new opportunity doesn’t fit your mission, move on.

What can you say “no” to so you have room to say “yes” with complete conviction to something else that’s more important?

“Quality, not quantity.”

Many of the advisors that I’ve worked with over the years had more than 500 clients. By financial measures, these advisors had successful businesses that generated substantial revenue and comfortable profits. Yet who got shortchanged in that deal? The clients! None of those advisors would ever go on the record as saying they did a great job of taking care of all of their clients. Typically, 20 percent received great care and the other 80 percent were mainly an entry in a database.  This is not due to a lack of good intentions; it is simple math and human capacity. These advisors did not have the time to meet once or twice a year with 500 clients let alone have a meaningful advisor to client human connection.

At Pixar, where Jobs built the firm from peanuts into a company that he sold to The Walt Disney Company for $7.4 billion, there is no 80/20 rule. It’s simply what I call the Rule of 100™—every effort gets 100% support. Accordingly, Pixar delivered an average of only one movie every 18 months; a weak pace by major movie studio standards. However, the result was anything but weak. Pixar has generated more than $6.5 in worldwide box office receipts since 1995—and they’ve had no bombs.

How can you restructure your business to deliver 100 percent quality to 100 percent of your clients 100 percent of the time?

“Hire the best.”

Quality work starts with quality employees. For many advisors, finding and retaining quality staff members is a perennial issue. Advisors are tempted to hire the first person that marginally fits the bill. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for long-term pain. It’s better to bite the bullet now and continue pursuing the right person, rather than settle for an average candidate who is destined to deliver mediocre results. Like other notable business leaders, Jobs devotes a material amount of his time to “working the phones” and talking to prospective employees that he thinks can be A-list players on his team. At the end of the day, there are no weak links in his executive suite.

If you currently have no support staff, then go out and hire your first person. Without staff, you’ll have a job, but you’ll never have a business. In fact you and your clients will find yourselves perennial victims of the afore-mentioned 80/20 rule. If you have existing staff, continue to support and nurture your “A” players. For your weaker links, work with them to try to get them to “A” status. If they can’t make the jump after you’ve given them every opportunity to do so, it’s time to let them go. While letting someone go is never easy, I’ve found that if their employment is not working for you, it’s not working for them either. By giving them a compassionate push out the door, you’ll enable them to find another job that’s a better fit for their interests and skill set.

How can you upgrade your staff and which A-list players should you be calling to add to your team?

“Don’t settle.”

It’s a pattern that I've seen repeated over and over again. An advisor rises to a level of production that makes them comfortable and then they coast. They have the house, the cars, the vacations, the club membership, and the kids’ college education pre-funded. It’s the American dream. No need to push yourself any further by asking for a referral or making more calls, right?

Recently, our company, Peak Advisor Alliance, delivered a three-day True Wealth Institute for approximately 65 advisors. The attendees were highly successful financial advisors who wanted to add life planning to their practice. Interestingly, by material standards, these advisors had it all—they were an embodiment of the American Dream. Yet here they were, spending three full days in Omaha, Nebraska learning how to keep growing. What they were seeking was not just business growth; it was personal growth, too.

When you get to a point in your life where you are comfortable, coasting is the worst thing you can do. You’ll get stale, disenchanted, and start feeling that indefinable ache. The key is this—if growing your business is no longer satisfying, it’s time to start growing your self.

When I talk about growing your “self,” I don’t mean this in a self-absorbed egoistic way. I’m talking about using your life’s wisdom to reach out to the world in new ways; stretching yourself in terms of how you can impact others. Perhaps you do this by adding life planning to your practice. Perhaps you start giving back to the industry by teaching or mentoring industry newcomers. Perhaps you start volunteering more.

Jobs says, “We’re just trying to make great products. We do things where we feel we can make a significant contribution.” To him, it’s about staying focused. It’s about creating products that are, “insanely great.” It’s about loving what you do and doing it with all your energy. Don’t settle for anything less.

Instead of settling, where could you start growing?

In a 2004 BusinessWeek interview, Jobs reflected on his personal growth that resulted from him successfully bouncing back from cancer. He said,

“I realized that I loved my life. I really do. I’ve got the greatest family in the world, and I’ve got my work. I love my family, and I love running Apple, and I love Pixar. And I get to do that. I’m very lucky.”

By following this simple plan—connecting the dots, saying no to the unimportant and yes to the most important, focusing on quality, not quantity, hiring the best, and not settling—you too can end up with a life you love. Do that and you’ll be one of the lucky few in this life who can look back at the end of their days and say with great conviction, “It was a life well lived.”

Steve Sanduski, CFP, is the Managing Partner of Peak Advisor Alliance, a financial advisor coaching and practice management resources organization. He is also the co-author of the New York Times Bestselling book, Avalanche: The 9 Principles for Uncovering True Wealth, and Tested in the Trenches: A 9 Step Plan for Building and Sustaining a Million-Dollar Financial Services Practice. To learn more, visit, www.peakadvisoralliance.com.