Growing a Financial Practice

Planning for profitable growth in a new financial environment

by Tiffany A. Markarian

Ms. Markarian is a marketing consultant and Director of Business Development at Centinel Financial Group, LLC. She can be reached by email at tmarkarian@centinelfg.com.

Growing a financial practice has both its opportunities and challenges. There are many perennial leaders in this industry; and it is always thought-provoking to wonder how to emulate their success in your world. Although being a leader in this industry is significant, it comes with risks over time. Many financial professionals have break-out years, either early in their development, or even lucky years periodically. The challenge with this type of growth is that there inevitably comes a time to deal with growing pains.

Growing pains can come in the form of pressure to replicate the success you achieved in prior years – but lacking the vision to do so. It may be a lack of administrative support to deal with client service issues, a lack of technology to manage your business or the need to invest in marketing and client cultivation to maintain retention and persistency. These are just a few of the challenges, not to mention the need for proper compliance procedures and time management to balance all of your commitments. And yes, you need to have time to sharpen your skills and develop professionally.

To help avoid these growing pains and not fall into the pattern of running vs. growing your business, you need a strategic plan that encompasses your vision, your professional development, profitability and ROI, investment in staff, and the right technology and practice management software to maintain a compliant, thriving practice.

Growing Rapidly Can Lead to Decline

Having a dramatic leap in productivity can be a doubled-edged sword. Expectations become high of you; and if you are not prepared to sustain the growth in your operation, the obvious symptoms will be a loss of client service, a loss of productivity due to lack of new prospecting, a lack of focus due to lack of administrative support and a loss of purpose due to feeling defeated and anxious. For the highly-motivated driver personality, this can be especially frustrating. For those that become complacent with their growth, the danger is a movement towards mediocrity which ultimately leads to decline if not kept in check. Your opportunities to grow are always there – it is a question of where do you need the most focus and commitment and are you willing to make those changes? Comfort with change and making personal spending decisions is the real hurdle here.

It is vital for financial advisers and professionals to take a step back from their chaotic environment to help ensure their fundamentals are in order. The decision to invest in growth is often not just a lack of clarity, but a lack of willingness to change or inability to make financial investments. You need to define a level of growth that can be supported, both from a financial perspective as well as from a time commitment. There are many industry programs out there to support practice management; the question is, are you willing to make the changes that are necessary to sustain your ongoing growth?

Managing growth is also contingent on having the right client management systems in place, along with planning tools to measure where your business is coming from and what opportunities can you focus on for marketing. You also need to make decisions on human resources – whether it is administrative support, a junior partner to work your B and C clients or joint-work relationships for product cross-selling.

The answers for many of these questions can be found by keeping a time log of your tasks for a period of two weeks, as well as doing a deep analysis of the book of business you have built. You may have to invest time or money to improve your operational systems, but the real benefit to you could be increased productivity, knowledge and efficiency that will help your practice sustain. Delaying those decisions and investments may create a period of decline for years to come. You may also find wasted time procrastinating on tasks or lack of time actually spent prospecting. Until you have the data on your business, the answers would be speculation.

Knowing exactly when to make practices changes is also critical

For most professionals, the time to make change is when you no longer have the capacity to deliver on your existing clients and are swallowed in paperwork. It is not about waiting until you have the next big case to finance the operational needs of your business. It is about taking care of the lowest hanging improvements that can add blocks of time and efficiency back into your business, so that you steadily can ramp back up into growth mode and invest in other areas.

This can be sharing an assistant with another professional to gain a few hours of time back into your practice, or investing in technology that will make existing client opportunities more automated and readily available. Too many advisors and professionals feel they can maintain their client information on an electronic spreadsheet or hard-drive software and this makes consistent client communication, updating of records and ongoing cultivation inefficient over time.

A successful growth strategy depends on you being willing and able to take new chances because you know it is the right thing to do for your business. You don’t want to lose your ability to stay nimble in this marketplace or lose your sense of purpose.

For many professionals, servicing and take care of clients is their number one passion. Let managing your business be equally as important so that you are always able to move forward and see your next opportunities clearly.