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This is The Perfect RIA, in case you didn’t know. Bringing you all the strategies to help your business grow. Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat? Sit back and listen in while you feel the beat. Another myth bites the dust…
Matthew Jarvis: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Perfect RIA Podcast. I am your host, Matthew Jarvis. And with me today, is none other than the legend himself, Michael Kitces. Michael, how are you today?
Michael Kitces: I’m doing well, Matthew, how are you?
Matthew Jarvis: I’m doing good. Michael, I have to confess, as you probably know, the first thing that comes up whenever your name comes up in casual conversation, is does Michael ever sleep, which you assure us that you do.
Michael Kitces: I do actually because I’m very into data and numbers and such, which includes the measured self. So, I’ve got a Fitbit. I actually track my sleeping. I really do sleep. It’s not quite eight hours, it’s about seven hours a night. But yes, I really do sleep.
Now, I’ll admit like there’s a lot of work, play with the kids and sleep. I don’t have the most robust social life these days. Something’s got to give a little, but yes, I really do sleep. I’ve just gotten pretty good at getting a lot into my day.
Matthew Jarvis: Well, and I know that’s a fun one to joke about with advisors, Michael doesn’t sleep. The takeaway I always have is the amount of intentionality that has to go on.
You have the same 24 hours that every advisor does, whether it’s an advisor working with 40 clients or yourself running multiple rapidly growing company with dozens, hundreds of employees all over the place. So, the level of intentionality that must exist in your life has got to be off the charts.
Michael Kitces: It’s very true. I kind of started down that road, I guess, five or six years ago, reading Greg McKeown’s, Essentialism, which if no one’s read it, fantastic book to read.
And so, he has this wonderful quote that I may slightly bastardize, but something in the effect of, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”
They say no more often and that brings the intentionality to say, what are the few things I’m going to do that really have the maximal drive, the maximal impact, the maximal reach to do and accomplish whatever I’m going to do.
And I have spent a lot of time over the past several years, kind of living that journey of, yes, there’s a lot of stuff I do probably slightly more than what most rational human beings would do.
But kind of that pales in comparison to how many things I say no to so that I can be as intentional as possible about the few things I say yes to, and how I allocate my time to them.
And so, I spend a lot and even down to how I plan my year, how I plan my months, how I plan my calendar every week, all built around am I really making sure that I’m allocating time in the most maximal ways and directions so that I can do the stuff that I do and be present for all the stuff that I want to be present for.
Matthew Jarvis: I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, Michael, but I had never occurred to me that you must have an endless list of things you have said no to.
Sort of from the outside, it looks like well, Michael’s doing everything. He’s got all these things going, he’s speaking at these conferences. And I’m embarrassed to admit it had never occurred to me that you must have a list a hundred times as long of things you say, no, I can’t also do that.
Michael Kitces: Yeah. Well, honestly, for me, it comes twofold. A, I am one of those visiony types. So, oh my God, I’ve got an idea for like another 15 businesses after the six or seven I’ve already got.
So, yes, just internally driven, like the brain’s always just … it’s just part of how I’m wired. I look at the world and see the gaps and not in a negative way, but like no one’s doing that thing. Someone should do that thing. The world would be better if someone did that thing. So, I’m going to find some people and we’re going to go do that thing.
So, I get a lot of that, because it’s just how my brain is wired, but there is a phenomenon as well. And I lived it over my career. It’s sort of one of the unfair realities of what happens as businesses start growing and gain some size momentum, is as your business grows and gain size momentum, you get more known for what you do.
And when you get more known for what you do, people start reaching out more to say, “Hey, I’d love to do this thing, I’d love to work with you on this thing, we should partner on this thing, we should tackle this new opportunity.”
And I still remember back — I look at some of the opportunities we get now and I’m like I really wish you called me like 10 years ago when I was really struggling to get going. And it really would’ve been helpful to have some of these opportunities.
And now, this is coming in, I’m like yeah, I really can’t do this on top of everything else, but I would’ve loved to do this if you had called me when I actually needed opportunity.
And just there is this sort of weird unfairness that a lot of the time, some better opportunities come once you’ve already gained momentum, when you don’t “need it” quite as much as maybe you do early on.
But that does create an interesting challenge for anybody that’s spent some time actually growing and scaling up their firm, which is the more you grow and have some compounding success, the more opportunities come.
And if you’re not careful, you say yes, the more opportunities that are coming and you actually lose the focus on all the things that made you successful in the first place. And it actually slows you down.
McKeown actually writes about this as well. He calls it The Paradox of Success, that the focus we often have, because there isn’t nothing else going on at the beginning, that lets you get traction with your business, eventually brings more opportunities. And if you don’t say no to a lot of them, you take advantage of so many of the opportunities, you lose all the things that made you successful in the first place and your growth flat lines. And suddenly, you lose that momentum.
Matthew Jarvis: That’s an incredible insight, Michael. And I think again, as an outsider, it’s easy to look and say, well, I get why that makes sense to you, Michael.
One of the things we want to talk about today is even for a solo advisor. Even for an advisor, one person, two people, three people, a small team — you still have to say no to a lot of things. Even if that a lot of things is how much time am I going to spend reading the Wall Street Journal?
Or it’s the things I say yes to, how do I do them with intentionality, how do I do them efficiently, even in what we might call a small firm.
Michael Kitces: Well, absolutely. So, I launched our platform in 2008 and for the first, basically 10 years again, in sort of that spirit of intentionality, like I was very intentional in keeping our Kitces platform small.
I found some business partners, corelated some related businesses. That’s where New Planner Recruiting and XY Planning Network and AdvicePay, and some of the others came from.
But that kitces.com platform was very tight for almost the entirety of the first 10 years, it was myself and like a virtual assistant right-hand person who came with me on that journey and a handful of contractors. And that was it.
And it was only in 2019 that I even made the decision to say, okay, I’m actually ready to make what we’re doing on the Kitces platform bigger. I’d spent a long time saying I didn’t want to make it bigger because then I’d have to manage people. And I did managing people in the first decade of my career, not my strengths. I’m like I don’t want to do that.
Read Gino Wickman’s Rocket Fuel, realized I don’t have to do that, I can find a managing director whose job is to do that, COO. So, I hired that COO, everybody reports to her. She reports to me, I have one direct report; made my life easier for growing and scaling the business.
But for the first 10 years, I was a highly leveraged solo practitioner. By intentional design, that’s what I wanted the business to look like. And it meant I had to be super careful about what I said yes to and what I said no to. And frankly, I was decently good at that for five years. And then I was really bad at that for two or three years as more growth came and more opportunity came.
And it started burying me around 2015, and I went through two or three years of changing the systems and structures that I have around myself to try to unbury myself from what I’d done to myself, by taking on too many things because the flywheel started getting going and all these cool opportunities started coming, like “Well, that sounds cool. I want to do that.”
Also, I was like I working 70 hours a week and this is not healthy. And so, I’ve gotten that number down now, but that’s where I’d gotten about 2015/2016 because I kept the intentionality of being solo. I liked that structure. I love what I could do as a single practitioner.
Matthew Jarvis: The freedom, the flexibility, yeah.
Michael Kitces: But my no filter was not a good no filter.
Matthew Jarvis: That’s awesome.
Michael Kitces: And in essence, what I didn’t realize is that as your business grows and evolves, whether you want to grow multi-person businesses or staying solo, you need some kind of filter that says, how do I determine if this is a good opportunity for me — a client, a partnership, a relationship, whatever it is; it comes at us from a lot of different directions. And if you don’t get clear on what your filter is, eventually you overload and over capacity yourself.
And as the business grows, the filter has to move and change. A lot of us do that indirectly. That’s why we do things like we raise minimums over time. It’s a version of I’m approaching capacity, I can’t just take anybody I talk to anymore. I need a filter to make sure that I’m intentionally focusing on the people that I can serve most effectively that move the business forward.
So, minimums are one version of that, but there are lots of ways to have filters. If you don’t get clear on what your filters are, eventually, you start burying yourself. And I lived that very painful for a while.
Matthew Jarvis: I really like that idea of filters. And you and I are going to talk about this in more detail in Office Hours this Friday on July 15th, which you can sign up for by going to Kitces.com and looking for Office Hours.
But I think the filter applies to delivering value to clients as well. It’s easy for an advisor, and I know you’ve seen this to say, well, I’m going to do financial planning and I’m going to do investment management and I’m going to do long-term care insurance, and I’m going to do Medicaid plan. And I’m going to do mortgage refinance. There has to be a filter on what values you are going to provide to clients.
Michael Kitces: Yeah, it’s so true. And to me, there’s really actually two filters that go with that, that kind of go hand in hand with each other.
So, the first is essentially, is most of us get to a point, these days, we build recurring revenue businesses; AUM fees, subscription fees, whatever it is because it’s different in a commission-based environment. That’s pretty much just like find more people who buy a thing.
Matthew Jarvis: Of course, yeah, we’ll cut that aside.
Michael Kitces: Once you’re in a recurring revenue model, just the whole picture shifts, because you do that long enough and all of a sudden, like you wake up on January 1st, I got hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars of revenue. And it’s like all I have to do is give these people awesome service and not screw anything up, and this is going to go well.
So, we tend to get really focused on what can I do to do more for all these clients, but we tend to have a wide range of clients and it’s really hard to do like a thing that everybody’s going to love.
So, the first layering of filtering that has to come in is what can I do that can impact the most clients in a sustained manner? If there’s one thing I can do that hit’s 70 clients that’s a lot better than doing 30 things that hit two or three clients each to get to the same number. Because I could do one thing much more scalably for 70 people than doing 30 odd things, onesies, twosies, threesies at a time.
So, there’s one layer of filtering that’s essentially like what can I do that all of my clients would like, probably won’t be all. That most of my clients would like, that a plurality of my clients-
Mathew: Almost 80%.
Michael Kitces: … will like, just so you can decide like what things am I going to do that in that spirit of intentionality, that does the most good for the most clients. So, I don’t just get stuck with so many one-offs that I actually hardly reach any of the clients because you can’t do an unlimited number of one-offs.
The second challenge that goes with it and is sort of in the spirit of filters, the second filter that goes with it, it’s actually not on the, what are you going to do end, it’s who are you doing it for? It’s getting clear on who your ideal client is in the first place.
The challenge that most of us grew up with, because if you’ve been in the business for more than 10 years, you probably grew up in a more sales business development oriented, at least partially commission-based environment. The lesson in that environment was a qualified prospect is anyone who has enough money to buy the thing that you’re selling.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah, that was the filter.
Michael Kitces: If you got enough monthly savings, you can buy my whole life insurance policy was how I was trained at least. If you got large enough retirement account, I can roll it over into an annuity or mutual fund or whatever it is that you grew up with in the sales environment.
But there is no consistency to the clientele beyond they have enough money to buy blank. And that’s fine or at least well enough in a product business. When you run a service business where you’re trying to figure out what value adds to provide, this gets really problematic.
In essence, what I hear from a lot of us is like “Well, I don’t know what to do for all my clients because I got a hundred clients and they’re all different.” That is the actual problem.
Matthew Jarvis: That’s problem number one, yes.
Michael Kitces: Because you have a hundred different clients instead of trying to figure out well, if I found my ideal client group that I really want to pursue, well, yeah, there’s a dozen that I just really like working with that are high value, they appreciate me. They all have this commonality — they’re retirees or they’re doctors or they love going fly fishing with me, and I just want to go all in on fly fisherman, whatever it is.
When you get clear on them and then you go after more people like them, that’s how you eventually get to a point where you can say like I’m going to do this one thing and all my clients are going to love it. Because they’re all the same type of client that want the same type of thing from me, and then it gets a lot easier.
So, there’s a filter of what can I do that lots of my clients would like. Or if I’ve got a wide spat of clients, not very helpful to do proactive RMD planning because 80% of them aren’t in RMD phase yet.
Even like I know you have a fantastic guardrail strategy, like doesn’t work if the majority of my clients are young folks. I probably need to do like an employee benefits review. Employee benefits review, not so helpful if a whole bunch of my clients are retired because they don’t have employee benefits anymore. They’re not in the payroll anymore.
So, part of it’s the filtering exercise of what can I at least do that’ll hit a bunch of them. The longer-term structural opportunity is can I reduce the variability of my clients. I can’t wave the want to do that overnight because I got who I got. I can’t replace them very quickly.
But coming at that with intentionality to say, if I could reduce the variability of my clients, it would be a lot easier to provide them more value adds and deliverables. Because they just have to make one awesome deliverable, and if they’re all basically the same thing, they’re all going to love the deliverable.
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Matthew Jarvis: Michael, I almost wonder for advisors, like you said that have a hundred, 200, 400, 1000 clients that are across the spectrum. It’s almost as if you’re segmenting not based on this ABC, which is a model I don’t like and we can talk about another day. But you’re almost segmenting by what value adds could you provide.
To your examples, which ones are approaching RMD, which ones have employee benefits, which ones are concerned about beneficiaries? And again, like you said, a group of them at once, I’m going to go to all of these people with a beneficiary review, and I’m going to go to this group with an employee benefits review and I’m going to go to this group.
What you’re not going to do and what’s not scalable is to say, well, I’ll just go through each 100 clients one at a time and I’ll find a value add for each one. You’ll run out of days in the year before you get to the end of the list.
Michael Kitces: And to me, it is interesting, a segmenting exercise and we can have the whole segmenting ABC conversation another day. But so, just conceptually, so let’s say I’ve got a hundred clients to make the math easy.
Matthew Jarvis: Easy math, yeah.
Michael Kitces: The reason I do an ABC segmentation, is I’m essentially saying I can only do so many value adds for so many clients. So, one way to apply a filter to say, which ones am I going to reach, is I’m going to try to reach the plurality of the revenue.
And the easiest way to reach the plurality of the revenue, when most of us kind of have an 80/20 thing going on, bulk of the profits comes through a small number of clients — essentially, I’m going to carve off my top 10 or 20% of my clients because it’s only 10 or 20% of the people, but it might be 30, 50, 80% of the revenue or profits. I’m going to focus my value adds there. It’s a way to determine sort of a plurality effect.
The problem though is my top 10 or 20 clients might all be different people with different things. I started drawing down my top 10 clients, I got an executive at a company, I got two business owners, I got a high-income doc as a solo practice. I got three retirees, I got this person that’s doing a liquidity event. And what can I do for all of them?
The answer is like basically not much aside from have a really rocking high-end client appreciation event because at least, they all maybe sort of like fancy high-end things. That’s what we end out with is the value add. Because I can’t find any other commonality aside from they’re really affluent, and then we try to come up with a thing affluent people will like.
And another way to look at it from the segmentation, and I love how you frame that, is if I segment them differently, my executives, my business owners, my retirees, my W-2 employee clients will give you a different kind of segmentation and it will look different depending on your practice. Someone’s going to do that and realize well, wow, almost 50% of my revenue is small business owners.
And someone’s going to look at it and say, well, wow, 70% of my revenue is retirees. And like someone will find a different segmentation. And it might not be all your biggest clients, but it’ll be a critical mass of clients in revenue that says I could do one thing for this segment and actually serve more revenue, be more value added to a larger segment, more efficiently because I can do one thing that’s awesome for them. And actually, reach far more than just going after the top 10 or 20% by revenue or assets or AA clients alone.
So, it’s built around how do you set the filter to figure out where you’re focusing your resources, but I agree like there’s a powerful framing when you start saying, what if my filter isn’t just amount of dollars because it’s really hard to find the common value add for them. And you filter and segment by other means that let you get to ways to do one thing that would impact a lot of them.
And if you just start segmenting that way and sit down, look at your practice, you’ll see at some point, here’s where most of my clients and revenue are, I’m going to make a value add right there first.
Matthew Jarvis: I love that approach. And of course, there are a few value adds, I think that would work across the board: beneficiary review, Roth conversions. You just had an article … well, when we were recording this back in June, you had an article on the Kitces website about Roth conversions. That’s a discussion you can have across the board. Estate planning’s a discussion, risk management’s a discussion you can have across the board.
But again, I like that idea, let’s segment this. And I don’t mean this episode to just be a teaser for our Friday Office Hours together. But as you segment those and then say, great, this group of doctors, they could all benefit from this value add, cool. How do I deliver that 20 times in a repeatable way that’s delivering massive value to each one? I think that’s kind of the crux of some of this as we go through it.
Michael Kitces: At some point you get down to what is the value add, what’s the thing I’m going to do?
And I think part of the distinction I would make as well in thinking about this — I think you said it well; there’s a range of things that applies to almost everyone. Insurance reviews, estate reviews, a lot of that, and I’m a big fan of those as well.
But here’s the mindset shift that I would give a little bit, is those are still largely time and service-based things. I can say, hey, this fall, surge meetings, I’m going to do an insurance review for every client. And that’s cool, I’m a fan of it. We can do it, there’s some systematizing you got if you know you got insurance review coming up for every client.
But the value is still added because I do a one-hour insurance review meeting times a hundred clients, so I spend a hundred hours on it. It’s still pretty time-intensive. That’s ultimately a service, it’s a conversation-based value add. At the end of the day, we have to have conversations with clients, and meaningful conversations. I don’t want to belittle conversations at all.
Matthew Jarvis: There’s a place for it for sure, yep.
Michael Kitces: But when we frame our value add around, well, I can have another meeting about blank and talk about blank, we’re still back in what’s largely a very limited scalability effect because it is 100% reliant on me saying across from the clients and having this conversation and heaven forbid, I find a planning opportunity that I’m going to follow up on that, there’s more conversation and work to do.
So, it’s challenging, and the distinction I would make — and I know Matt, some of what you guys teach in the TPR community and buys this well, is it’s about getting away from just time and service-based value adds. That could be a part of it. I don’t want to say don’t meet with clients.
Matthew Jarvis: For sure.
Michael Kitces: But what can we do that’s a deliverable, that’s something that we can produce because at the most basic level, that is a one too many repeatable system value. I’m going to sit down with every client and talk about estate planning is a time-based version.
I’m going to make a beneficiary review form that extracts the beneficiary designations out of custodian dump, puts them onto a report, sends it out to every client — that’s an entirely technology systems thing. I can treat my staff to do that. I don’t have to spend any time on that once we build the system.
That now, is instead of saying, I’m going to have a hundred estate planning conversations and spend a hundred hours, that is I’m going to spend a couple hours with my team building the system. They’re going to spend some hours sending that out, although their time is more cost-effective for me from a business end.
And now, I get to do a hundred touches to a hundred clients without spending a hundred hours in meetings. I’ll spend a couple hours in meetings with whoever calls and says “Oh my God, we got to change these.” And we’ll engage the planning opportunity from there.
So, thinking about like value adds that ultimately are reliant on a meeting are still not really that scalable, because it’s constrained by our time. We can be productive about them. It’s like surges to me is a fantastic way to be productive around meetings because there’s a lot of time blocking that’s naturally built into surging.
But it’s not really scalable in the same way because it’s still built around this fundamental constraint, which is, I only got so much time and like mental energy to sit in one client meeting after another. When you try to boil it down to systematizing, not just the service, but deliverables, that to me, is when you start kind of unlocking the next value of productivity and efficiency.
Matthew Jarvis: For sure. Well, Michael, I love this. Obviously, you and I are totally on the same page on this; the value adds, how do we scale it, how do we systematize it, even for a small practice. Even 20, 30, 50 clients, it has to be scaled, it has to be efficient.
Again, you and I are going to be speaking this Friday in Office Hours. Everyone listening can go to Kitces.com and sign up for Office Hours. Of course, members of Kitces.com, which … if you’re not a member of Kitces.com, something’s wrong here. You’ve got to be a member. I’ve been a member for as long as it’s been an option.
But Michael, a takeaway action item, even if people who can’t make the Office Hours, a takeaway action item from this episode, what would you recommend if there’s one thing they need to do?
Michael Kitces: I think the takeaway action item would be take a little bit of time to think about what the segments of your practice are. And not the segments ABC, the segments of just who’s got groupings and commonalities: retirees, executives, business owners, a certain profession — we’ll all do our own cross section of what that looks like.
Just take a little time to think about what they are, try to peg some numbers to it, even if it’s just rough. Although, if you want to go down this in the full on, work with your team, tag every client in your CRM, figure out what your segment looks like, pull some numbers to look at it — how many of them are there, what’s their revenue, what’s their assets, whatever your key business metric is.
And just dwell on that. Produce that look and look at what you see. And I think for most advisors, if you take that kind of look at your business, you’re going to see some things differently in ways that can move you forward.
Matthew Jarvis: I love that. I love it. Well, Michael, thank you so much for your time today. Excited to be speaking with you again on Friday. And of course, thank you for all the great work that you do in our industry. It’s been a pleasure to follow everything you’ve been up to for the last … well, how long has it been now? If we’re in 2022, you started the Kitces.com in 2008?
Michael Kitces: 08 was the original launch because right before, the financial crisis was a great time to launch a business. We’re 14 odd years in with … it’s been a heck of a winding trail and journey along the way. But yeah, having fun with it and congratulations as well for growth of the TPR community and this podcast.
Matthew Jarvis: Thank you so much. One last action item for listeners; go to the Wayback Machine. If you’re not familiar with the Wayback Machine, it’s archived the internet over time and look at Kitces.com in the earliest Wayback.
And we all cringe when we look at our original stuff, but I think sometimes, we see and you talk about this (the iceberg) — we see like this beautiful Kitces site and 18 employees and all this stuff.
It didn’t start that way. It started with Michael on a webpage typing by himself, “Here’s my thoughts about the industry.” So, don’t ever think that this is the bar you have to meet.
Michael Kitces: It’s so true. It’s fun to me every now and then, we go back and look in the Wayback Machine, like just if anyone wants to have fun, like go look and see. And just all I will say was in 2008 when we launched that site, we got so many compliments about like how sharp and professional that site looked. That’s what I’ll seed you with.
Matthew Jarvis: It’s a great site. I don’t mean any disrespect with it, yeah.
Michael Kitces: Now go look at what a good site looks like back in 2008.
Matthew Jarvis: I love it. Michael, thanks again for your time today. And I look forward to talking to you on Friday and for everyone, happy planning.
Michael Kitces: Awesome. Absolutely. Thank you, Matthew, take care everyone.
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