As you undoubtedly know better than I, there’s a growing army of consultants offering to help advisors with everything from recruiting to branding to client communications. Some of them are very good–I’ve had the privilege of working with a few. Others are not so good. The biggest problem seems to be that some gurus work from one-size-fits-all prepackaged programs that assume a specific goal, rather than asking where advisors want their practices to go, and then helping them get there.
Despite rather wide variances in execution, I’ve noticed that many of the recommendations most consultants offer are strikingly similar: focus on a client niche, discard your least profitable clients, ask for referrals, charge more, write a business plan, leverage yourself with additional staff, yadda yadda yadda. I suspect the sameness of this advice stems from the fact that consultants all read the annual Moss Adams Studies, drawing their conclusions and designing their programs largely from the same data set. Not to say this isn’t good advice; many advisors seem to benefit from it. Yet I can’t help but wonder why advisors need all these consultants to tell them things they’ve already heard–and read–time and again.
When Jennifer Connelly called the other day to tell me why I should talk to one of her clients who is a consultant to advisors, I inwardly groaned. But since Jennifer is one of the best PR people I know–one of the rare few who really understand what her clients do and where they fit into the financial services world–I agreed to talk to Ray Sclafani.
True to form, the founder of ClientWISE in Tarrytown, New York, was indeed excited about what he does for the 300 or so advisors he’s worked with in his first year of operations. He also offered many predictable suggestions for advisors: define their processes, contact clients more often, don’t waste time on work someone else can do, etc. Then he said something that made my ears perk up, something that I hadn’t heard before, except in my own head: “But most advisors have heard these things before, so our focus is to find out why they aren’t already doing them, and help them get past their self-limiting beliefs.”
Self-limiting beliefs? Kind of had a Zen sound to it: the notion that we block ourselves with our own beliefs, and the implied promise that if we create our own problems, we can also create our own solutions.
“Most advisors have the knowledge and experience to solve their own problems,” Sclafani went on. “We just help them unlock the wisdom they already have.” Better and better; he was starting to sound downright enlightened. So I asked him to tell me more about how advisors get in their own way. He listed three underlying beliefs that many advisors hold, which seem to hold them back from being as successful as they want to be:
“They need to do things the way they’ve always done them.” Sclafani typically works with advisors who have been in the business from seven to 10 years. By most standards they’d be considered successful. And therein lies a mental trap: they must not be doing everything right, otherwise why would they engage a consultant? Yet they continue to believe that their current modus operandi has been the reason for their “success,” and are therefore extremely reluctant to change any part of what they do.
The problem, of course, is a failure to distinguish between the things you’ve done which contributed to your current level of success, and those behaviors that limited, or even detracted from, your success. If you want to make your practice better–improve client service, work fewer hours, bring more to the bottom line, grow larger–then you need to figure out what to change, and what to leave alone. It’s safe to say that nobody’s success derived from failing to follow up on referral leads, wasting time and energy on clerical work that could easily be done by someone else, or hiring the wrong people. Combine that with many Baby Boomer clients moving from the accumulation phase to the depletion phase, demanding more services and better communication as they go, and as Sclafani points out, stubbornly refusing to change can greatly hinder the success of your firm, with no one to blame but yourself.