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Building a purposeful business for good

Man standing in city plaza looking up

I’ve had the pleasure of working with and getting to know a lot of financial advisors over the course of my career, starting with college internships with RIAs and extending through nearly a decade of working with hundreds of advisors. These interactions have given me a deep appreciation for the important value advisors provide for their clients and society in general.

By the very nature of their work, advisors pursue a noble purpose: to help people make wise decisions around the most important aspects of their financial lives. By helping clients achieve greater financial clarity, advisors improve lives and make a positive impact on society.

Some advisors, however, exert an even greater impact. In my experience, advisors who have a clear purpose for their business and articulate it in ways that people can easily understand and relate to derive deeper meaning and reward from their work than those who don’t. These purpose-driven advisors view their business not just as a financial asset but as an impact asset. They leverage their roles as business owners, employers, leaders in their communities, and advocates for causes they believe in to make their business a force for greater good in the world.

Building Businesses for Good

Building a purposeful business

Do you have a clearly defined purpose for your business? Is your business living up to its potential? Are you making the impact you’d like to see in the world?

If you’re not sure about your responses to those questions, it’s probably a good idea to think about your business purpose, the impact you want to have, and how to articulate that in a way that others can appreciate.

Here are a few things to consider in building a purposeful business for good.

Start with why

As leadership expert Simon Sinek explains in his 2009 TED Talk and subsequent books, compelling leaders understand and clearly articulate their why – their purpose, beliefs, and reason for being – before focusing on what they do or how they do it. “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” Sinek says. “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

Putting purpose at the center of your business is especially relevant for financial advisors due to the personal nature of their client relationships and the need to build deep trust. Being clear about your purpose and demonstrating your commitment to it can allow you to build more meaningful relationships with clients, and create better outcomes for them, your staff, the communities you serve, and the causes you support.

Most advisors begin in this business with some version of the following “why”:

Advisor’s Why: To help clients make wise decisions around the most important aspects of their financial life.

Two realities collide a few years into an advisor’s evolution: Their client base is growing beyond their capacity to effectively serve client needs, and they want to add expertise and capacity to augment their team’s capabilities. Both realities create what I call the leader’s why:

Leader’s Why: Build a diverse and inclusive team who come to work engaged, ready to serve clients, and grow the business.

I should point out that the Leader’s Why doesn’t replace the Advisor’s Why, rather the deep desire to help clients make wise decisions necessitates the Leader’s Why.

Ultimately, advisors who have built businesses based on their Advisor’s and Leader’s Why start to wrestle with two questions related to their legacy:

• How can my business serve others beyond those who would be natural clients?

• How can my business continue to meet client needs and make a difference long after I’m gone?

Legacy Why: Leave a business that will continue to have a positive impact on our community beyond my ability to serve.

It’s important to be intentional about the legacy you want to leave. Make sure your business is sustainable, with a succession plan that can support the needs of your clients and other stakeholders far into the future.

I think about each of these three why’s as strands of a rope – each distinct yet contributing to a strong foundation for building a purpose-driven business that can make a significant impact for good.

Share your values and purpose

Successful advisors invest a lot of time getting to know their clients well, so they can develop strategies to help them achieve their financial goals and live more meaningful lives. Likewise, it’s important for your clients to understand your and your firm’s values and purpose, so they can feel comfortable in the relationship and willing to engage fully. Remember, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” So don’t be shy about talking to your clients about your values and the impact you want your business to have.

Many advisors routinely ask their clients about their charitable giving and help them enhance the impact of their generosity. Others look for ways to align their firm’s charitable giving and volunteer commitments with client priorities. A few firms I know dedicate a percentage of their profits every year into a “generosity fund,” track the top organizations that their clients are giving to and direct a portion of their own charitable giving to support the causes their clients care about. Some even find ways to engage with clients in volunteer activities or fundraising for nonprofit groups.

I know of other firms that include their employees in their generosity programs by involving staff in discussions and decisions about which nonprofit organizations or causes to support. That can go a long way toward helping employees feel more engaged with and committed to the work they do. After all, one recent study showed that 90% of employees who work at companies with a strong sense of purpose said they were more inspired, motivated, and loyal to their employer.

Taking intentional steps to uncover the purposes that your clients and employees care deeply about requires time and effort, but it’s a great way to deepen connections and intimacy with your clients and staff while supporting worthwhile causes.

Purposeful business, purposeful results

Understanding your why is an essential step toward building a purposeful business – one that not only can enable your clients to live more meaningful lives, but also be a force for greater good in the world.

At Thrivent Advisor Network, we believe advisors are blessed with greater opportunities to change lives, provide hope, and make a meaningful difference in the world than most people can imagine. We help purpose-driven advisors manage their businesses to deliver benefits for their clients, employees, communities, and society at large.