The biggest challenge for most financial planning firms right now is they’re doing really well.
Granted, it doesn’t sound like a big problem. I’m sure many business owners remember the days when they prayed for problems such as this.
But it’s no joke. The problem stems from the fact that doing really well leads to too much new business or too many clients, and that in turn puts everyone on the team under real pressure.
Owners feel the pressure of maintaining the high standards of client service they’ve built their reputation on, while staff feel the pressure of keeping jobs moving through the sausage machine. You can sustain that sort of effort for a while, but if it goes on too long, systems and people start to blow up. It’s not good.
The biggest fear in all of this for business owners, over and above concern for their people, is the potential reputational damage if one of the many spinning plates gets dropped.
On top of all that, there’s another big issue facing many advice businesses. Most business owners are in their 50s and 60s, and are evaluating their options. Do they sell? Do they stay? Do they try to create internal successors?
It’s not over til it’s over
The challenge comes when you start thinking you might just coast home from wherever you are right now. Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that coasting is not really an option.
The minute you tell yourself you're going to coast for however many years you believe you want to work for, it’s like pouring a bucket of cold water over your mojo. The flame goes out, and you find yourself bored and struggling to get out of bed every day.
That experience has had lots of business owners talking to consolidators who might want to buy their business. As they are discovering, the values that have allowed them to build a great client-focused business are not always shared by the company they’re considering selling to. The money’s good, but how will you face one of your clients in the street afterwards? It’s tricky.
The succession option has issues too. There’s real work involved in developing future leaders within your business, or finding them in the first place if they’re not there right now.
I believe many owner-advisers need to consider ‘going again’. This means setting yourself a new 20-year vision and what I call a 'big, hairy, audacious goal' for the business.
You might only want to work for another five, seven or 10 years. That’s fine. You can step off the bus at any time, but the business itself needs the pull of a big vision for its future. As the leader it’s your role to create this goal and communicate it to your team.
Let me be clear, you don’t need to work hard like you did when you were 30 years old. That’s not what I mean by ‘going again’.
This next phase of your career can be one where you turn from player to coach, mentoring the next generation of advisers and business leaders so they can take over your existing business and buy you out. In this way, you can ensure they maintain the same client-focused culture that was the secret to your success.
As a result, you can take pride in the legacy you have created within the profession, in the people you have helped with their own careers, and most importantly, you can run into your clients on the street and hold your head up high.
How it can be done
During my presentation at the recent Nucleus annual conference I had a couple of guests up on stage with me: Holland Hahn and Wills managing director Chris Hirsch, and freelance operations consultant Dominika Sieradzka, whom I work with closely in my consulting business.
The Holland Hahn and Wills journey is a great example of ‘going again’, and how it has totally reinvigorated the three partners who own the firm who are all in their mid-to-late 50s.
Here are the highlights of their story.
I started working with them about three years ago. They were a high quality financial planning firm turning over about £460,000, but feeling a little stuck and evaluating their sale options.
We helped get their act together through reorganising their existing team so people were working to their strengths. We also ensured the business presented itself brilliantly to new and existing clients.
Their performance accelerated and turnover grew to £800,000 in three years and is on track to reach £1m in the not too distant future.
During the course of our work they did speak to a few potential buyers, but eventually decided to ‘go again’. They’ve since hired a great new younger adviser, who has come in with energy and ideas and is being mentored by the three existing owners. There is a clear vision for where the firm is headed over the longer term, and there are plans for the existing owners to step off as and when they see fit.
Having got the business performing like they always wanted it to, they’re having a ball. Selling out and retiring doesn’t seem quite so urgent now.
As they mentor and teach their successor all about the business, everyone wins. The new guy loves working within a totally client-focused financial planning environment, and the existing partners are realising just how much they know and have learned over their careers. It’s uplifting and empowering for everyone involved.
Here are some numbers that Holland Hahn and Wills are happy for me to share:
If you’ve got some big life plans and it’s time for you to sell, then feel free to go ahead and do them. But if you don’t, and you’re looking at selling because you’re not sure about the future, maybe it’s time to consider ‘going again.’
Let me know how you go.