Nine years ago, Fred Hensler had second thoughts about being a broker. Today he's making strides toward 1 million dollars in production.

When Fred Hensler graduated from his wirehouse's month-long training program in 1989, he was confused and disheartened.

"They paraded every department head in that company out in front of us for an entire month," Hensler says. "One guy would push Nasdaq stocks, the other was promoting mutual funds and another would say 'You ought to do insurance.' It was like putting a starving kid in front of a smorgasbord."

The lack of focus was frustrating, says Hensler, now with Merrill Lynch in Flint, Mich. To make matters worse, he was queasy about cold calling and uncomfortable with the "conflicts" of his transaction-based business.

After two years on the job, he desperately needed resuscitation. "It was time to do something different," he remembers. "I was about to wash out of the business." But instead, Hensler took the following seven important steps:

Step 1) Regrouping. With a mortgage to pay and serious second thoughts about his career path, Hensler bet on a long shot--himself--and drafted a business plan focusing on three specialties: money managers (for accounts of at least 100,000 dollars), unit investment trusts and mutual fund C shares. His goal was to generate 1 million dollars in production within 10 years.

Step 2) Annuitizing his business. Working with money managers afforded him some protection, Hensler says. "If the results of the account aren't good, the client fires the money manager--he doesn't fire me," he says. About 88 percent of his 90 million dollars in client assets are now in fee accounts.

Step 3) Stepping up to the podium. Armed with his new business plan and a sharper focus, Hensler launched a marketing campaign in 1992, primarily conducting retirement seminars for local organizations.

The demand was encouraging. But there was one problem: The money managers and wholesalers who shared his podium were upstaging Hensler. When he called attendees after the presentation, they said they didn't remember him. He was being overshadowed. "So, I started playing a more integral role," he says.

Nowadays, Hensler steps up to the podium with "an extreme amount of confidence and passion," he says. Dazzling potential clients with charts, complicated graphs and computerized illustrations doesn't work, he says. "I talk to people's hearts, because I believe we're truly providing a valuable service to prospects out there."

Step 4) Stumbling. Hensler's seminars were so successful that he "decided to change everything," he says, with a chuckle. "It was like running into a brick wall. Several times in my career, I stopped doing what was working and restarted in another direction. And every time I've done that, it was a major setback."

The seminar he conducts today is based on the script he drafted in 1992. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he says.

Step 5) Investing. "Don't be afraid to invest your own money in your own business," Hensler advises. And that includes personnel.

"If you have to adjust your lifestyle or take on debt in order to hire people, go ahead and do it," Hensler says. "If you have the motivation to succeed, you'll overcome that."

During the early years, Hensler's wife spent evenings organizing clients' information on the computer. Today, his support team includes a full-time computer operator/marketing associate, a service manager and an investment associate. He is the sole producer on the team.

"I've hired people from day one," he says. "When I couldn't afford to have people on my staff, I had people on my staff."

Step 6) Motivating. Rewarding staff members for their accomplishments involves more than writing a check, he says. "I think it's important to involve your team with milestones and not necessarily just with cash."

For example, a few years ago, Hensler took his team and their spouses to nearby Mackinac Island after hitting a short-term goal. "That was an opportunity for us to do some forward planning, but also to have some fun," he says. In 1999, team members were promised a cruise if they crossed the 1 million dollar mark in production. They didn't.

So this year, team members have again been promised a cruise if they hit the 1 million dollar mark--and they've also been told they'll lose their jobs if they don't. Hensler likes to tease, especially since meeting the goal is so near.

Step 7) Achieving the goal. Some time around October or November, Hensler expects to hit that 1 million dollar level--one year before his 10-year goal. His production in 1999 was about 880,000 dollars.

Following his plan and going from forlorn to flush makes Hensler say, "This is the greatest industry in the world."