Originally posted in Financial Advisor (fa-mag.com) on May 1, 2019

I’d like to begin this article with a few new terms I’ve coined that will be helpful for reading along:

Practicide: When you build a practice designed to kill you.

Entremanure: What people often find themselves wading in when selling the wrong value proposition.

Messyages: Tips for success offered by people who make good money but have screwed-up priorities.

Val-YOU Proposition: A value proposition that is good for you first, then good for your clients and then good for the firms you associate with.

I’ve been amazed over the past 20 years watching scores of financial advisors build practices that own them instead of building practices they own. I believe this is ultimately the product of a misplaced value proposition. What I mean by “misplaced” is this: If you can’t control the outcome of your value proposition, it is unsustainable, and you are yearly engaged in the Sisyphean feat of pushing an ROI boulder up a very steep market hill. Each year, the boulder rolls back to your feet and the anguish begins again. Why any sane person would choose return on investment as a central value proposition is lost on me.

The first and most important decision one makes in business is deciding on what one’s core value proposition will be; everything that happens after that is rooted in that chosen proposition. I’ve often told audiences that financial services is the only profession I’ve ever encountered that starts with a promise it cannot keep and then confirms it every three months with a statement. Who dreamed this up? The “Quarterly Mis-statement” is what I think of it as—a tool for perpetuating frustration for both advisor and client. It is the clear and undeniable path toward practicide.

Allow me to share an up-close example from an advisor making a handsome income. This very successful advisor pulled his corner office door shut and asked if I would mind having a conversation with him about his business situation. I commenced with, “Describe your business for me, if you don’t mind.”

He started, “Well, I have 1,500 clients …” not in a tone of pride but of resignation. I put my hands up and said, “Let’s stop right there. Having 1,500 clients is an oxymoron. Nobody has 1,500 clients. You probably have 100 clients and 1,400 dissatisfied customers.”

“Make that 1,404 dissatisfied customers,” he confessed. “You’ll have to include my wife and three kids in that number as well.”

He went on to describe his ungodly hours and the all-consuming situation he was mired in and concluded with, “I’ve done everything I was taught to do. I’ve got plenty of money, the admiration of my peers and no life.”

The look in this advisor’s eye brought a wisp of recognition to me. I had seen it before, 30 years ago, when I was in suicide prevention. It wasn’t quite the same as encountering a man who wanted to end his life; this was a man who instead wanted his life back because his business had stolen it. This man was committing practicide.

It Can Get Messy

In a previous career, I was consulting with a start-up firm in the health-care sector. The job required me to drive 90 miles each way three days a week. I would leave home around 6 each morning to arrive at my office around 7:30. I would work until 4:30 and leave a half hour before rush hour in hopes of getting home to have dinner with my young family. One day, the owner stopped me as I was heading out and asked why I was leaving earlier than everyone else. I informed him that I had put in a nine-hour day and was, by the way, quite productive for his company. He boldly questioned my commitment and told me that he personally put in 17 hours a day and wanted to see people equally as committed.

I thought his choice of the word “commitment” carried no little irony, as I suddenly remembered seeing his wife a month before—sitting forlornly in the business lobby waiting to see him, as he had forgotten it was their anniversary. I told him I had a commitment that was a bit more important to me, which was being home to dine with my family. If I’m not producing, I told him, you’ve got a point. If I am, then we don’t have much more to talk about. I knew it was the beginning of the end. In retrospect, I couldn’t be any more relieved that I made the decision to part ways. This was a man with a messyage: put everything and everyone in line behind the force that drives your greed.

This was a very rich man with a very poor philosophy.

If you keep this sort of company long enough, you’ll get talked into the life and the consequences of misplaced priorities.

A Better Place Starts With A Better Pace

I have always believed that the best gift you can give any client is the example of a life that is working. All the more true if you purport to offer the promise of life-centered planning. Too often, advisors take a blueprint for business from a company or a peer that in the end leads to entremanure: a sobering, stinking realization that what they got is not what they bargained for. It’s the result of a misplaced value proposition.

In my travels and conversations with advisors around the world, I have come to realize that these problems are not as isolated and rare as one might think. In moments of candor, many advisors admit that their lives are neither in balance nor delivering the satisfaction they envisioned. To build a practice they can live with, they must begin the soul-searching and the task of reordering their lives ahead of their businesses. After all, what good are you to your clients if you eventually burn out, burn up or go up in smoke?

After talking with hundreds of advisors about this, I developed a coaching program called “Return on Life” (ROL) that focuses on helping advisors first discover their true value in the lives of their clients, who their ideal clients should be, and how to build a practice around those values and clients. With this approach, advisors no longer need to build a practice and simply hope for a good life. Instead, they can purposefully build a life and a practice that are natural extensions of a life that is working.

Imagine a business life where you are simultaneously relaxed and energized with passion instead of stressed and a slave to unfulfilling and monotonous conversations. Imagine a life where you take time off when you want and no one is threatened by your need for some tranquility and repose. Moving this picture from the imagination to the weekly calendar starts with listening to the right messages:

• The message coming from your nervous system telling you the pace and intensity you can live with.

• The message coming from your heart telling you what people you really enjoy interacting with.

• The message coming from your soul telling you what tasks fill you with energy and passion—making your life rich in every sense of the word.

• The message coming from your business to your clients regarding what you will help them accomplish with their money.

These are the cornerstones of the Val-YOU Proposition. First and foremost, your business must be good for you. If the business is not good for you, it’s not good for your clients or those you professionally associate with. Any value propositions outside of helping clients realize a greater ROL are simply ticking time bombs.

In my next article, I will describe the end of ROI as we know it as a value proposition, and the emergence of ROL as the most stable, sustainable and enjoyable proposition available. Either you own your business or it owns you. Your life matters too … so, get greedy with ROL and build a business that helps you achieve that end.

Mitch Anthony is the creator of Life-Centered Planning, the author of 12 books for advisors, and the co-founder of ROLadvisor.com and LifeCenteredPlanners.com.