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Life Health > Running Your Business

Letter to Survivors

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No matter what the market climate, some FAs will survive. And of the survivors, some will get rich. Even though there are more frowns than smiles among FAs today, there are still smiles.

It takes me about a minute in conversation to classify an advisor into one of two camps: invigorated or not. There are probably a bunch of subcategories for “not.” There is the deer-in-the-headlights crowd. Another group is confused over what to do now. Another group is more or less afraid to call clients. And obviously there is some overlap here.

More than just a few of the FAs I have spoken to this year are having a GREAT YEAR. Trust me, they are invigorated.

This letter is not for them. They are going to be fine.

Another group of FAs are not invigorated. They had a lousy year in 2008 and they’re not smiling right now. They are frowning. This letter is for the group of people kicking, paddling, rowing and pushing. Whatever your age, gender or experience, this applies to you. You can have a good, even great year. I will address you as “Frowning.”

Dear Frowning:

Your business is down. You’re worried. Your investment strategy earned you a 40 percent income reduction plan and an equivalent asset reduction for your clients. My guess is that you want to survive and are willing to work to do so. But you could make some mistakes here that I want to warn you about.

You have probably also vowed to hang on to your cash. That decision may not be in your best interest. In good times, you, and some of the firms you work for, spray money around like water out of a fire hydrant on a hot day in New York City. In good times, what you and they should be doing is stashing some away. But no, that doesn’t happen.

Does this mean you do not cut costs? Absolutely not. You scrutinize every penny, taking care to eliminate every bit of toxic bloat added during the go-go years.

Not once in my many years working in this industry have I ever heard someone say, “Well, looks like the bad times are here. Time to punch up the local advertising. Get better organized. Better strengthen our client service. And let’s push staff training so we can give more and better service in less time.”

When the bad times come, and they have certainly arrived, what do you see your company and the FAs you know doing?

“First, let’s chuck some service personnel overboard.” Never mind that this results in forcing you to spend less time selling, further cutting revenue.

“It’ll cut expenses,” says one cost-cutter.

“What else can we cut?” asks another.

“Advertising!” says one.

“Postpone training!” cries another.

And so the survival potential of you and the company are cut even more. Does this make sense? Not at all. This is no way to run a business whether it’s Reliable Securities in Ditchwater, Texas or Smith Morgan UBS Merrillchovia — the new name for the one surviving firm once all the mergers and acquisitions are done. (Years ago, I named it AGMerrillWebberWitterBros. That had a better ring to it. But those were better times.)


Now is the time to rip open those purse strings and start promoting. Your competitors — those legions who are not calling your clients or even their own — have pulled back. You need to reach out.

What will you do with the money? First buy some advertising and some selling time. To do that, you need some leverage. Without leverage, you can work harder, to a point. But you won’t have the strength to get ahead very much.

There are only three kinds of leverage available:

(1) Technology. You already have some of it. But most advisors I talk to don’t know how to use it.

Just consider Microsoft Word. It’s on every computer of every person reading this article. The odds are 20-to-1 you use it as an electric typewriter, when you use it at all. But if you were to dig into it and really understand it, you would find that you could easily automate preparation of your proposals. You could speed up notes and e-mails to clients and prospects with the Autotext feature.

Autotext, as just one of the many productivity-boosting features in Microsoft Word, enables you to store paragraphs that you use frequently. For example, I frequently tell an e-mail correspondent, “I’m going to ask my assistant to give you a call and set up a time we can talk. By setting a telephone appointment we don’t have to play phone tag, surely one of the most awful concoctions of the 20th century.”

Instead of typing that two or three times a day, I instead type “tel appt.” Word prompts me. I hit Enter, and that text miraculously appears.

I have set up a page for you at with some instructions on Autotext as well as other technology that will help you get more done in less time.

(2) Advertising. For most of you, advertising is as simple as picking up the phone and calling existing clients and prospects. Or, it’s buying a list of people who have not registered on the “do not call” list. Yes, 80 percent or 85 percent have registered with DNC, but not everyone. Or it’s calling business owners. Yes, cold calling is hard, so hard not many people do it. I know one person who built a multi-million dollar business cold calling since the DNC laws were implemented. I’ve put some cold calling scripts on my leverage page for you.

Cold calling not for you? Loosen those purse strings and spend some money on direct mail. I would start with all the prospects you developed over the years but never closed. I’ve put what I call a “letter format” on the website. It’s a “fill-in-the-blanks” direct mail letter.

(3) OPW. You’ve heard of OPM (Other People’s Money)? Perhaps the ultimate in leverage is OPW (Other People’s Work).

The main reason you can’t find the additional selling time you need now is that you’re bogged down in doing something you do not get paid for: service. Your itemized compensation schedule does not contain “Service problems successfully resolved … $6,500.”

But service is crucial. The first responsibility of marketing is client retention. More business is lost because of poor service, or lack of it, than to bad investment advice.

A service assistant can handle all client service problems, protect your time and produce a smooth-running office. So if you don’t have adequate service support, you’ll just have to buy it. That buys you a lot of time.

Once you’ve got service support, you need sales support. Call this the “Raja Tiger-Hunting Model.” The Raja (advisor) sits on the elephant. The beaters (sales support) go flush out the tiger. Raja shoots. Tiger becomes tiger soup.

Here’s the way most advisors do it. Raja gets on elephant. No tiger. Raja gets down, grabs a pan and spoon. Beats for awhile. Something moves. Rushes back to elephant. Whoops, it’s a pig or even a large rat. Back to bush for more beating. Something else moves. Rushes back to elephant. Another rodent. More beating. Something else moves. Too tired to rush back to the elephant; Raja goes home. But that last rustle in the bushes was the tiger!

The key is leverage. Leverage can be defined as advantages that enable the advisor to spend more time selling. Sales and service support are vital — they’ll help you survive a tough market.

Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing Systems in Draper, Utah; see


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