Making the most of a challenging year
By Adam Stohlman
Stohlman Financial Services, LLC
As we all know, 2009 promises to be an extremely challenging year for insurance and investment sales in many areas. Challenging need not mean unprofitable, however, nor unsuccessful. No matter the challenges of the past, the best businesspeople have always found ways to overcome them -- and not just outlast them. How about you? Do you want to succeed and not just survive? Following are a few ideas to help you prosper in the year ahead:
1. Analyze. By now, you should have completed your review of results from 2008. You should have a clear idea of what you did wrong, what you did right and where you need improvement. You also should have a perspective on how well you handled the challenges of the financial crisis with your clients and in your marketplace. Did you have most of your clients properly protected and positioned? Did you make the right moves, if any, to keep existing clients and gain new ones? How about technology? Did you have the tools needed to meet your needs and those of your clients -- especially when the crisis hit? Whatever your answers, have you analyzed why or why not and changed what needed to be changed in order to get better results in the year ahead? *Tip: If you don't already, evaluate your entire business on a monthly basis this year -- a quarterly review will likely not be adequate. This will help you stay alert and agile and keep improving your business in unstable market and economic conditions.
2. Strategize. By now, you also should have completed your goal-setting for 2009. If you haven't, you're already behind the curve, so I urge you to get going. Bearing in mind the murky economic picture and the financial uncertainty that will be with us in the new year, have you planned and strategized accordingly? Do you have the right mix of products and carriers to match the needs of the times, or should you add some options to your product suite? What products will you highlight among those you will be offering? What will be your emphasis with clients? What will be the most effective ways to advertise or gain new clients? Will you have the necessary flexibility this year to change with the fluctuating markets and economy and take advantage of trends? *Tip: Review, and, if needed, revise your strategy on a monthly basis this year also, per the tip above.
3. Cultivate. Wherever you are in your prior year evaluation and new year planning, even if you are done, one area that will be more important this year than ever will be cultivating business from existing clients. Whatever happened to your business in 2008, it's likely that it ended (at least on a quarterly basis) on a less than positive or profitable note. If so, don't feel daunted. Most advisors had rough sledding in the final quarter and just got their bearings again as things settled down toward the end of the year. Looking at the year ahead, the easiest and best business will be derived from the book you have remaining, even more than in previous years, and that business will be a fundamental element in your success. *Tip: Almost every client will be shopping on price this year -- make certain you have the most competitive products available. At the same time, keep up your "high-touch" marketing efforts to retain as many as possible on a relationship basis.
5. Trade. Another basic but effective method of acquiring new business, particularly in a challenging environment, is to trade existing clients with another professional. For instance, it might work well for you to make arrangements to trade clients with a property and casualty agent who doesn't pursue life or investment sales with their existing book. Within the bounds your state laws allow, you can agree to exchange a referral fee, a percentage of commissions, or some other form of consideration for working each other's books. You sell life, health, and/or investments to his or her property and casualty clients, and he or she sells property and casualty insurances to your life and investment clients. You gain new clients, earn new commissions, and garner additional income in referral fees or commission splits. Everyone wins. *Tip: Research candidates carefully for reputation, character, professional associations, time in business, etc., then begin your approach by offering to open your book first -- make them see the potential gain for their business.
6. Aid. Contact attorneys, accountants and tax professionals in your area for a brief meeting to discuss potential ways to aid their clients with your services. You may be surprised to find how few are approached and how glad some might be to have you as a resource for their clientele. These professionals aren't generally able to trade clients with you, since they aren't in the insurance and/or investment business, but that is what makes the arrangement even better for you, as there is absolutely zero risk of any "sheep stealing" on their part (that is, unless they send your clients to some other advisor behind your back -- always check them out first). You should, however, certainly reciprocate in kind for any referrals you can, in addition to sharing fees or other proceeds of sales with them -- again, within the bounds of your own state laws. The benefits of these arrangements also go far beyond the sale, in building credibility and name recognition for you and networking your business -- leading to what should be a growing stream of quality referrals for years to come. For professional advisors that already have these associations established, try making some fresh calls on these contacts to keep your name first in their minds. *Tip: Create a "Client Resources" page on your Web site or on a wall in your office and offer to list their business and contact information on it for your clients' reference in exchange for them handing out your card and/or brochure to every client. Offer to link your business Web pages. Whatever your situation heading into this new year, take heart: Challenging need not mean unprofitable or unsuccessful. You can succeed in the year ahead if you take the steps necessary, stay alert and agile, and continually seek to improve yourself and your business wherever possible. Hopefully, some of these ideas, or others they may generate, will be helpful to you in achieving that ideal. Here's to the new year, whatever it brings -- may you be profitable and successful, and may all of us reach our goals in 2009!