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Defining and Refining Your Business Plan for Success in 2018

Three steps advisors can take to approach planning more proactively.

Financial advisors today are navigating a variety of external pressures: widespread firm consolidation, an uncertain regulatory climate and the evolving needs of an aging client demographic. These constant shifts mean that advisors must sharpen their focus on their business goals in order to prosper. However, while many advisors think about their business objectives abstractly, few put such thoughts down on paper and devise a specific plan of attack. They’re missing a golden opportunity, as creating a formal business plan can make all the difference in attaining one’s goals. Here are three steps advisors can take to approach planning more proactively and start 2018 right off on the road to success.

Be SMART About Defining Your End Goal

Creating and executing a business plan requires that you first identify your end goal. High-level business concepts like “driving scale” and “increasing efficiency” are popular buzzwords, but these terms are too theoretical to be actionable—they are most helpful as themes to underlie a more concrete objective and its corresponding plan. Instead, goals must be SMART: 


There are infinite SMART goals—every advisor is driven by their own personal objectives. For example, one advisor may be looking to grow their average assets under management per client from $250,000 to $400,000 over three years, while another may aim to acquire 10 clients from a new demographic in the next year. These goals may differ, but both are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Adhering to such criteria will make it easier for you to actually realize your goals.

Implement “Horizon Planning”

Once advisors have clearly defined their end goal, they must create a specific, tactical business plan that can be shared with employees and clients. Many advisors have found success in doing so by leveraging “horizon planning” to organize their thoughts into three “horizons,” or groups of smaller objectives linked to a larger end goal.

“First horizon” objectives are the specific, action-oriented tasks critical to beginning to pursue a larger goal—for the hypothetical advisor looking to boost average client AUM, this may include forging 10 new relationships with potential clients. “Second horizon” objectives identify areas for investment that will drive future revenue, profit or any other strategic priority related to the business, such as adding retirement and estate planning services to harness more of clients’ wallet share. “Third horizon” objectives may be a strategic priority, but are not currently achievable due to a lack of resources—perhaps that hypothetical advisor would like to hire a junior advisor to further drive growth, but does not have the time and resources to interview candidates. With these three horizons in mind, advisors will have a clearer view of how to align day-to-day strategies, decisions and staffing with short- and long-term goals for the firm.

Stay on Track by Anticipating Common Pitfalls

One of the most common mistakes we see advisors make when executing a business plan is allowing distractions and other projects to derail their progress. While business planning is certainly an intensive process, advisors can help maintain their focus by further breaking up each “horizon” of their overall strategy into bite-sized goals. Not only does this make reaching their larger objective more tangible, but accomplishing each “mini goal” provides a clear sign of advancement that can help them stay motivated. Another common mistake advisors make is failing to regularly review their overall business plan. Revisit each “horizon” of the plan during team meetings and year-end reviews to assess progress and status updates—that way, the firm can pinpoint areas of opportunity together and make any necessary adjustments moving forward. In addition to checking in with internal stakeholders, it’s important to identify an “accountability colleague” to meet with regularly to specifically review the progress made towards the goal. This could be an affiliate group, study group, consultant or advisory board. Whatever shape it takes, having a person or a group of people to whom you are accountable helps maintain focus and motivation.

Developing a business plan is key to advisor success—without a disciplined approach to designing and executing goals, advisors run the risk of letting ever-increasing industry pressures impact their long-term vision for their businesses. But by leveraging these best practices, advisors can approach the new year with a fine-tuned strategy for achieving their unique goals.

Matt Matrisian is Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives at AssetMark, Inc. AssetMark, Inc. is a SEC-registered investment adviser.

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