Have you ever felt out of control? (Read on.)

Let’s face it, we live in a world in which being busy is a badge of honor. When asked how we’re doing, we rarely focus on how we are actually feeling, but tend to share the details of our schedule, all the time smiling because we’re just a little proud of operating beyond our personal capacity.

Arguments have been made that this culture we’ve created is unhealthy and authors such as Greg McKeown have made compelling arguments that we need to cut back and focus on the right things. I don’t doubt for a moment that this approach is important and we’d all likely be much happier if we followed McKeown’s advice in Essentialism.

Structural Busy-ness

But what if your ‘busy-ness’ is structural? What if you’ve created a monster that puts demands on your time that cannot physically be met without too great a sacrifice (like your health, family or sanity)? It happens all the time, we just don’t notice it happening.

Some time ago, I met with an advisory team and the first thing the advisor shared was that he felt out of control. The business was successful, by any standard, and it was growing. Despite his success he said he always felt like he was catching up, that things had started to fall through the cracks and, worst of all, he had lost a client recently and didn’t realize there was a problem.

I wanted to share the process we walked through to evaluate what was happening but let me jump to the punchline. It wasn’t just that he felt out of control, he actually was out of control because he didn’t have the capacity or resources to meet the completely reasonable demands of his growing client base. Something needed to change.

The Insidious Problem of Capacity

It’s a common pattern. You get into the business, anxious to bring on your first client. You are lucky (and skilled) enough to grow from there and more clients are added year after year. At some point you feel you are stretched so thin you hire someone and that helps the problem – sort of. Increasingly you start to feel like the advisor I described – always trying to catch up and never feeling like you are doing enough.

That feeling of loss of control, unfortunately, is just the symptom of something that has probably been brewing for some time. In fact, if you get to the point of feeling out of control you’ve probably moved through a couple of stages that may have already had a negative effect on your business.

  1. Your growth has likely slowed or stalled. The more clients you add, the less time you give to new business development, business planning and team management. Client work starts to suck up the time you devoted to everything else and that feels noble in some way. As you add clients, the time it takes to service them takes over the time you invest in other critical activities but because these other activities are technically optional (unlike the client who expects you to meet with them) you don’t see the red flag.
  2. You have probably hired the wrong people. Most advisors get to a point at which they recognize the need for administrative support and that’s likely the best first hire. That relieves some of the work load for a period of time and then the stretch happens again. Because it worked the first time, you may choose to hire another assistant. The problem is that that’s only the right solution if administration is the bottle-neck. If, in fact, meeting clients or doing technical work is the bottleneck then you may need a associate advisor or a para-planner. You’d need to work through the analysis for your own business, but we do know that when you feel out of control you need to identify the bottleneck to make the right hire.

Assessing Your Capacity

Assessing capacity, for a team rather than an individual, can be a complex task and I’ve spent a lot of time working through models to help you do just that. For today, and given the limitations of a blog, I want to walk you through a simpler exercise that will, at a minimum, highlight if you have a structural capacity issue in your business.

As an aside, this is one of the exercises we go through in my Engagement Edge program that launches next month. The exercise, and the program itself, is all about laying a strong foundation to support extraordinary growth – it’s about getting the fundamentals right.

Q1: How many weeks do you have available for proactive client contact?

Start with 52 and subtract time away for vacation, conferences, statutory holidays and any other time you are not available to meet with clients.

Q2: How many hours a week do you work?

That should be simple enough to answer.

Q3: How many hours per week should you devote to activities other than client management in order to meet the goals you have set?

This is a tougher one and forces you to assess capacity by determining how much time you need to devote to the things that will grow your business (beyond meeting with clients). The answer depends heavily on the resources you have at your disposal and your growth plans.

Q4: How many hours a year do you estimate it takes to manage a top priority client?

This one might also require some thought, but give it a shot. How much time do you invest in meeting with a typical top client, preparing for that meeting and doing any work outside the meeting, which might include rebalancing, insurance or estate work etc. Just stick to the time you invest.

Here’s how the analysis looks:

  1. I have 42 weeks available a year
  2. I work 40 hours a week
  3. I want to invest 40% of my time on growth and business management
  4. I invest 25 hours a year on a top client

In this scenario, I have the capacity to manage 40 top clients (and no other clients) with existing resources, technology and service goals. That means that if I have 150 clients, I’m in trouble.

That was exactly the issue faced by the advisor I mentioned earlier. With all the best intentions, he had simply added clients beyond his capacity and had hired additional assistants to help when the real problem was in the technical work of meeting clients. He was, for all intents and purposes, out of control.

This is a simplified version of a bigger exercise that examines the capacity of each team member but should highlight if there is a lurking problem. You may find that you are, structurally, out of control. And while that may not be ideal, at least you’ll know you aren’t going mad. Better still, there are many ways to impact the result from streamlining your process, to hiring the right people to re-evaluating your service plan for lower priority clients.

So the first step is to do the math and get real about your capacity. If you don’t focus on the fundamentals you’re putting your business and your growth at risk. It’s as simple as that.

Thanks for stopping by,


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