Posts Tagged 'Systems'

Software – Should you upgrade?

 

Upgrading software can be both painful and expensive:  the learning curve of new features can slow you down and the monetary outlay can make you scratch your head!

There are the costs: of purchase, the consultant, the training, the training materials, the resulting upgrades of software that work WITH this software such as add-ins, etc.

Upgrading as you go means you are not left behind and future upgrades are incremental instead of horrific.

So what to do?

I recommend you always upgrade mission critical programs that run your business.  Examples might include your CRM system, tax software or your planning software.  Optional upgrades might include email software or office applications such as word processors. 

However, make sure you upgrade anything that is no longer supported by the authoring company.

I am a big fan of staying as current as possible, but you might consider waiting for the first round of patches or hot fixes so you stay away from the “bleeding edge.”

Also evaluate the competitors’ products during an upgrade cycle.  If you are not really happy with your current tool, then it is time to consider changing vendors.

Guide: Software upgrades are generally a positive, adding capability and productivity.

Action Item: Strongly consider upgrading carefully.  Mission critical applications are usually a must purchase.

© 2010 The Advisors Center, LLC – All Rights Reserved

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Can You Run the Machinery?

 

Are you over delegating? Is there really such a thing? Does it matter?

I recently read story of an business owner who found himself nearly out of business when three of his four staff people quit and left over a very short period of time. This mass exodus caused great strain on the operation of the business and caused great concern for the owner’s clients.

Are you and your small business prepared for such a possibility? What would you do? Could you survive? Why did this professional’s business nearly fail?

The author of the above referenced article suggested that this was a clear cut case of over delegation. Our business owner had become so far removed from the day to day technology and systems of his business that he was unable to run them in the absence of help. The systems were also of such a proprietary nature that temporary help wouldn’t work. In the short run, outsourcing was also out of the question. However, after immersing himself for a sufficient period of time, the systems were quickly learned and the business did survive.

Was the author correct or was there more going on here? The owner may have been over delegating or there may have been other possibilities might including: Understaffing. Poor pay. Poor employee morale. Lack of cross training or any number of normal employee issues

In the story, we never find out why the employees left but there are clearly some lessons to be learned.

Take a look at your business and realize that it is vulnerable to all sorts of risks and perhaps knowing how to “run the machinery” is a really good idea. Carefully consider your critical systems and ask: Can I run these?, Should I know how to run these?, Do I want to know how to run these? What training will I need?

Also ask: Should I change these systems so they are less proprietary? Can I get temporary help if needed? Can I outsource these functions if needed?

Realize that nothing can take the place of a well run business where your skills are best used where YOUR talents lie.Also, the “care and nurturing” of your staff can be as important as any other business function just like customer service or marketing.

Guide: Oil the machinery: take great care of the staff as well as the hardware, software and systems they use every day.

Action Item: Know which machinery you don’t know how to run and consider what you would do if someone else was not there to run it.

© 2010 The Advisors Center, LLC – All Rights Reserved

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Tech Spotlight on: Network Attached Storage (NAS)

 

With this Guide, I will begin a new discussion centered around the use of technology in the practice of the professional advisor.  I will cover the basics to expose some of the options available for you to run your practices more efficiently.

This Guide will focus on hardware and specifically a device called a NAS (pronounced NAZ) – Network Attached Storage or in some older circles, Network Appliance Servers.

Here is what Wikipedia says about them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network-attached_storage

Put simply, a NAS is a low-cost shared hard drive.  It requires NO PC.  It just plugs into a hub or switch or port on your router (could be your wireless access point).

These devices are wonderful for central file storage to be shared by staff. Any office document like a word processing file, a spreadsheet or a PDF can be saved on the NAS.  One would normally place several folders on the NAS just like a PC and then store the appropriate document in the proper folder.

You do not need a VERY tech savvy worker to set one up.  After plugging it in and turning it on, you access it through a browser and set up security/user rights for each of the folders, allowing some to be private and others to be public.

Simple drive mapping in Windows would then allow each user to attach to the device.

And then there is cost.  Well, these devices are pretty darn cheap!  Here is a link to several examples at Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/y88khxv

Prices start under $200 and go up from there.  In my office we have used products from Linksys, Seagate, Snap and Buffalo.  Each has performed as advertised with no failures or issues.

They can be used as primary storage or backup for PC’s and servers.  They are small, light and can be carried off-site easily (good and bad news). A NAS at home is a great way to share files with your family.

Guide – A NAS is an inexpensive, easy to use, reliable way to share files on a network.

Action Item – If you currently have an office where you are emailing each other files all the time or are using peer-to-peer networking to share files, consider a NAS.

© 2010 The Advisors Center, LLC – All Rights Reserved

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Top Ten Things to Do in 2010

 

1.  Delegate 10 things that you know you should not be doing.

Nothing will free you up mentally like not doing the “junk” you know you should not be doing.  Just stop!

2.  Fire your nightmare client.

The stress of this account is killing you (perhaps literally).  The energy used to maintain this client is equal to 10 great clients.  Stop hurting yourself and your staff.  If you are not sure which one this is, just ask your staff or spouse.  They will tell you and support the decision.

3.  Treat your staff to a treat.

Practice random acts of kindness.  It feels great and will help everyone be more productive.

4.  Call your top 20 clients and make a non-business only date.

They want to know you.  Visit them at their home, take them out for a meal, invite them to a show, etc. – They really like you.  I call it “go deeper, not wider.”

5.  Spend 3 hours with your best center of influence.

A quick lunch is not enough.  Following the theme of #4 above, really getting to know these people is key to any lasting relationship.

6.  Improve a technology system to make it do what you really need.

Does your CRM system really crank?  Why not!  Spend a few bucks and make it sing.  Find a consultant or some add-ins to help it along.  A great productivity enhancer.

7.  Rework your website and brochure.

Gosh, they get old fast.  Do a short run digital version of the brochure from now on and run fresh ones every 6 months.  Consider purchasing a wide-format color printer and do them in-house.

8.  Redecorate your office.

Yup!  Spruce it up and feel better.  New throw rugs, a fresh coat of paint, and some new wall hangings all help to create a more professional enviroment.

9.  Volunteer.

Giving back somehow, someway gives you a chance to recharge and feel good.  You know you should!

10.  Take time away with your spouse or partner to discuss the direction of your business.

Your loved one is a great sounding board.  They put up with you and listen to you moan all year long.  Sit down, tell them your goals and plans and then shut up and listen.

Guide – Each of these is designed to reduce your stress and enhance productivity.  All proven winners.  Good luck!

Action item – Write these down or print them out.  Post them and knock them off.  Each one stands on its own, so the order does not matter.

© 2010 The Advisors Center, LLC – All Rights Reserved

The E-mail Time Suck

Pavlov let us know about stimulus response. Ring the bell, get food.

AOL gave us “You’ve got mail!” Check your email.

Microsoft gave us the envelope indicator, the ding and the translucent indicator sneak peek. Hurry and check that email.

Ok? Now some of the following is an idea I first got from reading The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss so I am giving credit where credit is due.

Email has become one of the greatest productivity reducers in the American workplace.

It dings and we look. It dings and we salivate. It dings and we immediately respond.

Is this really productive? Is this really responsible?

First of all, most of the mail is junk (spam or e-zines).

The second batch are notifications of information that may be important but certainly not urgent.

The next batch is the batch we care most about. Personal correspondence.

But does this personal correspondence need to be answered immediately?

More importantly, is it BEST answered immediately?

Perhaps it should sit and be thought about? More importantly, how many of you find yourselves having email conversation?

Is this good? I would suggest no. Conversation is BEST had face to face. Body language counts.

The next best way to have conversation is likely over the phone. Tone of voice?

Can you recall an email conversation where one of you misconstrued what the other had said or intended? Did that work well?

Did you ever wish there was a sarcasm font?!?!

So what do you do about all of this?

Step one on the road to recovery. Turn off your email notifications.

Yes! Turn off the little envelope. Turn off the ding. Turn off the translucent tease.

Step two. Only check your emails at consistent and regular intervals. Now I know this sounds hard, but I have been doing it for over a year now and boy do I feel better.

Don’t engage in email conversation anymore if it involves your customers or clients and you have a relationship with the person. I believe professional advisors do have, and desire to have, relationships with their clients.

PICK UP THE PHONE! Yes, talk to them. This is actually more productive as less time is wasted. How many times has it worked trying to schedule a meeting by email? Does settling a complaint work via email?

But you want people to know you are not ignoring them, right? You want them to know you received the email and you care?

Most email programs have given you a great little tool to deal with this. It’s called the OUT OF OFFICE notice.

And here is mine: (edited slightly)

—–

I am in today AND normally checking e-mail around noon and 4pm on weekdays.

Because of the VERY high level of client contact we provide, I am responding to telephone calls first.

If you are emailing me about an investment or planning matter, please CALL me and leave a detailed message if I am not immediately available.

If this is an administrative matter, please contact staff as listed below.

It is VERY important to me to speak with each and every client who would like to talk. I will contact you.

If you need immediate assistance, please contact our office at 860-677-8808.

If I am unavailable, please speak to my assistant xxx or xyz or abc or email them at:

mailto:xxx@theadvisorscenter.com

mailto:xyz@theadvisorscenter.com

You may also contact xxxxx at our Client Services desk directly at 800-647-7378

Thank you for your understanding. This helps me accomplish more to serve you better.

Sincerely, Eliot

—–

This out of office message is on pretty much all the time. It allows clients to know that the email has been received but if it is urgent, please call and why they should call.

Guide – Instant responses to email are killing your productivity and taking you away from the things that are really important.

Action item – Using an out of office message or a response rule alerts those to the new procedures and actually creates better client relationships. And of course – Use the phone!

© 2009 The Advisors Center, LLC – All Rights Reserved

Did It Get Done?

 

This is a follow-up to last week’s Guide on financial metrics and developing your business model and plan.

This week I am writing about activity tracking. 

Plan it; delegate it; do it, track it. Was it completed?  Is there any follow-up? 

Your business integrity is paramount and one of the ways to destroy that integrity is by not completing what you promised to do.

You need a system for that, usually called a “Customer Relationship Management” system or CRM.

Your CRM might be a yellow pad, Post-it® Notes (I have seen that one!), log book, file folders or index cards.

Your CRM might be Microsoft Outlook.

I would suggest you need a multi-user server or internet-based system dedicated to contact management.

Popular examples include Act!, Microsoft CRM, Goldmine, Salesforce.com, Sage, and Sugar CRM.

These powerful tools allow you to delegate and track tasks and opportunities, send group email, share calendars and address books, plus much more.

Most of these CRM’s offer the opportunity for customization, and most of them have consultants in your area that do this stuff full-time.

If you cannot quickly (In 10 minutes or less) and easily (It only takes one person) identify a group of clients and send them a letter or email based on specific criteria, you need to rethink your CRM system.

Even if you have a system, it is ineffective if it is not being fully utilized.  It is not doing the job.

Remember that if you forget to do something, your client will remember that you forgot!

Guide – Your business needs a way to make sure you deliver on everything you promise.

Action Item – Find a true CRM system and a consultant to help you.  Start with your trade association and those nice little block ads in the back of your magazines.  Those folks are usually pretty good!

© 2009 The Advisors Center, LLC – All Rights Reserved

 

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Metrics: Do You Know Yours?

 

 

Survey says — 7 out of 10 Early Career advisors don’t know their metrics!

I recently did a workshop for financial advisors with 3-7 years experience.  I asked, “Who keeps monthly books?  Who has computerized bookkeeping?”

Surprisingly thirty percent raised their hands and the rest shrugged.

Metrics are your numbers and the math.  You need to know!

How much in assets do I require to generate the revenue I need?

What are my monthly expenses? Quarterly expenses?

What are my expenses as a percentage of revenue?

What are my receivables or payables?

What are my margins?  Can I hire?  Can I give someone a raise or bonus?

You get the idea!

Any advisor, like any small business, needs solid systems to help run the business.

Accounting can be done in-house using products like QuickBooks OR outsourced to a bookkeeper or to your accountant.

The cost of outsourcing is worth it.  This will give you the faith and confidence to know where you are.

Guide – Your business needs a financial plan and a full monthly P&L will be your scorecard.

Action Item – Find a trusted bookkeeper and start tracking your metrics.

© 2009 The Advisors Center, LLC – All Rights Reserved

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