The financial services industry has hundreds of conferences for financial advisors, yet the reality is that with nearly 300,000 financial advisors in total, most advisors attend at most one conference per year, and many don’t participate at all.
In this week’s #OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces, my Tuesday 1PM EST broadcast via Periscope was live from the AICPA PFP (Personal Financial Planning) conference, the first (chronologically) major advisor event of the year (and also one of the best financial advisor conferences that occurs all year long!). And so it only seemed appropriate to take some time to talk about why it’s so important and valuable to regularly attend conferences.
Ultimately, the goal in attending a conference is actually quite simple: to find one real takeaway, one nugget, one powerful thing you can take home and implement in your business. Certainly if you can get 2-3 takeaways, that’s even better, but 1 is all it takes.
The reason is the power of compounding, which applies not only for accumulating a retirement portfolio, but also in building a business and your personal success. After all, you just have to improve by as little as 0.2% per day to double your success in a year. Which means taking a few days to go to one conference that gives you an idea to make you just 5% better is actually the equivalent of nearly a month’s worth of continuous improvement effort!
(Michael’s Note: The video below was recorded using Periscope, and announced via Twitter. If you want to participate in the next #OfficeHours live, please download the Periscope app on your mobile device, and follow @MichaelKitces on Twitter so you get the announcement when the broadcast is starting, at/around 1PM EST every Tuesday! You can also submit your question in advance through our Contact page!)
#OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces Video Transcript
Welcome everyone, Michael Kitces here, from the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning conference. I think you can see it in the background here, that little AICPA PFP banner there.
Live From The AICPA PFP 2016 Conference
So AICPA kicks off the conference season every year with this event in January. For those of you who’ve seen the conference list [of top financial advisor conferences] that I produce, I have long said that this is probably the best financial planning conferences out there for just raw, educational [financial planning] content.
AICPA loads it up, so our sessions today started with breakfast sessions at 7 a.m. And not throwaway sponsored sessions like some other associations, some other conferences do. Hardcore technical educational sessions stating at 7 a.m. We’re going to run all the way through today until 6 p.m. So that’s 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. sessions of just dense technical content. This conference in particular is almost like drinking from a fire hose, just taking all the information in.
So if you’re ever just looking for a good conference, for raw, financial planner learning, you’re tired of going to events where you feel like you don’t learn anything and there’s nothing new and all the sessions are too basic, that’s not the problem here. AICPA’s PFP conference is definitely one of the ones I put at the very top for quality of educational content.
The Value Of Attending Financial Advisor Conferences
But I wanted to talk a little bit about conferences today, about the spirit of [why you should be] going to conferences. I know, frankly, for the overwhelming majority of advisors, they don’t actually go to conferences. They take everything in in their office, but they rarely actually get up and go to conferences.
So even large financial advisor conference events might be a thousand people when there’s 73,000 CFP certificants now and about 300,000 financial advisors in total. And so I know the reality is most of us don’t go to a conference or maybe go to one, once in a blue moon.
So I figured I would today take a few minutes to make my pitch. I don’t know why I’m making a pitch, it’s not like I have a conference to sell! But making the case for why you should be going to conferences and going more often if you’re not.
And to me, it basically just comes down to the virtue of self-improvement, the virtue of continual self-improvement and the recognition that it takes a very small change to make a very big long-term impact for your business or for your personal life. This idea of continual improvement is one that I obsess over, as how to always be getting better
Enhancing Productivity With Tiny Increments Of Continuous Self-Improvement
I get a lot of questions from a lot of you, about how do I produce all the stuff that I do and put out all the content, and do all the speaking, and the businesses, and all the other stuff that I do.
Even for me, it’s this process of continual improvement. And here’s basically how I boil down the math: my goal is to get 0.2% better every day. That’s it, 0.2% better. If you work about eight hours in a day, 0.2% of your day only comes out to be almost exactly one minute. So spend one minute a day trying to get 0.2% better.
And it sounds like a tiny, minuscule thing. Until you pull out your financial calculator and you do your math and getting 0.2% better every day all year long doubles your productivity in a year. 0.2%. I can pull out the math, you can check if you want, 1.002 to the 365th power. Over 365 days, how to double your productivity in a year, improve yourself by one minute a day every day, and by the end of the year, you’ll have twice as much time or be getting twice as much stuff done.
It sounds minuscule, but it really does compound out that way.
Find One Takeaway To Improve, Every Day
And what that means from a little bit more of a practical perspective is every day, I’m always trying to do one thing to make myself a little more productive or, in the context here, go to conferences to find one nugget, one takeaway, one really relevant thing that I can take home to my business and use and apply.
It sounds silly in some ways. What a waste to go and travel to a conference and spend all that time and all that money to try to find one thing, one relevant takeaway.
Frankly, I hope you’ll get more than one takeaway going to a conference. But just recognize the significance of one takeaway. If you’re going to go off for a conference for a couple of days and all you have to do is find something that makes you one or two percent better for your time at that conference, then you’re actually getting an outsized return and beating your get 0.2% better every day goal!
And certainly I know a lot of people that have gone off to conferences and done something that was a breakthrough idea for them that made them 3% better, 5% better, 10% better. Compound that out when you do that every year. or even more than once a year going to conferences. It produces massive boosts in the long-term trajectory in your business and your personal success.
Not because you’re necessarily going to have this one life-changing thing that alters everything for your business and your practice as an advisor. But that finding one little thing to change over and over again, repeated, it’s the same compounding message that we tell of all our clients.
For instance, no client gets excited, saying “I’m on the path to retirement success because I saved $100 this month, I’m going to have my million-dollar portfolio to retire.” It doesn’t really work that way. A hundred bucks doesn’t make a million-dollar retirement portfolio, but a hundred dollar a month habit makes some very big portfolios over time with compounding growth. And the same is true about reinvesting into yourself.
Get Out Of Your Office To Gain A New Perspective
This eventually that requires you getting out of your office and seeing the world beyond yourself. Because I think the challenge that we all have is we get used to living in our own world, we get used to living one way, we get used to living our day one day at a time within our four walls, doing all the things that we do. And I feel like we lose perspective.
To me, the number one thing that I really actually get out of conferences is just the perspective of talking to other people who do things differently than I do, and hearing what they’re doing, and trying to exchange ideas.
We give that a label “networking” in the industry, but I actually think “networking” is a poor term. I think the better label is actually “community.” It’s what you learn by being involved with other people going through similar challenges to what you’re going through and trying to draw ideas from them.
I love that quote [from the Periscope comments], “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” So what seeds are you planting for yourself to take yourself down this road of continuous improvement going forward?
I think it’s powerful and for me, at this conference, there have already been a couple interesting takeaways.
Essentialism And The Paradox Of Success
Probably the biggest one [takeaway for me], which actually wasn’t entirely new because I’ve written about this in the past… so we had a keynote session yesterday from Gregory McKeown, who did the fantastic book called Essentialism that I highly recommend. I’ve got a full write-up on it on the blog if you want to know more.
Greg writes about this concept that he calls “the paradox of success.” There are things that make you successful. When we get started, we launch a business, we do something, we figure out something that solves some problem in the world that people want and are willing to pay for, and we start building a business. It starts to work, and if you’ve been in for a while, you at least figure out how to give some value to some people enough that you’re having some success.
And the problem that Greg highlights is when you actually do that enough, when you’ve had enough success, eventually you start getting more opportunities come in. And you get so many opportunities coming in that it gets very hard to say no to things, and you start doing more and more and more stuff.
And then ultimately, as you do that, two things happen: number one, that I see for virtually every advisor out there, eventually we hit some wall, we just run out of time. Countless advisors I know, I’m sure many of you on the Periscope here, sometimes feel you’re almost drowning in your practice from just the sheer number of things that are coming at you, all the stuff you have to do now. Clients and service and staff to manage, and vendors to deal with, and trying to improve yourself and come to conferences as I’m telling you, and just all the stuff that comes at you, you start to drown a little. But you’ve still got all these new opportunities coming at you as well and we’re hard-wired, if we’re trying to build an advisory firm or business, we don’t want to say no to things, we want to keep saying yes so we can keep having the success that got us to where we are.
And Greg calls this “the paradox of success,” and it’s this realization that what happens as all these opportunities come in and you say yes to more and more stuff, you lose the focus that made you successful in the first place.
So yeah, you tell me if this resonates with you. Give me some taps on the screen or type in, because this message resonated with me. When you have enough success at doing something well, you have so many opportunities that start to come in that you actually lose the focus that made you successful in the first place. And then the success starts to fall off and it starts to trail off.
And Greg boiled that down to what I thought was an incredibly powerful quote and comment, which I actually tweeted and shared out, and was surprised a little at how controversial people thought it was. So the comment he made is, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” So I’ll say that again: the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.
And the idea of this, is the recognition that you can be successful by building a business and having opportunities and having things come in and saying yes to those. You’re going to maybe work like a slave in your business, but you’re going to make some money and have some success. But the most successful people are the ones that figure out how to keep that focus, keep that filter in place so that as opportunities come in, they can figure out and realize that you have to say no to most things in order to keep excelling at what you’re the best at. And the more you excel at what you’re best at, the harder it gets to say no because the more successful your business is, the more opportunities come in, the more that people want to come in.
Finding Focus And The Virtue Of Saying “No”
Greg’s examples are situations like Apple, early Apple, which had this great success under Steve Jobs and then he left, and by the time he came back, Apple had proliferated to over 300 different products that they made by the, what would that have been, the late ’90s when Steve Jobs came back. And the first change that Steve Jobs made, was he cut their product line from over 300 to ten. Ten products in a couple of different core areas and that was it. And he stripped out all the rest. And obviously we know what happened to Apple and its incredible growth trajectory since Steve Jobs came back. With the focus came their ability to do absolutely amazing things in just the core areas that they focused on.
Apple’s a massive company, there’s nothing under the sun that they don’t have the resources to do. The war chest of cash they have, they could pretty much build any business to do anything they possibly want. But they don’t. They stay incredibly focused in the areas that they’re the best, and they figure out how to say no to the overwhelming number of opportunities that come in.
What Are Your Filters To Say “Yes” Or “No”?
And so that theme to me really resonated of, what do you say “no” to? What are the filters you use to figure out what you’re going to say “no” to? Do you judge it by financial implications, do you judge it by business opportunity, do you judge it by personal fulfillment? What are the filters you use to say “no” to things?
If you don’t have any filters to say no, well then hopefully that’ll be your first takeaway from this. What do you use to decide between the opportunities that come at you as your business starts to get some traction and has some success? How do you decide between the yeses and the nos?
We all have the same 168 hours in a week, a little of that’s going to be sleeping, a little of that’s hopefully going to be family and friends. We only have so much time left for work, we’re all subject to the same constraint whether it’s you or me or Steve Jobs or President Obama, we all have the same 168 hours in the week, there’s only so much stuff that we can ever do and it’s really actually not that much given the time constraints.
So everything you say yes to means you’re saying no to something else, because everything is a business trade-off, or everything is a trade-off, whatever you say yes to means you’re saying no to something else.
So are you really paying attention to what you say yes to, or viewing it another way, are you really paying attention to what you say no to, so you can say yes to the things that matter the most?
For me, that was the takeaway. And stuff like that, one focal point like that, if all of you went home and spent the next month just figuring out three things to say no to that either are opportunities that come in that you need to say no to. Or maybe are things you already do that you said yes to in the past that you need to figure out how to extract yourself from that commitment… that dynamic, that relationship, do it respectfully, but realizing that it’s not something that you should be doing.
How much time does that free up? How much opportunity does that free up? What could you do, if you feel like you’re barely in control of your business because so much stuff’s coming at you and there’s so many things to do all the time? What could you do if you said no to a couple of things, freed up a little time, got a little focus for yourself to go forth and then build the business in the direction that you really want it to go or that you really see that it needs to go.
So those are the kind of insights that I’m talking about that you get…you have an opportunity to get from a conference. And I’m not going to promise every time you go to a conference, you’re going to get some life-changing revelation. Although I’ll admit Greg McKeown’s Essentialism focus really has been somewhat of a transformative, life-changing thing for me over the past six months of trying to really get hyper-focused on not just what I’m going to do, what I do that I’m good at, but what I’m going to say no to in order to make sure I’ve got the time to continue doing the things that I do the best.
Gaining New Insight – Conferences And Reading
But those are the opportunities that you get by… frankly, I find it comes from one of two places: getting out of your office and going to conferences, or reading.
Just reading, reading things to get new ideas, to get new inspiration. So if you’re not making time for yourself, time to read a little bit every week… this is why I put weekend reading up for all of you, so that hopefully you’ll take that in and get some ideas. And as all of you know, or maybe you didn’t know, it’s not just geeky, technical articles, it’s practice management, and I put some stuff in there about personal development and how to make ourselves better.
Because we’re always trying to find that…what’s that 1% a week thing that gets us a little bit better, what’s that 0.2% a day? What’s that conference opportunity?
Yeah, I know you’ve got plenty of reading as the comments are coming in now, yeah, I know, if anything I know I give you a little bit too much reading. So maybe I’m testing you to figure out, can you focus on which things do you want to read that really have the most relevance to your business!?
If you can’t figure out how to say no to a couple of things that I send you to read, you’re reading too much. Actually, I’ll go on the record saying that: if you read absolutely everything I produce, you’re probably reading a little bit too much, because I cover a really wide range and not all of it is truly relevant for you and where your practice is. You need your filters about where you focus and where you don’t with your time.
So please keep reading, I’m not trying to drive you all away from the blog! But if you’re reading every single article, you might not be focused enough. So that’s a weird takeaway I didn’t actually mean to give you out of this, but hopefully helps to drill down the point!
So if you’re not reading, if you’re not taking time to go out to a conference, you need to do this. You need to step out of your life from time to time and go and get some fresh perspective. Maybe it’s about your business, maybe it’s just getting a planning strategy. Maybe you’ll just go to a tax session and draw something from that, but whatever it is, I hope that you get some opportunity to draw ideas, inspiration.
If you can’t figure out what conference to go to, check out the list that’s on my site, I publish it every year: top conferences, I’ve got the full list up for 2016. Obviously, you’ll have missed AICPA because we’re here now, and it’s too late unless you’re within a couple miles of Vegas and want to stop by. But most of the conferences are still in front of us for the year. Figure out what you’re going to, ideally, maybe even figure out two that you’re going to go to so you can take a step out of your practice and get a little more perspective.
So, hope that’s helpful as food for thought and sorry, again, I’ve got to say it again: and don’t go to a conference expecting or envisioning that you’re going to get some life-changing experience. Again, your goal is just get one takeaway, find one thing. If you get two or three, that’s awesome, but if you find one thing every time you go away to a conference, the compounded effect of that over the span of months and years and the time of your career is unbelievably powerful. It’s the same compounding effect we tell our clients, just applied to our business as well.
So I hope that’s helpful food for thought. Thank you for all the tap-tap hearts, guys, and I will see you next week, 1 p.m. East Coast time on Tuesdays. Have a good day, guys. Bye.
So what do you think? Do you attend conferences regularly? Are you going to try to attend one now? What was the biggest takeaway you ever got from a conference? Please share your experiences in the comments below!