You may hear colleagues talk about process, but what do they really mean? Is there a correct process to building a process? These questions may sound suspiciously like a mind game, but you might be surprised at where the answers take you. A few minutes to ponder the topic might lead to positive changes in the way you run your business.
The first definition on dictionary.com is “a systematic series of actions directed to some end.” The second is “a continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner.” Is there a better way to build a business than by creating processes - activities that systematically take place in a definite manner? Even those of us who are inclined to “wing it” know that improvisation only gets you so far.
It’s true: You can even define your process for creating processes. Consider this step-by-step approach to help you create a business development process. It’s similar to the one advisors learned in Scottrade® Advisor Service’s business growth workshop presented in 4 cities last year.
1) Understand your goal.
What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to improve the business development process you already have in place? Do you want to start over and create a process?
At Scottrade’s workshop, which was facilitated by the practice management firm ActiFi, several advisors mentioned that they found the business development process uncomfortable. They had a hard time talking about their value and selling their services. Nevertheless, they all recognized that it is essential for businesses to grow. Without growth, a business will stagnate and valuable staffers may leave for greener pastures.
So if your goal is growth, then ask: what kind? Do you know what kind of clients you want attract?
2) Organize and analyze.
Advisors know that the key to building the business they want is to build a pipeline of the right kind of clients—people who will be a good match in terms of needs, interests and personality. When you’re starting a business, the right client may be one with a pulse and a checkbook, but soon enough, most advisors get more specific.
To get on the path toward a more focused client list, analyze the people you serve. Which clients need the most advice? Which have a difficult circumstance, such as caregiving for an ailing parent or special-needs child, which requires extensive planning? Which ones are most (or least) likely to refer?
There are many ways to segment your existing clients—and some that will lead you to new prospects. Which of your clients serve on boards of directors of community organizations or other public bodies? Do you have a group of clients at the same corporation, and have you developed expertise in that company’s benefits and deferred compensation? These types of segments will lead you to better understand your expertise and to clarify your value to clients.
ActiFi suggests creating spreadsheets of your clients so you can segment them various ways. When you find the groups that work best for your business, you can add them to your CRM program and update them regularly.
ActiFi says a second group to organize and analyze is your referral sources. These may or may not be clients. What kind of expertise do they have, how long have you known them, how many people have they referred? How many referrals have become clients? How profitable are those clients? While you are willing to consider referrals from all sources, writing down these details may help you decide where to focus your ongoing efforts.
3) Every process should have well-defined steps.
What do you have to do to achieve your goal? What does success look like? The more you break down a complex process, such as business growth, into well-defined steps, the more likely you are to make it to the finish line.
Take, for example, prospecting, a process that should have its own series of steps. First, you may want to organize your contacts by categories such as life stage and amount of assets. Next, you should document action steps. What kind of preparation do you do for an initial meeting? Do you research people online before you talk to them? Finally, you may want to set up a regular meeting to look at your prospect list and assign action steps with your staff. Every action step should have an owner. This way, the process marches on.
4) Be uniform, be systematic, but be open to improvements.
The benefit of defining processes is that it helps your business become better organized and proactive. The downside of defining processes is that, if neglected, it can make business seem rigid and alienate your staff. So it’s important to allow the processes you use to evolve as your staff becomes more expert—and to continue to document them. That way, the processes remain alive.
The best processes make your business proactive. No one is waiting for the phone to ring and winging it once they pick up the receiver. Instead, you have engineered your business so people know what to do. You can align your resources to your goals and align your staffers with their talents. It becomes easier to track capacity and profitability.
Get ready. If you get comfortable with building processes, your business may thrive as a result.