By Lee Conrad
November 12, 2015, onwallstreet.com
Most financial advisors know the basics of running a profitable business: Create a niche and know your value proposition. But when it comes to actually doing those things, many don't know where to start.
Practice management experts Joni Youngwirth, Commonwealth Financial Network's managing principal for practice management, Fidelity Investments' executive vice president David Canter and Christine Gaze, president of Purpose Consulting Group spoke to Financial Planning, offering a number of actionable tips for running a well-oiled practice:
1. PICK YOUR IDEAL CLIENTS
Advisors need to be clear about who their ideal clients are, says Canter. He suggests that advisors should identify their 15 best clients -- and then try to replicate them.
The criteria can vary, he says. Perhaps the client is a great source of future referrals. Or maybe the advisor simply enjoys working with him or her. Either way, Canter says, advisors should then be able to articulate the value they bring to this specific group of clients.
Many of the best advisors specialize, Gaze adds: "They're known for something." Advisors should identify a specific area -- whether geographic, sociographic, or even specific to employees within a particular company -- then research everything they can find on the topics relevant to this group. For advisors targeting a single employer, for instance, she suggests a deep dive into the company's benefits plan.
2. ZERO IN ON REVENUE
In addition to identifying your favorite clients, Youngwirth also suggests ranking clients on the revenue per household each generates. Advisors often encounter an "aha" moment when they realize they're actually losing money on some clients.
"When they see this, they see their business in an entirely different light," Youngwirth says.
While advisors are often reluctant to prune their client list, a revenue-per-household gauge can be the catalyst for action, she says.
3. BECOME AN ELDER CARE RESOURCE
A 65-year-old couple can expect to pay 67% of their Social Security benefits -- hundreds of thousands of dollars -- on health care, Gaze notes. So it's a part of their financial life that is ripe for advice.
She suggests that advisors offer a seminar, or series of seminars, or a list of local elder care resources; she also recommends the eldercare.gov site as a resource for advisors.
And talk to clients before they're actually facing these situations, she adds: "Have these conversations during 'peacetime.' "
4. WRITE DOWN YOUR BUSINESS PLAN
Advisors wear multiple hats, not the least of which is that of CEO, says Youngwirth. And most advisors are always looking to improve, she says. To balance all this, she argues that planners need to create a documented plan.
Brevity is crucial, she says: Having two or three lucid pages is better than a "big huge plan full of gobbledygook." She also encourages advisors to share their plan. But just writing it down is a beneficial first step.
"Some advisors tell me, 'I created a plan a few years ago, but it's sitting in a drawer and never been used,'" she says. "But even that is better than never doing a plan in the first place."
5. HAVE A GEN Y STRATEGY
Advisors should develop a test kitchen to offer advice to the "emerging affluent," Canter says.
"If you're working with clients who are boomers, find a way to engage with their kids," he says.
First, just ask for an introduction, he says. Or have a forum specifically for these clients -- bearing in mind that they'll be in a different life stage than your existing clients.
"Maybe they need to begin saving for retirement, maybe they need to begin saving for a new home," he suggests.
6. COACH YOUR STAFF
There can be a big disconnect between young, next-gen advisors and established advisors, says Gaze. More senior advisors need to do a significant amount of coaching -- she suggests five or six hours a month -- to close the gap.
Formalize meetings to make them a priority, she says: "Create time on the calendar to connect instead of relying on ad-hoc drivebys." she says.
And develop assignments that will allow junior advisors to create value for the team and develop their own skills. Have them research a topic that's relevant to clients, for instance, and present the findings to the team -- which allows you to coach them on presentation skills as well as analysis.
Gaze also offers advice for those younger advisors, who she says should take ownership of their development plan. "If you're not being given the time, ask for it," she says. "In the words of my grandmother: Make yourself useful."