Growth Fallacies: The Case for a Plateaued Business

PLATEAU is a word sales managers use to admonish and shame Financial Advisors.

You can get away with many things in our business, but heaven help you if others look at your business and determine that it has “plateaued.”

Why is that, exactly?

A plateau, of course, is a high flat-topped mountain.  We think very highly of them where I grew up in the Southwest.  The idea of a business reaching such a plateau implies things that make sales managers seethe with rage:

  1. That the Advisor won’t produce more this year than last year, and more next year than this year.
  2. That the Advisor feels that he or she has grown enough.
  3. That the Advisor is comfortable with the view, the air, and the income right where they are.

It’s dangerous for a sales leader to openly order his or her salesforce to reach for more than its daily bread, so they couch the threat in different ways.

“If you aren’t growing, you’re dying” – really? Most trees in the woods eventually fall over, implying that growing eventually leads to dying. The trees that last the longest are the ones that someone prunes regularly.

“You need new clients every year to replace those that leave” – true, maintenance requires new clients.  That’s a separate argument and doesn’t imply any growth to new levels. Even a well pruned tree needs watering and feeding.

The need for growth in a mature practice (one that produces enough to sustain its practitioner and its clients) is an artificial one.  Your clients don’t need you to grow, and if you are satisfied with your business then you don’t need to grow either.

This is the dilemma that so many businesses, particularly public ones, are facing now. The only ones who need growth are the passive owners: the shareholders.  They insist on it, pressuring management, product development, and salesforces to deliver XX% more every year.

If you are plateaued at $750k, $1mm, $3mm or higher – and you are satisfied with both your lifestyle and the services you are providing to your clients – congratulations.  Hold your ground.

  • Prune out bad branches periodically by giving up clients and exiting lines of business
  • Water and feed your business by bringing on new clients when needed, in your own way
  • Most of all, enjoy the view from up on your plateau!  Even if you could keep climbing to some mystical mountaintop, the only direction to go from there would be down.

PS – If you are still growing, GREAT!  In no way do I mean to imply that growth is a bad thing.  It is hard and honorable work to prospect, network, present, close and prosper.  I know many excellent advisors who love the challenge of perpetual business growth. In every case, those practices grow because the practitioners want them to, not because some outside force is driving it through intimidation or shame.

Related: Storms Ahead? Revisit the Basic Principles That Will Get Us Through