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Episode 1: A practice that needs to be a business

May 15, 2014 @ 12:00 am

Runtime: 7:34

Season 2 of Practice Makeover introduces us to Ken Podell, a Philadelphia-based adviser who is a self-described financial savant, but who needs help building a more focused and efficient business.

The Renovation Room

Industry experts and executives offer strategies, tips and ideas on how practices can improve their business.

Frank Maselli

Frank Maselli

Founder of The Financial Lifeguard Academy and The Maselli Group

Ken Podell seems like a great guy who's ready for some changes. But the question is: what kind of changes, and where to begin?

He does no marketing, has no website, brand identity, service model or organizational systems in place. The fact that he's survived for 28 years suggests that he's totally amazing at the interpersonal side of our profession. He gave me the feeling of being a really nice person who cares about his clients, and that's certainly a great start!

He claims to have a concentration of attorneys and business owner clients and those might be two viable cornerstones of his business going forward. I'd like to explore those niches a lot more. How did he get them and what specific value does he bring them that they obviously find compelling?

He also said that he gets "one client at a time" from referrals. On the surface, that seems like a good thing. But does he mean one client per week, month or year? I'd like to know more about the overall size and depth of his practice.

At this point, I see Ken at the early stage of building a story about who he is and why he does what he does. He's a 28-year veteran with skills, experience and wisdom. But now we need to craft and deliver a branding message that entices the right people to want to work with him, and also compels his top clients to refer him with greater precision.

I'd also consider hiring at least a part-time assistant if he doesn't have a good admin person already. They could go to work getting that overstuffed file cabinet into a database and developing some back-office systems that he seems to need.

But before we go pedal to the marketing metal, we need a better picture of who Ken is today and who he wants to be for the next fifteen years. Then we can build a more disciplined, focused and productive growth strategy that will allow this "savant" to shine in his own unique way.

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Ray Sclafani

Ray Sclafani

Founder and CEO of ClientWise LLC

Ken is in a great position to go far with coaching. He is always looking to improve himself, which is an important distinction from simply wanting to improve his bottom line. In his quest to become a better adviser, Ken has a clear goal in mind of wanting to be more focused, and a clear idea of how to get there by creating processes to streamline his work. But he seems like a bit of a Lone Ranger. He's been successful at growing his business alone, but should consider the support team he needs around him to effectively manage his clients so that he can be at his best in his role. Further, Ken should consider how he plans to fulfill the promises he's making to his clients: That he'll be there for them through life transitions to help them with their investment needs, and to ensure their financial security. So where's his team?

As a credentialed coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF), I am always helping clients think about the bigger picture. What comes to mind with Ken is that he needs to start giving himself the advice he gives to clients. Since he works with an insurance firm, he's definitely helping his clients think long term about their financial security, so he should also be thinking longer term about his own practice by connecting with the heirs of his client's wealth and thinking about his succession plan. 75% of advisors have no succession plan for their businesses, which leaves them without a clear direction of what they're working toward. Knowing this will impact what Ken does right now in terms of focus and process. This goal ties in closely with his acumen for helping others figure out what they want to achieve, he just has to turn the mirror on himself, so to speak. It's not just about creating focus or efficiency through process, it's about running his business in such a way that it reflects the driving motivator for starting the business in the first place, for every client that walks through his door.

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Kelly LaPalio

Kelly LaPalio

Vice President of National Accounts, FocusPoint Solutions

Ken is a perfect candidate for this series. Like many other advisers with large insurance groups, he may not be fully aware of all the options available to him in the RIA marketplace.

In this first episode, Ken expressed his appreciation for his current work environment-which gives him the ability to easily collaborate with other knowledgeable advisers located just next door. On the same note, however, his workplace may also be a contributing factor to him continuing to conduct business in a manner which is now considered cumbersome and outdated.

Ken and his staff have likely gotten used to spending hours sorting through physical files for the 3,000 contacts he mentioned in this initial interview. He could easily use the time currently spent on such mundane tasks to focus on financial planning or business-building activities. Obviously Ken is operating at a high level as a successful adviser. He's built a thriving business, but has now reached the point where he really needs to break things down and build them back up in such a manner that he can begin creating and implementing much more streamlined, automated processes.

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Vanessa Oligino

Vanessa Oligino

Senior Program Manager, Practice Management, TD Ameritrade Institutional

Ken is a coach's dream-he is enthusiastic and committed to reinventing himself as a financial adviser in order to achieve his vision of a practice that is focused, efficient and designed to better serve his ideal clients. When we work with advisers like Ken, we typically see a much greater success rate in being able to evolve their thinking beyond how they operate today and move toward a new mindset. While Ken certainly has a lot of work to do in establishing the fundamentals of a marketing and service model strategy, he has recognized and already bought into the value that they can provide for one looking to aggressively grow.

Ken will need to do some hard thinking about who he is, who is best served by him and how that will carry through to the creation of his brand and client experience. A helpful exercise that we take advisers through is a comprehensive client segmentation exercise. This exercise is enlightening to most advisers in helping them to truly understand what types of clients they have today, who they enjoy working with the most, what potential niches they already have established and where the most potential is for the future. Understanding your clients today will inform future decisions on defining your ideal clients, identifying a viable niche, marketing and communication strategies, service models and long-term engagement tactics.

From a firm management perspective, its clear Ken has a strong preference for directly working with clients and helping them create a plan designed to help them best meet their financial goals. He will have to consider the best way to delegate the day-to-day management responsibilities of running a business, which may include hiring a new team member or outsourcing particular functions. Giving up control is typically the most difficult part in working with advisers looking to transform from a practice to a business, and it will be interesting to see how Ken confronts this challenge in upcoming episodes.

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Mark Matson

Mark Matson

CEO of Matson Money

From my vantage point, this seems like an easy enough case to help. Ken is lacking in some pretty obvious areas: a website, a brand, a CRM/tech support, no marketing, no branding, etc. Every business should find a way to set aside resources so that it is investing about 50 percent of its total efforts on marketing. With no branding or marketing, Ken literally has no identity or system for his business. He is also splitting his business between insurance and asset managing pretty evenly which means that he really has no core focus. With a core focus, you can create leverage in your business which will allow you to actually help more of the right people, not less. When I first meet with advisers, they typically have one or all of these three problems: not enough time, not enough money and not enough referrals. If he refocuses how he gets referrals and focuses on meeting in groups instead of one-on-one, he will solve those three problems and have consistent business revenue not rooted in a need to sell. On the plus side, Ken has a built-in network already that seems like it is untapped: his attorney relationships. This is a huge leverage point in his business where he can create a synergistic relationship and constant referral stream to grow his business. I look forward to watching his progress!

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