From the December 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Resolved to Succeed

Financial advisors constantly tell me how frustrated they are about implementing real change in their businesses. "You've given me some great ideas," they say, "but I just can't seem to get any of them done."

Somehow, real change -- even when you strongly desire it -- seems elusive. With 2008 fast approaching, you may find that, like many people, you've simply resolved to not make any more New Year's resolutions -- because you've rarely kept them in the past. But if you're truly ready to resolve to succeed, here's a practical, three-step plan that begins at the beginning, doesn't require a miracle and inevitably produces substantial results.

o Step 1. Determine where you stand now. As objectively as possible, determine where you stand now so you can more realistically formulate your goals.

o Step 2. Develop your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. Next, determine your strengths and your weaknesses so you can leverage the former while compensating for the latter.

o Step 3. Move past analysis paralysis. Give up on finding a "silver bullet," a plan guaranteed to work. Instead, get going, give yourself permission to be less than perfect and keep moving forward.

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Step 1. Determine Where You Stand NowThe best place to start is exactly where you are, right now. For example, if you want to lose weight, the first thing a dietician will have you do is write down everything you eat for several days in a row. (Most people underestimate their daily caloric intake, which is in part why most weight loss regimes inevitably fail.)

Similarly, as a financial advisor, you need to see exactly how you stand compared both to other advisors and to where you want to be. Earlier this year, CEG Worldwide undertook an extensive study of financial advisors across all three channels -- registered investment advisors, independent broker-dealer representatives and brokers employed by wirehouses. As the table shows, regardless of income, the vast majority of financial advisors are not satisfied with their current levels of success; very few are satisfied with how their businesses have grown over the last two years; and most believe that their practices could be more profitable.

If you are among these many less-than-satisfied advisors, you owe it to yourself to undertake a detailed and detached analysis of the profit drivers of your business. Which of your clients are unprofitable, which are profitable, and which are the most profitable? How did you acquire your most profitable clients? What do they have in common? How can you change your client acquisition and relationship management processes to ensure that you maximize the profitability and growth of your overall business? And most important, if you were to maximize your profitability and growth, how would that translate into net income and quality of life for you?

Taking a hard, cold look both at where you stand vis-?-vis your peers and your own potential will tell you what direction you need to take and the goals you need to develop. You can then begin formulating realistic and achievable means for getting where you truly want to go.

Step Two: Develop Your Strengths and Compensate for Your WeaknessesNext take an objective look at both your strengths and your weaknesses, with a special emphasis on your strengths. In First Break All the Rules (1999), authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman told us that the best managers don't try to fix employee weaknesses. Instead, they focus on their strengths, skills and natural talents. So don't try to put in what God left out or what you're not good at. Instead, zero in on what you're really good at and then further develop and leverage these natural strengths and abilities. And at the same time, find a way to compensate for what you're not good at. Let's face it: Nobody likes doing things they're not good at, so spend as little of your time and energy as possible on these things.

For instance, if you're really good at the technical side of the business, such as portfolio analysis and picking investments, but you're not so good with people, then partner with someone who is really good at client relationship management. Conversely, if you're really good with clients, play up that talent. Doing so will in no way limit your income or success. In fact, many of the most successful financial advisors outsource most or all of their money management.

Not only is it important for you to recognize your strengths and skills, you should determine how to further develop and fully leverage them. Just because you're good at client management doesn't mean you couldn't be better. Ask yourself how you can become a true master through classes, training programs, coaching or mentoring. Since you'll be collaborating with others -- outsourcing or otherwise compensating for what you're not naturally good at -- you'll have more time and energy to improve and capitalize on your greatest strengths.

Step 3. Move Past Analysis ParalysisBy clearly understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you will set the groundwork for success. Now it's time to actually, as they say, "just do it." Unfortunately, like Hamlet, far too many of us get stuck in our thoughts. We find ourselves overwhelmed by the ample advice provided by so many sources.

The key to moving past this "analysis paralysis" is to recognize that there is no "silver bullet," no simple plan or technique that will "automatically" do it for you or guarantee your success. This is why diet books sell so well: Many people are continuously looking for an easy, prepackaged solution that is guaranteed to work, rather than getting real about how much they eat and how physically active they are. Similarly, you can continue to sift through journals and attend seminars about increasing your profitability and having a better lifestyle...or you can do the hard work of sitting down, studying your current situation and then leveraging your strengths.

Don't get caught in the trap of always getting ready...getting ready...getting ready...but never going. Stop looking for perfection -- the perfect plan, or the perfect execution of whatever plan you already have -- and start looking for progress. Every incremental improvement, beginning right now, will bring you closer to your goals. Do the real work and keep moving forward. Before you know it, your resolve to succeed will bring you many new and better years.

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Patricia J. Abram is a senior managing partner with CEG Worldwide in Florida; see www.cegwordwide.com.

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