Practice Management Primer, Pt. 2: Assessing Your Practice, Setting Meaningful Goals

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In the first post in our seven-part blog series on practice management, we covered the definition of the term “practice management,” aiming to make it a more understandable principle that you can apply towards all aspects of your business. In this, the second installment, we’re taking the next logical steps: Assessing your practice and, armed with that knowledge, setting appropriate goals.

Effectively Assess Your Practice
Just as you wouldn’t organize a road trip without looking at a map, you can’t start implementing a strong practice management initiative without an effective assessment of the current state of your practice. Taking a thorough look at where your business is today will provide an invaluable view of strengths, weaknesses, possibilities for growth and potential future vulnerabilities. While a thorough assessment is certain to take time, keep in mind that in the long run, it’s one of the most important things you can do to ensure a healthy future for your practice and an essential way to take on both problem solving and the development of new ideas. 

As for how to assess your practice there are two ways to go about the process: From the top down, from the bottom up, or you can do both (so technically there is a third way). The way you choose to make your assessment will depend on the nature of your practice and your personal approach, but consider these points to help clarify which method is right for you. 

1) Assess from the top down. Consider this the more qualitative of the two approaches. The process starts with asking the key people in the practice, “What matters to you?” By getting a clear picture of the goals and what matters most, you’re giving yourself—and everyone involved in the assessment—a touchstone, something that can act as a guiding principle throughout the process. If one of the goals is to be able to be out of the office by 4:00 p.m., rather than burning the midnight oil on a regular basis, assess why that’s not happening now. If the goal is to grow by 20% in a given time period, assess whether your practice is on a course that makes that a possibility, with things working as they are now.

Naturally, there will be a number of goals and aspirations; combine them all to build out a larger picture of what you want your practice to look like and start the assessment to see where you’re hitting, missing, staying on track and/or veering off it.

2) Assess from the bottom up. This approach is the more quantitative of the two. The first step in the process is taking a hard, honest look at the key characteristics of your practice, and benchmarking them against the industry standards. This will give you an idea of where you’re setting a good pace and where you’re lagging behind. The groundwork that you do to collect information in this method will tell you a lot in and of itself, and can help you be better aware of all the minute details that affect how your practice operates. Then, as you compare against industry standards for issues like efficiency and financial metrics, you’ll be able to quickly ascertain where goals lie. And in looking at the industry standards, consider them just that: standard. If you think that your practice is able to excel in a particular area, beyond the average levels, that should be included in your assessment. 

3)  Talk to your clients. Another important aspect of assessing your practice is soliciting

input from your clients.  Doing formal client surveys or simply talking to clients about how you can better meet their needs can be very valuable.  Advisor Impact does a great job with client surveys, or you can craft your own using tools like Survey Monkey or Google forms.  

Naturally, you’re not held to making a decision between only one of these methods or the other: they can both be part of your plan. Whether you use them together or separately, they’re the stepping stones you need to start establishing goals for your practice. Once you’ve made your assessment and have started to extract goals from that information, it’s important that you remember that your goals should be S.M.A.R.T.: 

* Specific

* Measurable

* Attainable

* Realistic * Time-bound 

Making sure that your goals fit these criteria will make it easier to develop a concrete plan for pursuing them, rather than leaving them simply as “goals.” For many advisors, taking the step from idea to action is the most exciting, but there are important considerations that need to be made so that you achieve your goals.

In our next post in the series, we’ll discuss further how you can translate the goals you’ve discovered in the assessment process into actionable tasks.

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