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Is bigger actually better for your practice?

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At some point in your career, you will probably wrestle with the question of why you’re in business: Who is it that you exist to serve?

How big of a fish do you want to become, and in what size pond?

Should you set out to grow a large, multi-advisor practice, with staff, multiple offices, and all of the bragging rights that come with impressive production numbers? Or, does a lifestyle practice, tailored to meet your needs, while also meeting the needs of a select number of clients satisfy your definition of success? Failing to answer this question confidently can ultimately lead to a very unhappy advisory firm, and an equally un-satisfying life.

So, let’s tackle the core issue head on: “Is Bigger Actually Better For Your Practice?” Admittedly, I have my own bias, but no matter which side you’re on, and no matter what you ultimately decide, I think you’ll agree that this discussion is an incredibly valuable one to have.  

Am I the only one who feels like asking this question out-loud puts me in a position of industry heresy? Questioning the grow-at-all-costs dogma seems to carry with it a hint of defeatism, as if trying to avoid the common conception that “he who cannot grow, must resign to staying small.” Honestly though, I think we’re smarter than that. I think we’re more than capable of having an adult discussion about the right size practice for our unique skill-sets and desires.

Truthfully, the desire to grow a large practice needs no defense. This is what you’re hearing about all the time. Everywhere we turn, our advisory world is promoting big business mentality. Carriers, investment managers, and custodians all seemingly have one speed they’d like us to move as we promote their services: full throttle.

And why shouldn’t they? After all, the growth model allows for more product innovations, greater talent acquisition, and economies of scale. But as independent advisors, is this really what we want? Does the big-firm mentality really match the dream we have for our business and for our life?

If I’m being honest with myself, that’s not me. Is it you? I entered this business to truly be independent, in order to make decisions that are best for my clients and for me. I do not have a boss or shareholders to satisfy. I do not place any agenda above that of my clients’ and my own. 

Sure, partnering with large carriers and investment managers offers me and my clients some very nice options and benefits. But again, the question is this: “Does a lifestyle practice, tailored to meet my needs, while meeting the needs of a select number of clients satisfy my definition of success?”

Maybe the lifestyle practice is not the way things used to be, and maybe it’s not the path to industry fame. But, even so, we operate in a world where an advisor can grow a very nice lifestyle practice with a single support person, access to very high-tech investment solutions, dozens of insurance carriers, and communication platforms that allow for a powerful cohesive message to attract the very clients we wish to work with.

We can now create a calendar that results in many meaningful client touches, using group events, communications technology like webinars, video, social media, and client-facing investment solutions that are fully integrated with financial planning software. These tools do not require a billion-dollar practice. Not even close.

See, what we all seem to know, yet no one is saying, is that there is another way. Now, more than ever before, advisors have a distinct choice to make for themselves, without sacrificing any of the benefits for clients’ achievement of their goals. It’s truly an amazing time to be an advisor, without having to become bigger just for growth’s sake.

Ultimately, you and I must choose who we serve, how, and exactly how many we’ll serve. Without making the choice, we fall prey to decision-making that is unfocused and inefficient. The path toward being bigger and bigger can have some unintended consequences. We lease a big office then learn to regret it. We hire staff and then find out we could have simply used technology more effectively. We buy into a dream that wasn’t our dream at all, it was the dream of those who wish us well but don’t sit where we sit.

Sound familiar? 

Sometimes bigger is better and growth is the necessary objective. But oftentimes, that’s simply the default decision when we fail to make the choice for ourselves. It’s a great time to have that choice, so make it wisely. I, for one, want to stand up and say that I don’t believe you have to have a huge firm to be successful. If you’re struggling with this decision yourself, the best medicine may be to think bigger about staying smaller. In this process, you may finally find the confidence to liberate yourself from everybody else’s agenda and instead choose to set your own.