Most people spend more time planning Thanksgiving dinner for family than they do developing a strategy for their business or life. This is one of the many reasons for the short timeframe most people survive in the lending industry. Strategic Planning is the cornerstone to a successful mortgage planning practice/origination business. Trying to run any business without a plan would be like a builder constructing a home without the blueprints; it may get done, but it sure will be painful to look at. I see many loan professionals who are building some rather painful businesses, and it would not take long to find out why if pressed. A simple “show me your business plan” would be a clear indication of their commitment to success or mediocre results.
Early on in my career, which started in 1990, I did not consider myself a business owner. The “plan” was to call on realtors, bring them goodies and rate sheets, and hope I was there for the deal. It was not until I met Joe Stumpf in 1994 that I started looking at my business as a practice that I could some day sell. I realized that the By Referral Only concept needed a consistent client service system, which in turn created the need to build the system and the blueprint plan to follow.
We have all heard the various clichés about direction and planning; however, if you do not have one then you indeed are on a path of lesser results. This industry shifts rapidly, and I can assure you those of us with a strategic business plan will continue to help hundreds (and some thousands) of clients per year by delivering consistent and referable service. And we all have a playbook to follow, like any successful sports team.
My managing partner (and life partner) Karen Zendels and I spend the end of each year strategically planning the next year’s business, we have a five- to 10-year strategic plan, as well as marketing, time and life plans. We take time away from work, unplug from our company and work “on” the business vs. “in” the business. (Working “on” the business should be done weekly as well.) Once we have the “flight plan,” it is much easier to stay on course and make in-flight corrections.
The strategic plan is the larger-picture vision of where we see ourselves in five to 10 years, so we can begin with the end in mind and work backwards. It is like our “cover to the box” when putting a puzzle together, and we use this strategic plan to see what pieces we need to put in next. We can then break the goals down into manageable tasks to implement. This is a written plan that is revisited annually, or as needed if there are changes in the market or relationships.
There are four basic pillars to our overall strategic planning process: life planning, business planning, marketing planning and time planning.
Life Plan—An essential part of the overall strategy is to make sure our mortgage planning practice enables us to have a life as the priority. After all, many of us got into the mortgage industry thinking it the perfect way to play more golf, make a nice living and have a flexible schedule.
The concept of life planning came from one of my long-time mentors, Todd Duncan, who I was fortunate enough to meet in 1991 as his training career was taking off and my own career was just starting. The life plan consists of places we want to travel to, scheduled time with family and friends, along with self-improvement and education goals, health strategies and other things that we want to see/do/implement. So many people in our industry figure out, far too late in life, that scheduling life’s priorities first enables them to accomplish a lot more during the time they choose to work efficiently. Imagine if you were as efficient every day as you are the day before you leave for vacation; thus, take more vacations.
The life plan is essentially “putting the big rocks in first” and prioritizing what you want to do/see/accomplish that year. The mortgage business can be consuming on many levels, which is why proactively scheduling time off is a must. During our annual planning session, we time-block the days/weeks we want to take off and schedule that in ACT! (even if we don’t know exactly what we will be doing specifically). This lets our team knows when we will be away, so their vacations can be planned accordingly (not during ours). It also motivates us to work efficiently in between getaways, as we always have something to look forward to. To help us stay on task we create a “Dream Board.” We cut out magazine pictures, phrases, and anything else that pertains to a goal we want to accomplish for the following year (i.e. pictures of places we want to travel, motivational phrases, and words, and so on). We then paste them on poster board and hang it on the wall in our workout room. Every day while working out we are staring at the board, which is a constant reminder of what we want to accomplish.
An interesting exercise as part of the life plan is creating a list of the things you want to do before you die. If you have a spouse/partner, do this separately initially, and then compare lists. This helped us get a clearer picture of what was most important to us, which then enabled us to prioritize the ‘large rocks’ to accomplish first. One I have crossed off my list was visiting Normandy, France to see the D-Day landing beaches in 1999, and dozens of others since then.
Business Plan—Like any successful corporation, every originator needs to have a detailed and written plan to execute. The business plan consists of goals for the desired time period: net personal income, income per loan, total loan volume, closed loans, number of referrals from business pillars and so on. There are several tracking system options for this. We use an Excel spreadsheet to track each of these areas, which gives us the ability to see if we are on task. Since we know approximately how many loans we need to close to make our desired income, we can adjust accordingly.
The business plan is monitored daily by the entire team on the Excel spreadsheet, which offers a complete breakdown of our plan goals. All team members see our annual production goal, monthly production goal and so on, and how far above (or below) we are from these goals so we can easily turn up the volume knob if needed. This spreadsheet is also used to track the loan flow, with color-codes for the team members highlighting what they need to do next. The marketing plan enables us to have an annual game plan with pre-determined touch points for our clients. This plan is broken out into three different aspects of our business: The Before, During, and After Units. The before unit plan shows us what tasks we need to do to bring in new business. This could consist of a marketing campaign to financial planners, Realtors and builders that we are looking to do business with, or for those who advertise it could be a direct-response ad targeting move-up buyers. The before unit is essentially a volume knob for the business; if we need to increase or decrease production, we can do more or less before unit marketing.
The during unit is the high-touch system we have in place to deliver a consistent “Wow” as we guide clients through the mortgage process. This is executed through various checklists that the team members complete as the client moves from being referred to us to the closing. Our loan managers (processors) have specific calls to all parties for intro, pre-approval, appraisal in, and final approval, which proactively updates everyone, reduces inbound calls, and improves communication.
There is also a planned process we take the client through—the initial call into the office, being greeted by our Client Concierge, our mortgage planning conversation, the consultation gift (currently The Wealthy Barber), the loan manager follow up, the approval basket and the closing gift. This is orchestrated by the team members as they follow the specific system for those parts of the process. The goal of the during unit is to elicit at least one referral from every client in process before it closes.
The after unit is the post-closing marketing plan we use to create the Clients for Life. We use ACT! to communicate with our database of around 1,700 clients on a consistent basis (monthly for many of those clients). This consists of market updates about the status of the mortgage market and rates (which I write vs. the industry generated ones), postcards discussing a scenario we helped a client with recently, nine-volt battery mailer, birthday cake certificates to clients and their children, anniversary cards, calendar, and various others. The after unit is also where we invest in our clients versus advertising to those who do not know about The Young Team, Inc. or our Certified Mortgage Planning services.
The marketing plan is primarily implemented and managed by our marketing liaison or client concierge, with some monitoring to ensure we are on task with the scheduled dates we want things executed. Since the marketing plan consists of monthly mailers and touch points to our database/after unit, as well as the during unit, there is a constant flow of marketing to remind our clients we need their help to grow our practice.
Time Plan—We all have 24 hours in the day to accomplish what we want and need to do. Having a time plan is simply creating a system to follow so you maximize the day by spending the majority of the day on what will generate the most income, referrals or highest priority. Time blocking is essential when creating or implementing any consistent client service systems, or other business plans. We time-block at the end of the year to do strategic planning, and Fridays are days set aside during the week with no consultations taken those days to work “on” the business (creating such things as marketing pieces and annual client reviews). We schedule our mortgage-planning consultation time slots in ACT! a few years in advance, so the team knows what times we are available to meet with clients when they/we are scheduling. There are no after-hours appointments, no weekends, and clients work around our schedules versus the other way around. That enables us to control the “during the week” flow of business, and so we have time-blocked tasks to implement the other strategic plans.
To monitor the time plan, a mortgage professional could look at their current schedule and see what priorities are already in place. If you are willing to meet your clients anywhere, anyplace and any time, I would ask if your doctor, dentist or other professional would do the same. Time blocking can be challenging, since our industry rarely allows us an uninterrupted day where all things go according to plan. Don’t get discouraged, plan what is most important first and fill in the gaps with the lesser priorities.
There are numerous catch phrases that sum up the planning process, such as “Progress not Perfection,” “Eat the elephant one bite at a time” or perhaps “It’s a marathon not a sprint.” They all allude to the fact that Rome was not built in a day, nor will your business plan be developed overnight. It has taken over 16 years to create a consistent mortgage practice that often time runs on autopilot, and those systems have evolved significantly over the years. However, the results are what make it all worthwhile. Going from taking orders working at a bank in 1990 to helping over 260 clients and $60M in business last year is rewarding. The most significant part though is having the time to enjoy life as designed by the overall plan, which to us is taking eight-plus weeks off to travel and do what we love to do.
The bottom line is simple: Create the vision of what you want your life and business to look like; break it down into manageable tasks within the life, business, marketing and time plans; and delegate the items you are not good at. Wishing you the best as you build your blueprint to a successful mortgage origination career, and more importantly the life you desire.
By Chris Young
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