What do you have (and want)? A business or a lifestyle?

The dream of many advisers when starting out on their own is to build a successful business that they will one day pass to a successor or sell for a big sum of money to secure themselves in retirement.

For a smaller number, they simply want to operate as a lifestyle business, generating enough cash to live comfortably in the present. They don’t want to run a business; instead they are happy to stay operating as a financial advice practitioner. They are operating more like traditional insurance salesmen, living from year to year, with no great growth ambitions. There is nothing wrong with this as an approach if you have decided that this is what you want!

However there are quite a number of advisers in the market who very much want the former situation (to build a business), but in reality are very much still operating like the latter (still working as a practitioner).  So what is it that stops them from successfully transitioning into being a business?

 

No strategy or plans in place

One of the characteristics of advisers who are living from year to year with little clarity of where they are going in the future is a lack of a strategy and firm plans – ones that are written down. These advisers may be operating very successfully today, but are not really focused on the future and what they are actually trying to achieve. Good strategy and plans take reflection, challenge and commitment. Without these inputs, it’s very hard to clarify and chart your future direction.

 

Propositions tend to stay the same

It may be the consistency of your approach that your clients love in dealing with you – knowing what to expect, being happy with the service given. However times do change, markets and ways of working evolve, there are areas of improvement always available to you. First of all, you need to be able to clearly articulate your proposition. And then you need to review it on an ongoing basis, tweaking it and making improvements as opportunities emerge. If you don’t seek these out, competitors that are on a hungry growth path will develop more future proofed propositions and will inevitably overtake you.

This will leave you operating as you’ve always done, maybe generating sufficient income to meet your needs today, but remaining pretty static in terms of building a business.

 

It’s all about you!

Successful practitioners tend to be running at 100 miles an hour, usually 6 days a week! Earning a lot of money but knowing that without their input, there really is no business. This can leave them highly stressed, prevent them taking holidays and often leaves them quite dispirited. If they get sick, everything pretty much grinds to a halt…

A business on the other hand has the principal pulling the strings. Everyone else (hopefully) is very busy – seeing clients, managing the processes, dealing with client queries. The principal is still active, but it is in more of a strategic role – setting direction, finding new clients, advising high value clients only. In this scenario if the principal gets sick, it’s not game over. The business is robust enough to continue.

Another attribute that I see in businesses that have evolved from advice practices is in the quality of the people brought into the business. They tend to be of very high quality, really lifting the whole game of the business. And then there is a real commitment to invest in these people, keeping them at the frontier of best practices in the industry. Of course if you ever want to sell your business, for it to be attractive to a potential buyer, the higher the quality of the people around you the better.

 

Poor financial management

Another attribute of practices as opposed to businesses tends to be in the area of financial management. The former tend to have low / no reserves, regular cashflow challenges and poor financial management practices in place. Successful businesses on the other hand tend to excel in all of these areas. Earnings are at a level that the business can comfortably afford, there are strong reserves in place and constant visibility of all of the important financial metrics. All of these help in building a sustainable and eventually valuable business.

 

Where are you today? Are you running a lifestyle practice or a business? And more importantly, where do you want to be in the future?

Get set for a strong finish

Most advisers that I talk to are having a good year in 2017. Most are somewhere on the journey to building a business around your advice proposition, and this in turn is driving higher levels of assets under management and more protection product sales. But most also recognise the need to not take the foot off the gas in terms of new client acquisition.

So here are a few ideas that you can work on over the next 4 months that will set you up for an ever better year in 2018.

 

Set activity targets

Activities drive sales, so set yourself clear activity targets. Set monthly or even weekly targets for the activities that work best for you. These might include;

  • Prospect / potential client calls made
  • Sales emails / newsletters to prospects sent
  • LinkedIn connections made
  • Networking events attended
  • Client meetings arranged
  • Client reviews carried out etc etc.

And then track these targets carefully and measure your progress against them. We all know that “what gets measured, gets done”…

 

Get to work on your pipeline

credible pipeline is a really important asset of your business. It’s no use if this is just a list of names of people that you’ve spoken to over the last few years. So it is well worth spending a few hours going through your pipeline from top to bottom. Here are some suggestions as to how you might improve the quality of your pipeline

  • Remove the dead wood – get rid of all those old prospects that you know in your heart are going nowhere. Don’t waste any more time on them.
  • Review recent additions to the pipeline that you added in 2017. Are there people here that may have simply been delaying action until later in the year? Are they now worth a call?
  • Qualify your pipeline prospects. Prioritise them by their likelihood to become clients or transact business with you.
  • Understand and capture the stage you are at with each prospect, exactly where they are within your sales funnel. This will help you to ensure your next activity / approach is the right one.


Review your marketing supports

I know this one regularly raises its ugly head… But it really is so important, as old (even worse if it is actually out of date) marketing collateral can be pretty damaging. It can show you as out of touch, or even worse, not caring about your business. The main supports to review and update include,

  • Your client value proposition – have you updated this, your process, your service supports and your remuneration structures in line with your changing business model?
  • Your website – does this really reflect your proposition? Also make sure you read through every page and remove / amend any time sensitive information.
  • Your LinkedIn profile – is it fully up to date in relation to your skills. Remember that when someone Googles your name, your LinkedIn profile is often the first search result that they will click on.
  • Your sales presentation and reports – many advisers use templated reports. These make a lot of sense, but need to be reviewed regularly. Make sure that the information in these is bang up to date.

 

Get updated testimonials & LinkedIn recommendations

Research has shown that approx. 80% of people trust peer recommendations, while only about 14% trust advertisements. So talk to your satisfied clients about providing you with a testimonial that you can show on your website and in sales presentations. The key here is getting their permission to use their full names to make the testimonials fully credible. Better still, if your client is a connection on LinkedIn, ask them to make the recommendation through LinkedIn, with you also displaying it on your website. That way it gets even more visibility.

 

Work hard on referrals

All advisers know the value of referrals, however some don’t have a clear process for getting them. Develop a process, make it a part of every review meeting with clients and use the likes of LinkedIn to help you identify the people that you want your clients to refer you to.

 

Put extra effort into networking

Some advisers really struggle with networking; they really don’t enjoy it at all! However it is a very necessary marketing activity – the old adage springs to mind that if you want to get knocked down, you must stand out in the traffic! Identify relevant networking groups and then set yourself clear objectives – these might simply be the number of meetings you attend and the number of people you make the effort to meet at these events. Again you’ll get out of them what you put into them!

 

Work out what your introducers need

Introducers are also identified as a very rich source of potential clients. However the days of ringing a local accountant, agreeing to split commission and then sitting back and waiting for the clients to roll in are long gone… Introducers today need to be crystal clear themselves about what you do and the value that you offer, both to them and to their clients. So spend time developing your proposition for introducers and then develop marketing activities to stay top of mind with them.

Working your way through this list will help you to achieve a strong finish and will set you up nicely for 2018.