Practice Mgt Issue 2 – Rearranging the deck chairs (hopefully NOT on the Titanic)

I’m a member of a couple of Facebook groups that focus on improving financial advisory businesses. There’s always lots of interesting discussion, and I’ve noticed a bit of a theme of late of “I have had enough of Xplan/Coin, what should I use instead?” Which is generally followed by lots of advice and comments from other planners. Which is great, except the advice never includes the idea that you should step back and work out what you need before buying new software.

Not being a planner myself, I will instead regale you with the tale of four different CRMs in 3 years. Yep, nice one Penn. I started with Salesforce. I was excited to be using the latest and greatest (according to the crowd at Mac Bank anyway). Salesforce drove me nuts. The most annoying part was that I had to add a company name before I could enter a person. Plus I couldn’t get any reporting that worked for me.

Next, I moved to Daylite, a CRM purpose built for Macs. It’s quite nice but the syncing wasn’t working properly, and there wasn’t a web app. So that went in the bin too. Then, I moved to Base. Base is definitely the best-looking CRM I have used, and I used it for about two years. Until I came across Contactually. Now, Contactually has the one feature that I really need, it reminds me to call people! What a winner! For me, running a consulting business, this is absolute gold. So I upped sticks and moved everything across.

Instead of all that messing about, I could have mapped out the processes that happen in my business and then looked around for software that would best support those processes. You can learn from my time-wasting mistakes!

Process mapping is a bit time consuming, and can make your head hurt if there are multiple people involved and lots of different steps, but it’s still REALLY worth doing. Here are the tools you need (it’s very expensive, wait for it…):

  • A packet of sticky notes
  • A sharpie for each person
  • A wall (or a whiteboard, window, or table. You just need enough space to work easily)
  • At least one other person from your team (this is MUCH better done as a team sport).

OK, so it’s not expensive, but it does require some serious thinking time to get a good result.

First, list out the main processes in your business. For a planning business, these might be:

  • Onboarding new clients
  • Preparing SOAs
  • Implementing advice
  • Client reviews
  • Marketing your business
  • Monthly payroll/book-keeping
  • Preparing for annual compliance audit
  • Etc, etc

As you can see, none of them say ‘financial planning software’ or ‘CRM’ or ‘digital document signing’ or ‘twitter’.

Just the activity of writing down the list of processes in your business can give you clarity about what you do and don’t need software to do for you. For instance, if you outsource paraplanning, then I’m not really sure why you would pay for Coin or Xplan. Conversely, if you do lots of coaching with your clients around cashflow management, then paying for MyProsperity or MoneySoft is potentially worth the investment.

Now that you have a list of processes, choose which process you want to sort out/change/support better/integrate with technology. It’s time for the sticky notes and the sharpies. You simply write each step on a sticky note and stick them in order along the wall. You can even get fancy and use different coloured sticky notes for different people. Or not. Whatever works dude.

The process of sticking sticky notes to a wall will quickly uncover any gaps, inconsistencies or disagreements. It can be very disconcerting to realise that you don’t in fact have a clear process, but hey, that’s what this is all about! If things are a real mess, then ignore what you are currently doing and design the process from the ground up. These are your sticky notes, and your process.

Once you’ve mapped everything out, you can then work out what you would need from a software solution to capitalise on the opportunities or close the gaps. And as you already know I’m sure, software can’t solve everything! You might need to modify a process first, test it out, and then look to support it with software. Whatever you do, don’t spend money and time buying and implementing software if your processes aren’t sorted out first. Your team will hate you, you will waste money, and worst of all, waste your precious time.

To add into the mix, you can also consider what the goals or outcomes are for each process. Is the current software solution supporting or hindering achieving those goals. For instance, take on-boarding clients. Your goals might be:

  • Implement advice and get paid within 3 months
  • Deliver such a great experience that the client refers to you at least one person
  • Keep the total cost of on-boarding (most of which will be staff member time) under $1,000.

Or they might be completely different! The point is, depending on what you want out of the process, you might be willing to pay serious $ for software or you might not. Understanding your goals will of course help you decide which software (if any) best meets your needs.

And lastly, don’t get sucked in by the promise of extra features, or a big discount. Free software that doesn’t work will cost you money. And lots of features that you won’t use are just pointless. Conversely, just because something is super expensive, doesn’t mean it will deliver either! It’s all about the features that your process, in your business, needs the most.

If you have a question, or you’re keen but don’t know where to start, feel free to get in touch.