There are multiple legitimate business models in the independent advisory world, and by listening to you and observing your activities and priorities, it's clear that there are multiple definitions of success as well. While many consultants and outside observers might conclude that success is measured in a practice's financials or more intangible achievements like prominence within the community where you live and work or stature within the advisory community itself, they would be missing the point. Running a practice efficiently so that you and your staff have a comfortable life and providing needed services to your clients is good enough for many practitioners. Bob Clark points out in his column this month that much of the research on the profession is understandably but mistakenly focused on larger practices, despite the fact that the majority of financial planning and investment advisory firms are small shops with one principal and a small support staff. Those of you who are running smaller firms would do well to heed Mr. Clark's advice on how to maximize your time and effort, by the way.
There is one virtue that most successful advisors have, however, and it's a trait usually considered a vice: impatience. Successful advisors never fall prey to complacency. Successful advisors never stop learning. Successful advisors never just wait for the market to change for the better or new clients to cross their thresholds or for staff to feel more committed. They are proactive. They ask questions. They do research. They consult their peers. They try new technology. They're optimists who are skeptical of the financial services world that constantly claims to have found a cheap annuity or an investing vehicle that performs well IN ANY MARKET ENVIRONMENT! They think the best of most of their clients while they can spot BS a mile away.
That's why Gene Balliett of Balliett Financial, a septuagenarian who can write rings around most journalists, much less planners, says he's going to be working on his writing this year. That's why Lou Stanasolovich of Legend Financial, who each year is on more "Best of" lists than Liza Minelli wins "Worst of" awards, reads scores of magazines every month and says without a trace of embarrassment that Legend "is a work in progress." There's no embarrassment because Lou is proud of his constant striving, his need to improve himself, his partners, and his staff, in a never-ending cycle meant to make his business the best it can be and benefit his clients the most he can. That's why Mitch Kramer of Fluent Financial can dispassionately report that his Dallas practice had its best year ever in 2006 despite his having been "out of the office a lot" as he dealt with not one but two family medical emergencies. "The mark of any successful person is that they keep learning," says Deena Katz, "otherwise, you die."
Those quoted above are members of the Investment Advisor Leaders' Council, our advisory board who share their wisdom on the future of the profession in this month's cover story, which begins on page 42. At the magazine and on the Web, we strive to foster that learning process. Let us know how we can help by writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.