My firm is four years old, and manages $675 million in assets. Yet even now, we still deliberately try to think like a startup -- and we think this is key to the firm's success.
A recent conversation with a peer made this clear to me. I was catching up with her at an industry event, discussing both our families and the latest news from our firms.
But when I told her about how we were making a major software switch -- upgrading to Tamarac for our portfolio reporting, while at the same time changing to Tamaracs CRM solution and moving it all into the cloud -- she shook her head.
Though she seemed somewhat envious of the seamless integration of our new platform, she also said her firm, which has been around much longer, could never make such a switch. We have too much history with our systems, she told me, and converting would be near impossible.
RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
I didnt engage my friend in a debate at the time, but her words stayed with me even as I drove home. I began to wonder what would happen if the people at Glassman Wealth Services stopped thinking like a startup? What would happen if all the things we love about working here -- and what our clients love about working with us -- simply eroded over time because we got too big or too "mature," or had too much history to make changes?
That was a scary thought.
But it also served as a wake-up call of sorts for us -- reminding us that regardless of how big we get, we cant lose the entrepreneurial mindset that got us where we are.
Fortunately, there are things that every small business owner yes, even you financial planners can do to keep the entrepreneurial fires burning.
WHICH DECISIONS MATTER
The best way to approach this is to liken these decisions to a home renovation.
We all make some decisions that are as easy as redecorating or painting a room -- this might include things like changing your marketing campaign to include a newsletter, adding a blog to your website, or even beginning to include some social media into the mix.
At the other end of spectrum, you have the boundaries of the lot. This is the deal breaker that would cause one to sell the home and make a move. For us, this boundary includes our fee-only fiduciary status and our culture.
Then there are those decisions that are all too often deemed as immovable as load-bearing walls. These are imperative to the structure of the home, but what if that structure just isnt working for you anymore? Yes, they are messy and costly to move; but it can in fact be done.
In our firm, we are not afraid of shifting a few load-bearing walls. We consider the costs and understand that the mess will cause discomfort, but thats not what we focus on.
Instead, we ask ourselves some questions: Will the cost and mess improve the client experience? Will the change make us more competitive?
In the case of our CRM and portfolio management system, we saw them as load-bearing walls -- and decided that the expense and the six-month effort would both improve our operations significantly and give our clients many benefits that our current system cant provide.
Its important to ask yourself: What decisions you consider to be load-bearing, and why? Are they legitimately that difficult? Which obstacles are standing in the way of having a startup mindset that fuels innovation and creativity, and will ultimately make you a better firm?
WHAT CAN BE CHANGED?
As planners, we are all architects who need to think creatively beyond what exists today. To keep our firm fresh and exciting, we believe just about anything can be changed, if we determine the cost and mess are worth it.
Everything from the roles our employees play to even the name of our firm is fair game, as long as we believe those decisions will result in a better firm. Obstacles may need to be moved, systems upgraded or people changed -- but all these are doable tasks. (The only line we arent willing to cross is shifting from a fee-based business model -- but thats a subject for a different day.)
Other firms, however, find a technology change to be too drastic to undertake. For my peer, changing the firms software seemed as drastic a change as closing up one shop and moving into another space.
But thats a dangerous attitude to take when youre running a business. Inertia, bureaucracy or even the acceptance of the status quo can prevent your firm from growing in efficient and profitable ways -- and can prove fatal to your business in the long run.
The truth is that if you can build a strong foundation for your business through its culture, and instill the value of the entrepreneurial mindset in your people, you should be able to undertake all kinds of significant renovation projects to improve your firm again and again -- just like a startup might.
To put that another way, my peer made the mistake of thinking that the reason we were able to change our software system was because we were relatively new. I think she missed the point, though.
The truth is that we were able to make that change because we nurture our nimble entrepreneurial mindset and encourage the type of startup thinking that allows us to embrace change and opportunity. And thats something well strive to do no matter how large we get.
Barry Glassman, CFP, is founder and president of Glassman Wealth Services, an investment and wealth management firm in McLean, Va.
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