Happy New Year! To help you start 2018 on the right foot, I thought I’d share some advice about getting advice — business advice, that is.

Although I’ve written this before, it seems that it can’t be repeated often enough: There is no secret to building a successful independent advisory firm.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t build a successful business, it simply means that there isn’t one formula for doing it.

Sure, there are some basic principles for growing businesses, but simply knowing the principles isn’t enough. You also must know when and how to apply them.

Part of this wisdom comes from experience. After you’ve observed enough businesses, you start to get an idea of what works under different circumstances.

You also come to realize that you never really know something until you try it. In other words, the key to building a successful advisory business isn’t a formula; it’s a process — a learning process.

That is, it’s a process of learning what works for your business, with your skills, your staff and your target clients, in your market — and doing so in accordance with your definition of success.

While this may sound complex, I’ve found that it really boils down to doing just three things:

1. Develop a process.

We all have our own ways of approaching problems and making decisions.

Whether it’s about adding a new service, entering a new market, hiring a new employee, or expanding our marketing efforts, it’s important for business owners and their staffs to develop a consistent process for making important decisions.

Some people are researchers and start by gathering as much information as they can about how others have approached similar challenges. Others are thinkers, who like to thoroughly consider a problem themselves before gathering outside information.

Still others like to get the views of other people — key employees and outside trusted advisors — to inform their own thought processes.

Then there’s the thought and decision-making process itself. People vary widely on this as well.

Some people like to come to their own conclusion about what needs to be done and how to do it, and then run it by others for their input. Others like to hear other peoples’ conclusions before coming to their own.

What your process is, isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you develop one that enables you to make sound decisions — and that you stick to it.

2. Have a feedback loop.

Making a decision is only the first step in the learning process. The second step is actually learning from what you’ve done.

Things rarely go 100% according to plan. To succeed in business, it’s essential that we put our egos and feelings aside, and accurately assess the results of our activities — without assigning fault or blame.

3. Trust the process.

This is the true learning process: determining what worked and what didn’t and why, and then deciding what the next step could be.

This is the part of the process that nobody really knows or can predict.

Although it’s hard for many business owners to grasp, success or failure isn’t nearly as important as what you learn.

While we always want to do everything we can to make our plans succeed, in most cases, the knowledge gained from what worked and what didn’t will be far more valuable to the future of your business than the cost (or headaches) of any growth-related project.