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Why you shouldn't treat your business like an assembly line
The stress was so great for Shelley MacIntyre, CHS, that she can’t fit it all in one metaphor.
A hamster stuck on a wheel. Working with rollerblades on. Running an assembly line. The concepts are the same, and they all led to one startling comment:
“If you keep booking me like this,” the five-year MDRT member from Belleville, Ontario, Canada, said to her assistant, “I’m going to be dead in five years.”
The problem that MacIntyre, a self-described “extremely detail-oriented person,” did not realize was that she was, in her words, treating her business like a factory. She would do all of the research and follow-up for every client, holding everyone’s hand through everything and never making anyone else accountable.
When MacIntyre hired her niece as a statistician in 2012, her practice’s problems came into focus, and everything changed. The new staff member identified that setting up more manageable processes could keep their level of service high while not spending the same amount of time with every client.
So MacIntyre started having fewer and more focused meetings. Clients started doing some things for themselves, and MacIntyre built a team that now includes two full-time staff and one part-time administrative employee. The company motto is “Client-focused, team-driven.”
“We’re still focused on the client, but we’re a team, and the clients are a part of that team,” MacIntyre said. “We’re going to have our homework, and they’re going to have their homework.”
So how has that played out in the practice, which focuses on financial planning and tax, estate and succession planning for business owners?
For one thing, it means having help to oversee client notes to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. So if a client note says that, for example, a young couple wanted to begin critical illness coverage six months from now, MacIntyre’s niece, who reads all client notes, ensures the necessary follow-up is done.
Of course, figuring out how to run a business involves several other lessons.
MacIntyre, who considers herself a people pleaser, had a client who called and said they needed to see her right away to transfer their spouse’s pension. So MacIntyre dropped everything in her schedule and met with them, offering her advice but saying they needed to get her perspective confirmed by a tax consultant.
Unfortunately, they went ahead without that added insight, resulting in $2,000 in penalties that MacIntyre felt obligated to pay.
“Nothing is that urgent that you have to drop everything to do it for them,” MacIntyre said, noting that no employer only allows a few days to transfer a pension. “I should have refused to meet with them until they went to a tax specialist.”
She has since determined this client is not respectful of her time and let them go. Similarly, she has also learned that, rather than a soft sell, it’s OK to use her expertise and share insights that business owners need to hear about what they should have in place. It is a determination that came after six years of communicating with the owners of a $5-million business until they finally took action on tax, succession and estate planning.
“They’re so busy doing the day-to-day, making sure the business is running properly, that they didn’t stop and realize the business has grown to become something big and they have to run it for future generations,” she said of the clients, whose business employs four generations of one family, ages 20 to 93. “Once I was able to present their tax liability to them, they realized they cannot put this off any longer. They have even been fabulous at doing their needed homework for us.”
MacIntyre has also thrived by getting out of her comfort zone. She agreed to present in courses at her church, which helped conquer her fear of public speaking, leading to increased confidence presenting to business owners.
Finding a coach
Working with a business coach for the past six years has helped MacIntyre expand beyond any perceived limitations of a small practice in a small town, including getting the most from her staff and understanding client needs.
It was her first coach who recommended MacIntyre create a visual explainer for clients so they understand the coverage they have in place. It led to a diagram featuring parts of a tree on one side and planning sheets about emergencies, retirement and death on the other side.
“I say to them that when you go out of here with the whole tree in place and another person tells you about another product they have, don’t panic; know in your head that you have your tree in place,” she said. “But as you know, a tree is a living, breathing thing; it’s not done growing. It’s the same with your financial plan; there will always be need for change and additions.”