A large part of my consulting business involves teaching advisors to be better business owners.
Thanks to the influx of business consulting help and literature in the independent advisory industry, many firm owners have become quite good at prioritizing; that is, deciding what things are more and less important, and then, when they need to be done.
While most advisors include their clients, employees, partners, technology, marketing, custodian or broker-dealer and themselves in their priority equations, they almost always leave out one essential element—their business.
This is ironic because it is the business that supports all those other areas.
The reason for this omission is that most small business owners (and other people) think that a business simply does well if you get all those other parts right.
While that’s half right (you do have to get those other things right, too), I’ve come to realize that a business has its own set of needs and priorities, and consequently, requires its own seat at the priorities table.
Needs & More Needs
The bad news here is that, unlike most of the other items on an owner’s priority list, the business has a lot of needs.
The good news is that they are relatively straightforward and won’t take up a lot of your time if you deal with them regularly. But if you ignore them, until some become critical, they will overwhelm you and your business.
To keep your business’s needs from overwhelming you, monitor them regularly and address any problems that arise ASAP.
For most businesses, this means the owner must spend an hour or two, every week or so focusing on the needs of the business itself.
Here’s a list of what business owners should consider to be sure their businesses are getting the nurturing they need:
1. Budgeting and Cash Flow
One of the challenges of independent advisory businesses is that they often generate so much cash flow that owners tend to lax about monitoring and controlling expenses. This can both weaken a business and reduce its ability to respond to new challenges and/or opportunities.
One of the needs of a business is to use its resources wisely.
You don’t have to be stingy, but you don’t want to waste money either. And it’s well worth a couple of minutes every week or so to be sure you’re managing your cashflow prudently.
2. Service Offerings
Every successful business knows exactly what it is offering, and to whom. Obviously, you don’t have to think about this often, but you do have to think about it periodically.
The world changes, financial services change, and clients change. Your business needs to be sure it’s offering the right services to the right people.
Maybe twice a year (or more often if major changes occur) put your service offering on your business agenda.
3. Changes to Your Priorities List
You undoubtedly have good reasons for every idea you currently intend to implement, but making too many changes at once can hurt your business.
Therefore, consider everything you’re planning for the near future and work out a schedule for doing them that will not overwhelm you, your people, or your business.
4. Profit Margin
Profit margin isn’t just about how much you can take home.
A business is only a business if it brings in more money than it spends. And a healthy, growing profit margin means that your plan is working.
Falling profits tell a different story. You need to monitor which way your business is heading, and find out why if it is not going up.
Almost as important as profits, hanging on to your clients is a big need for your business. For one thing, it’s a lot cheaper to keep your clients than it is to get new ones.
If this number percentage is low, you need to figure out the problem and fix it ASAP.
6. Cash Flow
This isn’t the same as profit margin. Cash flow is the regular inflow and outflow of money in your business.
It’s important because a business needs to have a certain amount of cash on hand to meet expected expenditures such as payroll, bonuses, etc. Many of the outflows are regular, and fluctuations of inflows are often predictable.
But you need to stay on top of it, as well as be sure your business has what it needs to meet obligations.
Most owners don’t like to think about compliance, but it’s obviously a critical part of the business.
You should review it often enough to be comfortable that your people, systems, and support are all working together with nothing slipping through the cracks.
8. Succession Planning
Again, you don’t have to think about this often, but it should be reviewed regularly.
Your succession plan is most likely your retirement plan; it’s also the plan for the future of your business. It’s worth taking some time every couple of months to make sure everything is on track, and everyone is still on board with it.
9. Other Issues
No matter how diligent you are, a business will always have other problems. This means it’s far more prudent to assume the worst and find out early if anything is going wrong with the business.
The best way to do this is to take time to talk to your people about what’s going on with their jobs. Ask them questions and really listen to the answers. Find out their challenges and help solve them.
David Rockefeller, former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, used to call this “management by walking around.”
Again, you don’t have to make it a full-time job, but the needs of your business need to be a priority. Because if your business doesn’t get what it needs, it’s not going to be able to meet anyone else’s needs either: yours, your employees, or your clients.