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Personal Trauma Can Challenge Your Business

November 18, 2016

This time we hear from Harry Abrahamsen, founder of Manasquan, N.J.-based Abrahamsen Financial Group. He recalls a tough period in his personal life that revealed lessons about his business.

All financial planners know that we are in the relationship business. But we often focus so much on our clients that we forget that there are two sides to every relationship – and that we matter too. Indeed, we probably matter more than we realize.

That lesson really hit home for me recently when I went through a difficult period, and my business suffered. In the end, I became a better planner because I became more aware of my clients and what was going on in their lives. But more importantly, I benefited from becoming more aware about my own role in those relationships.

All of us go through tough times in our lives that can impact our professional careers. Maybe it’s an illness, a death in the family or some other trauma. For me, it was a divorce. And I have five children, which made things harder.

Going through the divorce process was a huge distraction from my business. I don’t work for a large firm, so I couldn’t fall back on a big support team. I do have staff who support me, but keeping track of clients, their needs and my schedule is still largely my responsibility.

I had a lot of things on my mind during the divorce. One particularly hectic day I had to pick up my kids unexpectedly. I ended up in one of my two offices, thinking that I finally had a moment where I could catch up on work. Little did I know that one of my best clients, a dentist, was sitting at my other office, miles away, waiting to meet with me. I had completely forgotten about our meeting. In fact, I only learned about the mistake when my client finally called me to say he was waiting. Either I messed up my calendar, or someone on my staff missed something. But regardless, it happened. Normally I am always on my “A” game, but evidently not that day.

He was very upset with me. I apologized, but without really explaining what I was going through. The damage was done though. It was not a pleasant call. Basically, he said, “I wish you well.” And that was it, I lost the client.

I changed, professionally, because of that experience. Now when I meet with clients, I am more aware of my role in our relationship, and how my situation might impact things. For example, if I had been more upfront with my dentist client about my situation, he would likely have been more understanding of our missed appointment. If he had known about my situation, I think he would have understood the pressure I was under and would have given me a break. Other clients certainly did when I was finally upfront with them.

Harry Abrahamsen

That was a hard time, but it wasn’t all bad. I have many phenomenal clients, a very diverse client base, and I am proud to have earned their trust. But the missed meeting with that top client really hurt. It caused me to think hard about what had happened. That misstep happened because I was under a lot of pressure and it impacted my ability to be professional. I had to admit that and deal with it.

Today, I also try to understand what’s going on in my clients’ lives and how that impacts them. Just like me, they will go through hard times. And if I’m aware of that, I can be more understanding of their situation. Clients may miss appointments, or they may be late, or sometimes they may be cranky. But I have learned I need to cut them some slack. These things happen in life.

At some point in your career you will likely go through a hard time, and you will come to depend on your relationships with your clients. But that will only work if you are honest with them about your own life. Just as it benefits you if you recognize what’s going on in your clients’ lives, it will also benefit you if they understand what’s going on in yours. When a day arrives where you make a mistake – and most of us will – you will hopefully have your clients’ understanding.