Harry Campbell/© theispot.com

We hit a great milestone recently: We are projected to be profitable for the next 12 months, even if we don’t bring on a single new client! Woo-hoo! Also, one of my original goals for the practice was to get 90% of our new clients from referrals. Based on the “A” clients who have engaged us this year, we are hitting that goal, too.

As I was reflecting on these milestones, the thought came to me: How were we able to accomplish these goals in just four short years?

Undoubtedly, our biggest key to success is we treat it like a business.

Many advisors who are having trouble meeting their goals think of their work as “a practice” or maybe they are salespersons with helpers. For us it is a business, plain and simple. Yes, it is a business that focuses on changing lives every day, but we are constantly focusing on making it more efficient and more effective.

Here are some of the ways that we have adjusted the business over the last few years to make it more efficient and effective.

1. We have a detailed, defined “onboarding process” for new clients. Some advisors would call this a “sales process,” but, as I have discussed in previous articles, I don’t think of what we do as “sales.” To me it is a consultative business that solves our clients’ financial problems.

I have not had the guts to count the steps in our practice, but we once counted them for an advisory client, and the number for his business was a staggering 1,200 steps per client! Our business is even more complex than his so it wouldn’t surprise me if we were above that number.

As a result, we are constantly looking for ways to make this process more efficient and streamlined for our client service managers (CSMs) since the bulk of the prep falls on their shoulders. I am willing to change or even delete any aspect of the process, as long as the results are the same. Way over 90% of our clients will follow our recommendations. So any changes to our process can’t jeopardize the end results.

2. We implemented standardized gap analysis. Originally we did a customized gap analysis for every client. Yes it was very impressive, but it also took more time for the CSM — it could easily take an hour for a new CSM working on a more complex case just to do this one task. Today we use a standardized checklist for each client and just save the customized gap analysis for the most complex and higher end cases.

3. I got more organized on how I did my dictation. Originally, in true Virginia Woolf style, all of my dictations were stream of consciousness. It was not unusual for me to have a dozen or more “to dos” listed for the CSM, but they would have to carefully weed through my disorganized dictation to find them. I noticed that it was not unusual for a CSM to miss 60% or more of the assigned tasks, which left me in the lurch for the next meeting.

One great CSM suggested that I use a template to organize my dictation. It covers all areas of the practice and includes things like homework items that the client has to do, and then reminders of items that I need to cover in the next meeting. Now all the tasks are easily listed in a format that the CSM can follow. This has saved us all time and had the added benefit of saving me time to prep for the next meeting. It also keeps us organized so nothing falls through the cracks.

4. We conduct limited review of company benefits. For a couple of years we were doing a detailed review of the client’s employee benefits, because most clients had no idea what they had and if there was a gap in their coverage at work.

Take the example of disability insurance. In fact, the few details on the employee website were not enough for us to really understand their employer-paid policies. A key piece of missing information was how their group policy defined being disabled and the length of the coverage. So we would reach out to their HR manager to get the missing details about the policy. Then we would create a document that showed the clients if they had any gaps in their coverage. This could easily eat up an hour or more of the CSM’s time because the HR departments were notoriously slow in getting back to us, requiring the CSM to waste a lot of time continuing to try to contact HR folks who were frequently completely unresponsive.

One day it occurred to me (duh!) that who cares about their employer DI policy? In fact, we can’t do anything with these policies. We can’t change them and we can’t decline them. We really didn’t need to know all the details because there is nothing we could do to improve them for our clients. (Yes, I can be slow on the uptake). Eliminating this research saved time and didn’t impact the outcome of our process. Now we just use the most basic information from the client’s employer’s website and using that information we know if they have a gap in coverage. If they do, we recommend a supplemental policy.

5. We have eliminated unnecessary reports. Another document we created in our process is what we call the “Asset Grid.” It lists all the clients’ current investments and what our recommendations are. Each account is addressed with recommendations to hold them, modify the investments or move them to our management. Once we have started on-boarding clients, it also lists the status of their rollovers to our management.

This could take a CSM an hour or more to prepare this report, particularly for clients with a lot of different accounts. It is even more work when the client has old retirement accounts that need to be rolled to a new IRA at our custodian. We were preparing these for every meeting, even for clients who were done with the on-boarding process and we were just reviewing their account balances and performance.

Did I mention I can be slow on the uptake? I am sure you can see what it took me a while to notice: Once the client was finished on-boarding, and we had all their accounts under our management, there was no need for this report. This was another part of our process that didn’t add anything to the final result, so I was more than happy to eliminate it and save our CSMs more time.

So a few things for you to think about. First step: you need a process. Top advisors do not do “one-offs.” Second step: Once you get a process that works for you, then you can refine it. Eliminate anything that does not improve the desired results.

Next article: the things we added to the process that improved the results.

— Check out Don’t Make ‘The Godfather’ Your Business Model on ThinkAdvisor.