Improving Your Business Through Operations
Remember when you were seven and your parents said you couldn’t have ice cream and instead needed to go to bed RIGHT NOW? And then you’d think, I can’t wait until I’m a grown up! Now, as an adult, you probably often find your seven-year-old self was right. It’s awesome to stay up late binge-watching the latest Netflix series, drinking your beverage of choice, while putting off your to-do list with no one to say you can’t.
It’s also nice as a business owner to say I don’t have to do that or I’ll do it later. That is, it’s nice until you’re drowning in your task list with little documentation of that client meeting you can no longer remember and no idea where to start when it comes to getting caught up.
How do the "big people" do it?
This post is all about giving you an insider's look into how successful financial planners master their day-to-day business with practices and habits that matter. It features operational tips you can implement right now to help you minimize stress and get a better handle on your work life. We're not chatting about large system or process overhauls this time; we're staying very practical and immediate value.
Alright, let’s get to it.
10 Operations Hacks for Your Financial Planning Practice
1. Don’t go back and fix everything from the beginning of time.
Building systems and processes today is not about perfectly fixing everything you’ve done in the past. Start where you are. For example, if you decide you need to keep track of notes in your Client Relationship Manager (CRM), start doing so now. When you notice something important wasn’t captured previously, add it. But please, don’t go back and try to catch up on months or years of notes. Just make the habit change in real time.
2. Know where to find things.
Have a system for organizing your files. Starting with two core folders can help - one for business files and one for client files. Within your business files, create subfolders for each category (blog posts, website, marketing, finances, etc.), and within your client files create a subfolder for each client. I then recommend each client folder has the same set of folders within it based on the work you do for your clients (financial plans, insurance, cash flow, taxes, estate planning, etc.). You don’t want to waste time just trying to locate a document!
3. Clearly name each file.
Use a consistent structure for naming each individual file to also help make documents easier to find. I like titling each document with “YYMMDD Client First Initial(s) Last Name Details of the Document.” This is just a suggestion. Find what works for you and be consistent. You might not find the perfect solution at first, but gradual improvements over time are much better than none at all.
4. Know when you did things.
Use your CRM to document basic client data, client interactions, and important client notes. Rely on your CRM to tell you when things happened by keeping your calendar up-to-date and accurate. Link client-specific interactions to the client’s record. No one wants to block time on their calendar to update their calendar! Instead, adopt the discipline of documenting as you go.
5. Live in your calendar and task list.
Similarly, I suggest opening your calendar and task list to start your day, reviewing them throughout each day, and again at end of the day. When you’re doing things and what you’re doing are two of the most important ways to stay on track each week. I find when I keep my calendar and task list together so I can easily view them simultaneously, I am better organized throughout each day. My review at the end of the day includes moving tasks I didn’t complete to another day on my calendar so I don’t get behind. Taking just a few minutes also ensures I’m prepared for what’s coming the next day.
6. Organize your week.
You have likely had days and weeks that get away from you, causing you to look back and ask, “What did I even do all week?” Spending each week in reaction mode, responding to every email, call, and request that comes in can leave you feeling unaccomplished and scattered. Instead, I recommend considering the following: How many clients meetings can you have? Which days and times will you have them? When do you block time for miscellaneous client questions that come up? When do you work on the business? These are just some of the considerations you might ask yourself. Then block your days within each week so you know what to focus on when and can avoid letting tasks slide week after week.
7. Pay attention to what annoys you and find a solution.
This is one of my favorite tips because it can be very simple in application while making a huge difference in practice. For example, maybe you need to make a cup of coffee first thing in the morning so you don’t get tied up on a call without any coffee until 10 a.m . Maybe you need to take a walk at 3 p.m. every day when you start to experience mental fatigue. You might not want to check emails first thing every morning or answer your phone every time it rings so that you can have uninterrupted time to focus on mentally demanding projects. Just by paying attention to when you feel annoyed, you can start to implement simple solutions to make your day more enjoyable. Take time at the end of your week or before a new week begins to reflect on what was not helpful about the previous week. Then, adjust your approach.
8. Find ways to outsource and/or delegate tasks.
We hear from many advisors that maintaining their books is not something they enjoy at all. In fact, an integration with QuickBooks was our most popular feature request at AdvicePay, which is why so many of our subscribers were excited about our B-Importer Software Integration.
Similarly, next week we're rolling at another new feature, which will allow advisors to easily download all invoices at once. This will allow you to conveniently organize and archive invoices from AdvicePay alongside your other client files. Look for ways to utilize tools that allow you to save time on tasks you don’t enjoy or that take considerable time so you can instead spend more time where you provide the most value and get the most satisfaction.
9. When making operations decisions, keep both the advisor/business perspective and the client perspective in mind.
Sometimes what is more efficient and convenient for you won’t make sense for your clients. Other times, the slower option might make more sense for you in order to better serve your clients. For example, typing out meeting notes and sending them to your client can be time-consuming, but it also can be a great way to help you better learn and remember client-specific details.
Similarly, don’t let the fear of client reactions keep you from making changes that will free up significant time. In this regard, I recommend letting clients opt out, such as when transitioning from sending paper statements to electronic statements. When you consider both perspectives, my hope is that tasks that are time-consuming but worthwhile become less frustrating and any fear of change doesn’t hold you back.
10. Start so small it seems silly not to do it.
It’s worth noting that I’m not encouraging you to start all of these today. It’s often best to start so small it seems silly not to do it. You want to make small changes that will stick and add up to significant improvements over time. For example, maybe this week you commit to adding client notes to your CRM as things come up. As part of this change, limit yourself to spending no more than one minute on each client note. When the minute is up, add the note. Surely have at least one minute to start to form a better habit! You'll be glad you did.
It's really about being intentional -- with you and your time.
Many systems are so ingrained in our lives that we don’t even think about them. What do you eat for breakfast? What do bring to work? When will you pick up your kids? This can also be true within your firm! The more you incorporate good operations habits into your days, the less daunting it will all feel, allowing these tasks to become quick moments throughout each day, rather than long days of catch-up and stress. If you know where to find things, what’s coming up each day and week, and improve your pain points, your days can become more organized, less stressful, and much more enjoyable!
Posted by Lucy Robeson, CFP®
Lucy uses her leadership skills to guide the AdvicePay team, while implementing the company vision, mission, and long-term goals. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and has extensive experience in comprehensive financial planning, directing firm operations, and (unrelated) swimming with bull sharks while living in Fiji. Lucy is passionate about promoting the fee-for-service business model and helping financial planners understand how and why to adopt it into their businesses. When she’s not working, you can find Lucy on the tennis court, hiking in the mountains, and cheering on the Virginia Tech Hokies.