Your financial planning practice happens in seasons. Your business will ebb and flow depending on who your clients are, what your marketing strategy is, and how you approach financial planning. There will be seasons where you’re busy, and seasons when you’re not (or at least not as busy, I should add). For many, this might be the beginning of the year, when new clients are determined to meet fresh financial goals. You may be busiest through tax season as you help clients review their returns and make necessary adjustments. However, just as you have these predictable seasons of “busyness” you also have predictable seasons of slowness.
There’s nothing wrong with having a slower season. In fact, sometimes it’s nice to catch our breath and take a bit of a break. You even have some say in when your slow season is. You may make an effort to schedule client calls and meetings with new prospects in spring or fall so you can have winter holiday and summer months freed up to spend with family. Other times, depending on your ideal market, your slow season will be dependent on your clients’ schedules. If your clients are all free during the summer to schedule meetings with you, summer might happen to be your busiest time of year.
If you take a step back, you’ll likely find that you have two different kinds of “slow seasons” in your business:
- Weekly rhythms where some days are routinely less busy than others.
- Monthly or quarterly cycles where you have less client-facing work.
Rather than feeling surprised and frustrated by predictable slow seasons, it’s in your best interest to create a plan ahead of time so that your “slow season” is both fulfilling and productive.
Everyone’s favorite task! Compliance can be a pain when you’re swamped with onboarding new clients or are in the weeds working in your business. Making room during a slow season to address your compliance concerns can be a huge help. If you’re an XY Planning Network member, make the most out of your Smart RIA subscription, or touch base with your compliance department to see what “to-dos” you have outstanding.
You can also schedule a block of time—whether it’s a few hours, or a few days—to organize your compliance (spring cleaning style!). Go through your action items and create systems that make compliance easier to stay on top of in the future. Don’t have any outstanding compliance items on your to-do list? You’re lucky, but you don’t get off scot-free! Schedule a mock audit for yourself.
I realize this isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time, but trust me, it will be time well spent. Going through a full compliance audit helps you understand the holes in your business and create solutions before an actual audit happens. Compliance audits never seem to come during a slow season, and if you work through one now and make necessary changes, you’ll be set up for success when you actually get hit with an audit.
Additionally, you could think about putting together a compliance manual for your firm. Even if you’re a solopreneur, having your compliance processes and expectations for each part of your business mapped out will help you stay organized. It will also help organize a team should you choose to hire virtual contractors or full-time employees in the future.
You’re not blind to the fact that you have several items on your to-do list that consistently get put on the back burner. In other words, you know what you have to do, so stop putting it off!
Avoiding to-dos is a sure-fire way to fall behind when it matters most. There may be a number of reasons you’re putting these tasks off. Maybe they aren’t all that exciting. Maybe they’re time-consuming and frustrating. Maybe you’re worried they’ll be too difficult, or will force you to do something outside of your comfort zone.
Whatever that big, hairy to-do is, now is the time to check it off your list. Use your slow season to whittle down the long list of tasks you never seem to get to when work is in full swing.
Nail Down Your Processes
Processes can make or break a business. Use your slow season to build out specific, repeatable processes—and document them! You may already have several of these in place and just don’t realize it yet. Start with processes that are client-facing. These might be:
- New client onboarding
- Financial plan presentation
- Gathering new information from an existing client
- Updating a client’s portfolio
- Structuring client meetings
- Structuring prospect phone calls
Next, focus on non-client-facing processes:
- Marketing (e.g. blog writing, scheduling social media, queuing up podcasts in Libsyn, recording batches of YouTube videos)
- Creating financial plans behind-the-scenes
- Organizing your calendar
- Going through a weekly compliance checklist
- Invoicing (although it can be argued that this is, technically speaking, client-facing)
If you already repeat the same process for each of these activities, write down exactly what you do each time. If you find that your process is different for these activities, it’s time to evaluate which method is most efficient and effective. Then document the most effective process and stick to it moving forward.
Even if you already have existing, documented processes, it doesn’t hurt to revisit them during a slow season. Are they still working for you? Are they scalable? Is there a better way of doing things?
Having well-documented, repeatable processes is necessary for a growing financial planning practice. It helps you stay on track, provides a consistent client experience, and keeps future team members on the same page should you choose to partner up or work with virtual contractors.
Clean Your Office
This sounds like a small task, but I assure you, it’s an important one. Whether you work from home or you have an office outside the home, it’s critical to keep your workspace in good shape. It’s tough to remember to give our office the TLC it needs, so taking a few hours (or a full day) during a slow season to give your space a deep clean can be life-changing.
Start by clearing out old files and paperwork. Shred everything you no longer need and organize what you need to keep. Next, clear out any miscellaneous office supplies you no longer use. Pens without ink, random paper clips that bounce around in the bottom of your desk drawer, and crumpled up pieces of notepad paper are all excessive clutter you don’t need crowding your space. You should also comb through the belongings that tend to accumulate in our offices—books, magazines, random coffee mugs or water bottles. Everything in your office should have a place and a purpose. If it doesn’t, find where it belongs or throw it away.
Next, tackle the “cleaning” portion of this exercise. Really give your office a good scrub down. Dust your window sill(s), blinds, bookshelves, and desk. Grab some glass cleaner and wash your windows. Vacuum your carpet or rug. Really go to town.
Finally, if you feel the need to reorganize, go for it. I find that rearranging my office every once in a while is reinvigorating and helps me get a fresh perspective. I feel less bored if my treadmill desk is suddenly facing a window or I find a creative way to store things I reach for regularly.
Maybe you even use this slow season to spruce up your space with new office furniture. Sitting in a comfortable desk chair or investing in a standing/treadmill desk can be a real game-changer. Maybe you need some bookshelves, a piece of empowering wall art, or a few new framed photos of your family. Your office space should reflect the way you want to do business, and the things or people that you value. Don’t be afraid to block off a full day to create the space that inspires you to do your best work.
Rolling out a new software in your business can be extremely time-consuming. If you’re considering testing a new invoicing, communication, or financial planning software, it’s in your best interest to try it when you’re not also drowning in new client meetings or client work. You’ll be able to troubleshoot any client-facing issues with your new technology. You’ll also have the time to actually play with the new tool to determine whether or not it’s your most efficient and effective option.
Do Some Strategic Planning
A slow season is an amazing time to focus on your long game. You’re not weighed down by “busyness” or by working in your business. You’re able to take as much time as you need to work on your business instead. I challenge you to start thinking about the big picture right now. Start by outlining what you want your next year to look like. Then imagine where you want to be in five to 10 years. What do you need to do to get there?
One way to plan strategically is to focus on your marketing. Think about what you want to do, and how your marketing strategy can better support both your short- and long-term goals. A slow season is ideal for testing out a new marketing idea, getting ahead on your blog writing or podcast and video recording, and taking stock of your current marketing plan to evaluate what’s working and what’s not (and adjust accordingly).
Shift Your Focus
Slow seasons are also an amazing time to take stock of your current business direction. Are you happy with your current client niche? Are you loving how spend your time at work? Do you need to pivot your pricing structure? These questions take some time to think through, and you have just that during a slow season. Block out time to brainstorm ideas and come up with solutions that will better serve you in your next season.
Take some time here and don’t rush to a solution. Think about your business and where you want it to grow. Then make some intentional decisions about where you are going to put your focus in your next season.
Take Intensive New Training
Is there a course or training you’ve been dying to try? Slow seasons are an excellent time to focus on professional growth. If you’ve been wanting to try George Kinder’s Institute of Life Planning, or Money Quotient, now is the time! Go for it! Even if the training you’re considering isn’t as intensive as those two programs, it’s always good to work toward a deeper level of education and understanding of the financial planning profession.
Get Involved Locally
Getting involved in your local community is always a wise long-term strategy. When you build your brand locally, you’re investing in the future growth of your business. Even if you’re a virtual firm, getting involved in your community helps you reach an immediate client base and helps fill your time in a productive way. A few things you can do to get involved in your community are:
- Volunteer at local soup kitchens
- Sponsor events for young professionals
- Attend Small Business Association events
- Write for a local paper
- Offer to help with mock interviews at a local high school, community college, or university
- Host seminars at your local library, church, or school on basics of financial planning or budgeting
- Go crazy and launch your own event - like a 5k where all donations go to charity
Community involvement is more than just a marketing tactic. It’s useful to build a network locally in case you ever need an immediate support system. If you need to hire for an in-person position, or you just need a local accountability partner to keep you on track, being present in your local community can help put you on the path to success.
Nobody likes to be reminded that they’re behind on their required CE. While it may not feel like you’ll ever catch up, using your practice’s slow season to get ahead can offset the stress of CE-cramming at year end. Even if you don’t actively work to accomplish a large chunk of your CE hours when you’re experiencing a slow season, you can map out a plan for how you’ll earn your CE for the rest of the year so you’re not coming up short when it’s time to submit .
Go to a Conference
I love conferences. I’m an incredibly extroverted person, so for me, it doesn’t get much better than seeing everyone I know and love in the financial planning community and making new friends at the same time. Conferences are pretty much my happy place. Unfortunately, when you’re a busy business owner, it’s difficult to break away to fully commit and engage in a financial planning conference. That’s why it works well to schedule a conference (or two!) during a notoriously slow season in your business.
Conferences happen year-round, and many of them have specific topics they address or are geared towards specific types of financial planners. Spring and fall tend to be big conference seasons. XYPN LIVE, for example, takes on St. Louis this September (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)!
Consider a Retreat
A staff retreat is brilliant business. Retreats can help knit your team closer together, push you to and through a period of growth, and be the catalyst for creating unique solutions to your firm’s problems. Retreats build your business—whether it’s big or small—in so many different ways. They offer a unique space to step away from the day-to-day and tackle larger issues your practice faces in a way that’s tough to do in the office or over the course of a single meeting.
Are you a solopreneur? You can still take yourself on a retreat! Take a few days away from the office, put client work on hold, and work on your business rather than in it. I’m a big believer in solo-retreats; they can be just as groundbreaking as big group retreats.
Tackle Something New
Are you thinking about launching a podcast? Have you been dying to overhaul your website? Now is the time, my friend! Taking on that pie-in-the-sky endeavor is the perfect way to spend your slow season. Tackling new ideas in your business is intimidating. Nobody wants to try something new and fall flat on their face.
That’s the beauty of trying new things in your business during a slow season. You have the excess time and energy to put in front-end research, execute your idea with care, and track your performance to determine whether or not you’re initially successful (then adjust accordingly). This is true for projects propelled by you (like launching a new content channel) and projects you’re outsourcing (like having a web developer overhaul your business site and brand).
Onboard New Employees and Review Outsourcing
There’s nothing more exciting than finding full-time teammates or contractors who share in your firm’s vision. But hiring new team members is not without it’s complications. Making sure everyone is on the same page and has a clear task list are critical to your team’s success. One way to avoid the growing pains that come with hiring is to take the time to onboard and train new team members thoroughly.
We often hire when we need someone immediately. We get overwhelmed, realize we can’t do it alone, then hire in a panic. Our new team members are forced to learn on the fly, and we might be frustrated when they don’t immediately understand what we need from them. When you’re in a slow season of business, you have time to project what your needs might be in the coming months. If you think you might need to start outsourcing work, or that you want to hire an additional planner to expand your team in the near future, get ahead of the game—start your search and hiring process now.
When you hire before you need someone, you’re able to find the right fit for your practice. You determine exactly what you need from your new hire, carefully interview, create an onboarding process, and be available to provide open feedback that creates a foundation of trust. Then, when you desperately need someone during your next busy season, you’ll have someone ready to jump in as needed without the added frustrations of training someone brand new.
Enjoy the Season
Business and life both happen in seasons. Although it’s tempting to pack your schedule with productivity and professional advancement, it’s also okay to use this season to rest and recharge. Consider taking a vacation or spending time on personal goals. It’s okay to embrace a season of rest. As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get caught up in the “do what’s best for everyone else” mentality. We focus on how other financial planners and business owners are growing their businesses, and assume that their keys to success will work for us too
Instead of doing what works best for other people, focus on doing what’s best for yourself. If that means resting, rest. If that means having fun with family and friends while you’re not weighed down with client work, then by all means have fun. And if that means investing time and energy into your business, go for it. Follow your gut to take care of yourself and grow your business during this season in a way that works for you.
Is this how this works? Do you submit CE hours?
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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