After finishing Walter Isaacson's wonderful must-read biography, Steve Jobs, I reflected on my business heroes. Although Jobs was a genius whose vision and drive in many ways changed the world, I found myself thinking about Sam Walton.
As we enter the holiday season, spending time with our families and recharging our batteries for 2012, the timing is perfect for reviewing Sam Walton's “10 Rules for Building a Business.” The rules, which I've slightly adapted here for advisors, can serve as a platform for supercharging your business throughout the upcoming year and beyond.
Rule 1: Commit to your business. Sam talks about having a passion for your business. According to our research, only 41 percent of advisors in today's new world are passionate. Elite advisors share Sam's passion.
Rule 2: Share your profits with all your associates and treat them as partners. The best advisors are typically in some form of team environment and treat their associates — whether support personnel or junior advisors — as partners. Compensation must be fair but should be based on merit.
Rule 3: Motivate your team. Sam's philosophy is that money and ownership alone aren't enough. He advises to work every day at creative ways to motivate and challenge everyone on your team.
Rule 4: Communicate everything you can to your entire team. The affluent want more communication; so do your team members. Knowledge is the key to a healthy working relationship. The more your support personnel know, the more they understand what you're attempting to do, and this, according to Sam, leads to caring more about their role.
Rule 5: Appreciate everything your people do for your business: team members, outside experts, home office support, etc. It's easy to take things for granted, such as an assistant solving a small problem for clients, or an intern fixing a technology glitch. Make time to express sincere appreciation through a handful of well-chosen words every day.
Rule 6: Celebrate your successes. Sam is adamant about not taking yourself too seriously. He says, “Loosen up, and everybody around you will loosen up.” Incidentally, Sam Walton was famous for standing on a chair and leading employees through his Wal-Mart cheer. It's hard to imagine an advisor doing likewise, but sharing beer and pizza with the office staff upon reaching an affluent client acquisition target will serve a similar purpose.
Rule 7: Listen to everyone in your practice/team. Obviously your team is a lot smaller than Wal-Mart, but Sam's tactic of figuring out ways to get “front line” people talking holds true for advisors. You can gain a lot of insight into your clients, and it will help strengthen relationships with support personnel. And yes, listen to your clients too.
Rule 8: Exceed your client's expectations. This has been a mantra within the financial services industry for years, but our research tells us that it's been mostly lip service. I love Sam's line: “Make good on all your mistakes, and don't make excuses — apologize. Stand behind everything you do.” Remember that solving a problem and communicating clearly is the number-one criteria in strengthening affluent client loyalty.
Rule 9: Control your expenses better than your competition. Advisors who have improperly staffed have been forced into the unpleasant process of laying off associates. Save your money on those fancy brochures; they won't brand you with today's affluent. Ditto on seminar packages; they're yesterday's marketing campaign.
Rule 10: Swim upstream. “What I hear more often than anything is, a town of less than 50,000 cannot support a discount store for very long,” Sam says. “Go the other way. Ignore conventional wisdom.” In this new world, which has forever changed the client/advisor relationship, it is important that you think for yourself and not be afraid to take calculated risks. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it a productive activity.
In his own humble manner, Sam concludes with, “These are some pretty ordinary rules, some would say even simplistic. The hard part, the real challenge, is to constantly figure out ways to execute them.”
As far as books are concerned, a good yin to Isaacson's Steve Jobs yang is Sam Walton's autobiography, Sam Walton; Made in America.
Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients. oechsli.com.