I happen to think that a good "hidden assumptions" discussion might be extremely powerful to the practices of many advisors.
Having attended hundreds of practice management and motivational sessions at various conferences over the years (I attend at least 12 a year, sometimes as many as 20), it has become clear to me that most of our roadblocks to business and personal success are (get ready to wince) self-created. That is, there are things we believe to be true, which are not. There are things which seem to us to be impossible, which others handle with ease. There are blind spots, things we don't see which hold us back.
I normally recommend that advisors go to national conferences with list of their most insurmountable practice management challenges, and talk with other advisors about them. Generally, those same challenges will be trivial to the other successful advisors they meet, and a conversation will reveal a good way to handle it. Another conversation will give the advisor some familiarity with what he or she is missing, and a third or fourth one will remove the obstacle altogether. Do that once a year and watch your practice soar.
Here are some of the recommendations that people offered to me privately as a result of the last column. Diane MacPhee, who coaches advisors to get to the next level, says that she has seen advisors assume they have to be on call with clients 24/7 by cell phone and e-mail. But the reality, she says, is that clients will absolutely respect the boundaries you set, and will even hold you in higher esteem because you have prioritized your personal life. Most issues can be dealt with during business hours.
Her last sentence: "Take care of yourself and respect what you need; you'll be a better advisor for it!"
As to quarterly client meetings, Dave Demming says that he still holds 350-400 lengthy annual review appointments, including 3-hour Saturday meetings. Clients meet in person or on the phone in depth at least four times a year, and he recently lost a 30-year client who claimed he didn't contact him often enough.
His point, though, is that his clientele tends to have a high need, and sometimes an addictive personality. Other advisors in his office have attracted people with a lower need for personal contact, and their schedules are much less hectic. His last line: "I am sure the reason I have a strong following is that my clients and I have the same addictive personality."
Stan Hargrave, who practices in Riverside, Calif., offered some antidotes to what he believes are common blind spots in the profession. First: he thinks quarterly performance statements are silly; they focus client attention on short-term investment performance. Most rational clients are fine with 6-month reviews, he says.
Second: he says to stop believing all of the practice management suggestions that come out of brokerage firms. The point there is that the brokerage firm model fosters a high level of dependency on the firm, rather than independence or independent thinking or advice.
Third: ask open-ended questions of clients most of the time. This will force you not to prejudge what you're hearing, and not to make assumptions about what the client thinks or wants.
I'm sure most of you have a LOT to add to this list.
For a lot more information on practice marketing, practice management, client services, investment paradigms--and, recently, a full analysis of the SEC's new comment letter on "harmonizing" brokerage and RIA regulation, go to: http://www.bobveres.com.
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