How many plates can you keep in the air?

In late 2017, 31-year-old Miwa Sado tragically died due to karoshi – working too hard.

She has become a martyr for the overworked worker.

A portent to anyone addicted to activity-driven work habits.


I see an increasing trend of these habits in today’s financial services firms.

Due to regulatory, technology, COVID-19 and solid flows of referral (which are regularly boasted about), I believe activity-based work is on course to create worse working conditions for many advisory firms.

I heard of a classic case in mid-January, the day before I left for my week-long trekking and Bluesfest in Thredbo (one of Australia’s great treasures!).

I checked in with an old client who runs an advisory firm in the gorgeous flat country between Horsham and Melbourne.


Mark openly describes himself as a plate-spinner.

He also describes himself as having strong control tendencies which he says he needs to be to ensure “things are done right”.

However, he is finding it harder to keep his plates spinning.

One of the biggest problems facing Mark and other plate-spinners is perception. In one breath they perceive business as great and in the next, they talk about their hopes for this year “to be better” than last.

To plate-spinners, good business is a busy business with lots of referrals, lots of meetings and a growing number of opportunities.

From an outsider’s perspective, this sounds great, but from within, the business is a constant hive of activity with less time for training, planning, and change due to the sweat-shop-type demands on the founders caused by growth, compliance, technology, and new workload pressures not helped by new workplace demands accelerated by Covid-19.

Mark called to run his 2022 plan by me that he hoped would make a big difference for them in 2022. He was intending to hire a new administration team member to free up a more experienced team member to support him better.

“What do you think?”

“Sounds like what you did last year Mark. Did that work for you?”

“But last year we had Covid-19.”

“If you are trying to increase your returns and reduce your dependency, no, I don’t believe continuing to hire new team members when you get busy will get you the returns you seek and deserve.”

“Oh. OK Jim, cheers”:

There comes a time when plate-spinners need new and fewer plates to spin.


I regularly see five plate-spinning habits hindering advisory teams:

Firstly – more is more.

Plate-spinners are like over-eaters. They find it difficult to resist requests for help. This isn’t driven by greed, just the opposite. It is driven by an insatiable desire to serve, support and help as many clients as possible – both new and old. It almost resembles social work.

I’m fascinated how many firms like Marks believe that buying another client base, securing another referral source, or hiring another adviser who already has a strong client base will “solidify the growth” for the coming years.

I reckon it will send them further into the grave of more work and lost opportunity.

More isn’t more.

Some believe technology is the path to making more is more – I don’t buy this for comprehensive advisory firms built upon client relationships.

It might be true for transactional firms, but I’m only guessing as I have no experience or expertise in that space.

Secondly – fear of loss of control.

“If you want to ensure a job is done well, you may as well do it yourself.”

“In the time I could explain it to someone else, I would have already completed it.”

“The client or prospect or alliance or referral expects to see me, so I have to turn up and then maybe someone else can take over.”

“And it is really hard to find someone these days, you know?”

Some call this perfection.

I call it an overly concerning perception of what others think of them.

This attitude grow egos, not well-performing advisory teams.

Thirdly – confusing change and progress.

As we grow in life we usually, albeit slowly, recognise that what used to work for us at a certain age, does not work as well as we grow older.

The needs of a maturing business are less recognised.

Mark’s business is approaching the $2m revenue.

However, he continues to hire, train, remunerate and coach his team like he did when he had a $500k business. From the outside, the business is changing, but from the inside, it resembles a start-up bursting at the seams.

Mark is dumbfounded why new team members only stay for 12-18 months just as they become more productive. He blames the new generation of workers rather than the obvious old generation approach of his team management.

Fourthly – repeat the careers of those that went before you.

Firms don’t hand out Blackberrys to their teams anymore.

But many are content to use career management procedures that were relevant when Blackberrys ruled.

Not only have careers changed, but the new generations of advice team members have future careers with less and less resemblance to the careers of the founders hiring them. Forging future careers based upon the career paths forged in the noughts or even ten years ago is similar to using a Blackberry. Don’t be ridiculous.

Leading teams is less about curating roles to fit the team members and more about curating team members to align with future needed roles – and it starts with the most senior roles – the leaders.

Lastly – confusing revenues and profits.

It’s easy to understand why financial services are so revenue-driven. It is embedded in the heritage.

Tracking billable hours, funds under management, or existing and new revenues have for decades been high on the scorecard of growth for advisory firms.

Revenues don’t fund firms (unless there are institutional or friendly benefactors, or the firm is a hyped-up tech start-up), profits do.

Profits are not drawings.

Profits are not to be confused with the fair return for founders who take the risk, work hard and seek a return on the founder’s physical, emotional and sweat investment.

Profits are what is left after all that.

Without profits, founders have a job, not a business.


Miwa Sado’s tragic fate is primarily a signal of the potential biggest danger of over-work.

Like most tough choices in life, the steps for plate-spinning over-workers are both very simple and very hard.

Simple because advisory teams use these steps every day of their working lives.

Hard because they haven’t prioritised these steps for their own lives, but the lives of their clients.

There are primarily two steps to start the needed smashing of plates.

Firstly re-connect with why they started in their careers – usually to help others – and get back to spending as much time playing to this strength.

Secondly, do for themselves, what they do every day for their clients – make their own plans their highest daily priority

If the plate-spinners keep spinning their plates repeating the same tactics they’ve been using or watching similar peers doing, they’ll be less ready for a fast-approaching future when renewal income streams will be lower and harder to earn, less able to fund their growth for new talent and technology, and less energised or prepared to lead their clients and teams through the significant changes facing towards the financial services marketplace.

What do you reckon?




PS – Consider coming to my Certainty Innovation day – March 17 at Manly. I promise it will be a blast.

Photo credit: Shutterstock_70428541



For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His firm, Certainty Advice Group coaches, trains and is building a growing group of advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice, priced purely on value. The community of advisory firms aligns with Australia’s highest and only ACCC/IP Australia Certification Mark standard of comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice. He has authored four books regarding financial advice with his latest – What Price Value – available now in pre-release for launch in March 2022.


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