Leverage your Learning with a Study Group

By Jim Ruta | October 21 2014 09:00AM
How do I go about setting up a study group?

Top advisors have been developing themselves with the help of study groups for many years. They are not only a good idea, but necessary if you want to be your best. “What is a Study Group?” It’s a small group of like-minded agents who get together regularly to explore their businesses with their peers and work on ways to get better. Sometimes it’s just about getting better individually. Sometimes it’s about making the business better. For instance, Canada’s Conference for Advanced Life Underwriting, (CALU) was established at a study group led in part by Joe Dickstein and Jim Burton. That “study group” is still having a big impact on the industry today and the group that started it, still meets.

Study groups are very valuable to everyone. The challenge is setting them up and managing them properly so everyone wins. Here are a few ideas to help you start your own study group:

  • Invite advisors who are at about the same level of production, experience and expertise. If there is too much production difference among advisors, sharing won’t have the same value. Ensure also that members are in roughly similar businesses and have similar attitudes and value toward the business. Membership can vary but 6 to 10 is good. Too few and there’s not enough momentum. Too many and it gets unruly. On the other hand, diversity is important too.
  • Be willing to share. If members aren’t prepared to be honest and share their problems and “secrets” with the group, it won’t have attraction and staying power. First meetings are fun. Successive meeting can be very productive.
  • Everyone has to do their homework too. Unless members come prepared with answers, comments and materials to share, the value of the study group drops substantially. When advisors come unprepared, the whole group suffers. Ultimately, it will fail too.
  • Get away from the office so you can work without interruptions. It might be a cottage, hotel boardroom or country inn… or even just someone’s family room. Just get away for the day or two it can take and focus on your business. Turn off the cell phones. Don’t call the office. Enough with the email too.
  • Prepare an agenda in advance. Topics include: a state of the business review, business challenges, business successes, big case post mortems, HR issues, future plans, and industry concerns among others important to your group.
  • Consider inviting a guest speaker. You might have more - who can talk about issues that are important to the group. Invest in speakers from supplier companies or professional friends who can make a difference – like a lawyer or accountant who could talk about estate planning, tax or legal issues that matter to your members.
  • Make the rules clear. What happens at study group, stays at study group. Members must be confident that their issues and processes remain confidential. Members should also expect that they will be helped and not abused in a caring environment where members are safe to disclose and discuss.
  • Rotate group hosting among members. Increase your chances of success by taking turns organizing and hosting the meeting. The host moderates the meeting and keeps the proceedings on track with your cooperation.

Everyone has to do their homework too. Unless members come prepared with answers, comments and materials to share, the value of the study group drops substantially. When advisors come unprepared, the whole group suffers. Ultimately, it will fail too.

Follow these rules and your study group will get off on the right foot.

For more information, email me.

As a new advisor, how do I deal with people who think I’m too new to be useful to them?

Believe it or not, you can turn this objection around to your advantage. When Gary Dornhoefer started as a new agent he had just won two Stanley Cups and was still doing national hockey broadcasts as a colour commentator. He was a national celebrity. You’d think that Gary would have had an easy time prospecting and approaching people. He did, but he also faced some stiff questioning from tough people – just like you.

Yes, he could gain access to top business owners and executives because of his celebrity but those people were hardly pushovers just because he had a name. Some had serious questions about his ability to deliver in the life insurance business. After all, it was their money, their family and their business he was proposing to work with. They’d say, “Dorny, what do you know about finance, money and business life insurance? For goodness sake, you’re brand new to the business and you were a jock… with “The Broad Street Bullies” no less. How could you possibly know enough to help me?”

I have to say that when I first heard that in a joint call, I thought we were cooked. But, I quickly discovered that you never count out a champion athlete. Gary had a great answer. He said, “That’s a good question but let me tell you a story. When I started out as a hockey player, I was just a beginner too. But, with the help of a great team around me, we were ultimately able to win two championships. It wasn’t just me playing those games, it was our team – our players, coaches, trainers and staff that came together to get a winning result. I look at my work today in the same way. I’m just one of the players on the team. We too have managers, colleagues, trainers and staff that help us be our best so we can provide you with the winning results you want. The way I see it, is that together with my team, I bring you the best possible advice and help you achieve the results you want. And, because I’m new, I depend on that team to help me do what’s best. So, when you work with me, you get me, my team and the best advice we can provide. You can win your ‘financial championship’ that way.”

Few prospects argued with him after that. They appreciated his candour and his team approach to the business. It’s one of the reasons he qualified for MDRT in his first year in the business. It’s an approach you can definitely still use today: “I may be a new advisor but I work with a top team of professionals that help me bring you the very best life insurance and financial advice to bear on your situation. And, because I’m relatively new, you can count on me to use my team to get you the information you need to make the decisions you have to make to get the results you want.” You see, being new can be an advantage. Play it that way.