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How to declutter your business — and 'spark joy'
Ellen Uzelac, 05/01/2019
After binge-watching the first three episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, advisor Stephanie Sammons paused a moment to wonder: If decluttering the home sparks such joy, why not 'Marie Kondo' her business as well?
Kondo, the organizational guru and international phenom who authored the 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, travels worldwide helping people clear out the stuff in their homes and lives that doesn't "spark joy." The result? Serenity, balance, harmony.
Sammons, who heads Dallas-based Sammons Wealth Management, had read the book and after watching those first three episodes, she concluded, "Absolutely this is applicable to my business. And I just love the idea of, 'Does it spark joy?' There are all kinds of ways to apply this concept: focusing on the right clients, using tools that allow you to stay consistently in touch with your clients in a more automated way, and going paperless."
As an example, Sammons uses a fully compliant text messaging platform to communicate with her clients. "It's very simplistic in a Marie Kondo kind of way but that's how clients want to communicate with you," she says. "It's very efficient."
Sammons, the founder of Wired Advisor, a company that manages and hosts advisor websites, also uses block scheduling to help her avoid cluttering her work day with distractions. Monday is devoted to marketing the business. Tuesdays and Thursdays are set aside for client calls and meetings. On Wednesdays, Sammons works on financial planning and portfolios. Friday is a "free" day that she uses, for example, to write a thoughtful email to a prospect or to record an episode for her new podcast: The Midlife Money Gal.
Sammons also utilizes a 13-week paper journal called SELF to block her calendar and Google Calendar for important tasks and appointment reminders. In her journal, she also lists "my three big tasks" for the day.
"If it's not on the calendar, it doesn't happen. When I plan on the front end and everything is written down, I know what I have to conquer. And I love it that I get up on a Monday and I'm excited because I get to work on my business that day, totally focusing on creating content for my marketing strategy," she adds. "It sparks joy."
Interested in creating an advisory firm that sparks joy? We talked to five of the industry's top experts about how to make that happen. Here's what they said:
Conduct a self-inventory. "Yes, it's about decluttering but really it's about having an honest, deep and introspective conversation with yourself about the things you are avoiding. Her point is that we are avoiding that conversation day in, day out," notes Barnaby Riedel, chief research strategist for Riedel Strategy, which is based in Lake Forest, Calif.
"Ask yourself, as Marie Kondo does: `What are the things in my life that are actually bringing me joy?' We need to look at everything through the lens of what's working, what's not working. Ask yourself what brings you joy and then outsource the rest," he adds. "Advisors are living in a time when options for outsourcing are more numerous than they've ever been."
For the stressed out advisor, creating a tidier practice may also trigger health benefits. In 2018, financial advisors were 23.3 percent more stressed than the national average, according to a recent FlexShares wellness study1. "Clearly, there's a need for a wellness movement within the financial services space," Riedel says. "Creating a simpler, cleaner, less cluttered, more organized environment creates stress relief on a psychological level. The fact is, simplification can lead to both wellness and practice management benefits."
Set an intention. When Marie Kondo enters a house, she greets the home and sets an intention. So should advisors, according to Stephanie Bogan, founder, business strategist and CEO coach for Educe, headquartered in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
"When advisors think about what they want versus what they have, a gap exists because intention and action are not aligned. Most advisors build their practices in reaction mode instead of intention mode," observes Bogan. "Excellence starts with intention at every level, even the basics — how to answer the phone, which clients get what services, how the prospect process is structured, what's covered in a review. Maybe over 20 years you've developed a great conversation with your clients. Imagine how much more successful you'd have been if you started everything with an intention at the outset."
As an example, consider a call from a prospective client. Nine times out of 10, the prospect calls, a few questions are asked and an appointment is scheduled. Instead, Bogan says, start with an intention. "My intention, if I'm staff or an advisor, is to build trust and credibility, assess fit, including the prospect's ability to appreciate and pay for value, and set the stage for success in the first meeting. A majority of advisors miss the depth of that opportunity when the prospect makes that call. The intention should always be to figure out who the prospects are, why they're calling now and what they really need."
How? By asking what the prospect's most pressing concerns are and setting an expectation for what the first meeting will look like.
"I always like to start by asking: `Why did you pick up the phone and call us today?' Whatever they answer with is the problem you want to solve for in the meeting. You then let them know that our job in this meeting is to understand you and your goals, help answer your pressing questions and make sure you leave knowing how to create the financial confidence you're looking for," Bogan adds. "This is all mindset and it's utterly intentional. It's a far more powerful conversation than: `Oh great, the 16th works. See you then.' But without intention, that gets lost."
Create a harmonious work space. Your physical space matters, according to Kondo. It's essential to harmony, balance and productivity. Her philosophy? Put everything in the middle of the room, review it and toss everything you don't need, use or enjoy.
"Her whole philosophy is more of an emotional state that translates to a physical state. I've always said that your physical environment matters," says Joe Lukacs, founder of International Performance Group in Melbourne, FL. "If you walk in your office and it looks like chaos, you're not going to feel focused."
Lukacs suggests taking a "strategic" Friday to do a clean sweep: shred, throw out, recycle, organize, clean. "If you're not naturally organized, you'll slip up," he cautions. "Have a standard. Before you leave the office every day, take five minutes and, at a minimum, make sure your desk is clear. You should have a CEO-type office so that when you come in the next morning, you feel in control. If you can't control your office, you probably can't control your business."
As critical as your office space is, it's also important to get away from it.
While Lukacs advises scheduling strategic and tactical work days, he also believes that carving out "renewal" days and weeks is essential to your well-being. Among his suggestions: Take a renewal Friday to golf, visit a museum, take a day trip, spend time with family. On a grander scale, unplug for three or four weeks every year.
"As advisors, the reality is there are no rules in our world on how many days you need to be in the office working on things," he says. "This is not hard physical work, but if you are doing it at the level it needs to be done, it's mentally taxing. In our profession, there's so much flexibility. I love the idea of a sustainable practice that involves great balance and integration. Ask what's possible. "
Tidy up your client roster. Client selection is the most important strategic decision any advisory firm will make, according to coach Tracy Beckes, who heads Tracy Beckes and Associates in La Conner, WA.
"It drives everything the firm does. It allows you to focus and use limited resources wisely," she says. "If you get this one decision right, it will transform your future. It's all about energy. A bad fit client is an energy drain. It costs the firm in more ways than you can imagine."
Beckes' advice? Create an ideal client profile — what she calls a target market. "This is where the magic of tidying up happens," according to Beckes. "I always say if you want to create magic in your business, pick clients that resonate with the heart and soul of the firm."
How do you do that? First, she says, create a spreadsheet and analyze your existing client base. Ask yourself: On a scale of one to five, do you like working with this client or not? Who energizes you and who drains you? Get clear on your goals, dreams and abilities and then ask this key question — do I have a concentration of clients I absolutely love?
"What happens is sometimes amazing. I had one advisor whose client base was 40 percent physicians and he wasn't aware of it until he completed the exercise," says Beckes. "By analyzing your clients one by one, you will easily know which ones spark joy."
After identifying a target market, Beckes suggests interviewing as many as 20 financial advisors outside your geographic area who serve the same community. Among the questions to ask: What percentage of their clients fall into that ideal client profile? What keeps your clients up at night? What services are the most helpful? What resources (books, thought leaders, training, credentials) have proved the most helpful? If you were to start the business over again, would you choose these clients? If you could change one thing when you started out, what would it be?
"It's all about getting intentional," she says. "In the process, you are saving decades of trial and error learning. Most of the time advisors have a target market right under their nose and they don't see it. For the advisors who've done it, this is a game changer."
Harness the power of technology. Marie Kondo is all about streamlining and simplifying. How better to do that than by using technology? The trouble is — a lot of advisors just aren't that techno savvy.
"A lot of advisors are used to doing what they've always done — and they've had a pretty good level of success. To simplify doesn't always come naturally," says Spenser Segal, CEO of Minneapolis-based ActiFi. "The dirty little secret is that many advisors have these capabilities, they have acquired the tools, but they don't go through the hard work of incorporating them into their operating model. And that's too bad because the quality of the tools just gets better and better and better. The issue ultimately is a human behavioral change problem."
Segal says the power of digital represents a massive decluttering when you consider tools like digital document management systems and pre-built packages that rebalance portfolios, update quarterly performance reports, open accounts and more. "It's powerful," says Segal. "When leveraged effectively, it's reducing work by 100 percent. Now that's transformational."
Another option for using tech to stay organized is by considering voice-enabled help such as the Amazon Alexa Skills. With over 70,000 total skills across markets there's something for everyone such as: note assistants, scheduling reminders, real-time news, expense trackers and more. (See TD Ameritrade's AdvisorClient Skill and Flash Briefing for Advisors)
What's next on the digital frontier? Something even Marie Kondo might not see coming. Artificial intelligence.
"Advisors dramatically underestimate the impact AI is going to have on our industry. AI isn't going to lead the family meetings. That's the human part, the wisdom part," Segal says. "But it's good at a lot of things that involve automatic repetitive tasks and streamlining workflow."
Artificial intelligence is already being used, according to Segal. "It's not sci-fi. It's happening today. It's very much in the early adopter phase but it's happening as we speak and will have a bigger impact than many advisors anticipate."
1: FlexShares' Insights Into Advisor Wellness, 2018 (https://go.flexshares.com/wellness)
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