Loosen up and don't be afraid to share the load. But make sure you know whom you are entrusting. "Financial consultants should take the time to get to know their sales assistant, new accounts clerk, operations staff and even the receptionist," says Scottie King, director of resource development at Salomon Smith Barney in New York. "Understand what their strengths and weaknesses are."
Next, develop a plan to match the capabilities of your assistants. Rethink the plan as successes or failures become apparent, King says. "The key to successful delegation is understanding what motivates each player and appealing to the support person's hot buttons," she says.
2) Transition from "macho to maestro."
Work with people who think differently than you, says Mark Bankord, a million-dollar-plus producer for Dain Rauscher in Rockford, Ill. "When you're macho, you try to get everyone to work and think the same as you," he says. Efficient brokers become maestros, welcoming the diversity in team members.
Bankord has four registered support people who handle unique responsibilities. For instance, his team doesn't wait around for Bankord to write follow-up letters to clients. "It's probably the last thing I'd do," he says. Immediately after appointments, a team member writes a letter summarizing the meeting. Bankord then reads, edits and signs in a matter of minutes. Grinding out the letter on his own, he says, would take much longer.
3) Partner up.
Merrill Lynch's Linda Stirling paired up with veteran stock picker John Folsom in San Diego four years ago. With the help of four support people, the pair doubled their business and reduced stress. The team approach enables them to focus on what they do best-Stirling on relationship building and bringing in new business, and Folsom on money management.
"I believe stress occurs when you're required to do something that is not natural to you," Stirling says. "If you want to find out what you're instinctively stressed about, it's the last thing under your pile on your desk." The stuff at the bottom, she says, is what probably should be delegated or dropped.
Send out for services from experts. Lewis Walker of Walker Capital Management in Norcross, Ga., uses one program for asset management. "Our asset management services are largely fee-based and directed through a single turnkey asset management platform," he says. "By concentrating on a single [platform], we achieve economies of scale, a sharper focus and more time to spend on clients."
5) Restrict investment picks.
A world of choices can make for more headaches than opportunities. "I have limited my investment choices," says Pat Ternes, a producer with Dain Rauscher in Phoenix. "My clients know my style. Therefore, I'm not running around chasing the latest hot idea. That helps with efficiency. After careful consideration, I limit the spectrum of mutual funds I make available to my clients, so I don't have to follow a ton of different investments."
6) Disregard hot tips and penny stocks.
Don't bother with pink sheet, unlisted or small-cap stocks, says Jeff Seidel, an independent rep and president of Seidel Securities & Insurance Services in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Even if every broker in the office is talking about a hot tip, pay no attention, Seidel says. "These people are not analysts," he says. "I have never seen one of their hot ideas work out. Stay with the tried and true."
7) Automate your calendar.
Use technology to stay organized. The electronic scheduler in Salomon Smith Barney's NextGen workstation works well for Daniel Sherman, a member of a four-broker SSB team in New York. "It's an electronic reminder system that tells us when clients are going to be visiting and when one of us is going to be out." Although it is not infallible, the system is invaluable, Sherman says.
8) Schedule follow-ups every day.
Don't try to remember when you need to call clients. Duane Knopke, an independent rep with Linsco/Private Ledger in Torrance, Calif., uses a Sharp Wizard to record needed calls, be they three months or a year away. "If a client calls and we talk about his account, but nothing transpires, I mark down on my Sharp Wizard to contact him three months from then," Knopke says. Also, when he meets with a client, he schedules to call in 12 months and set up another appointment.
9) Update your account cards.
Keep current by examining your book quarterly or semiannually, says Joseph Mays Jr., president of Securities Consulting Group in New York. "Don't assume that because you've been talking to your client over the years that he has been candid with you on his financial, business or medical condition," he says. Things change, but clients aren't always forthcoming.
10) Protect yourself.
Make sure you repeat the specifics of any order back to the customer, so there are no misunderstandings. You can also avoid compliance headaches by taking copious notes or recording discussions. "I would suggest tape recording all telephone conversations with clients, as a prerequisite to anything," Mays says. But be sure to check your state regulations about tape recording. It can be illegal without prior disclosure to the caller.
11) Try platinum service.
Focus on those who mean the most to you. Figure out the percentage of business coming from your top 10 clients. "Then, determine what special 'Platinum Service' these accounts deserve," says Isaac Menda, managing director of Management Recruiters International's securities division in Bellevue, Wash. "Allocate time every day to service these accounts in such a way that no other broker or electronic medium can cannibalize them."
12) Watch asset allocation.
A.G. Edwards veteran Robby Ball in Orlando, Fla., regularly calls clients about their allocations. It shows you care in an unobtrusive way. "People need to see you're doing something for them on a regular basis," Ball says. An 80% stock, 20% bond weighting can quickly become 90% and 10%, Ball adds. Reallocation gets clients back into their comfort zones and avoids future surprises.
13) Seek feedback.
Open your ears, listen and adjust accordingly. "I recently sent out a letter asking my clients how I was doing," says Sal Spadafora, vice president of investments at First Albany Corp. in New York. "I called it my report card. I received more replies from that than anything else."
14) Minimize mistakes.
Take time or use tools to check things that could cause problems later. For example, sales assistant Becki Barr of Sutro & Co. in Las Vegas says she used to "pull her hair out" trying to confirm whether fee-based clients had been billed correctly each quarter. She now uses a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet system developed by another team at Sutro. The break points and percentages are preprogrammed.
Once each quarter, Barr types in the current client account values and figures the billing amounts for each client. These can be matched to what the back office says is going to be charged. "We can catch errors before they occur," Barr says.
15) Take the calls that matter.
Matt Bolka, an industry consultant based in Blowing Rock, N.C., advises you put in a separate line for clients. "Print this number-and only this number-on your business cards and stationery," Bolka says. "Your general business line is the one listed in the telephone book and directory assistance. You immediately eliminate answering calls from all those copy machine salespeople."
16) Make calls short and frequent.
Control your tendency to gab. "I make 35 to 40 calls a day to clients," says Richard DeGregorio, a veteran broker with Tucker Anthony in Boston. "I don't have really long conversations. Somewhere toward the end, I'll say, 'I have to go now.' It can be done very diplomatically. ... I abbreviate the calls to five minutes maximum."
17) Invest in your business.
At most large firms, brokers have to earn the privilege of having an assistant by producing up to $500,000 or $1 million a year. Yet it's difficult to produce that much without administrative help.
The answer? Invest in your own support team, says Jim Fulp, senior vice president of business development at Raymond James Financial Services in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"Don't be afraid to stick your neck out and invest in your business," Fulp says. "I've never known a seven-figure rep who didn't understand that you've got to spend money to make money. Sometimes they've had to convince their branch manager to let them bring someone on board and pay them out of their own pocket." Effective reps also reward assistants with bonuses of 1% to 3% of their production, Fulp says.
18) Set priorities.
"Discover what matters most to you," suggests Henry Marsh, an Olympic athlete and author of "The Breakthrough Factor." "That has to be the foundation of your work and your lives. Identify your personal mission statement, your governing values and the responsibilities that relate to those values. Then prioritize your day in accordance with those values. At the end of the day, you'll feel productive."
19) Think long term.
Impatience gets brokers in trouble and creates stress. If you're trying to make money fast, be prepared to suffer from burned-client syndrome, especially if you're trading volatile stocks or options. "If you do what's best for the client, you're going to have fewer commissions in the short run, but more in the long run," says Franz Amussen of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Salt Lake City. "Don't drive a new BMW 750 and have a lot of debt so you have to perform. Live within your means."
20) Care first.
"If you really care about the client, and you're not in it just for the money, everything is easier," says Steve Drozdeck, a brokerage training consultant with Drozdeck & Gretz Associates in Logan, Utah, and author of several books, including "The Broker's Edge." "It reduces stress because you're working with people you like. You're making a difference in their lives. People can hear it in your voice that you care. You get fewer rejections" and more referrals.