by Daniel C. Finley
In my experience coaching clients, I've often heard financial advisers confess that they have poor work habits that are ingrained into their business; they know they have to work "smarter," but they don't know what working smarter really means.
Poor work habits are a common challenge. The solution is to work "smart." I have my own interpretation of the acronym S.M.A.R.T.: systematically managing activities requires training.
The old saying "practice makes perfect" just is not true. If we practice things the wrong way we develop poor habits. By systematically managing your activities-the good ones-you develop positive habits. To do this you need training. You create good habits by gaining awareness of what to do and what not to do, action to put that awareness into motion and accountability to sustain the action.
Get a Second Opinion
Financial advisers are often not sure if they have effective work habits, simply because they may not know any other way than what they have been doing. So the first step is to get a second opinion about your business. The best source for getting this second opinion is someone you believe is very successful. He or she may have had the exact same challenges you are currently going through, so one of the secrets to working smart is asking for help to become more effective.
Here's one example of what happened to me years ago. I had been in the business for three years, thought I was working smart, but realized I was not as successful at turning many of my prospects into clients as I wanted to be.
At the time, I had more than 800 prospects in my contact management system. Now, these were not just any old prospects, but prospects who knew my name and recognized my voice when I called because I called so often. Every time a prospect gave me objections such as, "I'm busy right now, but call after the holidays ... after the first... after the Fourth of July... in the fall when the kids are back in school," I would actually believe them and put their objection into my contact management system, patiently awaiting the next required time horizon to call back. Then I would call and hear their next seasonal objection.
After hearing the umpteenth seasonal objection, I walked down to the corner office to speak to Jim Fish-a successful, veteran financial adviser with more than 25 years of experience. Jim patiently listened to my challenges and concerns and offered a simplistic but brilliant way of working smarter. He told me to go back to my office and spend the next week calling as many prospects as possible. After making polite small talk, simply ask, "Is there any chance that we will ever do business?" If they said no, ask why. If they said yes, then ask, "What would it take to do business today?"
After a week of following his advice, I proudly reported back to Jim that I was successful at throwing more than 100 unqualified prospects out of my computer, and I had successfully opened a few accounts.
The secret to my week's success was systematically managing activities that required training. In other words, I was now working S.M.A.R.T.
Mastering the Formula for Success
The following elaborates on how important each step in the S.M.A.R.T. formula is:
Systematically: Creating a systematic way of effectively doing any activity is essential in building success, because it allows you to duplicate results. Conversely, winging it will produce sporadic results at best, leaving an adviser wondering why it was effective, or why not. To truly master success you need to systematically manage activities-the effective ones-the same way each time.
Managing: This is really knowing how to manage the system or activities. Although systematizing a methodical way to do activities is important, you must also be able to manage those activities. To work smart you need to be able to coordinate when you will be working on a specific category of activities. One example is a financial adviser who understands exactly how to ask for referrals. He has prepared a great script, is comfortable presenting it and is ready for handling common objections. However, if he has not taken the time to schedule or manage prospecting activities, such as asking for referrals, then asking for them doesn't become routine.
Activities: Know what activities you need to work smart in. Systematizing and managing activities are irrelevant if you do not know what facets of your business you need to manage. That is why you must take a long, hard look at what I call the eight most important facets of the business: time management, prospecting, sales, relationship building, marketing, client servicing, product and market knowledge, and portfolio management. Most activities fit into one of these categories and in some cases more than one.
Requires: Attaining the knowledge to be productive in any business facet is a requirement. If you do not learn an effective way of systematically managing activities, you will simply be working harder by doing additional ineffective tasks instead of working smarter by completing tasks efficiently. Take the previous example of asking for referrals. If the adviser did not understand that he needed to become stronger at handling objections-a sub-task of asking for referrals-then he may find he's working "hard" by asking a lot of clients for referrals, but not working "smart" because he's unprepared for common objections such as, "I think everyone I know has an adviser."
Training: Find an experienced professional to consistently train, monitor, assess and be accountable to. I have read that it takes 30 days to form a new habit, and in some cases, even longer. However, all of the knowledge in the world does not help create an effective habit. That's like reading a book and putting it back on the shelf, expecting your life to change overnight. Instead, creating an effective habit takes three things: awareness of what to do and what not to do; action to put your new-found knowledge to the test; and accountability to sustain the action for a long period to ensure you generate effective habits.
Bringing It All Together
To truly work smart, all five parts of the formula must work in tandem. You cannot simply use one part of the formula and expect to find success.
If you only systematize your activities, you might find that you are systematically doing activities that don't lead you anywhere but are making you work harder. If you only manage your activities, you may be making time to do those activities, but you may be doing them in a manner that is least efficient. What if you only identify the activities you want to work smarter in? You might notice that although you know what the challenges are, you haven't identified the solutions. Although identifying the solutions it is a requirement for working smart, it does not ensure success because you may not actually apply or sustain the solutions. And if you only get training without ever systematically managing the activities, you may know what to do, but you may still be reactive at trying to apply the solutions on a consistent basis.
So it is important to incorporate the entire S.M.A.R.T formula, which will put you on the path to building a better business.