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SURVIVING ON INDIE ISLAND

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Surviving On Indie Island

Seven Tips for Newly Independent FinancialAdvisors

You’ve done your homework. You’ve made a plan. And, finally, you made the leap to independence. But what you probably weren’t expecting was the landscape on the place you landed. Do you feel your solo practice is on a remote, deserted island with no friendly faces in sight? It doesn’t have to be like that. It is crucial to remember that many of the perceived and real benefits of going independent are potential pitfalls as well. Just as you developed a strong plan for the independent transition, you also need to identify these challenges and how you're prepared to meet and overcome them. 

Almost Paradise

As you know, going independent has so many benefits—freedom to make your own schedule, for example—but it’s not without challenges, too. One of the most significant is the potential feeling of isolation. More than likely, you’ve gone from a larger firm’s interactive environment—think camaraderie among co-workers—to an office with just you. Isolation can hurt your business as well as your psyche. Don’t let that happen. The goal is not only to survive, but thrive. Follow these seven tips and before you know it, you’ll have created the business oasis of your dreams.

1.   Although Flexible, Keep a Schedule

Remember, even the Skipper and the Professor had schedules (fishing, cooking and attempting to fix the two-way radio) on Gilligans Island. A schedule will help you feel more in synch with the rest of the working world. Are you a morning person? Do you thrive with a strong start to the day or are you better as you get “warmed up”? In as much as your responsibilities allow you (time zones, client needs, etc), you should play to your strengths and build your day around these productive periods.  Certain times of year, such as tax season, fiscal year, etc., may be more or less busy. Preparation and planning will keep you on track and prevent these stressful times from becoming overwhelming. It is important to identify your most time consuming periods and set aside blocks of time, pre-prepare documents, or review/ read materials, as well as ensure that you are caught up with your regular business practices such as: filing paperwork, accounting, and client contact schedules. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t take off Thursday afternoons to watch your son’s ballgame, scheduling personal time is equally important (this is one of the perks of being the boss, after all); keeping a schedule will allow you to manage your daily life while not losing track of the “big picture”.

Using Outlook or a contact management system such as ACT or Goldmine will help you keep track of daily tasks. 

Each individual has a system that works well for them. If the digital domain isn’t your thing, and you simply keep an appointment book or calendar, don’t feel the need to add another system, just make sure yours is effective for you. Many digital device users still feel the need to print hard copies of their schedules, as a more visual reference. All of these systems require that you, or someone, input information into them. Thus the challenge is not necessarily what the system is, but that you plan and plug in information as you go.   

2.   Organize Your Island Paradise…and Yourself

Leaving the corporate world for self employment often means a more personal and casual working environment than what you have been accustomed to. Although your working environment may be less corporate it should not mean less professional.

While you may not have as much foot traffic in your new office, you should still take pride in its appearance. Keep things tidy, don’t allow mail to pile up, and use a logical filing system. Thus, organizing and scheduling go hand-in-hand. Keep in mind that the more organized and maintained your workplace is the more productive and efficient you can be. This impacts your feelings about your workplace and personal productivity, as well as building and ensuring client confidence. 

 

Being independent might also mean a more casual style in what you wear around the office. That’s fine, to a certain point, however, refrain from wearing flip-flops and Bermuda shorts every day, and keep in mind that a client, potential client or business associate could drop in at any moment. Do you want to give the image of “castaway” or Island Prince? Have your own personal style, but maintain a professional appearance and demeanor.  

3.   Focus on Communication

On Gilligan’s Island, the Professor was constantly fiddling with his latest invention that would get him and the gang rescued. In essence, you need to focus on communication, too. It is important to have clear and open lines of communication with your clients as well as with your broker dealer or custodial partner. Technology has evolved where one can stay connected even from the most remote of locations. Laptops, PDAs and mobile phones allow you the flexibility to stay in touch and accessible. 

Email, web sites, and newsletters are a great way to stay connected with clients however, technology should be used as a tool to enhance, not replace, person-to-person communication.  Don’t lose sight of the importance of the personal touch when it comes to communication with clients. This is a business based on relationship development. Phone calls, face-to-face meetings, personal notes and special occasion cards are an important part of maintaining a strong relationship with clients. The use of a contact management system is helpful for keeping track of client information. Also, consider using a service such as Longtermclients that provides personal note coaching and greeting card services to financial advisors helping them to maintain that personal touch with clients.   

4. Network with Other Natives

Peer contact is important, both in and out of the financial industry. As an independent you may not have the built in peer social circle so it is important that you find ways to connect (or reconnect) with your peers. Although peer contact is important, one advisor who recently went independent noted that the social aspect at his former firm sometimes detracted from work and figured that 2-3 hours per day were wasted on social contact with peers.  As an independent you now you have the ability to control and schedule the peer contact. You don’t have a manager dictating what meetings you have to attend, so you’ll need to make the effort yourself.  Make the most of the many resources you may have available to you. Take advantage of events and conferences your b/d or custodian may hold. Give honest feedback to them regarding things they can do in the future to help you and your business.

A good wholesaler can be a valuable resource and provide support, training and other programs to help your business.

Meeting fellow business owners is just as important. Consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce, many of which have monthly breakfast meetings as well as monthly cocktail hours. You needn’t do something every day or even every week. Look at your schedule and figure out what works best for you. Practice management sites such as Horsesmouth provide timely and practical information to financial advisors and also serve as an online community where advisors can share information and participate in discussions on various topics.    

5.   Stay Connected With the Mainland

Balancing family/friends with work is not always easy, especially when you’re building a business. The inclination to put in 60 hours a week is strong. Make sure you schedule social time into your calendar.  Most advisors note spending more time with family as a reason for going independent in the first place. Just as you have to be disciplined to focus on work, you must have the same discipline when it comes to fun or family time.

Taking time to recharge your batteries will help you become more productive. Make sure time with Family and Friends is quality time free from distractions, although technology affords the luxury of working from home or other remote locations turn off your cell phone/Blackberry; it does not send a good message when you are supposed to be enjoying quality time with someone and constantly distracted by text messages or phone calls. Be present in the moment.   

6.  Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
The indie landscape is so different from what you experienced in the corporate world. Now, the day-to-day mundane tasks, such as sorting the mail, paying the bills, and buying office supplies, might get you down. Don’t lose sight of why you decided to go independent in the first place. Make sure you have a business plan that spells out not only your vision for your business but also specific goals. Goals at wirehouse/regional firms are often based on their agenda, now it is important to set goals based on your agenda. These should include not only financial/professional goals, but also personal ones such as giving back to the community, spending time with family or pursuing a personal passion.

 

Find ways to keep the fires burning. One suggestion is having a coach or an “accountability partner”—someone you check in with once a week who is familiar with your business plan, who can help you stay motivated and on track. Invest some time in sharpening your overall business skills by reading books, attending workshops or taking classes. 

If you want something a bit more structured, SCORE counselors (http://www.score.org/) provide free and confidential small business advice for entrepreneurs.

7. Coconut Cream Pies Morning, Noon, and Night? Take Care of Your Body!
When you worked in a firm, you and your co-workers probably took regular lunches. When you’re on your own, it’s easy to eat while working or worse: snacking the whole day through (especially if your office is in your house and the fridge is only steps away). Skipping meals can result in low energy, poor concentration and overeating…keep your energy level throughout the day. Maintaining proper nutrition is important no matter what you do, but especially when you’re on your own. Proper nutrition, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise give you the energy you need to turn your island into a true paradise…and the patience to deal with stresses when it isn’t.


Remember, you’re in charge of creating your business environment. By following the tips above, you’ll be able to make yours an oasis of calm and productivity. Unlike the castaways, you have chosen your situation. If you have already done significant planning and created your independent business, don’t limit or risk it by letting the details get away from you or giving too little time to your work.  As in everything in life, finding balance and structure that keeps you productive and happy at the same time is the key. Unlike in your past life working for someone else, it is now your challenge, your responsibility to build your work and personal life. Do it right, and you won’t be surviving, you will be THRIVING!  

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