Business and time management
OM Financial/Investia Financial Services
Professionals and families who earn upward of $100,000
CFP, president of The Absolute Group in Calgary, Alta.
25 years in the business
of Rosemary Smyth and Associates in Victoria, B.C.
5 years in the business
Snigdha Malik’s no stranger to challenges. She’s had to restart her career twice since coming to Canada from India in 1979.
The first barrier came on arrival, when potential employers wouldn’t recognize her graduate-level engineering credentials from Delhi University. Unable to follow her planned career path, she took a job as a business manager at Eaton’s in 1984.
When the iconic retailer shuttered in 1999, she signed up for a career-planning course.
“I gravitated toward financial planning,” she says, “due to my background in mathematics and analytics, and because I enjoy working with people.” While determining next steps, Malik was offered a job as a financial advisor at Desjardins. And, over the following decade, she worked at a couple of firms, added CFP to her credentials and was promoted to branch manager.
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But, in 2009, she found she missed working closely with clients. So she bought a book of business from a retiring colleague and became an independent broker for OM Financial.
Though she connected with a business coach who helped grow her book and add services, she still sometimes finds it difficult to keep organized while maintaining service quality.
“I’ve gotten so busy in my day-to-day work [that] I’ve hired people to help me with technology, social media and filing. I don’t want to waste time with these tasks.”
Malik talks to her part-time assistant a couple of times a month, and she reviews business strategies with her online marketing manager every quarter. Two additional experts help her with website and tech upgrades.
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But she needs extra help. “I don’t want to lose clients because I’m missing calls, and I may not be communicating with some people enough. I want to track client communication in a standardized way.”
Inside tips from a business coach
Once hired, business coach Rosemary Smyth works with most advisors for at least six months. She checks in monthly, adding she’s worked with some people for years. Each appointment is typically an hour long and she charges an hourly rate. In some cases, however, appointments are 30 minutes long and she checks in bi-monthly. She’s also coached people for shorter periods on tasks such as integrating new books.
- Formalize your referral process and share the steps with current clients. If clients set friends’ expectations before advisors make contact, referrals will be more open and meetings will be more efficient.
- If you alter processes and add services as your business grows, you also need to educate your team. If people are feeling disconnected, plan team meetings and lunches to address concerns and follow up on tasks.
We connected Malik with business coach Rosemary Smyth, who asked for a breakdown of the advisor’s book.
Malik has about 200 clients she connects with every two months. She also aims to reach out to 100 additional clients every six months. That latter group consists mainly of people she acquired when taking over her colleague’s book. She says many are harder to get a hold of, so she often has to leave several messages and emails before meetings get booked.
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So Smyth talked with Malik about paring her book, which will help her focus on top clients and target prospects. She can start this process by drafting a letter explaining her basic communication and regulatory requirements. Her assistant, Greta D’Silva, could send these letters to lower-tier clients and handle all follow-up, so Malik doesn’t have to.
She also needs to run more efficient meetings, since she books between five and eight appointments per week. Malik says, “They’re often between two and three hours long, since I really want to know what’s happening in clients’ lives.” However, she admits this causes time crunches.
So shorter meetings are a must. To facilitate them without sacrificing valuable face time, Smyth says Malik should send detailed meeting agendas and paperwork ahead of time. And if she can’t address a client’s question during the set meeting time, she can follow up via email or phone.
Processing referrals also consumes too much time. “I get a lot of referrals through [informal] emails from clients, [and] I find prospects are reluctant to share financial information at first,” says Malik. She has to book not only an initial consultation, but extra meetings as well to glean appropriate information. As a result, she spends less time with current clients.
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So Smyth helped her create a formalized referral process that includes sending prospects a plain-language document with the advisor’s photo, credentials and contact information prior to initial meetings. The document also includes a flowchart of Malik’s services.
Data management and filing are also time wasters.
“Even though I have [an] assistant, I often prepare everything for new clients and we share the task of manually putting data in Outlook,” Malik says, adding she doesn’t use a formal customer management system. “I’ll then print off documents and emails, and give instructions [to my admin] by putting sticky notes on those documents and on clients’ files.”
But that’s led to mistakes. Documents have been misplaced and, though rare, they’ve switched the month and day of some clients’ birthdays when filling out their Outlook contact profiles. As a result, Malik’s spent extra time double-checking people’s profiles and documents. Otherwise, forms could have been filled out incorrectly and she could have sent birthday cards at the wrong times.
Read: Open Agenda: Stay organized as your business grows
To avoid confusion, CFP and technology expert Kevin Cork suggests Malik simplify her filing process. First, recording meeting notes and clients’ information under the “Notes” tab of Outlook contacts is inefficient. The tool works like a basic text file, so Malik’s essentially creating endless pieces of paper she has to scroll through when looking for client details, including when she last spoke with them.
In Outlook, he says, Malik can use the sorting tool to search through existing notes more effectively. She can set up searches for specific terms, such as insurance, and then create lists of everyone she’s spoken to.
Along with Outlook, he also suggests she use more current data management programs, such as Evernote, to save and categorize notes, emails and documents. This saves on printing, and the program will help her better organize files, since it allows users to group documents and offers a refined search function.
She can also create a document map on her computer by adopting standardized titles for all of her client files. These should include: a client’s initials; the date the document was filed; and a specific number and code identifying the document type. For instance, if Malik meets a new client named John Smith on September 15, 2014, his file would be labeled JSmith09152014000. If they met again two months later, the document would be titled JSmith11152014001.
This lets her group files quickly and save time tracking down data. But when implementing this system, Cork cautions, “[she’ll] have to rename all old documents so they’re standardized.”
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After the makeover, she says, “I’ve accomplished much more than I would have on my own, due to the timelines that were set. I was in a good place before, but now I’m in a better place since I’ve gained a clearer client communication process.”
When delegating doesn’t save you enough time, consider overhauling your client communication processes.
For example, Malik’s paring her book. D’Silva’s sending letters to clients the advisor needs to reconnect with; and, if people fail to respond, the admin will follow up by phone. If there’s still no response, D’Silva will inform Malik, who will keep detailed records and let compliance know she’s tried reaching unresponsive clients.
As well, she’s had meetings with two new clients who were ready to move forward with planning within two meetings, rather than the previous three or more. That’s because she’s been sending agendas with start and end times, and asking for information on client goals beforehand.
“When you’re focused,” says Malik, “you’re more open and able to get in tune with people. Clients can see the change in me. Clients’ time is important and so is mine.”
Katie Keir is content editor of Advisor Group.