The idea of spending less time at the office and earning a bigger paycheck may sound like an impossible dream to most of us. After all, we have been told over and over again that we reap what we sow, and hard work is the key to a prosperous life. But many financial advisors have achieved this dream, and we spoke with some of them recently to bring you what it takes to work less and make more.
Not surprisingly, the first words of wisdom from nearly all of them were: Learn how to manage your time. You’ve probably heard most of these suggestions before, but some of them are worth repeating: Set deadlines and adhere to them, keep a written daily plan visible at all times, establish daily, weekly and monthly priorities, and avoid procrastination.
Know your perfect day
Another critical part of effectively managing your time is knowing the amount of time you are willing to devote to your career. “Knowing how much time I’m willing to give to this career is a huge time-saver and stress reliever for me,” says Gerard M. Hempstead, CPA, CFP, CLU, ChFC, an advisor with the Hempstead Group in St. Louis, which is part of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. For Hempstead, nights and weekends are non negotiable family time, as are vacations and the dates of other personal events. As a result, he blocks these out on his calendar at the beginning of each year.
Because he limits the time he devotes to work, he learned early on that every minute on the job must count; so he said to himself, “I have 200 days left to work. Here’s what I want those days to look like.” A workout from 5:30-6:30 a.m. kicks off his perfect day. He schedules appointments every 90 minutes—from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. so he can be home with his kids by 6 p.m. As a result, “I’m energized every day and when I come home, I’m still energized,” he says. “I’m not feeling beaten up or overwhelmed.”
To make full use of your time, Hempstead suggests you, too, identify your perfect day by asking the following questions:
- Am I a morning or an afternoon person?
- How many people can I see per day and efficiently process them into my system with the staff I have?
- When do I want to be home at night?
- Do I want to work weekends?
Once you answer these questions and have an idea of your perfect day, you can then develop your schedules and appointments accordingly. This way, you are working at peak performance and making the most of the time you spend on each task.
Off to a good start
To start off this perfect day, you should begin by borrowing a page from the playbook of an NBA All-Star, recommends Stuart R. Levine, author of Cut to the Chase: And 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time. Before each jump shot, Levine says, the player finds his footing, sets his sights on the hoop and visualizes the swoosh as the ball goes through the net. Only then does he release the ball.
Similarly, you should take the first 20 minutes of each day to visualize your success and get organized for that success. Begin by identifying your No. 1 priority for that day. Starting with the end in mind helps you focus your energy on the task at hand. Next, update your to-do lists to allow enough preparation time for meetings and conversations. Then, determine the desired outcome for every appointment, consider who will participate in each meeting, and jot down notes on issues you wish to address with those individuals. Finally, review the schedules of the upcoming week and month to make sure things are on track. After performing all of these tasks, you are now ready to play ball.
Levine adds that an athlete (or an advisor) must explode out of the blocks. That requires a good breakfast, reading the newspaper and reflecting on how world, national and local news will affect your business. It also means you should try to get to the office early. “If you don’t,” he says, “you’re already behind the curve.”
To save even more time, you should learn how to delegate tasks. “Do what you do best and delegate the rest,” advises James E. Rogers, CLU, CFP, who will become MDRT president next year and is currently chair of Rogers Group Financial in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. “Delegating work is a challenge for many advisors—and one many don’t do very well,” he notes. “Then they can’t figure out why they’ve reached an income ceiling.”
But for you to feel comfortable about delegating, you need staff you can rely on to do the tasks you are giving up. “It starts with hiring people who have the innate ability to do things well,” Rogers explains. “Rather than looking at a potential recruit and thinking, ‘I can hire him or her for $20,000 a year,’ it might be better to seek a college-educated young person who has shown, by having a university degree, that he can learn. The key is to hire people who are smarter than you to begin with and allow them to grow. I’ve found good people will only stay with you as long as they’re challenged. You’re going to lose them if you don’t give them challenges that amount to doing a lot of the work you otherwise would do.” Once you hire those smart people, intensive, on-the-job training is a must, adds Rogers.
Use technology to save time and money
Another suggestion from nearly all of the experts we spoke with is to use technology to do things faster, better or more cheaply. But before you move down the high-tech path, be sure you’re clear about all the tasks you perform and how you perform them, advises Kip Gregory, principal of The Gregory Group and author of the book Winning Clients in a Wired World: Seven Strategies for Growing Your Business Using Technology and the Web. Mapping out those tasks and understanding what tools you currently use or need helps avoid impulse decisions about what technology you should buy.
Once you know what your key processes are, you should ask yourself questions such as: Is each step necessary? Is the staff person handling this task the correct person for it or can the task be delegated to someone else? Can it be automated or even eliminated? “The goal,” says Gregory, “is to get as many steps as you can off your plate so you can concentrate on establishing and managing your client relationships.”
Quick and easy marketing
You can also save time and money by using technology to solve most of the pressing problems you face, adds Gregory. For example, many advisors use direct marketing as a prospecting tool. Prospecting traditionally involves shopping for a mailing list, putting it into a database, developing a mailing piece, merging and printing letters, stuffing and stamping envelopes and getting them out the door to prospects. These tasks can be cumbersome and time consuming.
But they don’t have to be, adds Gregory. All of them can be automated by using information found on sites like Goleads.com, infoUSA (www.infousa.com), and zapdata (www.zapdata.com), which allow you to build custom mailing lists from scratch using criteria you select. Or you can use the United States Postal Service (www.usps.com) and AmazingMail (www.amazingmail.com), which will merge names you upload via the internet into letter, brochure, and postcard templates they provide (or you design yourself) and then mail those pieces for you without your ever having to touch a piece of paper. “You can complete a full-blown marketing campaign in under an hour, without leaving your desk if you know what resources to use,” he says.
But to uncover those resources, you have to know how to ask the right questions and where to ask them. According to Gregory, a great place to do that is Google (www.google.com), the search engine of choice for most web users today. Google has many features that can make finding information even easier and quicker, says Gregory. For example, it offers a free add-in program called the Google Toolbar (http://toolbar.google.com), which puts most of its advanced features in a handy dashboard right within your web explorer. Gregory considers the Toolbar a “must-have” and encourages everyone who can install it to do so. “With the average internet user now spending more than 80 hours a month online, anything you can do to minimize how long it takes to find what you need is a step forward,” Gregory emphasizes. “Google’s Toolbar is a way to immediately improve your research productivity at literally no cost.” Google also provides a wide range of search tools, and its directory (http://directory.google.com) offers prioritized lists of sites relating to hundreds of thousands of topics, all organized under about a dozen major categories.
Speed up routine tasks
As you conduct your business with prospects and clients, you can also use technology to speed up everyday processes. For example, Brian Ashe, CLU, president of Brian Ashe and Associates Inc. in Lisle, Ill., uses a dictation-transcription service to get information out of his clients’ heads and into his files quickly and painlessly. “Oftentimes when I get in my car and I’m going to the next call or coming back to the office, while the impressions from the meeting are still fresh in my head, I call up Copytalk on my cell phone and just dictate into its service my notes from the meeting,” Ashe says. A Copytalk employee then transcribes his dictation and emails him the transcript. (See box)
In addition, many advisors are using technology to link their computers to save time, improve communications and allow for better tracking of customer files. Often, they are doing this with client relationship management (CRM) systems, such as ACT, GoldMine and Advisor’s Assistant (see box).
Ashe is also networking his computers to allow anyone in his office to add a comment or a requirement to a client’s file whenever necessary. “Then everyone else can look at it so we’re all on the same page,” says Ashe. “And when a client calls, any staff member can take care of that call because all the files are accessible from their desktops.”
Additionally, Ashe’s CRM system and network simplify tracking underwriting requests, which typically take four weeks and require input from the insured, the insurance company, the broker, doctors and hospitals. “Keeping on top of when things were received and making sure the file moves along promptly are the most important things we can do for our clients to get their insurance issued,” he says. “And, of course, we don’t get paid until all of that is taken care of.” Networking also enables Ashe’s staff to share a high-speed printer for large documents. Because the printers at the staffers’ desks aren’t tied up, they can complete other tasks even while they are generating voluminous plans or reports.
Effective client meetings
After you have freed up time by using successful time-management techniques, delegating tasks and harnessing the power of technology, you can then focus on the most important function you have—conducting effective client meetings.
One way to do this is to create an agenda for all of those meetings, advises Ashe. “I think the most significant problem that most producers run into in the sales process is learning how to control the interview—both from the standpoint of having a good grasp of what they want to say and also making sure the client stays focused on what he wants to say,” he says. “When you bring an agenda to the meeting, you are setting the agenda for what’s going to be talked about.”
Ashe notes that an agenda improves efficiency and productivity by forcing advisors to outline what they’re going to present and reminding them to take the forms that they need to complete a sale. After the appointment, the agenda also provides a record of what was discussed and helps the advisor in preparing for the next meeting.
The discovery letter
Following up is just as important as preparing for the meetings, so Hempstead sends prospects and clients a summary of the meeting. He dubs this a discovery letter as it sums up what he discovered about the person’s situation and goals during the meeting. “I can guarantee that they haven’t gotten a discovery letter before,” he says. “Upon receiving the letter, they say, ‘He’s listening to me.’” This realization helps cement the relationship—and leads him closer to a sale.
The discovery letter also facilitates the close by:
- Reiterating the next step and the date and time of the next meeting
- Allowing the clients to correct or clarify items before the next meeting
- Enabling the clients to share the information with their spouses so time is not wasted in bringing them up to speed during the next meeting
- Providing the basis for an annual review of the clients’ situation
Going the extra mile
Once you have implemented some of the ideas mentioned here and have a few extra minutes to spare, why not use that extra time to do what your fellow advisor Allyson Lewis did when she wanted to take her practice to the next level of success? As reported by Managing Editor Maggie Leyes in our May 2006 issue, Lewis made three extra phone calls each day in addition to the 22 she made on average each day.
“These were not hard-core cold calls,” Leyes wrote. “Rather they ran the gamut—from contacting clients about specific changes to their financial plans to just touching base and saying hello. This straightforward ‘micro’ increase in the number of calls she made yielded a 67 percent increase in her business.”
Granted, making three more calls a day may not be your idea of working less. But think of it this way: You are using some of the extra time you’ve freed up anyway to dramatically increase your business. This increase will generate money—money you can use to hire talented people to help you run your practice—and earn additional income.
Now, isn’t that what working less and making more is all about?
Kim Ross is a contributor to Advisor Today.
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