As Michael Gerber wrote in his blockbuster E-Myth series, business owners must make time to work on the business and not in it.
This holds true for every financial advisor as well. While still a great percentage of advisors practice as employees – and not owners – every one of them is running a business. They are responsible for making sure that their thinking doesn’t become insular, and that the direction their practice is heading in, the goals it is achieving, the strategy it employs and its growth is as robust as it can be. And, of course, always keeping with the mission one has set for himself and his business.
The concept of working ON the business means pulling oneself away from the day-to-day tasks that cry for our attention, and focusing instead on big picture stuff, including asking the $64,000 questions:
“Am I spending my time on the things that matter most?”
“Am I living my best business life?”
“Does staying the course continue to serve me?”
It means getting quiet and comfortable with empty space, allowing answers to come to you that otherwise would not in the mayhem that is par for the course in our uber-busy days. It means meeting with coaches and consultants, and other advisors—listening, reading, learning, asking questions, getting educated and often times allowing some discomfort to creep in because you are asking questions of yourself that might be easier not to answer.
Take Steve, a very successful advisor working for a wirehouse firm in the Midwest. With more than $1B in assets under management, a 12-person team surrounding him and a business that’s growing at a 15-20% clip per year, most would say he is in an “enviable” position. But, Steve, if he’s being honest, will tell you that he is becoming ever more frustrated with the bureaucracy at his firm, and the limitations that are placed upon him. He would love to blink his eyes and be independent.
What stops him? For starters, the inability to make time to get educated about his options, and to take meetings that would enable him to compare and contrast where he’s at with other firms.
Even Barbara, who is the founder and sole owner of a $700mm RIA, says she finds it “almost impossible” to make the time to understand the industry landscape and the waterfall of possibilities that could exist for her firm relative to inorganic growth. Barbara’s firm has organic growth well-covered, but the inability to attract top talent and successfully acquire smaller RIAs makes Barbara rightfully concerned about her firm’s long term stability. Sure, she has happily taken calls reactively from consultants like me who offer her access to buyers and sellers alike; still, she hasn’t figured out what she (or her company) wants to be when they grow up.
I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I first read those words: “Make time to work on the business, not in it.” The concept was a game changer for me. It gave me permission to truly think like a leader and detach from the day-to-day minutia. While I can’t profess perfect adherence to the practice, I can tell you that I hold myself accountable to blocking a minimum of 2 hours every week to do just that: think outside the box and focus on big picture decisions. The result has been nothing short of extraordinary for me and my business: that extra time spent learning, outlining, recapping, focusing and planning was an investment that pays me regularly in increased business and, ultimately, a much clearer head.
You see, when you spend time working ON the business, you free yourself from the fire drills that plague the days of many business owners. By taking the step back and looking at the big picture, details emerge that can either make or break what lies ahead, allowing you to think them through without panic and uncertainty. That in and of itself often results in a far better long-term outcome—one where you’re living your best business life.