Is it time for a tune-up?
With the start of a new year, we all begin the annual search through our lives to find cracks to patch and problems to fix. Rather than digging up flaws this time around, I want to make the resolution to look out for potential and opportunity. To start 2012, let’s look at the things we can be doing to position ourselves for the future rather than worrying about what has happened in the past and trying to predict the future. In the recent and even current environment, it can be hard to stay the course and be the leader that our clients need us and look to us to be. How do we make the most of this environment? Almost everyone in our business says the reason they are in the securities business is because of the excitement and the idea that everyday holds something new and – well folks; this is what the past few years have been. The inevitable upswing will make that clear to everyone- are you going to be ahead of the curve or jump on the bandwagon after the fact? Personally, I think your clients will demand foresight and leaders and will easily be herded away from the run-of-the-mill follower. I propose that it’s a great time to make a change- whether its having the courage and foresight to take this opportunity to listen to that nagging gut and change broker-dealers or dealing with some HR issues that you have been putting off for a better time- what is stopping you? In times of volatility, clients look for advisors that are actively taking control of their businesses; not idly standing by.
To aid in your business tune-up, I’ve compiled a list of 7 things that advisors can be doing to not only position you for the future, but also be successful in this environment. You will notice that cost-cutting measures is not one of them- as professionals, I am going to make the grand assumption that you have read about that a hundred times.
I suppose some use the term “operational efficiencies” interchangeably, but what I am after here is something more granular and specific. Take every part of your practice from client meetings to seminars to account review and document each and every step. For instance, client meetings would start with the greeting and cover every aspect of the client experience. Seminars would cover everything from parameters for the invitation mailing dates to the type of venue that is acceptable to the food served. Through this process you are bound to re-evaluate the way you do certain things, and if not, solidify an already solid process.
This applies to both your clients and internal team/staff. In volatile or uncertain times, an educated client is a content client- or at least a client that is probably not going to leave you for someone else that makes them feel more in control of what is happening. There are many ways to educate clients- seminars (which also double for critical face-time), blogs, timely website updates or newsletters- preferably the electronic kind so the information is current. For internal staff, encourage them to read books that might provide inspiration or management growth opportunities. Or, choose this time to mentor a junior rep just getting into the business. Let’s face it, the number of newly minted, young college-aged advisors coming into this industry is shrinking and fast. Maybe now is the time to hire someone out of school who wouldn’t otherwise have a job and mentor them into the face of the next generation for our industry. Talk about a time where they have the opportunity to learn a lot of things.
3. Look inward
I said we wouldn’t dwell on things that need fixed, so lets look at our strengths and “even better ifs”. Personal growth is critical not just as an advisor but as a person. One of my reflections for myself this year is to be better organized- I’m not disorganized, but I know I function better and feel more in control when I work free of piles, email clutter and the like. That is an “even better if”. Everyone has their own thing that they know if they put some effort towards and face it, that things would run more smoothly, they would be happier and the business would benefit. Consider hiring a coach- once a non-believer, it is amazing how much just this simple hire goes towards holding executives, advisors and the like accountable to their personal goals. The most seasoned professional somehow gains a professional maturity in the way they interact with others both in and out of their professional days. In the words of Nike- “Just Do It”.
4. Evaluate your Broker Dealer
I know the last thing you want to do when the market is up, down and all around is to go through a transition, but it may be the exact right time. Is your BD providing all that you need? If they are right now, do they have the capability to support you in your vision for the future? If you are starting to lean more fee-based or RIA-centric, are they positioned to be there when you are? Are they constantly looking for ways to improve themselves or are they complacent and just riding the wave with every other firm out there? Are they financially strong? Has their reputation taken a hit? The best thing you can do for your clients is to show them that you are taking care of yourself so that you can take care of them. Making sure you have the right partner now, will only position you to take advantage of the return to normalcy even more.
5. Back to Basics
Upon visiting one of our business owners’ offices in Virginia, it struck me that not only have they survived this market over the past few years, but they have thrived. Yes, they did the hard cost cutting and took a hard look at money spent, but they also built out their office, hired a marketing manager and have grown into a team producing a million dollars. I had to know their secret- guess what it was? They have made the decision not to be “fancy” and to be themselves- their authentic business selves. They are back to basics concentrating on good quality stocks, bonds and insurance products. They believe in the old-fashioned clients meetings and seminars. They hold client appreciation events- simple things- paper shredding parties after tax season, ice-cream socials before the kids go back to school in the summer. They send a weekly email newsletter to their clients updating them of market activity for the week and any key developments. They are always communicating to their clients and building relationships on the most basic of levels.
6. Consider Independence
Another office I interviewed mentioned that the best thing they did during this time was to take the opportunity to go independent. I know transition can be a bad word, but it doesn’t have to be if you look at it as an opportunity. By moving from a W2 scenario to an independent scenario, this team has not just increased their take home pay, but they are able to brand themselves in their community and really build something that can last and even be passed through the generations or sold one day. It has real value. It is inevitable that they lost some clients, both regrettable and purposefully, but their production has grown because they have the independence to forge partnerships with key contacts that they were not able to as an employee. They control their own destiny now and the quality of life is something they cannot even believe still to this day. In all my years of hiring and transitioning reps to independence, I have never once had one that didn’t say after the fact “I wish I had done it sooner.” That statement should be enough to at least begin exploring the possibilities.
7. Risk Management
If you haven’t already, establish a risk management process into your portfolio management. Whether you outsource to a tactical manager like a Dorsey Wright or develop a proprietary process on your own, risk management should be a facet of your process. Buy and hold has proven to be increasingly ineffective over the past decade. More clients are attracted to advisors who have processes in place to mitigate losses during a down market. As we know, its not always about making the most money but rather about protecting what you’ve got.
In times of uncertainty, clients are looking for advisors who are taking control of their own destiny. Have you done your tune-up yet this year?
Tarah Carlow has over 17 years of experience in the brokerage industry and currently is Vice-President of Marketing and New Business Development for Prospera Financial Services, where she is responsible for marketing, public relations and new business growth through recruiting and acquisition.
Previously, she has held a variety of roles throughout her career including Director of Finance, Risk Manager and Chief Administrative Officer. In 2004, she was named President of FA Recruiting Services, LLC when she created and operated the entity until her departure in 2007 when she joined Prospera.
Ms. Carlow has served on several industry panels and conducted numerous seminars in her field of expertise which includes recruiting and marketing for the broker dealer marketplace.