When you’ve worked with lots of advisory businesses, you start to see common patterns among firm owners. One recurring pattern I see each year around this time is what I call "autumn angst."
Autumn angst occurs when firm owners realize the current year is coming to an end and that many of their “goals” for the year have not been achieved. They shift their firms and themselves into high gear for one final push of activity.
These owners often want my help with these projects — think comp plans, org structures, new hires, attracting new clients, launching a new Diamond Team, etc. — causing a work overload on my business.
While your sympathy is much appreciated, the real problem is the harm these firm owners do to their businesses with these “rush” projects.
The Big Three
Over the years, I’ve found that owner-advisors do much better when they stop thinking about their businesses in arbitrary time segments, such as quarters or years, that have beginnings and ends and instead think about the business as fluid — as one continuous stream of actions and results moving toward their goals.
With this approach, they can stay focused on what they’ve just done and then turn to what needs to be done next.
To help my clients stay focused on what tasks must be done next, I ask them to pay special attention to three key areas of their businesses.
Here’s what they are, why they are most important and how focusing on them can help you beat August angst:
By this I mean sorting out your goals.
We all have goals, and we usually want to work on achieving them as quickly as possible.
But most advisory firms just don’t have the resources to be working toward more than one goal (or, in rare occasions, two) at a time.
Successful business owners need to think about what is most important for the firm to be working on. Is it launching a new project, fixing problems created by the project you’ve just finished or taking a breather (so you and your staff can recover your mental and physical energy to get ready for the next project)?
This is perhaps the most important job that a firm owner or CEO has: looking at everything that can be done and realigning resources and focus around should be done next without over-working (and over-stressing) your people and yourself.
2. Firm Culture
This is probably the most overlooked “project” for independent advisory firms today.
A good, clear, consistent firm culture makes everything else you do — from client service, to employee management, to attracting new clients — much, much easier.
Having powerful firm culture involves three key elements: how we treat each other and work together, how we treat our clients and deliver services to them, and how we view our business and its mission.
Independent advisory businesses have a big advantage. They help their clients lead better lives by working with them to align their financial resources with their goals — such as caring for their families, providing healthcare, education, and other necessities, and having a comfortable retirement.
The most successful firms make sure that everyone in the business understands its mission — and their role in fulfilling it.
3. Leadership Development
As independent advisory firms have grown and matured over the past nearly half-century, they have also increased their need to develop leaders who can help manage their growing business and continue to run and grow the firm as the current leaders retire.
Because training leaders is not a short-term project, the most successful firms today have ongoing programs to develop their current leaders and their leaders of tomorrow.
Programs that develop competent and dynamic support staff, lead advisors and firm owners are essential to the ongoing success of every independent advisory business.
I realize that there are many other “projects” that most firm owners want to undertake today to meet their end-of-the-year goals of attracting new clients, upgrading technology, adding new partners and staff, etc. These efforts, of course, can play a role in the continued success of the firm.
But before you embark on these tasks, take some advice: Be sure that your project alignment, firm culture and future leaders are all in place to support the growth that your other new projects will hopefully create.
Also, let go of year-end deadlines. Doing things right is a lot more important than doing them quickly.