As I begin my 54th year, I'm less tolerant of nonsense. I've never suffered fools lightly but absolutely loathe them now.
Writing a column to complain about all things annoying to me as I turn 54 would be unproductive. So, in an effort to turn 54 positively, I humbly and constructively submit the following seven ideas to help you with day-to-day business activities.

Get the stuff I have. If it's true that the little things in life can make you happy, then Logitech's Nano VX cordless laser mouse can put a lasting smile on the face of any laptop user. I move around with my laptop all day, working in my home office, kitchen and den and at my company's offices, and my mouse comes with me wherever I go.
Using rechargeable batteries, the Nano VX lasts months, and it always works. How many computer-related devices can you say that about?

What's best about the Nano VX is its tiny USB receiver. The receivers on all other wireless laser mouses are two or three times the length of the Nano VX's, protruding from the side of the computer. The Nano VX receiver, by contrast, is so short that I don't ever remove it from my laptop, even when I stuff it into my briefcase. I've never lost this receiver, which is a big deal as I get older and likely become even more absent-minded.

But I don't want to forget to mention my Sony VGN Z690 laptop. It's not inexpensive, at about $4,000, but it's a great machine. This is my fourth Sony laptop and it's the best one yet. The 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 4 GB of RAM makes this machine speedy. And as I write this article and look for a link to my five-month old computer, I find that
Sony now sells a newer, better model, the Z790, which at 2.8 GHz and 6 gigabytes of RAM is an even faster machine.

What makes this computer great is its solid state 256 gigabyte hard drive. Being able to boot up in one and a half minutes-instead of the three it takes with conventional hard drives-is adding years to my life. The solid state drive is definitely worth the $760 extra it costs above a laptop with a conventional hard drive. Solid state drives are more reliable. They run cooler and are less likely to fail.

I'm running Microsoft Vista Business Ultimate, the best of the newest Microsoft operating systems. I can't say I love Microsoft's operating system. But I want to remain positive as I turn 54, so I'll move on to another topic.

Move to the Web.
If you're still using desktop software, your firm cannot be as efficient as those using Web-based systems. Uploading and downloading is an inefficient way to manage client data. When your portfolio management system can feed your financial planning and CRM software automatically and without human intervention, then your firm's work flow is better and you'll have better information to work with. If you don't want to change portfolio management applications, consider using account aggregation to feed data to your financial planning software.

Get a CRM system.
Most advisory firms still don't use a CRM system. And many that do use it for contact management and little else. Part of the problem is that older CRMs are expensive and require too much data input and training for employees to utilize fully. Advisors may want to look beyond these desktop applications at the new crop of Web-based applications like E-Z Data SmartOffice and Redtail Technology. They cost a fraction of what older desktop systems cost and are far easier to use. Plus, they pull and push data over the Web from portfolio management, financial planning and other practice management applications. Easing integration this way revolutionizes work flow at advisory firms and makes them more efficient. With 115,000 users, E-Z Data is the most widely used CRM system in the financial services industry. Redtail, though newer and much smaller, has almost overnight become the second-largest advisor-focused CRM system. While these two systems get little coverage in the trade press, they are winning over advisory firms because they cost less, they're Web-based and they're easier to train employees on than the desktop systems. Expensive desktop CRM systems will ultimately face a huge and expensive challenge when they re-engineer their programs and attempt to transition their users to the Web.

Educate yourself. If you are not always improving your practice and yourself, you will not be the best you can. Start by listing topics in order of importance that you must learn about to be more successful. Then block out a half day on your schedule to cover each of those topics until you have completed the list. Don't answer the phone during this time, check e-mail or allow any distractions. Use it to learn about the Web, estate planning, leadership and other topics you must know about but never find the time to research.

Creating your own weekly education requirement makes it easier to be your best. Even when you know the right thing to do, it's easier to do it when you are reminded. Even when you should know better, it's not hard to make bonehead management decisions, believe in a perpetual bull market or behave like a self-centered jerk. Ongoing education reminds you how to be your best. You constantly need reinforcement to keep best practices at the top of your mind.

Prepare for the worst. Ric Aberman, Fred Luskin and Art DeLorenzo of MYT Group LLC recently led a Webinar urging advisors to prepare for a major drop in stocks. DeLorenzo says: "That means plan a phone campaign for the top 50% of your clients, asking them to stay calm and think long term." "MYT" stands for "Maximize Your Talent" and the firm's training courses aim to uncover an advisor's strengths and find ways to maximize them. At weekly staff meetings, DeLorenzo suggests that advisory firms discuss the possibility of a market pullback. By asking your staff to air their views on your readiness plan, you're likely to find places to improve. Moreover, everyone on staff will know their role and be prepared to fulfill it. Go over the talking points you'll want each staff member to be able to use with a client in the event of another big dip.

Back up or I'll shoot.
If you run an advisory firm and don't have a backup system that you can rely on, you should be shot. Oops, there I go again. To put it in more positive terms ...

Take a look at Seagate's BlackArmor NAS 420 or NAS 440 Network Attached Storage Drives. This is the best backup device I've used since the Mirra Personal Server. Seagate bought Mirra and replaced its inexpensive personal servers with other devices, none of which were as good.

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