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.”