I don’t like most business books. I don’t like them because they usually take a very complex topic — building a successful business — and dumb it down to what is commonly called “The Hero’s Journey.” In their journey, the authors start to climb the mountain, face some challenges, come up with some great ideas and keep climbing until they reach the summit; it’s the best thing that they’ve ever done, and they’ve accomplished it.
What they leave out are the real challenges — the setbacks, mistakes, failures, disappointments, fears and self-doubts — that owners have to overcome to build successful businesses. I’ve built my consulting business helping owner-advisors face these challenges and overcome them. To do that, I’ve found that they have to face not only their own limitations, but also the challenging realities of the independent advisory business.
When I was in college studying to be a financial planner, I became fascinated with the dynamics of independent financial advisory firms. I saw them as a triangle, with the business at the top of the triangle, a business consultant to the left and the owner-advisor to the right. I realized that the business exists for the sole purpose of turning a profit. That’s what the owner gets to take home. But this makes the business selfish, focused on its own needs. As the owner, you’re in business with a selfish entity every single day; a business that will steal your money, your time, your confidence and anything else it can take to gain a profit.
What’s more, in the advisory business we’re also dealing with money, which is a self-centered entity as well, always requiring us to increase it. Finally, there are the financial markets — selfish partners to be sure. In my work with advisory businesses and their owners over the too many years since college, I’ve come to realize that to manage these selfish partners, serve the best interests of their clients and build a successful advisory business, owner-advisors have to set boundaries on their actions, relationships, time and responsibilities.
From Value to Action
To take control of their actions, owner-advisors must have well-defined core values. In fact, I believe core values are more important than the currently popular “vision” and “mission” statements. It’s your core values that will prevent your business from taking everything that you have.
Most people think that core values are your moral code, your beliefs about what’s right and wrong. While that’s true — and every business owner needs to know what theirs are — I’ve found that to run a successful business, one’s core values have to include a broader view of our actions. Here are a few key examples of ways that core values help focus your business.
Controlling who you work with. I’m very clear on this point with my clients, which is why they don’t usually have growth problems. I tell them to only take new clients their firm is designed to serve and to turn away everyone else. In turning them away, we get closer to what we want this business to be.
When we get close to what a business really is, that business will shine. It will cast a light so bright that people come to it. What owners often don’t realize is that all the energy they’re putting into things that don’t actually make their business brighter is the very thing dulling their growth.
Controlling time and energy. We only have so much time and energy, so focusing both in the right direction is essential for success. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that people don’t actually know what that means. What does it mean to manage your energy?
When you learn how to manage your energy, you are learning to put up boundaries. You’re saying no to people who take away your energy. You’re saying no to the things that you don’t want to do. You’re saying, “No, I can’t do everything everybody wants me to do.” And you’re being really honest with yourself in saying, “Nobody can do all that they want, but they can have all that they want if they focus their energy toward getting it.”
If you do that, you manage your energy by putting up those boundaries in the form of core values. By just admitting to yourself that you can’t do everything and realizing that you can have it all, that’s when you have alignment of boundaries and can get to your goals faster.
Looking beyond your strengths. One of the things that most business or self-help books tell us is to make a list of all the things we do or could do and rate them from 1 to 10 by our strengths. Well, I’ll share something personal with you. My greatest strength is sewing clothes. I can sit down and without a pattern make anything. If I focused on my greatest strength I would have become a fashion designer.
But you know what? My greatest strength is not hard for me. It’s taking the easy road. What’s hard for me is actually getting people to understand what I’m trying to say to help them move toward their dream. That’s what I love about consulting. Consulting doesn’t come easily to me. It’s not my greatest strength, but it absolutely is the thing that I love to do. I’m not a good writer either. Writing is very difficult for me; it takes a long time. I get my words mixed up. But it’s really hard and difficult, and that’s what I love.
Instead of making a list of your strengths, make a list of the things that you really want to do. Don’t think about your strengths at all. Look at your list and say, “You know what? This is really what challenges me. This is what really is fun for me because it’s hard.” I find what most people do is take the hard things and say, “I’m going to have somebody else do that.” When they pass those hard things off, they get really unhappy because all of a sudden they’re sitting in a job that they’re bored with or a business that they really don’t like.
When those advisory firm owners get bored — and I’ve seen this throughout my career — they’ll start sabotaging. They won’t just sabotage their business, they will sabotage their life. I think we all desire something that’s hard and that’s challenging.
Evaluating your relationship with money. I hardly ever say “always,” but I always believe that business success goes back to our relationship with money. I don’t believe that the industry of financial advice will be truly independent and objective until financial advisors are not allowed to be their own financial advisor.
When you have two selfish entities, money and business, they get in the way of the perspective the owner has on his or her business and career. That’s why there are a lot of things in our industry that are broken; I don’t mean broken in a bad way, just broken.
I think that advisors lose perspective of their own business, regardless of how the business is structured, by managing their personal financial assets. I don’t care if you’re a broker, dually registered or an RIA. I don’t think you gain a healthy perspective of your business until you step outside your own relationship with money and get help from someone else, which means going to your peer and saying, “I need you to manage my money.”
Without a broader perspective, it’s all too easy for the selfishness of your business, and of money itself, to control your life and undermine your success. Go out there and do what you’re meant to do. Be you and pursue your dreams, too.
— Read How Two Friendly Rivals Formed HighTower St. Louis on ThinkAdvisor.