I've observed many financial professionals fall into traps during a successful career. These traps will define your practice and, to no small extent, your future and destiny. Being aware of these traps will help you avoid making common mistakes that lead no where but a dead end.

1. Free Consulting: Free consulting to new prospects looks like this: You meet a new prospective client, you seem to hit it off, you gather their financial information and begin to analyze it. After painstaking efforts to crunch numbers and develop tax savings, estate planning and winning investment advice, you present your work to the prospect. After a brilliant presentation, you hear those dreaded words, "I want to think it over."

As an advisor myself, I was wasting my time working for free. How much more could I make if I wasn't working for free? How much more could I get done? It would be a huge number if I could eliminate just this one problem-free consulting.

2. Commissions: I soon realized I couldn't live without commissions. I had built my entire life around them-all paid for by commissions. The more you make, the more you spend, the more you have to make-the proverbial Catch 22. At 27 years old, I was already tired of playing the game. The commission trap made the companies I worked for huge profits, paid the bills and appealed to my ego and need for excitement, but it robbed me and kept me on an ever-accelerating treadmill of success and worry. There had to be a better way.

3. Suffocating Overhead: Success carries with it the mantle of responsibility and commitment. I learned early on, when I was making $50,000 per year, that it no longer made sense to do my own paperwork. My time was too valuable. I did what most financial professionals do, I hired an assistant. When I made more, doing my own financial plans took me away from selling and meeting with clients. Now I needed a planner. The list went on and on. The worst part was that I had to cover all of these expenses before I could take home a dime. My overhead was growing year after year and was an insatiable monster suffocating me.

4. Investor Upset: From the very start I was taught that investment advice meant studying past performance of money managers, analyzing their style of process and helping my clients to choose managers that had a good chance of continuing that performance into the future, and thus beat the market and the majority of their peers. I was also led to believe that the longer the experience and track-record of the manager, the better the fund. It all seemed very reasonable. I enthusiastically built portfolios for my clients composed of five-star mutual funds with awesome, long-term performance and with managers who had superior track-records. Imagine my surprise and dismay the first time a client held my feet to the fire to answer for the performance of the funds I recommended.

I didn't believe it anymore. Stock picking, track-record investing and trying to time the market only frustrated my clients and me. It destroyed relationships and set expectations that could not be reasonably and predictably delivered. Not only did it destroy current relationships ... it decimated my marketing. If there was another way to help clients invest their money that could align expectations with reality, I had to find it. I couldn't keep promising what I knew I couldn't dependably deliver. Even if my clients could stand the burden of this lie, my own conscience could not.

5. Commoditization:
In the commodity world, cheaper is better. This simple fact had enormous impact on my business. Everything I had to offer had become a commodity. Everyone had access to the same funds I sold, the same variable annuities and insurance policies. All of the planning software I used was available at any industry supermarket. If the products were not identical, they were very close. To make matters worse, many of the funds and managers I used were available directly to investors through the likes of Charles Schwab, Vanguard, Fidelity or some other competing platform provider.

There was no doubt about it. The products I offered and sold had become commodities and the shrinking commissions proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Everyone had access to everything. The only way to compete was on price, and the big companies had already discovered that. I was forced to give away my time for free in order to sell products that were commodities which paid me less and less. Sadly, the thing I had embraced as my saving grace, financial planning, was a necessary evil. Planning had to be done to give good advice, but prospects didn't want to pay for it, and it did nothing to differentiate my services from the hordes of other planners offering a slightly different  twist on the same old thing-planning.

6. The Time Vacuum: I frequently give speeches for associations of financial advisors and I ask them what their number one problem is. The most frequent answer is that they never feel like they have enough time. For me, it seemed impossible to get done everything that needed my attention personally or professionally. There was never enough time. Part of my problem was opportunity overload-too many clients to service, too many planning strategies to learn, too many insurance contracts to analyze, too many tax laws to master, too many investment options to integrate.

The net result of all of this was burnout, stress and overload. I kept asking myself, "Is this all there is? Is this what I have dedicated my life to?" At the young age of 27, I cringed at the thought that I would repeat this same pattern for the next 30 years. The money was great and I often won trips and awards from the companies I sold for, but a part of me was slowly dying. I habitually thought to myself ... This is not what I signed up for.

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