Sprinting to the Starting Line

By Ray Sclafani

December 1, 2006 – “Pete” has a big goal for 2007: $30 million in new assets. A successful financial advisor in the Los Angeles area, Pete has a current book of business that’s valued at about $50 million. While his practice is growing at a respectable 20% to 25% annually, he’s looking to make an even bigger jump in the new year.

“I’m 53 years old and have been an advisor for 13 years, but I feel like I’m playing catch-up,” Pete says. “My numbers are good, but they’re not what they need to be to achieve my retirement goals.” He says he wants to accelerate his growth plan so that he and his wife—who’s now 60—can enjoy a more comfortable retirement and spend more time together.

In order to attract $30 million in new assets next year, Pete needs to more than double his growth rate. A challenge? Yes. Can he do it? Absolutely.

Run, Don’t Walk

December is an important month. As we approach the New Year, it’s important to both finish and start strong. If you have ambitious goals for 2007, now’s the time to “sprint to the start.” Use the month of December to review your objectives and plan for the year ahead. While there’s often a natural lull during this period, as people take time off for the holidays, you should stay focused on your goals and retain your momentum.

Pete has been taking aggressive steps all year long toward achieving his 2007 goals. The first thing he realized was that he couldn’t achieve them without the right support. For Pete, hiring a coach was one way to hold himself accountable for any changes in his practice. He also decided to expand his staff in an effort to prepare for growth. In addition, he began taking steps to reconnect with his clients and build a network of professional advocates who could help attract new accounts.

A Joint Effort

For many advisors, expanding their staff is crucial to growth. In order to accept new accounts, you’ll need to be able to delegate efficiently and feel confident that everyone on your team is contributing to the bottom line. You’ll also need to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.

Pete has been with this current employer for six years, where he has been a solo practitioner. Prior to joining his current office, he had worked at another wirehouse in a partnership structure—an experience that he describes as a disaster. “I promised myself that I would never do that again,” says Pete. “But I realized that I needed help, and my coach helped me explore new ways to grow without repeating my past mistakes.”

Through a careful search, Pete was able to hire an associate who’s more senior than his administrative support person but isn’t yet an equal partner in the business. “It’s a classic vertical structure,” Pete says. “I focus exclusively on client contact, and my new associate helps me implement recommendations from my client reviews. My new team member is also responsible for managing an ongoing client outreach program, so that all clients feel like they are on somebody’s A-list.”

Delving Deeper

The New Year is also a great time to reconnect and build deeper relationships with your clients—especially your most important accounts. I encourage you to have a meaningful conversation with each of your clients at least once per year with the goal of finding out what they value most about your services. It’s crucial to understand what makes your practice unique.

As Pete began talking to his clients about his services, he started to get a clearer picture of his strengths as an advisor. Based on what he learned, he created case studies that illustrated his approach to client service. For example, one thing he believes he does well is support his clients across a wide range of financial disciplines by acting as a liaison to other professionals, such as certified public accountants, estate attorneys and insurance specialists.

His case studies demonstrate his multidisciplinary approach, along with his ability to draw on the resources within his own company. He is now able to use his case studies to attract new clients, as well as new advocates to his referral network.

Connect the Dots

One of your most vital sources of new business is other trusted advisors who have contact with potential clients. These professionals may include CPAs, attorneys, realtors and even ministers. Anyone who has such deep connections to a community can serve as a powerful advocate for your business.

For Pete, reaching out to attorneys and CPAs was particularly difficult. “I always felt at a disadvantage when talking to CPAs and attorneys,” he says. “It seemed clear to me that we needed them more than they needed us.”

Pete lacked the confidence he needed to build this part of his network. So he decided to try a new approach. Instead of telling lawyers what makes his services unique, he would initiate conversations by asking them what makes their services unique. Once he had established a connection, he would provide them with his case studies if they were interested in learning more about his approach.

Pete’s goal in 2007 is to find five new professional advocates who understand his value proposition and can refer him to new clients. He is working toward gaining 10 referrals from each advocate and closing half of all new referrals.

Out With the Old …

Finally, as you approach the New Year, it’s essential to ask yourself what’s working and what’s not. Let go of any old ways of thinking that are holding you back and embrace new ways that will push you forward.

Like Pete, 2007 could be your best year ever if you’ve got the right attitude, planning and commitment to growing your business. So this month, get revved up and sprint to the start of a promising New Year.

Ray Sclafani is President of ClientWise LLC, an organization founded to support the financial advisory practice of the future. Delivering unique practice management strategies focused on client acquisition and retention, ClientWise provides coaching and training for leading financial advisors. For more information, e-mail ray@clientwise.com or call 1-800-732-0876.

Originally published in On Wall Street, December 2006.

Copyright Ray Sclafani 2006.