“Do the right thing” are truly words to live by and sell by for Mark Lindsey, a self-proclaimed “safe money specialist” who personally put $23 million in fixed indexed annuities premiums on the books in 2006, along with about $1 million in securities and another $400,000 in life insurance premiums.
Lindsey, 45, is the owner of Los Angeles-based corporation Freedom Dream Team, dba Asset Protection Consultants, which did close to $40 million as an organization last year. Lindsey is a CSA who also holds Series 6 and 63, even though he doesn’t do much with securities. He is also a Chartered Senior Financial Planner.
Lindsey grew up in Orange County, and like many Southern Californians, developed a passion for surfing, something he still enjoys after 30 years. He went to the same high school that Tiger Woods would attend years later. After a short stint in college, the entrepreneurial spirit led Lindsey to start a car detailing business at the age of 19, and about a year later he went into real estate. By the time he was 23, Lindsey was introduced to the insurance industry, and he sold life insurance and mutual funds through the 1980s into the ’90s. Then financial advising became his calling as he became driven by the idea of helping seniors keep their money safe.
In one of the most saturated markets in America, Lindsey differentiates himself by telling seniors, “I believe that safety is the most important thing as you grow older, and I want to help you keep your money safe. So whatever you want to keep safe, I’m your man.”
Lindsey was a single parent with full custody of two daughters for almost 11 years. That taught him plenty about effective time management. Now remarried and living in Thousand Oaks with two stepchildren in addition to his daughters, his work week (consisting of 30 to 40 appointments; 12 to 16 he’s never seen before) typically ends by 1 p.m. Fridays, allowing him to devote long weekends to his family. There are occasional night and weekend work commitments, but family is a high priority, with frequent outings to ski areas in the winter, riding ATVs in the desert, or spending time boating on Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border. With a second home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Lindsey has recently opened up an office there, as well. “We’re growing,” he says. “It’s a very exciting time.”
Senior Market Advisor: When did you start your business?
Mark Lindsey: I started in January 1984 in the bedroom of my home as a little home-based business. My mom has been working for me now for 23 years. She started with me and she’s still with me. She’s kind of my right arm. We’ve been able to surround ourselves with absolutely phenomenal people. Their ethics and morality and everything are just exactly everything you want to work with if you are going to open up your business. I’ve been very lucky. I realized at a young age that my driving force was going to be entrepreneurial. I had that entrepreneurial spirit since I was young.
SMA: What drew you into the senior market?
ML: What I really liked is the idea of helping people that were older to help them keep their money safer. That’s how I got into the senior market. My mom and dad were growing older and they had more questions. I was getting older, and I was looking at this and looking at that. What really appealed to me is the idea of working with a segment of the population that really needed to be more focused on keeping their money safer with less risk. Quite frankly, I’ve built my practice around the idea of being a safe money specialist. I don’t like things that have risk. I have really kind of become the kind of guy people come to in this area when people want to keep their money safe. That’s me.
SMA: When you first got started, you struggled a bit. How were you able to gain some traction?
ML: Well, you know, when I first started, it’s always a learning curve. You’re trying to figure it out and find out what goes on. I think you spend the first 10 years just learning. You spend the first 10 years just trying to figure out your niche and how you fit. Then you get into your own and you start to understand. I’ve always believed that the best experience anyone can get is to get field experience. I truly believe that the first 10 to 15 years of my career, I was putting myself in the position to do what I do now, to have the success that I have now. I believe it took me 10 to 15 years to really figure out what I was doing and really understand all the dynamics that go with helping people and the way we do it. Since then, my business has grown every single year to the point now where sometimes I have to sit back, look in the mirror and pinch myself. I really do.
SMA: How do you prospect?
ML: We prospect a number of different ways. We have lead generation systems. We do some seminars. Over the years, of course, we have accumulated, literally, thousands of clients. We do client appreciation dinners. As a matter of fact, tonight I have a client appreciation dinner right here in Los Angeles with over 250 people. Husbands and wives and guests. We do a dinner with a kind of a DJ/actor that comes and sings and some great things. I have my picture taken with everybody. It’s an event that people now have come to be excited about. Tomorrow night, because Los Angeles is so spread out, we do our second event. That’s got 250 people coming.
We don’t talk business; we just want to tell them thank you for trusting us and working with us and being our clients. I can tell you that it pays dividends. They are there with other clients and they see they aren’t the only ones. They talk and it is amazing how much business I do from a client appreciation event. It’s just amazing. We do some client bring-a-friend nights where we send out an invitation to our clients and we do a special workshop just for our clients and for them to bring a friend. Those events are spectacular. I like it because it takes away the referral stigma. In this business, we know that referrals are a big part of it. Most people ask for referrals, call people, and a lot of people are uncomfortable giving the names of their friends and family. In my years of being in business, I have never met one single client that has been uncomfortable bringing a friend of theirs to a dinner or a workshop and if the client likes me, the client checks yes. If the client doesn’t like me, they don’t check yes, and we don’t get together. It’s very simple and it’s non threatening.
SMA: How do you overcome objections?
ML: That’s a more challenging question, obviously. It really depends upon the objection. Frankly, it’s as easy as asking very simple questions. I’ll give you an idea. When somebody says, “I’m not sure what I should do with this,” or “I like CDs,” my question is always the same: How much of your money do you want to keep safer? And are you happy where you are? And if you are happy where you are, why? Here’s a great one: Who is the money for? See, a lot of financial advisors ask a very simple question: Who is this money for? Is this for you in your older age? Is it for your kids? Is it for your grandkids? That all has a determination into what type of recommendation you may make for that particular client. The whole idea of trying to figure out how to help somebody is you must ask questions. Selling is not an event. It is a process of asking the right questions to determine can you help them, first, and No. 2, what type of recommendation is going to be best for that person.
SMA: How is mentoring helping you out? Who was your mentor?
ML: You know, I actually worked with a number of people. There’s a couple of guys out there right now that have made tremendous impacts in my life. Mike Botkin from San Diego has been a great mentor for me. He’s been a great help. I have another friend back in Atlanta by the name of Ty Young who has been a phenomenal inspiration for me. Together, we have changed some things that have been phenomenal in the industry. I think those two guys have really been mentors for me, not only business-wise, but family-wise, spiritual-wise, all these things. They are just tremendous individuals.
SMA: How are you passing that on to others?
ML: We actually mentor somewhere in the range of 30 to 50 people per year. Individuals from around the country come in. They’ll ride along with me for one to two days and watch what we do. In that process, we teach them how to be ethical, moral, how to do things right, how to ask the right questions for the client. In this industry, a lot of this business is asking the right questions. With all the regulations out there, you must be positive that the products you are offering are suitable for the client you are giving them to. A lot of the guys are looking for that help. I love mentoring because I learn a lot from the individuals coming in. But I love to take somebody that is struggling out there and they really want to do good, and they want to help people, and they are just struggling. I love to be able to show them a very simple and easy way to ask the right questions and do things.
SMA: Is this how your “Programs to Premiums” system came about?
ML: Ty Young, my friend in Atlanta, and I were at a conference. We were talking about mentoring and about how much we love mentoring, and I said, “You know, it sure would be great if, instead of mentoring one person at a time, we could just get 100 guys from across the country into a room and share with them exactly what we do. Show them the questions we ask. Maybe show them a presentation for a client. Show them exactly what we do, how to ask the right questions, how to do things.” He looked at me and said, “That’s amazing.” The next thing you know, out came a training program called Programs to Premiums. It teaches anybody – from a producer doing virtually nothing to a producer doing $10 million. It shows them how to ask the right questions, a very simplistic sales process. It shows them basically everything from A to Z. It’s something that I never had and most guys in the industry never had – the training from A to Z. That’s what we created. It has been absolutely unbelievable. The individuals that have attended our training, the average production increase is up well over 50 percent. We have a lot of guys that are over 100 and 200 percent. The average growth rate is 50 percent, which is staggering in an industry that actually went down last year in growth. So we’re pretty proud of that. That’s one of those things that, every once in awhile, it comes out and we’ve got some very big plans for that in the future. It’s kind of an exciting time.
SMA: How about the Monday conference calls. What is that about?
ML: If we’re honest, not every day is a great day. We have things that are good, things that are bad. All of us are human beings. We have great days and bad days. We have days where we have a lot of appointments and everything is exciting and days where we have none, and it feels like you are going downhill. I think the key to success is to never lose that desire to win. What we did on the Monday morning conference call is we wanted to create something that? we call it the “Monday morning meet and motivation Programs to Premiums conference call.” It’s a “burn the ship, go to war, take no prisoners, do it or die trying conference call.” Basically, the individuals that have come to our training are able, on a Monday morning for one hour, to log on to a conference call. We talk about different things that are working and we are testing, and we try things and we do this and we talk about issues and problems that are out there for salespeople. A lot of it is motivation, but a lot of it is meat, where we talk about [what to do] if you run across this problem, if you run across this problem. In the marketplace today, with the stock market as high as it is, how do you sell anything? We talk about that. We talk about CD rates being as high as they are and that’s great. We talk about all these different things to try to help people, to help the individuals that are out there every day in the trenches getting themselves bloodied and beat up just like I do and anybody else out there that is in this industry. It isn’t all just milk and honey. We always tell everybody, “Welcome to Monday.” A lot of times, there’s not a lot of motivation. Sometimes we can almost feel like we’re alone on an island in this business. Frankly, the Monday morning conference call puts us all together and we’re not alone. We get a lot of war stories of things that have happened and how we’ve been able to help people with this. The Monday morning conference call has been absolutely phenomenal.
SMA: You work in Los Angeles, which a lot of people would consider an oversaturated market, with seniors getting seminar invitations every week. How do you stay ahead with so much competition?
ML: Again, I think it is being different. You’ve got to be different from everybody else. I do probably live in the most saturated market in America. I have actually done a seminar and I’ve had two seminars going on on each side of me, so I know. In any given month, in my area that I work, there’s probably 500 to 1,000 seminars going on. The key is, – with the people that come to your workshops or the people that you meet with the bring-a-friend night or whatever it might be to enhance your business – you must immediately differentiate yourself from the other people. My way of doing that is to let people know right upfront in the workshop I’m not like everybody else. I tell them, “I believe that safety is the most important thing as you grow older, and I want to help you keep your money safe. So whatever you want to keep safe, I’m your man. Whatever you want to put at risk, if you’ve got a broker or a financial advisor that is putting you in stocks and mutual funds, you probably don’t need me. I only want to handle what is safe. I’ll take care of what is safe for you.” What it does is it instantaneously makes me just a little bit different from anybody else out there.
You’ve got to find that little edge that makes you different because it is very, very competitive. I would say when people see you it is about your personality. You’ve got to be motivated, you’ve got to be excited about what you do because people look at you. The people that look at me, they know I absolutely love what I do. I wake up every day incredibly excited about who I can help today. Our company motto is: “The more people we help, the more money we make.” This isn’t about money. It’s about helping people. It’s a funny thing. I’ve discovered that when I used to worry about making money, I didn’t make very much. When I stopped worrying about making money and started focusing on how many people I could help this year, it was amazing that my success came in abundance. My focus became helping. We actually set goals. Two years ago, our goal was 1,500 people that we wanted to help each year. Last year, our goal jumped to 1,800. We actually broke that record. It’s about helping people. If you keep that mentality, it’s amazing how successful you’ll become.
SMA: How frequently do you have seminars and special events?
ML: We do client appreciation events twice a year. Obviously during the holiday season, and then we try to do something during the summertime. We do client bring-a-friend nights all year long, usually at least once a month. We also have relationships that we’ve developed and built with other professionals: property and casualty brokers and CPAs and things like that. We’ve developed relationships over the years and we work with them and their clients, as well. Especially during the IRA season. We do a lot of work with a lot of CPAs. So, it’s not about one way or another. On seminars, we do a fair share of those, as well, because that gets us out into the community. I’ll tell you, the one problem with seminars is they can be quite expensive. You’ve got to have more than one way to meet people. If you are a one-trick pony, you can end up getting in trouble. You’ve got to have a multitude of ways of meeting people.
SMA: Can you tell me a little bit about your schedule in an average work week?
ML: In an average work week, I’ll have 30 to 40 appointments. I’ll see somewhere around 16 to 20 people that I’ve never seen before, first appointments if you will. People that are trying to figure out if I’m the right guy for them and I’m trying to figure out if I am the right guy for them. I have somewhere in the range of eight to 12 second appointments per week with people that now we figure out that we’re a match. We get together and go in the next direction. So I’m making recommendations and we’re doing business together. I have deliveries where we’re meeting with somebody. Maybe their life insurance policy or their annuity came in or this happened or that happened.
SMA: How often do you do client reviews?
ML: We try to meet with all of our clients once per year. It’s very challenging to do but we try. The nice thing about those is that they are very short and simple. They don’t take a long time. But last year, 30 percent of my business came from meeting with my existing clients and doing annual reviews.
SMA: That’s a pretty effective way to do it.
ML: A huge tool. I work with people in a very simplistic approach. Even our annual reviews. We give clients a notebook and we make everything very, very simple so that going through the annual review is easy. Instead of having all these complicated statements that they don’t understand, we try to take that and make it very simple so they can rest assured and feel more confident about their money and where it is, because it is very simple to follow and take care of.
SMA: Are you working a lot of weekends?
ML: Actually, again, I think this is about being productive in the time you have. I have two daughters. I was a single parent for many years. I am remarried now. I was a single parent with two daughters for almost 11 years. I have full custody of my daughters. I can’t be gone all the time. I had to figure out how to become highly effective. My daughters are the greatest. My oldest daughter is a senior in high school. My youngest daughter is in the 7th grade. They’ve turned out to be absolutely phenomenal young ladies. But being a dad raising two daughters is challenging all by itself. Running a business and doing all that at the same time. All that does is just add to the bigger challenge. What I have always believed is that we all waste time. What you want to do is take all the time you waste and put it on a day like Saturday. Make Saturday the day you waste time. The rest of the week you pour everything into those four or five days. My schedule right now consists of Monday through Thursday. I work from about 9 in the morning until about 6 or 7 at night. Then I’m home for dinner with the kids unless I’m doing a workshop or something. Fridays I work half days until about 1 p.m. I pick my daughters up from school and that’s our time to go to the movies and have fun. I believe that if you’re really going to be successful, you have to have your priorities straight. God, family, business. That’s the way it should be. You’ve got to have your priorities in the right direction. If you have your priorities in the right direction, you can be as successful as you want and still enjoy life. Don’t forget to smell the roses as you go through life. I do not work weekends anymore unless it is a training I’m doing somewhere. I put in a full-charging time. Then Friday’s half a day. Then I’m done.
SMA: What do you do when you really take your mind off work?
ML: I’ve been surfing for about 30 years here in southern California. I think everyone in southern California surfs. The waters are crowded. I’m 45 years old; I’m one of the old timers. We have a boat. My daughters and I and my family, we love to go out on the lake and we enjoy being out on the lake. Now I’m remarried and we have four kids. We have my two and two more step-kids. We go out on the lake, we take the boat. The kids love to wakeboard and water ski and go out on the inner tubes. During the winter when it is cold, we have some ATVs that we like to ride out in the desert. Those are the times that we get to spend time together and relax and have fun and, of course, snow ski. It’s those times that are the special times. When you’re spending special time out there on the desert and you run out of gas, and you’ve got to push that thing back. It sounds like, “Wow, that’s a bummer.” But you know, life is made of memories. Everything we do is a memory and it’s those times with your family, those are the times that you can never replace. I love that time. I would encourage everybody – don’t forget about that.
SMA: Can you tell us a little bit more about your business philosophy and how you make clear your commitment to ethical behavior and practices?
ML: No. 1, I joined the National Ethics Bureau. I love them. This is a group that investigates people. They check you out. They check out your criminal history. They do some things that I think actually put my clients at ease. I give clients the brochure for the National Ethics Bureau, and I cannot tell you how many times people call and actually check me out to make sure I am actually who I say I am. I think ethics matter. In a world where there is so much deceit and fraud and so many people that are not honest and ethical, it is refreshing to be that way. There is one other thing. The best thing you can ever do is be very straightforward with your clients. Be very honest. Be straight up. I think that ethics, morality, sincerity and looking to make sure you do the right, suitable thing are of utmost importance.
SMA: How do you know if prospects are a fit or if they aren’t a fit?
ML: Well, when we sit down with somebody, and we begin to ask the questions and we begin to share with them what we do, we ask very specific questions to find out what they are looking for, who the money is for, what type of investment this is. Does it need to be 100 percent liquid, do they mind tying it up for a while in a time-type deposit or do they have life insurance? What kind is it and how long have they had it? Is it a good policy, a bad policy? We start looking through and they’ll share things with us. A lot of times when they meet with me, there is one specific account they want me to look at. Sometimes they want me to look at everything. It kind of depends. Each person is a little bit different. Through the process of asking the right questions, within 15 minutes I know if a person is going to be a client.
SMA: What are some of the key challenges facing your business?
ML: I think some of the biggest challenges are regulatory issues. I know there are a lot of guys out there that are not being honest. They are not doing things appropriately. I think what happens is that the individuals that are not being honest and are not doing things appropriately come back to hurt those of us that are. They actually make this business harder for us. It’ll be great once the SEC comes up with an actual recommendation on what an index annuity is.
SMA: How will that help?
ML: It is going to help tremendously, because I think the NASD has gone along with a process of assuming it is a security or trying to treat it that way. What other business in the world has a licensed person selling insurance, selling a product, but on the other hand, if you have a securities license, you fall under a whole different set of rules? It’s kind of strange. We need to get some clarification in the industry. Once there is clarification, people can go forward with that clarification.
SMA: Where do you see yourself 10 years down the road?
ML: In all honesty, one of my goals is to be a mentor and a trainer of others in this industry. As you go through life, you kind of find your passion. One of the things I am very passionate of right now is the training that Ty Young and I put together. I have tremendous passion because it’s helping others to become more successful. It’s helping individuals who are struggling. My long-term goal would be to work with anybody and everybody in any company that would like to work with me and become more educated on the sales process and gain the ability to sell the right way with ethics, morality and suitability. And the funny part is, you can do a lot of business doing it the right way. In this industry, we need that. Over time, my vision would be to really be a mentor to others and, if the Programs to Premiums continues to go the way it is, I would love to see this explode into the ability to help companies and sales forces all across the country become better at what they do. It’s not about competition and teaching your competition. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about doing the right thing for everybody that we meet with. If we can put together a mentoring training program that can help 10,000 representatives out there, it could help hundreds of thousands of people to not be taken advantage of.