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Why I walked away from my advisor study group

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I recently left the study group I created five years ago.

There weren’t any fallings-out or anything wrong with the group, it just no longer supplied the support structure I needed. I’ve since moved to quarterly one-on-one conversations with select advisors. It suits me much better.

Here’s how I got from there to here.

People have asked me over the years how my study group came into being. The reality is: I called each advisor and asked them if they’d like to join me. It was that easy. Beforehand, I had researched each potential member to understand where they were in starting/running their firm, their fee model and their geographical location. I was looking for similarities but also some differences. All planners ran their own practices, but some were fee-only and others were fee-based. Some had a stable AUM on which to build their business, while others were starting from scratch. But everyone wanted to be a great advisor and wanted to learn from others. We developed a set of engagement standards, which helped us understand appropriate behaviors and what was expected.

Over the course of five years, we got to know each other really well — sharing our professional and personal highs and lows. We met every two weeks via video conference and then tried to meet in person each year. It worked well for the first few years but then professional and personal lives evolved. Some of us (me included) wouldn’t be able to make a call for four to six weeks. Then, as babies and toddlers entered our respective family mixes, the in-person retreats became increasingly difficult to schedule. Gradually, I felt my close relationships in the group start to weaken. I started to talk to advisors outside of the group. Eventually, I found myself gaining more value from these one-on-one conversations. At that point, it became appropriate for me to step away from the group.

Goals achieved. Now what?

Advisors’ collaborative needs evolve over time. If you’re starting your own firm, give and take with other advisors helps make sure you’re doing everything correctly and haven’t missed any tricks. If you’re transitioning to a new service model, like managing money, it’s helpful to have another advisor on the custodial platform to use as a sounding board as you get familiar with the system.

But, in my old group, we’d passed the startup phase and had defined client types. We weren’t looking to grow a megafirm, and were starting to make some good income. With some of these initial goals achieved, conversations began to run dry. After six years at my firm, I have a good idea of the hours I want to work, the revenue I need to support my family and the ideal clients I want to work with. It’s in a comfortable growth stage. I don’t have talking points every couple of weeks.

One-on-one relationships mean we can challenge each other on topics or opinions without the risk of a group dynamic making it uncomfortable.

But I also came to realize that my temperament was a factor in outgrowing my group. I’m a listener more than a talker. There were times on a video call, or when we met, that I didn’t say much. Conversation was flowing and it was fun to see people hash things out. Conversely, there were other topics, like digital content marketing, where I had a lot of ideas and dominated the conversation.

But, on the whole, I came to realize that a group setting just doesn’t suit my personality. I’m at home when I can engage in a one-on-one conversation that doesn’t have a time limit. Once I recognized this, I set up quarterly calls with select advisors and it has suited me much better. It’s known ahead of time that our calls will likely be over an hour as we canvas personal and professional updates, but may also stumble on a professional topic on which we take a deep dive. For local advisors, we clear two hours for lunch to enjoy each other’s company and share ideas.

Different goals

In transitioning out of my group, I took a different approach in finding one-on-one relationships. As I wasn’t specifically looking for opinions or guidance in my business from these relationships, I sought out more diversity among those who were already friends. I now have a group of three advisors I talk to regularly, and one online group of four advisors who discuss practice management issues of lifestyle practices. My one-on-one relationships are long-term friendships in the industry before we become business confidants. One owns a much larger RIA than myself in California; another is transitioning to his own firm in the suburbs of Chicago; yet another runs a practice alongside another business.

We are all different, but the one-thing that is important to all of us is that we value the one-on-one nature of our relationship. We discuss each other’s business, knowing that the other might not have gone through it before — or will even go through it in their career — but we seek a fresh set of eyes. The strong friendships set these relationships apart from other professional relationships. We can challenge each other on topics or opinions without the risk of a group dynamic making it uncomfortable.

Do you need a support system?

Do you have a support system in place? If not, consider finding some advisors you admire and ask them if they’d be willing to talk with you on a frequent basis. Many will be flattered, and say yes. But what if things are more advanced than that? What if you are in a group setting when, in reality, you excel in the one-on-one environment or vice-versa? This is where you need to understand where you feel comfortable in relational communications and what support you need for the next phase of your career.

Don’t feel bashful about walking away from a group or relationship — there’s a chance, after all, that others are thinking the same as you and just need someone to take the initiative. Design the system that suits you the best, and then you’ll be able to give your best to those with whom you interact.

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