I recently met an adviser who, even though he ran a thriving practice, voiced a desire to make his business grow. But while he had plans in place to bring in new clients, he'd done almost nothing to acquire them.
Why? In an all too common scenario, he'd been too busy reacting to and serving his existing clients.
Think about this: Business development is proactive, meaning you've got to both overcome inertia and carve out time from your existing schedule to make things happen.
By contrast, most other aspects of business are reactive. Clients call and need an immediate appointment or an emergency distribution. You're handling calls from salespeople, your long-time receptionist quits, or you have bills to pay or tax issues to address.
A large chunk of time is spent just putting out fires.
Many advisers have high aspirations for marketing. They make lists of activities they need to do to bring in new clients. Some even have plans in place.
But come Monday morning, they have to react to issues, and, by Friday afternoon, they've had almost no time to move the practice forward.
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I began as a financial adviser in 1990. Like most of us who started in that era, I worked for a well-known company where I received very little base pay. What I was given was a desk, a phone, some leads and a ton of "Go out and get 'em!" encouragement.
It was, by default, easy to prioritize business development because, first, I needed to bring in clients to survive, and, second, I didn't have any existing clients to serve.
After a few years of the ridiculously hard work of knocking on doors to bring in lots of clients, I developed a nice base, but, rather suddenly, more and more of my time was spent serving clients.
When I was just starting out and growing, I couldn't see the glass ceiling that a finite number of hours in each day would soon become. But once I reached a certain level, even though I wanted to keep expanding, my growth dramatically slowed.
In order to keep my practice going, I had to make marketing a priority.
The first thing I did was to schedule marketing time each week where I was not available to anybody. That helped some, but what it really gave me was the time to realize that I had to begin investing in infrastructure and hire staff who could take over everything that could be delegated.
These two actions, putting profits back into the firm to hire staff, and learning to delegate, were really the two biggest reasons I was able to break through.
Twenty-five years have passed, and the growth hasn't stopped. As we approached and then surpassed the $4 billion in AUM mark, I realized something interesting: We really aren't an advisory firm that markets; we're a marketing agency that also advises.
Nearly everyone wants to grow. The hardest part of achieving growth is realizing that you've peaked, and then altering what's made you successful — all that straight-ahead hard work — by changing, not only how you see yourself, but how you operate your firm.
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Scott Hanson is co-founder of Allworth Financial, formerly Hanson McClain Advisors, a fee-based RIA with $4.5 billion in AUM.