Success stories can give the impression of a sudden, rapid rise to prominence if you don’t know the whole story behind how success was achieved. But that’s often the best part of the tale – especially for anyone who hopes to follow a similar path.
Take Tony Delumen, financial advisor with the MassMutual San Francisco Bay Area agency in Walnut Creek, California. A 20-year industry veteran, his focus these days is on a long-term, sustainable business model that helps him serve his clients and give back to his community. But it wasn’t always that way, and there are five core attributes Delumen believes contributed to his successful journey to that point.
Living the mutual model
“What really keeps me coming to work,” Delumen said, “is making sure that I have an impact in my community.”
Delumen’s two primary outlets for this are through the local hospital and schools.
“We actually have the retirement plan for the hospital in my town,” he said. “They’re one of the largest employers in the city I live in, so if I can help all those people become more financially successful, it’s a huge win for them and for me.” With a daughter in school, he also helps fellow parents to plan college education for their kids.
Once you reach a certain point in your career, in Delumen’s view, it’s less about making more money and more about making a difference in your community. And if you like that idea but are skeptical about it ever coming to fruition, don’t despair – so was he. “I’ve heard other people say the same sort of thing,” he said, “and I didn’t understand what they were talking about until a couple of years ago.”
But eventually, he said, you get to a point where you’re making enough money to take a breath and look around at the broader picture.
“My biggest concern with newer advisors to the industry is that they’re so short-term oriented that they almost cut off their nose to spite their face,” Delumen said. “They don’t see the potential of this business, and they don’t get to a point where they want to make connections and help their community.”
Five key behaviors for advisor success
So, how does an advisor get to that point?
Delumen was quick to say that while he doesn’t have any kind of special model or inside track, there are five specific attributes that saw him through the early years, qualities that he actively looks for when interviewing advisors to join his own team.
1. Have a strong work ethic
In a commodity business, Delumen said, good service is a given if you want to retain clients. So what made him stand apart was the willingness to work harder than everyone else. “I figured if everybody else is getting into the office at eight o’clock…I’ll get in at six, I’ll go home at nine,” he said.
It’s not necessarily something you want to do for your entire career, and Delumen pointed out that he scaled back on this when his daughter was born to make sure he spends enough time with his family. But that willingness to work longer and harder can make a big difference, he said, for advisors trying to build a business.
2. Focus on the endgame, but set boundaries
When you’re trying to build a business for the long term, you need to think in the long term, Delumen said, which means being purposeful every day in your actions and making decisions that support your end goal.
“It’s so easy to get distracted these days with technology and personal worries. But it’s important to be purposeful, to be the best worker at work and then switch at home to being the best spouse, parent, or friend,” Delumen said, noting in his opinion that people who bring work to home and home to work tend to suffer in both places.
3. Be a marketer
“Starting out, one of the first things you’ve got to be able to do is be a good marketer,” Delumen said. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be a really good technician, or even a really good advisor, right from the get-go. But it does mean that you have to get out there.
“The number one reason I see people fail out of the business is that they don’t have people to go see, and they don’t know how to market. The idea that you can set 10 appointments, see three and sell one – I don’t think a person can survive that way.”
4. Communicate effectively
Communication skills are important, especially when people count on you to steer them right in their financial landscape. But so many people, Delumen said, aren’t good communicators.
“If you can’t turn the complexity of finances into a simple form for someone to understand, they’re not going to take action,” Delumen said.
Effective communication and marketing are learnable skills, and advisors who have a hard time with them will find value in Delumen’s final attribute:
5. Use your resources
It’s not enough to schedule appointments, Delumen said; you also need to know what to do with them. A great way to learn that is by finding a mentor. It doesn’t mean you have to do joint work, but don’t be afraid to learn from industry veterans.
Understand the true value in what advisors do
“If you ask new advisors what they do, they often give you some kind of product or they say ‘I sell whole life insurance’ but they don’t understand the underlying philosophy of what we do. This is more than just being a salesman. It’s about being a pillar in the community,” Delumen said.
A strong work ethic, a focus on the end goal, a good set of marketing and communication skills and a good mentor can help you build a successful business. But Delumen views being an advisor as so much more than that: it’s about helping people to get their kids through college, get to retirement with a respectable income at a reasonable age, and, when they die, making sure their affairs are in order and their loved ones taken care of.
“Financial advisors are the ones sitting at the table every night telling moms and dads what they need to do to get through the craziness of this world,” Delumen said. “We get a lot of flak from Hollywood with their wolf-of-wall-street-type movies and the government with their ever-changing regulations, but our industry touches millions of lives every day. It’s the little pieces of advice every single night that we’re getting in front of these people that change lives.”