But one of the biggest epiphanies of Whitehead's career may have been learning that he just doesn't like to manage. That's why in 2002, Whitehead turned the Alliance into a nonprofit organization now governed by members, retaining only the title of spokesman.
Today, he spends as much time as possible promoting his new book (Facing Financial Dysfunction: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things With Their Money, Infinity Publishing) and working with his own 200-plus clients. "I can usually generate $1,500 an hour when I'm in front of clients, and that's what I love to do," says Whitehead, principal of his own planning firm, the Cambridge Connection, with offices in Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan.
The point is that Whitehead has figured out precisely what he likes to do and does well. Today, he delegates to staff all those things he doesn't like, so he has more time to devote to client meetings.
At the end of the day, we think doing what you love and making a healthy profit at it is essentially what good business is all about. This is a story of the fundamental flaws and fears that stand in the way of most planners' success.
To help you figure out how to identify and remove those impediments at your own firm, we talked to consultants and executives across the country who work to help advisors create better businesses everyday. Here's what they had to tell us.
Figure Out What Success Looks Like-To You
When George Johnson, the cofounder of Entrevis, an executive consulting and coaching firm in St. Elmo, Minn., decided to develop "The 7 Entrepreneurial Skills" for financial planners, he held focus groups with both successful planners and those who are foundering. What he discovered was that planners who are having problems "have no vision," Johnson says. "They have no idea why they're running a firm or what they want to accomplish. They have planning proficiency in terms of their own clients, but it doesn't translate into business prowess. I ask these folks: 'What would success look like to you?' And their answer to me is, 'I don't know.'"
The problem, says Johnson, is if you don't give your brain an idea of what it should be working toward, it doesn't know what to look for or how to help you. It's one of the reason Johnson says he sees so much paralysis among planners. Say a planner creates a to-do list of next steps for his firm. Maybe it includes marketing to CPAs. But the planner never quite gets around to picking up the phone, Johnson says. He attributes the paralysis to the fear of failure and lack of direction. "You have to have an ideal. It doesn't have to be something you accomplish in the next week or even year, but it will help you to direct your energy. "Do yourself a favor and commit your goals to writing. Think of the document-even a sentence can suffice to get you started-as your vision of success. "Vision will help direct your work flow, your energy and your business investment. It will also make it much easier to lead and motivate staff," says Johnson, who is preparing to unveil Entrevis' new coaching and teleclass for planners interested in becoming more entrepreneurial.
You can decide to grow or stay small. Whatever you decide, there is no right or wrong answer, only the reality that different opportunities and limitations flow from each. The business climate and growing expenses today, more than ever, make it incumbent on planners to decide what's important and fulfilling to them.
Trying to both stay small and grow your firm at alternate times is a sure-fire recipe for stress. "The problem with some advisors is that they frequently change course between these two business models, maybe based on the most recent article they read or coach they listen to," says Chip Roame, managing principal of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, Tiburon, Calif.
The firm benchmarks the practices of hundreds of advisors to ferret out industry trends, and finds that a lack of clear focus bedevils many of them. "This hurts profitability and creates excess work," Roame adds. Time and energy is spent making major sea changes in business strategy, which throws the firm, it's business and strategic operations and staff off kilter. At a certain point in the near future, you'll be best served by deciding what type of firm you really want. A small firm has numerous charms, including more time for family and hobbies. It can provide a planner with an honorable practice and a lifestyle richness. The allure of big firms is the potential for greater wealth and the ability to leverage staff.