When I was an advisor, I was often shocked to discover that many of the advisors I worked with didn't know their production and that very few had plans to grow their practices. Many did not know within 20% where they were in production for the month or even year.
I found this incredible. If you make a living based on performance, how could you not know your results or have a plan to improve? It's like a sprinter not knowing his time in the 100-meter dash.
I think back to one advisor who I partnered with for a short while. She never knew where she was in production, and it became an ongoing joke between us. I would ask her where she was for the day or month just to have her tell me that she didn't know and didn't care. Because she was never focused on production, she was a very low producer.
And yet she did have talent. She had about $60 million in assets, but only did about $200,000 in annual production — a very low return on assets.
I would often remind her that people focus on tasks they're good at. She would focus on service instead of production and therefore did a good job servicing her clients. This helped her bring in new assets, but she never converted them into revenue.
Being an advisor in the wealth management industry is hard. It's difficult to secure new clients and even more difficult to get them to trust you. In addition, an advisor is always battling unpredictable economic and market conditions. Most advisors are "employees at will," meaning they can be fired at any time for just about any reason. All of this makes for a challenging career  that deserves a high income.
Obviously, you should not enter this industry unless you enjoy helping others with their finances, and, of course, you should always put that client's needs first. Having said that, however, you should become an advisor only if you are determined to earn  a high income. If income is not important but service to mankind is your goal instead, I can suggest more appropriate professions. School teachers have a greater impact on the lives of individuals with much less risk. In addition, they have greater job security and their incomes are more stable and predictable.
Once you are certain this is the right industry for you, you must develop a plan. Even more important than having the plan is executing it successfully. Just like the sprinter, as an advisor you need to know where you want to be in the future and set goals. Most good sprinters know their performance times and have a goal for each of their events. In addition, they can tell you who their big competition is and how they are training and planning to beat them.
An advisor needs to have one-, five-, 10- and 20-year goals. Goals need to be established for production, assets, business mix and client makeup. Here at the Rummage Group, we always challenge advisors to ask themselves a few broad questions first. Am I in the right industry? Am I in the best firm model for my skill set (that is, wirehouse, regional firm, bank, insurance company, hybrid, independent or discount)? Am I at a financial institution that gives me the best tools available for success?
Once you know the answers to these broad questions, you can get more specific. Decide what kind of marketing plan you will implement, how much time you'll devote weekly to this plan, what marketing you'll have your sales assistant handle, whether you'll team up with other advisors who have complementary skills, what networking organizations you could join. These are just a few of many decisions to be made and should be included in your business plan.
For advisors based at banks, here are a few additional ideas for your business plan: Set a goal to build stronger relationships with potential internal referral sources, like the mortgage originator, commercial lender or merchant services representative. Take each one to lunch and ask him or her how you can help. Give to get — giving to others makes them want to give back. There is no better way to get a referral than giving one.
Meet with branch managers and ask them how you can help them reach their goals. Offer to buy lunch or dinner for the branch. Host a call night or client appreciation event. When a referral comes in, call the referral source and thank him or her. Set a daily goal to call 10 customers of the bank whom you have never spoken to. Call at least two existing clients and set at least two new appointments every day. Another goal could be to go on five joint appointments with your referral sources each week. There are many more goals you could come up with, based on your specific situation. The important thing is to have a written plan.
Finally, tracking and accountability are very important to a successful plan. Within your written plan should be a section on tracking results, as well as a section on accountability. If you don't track results and hold yourself accountable, you could quickly go back to old counterproductive habits. We are all creatures of habit and we tend to do the same things over and over. Set up negative consequences for missing deadlines and goals. For example, don't leave the office unless you have made your prospecting and marketing calls. Or forgo golf this weekend if you have failed to meet a particular objective.
Many people focus on the wrong things. As an advisor, you need to be careful that you are not focusing on operational issues, spending too much time on emails and, most important, blaming others for your lack of production. Each of us is usually the biggest culprit for unwanted consequences.
For the new year, set a goal to shake it up and do things better than you have in the past. Determine what behaviors have led to success and which ones need to be terminated. We all tend to get stuck in a rut every now and again, but only we can pull ourselves out. There is no time like the present to turn over a new leaf and close more business.
Rick Rummage is the founder and CEO of the Rummage Group, a consulting firm for advisors. He can be reached at [email protected]