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An Advisor’s Checklist for a Prosperous 2017

March 2, 2017

With 2016 behind us, many advisors are pondering what they can improve for their clients and business in the year ahead. While thinking ambitiously is great, it is also important to set realistic goals. Here are a few broad concepts that, employed well, can better your firm for both clients and employees.

Test, test, test

Whether you’re a new outfit or already well established, aim to test two to three new ideas this year. You may have many grand plans about how to improve your business. However, hopes and theories mean little until concrete evidence determines if they’re worthwhile.

Start modestly and establish metrics to determine success or failure. For instance, if you want to launch a new marketing campaign, what kind of response rate do you expect, and over what timeframe? If you’d like to offer a new service to current clients, begin with a select group and gauge their reaction — would it be worth offering to all your clients? Maybe yes, maybe no, but a test will provide helpful insight.

Crucially, when testing, ensure you have a control group. Your test must be broad enough to yield reliable findings, but they’re useless without a representative comparison.

Most importantly, know when to say when. At Fisher Investments, we constantly test new initiatives, knowing full well some will fail. If all your tests succeed you may need to reevaluate your criteria or how you’re defining success. Your tests may not be ambitious enough.

Utilize an untapped source of feedback

If you’re wondering what you could be doing better, here is a simple suggestion: Ask the people who matter. “Expert” opinions are plentiful, but do they trump what your clients think? I suggest organizing client focus groups to determine what you’re doing well and what you could improve. While not all this feedback will— or should — be actionable, it can spawn ideas you may be missing due to your hectic day-to-day operations.

Besides learning something new, there is an additional positive side effect: Soliciting your clients’ views shows them you value their opinion, giving them a sense of responsibility and ownership in the relationship, too.

Be sure how you message comes across

Take this opportunity to reevaluate your client communication as well. Everyone digests information differently. Some clients prefer phone calls; others like detailed, written analysis; still others may learn best from live presentations or video. While you may not have the capacity to offer everything, you should be able to provide your message across a variety of media.

In particular, you should also have an online — perhaps even social media — presence. You don’t necessarily have to tweet every single day but more and more folks are engaging with their advisors over the internet. Plus, those investigating you will want information on your ideas, approach and services. Having an online presence helps accomplish that.

Don’t lose sight of the long game

All of us get bogged down in day-to-day operations, leaving precious time for little else. However, if you’re a firm leader, you need to make a concerted effort to regularly look at your business from a high level. Are you on a path that will take you where you want to be a year from now? Five years from now? Ten?

The only way to do this is to set aside time for introspection and evaluating your firm’s long-term direction.

That means blocking your calendar and committing to spending that time on its intended purpose — not putting out other fires. Since there is always work to do, usually unexpected, you can’t presume you’ll get to it tomorrow.

You need to actively dedicate some of your schedule to business development.

Remember your priorities

Pursuing flashy endeavors is exciting but is the cost worth it? The potential for new marketing campaigns or prospective client events always seems vast. But focus on your return from these investments. Can that capital (both money and time) be better spent elsewhere? Perhaps on current clients? Like advisors, clients may consider change in the new year, too. Don’t forget, a client retained is worth more than a client earned.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and these tips aren’t meant to be practiced only near the beginning of a calendar year. However, for advisors seeking to make 2017 their best one yet, these are good places to start.