business planning

Investing in (Y)our Future

Caitie Leibman image

If you’ve been following along, you know my intent to work to age 92 dates a long way back. Therefore, I wanted a practice that would last that long.

The more we thought about sustainability, the more we realized that mere survival to a certain point in time was not fair to you—nor a sound plan for us. So the goal became building an enterprise that could thrive for decades.

If we automate everything that works better when automated and get human understudies for all the remaining activities, the organization will be more durable. It will work more smoothly day to day, and it will be more likely to last for the years and decades ahead.

The next phase is falling into place. Caitie Leibman has joined the team full-time as Director of Communications. We foresee three main benefits:

  • Caitie will take over some communications-related duties now performed by Greg and me. This will give me more time to work with you one-on-one on your plans and planning. Greg will have more time for investment research.
  • Our communications program could stand improvement in a dozen ways I know about and many more that I cannot now conceive of. Caitie will bring these to fruition. (I’m particularly excited about the blog collections she is weaving into book form. Stay tuned.)
  • In time, Caitie will be writing in her own voice for new audiences, introducing 228 Main to new generations. Making sound planning and timeless investing strategies available to more people is an exciting part of sustainability.

These last several years we’ve used digital communications to stay close when personal circumstances turned time and geography into challenges. The digital presence we built proved to be far more valuable to you and to us than we dreamed; it makes sense for Caitie to become involved in the enterprise in this area first.

I’ll still be writing, of course. Caitie, with her degrees and experiences in writing and a firm grasp of the philosophy of our family firm, will be a major resource.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this, or anything else, please email us or call.

The Gong Show, Seminar Edition

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I spend most of my days working with you or for you on your investments and planning. A few days each year are spent at seminars and conferences, working to get better at working with you or for you.

It is great to find a new perspective or idea or tool that helps us with our work, especially delivered by an inspired and inspiring speaker. But sometimes things we see and hear are just not a good fit for our values and philosophies. The last seminar I attended had much that was helpful.

But the part that was not helpful was interesting. Reflecting on it, it had to do with a mismatch in philosophy.

One of the speakers was a consultant for a coaching outfit, one that works with financial advisors to help them grow their businesses. After the preliminaries, he began his presentation by asking attendees to visualize how much money they wanted to make, three years down the road, encouraging our ambitions. And then, write that number down in the notebook provided. Next, how many millions in client assets did we want, three years hence? Write that down.

Thinking about the future and setting goals is a familiar and valuable exercise. But it was what came next that made me think of The Gong Show.

(One of the first reality TV talent shows, The Gong Show featured amateur acts appearing before a panel of celebrity judges. A judge could end an audition by striking a loud gong.)

The next topic after the money exercise was about the importance of being client-focused. Before many words were said about how vital it is to be centered on clients, I heard the gong in my head and thought, “Too late. You already established that you are focused on money, not clients.”

We concluded long ago that the better off you are, the better off we are likely to be, down the road. So when I walk in the door of 228 Main each morning I think, “What can we do to grow the buckets?” Of course, that’s not the only thing. We also work on helping you use your resources in your real life, to spend well. It is all part of being better off. Our business objective is to improve your outcomes.

The better off you are, the better off we are likely to be. My income is a byproduct of how well or poorly we help you become better off. That fits the definition of client focus a lot more closely than having your results be a leftover effect of how much money I want to make.

There were other things in that seminar presentation that struck me as off, but if I had a gong I would not have heard them.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

20/20 Foresight

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The New Year is upon us. Like Opening Day of baseball season, the first day of school, or any other beginning, it is a good time for plans and planning.

We’ve been able to focus on strategic issues in recent weeks, ones that will shape our work for you in the years to come. The general theme? Build an enterprise that will serve you well, and be durable enough to outlive me.

While we work ON the business, of course, we also need to work IN the business, taking care of things for you. Fortunately, we know exactly what the stock market and the economy are going to do: go up and down, same as always. Time tested principles and strategies will always be the foundation of our work with you. They do not eliminate the ups and downs, but they improve the odds we will survive them and come out on the other side.

The items on our list are wide ranging. The more significant ones: finding and developing more good people to join the team, figuring out office space, determining whether we need to form our own Registered Investment Advisor, guiding the evolution of our offerings, and building a more robust financial planning process.

But enough about us. What about your strategic issues? If you want to talk about retirement, changing where you live, sorting out who should get what after you are gone, or simply where to invest for the long run, email us or call.

Where Did the Decade Go?

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We experience life as a series of moments. The future approaches, then becomes the present for a moment, and passes into history.

The dawn of the third decade of the 21st century is upon us; the current decade is nearly history. The moments we had!

In the first days of 2010, my wife Cathy flew to Florida to furnish and outfit a newly purchased condo; I joined her after a couple weeks. We began our life as snowbirds, skipping some cold weather weeks in Nebraska. (Planning to work to age 92, we had to figure out how to have some fun along the way.)

Our Office Manager Greg Leibman agreed to help in the office here at 228 Main during my absence, January 2010. It did not take long for me to get a glimmer of the potential of that association for the business.

Our planning, disruptions, and adaptations led to surprising growth and development. We focused more tightly on investment advisory business, performed under the auspices of LPL Financial’s RIA (registered investment advisor). That side of the business now accounts for over 70% of assets, $70 million now. That structure elevates our desire to serve your best interests to a binding obligation upon us, the way we like it.

The family health challenges we worked with for most of the decade brought us to a revolution in communications, forced me to learn how to delegate effectively and figure out how to build a team to serve you. The lesson I learned from my life with Cathy, make the most of what you have, enabled us to keep things running so we had the health insurance and resources she needed in her illness.

We had more than full measures of pain and joy in the decade. That is what life is made of.

And now a new decade looms. We hope to be able to make an interesting report to you about it, ten years hence.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Who We Strive To Be

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We have been reading the work of the late Donald Clifton of the Gallup Organization recently. The idea of working from your strengths was central to his work. As we think about building the optimal kind of organization to help you make the most of your position, what kind of strengths do we need?

In collaborative work such as ours with you, a deep relationship of mutual trust is a most useful foundation. This is the hallmark of what Clifton calls the Relator strength, or theme. Rather than meet many strangers, hoping to find some that might do business, the Relator seeks close relationships with those they know. We invest our time in communicating with you and working on your business, not hunting strangers to turn into clients.

The Strategic strength enables people to sort through the clutter to find the best path forward, to see patterns where others see complexity. Thinking about your goals in the context of the investment universe, and whole range of financial planning tactics, this skill might be mandatory.

The Focus strength gives people the ability to concentrate on goals, set a course, and stay on track. That is a good description of what we are trying to do here at 228 Main. The Achiever strength helps get things done, stay productive, and work effectively.

In the dynamic world we live in, change is constant. Technology advances, the economy and markets go through their cycles, and tax law changes. The Learner strength is how people adapt and thrive as the world evolves.

One of the blessings of the challenges we’ve faced: we had to figure out how to delegate, how to depend on a team approach, how to work together to get you what you need. We are striving to build a diverse team where each member works from their strengths, happily and effectively, to take care of business for you.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Convention Time Again

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One of the best and biggest gatherings of financial professionals is coming up. LPL Financial’s annual Focus Conference presents a number of opportunities to gain education, perspective, and more.

Because we 16,000 registered representatives are free to build our businesses in accordance with our own principles and interests, a wide range of presentations are held. These are conducted by an incredible array of company and industry talent, as well as peers.

Our investment philosophy and portfolio management operations are mature. We’ll be looking for ways to enhance our productivity and speed of execution, as well as potential new research and information sources.

We have a deep interest in communications theory and practice as applied to the 21st century venues we use to keep in touch with you. Fortunately, some of the most talented people in the industry (maybe the world) will be available. They understand what we’re doing at 228Main.com, they have helped us all the way along, and we expect to make more progress on our plans for the future.

The cast of characters includes communications professionals in LPL departments, as well as specialized consultants like Scott McKain and Amy Florian. McKain is the author of ‘Create Distinction,’ a business best-seller that has inspired us over the years. Florian is an expert in helping advisors communicate more effectively with those who have experienced loss or difficult transitions. I’m looking forward to working with them again.

Over my long association with LPL, I’ve been fortunate to build close relationships with the leadership team. Most of this happened in the last four years, as many people in managing director and executive roles became readers and followers of our blog and social media. As we sort out the best structure for our business going forward, these connections are a great help.

I have breakfast and lunch meetings scheduled each day of the conference with key players on my LPL team. With all this, plus gatherings with friends and colleagues from around the country, it looks to be another exceptional experience.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Louisville, My Home Sweet Home

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Planning to work to age 92 has a side effect: there is no date any time soon after which I can do what I want. Cathy and I knew this. A decade ago we figured out that we needed to have some fun along the way. That’s how the whole snowbird plan got started.

Snowbirds are people who go south for part or all of the winter, migrating north to their homes in the spring. We began doing that in 2010, for a few winter months. It was the best of both worlds. We had our home in Nebraska to enjoy most of the year, close to friends and family, and a place to get some weeks of warmth in the dead of winter.

A couple years after we began this, Cathy’s health went south. She was diagnosed with a slew of pretty awful lung conditions. We were able to continue our snowbird routine. Her rising need for oxygen eventually made flying impossible, so we simply drove back and forth.

Three years ago, things got to where long road trips were no longer possible. She had to choose where to live. The specialists who saved her life and continued to treat her are in the south. And Nebraska winter weather could be fatal in a power outage or a stalled car. Staying in the south became a matter of medical necessity for Cathy.

At the same time, health insurance paid the bills for stuff that kept Cathy alive. My small group policy required me to maintain Nebraska residency. And I needed to be in the shop at 228 Main Street for a bit every month. (Our work for you helped Cathy, because it’s expensive to be sick.) I became a long-range commuter. Cathy could remain in the warmth and I could keep the business end going.

Cathy got extra years of life with the help of Florida weather and Florida doctors—important years, in which children got married and grandbabies were born. With her passing, I can focus again on life in Louisville, my home. I’ll be selling Cathy’s Florida house – it’s too much, and in the wrong place.

We have come full circle, back to the original situation. I’m going to work to age 92, so I need to figure out how to have some fun along the way. Bottom line, I’ll be spending much more time at home in Louisville.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Anniversaries

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We balance our attention between the moments in which we live, and the longer term over which we plan for the future. Anniversaries are a natural place to pause and take stock.

My 63rd birthday approaches. This may not seem like a particularly important number, but for me it is. My father and my eldest brother both passed away at age 62. Getting older has never been a problem for me; it is key to my intention to live a long and productive life. I am trying to do what I can to extend the string of birthdays so I can indeed work to age 92.

The 25th anniversary of my affiliation with LPL Financial comes later this year. It has always seemed like the right choice. With the challenges that we have had to work around in recent years, the flexibility and effectiveness of our partner LPL has become vital. In particular, full support for 21st century communication has helped us make a digital presence a key way to deal with periodic separation in time and distance.

Speaking of partners, I will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary with the really important one this summer. In a life filled with good fortune, I count alphabetical order as a special blessing. On the first day of freshman year of high school, I found my assigned locker right next to Cathy Livingston’s.

You play a huge role in my long range plans: you are why I want to work to age 92. To say I am having a good time would be an understatement. While enjoying the moments as they pass, I’m also looking ahead to ways to build an organization that can better serve you, on a more sustainable basis.

Back to work! Thank you all, for everything. If you would like to talk about anything, please email us or call.

The Golden Business Rule

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The Golden Rule exists in many forms and many cultures around the world. We see it in different formulations: what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, do unto others.

At 228 Main, we stopped thinking about our business revenue or asset goals a long time ago. We do have goals: a specific one and a broader one.

The narrow one is to try to grow your buckets. This has us reading and researching, assessing opportunities and threats in the economy and markets, forming views, and taking action in portfolios. It is endlessly fascinating to me, one of the reasons I want to work until age 92.

The broader goal is to do great work for you, from your perspective. There are two pieces to this. First, we have to understand your life and your plans and planning. Whatever your financial position is, your objectives and needs play a large role in shaping the best strategies.

The second part is in communicating in clear terms and engaging with you, so we understand you and you see how your money connects with your life. Living with confidence about your financial position may contribute to your happiness and wellness, which is our true underlying purpose. Life may be better when you have confidence in your approach and know that we are responsive to changes in your situation.

The ironic thing is that business got a whole lot better when we stopped worrying about it and began to focus more on your situation. Evidently, what goes around comes around.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Building an Enterprise to Serve You

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Over lunch with dear clients recently, I mentioned that our work together has now spanned twenty years, through the beginning of retirement and building a dream home.

One said, “I will never forget what you told us in that first meeting.” I was curious: what had been so memorable?

“You told us you wanted to work to age 92.”

I still have the goal, as you know. (Although, I had not remembered that it was twenty years old.) Of course, working to age 92 depends on living to age 92, maintaining vitality and mental acuity.

But we do not choose our lifespans, and good health is a gift that may be lost.
Early in my career I established a succession agreement. This assured your affairs would be handled by competent, high-integrity colleagues in the event I could no longer work for you. You could elect to go elsewhere at your convenience, on your time frame, but you would not be forced to scramble for help.

Although I would not walk across the street to talk to a prospect, being fully occupied with the goal of growing your buckets, the business has grown beyond anything I could have imagined when I established that agreement. Our outbound communication is aimed at you, not prospects. And yet we grow and grow, and new clients find us.

You point neighbors to our blogs and videos at 228Main.com. Your relatives find their way in. Even “likes” and “shares” in social media spread the word about our services.

This unexpected success prompts us to think about building an enterprise strong enough and deep enough to survive me. We’ve had success in finding wonderful people to work with us. Our philosophy and strategies resonate with them, and they bring their personal contributions to the shared mission.

You see four people working at 228 Main, but three others are working part-time, behind the scenes, and there may come a day when any of them devote even more of their energy to working for you.

I’ll never farm out talking to you to someone else. Yet we will develop associates who help new clients get connected to our system and philosophy, and take care of them.

Our object is to develop the organizational depth to survive the loss of any one of us. Then you will have a more resilient, sustainable partner in this enterprise.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.