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Own Your Own Firm (or Looking to Start One)? How to Recognize Intangibles of Success


Own Your Own Firm (or Looking to Start One)? How to Recognize Intangibles of Success

In January, I offered strategies on entrepreneurship in “Five Reasons to Start Your Own Firm and Four Steps to Take to Do It.” Now, I would like to address the intangibles of an entrepreneurial mindset.

Launching a business and then building a profitable company are difficult. Even in the business-friendly climate in the United States, the overwhelming majority of new businesses fail.

Recognize the Intangibles of Success — Especially Trust

There is so much in life we cannot measure. How do you quantify trust, love, relationships, and communication? Our interdependent global economy naturally puts a premium on trust, which cannot be measured.

Acquiring and serving clients requires specific skills. When launching your own business, you will need to foster trust with prospective clients and strategic referral partners. In order to help clients implement investment or financial planning advice, you will need to build even more trust.

On the recommendation of my business partner, I read The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. It taught me the importance of using my ears and mouth proportionately. To build trust, take a “listen first” attitude. Genuine listening is an intangible skill and a competitive advantage. Covey also explains that trust is a function of two things: character and competence.

Character is defined by your integrity, your motives, and your intentions. Competence is a function of your capabilities, your skills, your results, and your track record. Both are equally critical when fostering trust and relationships that will support the growth of your investment business.

Measure Success

It is important to have metrics for quantifying success. Just as benchmarks are important for measuring the success of an investment portfolio, they are also critical for your business success, because you are responsible for your time.
Though assets under management and returns are both important for profitability, how well you define success at the beginning of your business will determine how strong a foundation you have for progress in growth. Our firm made a decision to never allow the size of our company or number of clients to define our success. We choose to measure success in terms of helping clients achieve their goals through financial planning and the impact we have on the world through our education strategy. Our Blue Ocean Strategy is education.

Adopt a Global Mindset

One of my favorite childhood activities was buying the Choco Taco from the local Good Humor ice cream truck. Unilever, a British-Dutch company and the world’s largest ice-cream maker, owns Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, and Good Humor. CITGO was founded by Henry Doherty, an American, in 1910, but the company is now owned by the government of Venezuela. The Abu Dhabi Investment Council owns 75% of New York City’s Chrysler Building, while Israeli El-Ad Group owns the Plaza Hotel.

The interdependence of our global supply chain requires us to have a global mindset across all disciplines. Just under half of S&P 500 sales are from outside the United States. If the Ford you buy is built in Mexico and the Honda is manufactured in Ohio, which company has a better claim to ask its customers to “Buy American”?

Similarly, clients require their advisers to have a global perspective when serving as fiduciaries and managing their investment portfolios. Investment professionals must account for and explain myriad variables, including increased global stock market correlations, each country’s idiosyncratic stage of the investment cycle, low-interest rates in many developed market economies, and geopolitical uncertainty.

Embrace Innovation

Taking an innovative approach when building your investment business will help you drive progress and expand your opportunity set. This may mean that you are thoughtful about how you engage your clients and prospects, perhaps leveraging technology to communicate through video conferencing rather than requesting a traditional meeting at your office.

Innovation can also occur within your investment process when you identify non-traditional asset classes or discover new ways to hedge against adverse declines in portfolio value.

We follow a financial planning process at our firm. Investments are important and represent a cornerstone of each financial planning relationship. When planning for the launch of our firm, our team recognized that technology must be an asset rather than a challenge, barrier, or constraint.

As a result, we conducted an exhaustive global search to identify experienced technology partners. We became clients of several companies and referred others in our network to test our new resources. We applied our financial planning background to create a technology planning process to help align marketing, sales, and technology resource allocations with the organization’s strategic plan. Sustaining a company’s inherent competitive advantages requires a transparent and innovative technology partner.

Have a Long-Term Perspective

Investing for clients requires a long-term perspective. So does launching a business and building an enduring company. They are often a life’s work. I tried to make this point when I spent time in India this past fall providing entrepreneurial education and speaking on the benefits of completing the CFA Program.

Today, India is experiencing a start-up revolution. The country is young, with over 500 million people under the age of 26. Naturally, the media focuses on the success stories of a few companies such as SnapDeal and FlipKart. I reminded the audience these are anomalies, though. Even these seeming overnight successes are the product of much more than a great idea and an infusion of capital. A long-term perspective is fundamental to building a great business. It is essential to make decisions based upon where you want to be five, 10, and 20 years from now.

Enjoy the Journey

Satisfaction is found in personal and professional happiness. Work fueled by your strengths and passions will produce extraordinary results.

This story, which is probably apocryphal, sheds some light on what I mean:

When John Lennon was a boy in the late 1940s, his mother taught him the importance of happiness. One day in school, the teacher instructed the class to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up on a piece of paper.

Most students created pictures of Winston Churchill, pilots, firefighters, and those heroes who had led the United Kingdom in World War II. John drew happy faces, toys, and the beach. John’s teacher said, “John, you don’t understand the assignment.” John replied to his teacher, “You don’t understand life.”

I encourage you to think about what makes you happy. Follow your heart when applying for your next job or launching your next entrepreneurial venture.

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