June 28, 2023

5 Ops Problems for Planning Firms of All Sizes

Written By Charesse Spiller

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Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to take a look under the hood of 100s of firms. The truth is that regardless of firm size, length in business, or even the types of clients they serve – most firms run into the same consistent operations pain points.

Please note: This blog was originally written for the Journal of Financial Planning.

As the principal consultant and founder of Level Best, I’ve been working with financial advisors for nearly a decade. Over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to take a look under the hood of 100s of firms. The truth is that, regardless of firm size, length in business, or even the types of clients they serve – most firms run into the same consistent operations pain points. Today, I want to focus on the top five ops problems I see in my line of work – and the solutions advisors need to keep their businesses running like a well-oiled machine. 

Problem #1: I’ve Hit Capacity But Clients Keep Coming

This often happens to solopreneurs, but firm owners at any stage can run into this problem. Capacity caps happen when a solopreneur or small team’s firm grows more quickly than they do. Let’s look at a case study. 

Sam Solopreneur, who plans to run a lifestyle practice, may decide that once he hits a specific number of clients or revenue he wants to stop adding to his book. To get his business started, he took on project based clients. This wasn’t a scalable solution, or his ideal client type, but it helped his business to continue to grow.

Now, three years later, Sam has filled his book with ongoing retainer clients. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), Sam had done such an outstanding job with his past project clients, they kept circling back for more work. But the more he worked with project clients while trying to balance his book of retainer clients, the more he realized that the balance wasn’t sustainable. 

The Solution: Sam Solopreneur can continue to pre-sell retainer clients and schedule out his months at a comfortable working pace, and increase rates on clients accordingly to keep a schedule that fits his unique lifestyle practice needs. Legacy clients can still schedule plan update meetings, but all new prospects who are looking for project work are referred to a trusted colleague. 

Sam has decided that outsourcing solutions isn’t ultimately what he’s looking for at this time, but plans to to put it on his future road map. For now, he’s focusing on finding better ways to automate his project based clients who come back for plan updates to make the process more efficient. 

Problem #2: My Team Can’t Function Without Me

This is common with multi-advisor firms where the founder is training up-and-coming team members. In short – sometimes teams don’t function independently without the direct intervention or supervision of the founder. This can create inefficiencies in processes and make for a difficult team culture. 

Let’s take a look at a “can’t function without me” case study:

Fiona Founder has started and grown a successful firm by herself. In the past two years, she’s hired a junior advisor and an administrative assistant to help her run her business. Unfortunately, even after being with the firm for almost two years, her new associate advisor is still relying on her a lot. Plus, her administrative assistant is resistant to adopting new technology for fear that it’ll replace her job. This continues to slow down processes and growth. 

In order to free up her capacity, Fiona knows that something has to change. Unfortunately, she’s not sure how to get herself out of the current situation she’s in. She’s juggling growing the business, managing her team, developing her own client relationships, and trying to help her associate advisor find the confidence to step out on her own. In the next few years, Fiona wants to 10x her business – but doesn’t see how that’s going to happen given how her firm is currently being run. 

The Solution: Even though Fiona feels as though her team is letting her down, the truth is that she is at the root of her problem. Because Fiona isn’t using workflows to delegate to her team, she was finding herself too deep in the operation and her client experience. 

Her first step is to remove herself from the equation and step into her role as a leader. Rather than overseeing every step in the process, Fiona took a step back and empowered her associate advisor to start fully managing client relationships – from preparing plan recommendations and implementing workflows for client service. 

Fiona also worked on creating workflows and spending time working through a delegation plan for both of her team members. This freed Fiona up to approve work in a timely manner, develop her staff, audit her tech stack, and continue focusing on the growth of the business. Finally, she’s able to work with her A-List clients, work “on” the business, and enjoy a reasonable schedule that allows her to enjoy life outside of work.

Problem #3: I’m the CEO – Chief of Everything Officer! Help!

Having a large firm, but still feeling like you’re the Chief-Of-Everything Officer, can be a sticky situation. If every managing partner of the firm has their fingers in everything you’re working on, it can feel difficult to get things done. Let’s dig into a case study for the “Chief Everything Officer”:

Eddie Executive is the managing partner of his firm. He’s feeling marred down in technology projects that feel neverending, and it feels like he’s always working with a new consultant to knock out a project that should be completed in-house. The firm was losing clients, and it feels like no matter what he does, he can’t seem to help his team level up to the place he wants to be as a firm. 

The Solution: Eddie hasn’t surrounded himself with leaders in his firm. Even though his firm is 20 people strong with 4 managing partners, everyone was trying to manage everything all the time. There was no clear delegation plan, and responsibilities weren’t clarified across different roles and departments. In working with an operations consultant to build an accountability chart and service calendar for internal processes, Eddie identified that hiring a Fractional COO would answer many of his firm’s problems instead of partnering with many expert consultants in different niche areas of his business.

The constant hiring of consultants prevented the firm from getting anything done, and was pulling lead advisors away from client work – causing a disruption in service and client turnover. Although the firm was large, there wasn’t a clear back office delegations system, and with no HR strategy or career path development, employee turnover was also high. 

Ultimately, Eddie brought in a Fractional COO to dive in immediately and help take control of the business. The Fractional COO assisted in implementing the firm’s accountability chart to create consistency for the different roles that supported the business – both lead advisors, managing partners, and back office staff.

This assisted both advisors and back office staff in a clear responsibility chart and equal respect across roles. Their Fractional COO also served as the operations leader and Eddie’s business coach. Ultimately, Eddie recognized that lack of leadership in the firm was a problem, and his lack of time was limiting his ability to take control of the firm. In this case, bringing in the *right* people was critical – he needed someone to act as an interim leader and fully integrate into the firm. An outside consultant wouldn’t have helped because they wouldn’t have had enough connection to the daily operations.

Problem #4: How Do I Offer High Net Worth Clients Exceptional Service With a Lifestyle Practice?

Sally Solopreneur has a lifestyle practice and a big family. She’s highly active in her community, serving on several nonprofit boards, and participating in local organizations as a volunteer with her kids. Her clients are all high net worth individuals, and she’s doing a phenomenal job of converting prospects. She’s concerned that as her firm continues to grow, her service level will decline. She also has a big heart, and is interested in helping smaller clients – but doesn’t want to sacrifice her work life balance or her revenue. 

The Solution: Sally needs to create a range of better systems that allow her to reduce her manual tasks and create workflows to build out consistency. She works to maximize her meeting scheduling software to send out standard information to potential clients before and after meetings, and to organize her surge meeting season. 

She also looked into outsourcing her administrative tasks to an executive assistant. Prior to hiring her assistant, Sally evaluated her tech stack and set up new automation that leveled up the business and freed up her capacity – and empowered her assistant to take on tasks that truly needed delegation. Sally already had an associate advisor on staff, and these automations also helped to free up their time to focus on client service – and effectively build a scalable model. 

Finally, she created two ideal client avatars that allowed her to maintain a high revenue and profit percentage (even with her two new hires). This allowed her to clearly see who she will and won’t work with going forward, and empowered her to refer non-ideal clients out to wonderful colleagues in order to keep her organization lean.

Problem #5: How Can Our Multi-Advisor Firm Sort Prospects?

Multi-advisor firms tend to struggle with how to assign prospects to advisors. Advisors in these situations often feel as though they’re wasting time with screening conversations, and feel frustrated when they’re spinning their wheels. 

Let’s dig into a case study:

Multi-Advisor Matt has a relatively large firm. He has many advisors at the firm he leads, across several different offices. Every time a prospect comes in, it’s routed to a random advisor using a round-robin calendar scheduling link. Unfortunately, this often leads to advisors talking to non-ideal clients, and prospects getting passed around to different advisors in the firm. 

The Solution: Matt decides to remove the lead advisors from the screening process entirely. The introduction call is intended to help prospects understand your approach, why you’re unique, and to qualify the potential client. There are several ways to do this without including lead advisors in the process. 

First and foremost, Matt sets up an automated form when prospects schedule a call. The form helps to identify key details that determine whether a prospect is a good fit, and depending on the answers, the form tags prospects according to which advisor would best fit them based on their needs. 

Next, he trains the firm’s operations team to hold screening calls. They work based off of a script and the information provided in the prospect scheduling form. Now, once screening calls are held, the operations team can determine which advisor fits them best, and can help to coordinate a follow up call with a warm lead for an easy close. 

Remember: You’re Not Alone

These five operations pain points are all too common among advisors. More often than not, the common underlying problem is that the leadership team in a firm needs to be able to give support, freedom, and empowerment to their team. There are many different ways to go about this, but as is evidenced in the fictionalized case studies above, a few common ways to find success are:

  1. Hiring a professional. Be it a fractional COO or an ops consultant, sorting through workflows, processes, accountability charts, and more is easier with a pro. 

  2. Delegating more. As counterintuitive as it may be if you’re having team problems, delegating more off of your plate as the leader and setting up a clear responsibility chart can work wonders. 

  3. Assessing your processes. Lack of efficiency can be a true achilles heel. Assessing your processes and your technology regularly can help you to keep moving forward as your firm grows.

Need help? At Level Best, we assist financial advisors in building operations that help them to run businesses they love. Learn more about our services or schedule a call by clicking here.

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