If your business is under pressure right now, you need to do something.
Greg Brenneman, the number 1 turnaround guru in the world, has a simple playbook for managing in uncertain times. (FYI – I’ve linked to a full presentation from Greg at the end of this article, but have adapted some of his material for owner-operated financial planning firms).
You Need A Plan
If you are trying to turn things around in your business right now, you need a plan.
I’m not talking a full Business Plan. I’m talking a short and sweet one page turnaround plan.
There are four areas to focus on and, if I was turning around a smaller, owner-operated advice firm, my plan might look like this:
- - Market Plan – “Communicate with customers”
- - Financial Plan – “Cut then serve”
- - Product Plan – “Right advice”
- - People Plan – “Lead transparently”
Let me explain each one.
1. Market Plan – Communicate with customers
The biggest mistake most advisers make in times like these is going to radio silence with their clients. It’s business suicide. Don’t do it.
If you haven’t already done so, get a message out via email to all of your clients and explain your views on the current state of markets and the world.
If you feel a little late to the game, just say “events have been moving very quickly” (which they have) and now you’re getting in touch with a better handle on things.
I’ve seen a lot of advisers bragging on social media that they’ve had no client calls, as if this is sure-fire proof that their clients have heard their speeches on market downturns over the years and are not concerned.
Even if it’s true, and in many cases it won’t be, I would never allow myself to think that way. You need to be communicating with your clients.
My communication to clients wouldn’t be trying to play down the situation.
I realise that from a stock market point of view, this is just another one of those big market crashes or corrections. It will recover in due course like it always does.
However, a global pandemic does feel like “we’ve never seen this before”. I know people want to compare it to SARS and other mass infections, but those events were largely confined to one region of the world and I don’t remember being told to stay in my house for 3 months.
So please do acknowledge the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in. You can acknowledge that and then explain that on the market side, we HAVE seen it all before. That part we know how to deal with.
The world isn’t ending, it’s just on pause for a while.
For your biggest clients, maybe your top 10, or 20 or 30, pick up the phone and call them personally. You’re just going to say what you’ve said in your email, but hearing your voice will be good.
I would be emailing clients maybe every 4-6 weeks. All you’ll be saying is sit tight and do nothing, but you can find new ways to say it and just reassure people.
If clients call you at your office, take their calls and reassure them.
All of this might feel like extra cost to you right now, but it’s not. It’s referrable.
And when most advisers don’t take this approach, and go to radio silence, you WILL get your clients referring you to friends and co-workers who are scared and looking for an adviser they can trust.
2. Financial Plan – Cut then serve
What I mean by “Cut then serve” is that you and your team are going to cut every cost that you reasonably can, without destroying your service.
In Greg Brenneman’s presentation he’s got two great lines:
- - “You can’t save your way to prosperity”
- - “You can make a pizza so cheap, no one wants to eat it”
His point being that you’re trying to turn your business around. The way to do that will be to focus on generating revenue, rather than merely cutting costs.
Once you’ve made all the cuts you can, it’s time to switch to an absolute focus on service.
That means communicating like we just talked about, but it also means turning work around quickly for existing clients, or any new clients you find yourself speaking to.
You’ve got to focus on delivering and doing what you say you’ll do.
So “cut then serve” is the mantra.
3. The Product Plan – Right advice
It’s easy to start thinking only of yourself when the pressure comes on and you feel your livelihood is under threat.
Whenever you feel that, I want you to turn it 180 degrees on its head.
The best strategy is to focus exclusively on what’s right for each client or potential client you find yourself sitting in front of.
If a client calls and wants to withdraw some money from an investment, and you believe it’s the right thing for them to be doing, then make it happen. Give the advice and get it done.
Naturally, if you don’t think it’s right, or they should be taking the money from another pot then tell them. But focus only on the best outcome for the client.
Even if, in the short term, you feel this is costing you assets under management and your income is still tied to those assets, do it anyway and do it with a client-focused mindset.
Once again, this type of behaviour is totally referrable. If clients see you working in their best interests even in a falling market, it builds on that trusted relationship. You’ll get new work from it.
And you’re going to need new clients to generate revenue.
Your product is client-centric advice. So focus on giving that as your product plan.
4. People plan – Lead transparently.
If you’ve got more than just yourself on the team, then you need to be communicating openly with everyone. They’ll probably be worried about their jobs.
If you are cutting back, or are forced to sack anyone, you need to communicate the decisions you are making – good or bad – and get them done.
For the team members that are remaining (and hopefully that’s all of them), share this simple one page turnaround plan with them. Have them memorise it so everyone knows what the focus and priorities are over the next few months. (That’s why we have one short sentence for each aspect of the plan, so it’s easy to remember)
I realise they might be working from home, but that shouldn’t be any major impediment to moving forward.
What it will require from you is a little extra effort in communicating every day with the team.
I’d suggest a 15 minute virtual huddle in the morning every day. Get them to dial in on Zoom or whatever video conferencing tool you use at say 9:00am. Find out what they’ve got on their plate and make sure the right priorities are top of the pile.
You can also share any wins on a daily basis too. No win is too small in this situation. You’ll start with a series of small wins that will lead you to a bigger win. So share away.
Here’s another great throw away line from Greg Brenneman:
“The fastest way to make money is to stop doing things that lose it.’
In your plan, and in your day to day actions, focus only on things that are core business and that will help generate happy clients, or more revenue.
Think money in, not money out.
Ask yourself some questions:
- - How can you get money coming in?
- - What are the things you need to do to generate cash?
- - How can you excite people to want to get your advice?
I’m going to look at this in more detail next week, to give you some simple marketing and lead generation ideas.
If your business is under pressure, there’s no time to waste. Create your own version of my turnaround plan and get to work.
And one last tip:
If you find that servicing your clients and the day-to-day stuff of running your business just dominates your time at the moment (and it might), then consider getting up at 5:00am each day and spending an hour or two on moving the important stuff forward, before your day really explodes into action.
You’ve got to find at least a couple of hours per day to do the things that really matter. If that requires a bit of extra time and effort for a few months to keep your business alive, then so be it. It’s not forever.
Here is Greg Brenneman’s presentation on “Managing in Uncertain Times”. I received this in an email from Verne Harnish, who is doing his bit to help businesses right now, by offering this for free (normally $99). Here’s the link.