I hear business owners frequently say, “I want to be more efficient.” We would all like to get better results in less time, so we can have more time to enjoy our friends, families, and hobbies. That’s why I recently invited efficiency expert, Libby Greiwe, to join me on an episode of Elite Achievement.
Libby teaches financial advisors how to grow their businesses while still having fun. She started her financial planning practice in 2004 and built it into a seven-figure single advisor firm while working only 25 hours a week! Libby knows what it takes to grow a 100% referral-only practice and how not to have to grind out the hours to be successful.
I start our conversation by asking Libby to share more about her work at the Efficient Advisor and what prompted her to start her own coaching business.
“I will take you back to around 2008,” Libby begins. “It was a big year for me because I found out some really scary, scary news. I was pregnant. And it was great news because we wanted a baby. But it was scary news because I had been working around the clock for the last four years, like a complete crazy person – nights, weekends, whatever clients wanted. When I found out I was pregnant, I remember looking at my husband and saying, ‘I can’t work like this and have a baby. This isn’t the motherhood that I wanted and dreamed up.’ And that’s not how I wanted to show up as a mom. So I realized that I had to figure this out. And I knew I literally needed to cut the number of hours that I was working in half, and then maybe again in half down the road so I could show up and be fully present. But I was also really happy with the amount of money that I was making. And I didn’t want to give that up either. So I had to figure out how to do this more efficiently.”
I ask Libby how she began to figure that out, and she describes looking at her time first to see what she was spending it on and how to optimize and scale herself. She focused on building simple systems and processes for herself, a simple client service model that could be executed with a high level of client experience, and a simple team with the right people in the right roles.
“Those three things allowed us to work more efficiently, more effectively, and more enjoyably,” shares Libby. “It was a process of probably about four years for me to get from 80 hours down to 24. And it was a lot of trial and error, testing, and getting the right team members. You have to kiss a couple of frogs before you find your prince and figure out what is repeatable, what can be delegated.”
Libby shares how she began to outline every part of the financial planning process to understand what they were doing in each step, what templates could be created, and who else could learn to do what she was doing. “This is the kind of work that makes advisors or other entrepreneurs roll their eyes because it’s awful,” says Libby. “It’s terrible. Nobody enjoys doing it. But once it’s done, I promise it’ll be a game-changer for everyone. I actually went to school originally for engineering physics. So I’m a recovering analytic. I actually would plot stuff on a little chart with the y and x-axis representing stuff people don’t care about – teachable things, etc., and I’d use each one to identify what may be easy to teach but was hard to create a template for. I started peeling off the things that were easy to teach and template first. Then I started circling the things I hated doing the most versus those I got enjoyment and energy from.”
Libby has worked with her coach to help write things down step by step, so she knows what to do, what conversations to have, what emails to send, and more. She explains that it’s provided a sense of relief and a boost of confidence from the clarity of this efficient process.
“Detail work is not my jam by any stretch,” Libby says. “So, you know, I hated doing it. Every time I coach advisors, they hate doing it. But nobody at the end of that exercise says, what a waste of time. I wish I didn’t have this all organized. I wish I didn’t have it in a really easy-to-understand format that I could teach others. It’s a kind of commitment to make the time for this process. And that’s the hardest part. So I always encourage people, entrepreneurs of any kind, that you, at some point, have to step into that CEO role. Often I think for the first three or four years, we’re just in that tornado all day, every day. We’re handling the stuff right in front of our nose, trying to keep our head above water. And even though we see ourselves doing the same thing repeatedly, it gets to the point where you’re like, ‘I don’t have time for that. I’ll hire somebody.’ But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you have 47 assistants if you can’t identify the things that you can delegate and delegate them well, have a vision for your business, a culture that you’re creating, and a client experience that you’re working towards. I always tell people to start by scaling themselves. And a big piece of that is carving out the time.”
Libby also describes how the process can be done in little chunks. Look at one template you can create at a time or one system every month you can add rather than trying to accomplish everything at once. She suggests looking at what can be done in a ten-minute window to work towards one of the goals, rather than scrolling through Instagram or standing by the coffee machine.
I think we get so excited to become more efficient that we create all these standard operating procedures. And once that initial excitement wears off, it’s like dread and overwhelm because all we can think about is how big this project will be, how much time it will take, and how many things are involved. But if we take just a moment to write out what efficiency actually means to us and what is involved, then we can outline the steps and use those small blocks of time to start making progress, even after the excitement of goal setting has worn off.
I ask Libby to share some common mistakes she sees business owners make while growing their businesses. She shares that the number one thing is doing everything because they can and because they have difficulty trusting and building competency in their team.
“It always starts with, you’re doing too much,” Libby explains. “You’re trying to do all the things. The second would be related to your niche. So the tighter your niche, the more efficient you can operate. If we want to be all things to all people, we have to have a certain system, process, or a way of planning for young families that’s different from pre-retired people. That’s different from people who are in the late stages of life and are thinking more about estate planning. You have to have all these different systems and processes and planning knowledge and stay updated on everything. It’s harder to streamline when your focus is scattered. I have heard it said the riches are in the niches, and you can back that up with systems and processes.”
I’m curious at what point Libby thinks a business owner should start to niche down, and she shares the sooner, the better. As you grow, the scarcity mentality starts to drift away, but many advisors are left with a really amazing business that is sucking the life out of them. “In contrast, I remember reading this story of a financial advisor who said day one, he was only taking on million-dollar-plus accounts,” shares Libby. “And I just remember being like, who is this guy? Who does he think he is? Who just marches off the starting block saying, ‘Oh, I only work with millionaires?’ But by the end of the article, I was like, huh. He was talking about pouring all his time and energy into hanging out at country clubs and doing all these fancy things. And at the end of the year, he had two clients. And I guarantee many of us are running around like crazy people trying to get ten $200,000 clients. And now we have ten clients to manage, ten relationships to manage, and ten processes to execute versus this guy. I remember thinking, like, hmm, maybe coming out of the gates with something a little bit tighter or more specific actually makes a ton of sense. I’ve seen it over and over again. And the beautiful part is, as long as you’re not getting a face tattoo that says what you do, you can always pivot and change as you grow in your career and knowledge. But the more I’ve seen it, the more I see that, the earlier you can niche, the better.”
I experienced that myself in my own business because there was a time earlier on when I thought, well, I can help everyone achieve their goals. And certainly, I can help a lot of people achieve their goals. But when I got clear that I get a ton of energy working with service-based business owners, and I especially get jazzed up helping women financial advisors with leadership ambitions, everything became so much simpler. I know what to say yes to and what to say no to, and I started creating different systems and processes. You can streamline your communication, and for me, my coaching questions, my processes – it’s wonderful. In addition to niching down, I ask Libby what other best practices apply for owners wanting to grow their businesses.
“I would pick three,” begins Libby. “The first would be executing a CEO day with a lot of structure, not just taking two days to go to the spa. Actually having a system or process to execute those CEO days so that you leave with tangible, actionable steps that you will take. The second thing would be building a model or an ideal week. And really figuring out where your energy is and making sure that you have adequate time to do all of the things. It’s funny because when I started as an entrepreneur, my husband was an entrepreneur too. So we were like, look at us, we don’t have any structure, we can sleep till noon and work till midnight if we want to, aren’t we amazing? And it wasn’t until having babies that I started putting all of this structure in, and I realized, oh my gosh, the more structure I have, the more freedom I have. The only reason that I could work three days a week was because I had a really tight model week with the appropriate amount of time at the right time of day for me to communicate with my team, educate myself, etc. Part of scaling was making sure that every minute that I spent in my office was super duper effective. The third thing is the idea of buying back your time. Anywhere that you can buy back your time by hiring somebody else, whether it’s in the home, whether it’s something simple like those home chef meal deliveries. It may be having someone clean your home or paying someone to do your laundry. I mean, there are so many little services out there that allow you to be either more effective in your business or more fully present when you are home.”
I revisit Libby’s suggestion of a CEO day and ask what’s involved. “So, in a perfect world, it would happen at least once a quarter,” Libby says. “And once a year, we’re going to do a bigger off-site, hopefully overnight, goal setting, vision casting. There are five areas of business, but I always am like, okay, let’s pick three categories from each one that we’re going to focus on this year. And we’re only going to pick a few to work on at a time. So there is this giant brain dump and getting everything out there. Then giving myself adequate time to prioritize, look at old brain dumps, and figure out what still makes sense for my business. One of the biggest gaps I see with financial planners is that we don’t track anything. So, how do we go back and analyze our marketing efforts? How do we go back and analyze the productivity of our team members? How do we go back and analyze anything if we don’t actually have data? We just go based on memory. And we all know how that plays out. So, I look at different categories. And in each one, I prioritize something that really needs to be focused on right now. So, for example, let’s say it’s money. Money is one of the categories. So we’ll look at profit and loss, which I call income versus headache. I want to know what percentage of our income came from different lines of business or different streams of income. And then what percentage of our headaches was that line of business. And are they in line, because if you have this teeny, tiny little stream of income that makes up the vast majority of stress, it’s overwhelming. And it’s like, is it worth it, like how much of your headache is related to this particular category? This might be where we’re looking at ROI and marketing, we’re looking at expenses, we’re looking at our sales funnel, like all things money-related. And I might pick one or two and be like, okay, this quarter, I’m going to look at my profit and loss. This quarter, I’m going to analyze the different revenue streams. I’m going to look at my marketing ROI.”
What Libby is describing helps because, as a CEO of your business, there are so many things to focus on that it can feel overwhelming to do all the analysis in one CEO day. Instead, schedule at least one CEO day per quarter, and have your areas of business that you’re working on. And within each business area, you’ve got a couple of different categories, and you’re only working on a few things at a time. Libby agrees and says at the end of a CEO day, she wants advisors to have three goals to work on from the different categories. By focusing attention and effort, Libby says, it helps get those three things buttoned up. She also suggests keeping notes from CEO meetings, conferences, and more in a CEO day binder as a brain dump rather than trying to implement things randomly. It provides a process for everything you’re constantly hearing and allows you to review them at a CEO day rather than try to implement them before you even know if it makes sense for your business or if you have the time and capacity for the idea.
I found this to be true in my own business when I do my quarterly reviews, which sounds similar to Libby’s CEO days. Sometimes I’ll look back at all the notes (or “brain dumps” I’ve written down) and think why – why would I ever want to do that? This process has been a discipline I have had to learn because I’m an executor. I like to go go go. And so, I’m working on this practice of not implementing right away and not deviating away from my focuses and priorities.
As our conversation closes, I ask Libby what advice she has for people feeling burnt out from all the daily operations of their business. “So, typically, when people are feeling burned out, I always say you need a business,” Libby shares. “And what I mean by that is right now, you have a Libby, or you have a Kristin. If the business cannot function and operate without you, you do not have a business, you just have a you. And so the first thing we need to do is to sit down and go, okay, how do we scale ourselves? What do I need to do to create a business? How do I start offloading some of these tasks so the world does not depend on me? It’s that feeling of, ‘I can’t get it all done. There’s not enough time. The world’s going to stop turning if I take a two-week vacation.’ Those are the types of things we need to be really, really focusing our efforts on building a business. And I also tell people if you’re burned out, you probably suck at math, which to any financial planner is very offensive, but we all are terrible at it. Because we add, add, add, and we never subtract, subtract, subtract. We just keep going. We never think about our own capacity. And 99% of the time, when this is happening, the only person that pays the price for it is ourselves. We end up feeling like a crappy mom because we’re not doing as much one-on-one time with the kids as we said we would, or not working out because we need to get to the office an hour earlier than yesterday. The only person that pays the price for not being good at math is you. And sometimes, it trickles over to your team and your family. Another thing would be not tracking our efforts. So really, again, coming back to how do you know where you’re being effective? How do you know where you’re wasting time or money? How do we know where to be more efficient if we’re not tracking things? I can’t tell you how many times I found in my business and others that when we eliminate some parts of the process, clients don’t even notice it. So we really have to determine which pieces are actually impactful. And if there is anything that takes time but doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot to clients. We don’t know unless we’re documenting our process and tracking our efforts. So for me, it would be building an actual business, not a you, stop sucking at math, and if you’re going to add something, you need to figure out where you’re going to take that time from and then track your efforts.”
There was a time in my business when I thought I had to post on social media five days a week. We were pouring a ton of time, energy, and effort into posting on social media. And we got to a time when there was another priority, and there just wasn’t enough time to keep doing the five days a week. And the numbers didn’t change that dramatically. No one noticed. And I realized I had created a big to-do that wasn’t even necessary. It was really one of those income versus headache situations.
I wrap up by asking Libby what the most important business process is. And Libby shares that it would be having a killer onboarding experience. “There is a lot of data supporting that the experience your clients have in the first 100 days of their relationship with you is disproportionately related to the longevity of their client relationship,” Libby shares. “So, if you get those first 100 days right and put the effort in to have a killer onboarding, in addition to the great business-to-consumer experience, you will have clients for life. And you’ll turn prospects into clients and clients into referral-generating machines. The other advice would be having a really good financial planning process and figuring out which of those pieces are scalable, which you can delegate, which you delete, which you automate, and which ones you love doing.”
I love the great insights Libby shared to help us scale our businesses, schedule our CEO days, and think about systems and processes that will drive revenue and help us make a more significant impact in the marketplace!
With that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, noting your lessons learned, and identifying your priorities for next week so you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.