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What Advisor-Owners Can Learn From Peyton Manning

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In the aftermath of the Denver Broncos victory in Super Bowl 50, and the anticipation of Peyton Manning’s retirement, you’ve probably noticed the flurry of laudatory anecdotes about the star quarterback.

One that really grabbed my attention was a note from Russell Wilson, the Super Bowl 48 winning quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, to Manning via “The Players Tribune.” It seems that as a high school player, Wilson attended one of Manning’s football camps, and he credits what he learned under Manning’s guidance as a major factor in his later success. In addition to working hard, being disciplined and being respectful, Wilson wrote that Manning inspired him “to love the process, to love the sweat, the tears.” 

Wilson’s words struck me for what it says not just about football, but about all the important things in our lives: from our relationships and marriages, to raising children, to our careers. The importance of “a process” to be especially true in advisory businesses, where we’ve found that the most successful owner-advisors view building their firms as a process, which they enjoy along the way.

The wisdom of Wilson’s comment is in the vision that it suggests. Creating an advisory firm isn’t a goal to be attained, it’s a journey to be lived.

Sure, we create “goals” to help us decide what do next. But we never really “get there.” When we reach one milestone, we just set another one, and get busy working toward it. Those are just signposts that keep us moving in the right direction.

Sure, there are owner-advisors who reach a certain number of clients and/or revenue level and decide: “that’s enough.” But that doesn’t mean they quit growing. Some increase their knowledge and skills; others add new services, such as working with their clients’ children. Still others mentor a younger advisor or two, or, through their custodian or BD, help other advisors with their firms.

My point is that, like any business, an advisory firm is always a work in progress. Here are a few guidelines that we find help make the journey more enjoyable:

    • Don’t Be Too Goal Oriented 
      Yes, it’s important to have a plan for the long term as well as the short term. But it’s equally important not to get too attached to your plans. Things change. People change. Reality slaps us in the face. Stuff happens. So be aware; be flexible. |As they say in the Marines: Improvise, adapt, ovecome.
    • Learn All You Can 
      The key to being flexible is learning. New information leads to new ideas. In an advisory business, we’re gathering new information all the time: about the markets, ways of investing, the financial services industry, our profession, our clients, our business, our employees, our local market and, of course, ourselves.
      The more we know, the better decisions we can make about, well, everything. So keep learning. And take time to reflect on what you’ve learned, and what it means for your business.
    • Listen as Much as You Can
      The other people in your firm are sources of information. They have experiences and perspectives that you don’t have. So,encourage them to share their information and insights with you and with others in the firm.
      Innovative ideas can come from anywhere: so pay attention, and don’t limit your business to just your own experiences.
    • Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things 
      Remember, all businesses are works in progress. To make progress, you have to try new things. If you’re lucky, some of those things will work out well. But some of them won’t. That’s okay. If everything you try is a success, you’re not trying enough new things.
      Trying new things is how we learn, so learn as much as you can from your successes, and your failures. 
    • Don’t Be Afraid to Pull the Plug 
      Once you accept that some things won’t work out, it’s easier to recognize when it’s time to stop trying. Of course, you don’t want to pull the plug too soon. But sinking more time and effort into a losing project isn’t doing anyone any good—especially if it’s just to protect your ego.
      Again, if you learn something, that’s success of sorts. So cut your losses and move on. 
    • Include Others
      When people realize they are involved in a “work in progress,” fear tends to be replaced by enthusiasm. So get everyone in the firm involved.
      Not only is your firm a work in progress, so is every job in your firm. So give your employees the freedom to try new things, to learn on the job, to become better and to increase their contributions to the firm. Also, be very careful about assigning blame: nothing dampens enthusiasm faster. So give your people some latitude.
      Encourage them to try new things, and to honestly assess the results without criticism (unless absolutely necessary). You’ll be amazed at what they come up with.  

We find advisory firms that see themselves as works in progress are more fun to work in and more fun to work with—and way more successful.

So like Russell Wilson, enjoy the process, keep learning, and no matter what happens, you’ll already be a success.