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‘Tis the season for taking stock

If the legendary December slowdown in business really does come to pass this year, use the time to reflect and plan ways to take your business forward, says Sue Read

It’s December and Christmas is almost upon us. The office party looms on our social horizons and the silly season has officially begun.

Of course, there will continue to be mad folk who wish to move home – or who have to move home – at this time of year. I did this myself a few years ago and it was not something I’d recommend. But this means there may still be business opportunities out there for us brokers. But I suspect that 2005 will be almost the first time in all my years in financial services that I really will get to see the mythic dip in activity in December and I plan to take advantage of it.

If, as I believe it will, business does tail off sharply in December it could provide us with some breathing space, when we can take stock of what we’ve done over the past year and plan for the next one.

Back in the heady days of the 1980s I attended a sales course run by an inspirational trainer whose name, I think, was Ian Barrett. I may not recollect his name correctly (somebody out there might be able to remedy this) and I may not be able to recall the precise title of the course but a number of the things he said really made an impression on me.

“Sell the sizzle, not the sausage,” was one of his mottos. I love that one as it really holds true for our business. Clients are really not interested in the technicalities of the mortgages and other policies we arrange for them, though we all know that they have to be provided with this information. What they really want to know is how a product will benefit them, how it will solve their problems and how it will make their lives more straightforward. They don’t really care about underwriting criteria and lending policies, just whether they can buy the house they’ve set their heart on and can afford the monthly payments. What a product achieves for them is more important to them than how it works.

But my favourite motto is the good old 6P principle: “Perfect preparation prevents p*** poor performance.” It’s a maxim for all of our working lives. Planning is something most of us do far too little of. Not through choice, I hasten to add but just because we are so busy on our little hamster wheels that it’s hard to jump off and look at our businesses objectively. It’s difficult to take time out to look at the bigger picture, and sometimes even more so to justify this to our masters.

Every aspect of our daily work should be influenced by the 6P principle. Managing our diaries, getting ready for client meetings, obtaining KFIs, following up discussions, maintaining contact with clients through applications and beyond – all the minutiae of our jobs should be prepared thoroughly and planned meticulously.

So try to see a lull, if it happens, as a good thing. See it as an opportunity to get things in perspective – a chance to plan, prepare and organise.

Clear your desks, clean up your database, read those articles that have been gathering dust for months, make some appointments for the new year. Plan your work and work your plan.

Sue Read is consultant, Marshall James & Co

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