Back to basics

By Bob Seawright

Asset Marketing Systems

When USAir's Flight 1549 famously landed -- safely but spectacularly -- in the Hudson River recently, pilot-hero Chesley Sullenberger III flew the plane while first officer Jeffrey Skiles worked desperately and unsuccessfully at moving through a three-page checklist of procedures for restarting both engines. Unfortunately, the checklist was designed for engine problems occurring at higher altitudes. Thus the safety procedures available were worthless. They were designed for a different situation entirely and couldn't be worked through in time to save the plane.

Is the business plan you have developed and are developing for your clients and your business applicable to the current market environment and your current competitive situation? If it isn't, you risk crashing your practice right along with the markets.

The equity markets have suffered an historic decline, and recovery does not appear imminent. Economists and government officials are suggesting that today, we face the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Many of your clients are worried -- quite understandably -- and even distressed. In light of these developments, many will talk about "getting back to basics." That's decent advice as far as it goes, but what are "the basics," really? Let's take a quick look at them in groups of five and within the context of current market conditions.

5 things producers need to believe in:
    1. Principles. You can't be successful trying to be all things to all people. If you aren't doing this already, be clear about what you believe in and what makes you and your business special. Everyone on the financial services industry has the same tools. If you're just another homogenous producer promising performance with nothing to set yourself apart, you aren't likely to be successful. And make sure everything you do is client-focused. If you keep your clients' interests first at all times, it may take longer in a financial sense, but real success will be more lasting and more fulfilling.

    2. Plan. Perform a SWOT analysis on yourself and your business (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). Be brutally honest. You may need some outside assistance here from someone you trust. Use this analysis to create or review your business plan. Make any appropriate adjustments.

    3. Goals. Develop SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) that fit you, your business and your market.

    4. Strategies. Decide how you can reach those goals most effectively and direct everything you do toward implementing those strategies.

    5. Yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, your goals, your plans, your strategies and in the business model you have built, clients and prospects won't either.
5 things producers need to know:
    1. The world has changed. The markets have changed; investors have changed; the regulatory environment has changed; the financial services industry has changed. And changes will keep changing.

    2. The opportunity is huge. People are changing advisors right and left in the current environment.

    3. Past performance doesn't guarantee future results. In a new world, new techniques are necessary, even when based upon tried-and-true principles.

    4. Clients/prospects want a new and different experience. In a homogenous industry, setting oneself apart is crucial. Remember, the best distinctions are relationship based.

    5. You need a plan that's ready to go -- right now. In a world that's changing faster than ever, being up-and-running is absolutely crucial.
5 things producers need to do:
    1. Commit to change. Change is inevitable. Use it to your advantage by remaining nimble enough to adjust to changing markets, opportunities and situations while remaining true to your principles.

    2. Connect and re-connect with clients (even when the news is bad). Every industry study re-establishes that communication is the most important thing clients want from their advisors, far exceeding performance (or anything else). Stay in front of them, even when the news is bad. Doing so is good defense (your retention levels will increase) and good offense (you will be in position to obtain additional business and referrals).

    3. Build upon clients and client referrals. Many advisors seem more interested in cold leads than upon building upon the relationships they have already established. That makes no sense. If you aren't actively and intentionally developing leads from and through your existing clients, you are missing out on the warmest and best leads you can have.

    4. Commit to continued marketing and business-building. When the markets are difficult, many producers "hunker down" and try to save some money by cutting back on marketing and business building. That's usually "penny wise but pound foolish."

    5. Go public (now isn't the time to hide). Difficult times are the best times to establish leadership and credibility with both clients and prospects.
5 things producers need to have:
    1. An effective and well-supported business plan (based upon principles, goals and the right outlook). Don't limit yourself to some general thoughts and ideas and call it a plan. A carefully considered written plan fleshed out with some necessary details is vital to success.

    2. A quality, team-oriented staff. Make sure your days are focused upon the highest and best uses of your time. Use staff for everything else as much as possible.

    3. Appropriate strategic alliances. A good producer has friends and allies in related businesses (e.g., lending, taxes, estates, etc.). Cultivate these relationships.

    4. Raving fans (clients). Clients are the best resource both for building your practice and for building your brand. Everything you do should always be directed toward them. Doing right by your clients always and in all ways will help you build a good business and will help you sleep at night too.

    5. The right support structure. This necessary structure includes a good staff, a broker/dealer that supports you and your business model for securities business, an independent marketing organization on the insurance side, and a mentor or other accountability partner to help you stay focused and on-task.
For many producers, the current (difficult) market conditions will cause their businesses to suffer. But a market crash needn't result in your business crashing too. Indeed, good and careful planning might even make you a hero in the eyes of your clients. Times are tough but the opportunities are great. Make sure you are planned and prepared to take advantage of them.

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