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When mentoring works

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It’s often said that “No man is an island.” Or, “It takes a village.” Or, more recently (and more controversially), “You didn’t build that.”

No matter how it’s stated, the power of collaboration is well known — especially to Anthony Saccaro, ChFC.

Saccaro’s Providence Financial & Insurance Services in Woodland Hills, Calif., is, by any measure, a successful business: more than 300 regular clients, five full-time employees and 175% business growth in 2011 alone. The latter achievement earned Saccaro the top advisor of the year honor from the Advisors’ Academy in May.

Yet Saccaro is quick to point out that he owes a lot of that success to the mentors he has sought out and worked with over the years.

“If I had to say there was one thing in my career that has led me to the success I’ve had, I’d say it was mentoring,” Saccaro, 41, says. “I believe that the best knowledge is someone else’s experience. If you can learn from what someone else has done, it just makes everything easier.”

Realizing a mentor’s value

Mentoring has helped Saccaro since he started out in the business in 1999, when he decided he wanted to try something new after owning and operating his own landscaping company. “I realized I didn’t like digging ditches or waking up at five in the morning,” he says. “I literally woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m done.’”

A friend of his had recently started selling health insurance plans and suggested Saccaro try it out, too. Saccaro liked it — and wanted to do more. He soon found his first mentor, who taught him the ropes of annuities, one of the top products Saccaro sells these days.

It wasn’t long before Saccaro outgrew that mentor, though. He knew it wasn’t wise for clients to put all of their money into annuities, and he wanted to be able to help them with whatever they chose to do with the rest. “I didn’t want to be a salesperson of one product,” he says. “I wanted to do what was right for each client. I always tell my clients, if there are 10 arrows in the quiver, I want to make sure I can offer them all 10, not just two or three.”

See also: 5 ways to get the most out of a mentorship

Saccaro went without a mentor for a few years and instead sought out information and experts who could help him expand into different areas of expertise, like Social Security income taxes, reverse mortgages and long-term care. But after a few years of going it alone, Saccaro realized he wasn’t where he wanted to be professionally. “I didn’t have a mentor from about 2003 to 2005, and I just stagnated,” he says. “I realized that if I wanted to grow, I needed a mentor.”

But after a brief stint with another mentor — who helped Saccaro find his first office and hire his first assistant — Saccaro found himself on his own again in 2007. He relied mostly on his general agency for help and support — but, again, he soon found his progress to be slow. “I continued growing, but not at the pace I wanted to,” he says.

So in 2009, Saccaro sat down and laid out criteria for what he was looking for in a mentor. Wanting to become more active in the public seminar realm — something his general agency at the time didn’t support — Saccaro knew he needed a mentor who was a seminar expert, and he wanted someone who was pulling in at least $30 million a year in annuity premium. His criteria took him straight to his current mentor, David Scranton, CEO of Scranton Financial Group and founder of Advisors’ Academy.

Finding a profitable partnership

Since the start of this new mentoring arrangement in 2009, Saccaro has seen his company’s growth skyrocket. Once housed in a 300-square-foot office, Providence Financial now occupies a 2,200-square-foot location — a space it’s set to outgrow in a year or two. Saccaro has gone from his one assistant to five full-time employees, including a junior agent he’s helping to train. He also employs one part-time tax agent and is looking to hire another junior agent soon.

All those employees are helping Saccaro serve the clients he’s bringing in through highly successful seminars. As Saccaro had hoped, Scranton was able to teach Saccaro all about dinner seminars and — when Saccaro found public dinner seminars to be unprofitable for him — helped him transition to private dinner seminars.

The events, which now bring in a sizeable portion of Providence Financial’s clients, serve as a sort of hybrid client appreciation/prospecting tool. Once or twice a month, existing clients are invited to a fancy steakhouse dinner and asked to bring friends and family along. Saccaro gives a 45-minute talk about the economy today and relevant financial concerns, and that’s it. No mailers are sent out, no free-meal-seekers show up, and Sacarro ends up with new clients and happier existing ones.

“It’s a very warm environment, a very fun environment, and it’s a very closing environment,” he says. “And I don’t have to spend money on mailers.”

Saccaro has also started bringing in clients through tax preparation. “Most financial planners have never discussed the tax implications of their clients’ investments,” he says. “I always make it a point to take taxes into consideration when we’re planning, and clients started asking if I could do their taxes.”

With the help of Scranton’s advice, Saccaro hired an enrolled agent who is on call all year and on staff full time at tax season. He offers existing clients and anyone 55 and older a flat fee of $79.95 for tax preparation. It’s a deal that incents prospects to become clients to get the deal — and then stick around to work on a financial plan. “We always get new clients at tax season,” Saccaro says.

In the years he’s been under Scranton’s guidance, Saccaro has also made Providence … well … Providence. Until a few years ago, his company was called Senior Benefits, reflecting its focus on clients who, on average, were about 75 years old. Now, though, thanks mostly to clients referring younger family members and friends, Saccaro’s serving mostly individuals who are 50 and older.

See also: 7 Branding Mistakes to Avoid

A self-described born-again Christian, Saccaro chose the name Providence to reflect his faith as well as a partnership with a local foundation that provides tax preparation for California pastors — and refers anyone with greater financial needs to Saccaro.

The name may have been slightly prescient, too, considering the success Saccaro has seen in the last few years. “It’s just been an absolute blessing the way it’s gone,” he says.

Two is better than one

Saccaro’s been so satisfied with his mentoring, he signed up with a second mentor a few months ago — Scranton’s personal mentor, Earl Kemper.

Saccaro pays $1,000 a month to speak with Kemper each week for half an hour. (Scranton isn’t directly paid, but he’s Saccaro’s general agent, so he also benefits financially from Saccaro’s success.) “When you talk about $1,000 a month, $12,000 a year, a lot of people would say, ‘That’s pricey; no way,’” Saccaro says. “But if they can give you one little tidbit a month that generates $1,000, then they’ve paid for themselves.”

Having some skin in the game also makes Saccaro a better mentee, he says. “Spending that money makes sure that I’m prepared for each call, and that’s huge,” he says.

And as far as having two mentors at once goes? Saccaro says it really is an instance where more equals better. “It’s two different opinions,” he says. “A lot of times, they tell me the same things, but sometimes they don’t. It’s just that they’ve built their businesses differently. Having two mentors is just a great way to pick two different heads.”

Call it making up for lost time. Saccaro says if there’s one thing he regrets about his career so far, it’s those years he tried to go without a mentor. “If I could change one thing about my business, I would have had a mentor during those time periods,” he says. “I like where I am now, but I think I’d be even further along.”

For more on mentoring, see:

How to be mentored

Recruiting Young Blood For an Old Industry

We Need a Life Insurance Support Group