Many advisors dream of running their own financial planning firm. Unfortunately, the same advisors who were once so excited to jump into the world of business ownership are often surprised to find as they get busier, their firm starts running them instead of the other way around.
Suddenly, your once light work schedule evolves into working longer hours, skipping vacations or time with family and friends, and struggling to get everything done in a way that helps you serve your clients and be the best advisor you can be.
Problems can escalate when you start to bring on team members and work to scale your business. I’ve had several clients who have dealt with the frustration of being in a bind when their employee takes a week off for summer vacation, or plans for an extended leave, even if they knew it was coming ahead of time!
The problem isn’t necessarily that there’s too much work for you and your team to balance. There’s more likely a deeper issue at play here—you aren’t effectively managing your time. When client work and running a business start to become overwhelming, you have to start planning ahead to balance work and life, and to create space for your team members to do the same.
Is Effective Time Management Possible?
YES! Effective time management and annual scheduling are possible for firm owners, but that doesn’t mean it won’t take some extra work to get the results you’re looking for.
The key is to plan ahead for upcoming tasks and goals. A proactive mindset can help you get ahead of schedule, foresee any scheduling conflicts with your team, and start building a business that you enjoy working in.
Over the course of the past few months, I’ve had several clients with lofty scheduling goals. They want to work from the lake house, work from home, skip working on Fridays altogether, only work in the mornings, or knock off a little early to take their kids to the beach.
When you add taking in other team members’ schedules and goals, things get even more complicated. As the business owner, you might feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of ensuring everything runs smoothly and end up shorting yourself by not planning ahead for everyone’s best interest.
While you start to think about building out an annual schedule or focusing on managing your time wisely as a firm owner, it helps to make a clear distinction between firms with full teams and firms that are run by a solopreneur.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients about scheduling with a team is that they feel caught off guard by their team’s vacations (or when there’s an emergency and an employee needs to be out for a period of time, which is admittedly difficult to plan for). Not planning ahead for vacation time that’s marked on the calendar is on them.
As the firm owner, it’s your job to create goals and project schedules that make sense for everyone and to keep the workload balanced when one person is out. Here are a few key steps you can take to help your team organize a schedule that works for everyone:
#1: Plan Ahead for Busy Seasons
Plan ahead for both the busy season for your firm, and for your team. For example, to avoid being overwhelmed when multiple team members are out during the summer season, you need to plan ahead for everyone’s anticipated time off in the spring (or earlier!). If you know that tax season is always insane, make sure you’ve blocked a month or so after filing for team members to take a breather if needed without having client work suffer.
Take time to identify what needs to happen as a group to get through these busy seasons. Whether there are projects you need input on, or parts of projects different team members are in charge of, you need to have a game plan for getting everything knocked out with plenty of buffer for the anticipated time off.
#2: Be Intentional About Project Management
Who is working on what? Is there one person who has to own every piece of one project, or one client’s workload? When it comes to project management, cross-training is your friend. Having no fewer than two team members know what’s going on with a specific project or client can help you bridge the gap when people are out, whether the time off is unexpected or not.
It can also be helpful to take a cold, hard look at which projects truly need to be owned by the entire team. If something can be done in dyads or triads with key project owners reporting back about what decisions were reached, then do it. It’s easy to assume that an all-team meeting is the way to go, but the truth is that’s rarely the case.
It’s okay to have things that are decided by the group, but there are some things that don’t require everyone. This transition can be especially hard for an ex-solopreneur to make. You may want to include everyone in decisions or you may be unsure of which decisions your team needs to be in on.
Building trust between everyone will take some time, but by making project management expectations clear and avoiding over-working everyone by creating double work among team members, you’re taking steps in the right direction.
#3: Coordinate “Team Time”
There may be times when you just want to close the office entirely and coordinate time away. You might use this time to do some team planning, or you may want to have everyone take a step away from the office to regroup, take vacations, and recharge.
Many offices close for the week at the end of the year. But you could also do this during the summer months, or any time your team agrees on. Personally, I believe taking “team time” for group vacations can be incredibly helpful.
It allows your team something clear to look forward to and offers a bit of a reprieve during busy personal times or after a busy professional season. It can really empower team members to unplug, work on personal projects, or spend time however they want to without feeling obligated to check in.
#4: Communicate with Clients
Setting expectations with clients about when you’re available, and when you’re not, is important for your entire team. It’s equally important for your clients! You never want a client’s experience to suffer because of a vacation, or extended time out of the office, like maternity leave. Notify clients ahead of time so they don’t put things off until it’s urgent, only to find out you are not available. The more you organize, the less frustrated you and your clients will be when you or a team member are unavailable.
#5: Organize Your Own Time
If you know your team members or employees will be out, have things to work on. There’s always a long list of things that could be done—keep your list prioritized if you find yourself with time. Don’t wait until you have a lull to think of what needs to be done.
Scheduling as a Solopreneur
Teams have a specific set of unique problems they face, but solopreneurs have an entirely different set of scheduling issues. When you’re the one and only person upon whom who clients rely, it can feel like you’re always on the clock.
Instead of struggling to balance the workload when team members take time off, you might find yourself falling down a rabbit hole and never taking time for yourself.
The dreams you once had of traveling, working remotely, spending a month in Europe every summer, or even just working non-traditional hours can be difficult to accomplish when you’re busy without any back-up. If you’re a solopreneur struggling to build out your calendar, follow these few steps to take ownership of your time:
#1: Set Goals for Your Year
How much time do you want to take off this year? What do you want your months, weeks, or days to look like? It can help to start with the big goals first and reverse-engineer your day-to-day.
Your big goals might include:
- I want to take a month off this summer to spend time with my kids while they’re out of school.
- I want to only work 9–3 Monday through Friday.
- I want to have all of my client calls concentrated in one week each month so I have the flexibility to work remotely the rest of the month.
From there, break down smaller goals for yourself. If you want all of your monthly client calls to be organized in one week of the month, look at what that would require. Start reaching out to clients now to get organized and create a system for onboarding new client calls in that pre-specified time frame.
If you want to take a month off this summer, have a plan in place to accomplish client work ahead of time and to communicate your absence to clients.
Do you want to be available for client communication? Are you open to taking emergency meetings, or do you want to completely unplug? The level of “disconnected” you want to be impacts how much planning you need to do in advance.
#2: Leave Room for Flexibility
Acknowledge that in some years, your “busy” season will be unexpected. Sometimes summer isn’t as slow as you anticipated. Sometimes you’re not busy as usual around tax season. Your busy season might vary based on the economy, political climate, your niche, and so much more. It’s hard to entirely predict how your year will look, so you need to leave some room for flexibility.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to play fast and loose with your boundaries. If you work certain hours, stick to them! If you want to take a vacation, let your auto-responder do its job.
#3: Take Scheduling Changes One Step at A Time
I recently spoke with a client who wanted to take Fridays off, which is a fairly common goal for firm owners. The problem was it didn’t seem like it ever happened, no matter what they did to put the plan in place.
To focus on making their dream of having Fridays off a reality, they started by reorganizing their calendar. Any projects or client calls that fell to Fridays were shared with team members, and they set an expectation with their team that they would be unavailable on that day. Then, to stick with it, they started making plans for Fridays that were specific and acted as an anchor.
Instead of saying, “I’m going hiking on Friday,” they would say, “I’m going to head out early to do Grays & Torreys on Friday the 20th, then grab a matinee movie with my kids after they’re off from school.”
They also made “rainy day” plans just in case the weather was bad. If hiking wasn't an option, they would go check out a local museum instead.
Often, having a plan is the first step to successful scheduling.
#4: Plan for Extended Leaves and Emergencies
If you’re a solopreneur, there’s a good chance you’ll need to plan ahead for any and all extended leaves—maternity, paternity, or even just a sabbatical. You might even need a fallback plan in place to account for medical emergencies. Try to plan for every contingency and to start as early as possible.
It’s not always easy to plan for the unexpected, but there are a few key things you can do to plan ahead for an extended leave or an emergency:
- Get your tech stack in order. The more you can automate tasks in your business, the more you’ll be able to add some flexibility into your schedule for extended or unexpected time away.
- Have a communication plan in place. If you’re trying to plan ahead for an extended leave, you need to have a communication plan in place. I recommend sending an email to all of your clients and following up with them individually. Let them know exactly how their questions will be handled, and how you’ll ensure their needs are met while you’re out.
- Bring in back up. Even as a solopreneur, you don’t have to do this on your own 100% of the time. Speak with another advisor who also serves your niche about being one another’s professional “emergency contact” or bring on an independent contractor admin or paraplanner to help in case of an emergency, or to handle client requests while you’re out on unexpected leave. Contingency planning is key for solopreneurs!
Getting Started: Implementing Your New Schedule Plan
Taking steps toward better time management as a firm owner isn’t always easy. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with client work, taking time to start implementing your new scheduling plan can feel impossible. If you’re overwhelmed, don’t worry. Time management is elusive for every business owner, and your “perfect” schedule may change 100 times before you land on something that works for you.
One of the first things you can do to get started implementing your ideal schedule (even if you know it may shift later) is put together an annual service calendar. The more organized your year is, and the more your clients are in a rhythm, the easier it is to schedule downtime for both yourself and your team.
Struggling to start scheduling your year in advance? Here are a few things to map out:
- Appointment planning: when are you meeting with clients?
- Project planning: what client work is getting done, and who is responsible? Remember, the project manager isn’t always you!
- What are your top priorities?
- When is business growth happening? What are your business growth goals?
Financial planners always joke that birthdays and holidays aren’t an unexpected expense because they happen the same time each year. Client service and business administration is the same way. You know in advance when you’ll want time off, when conferences will be scheduled, and what seasons your clients will need to speak with you. Putting all of these variables in an annual service calendar can help you stay organized and on task.
It’s never too early to start an annual plan for next year. Block off some time in your schedule to meet with your team and discuss goals, both personal and professional. By taking the time to plan ahead now, you’ll be able to start finding the technology and the additional help (even if it’s an admin or part-time paraplanner) to make your goals a reality without a time-pressed schedule.
You don’t just wake up saying, “I am never working on Friday again!” if you’ve been working 50+ hour weeks for the past three years. Likewise, you won’t be able to magically start coordinating an entire team’s schedule if you’ve felt underwater and underprepared up until now. Instead, start by taking a step in the right direction.
Start focusing on the old adage “work smarter not harder.” The more focused you become on managing your firm’s time effectively, the more you’ll be able to build a schedule that maximizes your success both now and in the future.
About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.
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