Financial advisors in today’s firms are typically offered support from sales assistants, branch managers, staff specialists and wholesalers. Given the variety of support available, how can you be sure that you’re taking maximum advantage of what is being offered?

A Timely Choice

Let’s begin by unequivocally stating that your most valuable asset is your time. To succeed in our industry, look at every minute of your time as an investable asset dedicated to generating the greatest possible return. (Why would you invest your own assets any less wisely than you invest your clients’ assets?)

One industry study highlighted the importance of how advisors spend their time. Of those advisors surveyed, fewer than one in 10 — just 9.1 percent — spent more than 60 percent of their time in client-facing activities. However, these few advisors earned net incomes that on average were six times greater than the incomes of advisors who spent less than 30 percent of their time in client-facing activities.

Non-client-facing activities — performing research, allocating and rebalancing assets, attending conferences, talking to money managers and peers, compiling reports and the like — should be done sparingly and only when there is a clear revenue-generating objective. At the end of the day, the more time you spend with your clients, the more successful you will be.

The criticality of time spent in client-facing activities provides a compass for wisely choosing and taking maximum advantage of support personnel, tools and activities. Given the great premium on your time, make sure that any support you utilize is as effective (bang for the buck) and efficient (time-wise) as possible, and ultimately brings you back to, rather than distracts you from, the highest and best use of your time: client-facing activities.

Your Sales Assistant

Having a well-trained, energetic and dedicated sales assistant is of paramount importance since he or she can free you from time spent on non-client-facing activities. Today, many firms split sales assistants between two or more advisors. Since you likely have your assistant only part-time, make sure that you have the right person and that you are using him or her to the greatest possible extent. If another advisor is hogging the assistant’s time, ask for a meeting with that advisor and be up-front about your concerns. On the other hand, if your assistant appears to have extra capacity, don’t hesitate to assign more challenging or time-intensive tasks.

Your Branch Manager

Often misunderstood — sometimes even maligned — your branch manager can prove a powerful ally and pivotal source of support. Branch managers often have discretion over orphaned and walk-in accounts; they decide the make-up of advisor teams (being teamed with the right person can make a tremendous difference to your career); they may have discretionary business development and marketing budgets; and they often decide who will be invited to desirable training programs.

Far too many advisors look at their managers as a kind of “compliance cop” and therefore fail to take advantage of them as coaches, mentors and business development resources. Sure, your manager must ensure compliance with firm policies and industry regulations — that’s their job — and you might not always like everything about the way they go about this. So your best option is to… get over it! Then do your utmost to develop a great working relationship. Get to know your manager personally, find out what he or she has to offer and how to best make use of it, and do whatever you can to turn your manager into an active business partner.

Company Specialists

Many firms have specialists in areas such as estate planning, insurance, wealth management, information technology (IT), operations, etc. Your first task here is to learn the scope of your organization and make sure you know who and what is available. Second, take advantage of IT and operations trainings to make sure that you (and your sales assistant) are as proficient as possible with your firm’s computer and communications systems. You don’t have to learn every last detail, but too many of us barely scratch the surface of the power and functionality of the technical systems that we are already using.

As you move up-market and develop consultative relationships with affluent clients, the wealth management specialists in your firm can provide critical assistance. Affluent clients need a variety of services; the best way to provide these is through a network of experts, some of whom you already have at your disposal through your firm. Importantly, don’t be afraid of admitting that you need expert assistance in certain areas. When specialized expertise is called for, make sure that’s what your clients receive.

Wholesalers

External and internal (in-house) wholesalers offer a variety of practice management programs and sales and marketing trainings. However, just because a training seminar or value-added marketing program is offered doesn’t necessarily mean you should attend. As author Robert Heinlein famously put it, TANSTAAFL (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!”). Any kind of program will take valuable time away from client-facing activities, so you must determine ahead of time whether it is likely to yield you real value. Have a specific checklist of the types of the support you are looking for — marketing and sales support, practice management support, technology support, improving product knowledge, advisor best practices, how to move up-market — and if what you’re looking for isn’t being offered, then find a graceful way to opt out.

Spend five or 10 minutes on the phone ahead of time, and press potential program givers as to who they are and exactly what they will be offering. Be selective. Ask for references of other advisors with whom the wholesalers have successfully worked. Then make a hardheaded determination about whether the program or training will add real value to your practice. (Question in-house providers just as hard, or even harder, than you would outside wholesalers: Just because the offering originates inside your firm doesn’t mean that it will provide you with the kind of value you are looking for.) If the expertise or tools being offered aren’t just what you need, then politely decline.

Support Yourself

If on average you retain 50 percent of the gross revenue that you generate, then in reality you are paying your firm 50 percent of what you earn for the opportunity to work where you are working. That’s a substantial investment, so you should make absolutely sure that you are getting the best possible support from the firm in return. By wisely taking advantage of the support that is offered, you enable yourself to be as successful as possible.