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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.

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.

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.

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!

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.


Video Transcript

[MUSIC]. Welcome back to Practice Makeover. We're in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, where our next advisor reached out to us for some help. Ken Podell describes himself as a financial savant, but admitted his practice needed help becoming a business. Let's go meet Ken. [MUSIC] My name is Ken Podell, and I'm a financial advisor and I have a practice here in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. I've been working for 28 years, building a clientele, one person and one client at a time. One business at a time. And I reached a point where I think I need some reinvention. I need to focus my practise and to be more, more on top of how I manage this practise. I've worked with Ken for over 25 years now and I have really have got to know him as a person. As well as a fan to advisor. One of the things that most impresses me is he's always wanting to get better and I think one of the things that's special is this project, is, is trying to help Ken improve on his practice. Ken. Matt. Welcome to Belican Wood. Welcome to your practice makeover. [MUSIC]. Thank you so much for inviting us down here. I guess I wanna hear a little bit from you. Why did you reach out to us? Why'd you call us? As you probably know, I'm a very young 52 year old. Yeah. I figure I probably have another 15 years of growing my business. And my business has been growing one client at a time. And being introduced to people that the clients know, one client at a time. Mm-hm. So, now with 28 years into the business, I've got a file cabinet, or I've got a business that looks like a file cabinet, that's so overstuffed with paper that looking at it, you know there's lots of good stuff in there, but you really don't know how to get to it. It looks like that filing cabinet may have found its way onto your desk here already. It leaks into my day to day. The overstuffed file cabinet that I talked about is just like my database. When I looked at it and saw the numbers, I have 3,000 contacts in it, and there's no real way to organize a marketing campaign to the people that matter within that database, and that's something that needs to change. Talk to me a little bit about, what does the optimal client look like for you? Generally, ages 45 to 65. Good savers. Concerned about retirement. Concerned about their families. I have, what you probably already know is, a pretty split business, half of my business is investment management, half of my business is what we call protection products insurance. Hm-mm. So essentially, the clients that work with me. Or serious folks who want make sure their retirement is going to be secure. Excuse me, so a pretty wide array of clients that you could possibly have here. If you wanna hone that down. What kinda clients do you market to? Well, I would say that I probably don't market, and that's one of the reasons. It's one client at a time. Right. But if there's any group that I have more of than most others, It's attorneys. Okay. For whatever reason, I love working with attorneys. And I have a pretty large group of attorneys that I work with. Mm-hm. So that's one area. I also have a, quite a number of small business owners. So let's get back to the over-stuffed filing cabinet for a second. Sounds like its a technology issue that really is kind of at play here. I'm just gonna run through some things. You tell me if you have it or not. Do you have a website? Do not have a website. Okay. Do you have a brand? I do not have my own brand. Okay. Do you have a, an onboarding process? I do not have an onboarding process or even a service model to drive the practice. When I describe my business, frequently I tell clients and friends that I'm a savant. What I know is how to work with people. How to understand what they're trying to achieve and to also put together a plan that helps them achieve it. But if you talk about back office processes, if you talk about delegation processes, or on boarding processes, anything that's a process. Is really not the part of the brain that I exercise in taking care of clients. Just to dig a little deeper with you for a second. You, you mentioned insurance. What's the advantage of working for an insurance company here for you? Well there's a, there's a whole bunch of things. First of all, I'm in an office with probably 50 other advisers. Right. And I love the idea that, it's not even an idea. I love being able to go next door and say, hey, I've got a situation I haven't encountered before. How would you handle this? So there's immediate feedback. There's always someone to talk to about how to handle things for clients. Number two, we share resources. So there are things that we have here that if I were on my own it would be more difficult. To handle. Yeah, and you're not gonna get away from selling insurance products right? You're, you said you've got a nice mix here, right? I've got a nice mix and the, the reality is that the older my clientele becomes the more interested in the protection products they are, but honestly, its a 50 50 mix of business. I do plenty of investment management and plenty of insurance. Essentially those are the things that people need. And last question for you. If you look ahead, perfect world, 18 months, three years. What does this practice look like? What, how can we fix it, how can we make your life better? First I wanna have a more narrow focus in terms of who I'm looking for. In terms of new clients. I also wanna have a better model in terms of serving the clients that I have. I wanna build a more focused practice. A more efficient practice. I wanna be able to spend my time, the way I need to spend my time, which is in front of the right clients. I think there is a lot here to work on. I've got the perfect people to work on it with me. I think you're gonna need a coach. And you're gonna also need a marketing consultant. I have just the right people in mind. So, let us get to work. We'll come back to you with a plan. It is so nice to start this process, and also to get some of those things off my chest. I've been thinking about it for a while. I'm at the perfect point in my business and in my life to start doing some focusing on my business. And I cannot wait to see what Matt and his team come back with. Ken has a variety of issues at play here. And I think it's gonna take more than one person to really help him. Luckily I think i got the right team in mind, to help me, help ken. Next time, on practice makeover. So I met a great advisor Ken Podell, in Balakinwood Pennsylvania. And I was really impressed by, a lot of things about his practice, but it's just things, that definitely need work. I think we got a great team here to help, find some solution. He's been in practice about 28 years and he works for an insurance company, Mass Mutual. His practices never really transition into a modern business, he's got a practice and not a business. He does not have technology, he does not have a brand, he has no onboarding process. But he does have a big list of, a big database of about 3500 names, but only, you know, a hundred or so of them are clients. A little divide and conquer, and we're gonna help Ken build a better business. What do you say? Absolutely. Let's go. [MUSIC]


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