How to Be a Successful Financial Advisor: 8 Tips
Success doesn't happen overnight, but following these tips can help speed up the process (and avoid key pitfalls).
Finding success in any profession is one of life's great joys. Yet, it can be hard to identify the necessary milestones in your own journey that add up to the definition of success. As we'll discuss in this article, "success" is the outcome of a million little decisions and actions over time.
As an advisor, you can attest to the reality that most clients have financial baggage. If you were advising me, you'd see pretty quickly that my career in personal finance is a strong reaction to growing up without money. We all have something driving us and, for me, it’s a crippling fear of living without financial stability. Luckily, our past experience can be used for good if we acknowledge the role it plays in our decision-making. For me, that fear created an unwillingness to do the wrong thing once the right thing becomes obvious, which led me to co-founding and scaling a fee-only RIA before ultimately selling to a larger firm.
Today, I bring that experience to Betterment for Advisors, where I consult with our clients about the ways that they can use our tools to make them more successful as they build and grow their practices.
If there is one lesson that I would impart to a financial advisor who is asking themselves how to become more successful at what they do, the simplest and most succinct advice I can give is to have vision. In other words, the best place to start is with an articulated vision of your ideal future—from there, you can work backwards to identify your next step in that journey.
But that can be easier said than done! So, let's consider a few ways to chip away at getting there with 8 day-to-day tips that'll set you down the right path.
But first – what does it mean to be a successful financial advisor?
When you ask yourself What does a successful financial advisor look like?, there might be a few categories that come to mind. We all know that financial advice is about merging qualitative with the quantitative and that's true when finding success, too!
First, we consider marking success for an advisor by the science—AUM, the number of clients you serve, or even the size of your staff. But in reality, all of these are extrinsic motivators. Meaning, they are markers of success to others looking in.
The other side of success, and perhaps the more important side, is more intrinsically motivated—because success only means something if you feel successful yourself. And often, as advisors, we find this in the relationships we build with our clients. To be a successful financial advisor, I believe a few key traits are required.
Five traits of a successful financial advisor
The first trait of a successful financial advisor is accountability. In order to be a successful financial advisor, you have to be accountable to your clients and therefore, hold yourself accountable for their success. Anyone can make suggestions to a friend about what to do with their money, or anyone can read a Reddit thread about trends in personal finance. But the difference for a client working with a financial advisor is that they have a partner with whom they can entrust their financial futures and know they have their best interest at heart.
The second most important trait is empathy. Advisors are often present for the most momentous times in a client's life—marriage, having a child, buying a house, caring for an ill or elderly family member, losing a loved one. So, practicing empathy and really meeting clients where they're at emotionally can mark the difference between a good and a great financial advisor. Advisors are people, too. Make a practice of sharing personal anecdotes and mistakes you've made in the past with your clients. This will give them permission to relax and trust you more quickly.
Curiosity is also key. Often, getting at a client's financial goals can be tough. Asking a simple question like What are your goals? can lead to simple answers, but when you dig in, every person's vision for their future or financial fears has a ton of nuance. Separately, staying curious when exploring new investment vehicles is also crucial. When, for example, Crypto became a newsworthy asset class, the curious advisor is more poised to look into and learn about the asset’s complexities in order to give the best advice to their clients.
A successful financial advisor is also intentional with their time and energy. Not only can you have various clients vying for your time and attention, but your personal life can also take a back seat when you build such strong and deeply personal relationships with your clients. Remember that burnout helps no one! To be in it for the long haul, advisors need to learn how to best dedicate their time to specific clients, tasks, and, ultimately, aspects of their lives.
Finally, the best advisors are also teachers. Learning about the ins and outs of their money movements often brings clients comfort and ultimately establishes trust. Similarly, in order to scale a successful practice, a strong advisor needs to also impart their practices and philosophies onto their employees. The better an advisor can constantly be teaching (and learning!), the more successful they will be.
I'm all of these things – what's next?
So, you nailed the art of being a great advisor and you've found some success, but now you've got a firm that you are trying to scale and grow. Next up, let me share 8 tips for building a successful practice.
Tips for building a successful practice
Automate more processes to save time
If you want to optimize the hours in your day, automate! Tolls on the road to success are paid with time, but there's never been a better time to build an efficient financial planning practice. With the right tools, data collection and analysis, portfolio management, and even scheduling can all be completely automated at a minimal cost. Anything that doesn't need to be done by a human should be done with technology.
Craft a scheduling system that you can stick to
Take being intentional with your time to the next level. Live and die by your calendar. Seriously. This is the most precious tool you have in your toolbelt. Make a habit of looking at your calendar every morning and filling every empty time slot with something intentional. Schedule time to read, schedule time to eat lunch, schedule time to write blogs or social media posts – and then actually do it. Don't waste the time you have or fall victim to distraction as a result of no direction.
Avoid the temptation to hire help too early
I've seen too many advisors (myself included!) find success early and hire too quickly because they believe their time is too valuable for mundane tasks. Well, it is, but hiring someone shouldn't be your first instinct because… technology!
Spend some valuable time researching technology solutions that cost less than a full-time person and increase efficiencies before hiring help. Your time is certainly worth money, but make sure that you are truly out of time before you buy more. Plus, hiring, onboarding, and training can often take up more of your time for at least six months before that investment pays off. As you hire, make sure you have enough time to make that person successful and, if you don't, see how technology might be able to help instead.
Timing is everything. "No" often has nothing to do with you and everything to do with that prospect's individual circumstances or past experiences. The key isn't just about getting "yesses," but getting a "yes" or "no" from every prospect as quickly as possible. And you will hear "no" more than "yes"—that's just the nature of our business. But nothing is worse than ambivalence or inaction. Don’t focus on the decision the prospect makes, but rather your ability to bring them to a resolution.
Remember that you are an expert
Even if you're just getting started in your career, recognize that the prospect or client is seeking your counsel because they know less about financial planning than you do. Let that empower you, because you just might be the most important voice in their financial life.
Look to industry leaders and peers you admire for advice
Once you know what success looks like for you, find people who are already there and kindly ask for some of their time. The best thing you can do is learn from those who have the things you want. In addition, schedule time to read and avoid the temptation to use that time for other things.
This is an area where social media can be a great networking tool. While Twitter, for instance, can certainly be a black hole of distractions, there are an exceptional number of amazing business leaders sharing information on the platform every day.
Avoid decision paralysis when you can
As advisors, it's our nature to analyze every decision. But when it comes to building a business, you'll find that the formula is actually "ready, fire, aim." Today is about action—you'll have plenty of time to refine your practice tomorrow.
Think of your practice as a "daily driver"
Identify your ideal client's needs, and structure your tech stack, client service model and fee structure, in such a way that it gets you from point A to point B with that ideal client as quickly and efficiently as possible. Do not waste time building solutions for the 10% of clients who do not fit your focus.
Now, go out there and go get 'em!
Unfortunately, there is no repeatable recipe for success. Not only does success look different for everyone, but getting there is an undeniable combination of hard work, good timing, and a little bit of luck.
What you can do is focus on the things you can control—your actions and commitment to the process.