Building the million-dollar practice of your dreams doesn’t have to be complicated.

In fact, when you break down the financial advisory business into its core functions, it can be made much more simple, according to Shawn Sparks, vice president of advisor development for the insurance marketing organization Advisors Excel. Creating success relies on focusing on three crucial areas that are all equally important, he says.

“You have to have marketing, which is the act of bringing people in that need help,” says Sparks. “You then have the sales component, which is really converting those people to clients, or helping them in a way that they want to be a client. Then there is operations, which is everything else from administrative duties to how you manage your time and how well your business provides those clients with great service.”

Sparks likened these three components to a three-legged stool. If all the legs are in place and functioning properly, the practice will have a steady foundation on which to build success. But if one leg of the stool is weak, the whole thing will fall over.

Sparks imparts this and other advice he’s gleaned over 10 years as a business coach for financial advisors in his debut book, “The Advisor Breakthrough.” The book packages all the lessons Sparks has learned and provides a step-by-step guide designed to help any advisor build their dream business without having to reinvent the wheel.

Sparks sat down with LifeHealthPro to talk about his new book and some of the advice he has for advisors.

LifeHealthPro: What have you found is the biggest key to an advisor’s success?

Shawn Sparks: We cover that in the book from a lot of different aspects. But to be honest, not everybody’s definition of success is the same. So before you can really answer that, you’ve got to know what success means to the advisor, then build from there.

LHP: Tell me more about that.

SS: Some advisors that I’ve worked with over the years have wanted to build a large business with hundreds of employees, while others wanted to just be the “advisor in charge” with a very lean office and very little management responsibilities. One advisor may want to bring in 100s of millions a year in new assets while another advisor may just want a business that supports their lifestyle and gives them a lot of free time where they can work as they please.

You first have to know what you really want your business to look like, then mold it and shape it into that. That’s ultimately what will be most satisfying in terms of success. So many advisors see another advisor on stage with huge numbers, and they try to reinvent themselves to be more like that advisor. But it’s not a match. They build something they don’t ultimately want, and end up being less fulfilled.

Shawn Sparks

Sparks compiled advice he gathered over a decade of working with financial advisors to create a guide to success that any advisor can follow. (Photo: Shawn Sparks)

LHP: What made you want to write this book?

SS: Over the past 10 years, I’ve worked with thousands of financial advisors. In my early years, I’d work with just about anybody. As my business matured, I have been fortunate to work with many of the top financial advisors in the industry. Advisors bringing in 10s to 100s of millions a year in new assets.

After working day to day with all of these advisors over the years, I’ve been able to experience a lot of what they’ve gone through at all levels of production. I’ve seen firsthand some of the biggest issues advisors face in their business and how they can overcome them. I’ve also seen little tweaks they can make to create breakthroughs in production at the same time. 

I’ve found that while no two advisors are the same, most advisors do face similar challenges, but they are limited to learning from only a very small group of their peers. I wanted to package up all that I’ve learned over the years from a broader sample of advisors and put it into a step-by-step guide so that anybody can learn from it — from an advisor who’s new to the business to those who have been in the business for decades.

LHP: What makes this book unique?

SS: My passion over the years has been helping financial advisors succeed. I learned I would never do that if I didn’t first become a student of the game myself. So I’ve read book after book, and I’ve studied what you see online and I’ve never found a comprehensive guide that will break this complex business down into a simple easy to follow guide.  

There are a lot of books written about specific components of the financial services business, like sales, or how to give your clients a great experience. But I haven’t found one that broke all the components down into a simple-to-follow method.

In this book, I break it down from the way top producers think, their mindset, which is honestly one of the biggest differentiators in the most elite. We discuss marketing in detail, selling as well, and how to structure an office. We also share how to build a great team so you can ultimately scale your business and create freedom at the same time.

We also explain how to create an incredible client experience. This is crucial. Bringing clients on is one thing, but keeping them is another. Creating a great client experience will increase the lifetime value of the clients to your business as well as lead to a lot more of the most profitable business there is — referrals. I really took all the lessons I’ve learned over the years, from all aspects of the business, and packaged them into one book.  

There are three equally important keys to success for advisors: marketing, sales and operations. (Photo: iStock)There are three equally important keys to success for advisors: marketing, sales and operations. (Photo: iStock)

LHP: That’s a lot of information. How is the book broken down?

SS: There’s the psychology and how top producers think. You have to think like a top producer first. But then, really, we break the business down based on its core components of marketing, sales and operations. Some advisors are really good at one or even two of these components, but struggle with the third which is ultimately what’s holding them back.

If you are good at marketing, but not at sales, you may bring people in but not convert them to clients. You end up broke and it doesn’t matter how good the operations piece is. If you are good at sales but bad at marketing, then you sit around all day with nobody to see and wonder why your business isn’t growing. Some advisors have great operations, but if they don’t have clients, it’s meaningless. You have to be great at all three to compound your success, which is really what the book will show you how to do.

LHP: What was your favorite chapter to write and why? 

SS: It’s not a chapter, it’s a whole section. Marketing. In this business, no matter how hard you work or how much you know, none of it matters if you don’t know how to bring the right people in to see you.  It’s the key to jumpstarting, and scaling in this business. The best advisors tend to be very good at marketing.

LHP: Is there any one particular success story you encountered that helped you when writing the book?

SS: About 5 years ago I was working with a top producer. He was a young guy and he was just knocking it out of the park. Most people who heard about the numbers he was putting up honestly thought it wasn’t even real.

I had the pleasure of working with him, and still do. The thing I was most impressed with about him at the time was his ability to get retirees to work with and trust him while he was literally half their age. It kind of went against everything I was told as a young guy myself.

I asked him what his secret was and how he was doing it. He handed me a piece of paper with six bullet points written on it and said, “Here’s my sales process. I have found that when I complete each of these six steps, I tend to bring the client on. When I take shortcuts, or get in a hurry and don’t follow them, I don’t.”  

He then allowed me to share them with my other advisors over the years and I have them outlined in this book, in detail. Over the years, in observing the best practices of top producers, I have found the majority of them do follow each of these steps in one way or another.

Sparks is offering his book at a discounted price for a limited time.

See also:

How the military creates successful financial advisors

How to succeed as a multigenerational advisor

Anatomy of a Successful Advisor

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