From the February 2009 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

February 1, 2009

Volatility as Opportunity

Advisors who maintain a disciplined offense and defense will come out winners in this difficult market.

Serious market volatility ex-acerbates existing flaws in our organizations, business plans and client service models. Still, given our ability not to see what we don't want to see, these flaws become obvious only if we pay attention and look for them. This is, therefore, a great time to take a long hard look at every aspect of your business. You can see what does and doesn't work, and begin to implement necessary changes.

It's somewhat ironic that during such difficult times we're called upon to be aggressively introspective about making sure we're on track. But as Steven Covey shows, if we fixate on handling "urgent but unimportant" matters we lose track of our true objectives and become derailed. Put differently, if we don't regularly pay attention to what's important but not immediately urgent, we'll simply never get to most of what's important, and our circumstances will inevitably deteriorate.

How, then, should you proceed? The journey of a thousand miles always begins with a single step, and that first step is to recommit to "being successful on purpose" -- to purposefully plan out how you'll deliberately move forward and succeed -- by regaining control of your calendar and the organization of your day so you can invest your time wisely.

Specifically, in our CEG Worldwide coaching programs, we recommend that you segment your day into "offense" and "defense" activities. Start by carving out the first two hours of every day -- actually blocking out the time on your calendar -- and dedicate that time to offense or business development activities. Even in (especially in) times like these, you must pay attention to expanding your business.

Bring on the Offense

Focus on five offense activities during these daily two hours. First, capture additional assets by asking your existing clients for additional assets to manage. Most clients have multiple advisors, and recent studies have documented the level of dissatisfaction that many clients have with their advisors. There's simply no better time than now to talk to your existing clients about bringing more of their assets over to you. But you do need to actually ask for these additional assets on a regular basis, or nothing will happen.

Second, define, in detail, what your ideal client looks like. We've written about creating an "ideal client profile" in previous columns (available at www.cegworldwide.com) and constantly stress this concept in our workshops and coaching programs. With your ideal client profile defined, determine who in your existing book meets the criteria so you can replicate them. Invite your existing ideal clients to lunch in a quiet setting and interview them in detail about their interests and needs, and their expectations vis-?-vis working with a financial advisor. Talk about how they first came to you, and then inquire if they know other people like themselves whom they'd be willing to refer and make a personal introduction to on your behalf.

The third offense activity is to establish the frequently suggested, but rarely implemented, formal client referral program. If you don't already have one in place, then dig out our previous columns (from our website or from www.researchmag.com) on how to implement a 12-step formal client referral program...and then make it so.

Fourth, develop strategic alliances. Upset and worried clients are talking not just to their neighbors and golf partners, but to their other professional advisors such as CPAs, estate planning attorneys, business analysts and other consultants. This is therefore an excellent time to develop strategic alliances, particularly with CPAs and estate planning attorneys. Remember to let these other advisors experience your diligence, professionalism and concern for your clients, and promote your client-centered wealth management process.

The final offense activity is to undertake group presentations. Given prevailing levels of confusion and concern, this is a great time to be giving educational programs and presentations to qualified groups of people. The goal here is not to give free public seminars, but to get invited to speak by the head of the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, or the local cardiologist association -- whatever groups your ideal clients belong to. Make sure your presentations highlight not you and your firm, but the unique challenges of the audience before you and how the wealth management process solves such problems.

Tying together all these offense activities is a striking piece of CEG Worldwide research: Advisors who spend 60 percent or more of their time in client-facing activities have six times the net income of advisors who spend 30 percent or less of their time in client-facing activities. So, to be successful on purpose, focus on having a 60 percent day every day. If there are unnecessary meetings that simply waste your time, don't go to them. If there are distractions, peripheral conversations, and unimportant urgent matters, find a way to block them out so you can have a 60 percent day every day.

A Good Defense

Those who keep their heads in a crisis are the ones who always do well, the ones for whom a crisis can truly become an opportunity. No doubt, then, some of your like-minded competitors have the goal of acquiring your clients and the assets you manage. It is therefore critical to also incorporate defensive activities into your 60 percent day, and these activities must include client contact, client contact, and (you guessed it) more client contact.

In volatile times your clients need both handholding and solid information. To prepare for making quality client contacts, stay up-to-date on economic news and be completely informed on the market and your clients' investments. Picking up the phone and saying, "Yes, I know times are difficult, but you simply have to stay the course," is just not enough. You need to be prepared with specific information and ideas about your clients' portfolios -- especially for retired or almost retired clients concerned about preserving their capital. It's also essential to keep up the personal touch, so don't forget to make calls for birthdays and anniversaries, to chat about the children, and to congratulate clients for business and personal accomplishments.

Sticking to Your Playbook

If you're not diligent, if you just return phone calls in a lackluster way, doing basic handholding and putting out daily fires, your client contact can quickly turn into a death spiral. Stunt pilots say that with every dive, there's a fine line between pulling off the stunt and having things get out of control. That's why you must be mindful and diligent about planning your day, planning your activities, and not merely reverting to "Yeah, I know, it's awful, it's out of control, but we really don't know what to do." You must stay positive and informed, keep your clients close by, and pay attention to your "special teams" as well.

Special teams include, first of all, taking care of yourself. In stressful times it's vitally important to pay attention to your health, your workout routine, what you're eating and drinking (and how much), and obtaining adequate rest. People use times like these as an excuse to abandon their health routines and practices. But abandoning your workout routine, overeating, under-sleeping, drinking too much alcohol, and so on, will surely worsen the psychological and physical impacts of the stress of difficult markets.

Another very special team is your family and friends. Don't forget your kids, your spouse, and your close friends -- they are the emotional buoys in your life, and in any case, deserve your attention regardless of current financial circumstances. After all, these are the people you work so hard for in the first place. But you shouldn't work so hard for them that you don't ever relax with them.

It all comes back to regaining control of your time, both at home and at work. In coming months we'll explore some of these offense and defense activities in more detail, but in the meantime, make sure you have a written plan, that you know where your playbook is, and that you consult it often to make sure that every day is indeed a 60 percent day or better.

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.