From Yogyakarta, Indonesia,
Elizabeth E. M. Taylor texts an assignment to her office staff in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 14 time
zones and more than 8,000 miles away. “We should do this,” writes the 11-year MDRT member, whose
holistic practice works with families and business owners and deals in everything from life insurance
to investments to group insurance. “Did you guys do this?”
“Elizabeth, we’re good,” comes the reply. “It’s taken care of.” That stability is the result of processes that allow Taylor to spend at least a week and up to a month out of the office each year as an extension of her involvement with Habitat Global Village. Since 2007, she has helped the charity build homes in Mexico, Thailand, El Salvador, Costa Rica, South Africa and Indonesia.
“From my first build, I was hooked. I had this incredibly beautiful experience,” she said, recalling kids from the village wanting to know when she was coming back and giving her a black felt pen to sign their arms. “I just found my place. And even though I added more on my plate, I actually found my balance.”
How is she able to take this time away — which often includes extra time for vacation — and commit to a demanding project in another country? Taylor, a part-time actress who, yes, shares a name with the film legend and was expected by some in El Salvador to be the icon herself, shared some of the things she’s learned on builds that she uses in her office.
- Staying organized. With about 150 hours required each year to facilitate fundraisers, travel and the build itself, Taylor has a lot to juggle. She keeps a detailed binder that manages all of the necessary information including itineraries, safety forms and much more.
- Business structure. Through the Salesforce program, anything any staff member says or does with a client is documented. This allows multiple people to work with clients and pick up where others have left off. Various team members help facilitate elements of Taylor’s trips and sometimes come with. She knows everything will be handled in her absence thanks to a trustworthy team that believes in what she’s doing.
- Colleague communication. Taylor’s associate advisor, Carl Taylor, takes care of everything from an advising standpoint while she is away. “Without him, I couldn’t do any of it,” she said. For example: While Taylor was preparing for Costa Rica, a client’s husband passed away, and Taylor knew her client would need a lot of support. She felt bad leaving the country in her client’s time of need and prepared Carl to step in. When Taylor returned, the client raved, “He was perfect.”
- Client support. There have been times when Taylor has needed to postpone a client meeting due to travel planning, or shift a client to meet with Carl. Her clients support her volunteer work, just as she supports them, and are often interested in hearing about the trip — the people, culture, food and stories. She’s both flattered and saddened, though, if clients live vicariously through her. She wants them to do it themselves. “I think we have a bigger job than just running our practice,” she said. “It’s about helping people live. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.”
- Checking email and remaining available if needed. While this makes staff feel better, Taylor recognizes her maintained digital presence is mostly to pacify her and prevent an overwhelming amount of catch-up upon returning. “I haven’t built a business that’s based around me,” she said. “I think they’d like to keep me there and there’s value to me being there, but my team does work without me too. That may be what advisors most need to know about being able to travel like this.”
- Thinking on your feet and being prepared for the unexpected. From dealing with extreme heat to intense physical labor to large cultural differences, Taylor has learned adaptive skills she uses in the varied responsibilities of her business.
- The importance of teamwork. Some difficult team members in Thailand illuminated the value of positive attitudes and camaraderie, Taylor said. She learned how to manage people and expectations, and what happens with the wrong person on a team.
- Asking the right questions. This has come up in several situations, like when people refused to work in El Salvador and team members were sick in Indonesia, which exposed Taylor to learning about the process of employee assistance programs during travel. “Now if clients go through the process, I can help them because I’ve actually been there,” she said.
- Connection. During travel in Africa, Taylor came across a town she liked in Tanzania. Turns out that one of her clients grew up there. “All of a sudden I’m having this incredible conversation that definitely changed our relationship,” she said. “My travel in Africa brought me closer to my client in Canada.” Taylor also brings the game Twister to every build for universal accessibility with kids, regardless of language.
- Patience. Taylor has adjusted to the slower pace of information that comes in some developing countries, and the importance of being flexible during travel. Aspects of her accommodations were still being finalized while she was on her way to Indonesia. “You just learn not to get anxious about it,” she said. “It will work its way out. You have to trust other people.”
“I think we have a bigger job than just running our practice. It's about helping people live.”
“I haven't built a business that's based around me. My team does work without me too.”