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5 Questions Top-Performing Advisors Ask

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What You Need to Know

  • The top firms know how to define success by answering five key questions.
  • First ask yourself what kind of service you want to provide clients.
  • Also, determine what kind of legacy you want to leave.

I’m celebrating 20 years as a consultant to financial advisors this year, and I’ve learned a lot about how to run a successful advisory firm in those two decades.

My own success has taught me some things, but much of what I’ve learned comes from observing how some of the industry’s best advisors grew their companies. These businesses understood how to define success, and they did so by answering five key questions.

In fact, when we talk about success with our clients, we often come back to the same five questions. No matter how long we’ve worked together, those five questions help guide our clients to the decisions on how to direct their advisory business.

It’s important to come back to the same questions, because consistency helps advisory firm owners assess if they’ve altered their own definition of success. If the benchmarking process is the same but the answers are different, we know change needs to happen in the leadership of the business.

Changing Culture

When an owner’s definition of success changes, their culture often changes along with it. And keep in mind that the wealth management industry is changing rapidly — moving away from what it’s been for decades. When you find yourself in a rapidly changing environment, culture can make or break a firm.

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t realize they’ve changed — and as a result, they don’t realize they have to change their firm culture to continue to align with their definition of success.

With that said, these are the five questions to ask when you need to define what success means to you. Hopefully, these questions will help you celebrate and recalibrate your efforts going ­forward.

1. What kind of service do you want to provide clients?

Why do advisors decide to leave the comfort and safety of regular employment to start their own businesses? Largely because they have a desire to work with their clients in a specific way.

Their old employer, for whatever reason, didn’t give them the flexibility to provide client support in the way they thought was best, so they started a business to give themselves that control. Even though many advisors offer similar services, each advisor gets to decide on the unique way they deliver these services.

Understanding the kind of client service you want to provide is the first step to knowing what direction works best for your unique talents.

2. What kind of working environment do you want?

A working environment can also be described as a firm’s culture. Everything about how a company operates can impact its culture, from how much vacation time employees get to the expectations for working hours each day.

As a business leader, you need to know how you want to work, and just as importantly, you need to know with whom you want to work. Creating the ideal type of work environment will guide you in building a firm you’re proud of and attract the right talent to your company.

3. How much control do you want to have?

While having more control is a primary driver for many advisors when starting their own firm, that doesn’t mean that every advisor wants to continue operating with the same level of control over their respective business.

Total control usually comes with a solo practice. But as a company grows, some control naturally needs to be handed over to other team members. Ask yourself how much control you want over your business and life and how much you realistically can handle.

4. How much income do you want?

Income levels can vary based on what parts of the business you most enjoy. If you prefer managing a business as an executive and growing it to its top value and size, the pay often increases. But if you’d rather keep your firm small and stay involved with client service, that still can pay well.

The key is to decide on which option to focus your attention. This choice will impact how you progress with your career and build your business.

5. What legacy do you want to leave?

The last question is about the end game. As a business owner, you get to decide when and how you want to quit. This decision can mean cutting back on your activities at the firm gradually or stepping away entirely. If your legacy is very important to you, you have to start thinking about it right now.

You help clients plan for their retirement — and you have to do the same for yourself. Living and working with this mindset will enhance the way you make decisions about what you want now and for the future.

The success of both the wealth management industry and the clients we work depends on many factors. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that providing superior service to clients takes priority over everything else.

Providing consistent high-quality service is also the hardest work for a firm. That hard work, though, is rewarded by long-term growth.

As you read over these five questions, answer them from a service perspective. Take the time to think about your business and how it serves you. Also, consider how your business serves clients. You’ll likely find the best leadership traits will reveal themselves when you put a service focus first.

Angie Herbers is an independent consultant to the advisory industry. She can be reached at [email protected].

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