I could have titled this column, “Confessions of a lifestyle practice advisor,” but I think the lifestyle practice moniker is widely misunderstood.
To me, a lifestyle practice is one where the strategy of the business is shaped by first deciding the strategy of my life and the lives of our tiny team. That is to say, I decide what I want my life to look like, then make the business conform to that vision.
That may sound simple to you, but I assure you it has not been simple to carry out.
If you’re anything like me, or the typical advisor, growth feels really good. Adding new clients, new staff, and office space are the easiest of the traditional success measures to quantify. If you have more of those things this year than you did last year, then you must be successful.
But can that always be true? I’m so convinced that it isn’t always true that I’ve shunned many of those traditional success measures in favor of a ping-pong table instead. Let me explain.
Imagine that a competitor in your town has reached retirement age and is very interested in selling her practice. You learned this because you’re competitors in the traditional sense, but you occasionally grab lunch with this advisor just to chat and share stories. (Can you imagine doing such a crazy thing as befriending a competitor?!). Over lunch, you discuss the opportunity to buy this advisor’s practice and grow your revenue significantly. In doing so, you can eliminate the need to market to new prospective clients, and triple the size of your staff in the process. All of this while dramatically increasing your revenue. It’s a huge opportunity!
Enter my ping-pong table.
What we do in our office, when presented with a big opportunity, is stop everything and play ping-pong. We rarely, if ever, keep score. We hit the ball around while discussing the opportunity before us. And I can tell you that the act of playing ping-pong with your team will open up your collective thinking in ways you can’t imagine. You’ll brainstorm ideas while considering various benefits, drawbacks and options in a way that can completely transform your approach to any particular opportunity. It’s almost like magic.
In the case of acquiring a new practice, ping-pong allows us to consider things like firm culture, profitability, stress on our families, and the possible impact on our clients if we were to pursue this opportunity. In taking the time to flesh these things out in a very informal manner, we have avoided many of the traps that ensnare growth-at-all-costs advisors: huge expensive offices, large and unproductive staff, and low profitability initiatives. It’s a mind-shift that may transform how you do business. It has done so to ours.
We often joke in our office that a new addition to our team, whether it be a staff person, an advisor or anyone else for that matter, must be more exciting to us than the ping-pong table. If we’re going to need the space in the ping-pong room to add a new team member, that person has to be more beneficial to achieving our vision than the table is.
After a year, the table still stands.
You see, building and running a high-level lifestyle practice requires saying “No” far more than saying “Yes.” No to distractions, no to frivolous expenses, no to dead-end pursuits. No. The key to this approach is having a means of getting to no rather than always saying yes. For us, the ping-pong table creates the mental space by which we look more closely at perceived opportunities before recognizing that it may be just another trap.
Ultimately, growth can be very good. Without the right growth, problems can creep up. The key is to get really clear on what “good growth” is for you and for your practice. Making your business work for you is not a crime; building your life around a business isn’t either, but maybe it should be.
Let’s go hit the ball around and talk about, shall we?
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