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Investing In Your Success

It’s true that success takes lots of hard work, but hard work can only take you so far. The commitment to win in the insurance and financial services industry goes way beyond the day to day. And, as with many things in life, it involves money.

   The most successful leaders in our field are those willing to make real investments. This naturally includes an investment of time and money in such areas as office space, equipment, materials, and hiring and training new advisors. But it also involves investment in the development of the leaders themselves, especially in light of the dramatic changes in technology and in the customer base that are taking place in this industry and will only accelerate over the next 10 to 20 years. Even more so than in the past, self-development should be an ongoing priority, accompanied by regular coaching, not only for advisors but also for field leaders, to help keep up with this rapidly evolving business.

   Unfortunately, many field leaders are unwilling to make these kinds of investments because they’re scary. When you invest without knowing what kind of return you will get, you put your money and maybe your future at risk. Most difficult of all may be investing in yourself — in your own growth and education, because you risk having to work even harder than you already do without being sure where it’s all going to lead. Yet this fear is simply one more challenge to overcome in a business chock full of challenges. As with everything else, the industry winners will take on this challenge and prevail.

Invest in Coaching: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Your agency is so much a part of who you are that everything you do for it is a form of investing in yourself. So you probably feel as if you’ve already made a major investment in that regard. Yet there is always more we can do to better ourselves — such as investing in a coach.

   Whatever the line of work, real leaders and winners often have strong coaches behind them. Sports provide the most obvious examples. Andy Murray was not a major player until he hired as his coach Ivan Lendl, who had been ranked among the world’s top players from 1985 to 1987. Within two years, Lendl helped Murray achieve his goal of winning a gold medal in singles at the London 2012 Olympics and then coached him to a Wimbledon Championships singles title in 2013.

   Similarly, after a slump in his career Novak Djokovic hired a coach: Boris Becker. Becker had been a six-time Grand Slam winner, an Olympic Gold medalist in doubles, and the all-time youngest winner of the men’s singles title at Wimbledon. This year Djokovic won Wimbledon for a second time, his seventh Grand Slam victory.

   In our field, we all know the importance of field leaders managing advisors, and other managers, but also coaching them — instilling lessons in a more personal, low-key manner. Yet coaching doesn’t end there.

   Even the most dynamic and accomplished leaders can use some coaching themselves from time to time — whether to help solve a thorny new problem they are facing or simply to update their management systems and processes. In the corporate world, some of the most successful longtime chief executives will regularly rely on the wisdom and skill of “executive coaches.” This is increasingly true in the world of financial services field management.

“Mentor” Does Not Necessarily Equal “Coach”

When I started out in this business, we didn’t have access to personal coaches, so we relied on mentors. For me, there were two main people who were influential as I built my career. The first was a professor I had in college who taught a life insurance course. He was a general agent at Home Life, and I remember going to his office as sort of an unofficial intern to watch how he worked and interacted with people.

   On a personal level, my former brother-in-law taught me a lot about how to treat people. He was successful but also very generous and giving. He taught me the value of spending money to make money and of building long-lasting relationships.

   The problem with mentors, of course, is that finding the right one is a hit-or-miss proposition. You may run across the right fit for you; then again, you may not — or it might not be at the right time in your career. Nowadays, you can hire a coach who has expertise in your field or is a successful entrepreneur who can work closely with you to develop your own skills and ultimately grow your agency. A good coach will help you improve productivity and profitability by creating goals, streamlining processes, and establishing more effective strategies for everything from recruiting to training. He or she will have the knowledge and guidance to help you make smarter decisions for your business.

   It’s similar to investing in your health. You probably have a good doctor, and perhaps you have contracted with a “concierge doctor,” as so many of us do today. A concierge doctor is there for you 24/7, and if he or she is away, someone else is on call. Mine even provides me with referrals when I’m traveling.

   And one thing a coach can do is to help you become a better coach yourself. For instance, as you learn how to create meaningful, measurable goals for your agency – you can adapt that strategy for individual advisors. By helping them develop realistic goals, you’ll enable your advisors to realize their own visions while also bringing you closer to reaching your own agency wide objectives. Likewise, a good coach will give you useful tips on how to better manage time and simplify the way you work, all of which you can pass on to field agents. Every good coach recognizes that he or she can always learn something more. I still attend CEO summits both inside and out of the financial services industry, participate in study groups and spend time sharing ideas and getting feedback from a very successful former CEO. The bottom line is if you show your advisors you will never stop learning and growing, they will adopt the same attitude.

Consider Additional Outside Help

Investing in a coach is just one example of investing in something that will benefit you and your agency in the long run. As part of running a business, you also will need to fall back on subject matter experts in technology, accounting, marketing, and recruiting, to name a few. Depending on the size of your agency, you may even want to add these specialists to your staff. But if your agency is still growing, consultants may be a good option.

   This approach is attractive from a lot of perspectives. First and most obvious, you can call on consultants on an as-needed basis. This eliminates the salary and the associated costs that go along with employing someone full-time. Plus, in today’s global economy you can literally hire the best talent to meet your needs regardless of where they live and work.

   For instance, I’ve had both a PR specialist and a freelance writer who have worked with me for several years. They know me and understand how I work, and I know and trust both of them.

   Whether you are hiring consultants, managers, salespeople, or staff, you are making not only a financial investment but also a personal investment in the people you choose to work with. For all of you to find success, you need to trust them and they need to trust you. So get to know them. Ask them about their lives, their interests, and their families to show them that what you are achieving together is more than just business for you. If they feel close to you and know you care about them, they will work harder for you.

Another Key Investment: Your Time

When I took over the management of an already-established agency in 1985, I had an ambitious goal: to take it from a $1.4 million fledgling business to a $5 million thriving enterprise. I had become an accomplished salesperson, manager, and entrepreneur, but had been largely working for myself. I realized I could not build this agency alone, so I focused on establishing strong relationships with my agents and managers.

   I began holding Saturday workshops for agents once or twice a month to gain a greater understanding of who my agents were and to offer advice on how to succeed in this business. Sessions were typically from 9:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings, and focused on a particular topic such as handling objections or effective prospecting. Twenty-five to 30 agents attended each session, and sometimes I would take them out to lunch or to an event afterward.

   These workshops offered my agents a more relaxed atmosphere to ask questions and learn from me and other managers and senior associates without the normal workday distractions and interruptions. Meeting outside the typical business setting helped me get to know my agents personally and see their strengths and weaknesses, so I knew where to help with further training or coaching.

   In addition, for the more seasoned associates I held smaller study groups, with 10 to 12 participants. These typically took place in the late afternoon or early evening during the week and focused on growth strategies instead of selling techniques. For instance, we might discuss the value of giving back to the community or how a salesperson could reinvent himself or herself if business was slowing.

   Time is the most precious commodity we have today, but making yourself available on weekends and other “off-hour” times clearly illustrates your commitment to the agency and to the people who are a part of it. As your business continues to be successful, your agents will see that this kind of commitment pays off and will want to show you the same. It will also help you build the loyal team you need to take your agency where you want it to go.

Just Do It: Task the Risk

You’ve spent your career selling people on the value of investing in life and disability insurance or other financial services. You are, in essence, telling clients that they need to take the risk of investing in themselves and their families by investing their trust in you and their money in your services. And over the course of your career, I’m sure you have met people who regret not having taken that risk when they had the chance.

   Reaching out for business success is a risk as well. It’s risky to invest in a coach in the hope of growing personally and professionally. It’s risky to hire people you don’t know well to help run your agency. It’s risky to try to build relationships with the people who work with you every day. And it’s certainly risky to put your hard-earned money on the line for any unknown outcome.

   But the fact is, real rewards don’t come without risk. That’s why so many agencies in our industry reach a certain level of success and stay there. It’s easier to play it safe and remain comfortable than it is to take the risks required for real success. Taking the risk of investing in yourself can make the difference.