The pandemic has created an opportunity for financial advisors to reflect more on their careers and their practices. As such, many advisors may be considering seeking outside assistance to take their business to the next level. We will be exploring some of the most common questions advisors ask when considering the use of a professional coach.
Before we tackle the questions, this not a solicitation for clients. My motivation to address this topic comes from my concern that many advisors are working too hard, making too little progress and becoming soured on their role.
Obviously, I believe in the benefits of coaching, as do so many of our athletic and business heroes who are at the top of their game. But you don’t need to be a standout performer in our industry to get great value from coaching. In fact, mid-tier and mid-career advisors often move the needle the farthest with good coaching. Now, to the questions:
Do I need a coach?
One of the first things I ask advisors in a new coaching engagement is: “What will your business look and feel like when it is as successful as you want it to be?” I next ask, “What is the difference between what you want it to look and feel like, and the way it is today?” Finally, I ask, “What do you think is getting in the way of you moving from where you are to where you want to be?”
The answers to the last question are pretty consistent:
“I don’t know what to do.”
“I am too busy to even think about it.”
“I have no one to make me do the things I know I should be doing.”
“I don’t have the knowledge or skills.”
“It hasn’t been important enough until now.”
The best indicator of a need for a coach is in the “I don’t know what to do” statement above. However, if any of the other responses (excuses?) above might be yours, you would benefit from good coaching that provides:
- a proven methodology
- industry best practices that work for other advisors
- motivation and encouragement
What should I look for in a coach?
There is as much variation among coaches as there is among advisors. Consider the ways your role as an advisor has changed over time — from product specialist, technical expert and salesperson to relationship manager, confidante, coach (yes!) and cheerleader to your clients. When I began coaching advisors, the focus was on business planning and process. Today, we venture into broad-based strategy, practice value maximization, succession planning, life planning and even some mentoring.
You want someone who listens without judgment and shows respect for you and your work. At the same time, your best results will come from someone who will tell it like it is, challenge your thinking and push you toward your objectives. Former advisors make good coaches because they understand your role, but there is enough universality in good coaching advice that this needn’t be a rigid requirement.
How do I maximize my time with a coach?
Coaching can be a significant investment. In addition to paying the coach, you also are taking time away from activities that may generate revenue. Approach a coaching session similar to the way you would approach client engagements by:
- taking time at the beginning to determine whether the best approach is a total review of your practice or reviewing just a component part, such as staffing or marketing
- calculating the risk of failing to address any issues
- determining priorities and assigning responsibilities
- setting regular meetings in advance (I often schedule several meetings early in an engagement and taper off once our action plan is on track)
- coming to every meeting with assigned tasks completed and a list of topics you want to discuss further (I try to end each coaching call by saying, “At our next meeting, we will discuss ___, so please think about it between now and then.”) You should also let your coach know in advance if you want to discuss something new so they can prepare.
How long should I expect to work with a coach?
Coaching relationships can be much like the relationships you have with your clients. Some relationships are “single need” — for example, retirement planning — while other clients want ongoing wealth management. Some advisors want help with a specific issue, such as succession planning, while others seek continuous improvement. Some of my coaching relationships go back more than 10 years.
Some coaches offer fixed plans — a specific number of sessions during which you complete a predefined program. Others (including me) prefer a standardized process to determine needs, followed by a custom-designed program.
What mistakes do advisors make in coaching relationships?
I view coaching as a partnership that can suffer from the same pitfalls as any relationship: misaligned expectations, disagreements over process or unequal contribution.
For me, the two easiest ways for an advisor to damage our relationship are:
- not taking the engagement seriously, as demonstrated by a shortage of enthusiasm, failure to complete assigned activities, cancelled appointments and lack of overall commitment
- expecting the coach to do all the work. While your coach should bring you new ideas and lay out a plan, implementation of that plan is in your hands. Although we discuss responsibilities at the beginning of our relationship, occasionally I have to remind advisors: “I am the coach. You are the athlete. I can help you perform better, but I can’t run the race for you.”
How much does coaching cost?
Many coaches have an hourly rate in the range of $200–$500. Others offer a flat fee per assignment, which may range from $2,000–$5,000.
Coaches who tend to have longer, more open-ended engagements usually prefer a monthly retainer. The range of retainers is wide (e.g., $1,000/month to upward of $10,000/month), and there often is a minimum engagement period (e.g., six months or one year).
To help with the value vs. price decision, I may say to an advisor something like: “If, as a result of our work together, you were to add five new HNW clients in the next 12 months” or “…reduce your work hours by 20%” or “…substantially improve your team’s attitude toward their jobs, would that be worth the investment?”
The return on investment in coaching can be measured through productivity improvements or increase in the value of your practice. The return also can be in the form of greater personal satisfaction with your progress and more confidence about your future.
George Hartman is CEO of Market Logics Inc. in Toronto. Send questions and comments regarding this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.