Ep 002

Shawn Sparks on The 5 Pillars to Scaling Your Advisory Business


Shawn Sparks

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Inside This Episode

In our industry, it’s all too common to treat revenue numbers as the ultimate scoreboard. But if that’s your only game plan, not only will your progression hit a ceiling, but burnout is inevitable.  

Today, I’m sitting down with Shawn Sparks of Triad Partners, to talk about what it means to truly succeed as a financial advisor.  

Think about it this way… If your numbers are on the rise, but your family is eating dinner without you most nights, is that really how you’d define success? 

In this episode, Shawn shares a much better approach to building a business; one that gives financial advisors unlimited growth, freedom, and joy. Or as we define it, a “Do Business. Do Life.” approach. 

You’ll hear how we’re uniquely positioning ourselves at Triad to serve advisors at the highest level, why freedom doesn’t have to come at the cost of growth, and what it takes to scale without becoming a victim of your own success. 

3 of the biggest insights from Shawn Sparks

  • #1  Learn the sustainable approach to scaling your business as a financial advisor, and why focusing on productivity is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

  • #2 The 5 pillars to scale [Vision, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Culture] and why there’s no limit to what you can accomplish when they all work together. 

  • #3 Realizing there are actually 3 different “types” of advisors required to create an unbeatable client experience, attract more referrals, and eliminate the limiting belief that you have to carry all of the weight of running a business on your own


  • 00:00 You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.
  • 04:42 How an insatiable thirst for knowledge allowed Shawn to become the best cold caller in the industry.
  • 10:16 The little hinges that swing BIG doors for your business.
  • 11:44 Why a traditional FMO offering fails to serve advisors who are playing at the top. 
  • 18:06 The key to building a world-class business. HINT: It has nothing to do with what you want! 
  • 22:13 How Triad is helping Financial Advisors achieve unlimited growth, freedom, and joy.
  • 26:19 Why focusing on productivity is one of the biggest mistakes an advisor can make.
  • 29:23 The advisor-in-charge model that’s spreading you thin and leading to burnout. Learn how to get unstuck in less time than you ever thought was possible!
  • 37:28 Why creating a detailed vision for where you want to go is the cornerstone for building a great business. 
  • 43:46 Why a diversified marketing plan is the fuel for company growth.
  • 47:49 How to model and adopt a marketing strategy that’s already working for someone else.   
  • 48:48 Is your marketing plan getting you actual results OR are you just “building brand awareness”?
  • 52:42 How to create a duplicatable and scalable sales process with a 80-90% success rate. 
  • 59:03 Learn about the 3 types of advisors and how they all contribute differently to the business.
  • 01:11:06 If the culture is right, success is inevitable. If the culture is wrong, you can kiss the dream goodbye.
  • 01:15:46 Client Case Study: Going from 20 appointments/week and complete burnout to 4 appointments/week, doubling his business, and living life completely on his terms—in less than 12 months. 




  • Wisdom is knowing how your short term actions impact your long term future.” – Shawn Sparks

  • What we’re obsessed with right now is helping advisors build a business that gives them unlimited growth.” – Shawn Sparks

  • If you take the growth away from an entrepreneur, you take away the excitement, and that trickles down to every team member.” – Shawn Sparks

  • For your business to be scalable, it’s got to be trainable. If your sales process is based on you infusing 30 years of knowledge and experience into this young kid who’s starting from scratch, I will tell you, it’s impossible.” – Shawn Sparks

  • “Leadership is not what you do or how well you do. It’s how what you do impacts those around you.” – Shawn Sparks

  • Developing a great culture means that when people come to work, their spouse says that business is a blessing in their life.” – Shawn Sparks

Brad Johnson: Shawn, what’s up, my man? How are you today? 


Shawn Sparks: Good. 


Brad Johnson: Well, I know we’ve been meaning to sit down and just dive in. I’m excited. You’re my first official guest on the podcast. Those of you that are joining for this episode, I did kind of the first episode on my journey, where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to. And it was a natural first guest to have you on, Shawn. I know we’ve been running side by side for the last couple of years. And so, I wanted to give you a chance to tell a little bit of your story. And one thing some of you listeners or viewers might not know out there is the fact that like Shawn and I have known each other since college and actually knew each other. We’re good friends before we were ever in this industry. And then you were actually the guy back in the early corporate days, young Brad. I’m like, “Hey, I don’t think I like this corporate job. I’m thinking about, actually, I was going to be a financial advisor interviewing with kind of all the usual suspects.” And you’re like, “Hey, man, there’s this little company you should come interview at.” That was my foot in the door into finance and here we are 15 years later. 


So, I stepped away from that chapter. I told a little bit of that story on the first episode of the show. I’m curious to hear your version. Obviously, you had a heck of a run, created an incredible reputation, did some amazing things, some of which had never been done before in this space. And so, a lot of people are probably out there thinking like, “Shawn, why did you do something new?” We’re in a spot where a lot of people, I think, saw that as a pinnacle of success. So, how did we get here today, I guess, is the way I’d put it?  


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. It’s a good question. So, first, a long time ago, I learned something that I would say is kind of a pillar in my decision-making. And I was told wisdom is knowing how your short-term actions impact your long-term future. And I think it’s human nature to think short-sighted. And I’ll just tell you, like what I did, had I been thinking, what’s the best for me over the next three months, what’s the best for me over the next year or three years, pretty much everybody who hears this would say that I was a fool. I had a great business, I had a lot of great friends. I was in a position where I could be complacent and I was making lots of money. I was reaping the rewards of a lot of hard work, a lot of years. But I will tell you, as I zoned in, I’ve always tried to just look out 10 years, 20 years and say, what do I want to accomplish? Where can I make a difference? What’s my purpose? And then try to back in and reverse engineer like what steps I need to take. And as I did that, I started to realize that there were a lot of needs that weren’t being met for incredible people, my friends, advisors. I started to realize that I was potentially in a position to try to change things and to make it better for them. 


And I think that seed kind of started being planted as was like, man, maybe there is another thing to my future. Maybe there is a bigger difference I can make. And the more I thought about it, the more convicted I became that I needed to go out and kind of create a change. And I’d say it wasn’t really about me personally. I’ve always tried to view the business and I think it’s a good thing for everybody is what’s best for your clients. If you have that mindset, it’ll tell you a lot about what you need to do. And I just realized as I looked long term, a change was inevitable, but then it was scary. You know, to be honest, it was just really, really scary and I wasn’t sure if I would actually change and do it. But eventually, the conviction was so strong I couldn’t help but I had to do it.  


Brad Johnson: Yeah. That’s something I always admired. I don’t know if I ever told you that or not but I remember very early in the business, like my first six months and our chairs were like back-to-back and we were hammering cold calls. You know, the glory days of make 100 cold calls a day. And I just really always remember you being a student. You were always humble. You’re always like, “Wait, that guy just said something on the phone I can use on the next phone call.” And I remember you had the little notebook that you’re like scribbling down notes. I don’t know where the old school notebook ever ended up, but I think you hit something there where the less you make it about you, the more you make it about serving. It’s kind of the Zig Ziglar helping off other people get what they want and you’ll get what you want in life. And that’s really what I’m hearing you say. And I’ve heard you share a framework and this a little history lesson for people. I think it’s one thing. We grew up in the FMO world, the insurance space, but really I think it applies to like the whole distribution model in finance, which is it’s kind of evolved over the years. 


I mean, this show is called the Financial Advisor Evolution, so I’d love for you to just share like you got in, I believe, the company you worked at. I could be wrong. So, somebody fact-check me listening to this, but I believe it was the first FMO purchased by Allianz way back in the day. And that was a thing, you know, in the early 2000, as the insurance world was evolving and growing, there was a trend, and you kind of break it down into three phases, this evolution, this history. I’d love to just hear your thoughts because I think a lot of advisors might be able to learn something from it.  


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. Well, this business it’s been really just a blessing to my life overall. I kind of found myself in and I was referred in because my dad was in the business and I always wanted to be an advisor when I grew up. So, I plan on staying in the business at the first FMO for a couple of years. I felt like, man, if I can talk to advisors every day, I’m going to learn so much from them and I’m going to go become one. And what I found was I fell in love with the business more than I fell in love with being an advisor myself. And I was on what I would say is a quest for knowledge. I had a notebook like you’re saying. I remember writing down everything I learned. And I think a big thing is if you’re willing to be a student, the teacher will appear. If you’re not willing to be a student, a teacher will disappear. And there are a lot of people that find themselves in what I would say is a miserable place, thinking they know the answers, thinking they know everything. And I have just been one to say that I will learn everything I can. There are teachers all around me. 


It has nothing to do with status of somebody producing more or less. There are little things you can learn along the way that if you’re on a quest for knowledge, it’s going to be there. Like this podcast will be a great knowledge source for a lot of people. So, I went into it just saying, “I want to learn everything I can about the business,” and I fell in love with the advisors I was serving more than the business itself though. And I feel like that’s kind of a little bit of a gift that I was given is that I don’t know if it’s because my dad was in the business or because I wanted to be an advisor. I was looking at things from their perspective and I was like, “Man, I was just on a mission to help these advisors,” and that’s kind of probably, as you think forward, a lot of what led me to just keep pursuing that and just keep helping him. But when I got in the business, we’re talking what I’d say is a very failure-prone business model. I was cold-calling all day long. 


And what I learned is there’s a training and a gentleman said, “Why are you guys trying to learn this on your own?” Like, I was three months into the business cold calling. He said, “Don’t you know there’s people that have built a business of cold calling and in the business 30 years and you can take 30 years of what they learned and apply it to your life today, and you’ll be 30 years ahead?” It struck me and I go, “Wow.” So, I started researching ring book sales, cold calling, all the things nobody would ever pick up. I was like, I will become the best in the business at engaging new clients. And what I saw was within 60 days, I was breaking records in sales and everybody was like, “How is he doing it?” It wasn’t me. It was that I literally found a roadmap on how to achieve more in less time. I found there were only four objections you’ll ever get on the phone. And I was like, “Wow. If you can anticipate those, they’re not objections or not a problem.” Well, so many people would call for three years and keep getting surprised by the same type of stuff. So, it put me in a step ahead. So, I was on a relentless pursuit.  


Brad Johnson: But before you move off that, just say you all know he’s not making this up. So, fun fact, you actually lived with my wife, Sarah and I, our very first year of marriage and, yeah, hindsight, don’t do that if you just got married. But I remember you were commuting from Manhattan and you’d just gotten this new job, and I’m like, “What do you do?” And you’re like, “I call financial advisors all day long.” I’m like, “Really? What do you talk to them about?” So, we’re just both out of college, and to your point on devouring these books, I remember one day vividly, I’m walking back and you’re in our spare bedroom. We were like just out of college. So, I’m like, “Hey, you want to go grab a beer? What are you doing tonight?” You’re like, “Nah, I’m reading,” and you were literally sitting on a bed reading a cold-calling book. And I actually remember the picture. It was like this old school dude in a shirt and tie with like an old-school phone up too. I just like that is such a lesson right there. 


I know that’s like really simple but all of the knowledge, all of the mentors that you need to solve business problems, they’re in a book somewhere. And you were the guy that was willing to dive in, go really deep, and that’s the thing I’ve seen with you is when you get interested on a topic, you will literally get obsessed with that topic. And that’s what you were at that moment in time. You were obsessed with how to be the best cold caller in the business, which really quickly you became because I witnessed it. And so, I just wanted to take a second to like acknowledge that because that shouldn’t just be a thing like the listeners out there where they’re like, “Oh yeah, yeah. I read some books.” It’s like no, no, you got obsessed on the topic and you became an expert on the topic, and then you applied it because that was the lever. That was like the one thing for you in that moment that was going to unlock everything. So, I don’t know if you have any other thoughts around it but I witnessed it.  


Shawn Sparks: It’s the truth. So, I think being aware of those levers, being aware of the problem that you’re facing or the opportunities in your business is a big part of the equation. I think a lot of us just work day-to-day and we just kind of see everything as equal work. There are usually one or two main things that you need to accomplish over the next month, next three months to really move it down for you. So, if you’re aware of them and you see the problem, you can fix it, but you’re not going to fix it by dabbling or just going halfway or just like, “Oh, let’s try to figure it out.” Throw that away and just say, “How can I best learn from others or learn the steps to overcome this problem?” And what’s amazing is if you have that mindset, what is the problem? What is the opportunity? And then how can I best solve it? You usually have relationships that have been through it. You have friends. You have peers, other advisors, things like this. It’s like you’re one person away from giving you like what I would say is the hack and overcoming it. 


And for me, cold calling wasn’t a sexy deal. It wasn’t like, “Oh, a lot of people were experts on cold calling,” so I went to books. But there are other problems in the business that people face that they would sometimes just let problems drag on because number one is we’re not aware. We’re not able to zoom out on our business and say, “What do I need to get good at? What do I need to do to overcome this problem?” and then seize it. You know, go out and identify steps to do it. And then most problems can be solved very quickly if we’re aware and we know how, which tends to be the who, right? Like, who can help us do it?  


Brad Johnson: Well, let’s pivot and let’s go to, because in that early day’s cold calling model, it’s actually I’m sure a lot of advisors out there will relate to this, it was a really vendor-based model. It was make a call, sign a guy up to distribute a product, move on in your role. That was really your early role. And I know you’ve kind of got a framework. I think it’d be helpful if you’re open to sharing it. It’s like kind of the industry moved from a vendor model to then another model and really it kind of helped form the vision of what you’re doing today.  


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. So, the insurance companies wanted to hire a distribution company to market their products online, and we were called the Annuity Masters, PBS The Annuity Masters. But we would market annuities to financial advisors. The fundamental like way of becoming successful was the more advisors you bring on, the more money you make. And if you bring on, you know, I think we brought on like a thousand plus advisors in a month. We knew some of them would write business.  


Brad Johnson: What was that like? In your role, could you even return their phone calls at that point, a thousand in a month?  


Shawn Sparks: Well, there was the whole company, and I was breaking records. Like, I remember like top salesperson and 60 new advisors in a month that I recruited and got them to sign up. And then if they signed up and we would get them to write business and some would write business, some wouldn’t, but we would just keep marketing the products to them. That’s the way the business began. And what I’ll say is that is very clearly a product vendor model. We were a vendor, which means the more devices we brought on, the more money we would make. And we would primarily help them with products, marketing, illustrations, new business, simple ops stuff. And then we would do a lot of reactive service when they needed something to call us. But the equation had nothing to do with helping an advisor become more successful. It was everything to do with marketing and selling products. That’s the way I grew up in the business. That taught me a lot. I learned so much. But from there, the industry as a whole and there are still companies that still do that. 


Just think about it. If you’re talking to your vendor as a reactive in a reactive service manner, how you really win is this, get back to your advisor quicker. Top-notch customer service. In those duration, I’ll get it to you in three hours instead of a day. Reacting quickly, being available, not being put on hold. This is the way the vendor wins.  


Brad Johnson: They’re a good dude. They’re a good guy.  


Shawn Sparks: Good compliment. We still get it. It’s like, well, they’re great guys so it’s like a relationship and then it’s great service but that’s the game they’re playing. And I’ll say that in business, kind of the standard that you accept is the standard that you’ll get, there are some advisors that are absolutely happy with just having somebody to turn to for products, illustrations, and so on. And then there are others that one of the things which I would say one of the incredible chapter of my life is our last venture. And what I think that it’s an incredible company and great friends. What I would say is what we kind of figured out there at the time was that we could do some things beyond just being a vendor. And what we ended up doing was we still worked with a lot of people. I mean, lots of advisors. But I said like our company was like, “What if we were to offer some websites?” Back then there were advisors with no website. That’s one notch above what the vendor was because you’re adding some additional value. 


And then what you do is the industry as a whole kind of adopted the model, which I would say it’s kind of like an industrial model, like the Industrial Revolution. It’s like we’re like, “Wait. Let’s work with a lot of people but let’s do more,” and it’s kind of like an assembly line of value. Because I’ll tell you, if your business partnership, whether it’s an FMO or business coach, I mean, if you have a thousand clients… 


Brad Johnson: Broker-dealers, you see the same thing over there. 


Shawn Sparks: Broker-dealers. If you have 1,000 clients, you don’t have a day a year to work with a client. So, we’ve got to almost template out and create additional offerings to bring more value than the vendors.  


Brad Johnson: What are some of the common let’s call them products rolling off the assembly line you’ve seen over the years?  


Shawn Sparks: Well, they’re everything. I mean, you know, shiny objects. There’s white papers, there’s new websites, you have three choices and then they slap on your logo. It’s never custom. One seminar strategy is one way of doing it. Everybody just get in line and do it this way. What we found was that model was a huge improvement to the advisors and I think a lot of advisors grew a lot because they were getting additional support and help. And then kind of our mission here and what I started to notice was this. Number one is the more successful you become, it’s like a blessing in one way but you also end up in a situation where your business transforms to where in the early days when it was a small group, we had really deep relationships and we’d go to a dinner and there’s 25 advisors, their spouse there, and it’s just really closely connected. But the more successful it became, it just got big and I think that corporate approach started to make it a little less fun for me. And then I started to hear people, you know, not with any particular model, but top advisors, it’s a small industry, tell me it’s like I had advisors say the bigger the FMO industry, the FMO have gotten, the less valuable the relationships become. 


I had a great advisor tell me that he didn’t get any value from his FMO. And I had people say like, “I don’t go to the events anymore,” because it’s like three football fields of people and it’s not what they like. When I started to realize was that the top advisors, the top 1% didn’t take advantage of the templated offerings. They went outside and said, “I want world-class work. I wanted additional things.” So, the bigger the advisor got, the more watered down the relationship became in the business side. 


Brad Johnson: The less the model served them. 


Shawn Sparks: The less the model served them. So, what I started realizing was, collectively in the industry, a lot of the best advisors were kind of getting the short end of the stick, but they were doing the best in the business. And I was like, “This just seems wrong. It seems backwards. Your best people should have the best partnership with you.” And when I realized the advisors kind of wanted to change what they were telling me. You know, I got a great advisor. I’ll never forget it. I would say this might be one of those conversations that actually shaped my decision. He said, “Shawn, I love you guys. I love you, man,” and he said, “I’m not going anywhere.” He goes, “But I really think you’re missing the mark with top advisors.” This guy was $100 million plus producer and he said, he goes, “I don’t take advantage of any of the new offerings. The shiny objects are just distractions for my team.” And he said, “You’ve really just become a great relationship as a company that does our products.” And the model that we thought was progressing was helping people, but it was not making a real difference for the best people. And that hit me, man. 


I’m like a friend, I go, “We got to do more. We got to be better.” But the model was built a certain way with thousands of advisors. And so, what I did is I said, “The advisors want to change,” and I realized the match was there. What they wanted and I wanted was the exact same. I wanted a small group. I wanted to make a bigger difference. I wanted to feel fulfilled with my role and I wanted to help them actually build and grow their business. And as I looked into the landscape in the industry, nobody was doing it. Everybody was just saying more, more, more. And when I realized it was a perfect match, it hit me. I’m like, “All right. Am I set up to be able to create this? Do I have what it takes?” And when I realized like the table was set like, Shawn, you’re in a position to actually create a change for these advisors. I was like, “My goodness,” and I was scared like, “Will I really do it?” But I was like, I was sure over the next decade, the next 20 years, I was in a place to create this change. So, that’s when kind of the vision came together. It’s not about me. It’s the advisors telling me over and over, here’s what I like, here’s what I don’t like. 


And our vision at Triad was not created by you. It wasn’t created by me. It wasn’t created by our team. It’s created by us listening. And I think a lot of people write down their vision and they say, “What do I want?” And I’m like, “Throw that away. What do your clients want? What are the problems you need to solve to get your clients excited? And if you do that, guess what? Everybody will be excited.” So, it’s a little bit backwards from what I think a lot of people write down what they want in their business. It’s coming from the people you serve and I believe is the key.  


Brad Johnson: Wow. So, one of the things on that note, it actually reminds me because I know we’ve got some podcast listeners here. One of the ways, well, this podcast came to be, but my original podcast came to be this is the next chapter on the podcasting front, too, was that advice you just shared was advice given to me by Michael Hyatt, which is what led to me forming the Elite Advisor Blueprint back in 2015. He said, “Look at your audience. Who is your audience?” For me, it was financial advisors out there. That was who I knew, who I’d grown up with, down in the trenches with, very similar to you. And he said, “That’s your avatar listener. Solve problems, talk about things, bring the guests on that are going to serve them.” And that was a learning for me because there’s a lot of podcasts out there where the whole conversation is about the host. It’s, “Oh, here’s the guru host.” You know, Sharon and I tried to always reduce myself and just put the advisor up on the pedestal and basically say, “What do they want?” And I’m serving them and I’m asking questions through their lens and I’m bringing guests on like you that I know can serve that audience and share some wisdom with them that might get them that next breakthrough or solve that problem or avoid that problem in the first place. 


So, it’s cool you looked at that the same way. I know I do pieces that but it’s cool to hear you say it the way you said it because it served me really well. I think that’s part of the success of what led to the show was I just tried to get the hell out of the way and just serve the audience and then let the rest of the chips fall where they may. So, cool. Well, I want to go to you’ve had a lot of conversations over the last two years with some of the, I mean, best of the best, the upper echelon founder, advisor, entrepreneurs. What have been some of the biggest common problems you see? And I know those are different problems from the early days because you and I were both really fortunate of here’s this guy bringing on $3 million, $5 million, $10 million of assets per year and maybe a small team, a team of two or three. And so, the guy that you just shared the story from, we saw them scale from that level to $50 million, $100 million, $200 million of assets with teams of 20, 30, 40, very different problems at those two phases. So, let’s go to like that top 1% advisor, the founder advisor with probably a decent-sized team around them. What are the gaps and problems you’re running into?  


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. So, the first thing I’ll just mention by going into that is our business as a whole was all centered around your question. So, like our business, I think a lot of people build a business for the wrong reasons and they say, “How do I become successful? How do I make money?” We were to the point our team of amazing people were like, “Let’s just make the biggest difference we can.” And what we’re obsessed with right now is helping advisors build a business that gives them unlimited growth and this is important to know because it’s going to lead into kind of how to do it. But so many advisors build a business around them. Their time, their effort, and the more successful they become, the more the business demands of them. And I will tell you that if you want to kill the fun in your life, in your business career, stop growing. The advisors that are the best in the world enjoy the ride. They love growth. They love progression. And if your business is tied to your time, which is tied in any way, eventually your business is going to become you and you’re not going to have enough time to continue to progress. 


You’re going to find yourself in a miserable place. So, the first thing is helping them build a business beyond them to where they can have unlimited growth as it grows, meaning it’s not based on their time. It’s based on us and we in a team. That will allow them to hit numbers, like you mentioned, 200 million a year in new assets. It’s not going to happen with one person. You’ve got to have an incredible team and infrastructure in order to do it. So, first thing, unlimited growth is the first outcome, along with unlimited freedom, meaning I really believe like the difference we’re trying to make, I really believe that the more successful your business becomes the more freedom you should have. So many people, it’s like the frog in boiling water. They wake up and they realize that they went into the business because they wanted to go to business for themselves so they had control of the outcome, they had control of their life, and they wake up and realize their business is controlling them. 


My dad years ago told me I’ve created a monster. He had what I think the industry would say is a massively successful business, but he realized was the demands on his business became with the success became more work. So, helping advisors get unlimited growth, unlimited freedom, and the third one is unlimited joy. Is it success at all, in your opinion, if your business has grown to a great level, you’re making money, but it’s really taking away a lot of your time and it’s not as fun? Like, is that a success? To me, it’s not. I believe the more successful you become, the more you should be able to have a growth pattern that’s mature, that it grows beyond you. I believe that should give you more freedom, not less. You should be able to take six weeks off and not to worry. You should be able to have your evenings free with your kids. You should be able to coach baseball games, whatever you do. True success comes way beyond material money. So, we’re helping advisors. Our big thing is help them have those three things all at once, unlimited growth, unlimited freedom, unlimited joy. 


I think the more successful your business becomes, the more you should enjoy it because you’re doing things you enjoy. You’ve got a great team. So, the point being, I think, yeah, the biggest mistake advisors make is they focus on production.  


Brad Johnson: It’s like this tug of war where they think because you’ve made me think of two specific conversations where I once had an advisor that I was coaching and they basically decreased their goal. So, they did I think it was 60 million of new assets one year and then they told me they want to do 50 the next year. I’m like, “Tell me why.” And it was this tug of war you’re talking about where more growth meant less freedom. And they had kids at home. They were missing sports games, to your point. So, what’s the framework that unlocks both of those? Because I think a lot of advisors out there listening would be like, “Wait, but if I had grown more than I have to sacrifice more of my time.” So, it’s this trade-off. They’re debating.  


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. The first couple of things is number one is they work in their business, the frog in boiling water, and they’re working day-to-day and they’re just trying to progress based on their work. So, they’re focusing on productivity and production. And as they do it, as long as they’re progressing, it’s kind of stimulating them. They’re like, “Oh, instead of 50 million, I did 60 and it feels good.” But what they don’t realize, we’re equating their growth based on what? Production. You’ve got to equate your growth based on infrastructure maturity to where I will tell you, I asked advisors all the time, “If you did the same production to work half the hours, would that be growth to you?” “Oh, of course.” But the industry doesn’t seem to praise them for that.  


Brad Johnson: The industry does the exact opposite. It’s leaderboard more, more, yeah.  


Shawn Sparks: Leaderboard numbers. So, if your business, your growth should be dependent on the infrastructure, the maturity of the business overall, not just the production numbers, and by focusing on all of that stuff, it unlocks the unlimited growth that we’ve referred to. Like, being able to progress your time to where you’re focusing on more of what you love is a form of growth, where you’re doing less of the things that are considered like drudgery, right? So, I think one of the biggest mistakes is focusing on the wrong end goal and production and equating it and kind of seeing the peers and like, “Oh, how did I do versus them?” You should be focusing on how do I build a better brand to where I sound different than everybody else? How do I dial in my vision to where people are all excited to work with me? How do I bring on incredible employees? How do I build processes to where I set them up for success? All of these things need to be a main thing, kind of the one thing to scale that’s way beyond the conversation of what’s my production. 


Because if your production is based on you doing 90 nights a year away from your family and your family is there eating dinner without you. If I were to say like, “Oh, we should double your production,” and you’re working so far in the business going to be more hours, more time away, is that success for you? And it’s like no but they don’t know another way. So, we went all in and I go all in every single day to say I want to help point the boat in a little bit different direction to where the business becomes and frees them up and gives them more growth and so on and the infrastructure set the scale.  


Brad Johnson: I remember reading you’re kind of taking me back to it was a passage I read actually right when I left and I had about two months where like I didn’t know what I was going to do and I was just kind of sitting there. And I read a passage and it talked about a lot of entrepreneurs, the reason they go be an entrepreneur. And every independent advisor out there is an entrepreneur at their core because they left some captive group to go start Joe Smith Financial or whatever it is. And it says a lot of entrepreneurs, they leave where they were at because they’re like, “I’m going to do it different. I’m going to do it my way.” And then they look up five years later, and then they built their own prison around themselves. They became a prison to their own business. And the example of the nights away from family and dinner is like first off, there’s this I’ll call it an entrepreneurial lie of, “Well, I’m doing this for my family. You know, I’m out working hard because I’m supporting the family.” But the family is sitting there, the spouse, the kids, and they’re resenting the business you’re building because it’s stealing mom or dad away from the business like, “I just want mom and dad’s time. That’s all I want. I don’t care about like the next toy in the toy box.” 


And so, I know you’ve got we talked about this a lot of different phases of scale. And to me, what you’re really describing is that first phase and all of the constraints around that first phase. Do you mind sharing, just kind of paint a little picture there around phase one of what you got?  


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. So, we’ve got four specific phases of scale. We’ve deconstructed what it takes and it all starts with the main advisor. The thing is the mindset, the limiting beliefs they adopt. The best way to point out what I would say is phase one is I’ve got a good friend. I would say that he’s probably the best sales and marketing I know. He is incredible. He’s impossible not to like, but he has these big dreams. He’s got three young boys. He says, “I want to use my talents the best I can,” and he hit a growth pattern that most FMOs like where he’d be number one with all of them and he was just crushing it. And he was stimulated, he was doing great production, he was building a business around him to where I like to say he was the advisor in charge, meaning a lot of the thinking and decision-making was on him, all of the production was on him, and he had a lot of order takers. And he would kind of like everybody gives him a different name but he was throwing the ball, passing it out to different people to do, but eventually, those people were doing tasks. They were kind of generalists. They weren’t specializing in. The weight of the world was on who? It was on him. 


And I’ll just say that it worked. He got very successful. He got to 60 to 80 million of new assets per year. But this model that we call the production-based model or the advisor-in-charge model, you can only get spread so thin and it always leads to burnout. There may be people, you know in your show now that are saying, “I’m there. I have burnout. I will tell you it’s inevitable.” If you’ve got an advisor-in-charge model where you’re carrying the thinking, the responsibility of the business, that’s on your shoulders, it is inevitable you’re going to hit burnout. He hit burnout. And I’ll tell you that the truth is that the hardest part of the story, three young kids, he taught himself the lie you said, “I’m doing this for them.” It’s a season of sacrifice. Any season is not worth sacrificing for your family. And he got to the point, he was burnt out. He got praised on stage. Everybody clapped for him. Great job. 78 million or something. He went into the bathroom, he washed his face, and goes, “I’m not going to do this again.” He was at a crossroads. He goes, “I can’t do this again.” It hit that thing where he’s like, “I got to stop.” 


Most people will burn out way before him but he just decided to grow by brute force. And I’ll say with burnout, there’s two outcomes that happen. The first one is you hit that at one point, you burn out and you say, “I’m going to stop growing. I can’t do it anymore.” When you stop growing, what happens to the business? It becomes a lot less fun. That becomes the prison you share. You’re there because you have to be to keep things going but I’ll tell you, take the growth away from an entrepreneur, you take away the excitement. That trickles down to every team member. 


Brad Johnson: Yeah, 100%. 


Shawn Sparks: I have seen advisors who were successful and they just weren’t excited about the business anymore. Do you think their team was?  


Brad Johnson: Now, the thing is, I can’t get great talent on the team. But why do you think? You’re not growing. It’s not an exciting place to be.  


Shawn Sparks: You can’t attract them. You have more of a toxic office. People need to be excited to go to work. And if you give up on growth, you might as well kiss that goodbye. It’s not fun for anybody. So, there’s one outcome of burnout. Sounds pretty good. The second outcome is this. He adopted this one for years. It’s that guy who is relentless and says, “I will continue to grow no matter what it takes,” and he grows by brute force. And if you do that and some people will, what are we giving up? Life, giving a person life, family. And some people will grow by brute force for years. I had a friend that had this happen years ago and I was like just trying to get him to focus on a different way. You know, he had what I call is the advisor-in-charge model. He had like seven assistants around him. He used to joke he’s the doctor and they’re the nurses but all the responsibility, all this was on his shoulders. And guess what? He got to the point he goes, he was saying, “Three more years, then I’m done.” The next year, guess what he said? “Three more years, then I’m done.” Next year what he say? “Three more years, then I’m done.” 


And finally, he hit the point where he goes, “I am done.” He sold his business for pennies on the dollar and he just left the business completely. And what’s really sad to me is seeing this because he was incredibly gifted and talented. He put 20 some years into the business. And really what I would say is he had a very specialized skill knowledge base. But he refused to give up control. He refused to build a business as opposed to a productivity shop. And that guy could have had the most incredible life and business together had he just seen the steps and adopted them fully. And I’ll say that you can’t create what I would say as a transformation from the productivity model to the scalable model. It’s never going to happen on accident. It’s never going to happen by you dabbling. A lot of advisors will say, “Okay. I’m going to do this,” and they take one step down the path of building infrastructure and then like three weeks later, they drift back to where they were. To create the transformation, you’ve got to adopt and completely see the world differently in how you’re building your business. You’ve got to go all in.  


Brad Johnson: Yeah. To that, Shawn, it’s everything, every rule, every game they played to reach that level of success is actually the opposite of what it takes to go to the… Because we know this. I mean, being a financial advisor is one of the hardest things in the world. I think the percentage of success is like less than 5%. You know, all of you that are listening that like came in on a, you know, the captive groups or you came in with that big class, look around and see how many of them are left because it’s a grind. And if you want something done right, you got to do it yourself model. It’s all on you, door knock, and cold calling. Very similar to how we got in. You know, it was a me game and I game. But then once you reach that level, it actually has the exact opposite. It’s a team game, it’s a delegation, it’s an empowerment, it’s a leadership game. And I think that’s one of the biggest hurdles I see is it’s like, “Wait, everything I’ve been doing that’s led to this level, I’ve got to like do something different.” And there’s no framework. There’s no like, “Well, what do I do?” So, what do they do? Like, they’re in phase one. I’m at burnout. It’s all on me. I’ve got to maybe a smaller team. How do I get to that next level? What is that next level?  


Shawn Sparks: So, there’s five pillars to scale and you’ve got to go all in on creating it. And what’s cool is like what I think a lot of advisors don’t realize is if they’ve hit what I would say is a very successful advisor-in-charge model, they can completely transform to phase two in less time than they ever could have imagined. I had an advisor tell me this the other day. He was stuck in the muck. He was stuck in this model and he goes, “Shawn, I know how to build a business.” And he’s right. He was 50, 60 million a year in new assets. He goes, “I know I can build it,” but he said, “I don’t have the steps in what I need to accomplish to do it.” He goes, “If you give me the roadmap, I’ll build it.” And I know with complete clarity, he will. And what we did was the first pillar to scale is this. So many advisors get baited based on the next marketing idea or the next sale to make. The five pillars to scale your business, number one, is you’ve got to have complete clarity of vision on what you’re trying to build over the next three years, ten years. So many advisors have a pie in the sky. They don’t go into the details of like, what’s the road map look like? What are the steps I need to take? How does my infrastructure evolve? 


And I’ll tell you, it’s like it doesn’t matter how big the pie in the sky is. You’ve got to build a blueprint over that which you want to build. This includes what you want to be known for. What is your brand? What is the next three hires you’re going to need as your business increases? This is foresight. You’ve got to see ahead of time and you’ve got to build that infrastructure into the growth. So many advisors are all known for the same thing. You go to their website, it’s like you want to scale. Like, the more and clearer on who you are authentically like what you do and how you help people, the more you sound like yourself as opposed to everybody else. It is going to trickle through everything you do from marketing, sales process. You’re going to be seen as different. What you get is a compound effect of every activity you do going forward, which represents you’re going to be enhancing your brand as well.  

So, some people, most people don’t take the time on the front end to be clear on their vision, brand, and what we’re going to build. I have partnerships all the time where there are two advisors that are partners. Guess what we find out? They don’t have the same vision. 


And if you don’t have the same vision, it’s like in a rowboat, one is rowing this way, the other one’s rowing this way. And every decision point you make over the next three years will create friction because we’re heading in a different direction. I think about it this way. Imagine we’re going for a run and we’re running four miles when I’m going from point A to point B. 


Imagine me telling you, Brad. I want you to run from point A to point B, but I want you to run looking at your feet the whole time. And what’s the likelihood you’re going to get there? You’re like, no, you’re going to fall probably. So many business owners are so stuck in the moment of the business, they don’t stop, look forward and say, “What are we trying to build? And how are we going to do it?” And then they wonder why they just keep going down the zigzag path, or they keep hiring the wrong people or setting them up incorrectly. 


Brad Johnson: Or they can’t find people to hire or they find people to hire. And they’re like, but they’re not following me. Yeah, there’s no vision. There’s no, here’s where we’re headed that they know this is the direction that we’re all running in tandem or rowing in the same direction. 


Shawn Sparks: Everybody tends to just like this, but it’s like what I’m saying is, be very clear on what you want on the front end, and then let’s build a plan to actually build it as opposed to just, I mean, the industry, it’s like, here’s the next shiny object. This marketing tactic is going to change your business, and the advisor is like I’m already spreading myself too thin. That’s going to make the problem worse. And then they wonder why it becomes a toxic culture within the office. 


But I would say that front end is being absolutely clear in what we’re trying to build and every advisor’s different, and then identifying exactly what the steps are. What’s cool is a lot of this is modeling. I’ll tell you, like I’m deconstructed, and with your help and our team, exactly how the infrastructure has evolved based on different phases. 


Brad Johnson: Well, we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had a front-row seat for the last 15 years of seeing hundreds of different financial services firms, the good, bad, the ugly, like what works, where you’ve got happy employees, where you go off track, and like to just circle back. So, pillar number one vision and I know we’ve had a great mentor, Michael Hyatt, that knows a lot about vision. He’s written books on it. So, we’ve deconstructed some of the best stuff, but I think the cool thing is it’s one thing to have a book written on vision, but then it’s another thing to know financial services industry. And what I hear you saying is we’re trying to meld those two together of here’s a vision of how to build a business, but here’s how to do it in finance, and here’s the infrastructure. 


Shawn Sparks: And here’s how it needs to evolve based on different levels. I’ve got advisors for years. They’re trying to find a business coach who’s like, how you in business coach, but he doesn’t know our business. So, it’s got to be very specific coaching, which is what I think a lot of advisors have missed is they need to know specifically how to scale financial services business. 


And so, pillar one is you’ve got to get this right first because it’s going to create what I would say is a tailwind for everything else you do, which brings them great talent. If you have a vision that excites everybody around you, you, your employees, your future employees, your clients, everybody will buy into the mission you’re on. If you have one where you’re not excited, guess what? Why can’t I bring on great talent? That’s why. 


Brad Johnson: Well, I mean, to what you’re just like circling back to what we talked about earlier if you’ve got a founding advisor that’s dreading going into the business because they’re redlining out, they’re stressed, they don’t have enough hours in the day, good luck seeking excitement so that your team’s excited. So, the whole idea is if you’re not excited about the vision as a founder, there’s no way you can ever, as a leader, pass that to the team. So, I think that’s really good. Those two go hand in hand. So, we got vision. Do you want to hit two, three, four, or five? 


Shawn Sparks: Pillar two for scale is– and these are not in any order, but they’re pillars you must adopt. So, pillar two is it’s a marketing business. I think that most people get that to a degree, but they’re missing other components. But all five have to be hit. So, when I think of marketing, the first thing you got to understand is it’s the fuel. Marketing means how are we marketing ourselves to attract great people? And when they come in, they’re motivated to see us. What are the methods that we can use? I think as you build your business, your marketing, you need multiple, you need to diversify your marketing, meaning you should have one of our top advisors, $200-plus million a year, eight different ways ongoing the clients are identified, they want to come see them. 


But I think marketing, the first thing is marketing is not given to you. The next shiny object will not trade your next marketing pillar. You’ve got to be an expert in marketing to where you have to build it. It’s not given to you for free. You’ve got to be willing to build and get to be Ph.D. in how to make that marketing funnel work. 


And I think a lot of advisors test something and try and say it didn’t work for me. And then you talk to somebody else the next day. It’s like it’s their main thing. It’s like you’ve got to be on a quest to build great marketing from start to finish, knowing your numbers, understanding that with a great marketing program, you can actually predict your success. I will tell you that I’ve got an advisor, and he knows he’s going to get seven appointments a week based on this one phone, right? 


So, you’ve got to go all in. And by the way, the advisor who’s the main guy shouldn’t be the one that owns this. Imagine bringing an expert marketer in your business to run your marketing. It’s the fuel for your growth. So, you’ve got to have a diversified marketing plan, you’ve got to have a strategy. A lot of people don’t take it serious enough to where they dabble and they’re like, oh, we’ll try this, this month. I’ll try that this month. 


One of the biggest things, one of the best things you can do is create a plan ahead. This year, we’ve got people creating a marketing strategy, a marketing plan. They don’t have to wake up every month and say, what are we going to do? It is a road map. And then once the marketing is done, they’re analyzing every number and optimizing it. So, there is a full-blown marketing strategy and plan that you’ve got to be good at marketing to scale. 


Brad Johnson: Well, really, I mean, it’s the same thing. What I hear you saying is you’re talking about a vision for your marketing strategy for the year. What just came to my head because I’ve seen this and I know you have too, okay, we talked about if you’re not excited to come into the office, well, I’ve seen advisors and I actually had one that he was on the radio for 10 years in this marketplace. And I go, “Did you like radio?” He goes, “No, I hated it.” And I go, “Well, why did you hate it?” He goes, “Well, I was just reading the script that didn’t really inspire me.” 


And I think like when I look across the industry, there’s a lot of scripts, whether it’s a seminar script, a radio script, and it’s just to your version of the industrialized model, it’s somebody else’s words. And it’s not like what you explained is I had these advisors that had reached this level. They’d built a brand, but they’re sitting here reading somebody else’s words off a piece of paper. Well, if you’re not inspired about your marketing, I’m guessing you’re not going to inspire too many people to come into the office based on whatever that script you’re reading, so. 


Shawn Sparks: Yes, on the marketing side, we’ve got to take it seriously. It’s going to be great to fuel, which is going to create the revenue as it was under build. I think we make it too hard. I think that you should build one great pillar at a time. Don’t try to do four or five things at once. 


And this advisor we shared earlier, $200-plus million, eight different ways to get in front of people. It’s like instead of you thinking of your next marketing idea, this is where modeling comes into play. Why don’t you identify what the key ways he is using to get in front? Find which one is best for you and get a Ph.D. in this process. You have to build in-house. It’s not going to be a free giveaway. 


Your team has to build the pillar. And that’s why we use small groups from time to time, and like literally, we’ll go see his office, sit down, watch some of his events, things like this, and he will show, he’ll bring his team in and show exactly how they’re doing it. And then we’ve got advisors that say, “I should be doing that one.” That’s where the conversation starts, not where it ends. 


Now, you’ve got to have a step-by-step process on how to build it within your team to where everybody rallies and says, “This is good. We’re going to build a world-class marketing funnel, and guess what happens?” Eventually, we have now modeled and adopted some of that work for somebody else. 


So, if you’re one of those advisors who are like, “What are we going to do? How are we going to do it?” Or maybe you get just surface-level information or shiny object. Throw it all away. Say I want to build a world-class marketing initiative for my business. I will go all in to do it, who’s best to help me? And then spend the time, take the extra work because building is the hard part. Once it’s built, sustaining it is much easier. There are people that have one funnel that’s working really well for them. It’s like routine form. It’s clockwork. We’ve got to build another one or another one. 


Brad Johnson: What that unlocks, actually, I think you wrote this in one of your books, we talked about slot machines, except it’s the slot machine you know that’s going to pay off every time. So, you said it a little bit, but I don’t want to glance over this. For advisors out there listening or watching, once you know your numbers, that’s the other thing is you can’t run your marketing on emotions and we’ve both seen that a lot over the years. You got to run it on math. 


And the cool thing is, once you lock down that number one funnel, whatever it is, maybe it’s a seminar, maybe it’s a radio show, maybe it’s a TV show, maybe it’s a podcast, that’s to the advisor to pick, like based on their skill set and all that. But once you know the math, it’s like the slot machine. You put a hundred bucks in and you pull the handle and it pays 300 bucks every time on average, right? 


And now, the biggest thing that I see where you can flip is an advisor that looks from here’s the expense, the marketing expense every year, to the marketing investment because now, it’s a 3 to 1. Well, why wouldn’t we put more money in that slot machine? Because they’ve perfected it, they haven’t dabbled to your point, but then they also know the math and the numbers behind like how is the thing working and tracking it just like a business owner would, right? So anything else on marketing or do you want to get one under… 


Shawn Sparks: The only thing I would say is that you’re now marketing, not a commodity. You’re marketing you, your mission, starting with the vision and brand. Every marketing thing you do going forward is going to enhance your brand as well, which is going to have kind of an omnipresence to where all this marketing is going to increase your identity locally, which then compounds and makes everything work better. 


Brad Johnson: Well, you hit something, I’ve heard your philosophy on this, the difference between a billboard and a direct response marketing and the fact, like, you actually get the benefit of a billboard if you do it the right way. 


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. So, your marketing plan should be based on does it generate appointments with the right people. That’s what we call direct response marketing. I will tell you, there are things you can do to generate 10 appointments in the next month, right? So many people get trapped in how they look or how they feel. I know people that do TV shows and literally like, oh, this person at church saw the TV show, they loved it and they felt so good. And I’m like, “Well, how many calls did you get? And then of those calls, how many people came in and said, I want to meet with you, I think you can help me?” Oh, very rarely, but it’s really built my brand. 


The way to look at it is great marketing will generate results for you, which means it’ll be an investment, not an expense. You’ll have a positive ROI. And by the way, you get the brand for free. So, your target should be a predictive path on how I’m going to generate meetings with the right people. That’s it. 


And if your branding is correct and vision is correct and we are dialed in and we don’t sound like everybody else, guess what? Your brand comes with it. Everything you do, it compounds, and then over time, you have eight funnels, eight different ways of getting in front of people and you’re all over the place. 


Brad Johnson: Great direct response marketing is a billboard in itself. It creates the brand awareness along the way too. But you get the appointment, which is what you actually drive revenue with. That’s what I hear you saying. 


Shawn Sparks: Yeah. 


Brad Johnson: Cool. Okay. Do we want to hit the other three? Do we want to hit them quickly? Because I know there’s this kind of is the key, and I would love to just dabble into phase two because I don’t want people just sitting here listening and like I’m phase one, help, and then we don’t have a little bit at least a pathway to a solution on that. 


Shawn Sparks: They all go together. So, the five pillars let’s zone in, and then phase two is coming because it is really the operations piece. So, I’ll kind of just summarize them quickly just to really help them see the five pillars for scale, vision brand we covered. Marketing, it’s got to be, what have we said? Duplicatable, it’s got to be unique to you, and it’s got to be over time, you should have diversified marketing. 


The third one is your sales process, and I don’t see sales with a negative connotation, like a used car salesperson. I believe sales is helping. And you’ve got to be able to take complex things, make them simple, earn trust, and confidence to where people will take action and say, I want to fix this problem. 


So many people’s sales process based on phase one is based on who I. I was talking to an advisor just this morning, and all of the revenue and sales productivity come from him. And the thing is, 90% of advisors fail within 12 months because they don’t have what it takes. It’s a very hard thing.  


Now, this gentleman, he’s got 30 years’ experience. He’s had a hard time bringing in additional advisors. For your business to be scalable, it’s got to be trainable. If your sales process is based on you infusing 30 years of knowledge and experience into this young kid who’s starting from scratch, I will tell you, it’s impossible. It’s going to be impossible for them to gain 30 years of experience because here’s what’s interesting with this. There are thousands, ten thousand situations you’ve experienced. It’s really hard to infuse all of those situations in any type of training that’s based on your head. 


So, your sales process, we want to flip this and say, what if we could get– every new advisor who joins us, what if we could flip the switch to where it’s 90% failure rate to 90% success rate? What that means is you’ll have a duplicatable sales process. This is what most people miss. The first type of training is situational. It’s like, here’s everything I’ve learned in 30 years. Situational training would be like a professor in school. Imagine you sitting down and your professor’s up there talking for a whole semester, never giving you a textbook, never giving you a workbook, never giving you anything. They were just telling you everything you need to know. And then they do a test on six months of knowledge and say, I hope you pass. Would you pass that if your professor taught you that way? I’d be like, my goodness… 


Brad Johnson: You better take some damn good notes. 


Shawn Sparks: Your notes better be good. So, most advisors think of situational training and how you onboard new advisors, and it’s no wonder they fail. What we found is that to scale your sales process, you need a curriculum-based model, meaning it’s not based on every situation. Instead, we’ve got specific steps and curriculum on exactly how to run the appointments with success. Deconstruct the sales process to work. Every advisor in your office follows the same process at about an 80% to 90% level. How do we open the appointment? What are the presentations we’re covering the first? What happens before and after? All of this needs to be a process-driven approach as opposed to just what’s in my head, people, a people-driven approach. 


We had an advisor. He was 24 years old. He joined one of our other offices. He was with, I think, Thrivent, but he started successfully meeting with clients, bringing a ton of production within less than six months. And he texted me and he said, “You have no clue how much confidence I have going into a meeting, knowing all they have to do is follow the process.” 


And I will tell you, show me an advisor that’s new in the business without confidence and I’ll show you an advisor is going to fail. And the thing is, your sales process must be a curriculum-based model. It’s got to be scalable. This is where, once again, you can model great companies who already have this, but every piece of the equation needs to be there because you can have the best person show up if you don’t have the right environment and the right process for them to follow. Unfortunately, you’re flipping a coin on whether it’s going to work. 


And so, the thing is, your sales process needs to be duplicatable because this is what’s going to take the strain off your business, take the weight of your business off your shoulders is knowing that you have other people who can provide the same experience. You have other people who can carry the weight of the production side, and that can be taught and created very easily. 


The one other thing I’ll say is situational coaching is incredibly important, but you can’t speed it up. In this case, if you have a curriculum base to follow, which represents an 80% to 90% success rate, guess what? They’re also going to gain situational coaching from you throughout. But we will not be, what I would say, vulnerable to that, an adoption of that only. We’ll have the curriculum base. So, four things, so that’s sales, right? We’ve got… 


Brad Johnson: I’m going to stop you there real quick just because this topic in itself, I know we’ve both experienced this, could be a four-hour podcast on deconstruction of the sales process. That’s one of the biggest for us that you hit it. It’s you’ve got an advisor, school of hard knocks is how most of them came up. They didn’t have a good training. Very few times in life have I met an advisor, it’s like I had a great sales process, a great training that taught me everything I need to know. It was the school of hard knocks. They figured it out. They were survivors. They were a problem solver. 


And now, they’ve got 30, 40 years, 20 years of that in their head. And the most frustrating thing for an advisor is they see the young go-getter, they see that next generation of talent, and they don’t know how to take it from their head to where they can share it in an appointment. And then they get frustrated. They’re like, oh, they just don’t get it. Oh, they can’t close. How many times have we heard that one, right? 


But there is no process to get it from there to there, which leads to the red line because everything comes back to that advisor burnout because it’s all on them, and now, they’re like churning through advisors. Oh, I trained him and he left and became my competition because there’s no road map, all of that. There’s actually a deconstruction. I don’t want to go too far down this path, but if we stay on that sales vertical, yes process, yes having your brand, your proprietary product offering, name, trademarks, all of that, that’s a whole ‘nother conversation. 


But one thing I heard you say one time is there are actually three types of advisors, and most advisors think there’s only one. Let’s not spend, we don’t have enough time to go all the way into it, but just a quick deconstruction of that. 


Shawn Sparks: Okay, so to scale, there are lots of things here, but you’ve got to understand what are our times worth. Scale is represented a big part of its leverage, which means getting more done in less time. So, think about like Richard Branson, he’s got 400 companies. He does not have a day or a year to work with each company. He has thought of his business as a business and he has created scale, meaning it’s not dependent on him. 


So, here’s what’s interesting. What’s an hour of your time worth? The more successful an advisor becomes, the more demand that’s going to come on them later, which is considered service, work, planning, and so on. What you’ve got to realize is the characteristics you need for an advisor, everybody thinks they’re all the same, an advisor. But some advisors are gifted with different things. 


So, I’ll tell you a good example is we’ve got an advisor, amazing person. She at one point was in charge of managing a billion dollars by herself. She had incredible relationships with clients. She was in a very high relationship. She was the person that at the end of a call with the clients, you’d stop them and say, “Oh yeah, I was going to ask you, how are your kids doing?” And like, she just loved on them and built relationships. They never wanted to talk to anybody but her. She was so good. This was a service-based advisor. She loved routine conversations with clients, just loving on them, getting back to them quickly. You know what she didn’t like? She said, “I work here at this company.” She was in a work where she was transitioning and she said, “But I don’t want to be a part of the sales process.” 


Brad Johnson: Just don’t make me sell, isn’t that what she said? 


Shawn Sparks: Just don’t make me sell. And they’re like, wow, this advisor is knowledgeable. She loves clients, but she didn’t like the sales process. Now, we got another advisor. This advisor is a great salesperson. He is somebody who immediately when you’re sitting back, he’ll sit up. He’s got that thing where there’s passion or she’s got that thing where there’s passion, there’s knowledge, taking complex things, make them simple. People immediately trust them. And they’re able to actually get people to take action, fix the problems. 


This advisor is gifted when they’re in front of clients and helping them. Oftentimes, this advisor, you know what they don’t like? All the routine service calls after sale. Oh, hey, be sure to call Julie back. It’s like they’re so mission focused on just helping people and get that sales process down. They don’t find joy, it’s like a side-of-the-desk job. Which one do you think will provide a better service to your client? The first one. 


But they’re both advisors, so this goes back to you bring a service advisor and try to make them sell. You’ve got to find the right characteristics you’re looking for to solve the problem you’re in. Those two advisors as a team fully aligned will crush it. Incredible service person. The clients don’t even want to talk to the main person, guy, girl, whatever. 


And then here’s the other thing. Some advisors are very analytical. They are the people that I would say is like they have a coffee mug. I love spreadsheets. And they will analyze every number, do all the research. You could put them in front of a computer all day long and that’s their comfort. That’s where they’re at. That’s where they find their fun. 


I had a friend that was a CPA. He was just really, really smart. He was a whiz and he decided he wanted to be an advisor, and for some reason, he couldn’t close a deal. He got into the weeds. So, he would be what I consider a very analytical and analyst-type advisor. You put him in as your sales advisor. Guess what happens? He’s not bringing people. He’s so smart. You’ve got to understand that there are three types of advisors. There are those that are really great service, those that are really good in front of people like sales. 


Then there’s the analytical side and here is what’s funny. We call it the triad advisor model. Triad is when three parties work together. Imagine a team-based approach to where the service people are providing all the service. The salesperson is doing the sales appointments and the pair planner is doing all the plans. 


As I think about me being a client for an advisor. Who do I want to put together my plan? The planning advisory. Who do I want the ongoing service? That guy that calls me or the gal that calls me at the end of the day off the side of their desk just quickly to get the job done? Or this person who just loves the communication relationship? Which one do you think I want to explain how they can help me? 


So, we call it the triad advisor model where all three worked together and they were fully aligned. And I just want you to imagine this brand, imagine those three advisors excited about the mission they’re on, working together, protecting each other. And every time something is done, they’re high-fiving each other because they work as a team. This whole idea of making businesses based on I and all that, it’s like the team-based approach is a skill-based approach. 


Brad Johnson: Two things, first off, I had the exact same conversation this morning too. 


Shawn Sparks: Really? 


Brad Johnson: So, on my way to the office, this is a firm that’s north of 250 million this year. This is one of the founders. And he goes, “Man, I hate service work.” And to your point, he’s one of the best naturally gifted salespeople, like people love him. They trust him. He really is great at simplifying a really complex plan. And I heard it said one time, what if procrastination is the greatest source of wisdom? 


So, for you as an advisor out there, that’s listening, if you are that advisor that has the stack of paper sitting on your desk that never goes away because you procrastinate, it’s probably service work, which probably means you’re doing service advisor work as a selling advisor. It’s so common. We see it all the time. 


But what you just explained is that those three that we’ll call it a triad, we like threes around here, those three right there, that’s what unlocks the freedom because now, I can sell. I love it. I love to meet new people. I love to see the breakthroughs, the aha’s, but I hate the follow-through. Well, guess what your clients hate is when you promise something and it doesn’t happen. 


But now, when you’re side by side, it’s like I look at it like a relay race, like handing the baton. Now, you’re passing the baton to service. Service is coordinating with planning. We had an incredible advisor. I think she was doing north of 50 mil. She didn’t even know what a pair planner was. So, like just this, I think just the education piece of it. 


Shawn Sparks: Yeah, what we’re doing is we’re moving from a jack of all trades. One advisor does everything to specialist model, which is scale. As you evolve, you must move to specialization. We’re grabbing three different types of advisors, in this case, all working together as one team aligned with conviction. And we’re putting a process in place in order to make it just really be an incredible experience. 


Here’s what’s funny. Not only is this best for the clients, not only is this best for the advisor because they can specialize and do what they love, but this model creates more referrals than you could ever imagine. Guess whose job it is to invite referrals to the events and to bring referrals? It’s the relationship person who had the extra time to get to know me and have the relationship. And I’m like, it is like the trifecta model to scale your time to where you do the appointments because you love it, you enjoy it. None of the services worked so your bandwidth as an individual just got cut in half, maybe even more. 


And then you’ve got this team that’s all smiling and high-fiving itself, working together, doing what they each love. The outcome is your business overall is both better, and your clients are giving you referrals. They’re not giving them to you, they’re probably giving them to that relationship person, the service advisor. So, this is key. Leveraging your time and putting those around you, it’s a team-based approach to create a better output for the clients. 


Brad Johnson: You hit one thing and there’s actually another benefit I just thought of. So, number one, you’re creating career tracks for different types of advisors and personalities. So, to your point, now, the team’s excited. Now, there’s more that goes into it. We don’t have time today, but obviously, you need to align compensation. So, there’s a whole model that goes along with that. 


But the other thing that I really think about is what you’ve also created is the track, the client experience. But now, you’ve unlocked this whole ‘nother potential, which is now that advisor can go, the founding advisor has freedom of time to– if they’re just selling, not servicing, not planning, we’ve had advisors bump the net worth up of who they see. We’ve had advisors go be the seminar face of the company, the head of the marketing, and now, they can explore those greater strengths as well. So, there are a lot of different things that open up… 


Shawn Sparks: So that on the sales side, just for the sake of time, there are a lot of limiting beliefs that keep people from doing this. If I bring the client on, then I’ve got to do everything at the end. This is a completely limiting belief, your clients want the best possible experience. Most of them are business owners. Business owners understand how things work, but you’ve got to set the right expectation on the front end to where they say, “Heck yeah, I love this,” versus you carrying the weight of the I. 


This goes back to the advisor in charge, but if you put I in the equation, you’re hurting your growth pattern. You’re hurting your potential. So, put us, put we, and then had all that’s centered around what your clients want, deserve, and how to manufacture a better experience for them. That’s how you have a business that’s getting high-value referrals because it’s a team-based approach. So this is what I would say is the scalable sales side. It’s just some keys to it. There are a lot of processes built in and so on, but looking at your business, your sales side as this will increase the chance of success and scale. 


Brad Johnson: All right, my man, we’ve got 10 left here and we’ve got so much to cover, so we might have to– who knows? We’ve got plenty of time to do Part 2. All right. So, we’ve got vision marketing sales. Let’s hit the two real quick, and then let’s make sure we give them a little bridge into phase two of the phases of scale. 


Shawn Sparks: Yeah, it’ll wrap up. So, the fourth of the five pillars is operations. Now, advisors, just the nature of who they are, they like the marketing side usually and they love the sales side. And sometimes, they love marketing and vice versa, but just the way that we are, I think a lot of us don’t see, like, enjoy the operations piece, which is represented by about everything else. It’s the processes in the business. Due to scale, there are probably 10,000 different processes, all these little things that happen towards like clockwork. This is what the road map is about. It’s like having these processes handed to you where your team can adapt. What’s happening before appointments, after appointments? What’s the whole process of working together as a team? 


But I would say the operations piece is one of the biggest missing ingredients. Having somebody who can execute as opposed to just big ideas, having somebody follow through and make sure things get done, which increases the chance of progressing towards the right path. So, most advisors are really good at marketing and sales. They miss the operations piece. And then the bigger they get, the more toxic the business gets, the more opportunities they’re missing right in front of them because they don’t have the time. 


So, on that operation side, it’s understanding the choke hold spots in your business and fixing them in an operational view in a way. But operations are critically important. It’s what I would say is kind of the launch pad that allows you to keep progressing. And most advisors tend to not like it, enjoy it, know how to do it. 


If I were to tell you, like hey, put together an operations manual of sort, most of my advisors, they’ll go write down on one page and say, “What do I do next?” It’s just not the same type of person. So, operations are critically important. Having that, that’s the fourth pillar. 


Now, the fifth one I would say is oftentimes missed. And the fifth one is, if you want to scale, you have got to have an incredible culture. I will tell you that if you want to scale, you’ve got to have people who want to be there. You’ve got to create a place of work where they’re excited, they enjoy the people around them. You’ve got to have great leadership. And I’ll just say, like being a great performer, I used to think was being a leader. 


I remember when I was a few years in business, like I’m crushing it in great numbers. I’m like, I’m leading the charge. I’m a leader. What I didn’t realize was I was running so fast, I was literally not even seeing those around me. I was probably leaving a mess everywhere I ran. And I realized one day as I was building a team, I was like, leadership is not what you do or how well you do. It’s how what you do impacts those around you. 


And I would tell you, if you are a top performer who is burning your team, you just have things spilling out, just like all kinds of problems. That’s not leadership. Leadership is very intentional that not only are you leading the charge, but they want to go faster, work harder, do better quality work because of the impact you’re making. And you’ve got to bring your team with you. 


And our company here, we don’t have employees, we have team members. We all work together as one. There’s no hierarchy. I’m an employee just like they are or a team member just like they are. I think that developing a great culture means that when people come to work, their spouses, that business is a blessing in their life. It’s not a trade-off. It’s like there’s been an enhancement to the quality of our life, the happiness of our family because of this company. 


And I just think a lot of people think it’s going to be manufactured on accident or it’s just we’re working so hard, we’re winning, it’s going to happen. I believe that culture can be inspired, it can be led. But ultimately, you’re at the mercy of a great culture based on the team members you have and how they interact with each other. 


If you have 10 employees, I’m one of 10, let’s say, or 10 team members, who’s the culture depending on? It’s the other nine and how they work together and how they help each other, the humble principles that you have as a company. And because of that, I believe you need to be very intentional in inspiring an incredible culture to become a better leader. And I’ll tell you, if the culture is right, success is inevitable. If the culture is wrong, you can kiss the dream goodbye because it doesn’t matter how good your process is or how good your marketing is, how good your sales process is, your vision, your belief. Like none of these matters if you don’t have a place where people enjoy coming to work because it is dependent on a team. 


So, the five pillars, as we summarize, is vision, which includes the brand, the message, the long-term marketing, sales, operations, and culture. If you have all of those lined up and you have those pillars, what I would say is it’s just really, really solid. There is no limit to what you can accomplish. Now, you mentioned phase one, phase two… 


Brad Johnson: Yeah. So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take a little pivot because we’re right at the end here. If you’re out there listening, we don’t have time right now for phase two. In short, I know Shawn has to hop on a call. I’ve got to hop on a call here shortly. We’ve got a limited time for this conversation. 


To give you a preview of phase two, it’s really deconstructing financial services into a business that is three of those pillars – marketing, sales, ops. And then there’s a whole ‘nother conversation behind that. So, if you’re listening, I don’t know how this conversation will be out there. I’m going to empower my team on that. But we will have a place where you can reply, message us, whatever. If you want us to do a secondary episode, dive in a little deeper in phase two, just message us, and we’ll take the time. If the demand is out there, we’ll put the time in. We just don’t have time right now. I was hoping we could get there. 


But I want to close with a question. We’ve talked a lot about what led to here. And dude, I should have said this at the beginning, this has been fun. It’s been, man, way harder than either of us would have ever thought. But I know the passion was there for us, the belief was there, the vision, the alignment, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. So, I just want to say that it’s been really fun. We’ve had our challenging days, but man, it’s been worth it. 


So, we’ve talked a lot about what inspired and why, what took us to where we are today. I’m going to flip that around. At what point, would you consider this a failure or you did something wrong? Like let’s flip the script to go on the other side. 


Shawn Sparks: That’s a good one, man. So, I would just say that the conviction was so clear on what I personally want to accomplish in this venture. And I would say that I’ve thought about that even prior. Like I think a lot of people build a business to be successful and make money, and we were in a business, position our life where that really wasn’t the driving factor. We wanted to enjoy the ride. We wanted to have a blast while we do it. But more importantly, our mission is to honestly create a transformation and help these people we do love and serve, have unlimited growth, freedom, and joy. 


I know that just in 12 months, we’ve seen some breakthroughs where I had a really good friend and incredible advisor. Prior to meeting him, his wife said that he was going to kill himself to see if he keeps this up. And he told me I’d rather not bring on another client ever again and have my life back. And I will tell you of all the ways you can weigh your success, he was doing like 20 appointments a week. Now, he’s doing four. Now, he has time to hang out with his family, and his quality of life has increased incredibly well because he saw there was another way and he was willing to put the work in. And it was in record time. I mean, you’re probably talking a nine-month process. And he wakes up today a completely different person. He’s got growth, freedom, and joy. So, that… 


Brad Johnson: Another part of that story, he grew too, didn’t he? Like he went from 20… 


Shawn Sparks: Doubled his business in less than 12 months, increased his freedom, joy. So, what I’ll say is this, I’m going to wake up one of these days, let’s say it’s eight years down the road, and I will consider it a complete failure if we don’t actually create the transformation we’re pursuing, meaning these people that I love and work with, if we aren’t able together to create that transformation, our business has failed. If we are the most successful FMO or something, if we don’t create the transformation, then we did it for the wrong reason because we were already successful. 


And I think it takes two parts, there are two partners here. You can set up the perfect, like on a silver platter how to scale your business. But of the other part, which is the advisor doesn’t go all in, say I’m in and I’m going to create this, we can only do so much. So, a lot of what we’re doing is not only showing the road map but saying, giving them the vision to where they have complete conviction. They say, let’s do this. I’m willing to build in a different way. 


And then they wake up 12 months later, and I’m like, my goodness, that was an effect that affected the quality of their office, their team members, that affected the quality of work they’re doing for their clients. Their family is grateful because of that transformation. So, I would say is if you throw the money thing completely out the window, that’s not the driver. It is actually creating what our mission is to create and helping advisors transform completely. 


There have just been too many people who have had the courage to kind of join us on this mission, to not follow through. And that’s what I’ll say is my biggest regret will be us not being able to provide the guidance, support, and help to actually make it happen and not encourage them to say, I’m in and I will do what it takes to scale. So, I don’t know if that’s what part of that who would expect, but that’s where my heart is. 


Brad Johnson: Those are the best answers, man. What comes from the heart enters the heart, right? Well, my man, it’s been awesome to sit down and have this conversation. Man, I’ve known you forever, and I always learn something new in conversations like this. So, thanks, Shawn. And I’m excited about what’s coming together. And there’s a lot to build, a lot to do, and a lot of advisors to help out there. So, let’s go get it, my man. 


Shawn Sparks: All right. Thanks for having me, bro. 


Brad Johnson: All right. See you. 


These conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into the advisory practice, advisors are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed is in accordance with any and all regulatory and compliance responsibilities and obligations. Triad Member case studies may not be representative of all Triad advisor experiences, individual results will vary.
Copyright 2023 Triad Partners, LLC. All rights reserved. TP03232789752.


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