Advisors put a lot of pressure on themselves to have everything right on the first day of a new year; business plan complete, goals set, new website up and running, etc.
The truth is it is rare to hit the ground running on Jan. 1 of a normal year, let alone a year marred by new COVID variants, school and office closures, and general panic and uncertainty.
If your year-end planning sessions got derailed in December, or you simply were too burnt out to prepare the way you wanted to for this year, do not fret. There is nothing wrong with figuratively starting your year this week or even Feb. 1.
If you are looking for some guidance around how to prepare for a new year, even after the new year has started, here are my recommendations. These exercises will help you reflect on the business, clarify areas that need your attention, and hopefully score some early practice management wins. Spend the next two weeks tackling one of these exercises every few days.
1. Audit all your tech providers, apps, programs and subscriptions.
This is critical for two reasons. First, it is likely that you are paying for things you are not using. (How many times have you set up a "free trial" and simply forgot to unsubscribe?) Or it's possible you are paying for a piece of technology and not fully leveraging it. Mass consolidation in the fintech space means there is a good chance one of your technology vendors has acquired other companies since you signed onboard.
Secondly, it is important, as the manager of the business, to have a solid understanding of what you pay for and why. You would be surprised how many business owners do not remember basic information about which vendors they use and how much they use them. Here are several things to look for as you are reviewing all your contracts and subscriptions:
- Are there any areas where you can consolidate? In other words, are you using multiple programs or apps for the same purpose? A simple example would be paying for both Zoom and Webex.
- Are there ways in which could be getting more "bang for your buck?" Or are there opportunities to streamline technology? An example might be to leverage your portfolio management software's financial planning tool, rather than paying for a separate financial planning technology.
- How does what you are paying compare with competitors in the space? Unfortunately, managing your own business requires you to stay up to speed on developments in fintech. Are there cost efficiencies, given the size of your practice, that you could be taking advantage of?
2. Audit your team and processes.
By audit I mean, spend intentional time reviewing the roles on your team, how each person is performing in their role, and how much you are compensating each team member.
The purpose of this exercise is to two-fold. First, it will give you a foundation for how to support your team members this year. Here are a few questions you might consider as you audit your team:
- What has surprised you the most about [insert name of team member]? What skill set have they exhibited that you should be leveraging more of?
- What type of role has [insert name of team member] expressed interest in being in long-term? Are they able to develop into that role from a technical competency standpoint? What about from a leadership standpoint?
- How many clients are each of your service advisors managing? Is that in line with industry standards of 80-100 clients per service advisor?
- Given the practice's goals, what will compensation look like for each team member over the next three years? Would team members be happy with that compensation?
- What is the next role you are hiring for? Why?
Secondly, this exercise should help you assess and determine the level of efficiency on your team.
As part of your "audit," work with your team to write out each step in the client engagement and service process. Literally write out everything you do during each stage, from prospect conversion to onboarding to running review meetings. Go through every single step and identify, a) where technology can create efficiencies, or b) where a team member could be more efficient.
This exercise may seem tedious but paying this level of attention to your processes and workflow will be game-changing.
3. Memorialize your repeatable processes.
Once you have completed the above exercise, find opportunities to establish repeatable processes—and document them. There should be core repeatable processes at every stage of client engagement and service. Even though there will always be exceptions to rules, and one-offs scenarios, there are certain things that should happen the same way, every single time.
The list for a highly efficient advisory practice is exhaustive. Here are a few no-brainers to get you started:
- What deliverables you send to prospects and how you stay in touch with them.
- How you onboard clients including what deliverables they receive and in what timeframe.
- How you set expectations with new clients about the planning process.
- When and how you facilitate review meetings.
- How you manage clients' money.
- How and when you communicate with clients throughout the year.
4. Review all your copy and content.
Since you launched your firm's website, how many times have you gone back to review what is written on each page?
Our industry—and the advisor value proposition—continues to evolve. It's important that the messages you are sending to clients and prospects stay relevant. Take a few minutes to review all your social profiles, your website, your marketing material and even your email signature. Then review the professional profiles of your team members. Consider the following:
- Is there cohesiveness across all your content? Do you describe your firm and services the same way everywhere?
- Is your value proposition clear?
- Is there language that you would like to change given recent developments in your practice?
- Is your content reflective of the type of content that would resonate with your core demographic?
5. Identify your top clients.
Auditing your client segmentation process is a necessary exercise that should be completed annually. If you did not have the chance to review and assess your full book of business in December, my recommendation is that you spend a few minutes simply making note of who your top clients are.
This does need to be a long exercise. Spend half an hour reviewing your relationships, and making note of:
- Who your top 20 clients (households) are.
- Who of the 20, you want to "surprise and delight" this year, and this quarter.
- What you are doing (or should be doing) for these 20 that is different than what you do for other clients.
- When your last communication with each of them was.
Use these exercises as the foundation for your practice management initiatives and focus for 2022.
Happy New Year!
Penny Phillips is the co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth.