Don't let your business become your master.

    Definition of terms found within this article: Practicide: Building a business that will eventually kill you.
Entremanure: What people often find themselves in after striking out on their own.
Messyges: Tips for success offered by people who make good money but have screwed-up priorities.
    Mitch recently shared a couple of experiences regarding advisors and their practices that we found troubling. Both experiences indicate both a lack of satisfaction and a lack of control in the life and business of the advisors involved. Here they are, in Mitch's words.

Incident One
    A friend who is a wholesaler called me while in town and asked if I would meet him for a cup of coffee. As we sat down to chat he said, "I'm beginning to feel more like a therapist than a wholesaler these days."
    "Why is that?" I asked.
    "It seems everywhere I go, guys are spilling their guts out about how all-consuming this business is--how their lives are feeling out of balance and how their personal satisfaction is waning or gone altogether."
    He paused, and then continued. "One situation really stunned me. A very successful advisor called and told me that he had something very serious to discuss. He is in his forties, makes big money and is the envy of his peers. He told me that his business is going to kill him-literally. His health is the worst it has ever been. He can't get motivated to come in and do a good job anymore. He's become a terrible husband and father, and he isn't even a good advisor anymore. He thought about who he would entrust turning over his business to and could only think of two people--and I was one of them."
    My friend in the wholesaling business, in polite declination, replied, "I am truly honored that you would think of me, but I have no interest in being in your chair."

Incident Two
    A very successful advisor pulled his corner office door shut and asked if I would mind discussing his business with him. I commenced with, "Describe your business for me if you don't mind."
    He started, "Well, I have 1,500 clients ..."--not in a tone of pride, but of resignation.
    I put my hands up and said, "Let's stop right there-1,500 clients is an oxymoron. Nobody has 1,500 clients. You probably have 100 clients and 1,400 dissatisfied customers."
    "Make that 1,404 dissatisfied customers," he confessed. "You'll have to include my wife and three kids in that number as well."
    He went on to describe his ungodly hours and the all-consuming situation in which he was mired, and he concluded with, " I've done everything I was taught to do. I've got plenty of money, the admiration of my peers... and no life."
    Mitch said the look in this advisor's eye brought a wisp of recognition to him. He had seen that look before--20 years ago--when he was in suicide prevention. Only it wasn't quite the same as a man who wanted to end his life. This was a man who wanted his life back because his business had stolen it. This man was committing "practicide."
    It has been said that the best gift you can give any client is the example of a life that is working. All the more true if you purport to offer the promise of financial life planning.  So often advisors take a blueprint for business from a company or a peer that, in the end, leads to "entremanure"--a sobering, stinking realization that what I've got is not what I bargained for.
    In our travels and conversations with advisors around the nation, we have to come to realize that the above-described incidents are not as isolated and rare as one might think. In moments of candor, many advisors admit that their lives are neither in balance nor delivering the satisfaction they envisioned. At the core of this issue of building a practice one can live with is the soul-searching task of reordering one's life ahead of one's business. After all, what good are you to your clients if you eventually burn out, burn up, or go up in smoke?
    Why is it that so many financial planners develop businesses and try to fit their lives into those businesses? Happy financial planners who we know focus on building their lives and develop practices that serve those lives. Isn't that what financial life planners counsel their clients to do? We have read and listened to practice development "experts" categorize some financial planning practices as "lifestyle businesses." They differentiate these practices from others that they label as "financially successful." Of course, the implication is obvious: You need to choose between financial success and life success!  
    When we hear that, we wonder if these people have ever interviewed planners like Ross Levin,  Elissa Buie, Rich and Gayle Colman, Jonathon Guyton, Guy Cumbie or scores of others who have built very successful practices that serve their lives. Other planners who are becoming slaves to their practices and sacrificing their lives need to follow their examples. We know from our own personal experiences that it is not necessary to sacrifice success in life for business success. In fact, we are convinced that creating a life that is balanced will actually result in a business that is financially rewarding.
    Roy recently made a life decision that he wanted to live in Florida. You might suppose he could have concluded that he would have to retire from his practice to do so. But retirement is the last thing that Roy wants to do because he thoroughly enjoys his practice and his interaction with clients. As a financial life planner, he believes that a person's career needs to support his life decisions. So he has found a way to fit his business into his life. He approached his partners and made the decision to open an office in Fort Myers and periodically travel to Philadelphia for face-to-face meetings with his clients who live there. The details of the arrangement are not that relevant to the points we are making. What is important is that Roy is putting his life ahead of his business without sacrificing his business.

Getting A Better Return On Your Life
    As a result of his conversations with scores of advisors and advisory firms on the topic of building a practice you can live with, Mitch has developed the "Return on Life" program. This advisor life planning coaching program focuses on helping advisors first discover their true value in the lives of their clients, who their ideal clients should be, and how to build a practice around those values and clients. With this approach, an advisor no longer needs to build a practice and simply hope for a life. The advisor can purposefully build a life and a practice that is a natural extension of a life that is working. (Note: This program will begin in the summer of 2005 and additional information is available by contacting [email protected])
    Imagine a business life where you are simultaneously relaxed and energized with passion instead of stressed and a slave to scheduled conversations--half of which you loathe. Imagine a life where you take time off when you want, and no one is threatened by your need for some tranquility and repose. Moving this picture from the imagination to the weekly calendar starts with listening to the right messages:
    The message coming from your nervous system that is telling you the pace and intensity you can live with.
    The message coming from your heart that tells you the people you really enjoy interacting with.
    The message coming from your soul that tells you what tasks fill you with energy and passion and make your life rich in every sense of the word.
    As financial life planners, we tell our clients that money makes a wonderful servant but a poor master. You can apply this message to your business: "A practice makes a wonderful servant, but a poor master."

Roy Diliberto is chairman and founder of RTD Financial Advisors Inc. in Philadelphia. Mitch Anthony is the author of Your Clients For Life, The New Retirementality and Your Client's Story, and is a regular keynote speaker at industry events.