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Don’t Make a $50 Million Mistake

When we talk about ways advisors can grow their practices, we talk about a number of opportunities: appointment setting, strategic partnerships, seminars, techniques for improving direct mail campaigns, thought leadership and so on.

All of these things, however, assume a willingness to change, to step outside into the unknown to try something new, which is a rare quality. Time and time again, we see this as a key differentiator between good advisors and great advisors.

Many people believe they have an open mind, but the sort of open-mindedness I’m writing about here is the ability to set aside fear, doubt and your assumptions about how things “should be.” This also means thinking less about your peers and more about your own potential.

Jason Calacanis is a well-known angel investor, hosts a start-up podcast and puts on multiple events a year on helping young companies grow. Despite his experience, he often laments that he passed on his opportunity to invest in Twitter. When he met Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, he saw that Williams was driven and intelligent, but Calacanis just didn’t see the value of a service like Twitter, so he opted not to invest. He now calls that choice a “$50 million mistake.”

When he saw the success of Twitter, Calacanis recalibrated how he thought about new ideas and new opportunities. He didn’t want to make another mistake that big, so he started thinking more about the people pitching him ideas, while keeping his mind open to concepts that might seem counterintuitive at first. The result? He was one of the early investors in Uber when many others passed.

We see similar stories play out in this industry. For example, I was at a conference recently, and I met a man from Santa Barbara who has been an advisor for 47 years. He was sitting next to a colleague of his who had been in the industry for 50 years. They were exchanging the sort of good-natured ribbings and putdowns that you would expect to hear from old friends hanging out in a bar during a conference.

As I wrapped my mind around what someone could learn and accomplish after 50-some years in the business, I couldn’t understand why someone with that level of experience and success would still bother traveling for an industry conference. So I asked him.

“Look. I know what I get from coming here,” I said. “What do you get out of this?”

The first half of his answer was not surprising. He enjoyed the change of pace. He liked catching up with old friends. It was fun to pick up a few fancy meals on someone else’s tab and maybe have an extra drink or two in the name of celebrating the old days. And he liked how conferences energized him, giving him a way to enter his work reinvigorated and excited.

But then he said, “I never know when I’ll meet someone who will change my business.”

He told a story from when he was in his 40s. He was at a conference like this one, your typical national conference where everyone knew everybody, and if you had any sort of clout in the space, the younger attendees knew it. A young man, about 24 years old, approached the older advisor and said that he was missing out on a huge opportunity to grow his business.

The older advisor had a big book of life insurance business with some annuities, and the “kid” was telling him about a new way to handle those relationships so that the older advisor could transition into managing their money. The advice was coming from someone younger with seemingly less experience, but objectively, the opportunity made sense. So for the next three years, the older advisor paid the younger advisor to coach him on how to manage client money and how to talk to his current clients about making the transition.

It transformed his business forever, and it put him way ahead of what he would have accomplished on his own.

That lesson has stuck with him. After decades of being in the business, this advisor still goes to conferences with his mind open, looking for that new idea that opens the door to new growth, even when other advisors might discount it.

This willingness to look outside of the box, to explore new opportunities, and to consider trying something you’ve never tried before is the hallmark of an advisor who sets the trends rather than follows them. Humans are naturally resistant to change. We are even more resistant to it when we’ve risen to the point of being experts in our field. That ability to embrace the discomfort of leaving your normal day-to-day activities — such as taking coaching and advice from someone 20 years younger than you — means that you can capture new business opportunities in places that other advisors aren’t willing to go because it’s difficult.

So the question should become “Does this make sense?” and not “Does this make me feel good?”

We see many advisors pass on potential growth because they might be skeptical of a sales coach’s ability to find qualified prospects, because the sales process of a cold appointment might mean having to take some advice from a sales coach, or because they prefer the comfort of selling to obtaining referrals. All of these concerns have very little to do with the actual opportunity or the ability of the people setting appointments on their behalf and much more to do with their own discomfort.

Be open to new ideas for every facet of your business. Be open to the discomfort and potential failure if getting it wrong means eventually getting it right. Old ideas won’t take you to new places, and you won’t benefit from new ideas unless you are willing to change. If you keep your mind closed long enough, you’ll eventually pass on your own personal Twitter and kick yourself later.

 

John Pojeta is the vice president of business development at The PT Services Group. He previously owned and operated an Ameriprise Financial Services franchise for 16 years. john.pojeta@innfeedback.com.