The new owner of a large independent advisory firm called me the other day and asked if I would help him. His family was growing, he said, but his business wasn’t.
He talked about his business at some length and its success. When he stopped, I told him that I could see some areas where I could help him.
For starters, I pointed out that the business sounded as if it was maxed out with his current client base. If he wanted to add more clients, he was going to have to add to his advisory team (that was already complaining about workload) and his current clerical staff of two.
He responded that he couldn’t do that: More people would cut into his profit margin, which he felt was already too low.
Then he said that he just wanted my help to attract more clients, but he didn’t want an expensive marketing plan. So, I told him that for most advisory businesses the best “marketing” is usually helping train the other advisors to do some rainmaking, including networking at professional and social gatherings of people who typically need financial advisors.
He said he couldn’t do the training because most of those gatherings were in the evenings when he wanted to spend time with his family, and he “had” to be at the events with the other advisors.
Then, I gave another suggestion. I was met with more resistance. See a pattern here?
This blog is for advisors in the next generation of leaders who are now taking over many established independent advisory businesses — either as CEO or senior partner, or running businesses that they’ve started themselves.
The good news (for me anyway) is that many of them recognize that they can benefit from professional business help. In fact, they now make up the majority of my new clients, particularly ones in large firms.
The bad news is because many are charged with growing their businesses, the majority are reluctant to do things differently than either they or someone else did in the past.
As you many have guessed, this is not a formula for growth. And because this is so obvious it begs the question of, what are these new business leaders thinking?
After some thought, it occurred to me that while most of these CEO/owners may have the knowledge to run their businesses, very few of them have received any “mentoring” about how to do their jobs.
Here are some suggestions that I’ve found helpful in making young owners or CEOs more successful:
1) Take control of your time.
In my experience, the number one reason for not taking new initiatives in a business is that the owner/CEO doesn’t have time to work on them. Which leaves them — and their businesses — doing things the old way, and stuck with the old results.
It is a business leader’s job to do what is right for their business. This means they need to take the time to make decisions that are right for their business. And it’s their job to find that time.
If you’re bogged down with small stuff, get more help. If it’s because you’re wearing too many hats, take some off. When your business is small, you can be an advisor and still run the business. When your business gets larger, you have to pick one or the other.
It’s also your job to use your time effectively. You many feel that you’re being nice by letting others set your schedule or tell you what you need to do next.
Perhaps you are, but you’re not doing your job. Your job is to determine what you need to do next, and then do it. When other things need doing, let someone else do it.
2) Learn to delegate.
At a small business, the owner can do everything; there’s not that much to do. At larger firms, CEOs don’t have that luxury. They must rely on other people to do just about everything. Monitor what they are doing, get feedback, and assess their results.
But let them do what they can do, so you can do what you need to do.
3) Learn how to make decisions.
Small business leaders generally make three kinds of decisions. The first is what other people should do. This one is simple: it’s everything that other people can do, so that you don’t have to do it.
The second is what you should do. This takes a bit more effort. You look at everything that needs your attention, and decide which is most important.
This usually involves finding out something about each of the options, and then weighing their importance to the business. With experience, you’ll get better at recognizing what you need to do first.
And, finally, you’ll have to decide what to do after you’ve decided what to do first, and something else comes up — which will regularly happen. This often requires the most judgment because most folks are inclined to just keep doing what they are doing “to get it off their desk.” And more often than not, that’s probably the right decision.
In the off chance that it’s not, the consequences can be severe; especially as you decided that it wasn’t that important. So, the better course is to take a moment to make sure that any new problem really is less important than the one you’re currently working on.
4) Learn to listen.
You may have your own ideas about what’s happening, should be happening, and should have happened in your business, but don’t let your ego get in the way of finding out what’s really going on. One of the problems with being owner/CEO of a larger business is that you’re no longer involved day-to-day with most areas of your business.
So, it’s vitally important to the success of the business that you listen to people who are. You don’t have to take everything that your people tell you as gospel, but if it signals an important problem or opportunity, check it out.
Unless you’ve been in the military, being the leader of a business will be different from anything you’ve ever done. To succeed — and to lead your business to success — you need to embrace the challenge of making hard decisions and trying new initiatives.
If you allow yourself to fall back into the comfort zone of what’s been done before, chances are your business isn’t going anywhere — and neither are you.