From the March 2013 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

How to Improve the FA Business Plan

Here’s the why and how of financial advisor business plans.

Thirty-one percent of people who glance at the headline of this article don’t need it. You can move on. 

Here is how I know. I have been honored to be named a “Thought Leader for Financial Advisors” by BrightTALK, a worldwide, very high-end webinar platform. One way they develop their business is to select “thought leaders” who are invited to deliver a webinar which is, of course, presented on their state-of-the-art platform. 

Presenters like the honor. I get introduced to people I would not otherwise meet, and my clients are introduced to the BrightTALK platform. It’s totally win-win. On Jan. 30, I presented “Business Planning 2013.” I have posted this webinar as well as “Business Planning 2012” at www.billgood.com/2yearplan

During the presentation, I asked a question, “Do you have a business plan?” One feature of the BrightTALK platform is a “voting” capability. The answers were:

  • Yes, but it’s all in my head. (34%)
  • Yes, but I don’t refer to it. (3%)
  • Yes, but it needs some improvement. (31%)
  • Yes, and it’s in pretty good shape. (17%)
  • Yes, and I refer to it frequently, updating it as necessary. (14%)

If you are one of these last two categories, go read something else. I probably cannot help you. But if your plan “needs some improvement,” or worse, stick with me. I’ll show you how to improve your planning process.

Why Plan?

Yogi Berra gave the obvious answer. “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up somewhere else.” But there are several other answers. They include: “Sleep better.” “Think better.” “Trigger creative ideas.” “Get more done in less time.”

Think I’m kidding? Spend a few hours following the procedure I am outlining here and enjoy these and other benefits.

Planning Discipline

At the foundation of my planning discipline are these steps: (1) Write it down. (2) Categorize it. (3) Prioritize it. (4) Based on priority, get it done sooner or later.

Here is an example. I recently figured out how to use a particular feature of Amazon.com to help people write better seminar invitations. I know that sounds far-fetched, but it’s quite magic. I decided to call an online article I’ll soon write about it, “Amazon Magic Tricks.” 

So let’s apply the planning process.

(1) Write it down. I did that.

(2) Categorize: To do this, you have to have a framework consisting of objectives, sub-objectives and tasks. The objectives and sub-objectives are your categories. In this case, I decided this belonged in the category, “Research Magazine Folder.”

(3) Prioritize: Here’s a tip. For me, prioritizing is a two-step process.

I prioritize within a category, such as ideas for blog articles. “High priority” is a task I want to accomplish in the next week. “Highest priority” needs to be done in the next day or so.

Then, once a week, generally Saturday morning, I can review all my categorized items, upgrading some to high priority and downgrading others. From my “high priority” list, I select my “highest priority” items. That’s what I will get done in the next week.

(4) Get it done. “Amazon Magic Tricks” is a “high priority.” But you can be assured it will become highest before this article is published.

Planning Framework

To go through the four planning steps I just outlined, you need a planning framework.

If your plan includes lots of tasks, you need some software help. Doing this on paper or even in a Microsoft Word document is messy at best. At worst, stuff gets lost. As of right now, I have 144 tasks I’m managing. For me, task management software is a life saver.

I have checked out countless programs to help me keep track of my plan. The best I have found is Swift To-Do List. I have posted a link to it over on my 2-year-plan page, where you will also find links to the two business planning webinars I did for BrightTALK.

This screen shot from Swift demonstrates what I mean by “planning framework.”

Let’s suppose you are intrigued by my article on seminar invites. You decide to read it but cannot do so right now. You will find a link to it at www.advisorone.com/author/bill-good.

You write it down. You categorize it. It’s obviously related to your objective “Develop invitation different from competition.”

In prioritizing, you consider many factors. As you study it, you remember you need to turn in your invitation to compliance in two weeks. It earns a high priority. On Saturday, when reviewing your tasks, you move it to “highest.”

If Wishes Were Horses

It is said “If wishes were horses, beggars could ride.” Countless managers have used this quote to put you down when you turn in a business plan that looks like this: (1) Increase mutual fund business by 17%. (2) Grow AUM by $10 million. (3) Take 6 weeks off this year.

This is just a wish list, not a plan. But it does not deserve a put-down. You just didn’t finish your plan. 

In my opinion, a good plan starts with a wish list. The more you want something, the more important that you plan it.

If you plan tasks you don’t really care about, you are just wasting pixels and time. You won’t do them, and in your mind, planning will get a bad name.

Plan what you care about. Wishes can become horses, especially when you set them as objectives. 

Objective: Buy a 20-acre farm with an eight-stall barn.

Sub-objective: Save $500,000 down payment.

Sub-objective: Expand team so I can work four days/week.

Each sub-objective can be broken down into tasks that you can work on each week. When the tasks are accomplished, you can check off the sub-objective. And when all these are accomplished, if the plan was carefully and correctly crafted, one day you will go saddle up and ride your wish that became a horse.

Planning Magic

In addition to the mechanics of planning, there is a bit of magic.

Just about the time my company hit its fifth birthday, I found a five-year business plan I had written just as I was getting off the ground. It had slipped out of a drawer and was stuck behind it. Out of sight/out of mind … or so you would think.

I was fascinated to discover that I had achieved virtually everything I had set out to accomplish in my first five years, even though (blush!) I had never looked at those goals since I had written them. 

My immediate conclusion was: The process of planning is at least as important as the plan itself. Since that discovery, I have verified countless times when I practice my own planning discipline:

I am more focused.

I accomplish more.

And yes, there is serendipity—something good, out of the blue, and unexpected. 

Sometimes it is a creative idea. Sometimes it’s a contact that materializes. Sometimes it’s an article someone emails me that completes a puzzle I’ve been working on. 

It is totally related to programming my super computer.

Do I know how it occurs? Not even close.

Do I know that it does occur? With total certainty.

I cannot tell you that the time you spend writing, reviewing, and clarifying your plan will bring magic to your life. But I wouldn’t bet against it.

Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing. His Gorilla CRM System helps advisors double their production or work half as much; visit www.billgood.com. His seminar program, “No More Pies,” helps advisors manage ETF portfolios using technical analysis; see www.nomorepies.net. And his blog, financialadvisorsmarketing.net, has lots of useful information for advisors who need to beef up marketing. To preview Bill as a speaker, see his YouTube channel here: http://bit.ly/BillGoodSpeaker.

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