Nice guys don’t have to finish last, but trying to make sure you never upset anyone is guaranteed to slow you down. If you are serious about your professional goals, you can’t be worried about keeping everyone happy.
This may sound as if I’m contradicting my own motto: It’s all about them. But don’t be fooled. “Them” refers to people who are or will be great clients, not everybody else.
You have your goals, your standards, your system for serving clients. This is why “it’s all about them”—it’s the best mindset for creating a thriving, sustainable financial practice—not because you are entered in some kind of popularity contest. There will be times when you have to do something that is patently disagreeable to people, but doing so will be crucial to achieving your objectives.
In other words, you have to stand your ground if people
- treat you like a salesperson,
- don’t implement their plan,
- try to get you to alter your market strategy based on what they read in investing magazines, or
- are less committed to their financial goals than you are.
Just so you don’t think that I am prescribing medicine I’m unwilling to take myself, here’s a story of a rather unpopular pep-talk I had to give one of my own clients, a nice guy who was having trouble with this concept.
Danny (not his real name) was trying to build his business in a way that would never make anyone mad at him. He didn’t want to let go of clients if they didn’t meet his minimum criteria for investable assets, tell people they had to stop listening to the hype and fear-mongering of the media, or tell people who were not implementing their financial plans to either do so or be terminated as a client.
So I asked him if he had any idea how many people in the financial services industry don’t like me, don’t agree with me, or think I’m just out there to sell tapes and books and programs.
I told him, “If someone hasn’t worked with me personally, they probably have no idea how sincerely I care about helping advisors succeed or some of the lengths I’m willing to go to for that. They don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.”
Then I made my point: “What matters is how well you’re doing. And, although that may sound selfless, ultimately, it’s entirely selfish on my part. I have certain goals for my business, I know that what I’m teaching you works, and for those who implement, they get serious rewards. If you’re not willing to implement, I can’t help you. I won’t commiserate with you, or pat your shoulder, or tell you it’s okay. It’s not okay. Either you get with the program and achieve the objectives you set for yourself, or you’re out of the program.”
Although Danny didn’t like what I had to say, that wasn’t enough of a reason for me to keep my mouth shut. It had to be said. I’m not in business to help people produce mediocre results, to meet some of their goals, or to have only moderately lucrative careers. No, to achieve my own goals, I need and want to help people achieve much, much more than that.
And I’m not going to let someone else’s failure to implement what I teach keep me from getting what I want. I know what it’s going to take for me to achieve my goals, and it doesn’t include people who are unwilling to do what’s best for themselves for their reasons.
I told him, “Look, Danny. You can really care about helping your clients, but you can’t put their success ahead of yours. If they’re willing to implement, they’ve got to want their success more than you want it for them. And you’ve got to want your success enough to make sure you’re building your business in a way that you get what you want.”
You have to stick with the program and not waffle whenever a situation feels uncomfortable or someone might dislike what you tell them. I love what Ian Anderson, an adventure-racing coach and three-time Eco-Challenge champion had to say about the trials of staying with something: “Sticking with the program is all about attitude. See challenges, not problems; lessons, not mistakes. Use those lessons to make yourself stronger, and they’ll take you to the next level.” (Outside, May 2004, p. 67)
To me, it’s largely about integrity. How can you credibly purport to help others achieve their goals if you’re not achieving yours? You’ve got to be living a financially successful life, or you haven’t earned the right to help others be financially successful.
Salespeople can get by with being charming and likable. They can afford to scuttle around trying to please everyone because that is exactly what they are being paid to do.
But being a financial advisor isn’t about making friends, dazzling people with your pretty financial plans, or selling the “right” products. Being a financial advisor is about making sure your clients achieve their goals. You don’t just manage their money; you manage their behavior, expectations, and their goals. To do that, you have to be willing to get tough—to be tough—from time to time.
Don’t be a salesperson. Be a Trusted Advisor.