Five Steps to Get Out of a Rut

Dan Richards

Many successful advisors feel their business is “stuck” — they want to move forward but aren’t sure how. Even worse, failed efforts to build out their teams and launch new initiatives have discouraged some to the point that they question whether it’s even worth the effort to try something new.

The good news: Five simple strategies have proven successful in breaking the logjam caused by inertia – and making change happen.

The challenges of changing

A conversation I had last week with a veteran advisor drove home how hard it is to change. Laura is a certified public accountant who entered the business 20 years ago and has built a $150 million practice. Her initial clients were primarily referrals from colleagues at the accounting firm where she worked.

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“For the past 10 years, my assets have grown only modestly,” she said, “primarily going up and down with markets. Each year I get a few referrals from clients, which basically just offset the losses from drawdowns and the occasional client who passes away. I plan to be in the business for another 10 or 20 years and know that I need to grow. But nothing I’ve tried to boost my prospecting has worked. I’ve read books and articles, gone to conferences, taken courses. I even hired a coach. But after an initial burst of enthusiasm, every time I ran into a brick wall, was discouraged and reverted to what I was doing before.”

Laura’s challenges in implementing change are far from unique. I often begin my talks at conferences by asking advisors to write down all the new initiatives they adopted as a result of attending this conference the previous year.

The most common answer to the number of things they’re doing differently: zero.

Of course, the difficulty of changing isn’t limited to financial advisors. Look at all the New Year’s resolutions about diet and exercise that go up in smoke. When I ask advisors about the big barriers to changing their behavior, the first things I hear relate to existing habits. Established routines are a huge barrier to change. That’s why it often takes a near-death experience for people to alter behavior: heart attacks that prompt people to exercise or bankruptcies that force companies stuck in old routines to change. (Consider the U.S. automakers as a case in point.)

The downside with waiting for a traumatic event is that not all heart-attack victims and troubled companies survive. If you wait to change until you have no choice, your chances of success drop dramatically.