Increased referrals is a product of, probably more than anything else, increased client engagement. And a new book suggests that the secret to increasing client engagement may be to increase your own engagement.
This is the suggestion of Julie Littlechild in her recently released book Absolute Engagement. With her personal journey as inspiration, Littlechild confirmed with quantitative research that the top 15% of advisors have a relationship with their business that creates not only more success but more personal satisfaction, lower stress, and a better life. It turns out that the best way to have a really engaged client base is for you to be more fully engaged first. If you feel stalled or stressed in your business or are a Gen X planner feeling disenfranchised at your baby boomer owned firm, this book is especially for you.
It starts out with a personal vision and reflection on what you hope to accomplish in your business. In interviewing Julie, it begins by asking questions like “Honestly, what do I love to do? If I could just do one thing, for example, with all my time, what would that be?”
There are echoes of what I have heard from other successful and personally satisfied advisors like Evelyn Zohlen, and fits with principles explored by people like Simon Sinek, whom she refers to in the book. Sinek has popularized the idea that people don’t do business with you because of what you do but because of why you do it. Passion for what you do can be very persuasive in attracting clients. Being engaged in something you feel passionate about also inspires and motivates.
Developing that vision helps you focus on the three elements Littlechild identified that contribute to engagement in your business: the right clients, the right work, and the right role. She talks about the value of being audacious and setting goals to orient your practice around an offer tailored to target clients doing the work that is most meaningful to them and to you. It’s not that you would necessarily change everything about your business, but putting everything on the table may open up your mind to things you had not considered. It helps you overcome what Julie called in my interview with her a “crisis of imagination.”
You might think that anyone who has the courage to start a business, including financial advisors, would have a certain level of boldness and ability to think big. But interestingly the opposite is often true after businesses have been established a while.
As documented, for example, in The Breakthrough Company, as a business becomes successful it’s owner tends to become more conservative and less willing to take risks. In the advisory world the translation is advisors getting stuck in a box of their own making. Having a certain approach, a certain process, and the body of clients built up that is producing a good, consistent living brings a natural tendency not to want to mess with it.
Audacity is called for. Dr. Peter Diamandis, the serial entrepreneur and innovator is known for asking questions of business owners like “how would you accomplish your 10 year goals in six months?” He does not necessarily expect the entrepreneur to accomplish such a goal but considering what it would take forces you into the necessity of considering a whole new system or approach.
One of the useful topics Littlechild explores is discovering the right role to play in your business. A lot of the stress of running an advisory firm comes simply from doing a lot of things you don’t like to do. Some advisors are gregarious and great at business development. Others are great technicians. Many are lousy delegators.
One of the questions on her survey was true or false: “My business could operate effectively if I had to be away for an extended period of time.” Creating equity in a business requires that you be able to answer in the affirmative – and that is true for all industries, not just financial services. Many small business owners cannot answer yes to this question and that is the source of a lot of the stress they feel. One of the big differences between the absolutely engaged advisors and everyone else is their answer to this question.
Engagement is not just an issue of how you work with your clients. It is a reflection of how you work with your team. Many successful founders of advisory firms gradually delegated all of the technical planning responsibilities to staff to free them up to work on client relationships. It may be that the most rewarding role for you is to craft financial plans and to hire an executive to manage the business. It was an issue Julie had to confront herself. “I’ve always worked with financial advisors. I have no plan on changing that. I like working with financial advisors. But what needed to change for me was more focusing on the right work: speaking and writing — and playing the right role… I wanted to create the role in a business where I could work from other parts of the world, where I could work from home if I so chose to do so.” That recognition has a big impact on the design of her business.
Creating a unique client experience heavily influences your ability to attract the right clients. Equally important and often overlooked is creating the right team experience. Absolutely engaged advisors are far more likely to create and manage the culture of their firm deliberately. And creating the right environment can have a dramatic effect on your personal satisfaction and motivation.
Finally, Littlechild discovered the importance of taking care of yourself and creating time for recharging and renewal. The most engaged advisors take more time off and take better care of themselves. One of the outcomes is increased creativity, enabling them to find new and better ways to improve their service to clients and their businesses. It becomes a virtuous circle.
Most of the books I read about the business side of financial services focus on the business itself – systems and strategies for making the enterprise more efficient, effective, or marketable. Littlechild’s contribution is the focus on the personal journey of the leader of an advisory firm. If you are leader of your own firm or aspire to be one, this book has a lot of valuable guidance.
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