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Strategies for Success

Four young advisors and a professional coach describe the ways you can get through the tough times and start moving ahead.

By Helen Thompson

Two of the highlights of this year’s NAIFA Convention and Career Conference in San Francisco were the “Four Under Forty” breakout session and the educational workshop that immediately followed, both sponsored by the Young Advisors Team. The “Four Under Forty” session was presented by the four young advisors who had been profiled in the June 2006 issue of Advisor Today and were on hand to collect their awards and share their insights.

Learning the referral ropes
Jennifer Alford started in the business with a high school internship and worked full-time while finishing college. So when she graduated, she found herself with a lot of time on her hands and a lot of people to talk to. In fact, she spent so much time learning how to network her way to referrals that it was her full-time job directly out of college. “Each week, I spent 15 hours in training and education, five hours volunteering in the community and 10 hours networking,” she said. “Getting to know people allowed me to shift to a more referral-based business quickly.”

Quick tip: “Pick who you want to work with and know how to ask for referrals.”—Jennifer Alford

But getting to know a lot of people isn’t itself the way to referrals, she continued. Instead, find those who are your best referrers and groom them to be your referral partners. “Four people are getting me 90 percent of my business,” explained Alford, a member of NAIFA-Toledo. “I train my referral partners how to know the type of person I’m looking for. Then we set up the introduction, with a testimonial—maybe over coffee or at a networking function, but always face to face.”

Make your time worth something
During John Enright’s first 18 months in the business, he made 100 calls a day, seven days a week. And the Syracuse AIFA member did just fine, securing plenty of business from leads he was finding in the community, including alumni from his fraternity and college. But despite those early successes, he had become painfully aware that he was spending more time trying to get business than he was doing business, and he made a decision to shift to a fee-based practice. Those early months were good for learning important sales techniques, but he was more interested in the rapport he could build if he wasn’t consumed with making 25 to 45 appointments a week.

Quick tip: “Don’t be the product person. Be the relationship person.”—John Enright

So when an audience member stepped up with a question on how to know whether a “maybe” client was serious about your expertise, Enright tossed out a quick answer: “Charge them a fee.” The laughter that resulted was accompanied by smiles and nods, as he went on: “You have to have the knowledge, commitment and expertise to be a fee-based advisor, but when you have those qualities, you’re worth it. Charge them for a year’s worth of services, give them great service during that year, and at the end of the year they can evaluate their needs.”

Find a mentor, but strike your own mold
During college, Tim Harrison, CFP, CLU, ChFC, needed to pay tuition, but had a good sense that he wanted the kind of job where he could—no, needed to—wear a suit and tie. He signed on with Northwestern Mutual’s internship program, where he started working closely with a mentor to get a foot in the door. What made Harrison’s story a little unusual was that he was a freshman, pressing for the internship despite his youth. “I was selling him on the phone; taking that risk was a big decision for me,” he said. “I started out earning 20 percent of a case and as I became more confident and more skillful, I got more of that.”

Quick tip: “Everyone has things they aren’t good at, even me. Be aware of what yours are.”—Tim Harrison, CFP, CLU, ChFC

Harrison experienced a bit of “hit and miss” during those early years, but he found himself increasingly stepping outside the box to win clients his way. That was a discovery process, too. “It gets easier and easier to go up the hill—I found the answer through planning, not products—the more comprehensive, the better,” said Harrison, a member of NAIFA-Omaha. “I discovered my niche by knowing what I could do. In other words, know your own unique ability—what are you best at?”

Keep your edge
The way your clients perceive you will ultimately make all the difference in how you do business with them, said Brent Spicuzza, CFP, a member of NAIFA-St. Louis. To earn a living in this business, never stop learning. “If you’re not trying to get ahead of the curve, the competition is right at your heels and they’ll overtake you,” he said. “A critical portion of the business today is education.” Go for designations your prospective clients will recognize, he added, because that will be better for your bottom line.

Quick tip: “Ask your clients for tips. Get them talking about what they want.”—Brent Spicuzza, CFP

And once you have those clients, they will be your best teachers. “Follow the money,” Spicuzza said, noting that by getting to know your best clients, you’ll win more clients like them. “For instance, you’ll find that most people are looking for a team approach to financial planning,” he continued. “Make sure that you have the right team.”

Remove your barriers to success
After the panel ended, professional coach and frequent Advisor Today contributor Bob Arzt presented an interactive workshop, titled, “Transform Your Goals to Reality.” During the workshop he presented several key barriers to success and prosperity. Are any of these things holding you back?

  • Feelings of inadequacy: Ever notice how people never seem to recognize the things you do right but always announce to the world the one thing you do wrong? If this affects you, develop the capacity to relive your many successes during those off times.
  • Low expectations or lack of specific goals: There’s a saying that goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Don’t become a self-fulfilling prophesy: Write down your expectations for yourself and don’t be afraid to raise your own bar.
  • Destructive support systems: Sometimes people around you affect your attitude adversely. “Negativism is contagious,” said Arzt. “Surround yourself with nutritious people.”
  • Perfectionism: If you find yourself in a bad loop of control and exhaustion, chances are you’re working too much on your business rather than in your business. It’s hard for the perfectionist to let things go, but as you learn to delegate and trust your team, your job will become easier.

For more information about the barriers to success, visit Arzt’s website at If you contact him, be sure to mention that you are a NAIFA member.



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