How to make your business life simpler and richer
Running a successful business is about getting the balance of your working life right, says financial adviser business coach David J Scarlett
Some people seem to have an unsettling ability to see right through you, don’t they? You know what I mean. When they ask: “So, how are you?” And you say: “Oh, fine, thanks! How are you?” (We even go through this inane introductory social dance with clients, don’t we?)
And most people leave it at that pointless exchange… continuing with the purpose of the conversation.
Except the person I was talking to, a rather astute and insightful financial planner, wasn’t prepared to leave the conversation there. I paraphrase our conversation for the sake of brevity:
Andy: “Hmmm. You don’t sound too fine to me. So, what’s up?”
Grudgingly, I told him.
And he listened so very carefully – which is what he does brilliantly.
Finally he said: “I’m going to send you somebody’s email address and web link. I suggest that you call him.” Well, I did. I called the USA and spoke to Rich. Here was a coach who only works with six clients annually – and reputedly pays his own coach $150,000 per annum. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
Rich patiently gave me two hours of his time. For nothing. Free. Pro Bono.
He was astonishingly patient with me; letting me babble for a solid hour, about all of the projects and ventures I was undertaking, without pausing for so much as a comma or full stop. When I eventually ran out of steam, he was quiet for a while. Then he said: “David. You need to slow down and do less.”
Really? I said.
“Yes. I’ll be here when you know that you’re ready to tell me about your progress. And when you’re ready for some life-changing coaching.”
Oh. Right you are then. So I pondered what he’d said for a few weeks. Then I took his advice.
Taking action to improve my business life
I took action to improve my business life and that meant taking two scary steps.
1. I slowed right down. I did less each day.
2. I started to ruthlessly simplify my business model.
That was in the summer and autumn of 2012. Today, there are many things that I no longer do:
• I’ve stopped actively engaging in social media (my blogs automatically go to Linkedin and Twitter).
• I no longer cram my week with activity. I leave hours for simply sitting and thinking and pondering.
• I seldom chase prospective clients.
• I only accept clients by referral or invitation.
• I don’t actively pursue the media to get my name out there.
• I travel very little to see new clients. They travel to me.
• I’ve reduced the number of workshops and masterclasses we hold.
• And I’m more selective about the guests who attend those events.
Wherever the herd is going… I’m going the other way!
This has lead me to expound two concepts: Firstly: Profound understanding leads to profound simplicity. Secondly: There is brilliance, elegance and richness in simplifying what we do. So let’s examine these two concepts.
Concept 1: Profound understanding leads to profound simplicity
Any fool can communicate in a complex fashion and can do so with all of the pretentious business jargon that proliferates in this industry right now – Core Value Proposition this, Value Added that.
I remember when Tony Blair was justifiably lampooned by the media for inhaling all the consultancy-speak emanating from spin-doctors like Alastair Campbell.
Yet the same problem is now rampant in the adviser population, influenced by the corporate consultants who have dropped into the adviser arena since the announcement of RDR.
Everybody is trying so desperately to sound grown up, trying so desperately to impress one another with their Big Boys’ language. Do we honestly believe that clients are impressed by this artificial corporate-speak?
Have we really swallowed the myth that our credibility and appeal depends on sounding ludicrously complex, verbally plastic and super-professional!
The situation reminds me of the scene in the story The Emperor’s New Clothes. Nobody dared to tell the emperor how ridiculous he looked. They feared being labelled as ignorant and out of step with the insecure majority.
Well I’m blowing the whistle on this one! I’ll say it again – any fool can sound complex. Any fool can prattle jargon and business-speak. But it takes a touch of genius to communicate a complex service with profound simplicity. That is, in normal, everyday language.
I learned this when my new brand designer reduced six weeks of my scribbling and doodling and explaining… into just five words, which became my brand. FIVE.
If the genius of Einstein can be reduced to E=MC2 then why are we so determined to make it difficult to be understood, to be recognised and to be remembered?
Could it be that we believe that we have a profound understanding of how to communicate engagingly? (When the evidence – particularly on our websites – screams otherwise.)
Concept 2: There is brilliance, elegance and richness in simplifying what we do
Instead of being good at lots of things, my recommendation is that you determine to be brilliant at a few. By that I mean:
• Be brilliant at dealing with a much narrower range of clients. In fact, focus on a very specific type of client. You’ll become an in-demand authority in their world in a short period of time (and a much wealthier one as a result). After all, there are over 60 million people in the UK alone. Most advisers can only effectively serve 150 (at the most). So, why would you not be very specific and selective about the type of client you seek to work with? It’s a crushing case of common sense.
• Be brilliant at a specific type of professional knowledge or skill. For today’s demanding consumer, good enough is simply not good enough! I hear advisers talking about providing holistic advice, yet when questioned closely, they clearly have no idea what the phrase means. Although they dearly believe that they do.
All holistic medical practices in my West Sussex vicinity are run by teams of highly qualified professionals, each of who is a specialist – an expert – in only one or two medical subjects!
• Be brilliant at fewer relationships, and concentrate more energy, time, and deeper creative attention on nurturing those relationships. If you’re a fee-based financial planner, your purpose is not to save the masses. Surely, your responsibility is to brilliantly serve those few you can work with. If you wish to devote time and energy and TLC to those who clearly cannot pay your fees, then at least have the decency to let your wealthier clients know! To cross-subsidise relationships, using somebody else’s money, seems questionable to me – if the practice is masked. Why not do so with everybody’s knowledge and blessing? By not hiding such cross- subsidy, you can actually make a virtue of the principle of charitably giving back to the community.
• Communicate with simplicity. Communicating with elegant simplicity (saying more with less) is a highly developed skill. Don’t flatter yourself in your capacity to do this well. Squash your ego. Be brilliant, by getting professional copywriting help!
Having worked this way for some time now, I’ve woven these disciplines into work with our clients. What they report is interesting:
• They’re calmer. Less stressed.
• They’re making better strategic decisions.
• They’re enjoying their client relationships far more.
• They’re taking more free time than ever before.
• They’re more enjoyable to work with and be with.
Reducing the busy-ness can make our business life simpler and richer. It won’t be achieved overnight but it is certainly worth aiming for in anyone’s eyes.
See David’s Building a Simpler Business Life: Action Plan
Click here for more on David J Scarlett