Thought Inward Then Energy Outward
Two decades ago, I was extremely frustrated with my life. I wanted to make changes, but didn’t know how. So, I learned how. Then, I faced fear and adversity. After I conquered them, I became unstoppable.
Prior to age 25, I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. My childhood dream was to play basketball in the NBA, but I knew that I needed a more realistic goal. In high school, I was in the accelerated program and graduated near the top of my class. In college, I was in the honors program and earned an academic scholarship. Although I got good grades, I didn’t love any of my courses. I couldn’t decide on a major and declared a general one when I was forced to. Like many high school and college graduates find, attending school didn’t reveal my vocation. Maybe my first “real job” would?
For the few years up to and including 1999 when the movie was released, I lived the cult classic Office Space. I was the main character Peter Gibbons, my manager was the supporting character Bill Lumbergh, and the rest of my coworkers rounded out the cast. The cubicle neighborhood, inane conversations, and “TPS reports” were eerily similar.
Naively, I thought that I would find success and happiness simply by working for a big company. However, I soon realized that I was in a dead-end job and a mind-numbing environment with a zero-chance of finding anything. Like many recent college graduates find, my first job didn’t reveal my vocation. Maybe a part-time graduate program would?
Although I got great grades, I still didn’t love any of my courses. Even grad school didn’t reveal my vocation. Maybe a full-time doctoral program would? Stop! I was a pretty smart kid, but smarts and schools weren’t enough. I badly wanted, no needed, to find the career that best fit me. Time to try a different approach.
One of my many jobs during undergrad was a bookstore clerk. Somewhere in the bookstore, I hoped was the answer. It was! These are the 3 books that changed my life…
First, I determined my aptitudes. Second, I determined my personality type. Third, I discovered my passions. After some research, I found the best “vocation combination” for me. It was an amazing feeling!
The vocation was Financial Advisor. It perfectly combined my passions to help people, educate them, and make their lives better. I got those from my father who was a teacher and administrator in our hometown’s public schools. It also perfectly matched my half-extrovert/half-introvert personality. I liked talking to anyone anywhere about anything which worked well for sales and marketing, but I also liked analyzing numbers behind the scenes which worked well for planning and investing.
Now, I knew my calling. Soon, I would be calling.
Fast forward to early 2000 and I’m a 26-year-old, first-year financial advisor. I didn’t have any money and didn’t know anyone who had any money. Not a good combination. The company paid me an $18,000 draw on commission which was even worse than the $24,000 salary I just left. With the decrease in income, I had to decrease my expenses, so I moved back home with Mom and Dad. The professional wardrobe I could afford to buy consisted of only: 3 suits, 6 shirts, 12 ties, 1 watch, 1 belt, and 1 pair of shoes.
This job had goals and deadlines. If I didn’t acquire 5 or more planning clients (i.e., individuals or couples) in the first 10 weeks, I would be immediately terminated. If I didn’t acquire 25 or more planning clients in the first 52 weeks, I would probably be terminated. This job had no participation trophies.
My “office” was a recently cleaned-out broom closet with no window and a solid door. Also, I had to share it! My office mate’s desk was so close to mine that we couldn’t open our drawers at the same time. Occasionally, people walking by our open door would laugh at us. All we had on our desks were: pens, pads, phones, White Pages, and paper leads from the company.
Most of the leads given to us first-year advisors were, shall I say, interesting. Some of the leads were recent and qualified, but the others were what management called “refreshed”. Those leads were old and recycled from former advisors, or from current advisors who gave up on them. Those prospects had been called by multiple advisors dozens of times over the previous few years. Management often told us that “A lead is a lead is a lead” and “They’re so old they’re new”.
Back in those days, financial advisor success rates were terrible. Because of the bull market in the 1990’s, a lot of people tried to become an advisor, then found out quickly how hard it was. For new advisors, it was a sales job first and advising job second. Most advisors at other firms failed within the first year, and most of those survivors failed within a couple more. The planning firm I chose had the best first-year program in financial services at the time with outstanding training and support. Even with that, many of my firm’s advisors failed within the first year, and many of the survivors failed within a couple more.
One of my favorite movies is the award-winning Gladiator. A few months before it was released in mid-2000, my mentality was the same as the main character Maximus. I had a dream, was prepared to fight, would not be defeated, and would eventually earn my freedom. Gladiators had an unconquerable will to stay alive, and built resilience to achieve victory. Alas, I knew that many of my comrades would die in battle.
To sum up my life at the time, I had: no money or connections, a shared closet for an office, a stack of old leads, and a phone. In addition, I was starting a business from scratch in an industry with a very low probability of success. Awesome! When I told my friends what I was doing, they thought I was crazy. Facing thousands of phone calls, hundreds of meetings, and countless rejections over the next few years, I went back to the bookstore. These are the 3 books that saved my life…
First, I realized that I’m the sum of my thoughts. Second, I learned how successful people had directed their thoughts. Third, I learned how to communicate more effectively. After some research, I created a business plan. I was ready to enter the Colosseum!
Up to this point, I had done a lot of reading and thinking inward. After this point, I would need to transmit massive amounts of energy outward.
Like most things in life, success as a first-year advisor was a numbers game. Before the “Do Not Call List”, it was a phone calling game. My firm’s weekly goals were: 400 dials, 100 talk-tos, 30 conversations, 10 appointments scheduled, 3 appointments held, and 1 client acquired. To make that formula potentially work, one had to smile and dial on the front-end.
Management gave me and my 2 dozen classmates flip books with scripts and we had 30 minutes of calling “role plays” before each 2-3 hour “phone clinic”. Even after inspirational motivation and constructive criticism, many of my classmates just weren’t driven enough to do the activity, or strong enough to deal with the rejection. During phone clinics, I could hear down the hall many of them talking negatively, and a few crying occasionally. Some of them constantly went to the bathroom, or outside for smoke breaks, to avoid the pain. Some would call family and friends, so it would sound like they were having conversations to managers walking the hall, and look like they were making dials on the phone records.
One by one over my first year, old and new classmates resigned or vanished. “This is too hard” and “This will never work” were common utterances from failing and failed advisors. They felt pressure from the goals and adversity, then panicked. Each time someone quit, thoughts of quitting and fears of failure crept in to my mind and heart. So, I morphed them in to beliefs and emotions of success. “This is hard, but it will work.” and “Think long-term, not short-term.” was what I told myself. As opposed to my quitter colleagues, I got excited about the goals and adversity, then focused. Basically, I learned to love the grind.
Every day, I’d wake up determined to succeed. I arrived at the office by 8:30 a.m. before classes started at 9:00 a.m., and stayed until 8:30 p.m. after the required 8:00 p.m. That added 1 hour of work to each weekday. Lunch was from 12:00 to 1:00. Some of my classmates would leave the office early, and return from a restaurant late. Not me. I went to the gym next door from 12:05 to 12:50, ate a power bar at 12:55, and was energized for the next 7.5 hours. Saturday’s required time was 9:00 to 12:00, but I skipped lunch and stayed until 3:00. Those 3 hours plus the 5 from weekdays added a full 8-hour workday to my week.
Every class, I’d take copious notes and listen to the instruction versus just hearing it. Every phone clinic, I wouldn’t leave my desk and would call only prospects. When I saw first-year advisors not putting in the work, I’d avoid them and hang out with the ones who were. When I had opportunities to hang out with veteran advisors, I jumped at those chances to learn from them.
Because mirroring success is much easier than reinventing the wheel, I compiled strategies from veteran advisors for each cold call scenario. Busy signal? Would call back within 15-30 minutes. No answer? Wrote down the time and would try again at another time in 1-2 days. Answering machine? Left a professional message then tickled out a call for a different time 2-3 days later. Hang up? Called right back (those were my favorites). Not interested? Started a conversation. Yelled at? Still started a conversation. Objections? Handled them. Interested? Booked an appointment. I made over 500 dials before booking my first appointment, and remember that conversation to this day. Once I gained confidence from the repetitions and added personality to the conversations, appointments started coming in bunches.
Within my first 10 weeks, I acquired 5 planning clients and went from temporarily to officially hired. The fifth client was acquired with only a few days left before my potential termination date. The combined relief and exhilaration from beating the buzzer still ranks as one of the best feelings in my entire life. Within my first 52 weeks, I acquired a total of 40 planning clients and finished second the region. In my second year, another region promoted me to management. Outside of my parents, most of the other clients that I acquired in my first year were sourced from cold calls. The remaining clients were referred to me by a few of those cold-called clients.
Now, all of those prospects didn’t just show up to my office and sign up for financial plans. I had to meet with them for 1-2 hours and overcome: numerous objections, a lack of experience, a limited wardrobe, 20-something looks, and reverse age discrimination. Most of the prospective clients were 2-3 times older than me and had sons or grandsons my age. When it came to handling people’s money, the perception of older advisor as better advisor often became a prospect’s reality. Luckily for me, I was always more mature than my age, and an excellent listener.
Interestingly enough, a good number of those prospects told me in person that their family or others didn’t listen to them much anymore. I did, and it wasn’t just for the potential business. I genuinely enjoyed listening to their stories and learning about them. To paraphrase a collection of similar quotes, true wisdom is learning from other people’s mistakes and successes. I have based many things on personal advice from previous generations.
Over the past 20 years as a Financial Advisor, I’ve turned plenty of setbacks in to setups. Over the next 20, I’ll probably have to turn plenty more. The following paragraph contains some of the basic principles that I learned while building and growing my business.
Business isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. Get over it! There’s no entitlement in sales. There’s no crying in sales. Save the drama for your momma! You don’t deserve anything that you don’t earn. Failure to earn something is your fault, not anyone else’s. Don’t blame others or your circumstances! Success is an equal opportunity employer. It doesn’t care who you are or where you came from. Stop whining and complaining, have a goal and a plan, then work hard and smart! Fear lurks in the shadows. Adversity is around every corner. Take both of them head-on! My first advisor manager was an officer in the U.S. Marines. Improvise, adapt and overcome. Observe then attack! My first office building didn’t have a room where I could hide from my responsibilities, pet puppy dogs and lick ice cream cones, while everything outside would magically become OK. Activity, activity, and more activity. Realize that anything is possible!
I figured out what I wanted do with my life, then didn’t let anything or anyone (including myself) stop me. I thought, then I did. My passion became my purpose and profession. Those were all key. I was emotional about my passion, but didn’t get emotional during my adversity. That was the key.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my changes took years. Success takes patience. I’ve engaged well over 10,000 investors in conversation, and have learned something from every one of them. Experience takes time.
Today, I’m living my dream. I love what I do, and don’t feel that I work. Being a financial planner and manager comes naturally to me. After transitioning from an employee advisor to an independent advisor, I can provide a higher level of service and greater selection of products to my clients. I now own a successful business with many long-time clients, and most of my new clients are referrals from existing clients or other professionals. My cold calling days are long gone. Most importantly, I have the honor of helping people and improving lives.
The word “unstoppable” is an adjective. One definition is “Cannot be stopped from continuing or developing”. I constantly improve my professional knowledge through formal training. Using that definition, I’m still unstoppable.