The famous saying, “Everyone has two things in common: death and taxes,” should be amended. We all have 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. The secret is how effectively we use time. There are a number of techniques I use to make the most of every day by spending time where I do my best—and most highly compensated—work: in front of clients.
1. Dictate and delegate. I use a Dictaphone and religiously summarize what happened at a meeting within 15 minutes of its completion. This allows me to capture the greatest amount of detail, and it can be easily reviewed later. The dictation is not just a recitation of what occurred, it also contains follow-up instructions for my assistant, para-planner, design person, etc. After I tape notes of a meeting, I don’t see the file until everyone has done their assignments and it is back in front of me in presentation form. This maximizes my time, allowing me to spend it meeting with clients, phoning clients or thinking about who I am going to see next—instead of handling paperwork.
2. Screen those calls. Have your assistant screen calls so you can control who you talk to and when. This also weeds out the unsolicited and marketing calls that waste time.
3. Avoid interruptions. When I am phoning, especially for new appointments, I put my do-not-disturb button on, and I tell my assistant I want no interruptions. I also turn off my email, so that I have no excuse to do anything but make phone calls.
4. Refer business. When possible, refer business to friendly advisors, especially attorneys who are familiar with your work. Knowing how they operate and what they are going to say will save you time, and it may also help you close your case.
5. Stick to your rate. Set an hourly rate for your services, and don’t do any cases that fall below that number, except on rare occasions. If you bring in a case, you should be able to estimate the amount of time it is going to take. For example, an executive-style case will normally take me 10 hours. If my rate is $300 an hour, I should see at least $3,000 of revenue for that case.
6. Charge a planning fee. Charging a planning fee sets you apart from the competition. Wealthy prospects expect you to charge for your time. I do this by telling the client that the first three meetings are on me, and that this is my business risk. At that third meeting, I will make a decision if I am going to do business with them and on what basis. If I feel a fee is appropriate, I will tell them at that time.
By this point, I’ve spent a substantial amount of time building trust with prospects, asking about their current situation and reviewing their objectives. Then I show them exactly how they stack up, but I won’t have given them any potential solutions. If they choose to move forward at that point, it will be on a fee basis, and I state the fee. My average fee is $3,500 (the minimum is $1,500), and I’ve charged as much as $12,500. Half of the fee is due up front; this shows their commitment to the process. On top of fees, I earn commission as well.
7. Invest in technology. Purchasing up-to-date computer equipment means that my assistants can process cases much faster. A small investment of $1,000-$1,500 in computer equipment saves me tens of thousands of dollars in staff time. Also, computers don’t talk back, ask for raises or take vacations. I also make sure to stay current with all their software needs.
8. Go paperless. We have begun to aggressively scan all client documents to create a paperless office. My staff has instant access, so they don’t have to get up and find the file. Implementing technology solutions didn’t cost me nearly as much as I thought, because I used high school kids at a much-reduced rate to do the initial document scanning.
9. Track your time. At the end of every day I dictate who I saw and why. It helps do away with waste and know what I am making for my efforts. For example, I can tell you that the business I did in front of clients in 2002 worked out to be $408 per hour.
I break the activity down into two broad categories: “client contact time” and “not in front of client.” Under client contact time are: the approach talk (first interview), data, service and telephone (for new appointments only). The categories under not in front of client are: education, office time, planning and miscellaneous. I track travel time in between appointments as a separate item, as well as vacation time.
By consciously tracking my time over the last five years, I’ve reduced my business travel miles from 38,000 to 19,000, which saves me more than three hours a week, or 150 hours a year. My vacation time has increased from 11 days to 25 days. I’ve reduced time not in front of the client from 23 hours to 19 hours a week—a savings of more than 200 hours per year.
It doesn’t take much to do this. I purchased an inexpensive software program called Time Logger from Responsive Software, and taught my assistant how to use it. All I do is dictate the information and pass it on to her.
This is an excerpt from a much longer speech given at the 2005 MDRT annual conference. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Randy S. Schuster, of Centra Financial Group in Rochester, N.Y., is an eight-year MDRT member with two Court of the Table honors, and a member of Rochester AIFA. Contact him at 585-899-1200 or Randy@coordinatedplan.com.