Build Your Ideal Business in Three Phases

As you work to overcome the challenges of social distancing in your practice, why not take this opportunity to re-examine your overall approach to building your business? Michael Futterman, Head of Knowledge Labs® Professional Development, outlines a three-phase plan to identify the types of clients who energize you, envision your future business, and test and implement changes to your day-to-day practice.

Since the pandemic upended our lives many months ago, you’ve probably heard many people talk about how this is an ideal time for self-reflection and improvement. And while these appeals for productivity can sometimes feel daunting, this prolonged period of isolation really does offer a unique environment for positive change – particularly when it comes to your business and your client relationships.

In fact, I’d be willing to bet you have already made a number of changes to your practice. Being physically isolated from clients has likely prompted you to experiment with new ways to connect with them. And as you’ve worked to overcome the challenges of social distancing in a business that relies heavily on face-to-face contact, you have probably found it necessary to try different tactics for generating referrals and prospect for new clients.

If so, you have already started down the path of revitalizing your business and improving your client experience. If you’re ready to embark on the full journey, the following steps can help guide you along the way. I think you’ll find that, rather than being a rigid and laborious process, this three-phased approach allows for some very rewarding and enjoyable self-reflection (something we could all benefit from right now).

Discovery Phase, Part I: Find Your “Squad”

Most financial professionals acquire new clients opportunistically, or even semi-accidentally. That is, they aren’t deliberate and systematic about implementing a strategy designed to attract the type of clients who not only support revenue and asset growth, but who also are genuinely enjoyable and rewarding to work with.

Not being intentional about the clients you work with can quickly drain your energy and time. Without adequate energy and time, it’s impossible to provide your clients with the attention they deserve.

To change that dynamic, start by asking yourself how you currently define who your best clients are. For many, this is the discovery phase of a simple segmentation process that is typically based on assets. But I would encourage you to refine that process to go beyond the financial aspects of the relationship. Narrow your focus and consider which clients generate positive energy – in other words, identify your “squad,” which consists of the people you can relate to and enjoy working with.

Before long, you will likely start noticing that all of these individuals share certain attributes. Maybe they all work in a certain industry or have similar personality types. Whatever ties them together, those are the attributes you know you can appreciate and be energized by. From there, you can focus on replicating those attributes more earnestly and deliberately.

This assessment works the other way, too. It can help you identify people who are especially unpleasant to work with: Those clients who, every time they call, you brace for impact. You probably don’t want to devote a lot of time and energy to working with these people, so make sure your segmentation process actively avoids the attributes that define this group.

Discovery Phase, Part II: Assess Yourself

Now that you’ve assessed who you are working with and why, it’s time to think about why certain types of clients would want to work with you.

Start by asking yourself why you became a financial professional. Who do you want to serve and what problems are you trying to help solve? Now think about what makes you different. What are your passions and interests? Products and performance cannot differentiate you; your unique qualities can. For many this self-reflection is an uncomfortable or even downright frightening experience, but it is an essential part of building your business. Once you identify your own unique attributes, you can start to seek out similar attributes in clients to build mutually beneficial relationships.

Remember, if there are half a million registered financial professionals in the U.S., it takes a lot to differentiate yourself. But it’s also important to recognize that you can never be all things to all people – that’s why you have gone through the process of identifying your ideal clients in the discovery process. You need only focus on those individuals as they represent your core audience.

Design Phase: Envision Your Future Business

This is probably the most enjoyable phase, because it’s an opportunity to imagine what your practice would look like if you could craft everything exactly the way you want it. The goal is to envision – in as much detail and with as much clarity as possible – your business of the future. Who are you working with? What does your day look like? What differentiates you in a way that allows you to make strong connections with the people most important to you?

I refer to this as the design phase, and it’s where all the work you did as part of your segmentation and self-reflection in the discovery phase come into play. I recommend creating personas, which are collections of attributes that are not specific to an individual but can be applied to a group of people. Your personas are based on your own passions and the passions of the people you’ve identified in the discovery phase. Maybe it’s tugboat captains in the Mississippi Delta – in which case, you have probably already nailed your niche. But for most people, a common persona is more likely someone in a dual-income household with no kids and perhaps a dog.

Delivery Phase: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

While our first two phases were all about introspection and imagination, the final phase is concrete and action oriented. And I’ll be frank, it’s also a lot of work. But the work involved in the “delivery” phase is necessary; in fact, it’s the end goal of the entire exercise. These are the steps that will ultimately help you build a stronger, more rewarding practice, which in turn will allow you to deliver a more meaningful client experience.

In the delivery phase, you put everything you learned in the discovery and design phases into practice. That means testing the ideas you generated during those phases, refining them and making sure they are feasible based on the resources you have. One key exercise is to calculate the time you think it will take to provide both value-added services and ongoing maintenance to your top-tier clients. Then you will need to assess whether you have the capacity to deliver everything you envisioned during the design phase. One question that may come up here is whether you need to adjust your fees.

Don’t Fall into the Perfection Trap

Throughout all three phases outlined above, it’s important to overcome the fear of getting it wrong. If you want to see different results and create the business you envision for yourself in the future, you will need to try different tactics and review what worked and what didn’t. This is especially true for the delivery phase: It is not “one and done,” but rather an ongoing process of trial and error. However, if you stick with the changes that yield positive results, over time you will have evolved your practice to the point where they become part of your day-to-day experience.

Building your ideal business requires making a meaningful transformation in your approach to attracting, acquiring and working with clients. And there has never been a better time to pause, reflect and start being more intentional about that approach.

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