5 Life Lessons I Would’ve Taught My 20-Year-Old Self as an Advisor

We’ve all made mistakes. It’s simply a part of improving yourself and your business. In fact, I wish I perceived failure 30 years ago the way I do today. But, that’s the adventurous journey of an entrepreneur. I don’t have the benefit of travelling back in time, knocking on my dorm room door in 1983, and lecturing my younger, shaggy-haired self about how to build the perfect business. No amount of screaming or shaking will solve that. I learned the hard way, and as successful as I’ve become, there are still countless words of wisdom I’d share with any advisor who remotely resembles my younger self.

If you’re looking ahead at the next 5, 10, 20, or even 30 years, take it from me, growing a sustainable business in today’s hyper-competitive environment is a challenging obstacle. But, there’s hope! No matter where you are in the maturity of your business, there are several actions you can take to improve your business and take back meaningful balance in your life.

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1. Be a Librarian – Not the Library

When I started my business I thought the key to success, especially as a financial advisor, was having all the answers. Every. Single. One. I’d tell myself, “Well, I’d rather ask for forgiveness later than permission now.” After all, how could my clients possibly depend on me and believe in my value if they didn’t receive all the answers to their financial challenges directly from me? Turns out, my clients didn’t think that at all. The moment I realized clients didn’t expect me to be an astrophysicist in all things finance was the moment I found relief. It also forced me to think about how I was going to grow my firm with talented people who could focus on these specialty areas. Be honest about what you don’t know and turn to your team for answers.

2. Focus on Your “Main Thing” – Don’t Get Distracted

Our profession today is full of competitors and competition. Elite advisors know the difference between the two. A million-dollar firm down the street executing better than you and offering the same services is a competitor. A new robo-advisor creeping into the market is competition. One is a real threat to your business because of a nearly identical offering, while the other is trying to offer an alternative that indirectly takes business away from your firm. You must know what you’re exceptional at in order to exploit that differentiator, and then keep your focus on improving it and doing it better than anyone else. My focus for Carson Wealth is leadership, growth, and development. Growing a business can present many opportunities to diverge from where your value is, so don’t get sidetracked. It will kill your business and your team.

3. Deliver Solutions – Not Products

A shift is happening in our profession. One that has hit nearly every other industry. Investors are interrupted by thousands of marketing messages every single day, so to stand out, you must know how to make an instant connection. That means appealing to their needs and challenges versus touting your products. When I started in this profession, I sold the same thing to every door I knocked on, no matter the need. I was in it to make money instead of making a lasting impact on my clients’ lives. Move from being a megaphone to a magnet. Make your service so undeniably valuable your potential clients can’t help but ask for more. It’s the only way you’ll survive.

4. Don’t Hire Average Players – You Need Rock Stars to Compete Today

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with an Omaha billionaire years ago as a young advisor. I was infatuated with what made a business successful and sustainable. There had to be a secret. So I asked this well-established entrepreneur, “If there was one thing you could trace back to your success throughout all these years what would it be?” I sat there, expecting some sort of secret knowledge to be passed down to my eager ears. Instead, he calmly responded, “Oh, that’s simple. I hired the best people I could find and got the hell out of their way.” It didn’t seem ground-breaking then, but as I’ve grown (both as a person and a leader) I can tell you it’s the best advice I’ve ever received.

As Jim Collins puts it, you can’t hesitate to “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Without A players giving all they can each and every day (something I like to call discretionary effort) and working toward a purpose, your firm will never realize its full potential. Find those who align with your culture, your values, and your vision – and don’t look back, because there will be no reason.

5. Balance Leads to Growth – Growth Leads to Balance

I was blessed – and cursed – with my dad’s work ethic. Starting a business was thrilling to me. I worked the long hours, drove thousands of miles, and feverishly studied the profession. I used the farmer mentality in me to grow through pure grit. My dad used to lecture me in my first year of business, “Ronny, you have unbelievable persidity.” “What’s that?” I asked.

He responded, “You have this naivety about what will and won’t work. You just try everything. And, you keep going with unbelievable persistence.  You have this innocent-like unknowing.”

He was right. I was totally an unconscious incompetent. I didn’t know much about how to solve a particular challenge, but I tried everything, so I eventually figured it out. And, it served me well over the years. But, something was off. The balance in my life was lost. I rarely had time to enjoy my passions or my family.

Today, I am deliberate about maintaining balance in my life because it revealed something to me. Balance ultimately led to growth in my business, and the growth I experienced then led back to balance. I focused on fewer things, highlighted the firm’s core competency, hired amazing people, and, as a result, found more time to enjoy life. It breathed new life into my business and gave me a renewed source of inspiration.

Always analyze your decision-making. My goal every day is to move toward a decision that tells me “I’m glad I did” versus “I wish I had.” Use that as your test and the path you take in order to maintain that healthy balance will make itself clear. I can’t jump back in time, but you can by taking this advice. Don’t waste another day, month, or year directionless. Take the five things that took me years to learn and go build a better business now. One that is sustainable, successful, and, most of all, purposeful. Life’s too short for anything else.


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