Does Your Firm Need a COO?

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I run a 15-person firm. A consultant come and prepared a growth plan for our future. The number-one recommendation was that I create a role for a chief operating officer and hire this person. But I don’t see how a COO helps a firm that is as small as mine. This seems the solution for a firm of 50 or above, and I can’t afford a high-paid individual repeating what I already do.

Max R., Minnesota

Dear Max,

I have met many advisors running their own firms who are very entrepreneurial. They are great at creative problem-solving and generating ideas, but sometimes the mundane day-to-day managing part isn’t that interesting. In other cases, the advisor can be a great detail person – very good with numbers but not as great with people skills. In some cases, I have found one person who is good at managing it all, but it is rarer.

Most advisors need someone as their right-arm person – the COO – to help them manage the business and cover those areas where the owner isn’t as good. The COO position can be a variety of things – sometimes it is a focus on the operational side of the business, sometimes the COO oversees sales and marketing activities and sometimes they do all of the day-to-day management. In many cases, this is the right answer.

As to the cost, this is where it gets very individualized. If you can’t afford a COO, then it might not be right for you. You may want, instead, to sit down and identify those areas that aren’t your skills or interests. Can you assign components of what you do to others already in the firm? Can you find someone to fill a lower-level position that could provide support in areas you need? You have to look at both the need and the cost to determine the right decision.

Whatever you do, be clear about responsibilities, expectations and measurements for the new position or positions. Communicate of rest of the firm the areas this position will cover. Work with the person or people you are bringing in to help them succeed.

Dear Bev,

I market primarily to women. We have carved out a good niche working with divorcees, widows and never-married women. I keep being told we need to have events because women like to get together to mingle. But my clients are vastly different from one another. We have one woman who is a successful corporate executive and another one who is a recent widow who has never worked in her life. I want to do something but I am struggling.

Mark P., Texas

Dear Mark,

I like your question and I understand your confusion! This is a topic I speak about and write about a lot.

It’s impossible to bucket women in an overall category and call them a “target market” any more than men of all shapes, ages, sizes and backgrounds are a target market. You are going about this the right way by thinking about the different segments of women you serve.

It is inappropriate to say you are having an event for women just because they are female. Instead, look at this as you would any client segmentation effort. Can you segment by background, age, life situation, interests or hobbies or knowledge levels about money and investing? If you can segment with some granularity, you can create events and educational opportunities and be more targeted. Instead of saying, “Calling all female clients,” you can target your messaging. For example, ask “What should successful women executives know about their retirement options?” and then have a session with information geared to this group.

Your intentions are good. Spend some time learning more about the specifics of your client base and develop your marketing program around their specific needs.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal,, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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