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3 'Must Ask' Questions to Guide Your Strategic Plans

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There are hundreds of business planning tools, templates and worksheets in the marketplace for advisory firm owners to help them strategically plan their goals. Often, these tools include helping construct vision, mission, core values and objectives for the coming month, quarter and year.

For some leaders these tools are helpful to focus on how to achieve goals. And they often do keep firms focused on the strategic direction leaders want to take the company, especially smaller firms where leaders often are advising clients as well as running the business.

But sometimes these tools can veer the business off track. In other words, situations, goals and strategic directions can change — and often very quickly.

If your firm relies too heavily on these tools to guide decisions and project far into the future finding solutions to problems you are facing now, they actually might lead you astray delaying implementation of solutions you need today.

When consulting advisory firm clients who want to strategically plan out the year, I often ask them to set aside the worksheet. Instead, I help them to think deeper about what is happening in the current moment.

The best way to do that is to ask key questions. If you don’t know “why” you are aiming for a specific goal, then how do you know it will be effective in getting the results you want for your firm?

Here are three of the most common questions to ask yourself, so you can think through the best business strategies and goals to grow:

1. What is the real problem?

Often when advisors do strategic planning they are thinking about the solution. But the best solution to any problem is knowing the problem! And often the real problems are found in data.

Before starting to make a list of goals and plans for your firm, get a handle on what key performance indicators (KPI) you are trying to move.

Are revenues falling? Is lead ratio falling? Is the close ratio falling? Are expenses increasing at a rate faster than revenues?

To find the real problem, first look at the numbers to know exactly where the firm is situated. Without knowing what KPI you are trying to move, how are you going to impact business performance? It’s never enough to simply say, “I want to grow.”

2. What are the possible solutions?

Once you have a grasp on what KPIs are indicating, the next steps is to explore your solutions — and this means all of them.

An advisory business can grow in many ways. To figure out what’s right for your firm, we then need to explore all the solutions.

One example is your revenue growth rate. Let’s say your growth rate is flat, falling or not increasing as fast as you want. What are the possible solutions to moving your revenue growth?

Many advisor-leaders may think the best possible solution is more marketing programs, but those are expensive.

There can be hundreds of solutions to solve growth rates, such as increasing client service to expand referral rates and improving client service to improve retention rates. One of the best ways to increase growth rates is by improving staff training to increase the close ratio.

Once you’ve explored all potential solutions, you may find there are better ways to accomplish getting the growth rate you want.

3. What’s the first step to implementing the solution?

When trying to move a business forward, the hardest step is getting started, and the second hardest step is finishing. Here’s a tip: If you cannot start and/or finish implementing your solution, business growth is going to stall or fall.

Many advisors will, half-way through implementing the solution, stop and jump to the next thing and/or never start at all. The key to making business performance better is finishing what you start.

To stay the course, simply take the first step, and then the next step and then the next step — allowing you and your team the space to improve and enhance as you move along.

When it comes to strategic business planning, knowing the problem, committing to the solution, and then seeing it through to the finish is how you get results.

Related: How to Tackle 4 Hurdles to Your Success