From the November 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Blueprint for Success

When I was the chief marketing officer for an investment company, an up-and-coming manager requested an interview to pick my brain and get to know me. When we sat down together I was quickly and duly impressed. At CEG Worldwide, we teach our coaching clients that prospects and clients will judge you on the quality of the questions you ask, and this young man asked me a question I'd never been asked before: "If you had to name the one thing most responsible for your success, what would it be?"

I normally respond to most questions in just a few seconds, but it took me a full minute before I said: "The answer is blueprinting. Throughout my career, whenever I've been given a new project or had the need to do something for the first time, I've always blueprinted it.

"Whenever I've been in charge of an activity, program or project," I continued, "I've always done an after-action review where I asked everyone involved what we did right, what we did wrong, and how we could do it better -- and then adjusted the blueprints accordingly. With blueprinting, you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time you undertake something, and I've found that if something's important enough to do in the first place, then it's important enough to blueprint."

Blueprinting Systems and ProcessesRegularly blueprinting systems and processes is crucial to achieving success. Consider Michael Gerber's book The E-Myth Revisited (1998), a must-read which boils down to this: Many small businesses fail to reach their full potential because they don't put into place systems and processes that ensure a quality result independent of the extraordinary intervention of human beings.

What is needed, then, are processes and systems that ensure a quality result without relying on any particular individual's skill, memory or presence. If a process or system is only in your mind, it can't become a clear reality for anyone else, and it will be impossible to maintain in your absence. There shouldn't be any process or system in your small business that would fail to operate if someone is ill, walks out, or is otherwise unavailable. And as an advisor, even if you work for a national firm, you still should consider yourself a small business within a larger organization.

To blueprint a system or process, first identify its major deliverables. Next, delineate the steps that need to be taken to ensure that all deliverables are achieved in both a timely and high-quality manner. You can then create the blueprint itself in either a graphic form (mind-mapping or flow chart software work well here), or you can just use Word or another text program to create the blueprint in outline form.

Seven Key AreasThere are seven key areas of your business that require blueprinting.

First, marketing systems encompass seminars, newsletters, mailings, telephone campaigns and anything else you do to promote yourself to potential clients. The evaluation phase is especially important here because if you're not measuring results, you can't tell if you're investing your time and resources in the most productive manner and you can't make informed decisions going forward.

Next are client acquisition systems, including referrals, strategic alliances, group presentations, and ways of replicating your existing ideal clients. Again, you want to capture your successes so you can improve your processes and results and get a better return on your investments of time, energy and money.

Client service systems embrace your client on-boarding methods, your initial client interview and your consultative client relationship management and wealth management systems. Your goal in all of this is to provide your clients with what we call WOW service, because in the vast majority of cases when clients fire advisors it's because of poor service relationships, not poor investment performance.

Next are client communication systems, which are absolutely crucial because most advisors drastically underestimate the quantity and quality of communications that their clients desire. Our groundbreaking research on the middle-class millionaire found that the most highly satisfied and loyal of the 1,412 affluent investors who were surveyed received an average of 24 non-financial-focused contacts from their advisors in the previous year. Without a robust and precisely designed client communications system (and in-depth initial client interviews so you know what's important to your clients and can discuss those things with them), it's almost impossible to make the number of quality calls your clients desire.

It's also crucial to blueprint business planning systems, which include overall strategic and financial goals, broad high-level strategies used to achieve these goals, and specific proven tactics to implement these strategies. For example, if your overall strategic and financial goal is to increase your net income, then your high-level strategy may be to specialize in the needs of a target market that's highly likely to have affluent clients, such as local cardiologists within five years of retirement who own surgery centers. Then your blueprint would include tactics used to penetrate that market, such as conducting interviews with and requesting referrals from centers of influence in that industry. The use of SMART metrics (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) will help you stay focused and enable you to quickly and regularly assess your progress.

Human capital systems are also critically important. Many advisors have a terrible time finding qualified and dedicated employees, so consider adopting something like the blueprint of the hiring process shown here. In particular, we recommend that when you're ready to hire someone, you first bring the candidate on as a consultant to do a specific project over a limited time period. This enables you to truly evaluate the individual's dedication, talent and attitude (while they're evaluating you and your team), and then you can decide to either make a permanent offer or say "thank you" and move on with no legal entanglements.

Also, consider conducting "experiential interviews" rather than "resume review interviews," since resumes can and often do exaggerate and mislead. Ask questions like, "When you were employed by XYZ firm, what was the most successful project you ever managed? How and why did it work out well, and what, specifically, did you do?" By drilling down with activity, productivity and success questions, you'll find out far more about candidates than by merely rehashing their resumes.

Finally, blueprint your financial systems. These will be very different depending on the size and nature of your business, but still, whether you're independent or part of a small or large firm, you should make sure you keep your eye on your own financial ball by keeping specific financial metrics, reports, forecasts, and dashboard or benchmark numbers. Also, make a blueprint of financial-control systems, including accounting systems, policies and procedures, and disbursement and deposit controls, to make sure that all of your hard work leads to financial rewards that are commensurate with your efforts.

Successful on PurposeAmong the most important principles that we teach advisors in our coaching programs is to be successful on purpose -- that is, successful by design rather than by accident or default. The best way to ensure that you'll be successful on purpose is to have a plan, to include all necessary details in that plan, and to then measure your results and adjust your systems and processes accordingly. Blueprinting your systems and processes in the seven key areas mentioned above is the implementation strategy that will ensure that you do indeed have the detailed plan that you need, and that you truly -- and realistically -- are on the path to purposeful success.

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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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