Time is a common denominator of humanity. No matter what your upbringing, culture or socioeconomic status, no one has more than 24 hours per day. How well you use that limited time is a great predictor of success.

Of course, given advisors’ varying business models, distribution channels and individual preferences, it’s difficult to prescribe any absolute best uses of time. In my observations and conversations with advisors across the industry, however, some common ideas emerge about successful time management. Regardless of your situation, the lists below can serve as a useful starting point for assessing how you’re spending your precious hours.

Best Uses Of Time
Meeting with “A” clients. Meeting with your best clients gives you excellent opportunities to deepen relationships, anticipate future needs, gather additional assets and strengthen client loyalty. Everyone knows this. Yet when asked to write down the names of their top 20 clients, many advisors can’t recall who their best ones are. Advisors sometimes fool themselves by staying busy with meetings. But 10 meetings with “C” clients typically aren’t as productive as one meeting with an “A” client. All clients are important, but it’s a good idea to monitor which ones are absorbing most of your time.

Adjusting review meeting logistics. A decade ago, many advisors began to transition from commission-based business to fee-based business. As part of the transition, some advisors started meeting with their clients quarterly. Fast-forward 10 years, however, and aging clients may not want to meet that frequently. Or, because of their health or mobility restrictions, they may prefer to have a conference call or hold meetings on the Web instead of having them face to face, at least some of the time. (Traveling to your client’s home will generally drain your time, except for those occasional visits you make to your “A” clients.) Because meetings on the Web or on the phone tend to be shorter than those you hold in person, they may serve both your clients’ and your needs.

Asking clients for introductions. The tide has turned: These days, asking for introductions is touted as more valuable than asking for referrals. That’s
because an in-person introduction ultimately yields more prospects than calling someone whose name you’ve been given. A client’s willingness to introduce you in person makes this meeting one that’s worth the travel time. The personal introduction establishes advisor credibility almost immediately. It’s all about the relationship.

Hosting small client events. Eight- to 10-person events with select clients and their friends (especially when business is not discussed) can be an excellent use of time. Many advisors have replaced their large events with small ones, since bigger events give you only a few minutes to interact with each attendee. Small gatherings, on the other hand, allow you to establish new connections and simultaneously deepen relationships with your existing clients. For many advisors, they serve as a pleasant social outlet, as well as a business development activity.

Scheduling CEO time. Sometimes running a firm feels like a never-ending chore that interferes with your client work. If so, you can block out time to work on the business side, which will help you take a more systematic, proactive approach to management. During this designated time, you can concentrate on leadership activities such as:
• Creating or reviewing your business plan;
• Defining your niche and how you will target it;
• Assessing your office’s operational efficiency and coming up with ways to enhance it with new manual processes or technology;
• Addressing continuity or succession issues and other risk factors;
• Reviewing firm financials; and
• Conducting employee performance reviews, designing meaningful staff meetings and other human resources efforts.
When these tasks are scattered throughout the week, managing the business can feel like a constant thorn in your side. But scheduling a specific time to address such issues can reduce the time you spend on business management.

Worst Uses Of Time
Doing paperwork. Although most bosses delegate their routine business paperwork to staff, some advisors still resist hiring people to do it. Given that you can pay a support person $10 to $15 an hour to do the job, it may not be the best move to tackle the paperwork yourself. And it is worth asking: Are you using paperwork as an excuse to avoid doing other, more challenging tasks, such as prospecting and rainmaking?

Implementing marketing strategies. Let’s be clear: Marketing is a good idea. But advisors who spend time implementing marketing ideas—as opposed to overseeing marketing strategy—might be better off spending that time with “A” clients. When it comes to marketing, other people need to put it into effect—researching possible venues for an event, for example, or selecting a menu or designing an invitation. These are things better delegated to a key right-hand staff person. Where advisors need to be involved is in defining the marketing strategy—that is, identifying their firm’s niche, creating the game plan for targeting that niche, and managing the staff who actually carry out the plan.

Holding review meetings that are too long. Have you ever considered that clients might have better things to do with their time than meet with their financial advisor? Of course, every client has to be handled differently. The question is, How long should a review meeting last? Although 60-, 90- and 120-minute meetings are common, is that how long the meeting actually needs to be? Also how much time do you spend trying to educate the clients, on top of advising them? Education is sometimes a good investment, but it can be a waste of time when the client simply wants advice.

Trying to be all things to all people. Effective marketing targets a particular group. The more general the marketing message, the more likely it is to end up unheard. Nonetheless, many advisors won’t put limits on their list of potential clients. And taking on any and all people can have a negative long-term effect on almost every aspect of the business: staffing, efficiency and overall client management. By instead identifying a niche (or even a couple of niches) you can help your firm become more efficient. No one wants to turn away a potential client—but that strategic decision may pay off handsomely in the long run.

Working with unprofitable clients. Some advisors are generous to a fault. Working with unprofitable clients who are unlikely to become profitable in the next three years is a little like waiting for those clients to win the lottery—and you may have the same odds. Look at the average revenue per household for your entire book. Are your large clients subsidizing the small clients? How would the “A” clients feel about that? Clients want their advisor to be successful, and they want their advisor to outlast them. That won’t happen in a losing business proposition.

How Well Are You Using Your Time?
The list of time wasters could certainly run much longer. Take social media. Some argue that blogging, tweeting and using LinkedIn and Facebook are valuable uses of time, while others argue that they’re a complete waste. Ironically, in the case of social media, only time will tell!

No matter what you do, there will never be more than 24 hours in a day. All the time management courses in the world won’t change that. What you can do is step back and take an honest look at how you use your time. That’s a start. But it’s a false start unless you are willing to take corrective action. As one advisor recently told me, “I have all the time I need to do the things that are most important.” Replacing an attitude of scarcity with an attitude of abundance—and recognizing which tasks are truly important—may make the biggest difference in how you use your time. 

Joni Youngwirth is the managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, a registered investment advisor, in Waltham, Mass. She can be reached at [email protected].