Ask successful businesspeople what propelled their careers and you will get a range of different answers, indicating there are multiple paths to success. While that’s true enough, I suspect most people don’t really know what got them where they are. It’s too easy to mistake a coincidence for a cause. We’re a little too wrapped up in the tangle of our own lives to see the forest for the trees. Besides, another person’s big break is not repeatable. It’s a much safer bet to emulate certain indispensable character traits such as hard work, integrity and passion.
There are many ways of performing hard work. You can lift heavy file cabinets all day, but it’s unlikely to win you sizable investment accounts. The key is to intelligently direct your activity toward reaching long- and short-term goals. The need to put bread on the table often causes people to emphasize the short-term payoff. But like a good farmer, the wise course is to plant for the next season before bringing in the new crop.
You may, for example, feel that you desire a future in which you are serving high-net-worth clients with sophisticated planning needs. You’re young and you fear you might not be taken seriously among this clientele yet. But you can cultivate long-term credibility now by taking the appropriate courses leading up to a CFP mark, writing a newsletter on advanced planning ideas and distributing it to your target audience. If you deliver a consistently valuable newsletter (or blog or seminar, etc.), your harvest should eventually come in.
The short-term business-building activity is usually pretty intuitive. You’ve already got the client or prospect and you want to advance to the next level (i.e., a sale or appointment). Beware: Many a salesperson jeopardizes long-term credibility in reaching for the payoff. I remember a real estate broker years ago telling me he was going to credit my wife and me with a few hundred bucks at escrow as his housewarming gift to us. I declined the offer at first, but he insisted. I figured this was a marketing expense of his. But I guess he changed his mind between then and the settlement, probably because he needed the money. I don’t remember if it was cookies or something else he delivered afterwards, but I could never refer him to someone else because he went back on his word.
Hard work and integrity are indispensable, but there’s another bonus quality in establishing an enduring and successful business: passion. A good friend and highly successful salesman told me of an unforgettable lesson he got from a vacuum cleaner salesman. All he needed was a lousy vacuum cleaner, but the salesman was so passionate about his product, such a believer in its elegant excellence, that my friend showed up a second time for an encore performance before buying the appliance. He learned that really believing in what you do is the surest way to connect with your client.