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Five ways to start the new year right

Liz DeCarlo

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Simple strategies to organize your business and your life in 2020.
Illustration by Michael Glenwood

AS WE LOOK AT THE YEAR 2019 in the rearview mirror, and 2020 eases into place, it’s a good time to reflect on how to make this year even better than the last. Simple steps, vetted and explained by MDRT members, can open up new opportunities and possibilities in 2020. Here are five to put on your to-do list.

1. Write a one-page business plan

Having a written business plan creates clarity for you and your team. Keeping the plan to literally one page really helps you stay focused on it.

The one-page business plan is broken up into the following five sections.

Vision statement. This helps you define how big you want your business and what you want to accomplish. It also clarifies what type of business you’re in or want to be in. Is it employee benefits? Is it working with families? Define the ideal type of business you’re trying to create, and identify two to three of your key products or services that are part of that vision. Put a time period in there too.

This is my current vision statement: At BFG Financial Advisors, we want to become a national financial advisory firm. We want to serve about 500 families by providing and implementing comprehensive financial plans. By 2023, we want our firm to have a certain number of assets under management, generating a certain amount of revenue.

Mission statement. Why does the business exist? Who are you going to work with? What value do you bring to them? What is your unique selling proposition? What are you committed to providing the client, and what wants, needs, desires, pain or problems do your products or services alleviate for the clients?

My mission statement is: We work with families to grow, protect and preserve their wealth through multigenerational legacy planning.

I can show this to any one of my employees, and they’re going to understand exactly what we’re trying to do. A well-written mission statement attracts customers and also drives behavior within your organization.

The key to meaningful objectives is to identify goals that are critical to your success and can be easily tracked. Don’t set a goal if you don’t have access to information you can evaluate.

Objectives. All objectives should be measurable goals. They define what kind of action is going to be taken, and how the results will be measured. Include a numerical value in every objective, and assign a name and date for accountability.

The key to the meaningful objectives is to identify goals that are critical to your success and can be easily tracked. Don’t set a goal if you don’t have access to information you can evaluate.

It’s important to include different types of objectives to cover your practice. What you’re trying to do is cover all the bases for your practice. At the end of the day, we all know that what gets measured gets achieved.

Strategies. These tend to be longer-term, more than a year, goals. They set the direction, philosophy, values and methodology for building and managing your company. You look at a process or goal you want to achieve and try to define what you can do to achieve that. These are the established guidelines and boundaries for evaluating business decisions: Is it in alignment with these strategies?

For example, we just got a new client-resource management system, and we want to expand the use of it. That’s a goal that will help us grow our business in the long term. How are we going to do that? We’re going to use it to identify opportunities, improve service, and do real-time measurement on how fast and consistently we’re creating a process.

Action plans. These represent specific actions the business must take to implement the strategies and to achieve objectives. A simple formula is: Pick your project, a start and complete date, and the person who is assigned to it if you have multiple people working on it.

Ideally, each action plan relates to an objective or a strategy, but you won’t have one for every objective and strategy. Otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed, and you won’t get anything done.

Typically no more than two action plans are assigned for a quarter. In a smaller practice, you might have one big overarching action plan if it’s a major undertaking, like merging a practice.

Share it. You have a clear, concise business plan. That’s your first draft. Now share it with your partners and employees. Take good notes on their feedback to refine it and make sure it’s an understandable document.

After you have a business plan for the practice, each individual on your team should create their own and then review those monthly. This ensures support of the company’s one-page business plan.

Kathleen R. Benjamin, CFP, CPA, is a 15-year MDRT member from Timonium, Maryland.

2. Say no to difficult clients

As you build your practice, you might be tempted to say yes to anybody and everybody who you can get to talk to you, even when it is not the best use of your time.

Perhaps a prospect asks, “Hey, can you drive an hour for an appointment?” You might be tempted to say, “What time do you want me there?” Or maybe they ask, “Do you work evenings and weekends?” You might be tempted to say, “Of course. I am here to serve.”

What you need to understand is the freedom of the word no. You do not, in fact, need to say yes to every possible piece of business out there. By doing suboptimal work, you are keeping yourself from reaching your true and full potential.

You want to be spending your time in the best way possible. When that isn’t happening, just say no, and watch the freedom that flows from there.

Those clients who make you cringe when you see their name on call display? Think about this: How much better would it be if you had never taken them on in the first place? The best way to handle a situation like that is not to try to fix it but to prevent it from happening at all.

If someone is not a good fit for your practice, when do you think is the best time to come to that conclusion? Is it after they have been draining your energy for years? Of course not. The best time to deal with this is before it even becomes an issue. Don’t engage clients who are not a good fit.

Saying no can sometimes be a challenge because it could mean turning away work that made you successful in the first place. But if your objective is to grow your practice, inevitably you are going to need to evolve. You may need to say no to what you used to do, to move forward with what you need to do next.

So get control over your practice — and your life. Learn when to just say no.

Brad Brain, CFP, CLU, is a 10-year MDRT member from Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada.

3. Create a “can do” culture

When I first started in the business, I used to look for the one big idea that would enable me to be successful. Eventually, I realized that overnight success is a myth. Instead, I created a CAN-DO model, which focuses on five areas: communication, attitude, knowing your numbers, dedication to your clients and organization within your firm.

Communication: Good communication isn’t just about talking. Learn to listen and enjoy the silence. You can never listen your way out of a sale. However, it is possible to talk yourself out of one.

Doing what we do, we have a unique opportunity to really get to know our clients in the deepest possible way. Given the opportunity, and the silence, they would like nothing better than to talk to you about their hopes, dreams and goals.

Attitude: We have a team meeting every Monday morning, and we start with a positive focus. Everybody is asked to say one thing they have done or that has happened to them recently that has made them feel positive. This gets everyone smiling and in a happy state of mind before we start our meeting, and we can then get the most out of it.

When we first started this exercise, I must admit it felt a little contrived, and I think most people limited their focus to something that happened the week before in the business. As time has gone on, the focus has shifted toward positive things from their private lives, which means you get the added bonus of finding out more about your team members than you could ever get from casual conversation.

At the end of the day, how you approach life and how you deal with problems is entirely up to you and your attitude. If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.

Numbers: A basic understanding of your own numbers is essential for planning your goals for the year. Start with a list of everything you want to achieve in the next 12 months and what each of those goals is going to cost you. You will then know how much income you have to produce to afford your goals.

Knowing your average case size will tell you how many:

  • Cases you have to write in the year
  • People you will need to have sales meetings with to close those cases
  • Preliminary meetings you will need to move people to a sales meeting
  • Meetings you need to arrange each week (taking into account cancellations)
  • Phone calls you will need to make to book each meeting

A warning though: Never focus more on the numbers than on your clients. They will spot the lack of caring immediately and will dump you. If you look after your clients, they will look after your numbers.

Dedication: There is no such thing as overnight success, so the dedication to stick to your plan and your goals, especially when life gets difficult, will help you enormously in this business.

Learn to do the uncomfortable work first — the exact work you dread doing most is the work that has the most ability to change your life. How many Mondays have come and gone since you said, “I’ll start next week”? Take action and start today. A friend of mine tells a story of three frogs on a log. One decides to jump off; how many are left? Still three. You have to take action; deciding to do something is never enough. Just do it!

Organize: Finally, being able to organize yourself and your teams better should just make your life much simpler and easier to control and lead you to greater success. Fix your client meeting times in advance. Understand the importance of taking regular breaks and recharging your physical and emotional batteries.

At the very start of the year, allocate your proposed holidays and essential trips for the next 12 months. Don’t wait until you are feeling exhausted before deciding to take a vacation.

Since the end of last year, we have gone one stage further: Everybody on my team, including me, is now only working a four-day week. We rescheduled everybody’s hours so we all work a little bit extra at the beginning and at the end of each day we are in the office, and we take a slightly shorter lunch break.

There are plenty of other timesaving tricks available. One I particularly like: The next time you have a problem-solving meeting and want things to progress quickly, consider having a stand-up meeting and forgo chairs completely. This keeps people from settling in and encourages them to get to the point and move on with their day. In fact, in my office, I do not even have a chair. I stand up at my desk all day, and so all meetings I have when people come to me are usually quite short and efficient.

My conclusion is, likewise, going to be basic and short — you CAN DO it. Keep life simple, smile a lot and have fun.

Jeremy Mark Wellington, Dip PFS, Dip CII, is an eight-year MDRT member from Truro, England.

There is no such thing as overnight success, so the dedication to stick to your plan and your goals, especially when life gets difficult, will help you enormously in this business.

4. Choose gratitude

As a leadership team, we meet on Fridays to go over all of the things that have happened in the last week. We cover what’s gone right, what the messages are, what we’ve learned.

We want to look at and thank those who have helped us. Has it been a client, a supplier or a team member? In Monday’s team meeting, who are we going to give praise to? By doing these things, it helps give some positivity on a weekly basis.

If I’m feeling a little down or my team is, we go back and say, “What have we achieved over the last weeks and months?” When you start adding up all the positive things that have happened, it’s amazing how you can really feel so much better.

Jenny Brown, CFP, FChFP, is an 11-year MDRT member from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

5. Start delegating

Just because you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Focus on what only you can do, for example, meeting with clients, thinking strategically about your business and working on your business.

Making myself let go of things has helped me realize some of the team really want to get more involved. They want to take on more responsibilities and grow their skills, and that’s fantastic for all of us. I’ve often found they’re capable of far more than they think they are.

You might be thinking you don’t have that person to delegate to, or they couldn’t do as well as you. You might also think, It only takes a few minutes, I’ll just get it done. But it’s the compounding effect of saving those few minutes that makes a difference.

I’ve also found outsourcing to be helpful if we don’t have the skills in-house. While there is a cost involved, it frees up your time to generate more revenue, so it should more than pay for itself.

Your delegation will go more smoothly if you take a few minutes to be clear about what needs to be done, the standard you expect, the deadline and the importance of doing it. This will save you both a lot of time and potential frustration.

Catherine Gough, FPFS, is a two-year MDRT member from Shrewsbury, England


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