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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Having a Big Advisory Business and a Lifestyle Aren't Mutually Exclusive

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A recent post from an owner advisor on Twitter asked for advice on making the decision between growing to become a large independent firm or staying small and having a “lifestyle firm.”

There were many responses. One person suggested he look at his priorities and decide what’s most important to him. Another pushed for a lifestyle focus, and others gave advice on how to grow larger. Each person on the feed appeared to believe that advisory firm owners have to make a decision between lifestyle and growth.

What struck me most about the tweets was that no one challenged the premise that firm owners must make this choice. Is this really a choice owner advisors have to make?

When firm owners believe they have to make the decision between enjoying a certain lifestyle and growing their business, it leads to brain freeze and indecision. Next, they get stuck in the paralysis of inaction and its consequences: no new clients, no new employees, no business improvements, no new systems, no training, no marketing, etc.

Some people will tell you that you have to work 60-plus hours a week to build a successful advisory business. Personally, I don’t think any business is worth building that sucks the life out of you or forces you to live a life that you don’t want. I encourage every owner advisor to reach that same conclusion. (You’ll be a lot happier and usually more successful if you do.)

To have both a rewarding lifestyle and business growth, you must learn to balance it all. To do that, owners should master a very simple but important thing: work one day at a time. It sounds crazy, right? It’s too simple, it’s too limiting, it’s too slow and it’s not exciting!

I’ve heard all the excuses. But taking things day by day keeps owners and their staff focused, productive and increasingly confident; one small success follows another small success; and by focusing on one small success at a time, your small actions lead to big wins.

Unfortunately, though, taking things day by day is actually much harder than you’d think. Just like small successes build big wins, small mistakes done over and over can produce big losses. Therefore, the key to getting all you want, if you want both a bigger business and a good lifestyle, is to first learn how to avoid the small mistakes and thus leave room for the many small steps that create big wins.

Here are the major mistakes to avoid:

Mistake #1: Setting Yourself Up to Fail When we start working with clients, we don’t begin with goals or defining where firm owners want their businesses to go. Instead, we ask them where they are.

If business owners create elaborate ideas and set large goals for the future, it tends to produce a tremendous amount of pressure for them to succeed as fast as possible. Plus, these timetables eat into their lifestyles.

Success is not about speed; it’s about performance. The speed at which you reach a destination is not as important as getting there. We don’t live in a “winner take all” business. And when you set goals as if we do live in this type of business, it creates a specter of failure. In our experience, these pressures affect owner advisors so much that most of them never reach their goals.

That’s why we’ve found that it’s far better for owners to focus on one day at time. What do you need to do now? Where are you today? What small change will immediately make a big impact?

Not only does this approach keep the focus on manageable tasks, but owners find that when one day’s activities don’t work the way they’d hoped, they can simply try something else the next day. This low-stress way of solving problems also moves you in new directions with a steady balance.

The key to taking one day at a time is not looking too far ahead. If you accept that, deciding what to do becomes a lot easier and, at the same time, doesn’t destroy your lifestyle along the way.

Mistake #2: Failing to Set Limits You can have both a good lifestyle and a big business. To get there, though, you have to find your limits.

As mentioned before, having both a successful life and a big business are tied to performance, not speed. To perform better, you have to have limits so that when you are working on the business, it is actually fruitful and not a waste of time. You can’t work on the business all the time or you’ll go mentally blank; also, you can’t run around doing all you want in your lifestyle constantly either.

Setting limits is about ensuring that you are taking the time you need and having a certain number of healthy stopping points.

For example, an owner of a larger advisory firm made sure not to miss one of his children’s sporting events and also pledged not to work past 8 p.m. He believes the best way to find the holes in his organization is for him to leave it alone from time to time, so he makes sure he goes on vacation.

Find your limits, set them and stick to them.

Mistake #3: Weak Leadership Most firms don’t have management problems, they have a leadership problems. In our consulting firm, when we teach leadership skills, the need for lots of management in the firm disappears. When this happens, we have a lot more time and energy to create the strategies that really have a positive impact.

Management is having to “tell” people what to do. Leadership is asking, listening and helping people decide what to do. Leadership is valuing the contributions of every employee, and it’s making sure they have what they need to succeed in their jobs. It’s also taking the time to listen to their suggestions, observations, complaints and feedback.

When owners have their heads down trying to meet their arbitrary deadlines and goals, there is no time for leadership. This creates a lot of management challenges that decreases the performance of the business.

Good leaders take the time to make their employees feel that they are a valuable part of a team. A team can get you where you want to go much faster than you can get there on your own by bossing them around.

Mistake #4: Having No Strategy True success in having all you want comes from a mix of 1% strategy and 99% behavior. The most successful firm owners create great strategies. But they also know these strategies are no good unless they spend most of their time implementing and facilitating behaviors that unite people around common goals.

By avoiding the four mistakes outlined here, you can achieve both big-firm status and the lifestyle you want. At the end of the day, it comes down to your own behavior. And the best behavior that will get all you want depends on learning — and learning faster.

Angie Herbers is managing director and senior consultant at Herbers & Company, an independent growth consultancy for financial advisory firms. She can be reached at [email protected].


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