As 2016 draws to a close, I’ve penned an article for IFA Magazine, suggesting that now is the ideal time to reflect on what has worked well in your business over the past twelve months – and also what hasn’t. Here’s that article, giving practical tips and ideas that you can use to be proactive, to think ahead and plan what you need to do for business success in 2017 and long into the future.
As many of you who have followed my previous articles in IFA Magazine will know, I work with financial planners to help them to define not only their exit strategy but also to suggest appropriate third parties who they may wish to work with, to help them build an effective plan.
All of this involves a lot of strategic planning, and that, plus my experience of both running multi- million pound divisions in my former corporate life, and running Gunner & Co. day to day now, has given me lots of experience in strategy & planning.
Personally, I find that the pressures of running my business and team day to day often seems to take priority over assessing and defining the strategic direction of the business for the longer term. Therefore, around this time each year I set aside at least half a day to review the year that’s passed, and consider my direction for the year ahead. I call it my ‘Strategy One-Pager’, and I’m going to share it with you in the hope that you can find some practical ideas that you can take away and use as part of your own business planning activities.
What’s your business purpose?
Knowing your business purpose seems simple, but we all know how easy it is to get pulled in odd directions when it seems like there may be a commercial gain. Every year, as a starting point to my Strategy One-Pager, I review what I set out my business purpose to be, and if it has changed or should be changed for the year ahead. For example, have you strayed into employee benefits or auto-enrolment, and should that now be considered as part of your strategic direction?
Understanding your business purpose is as much about what you don’t or won’t do, as what you do. We all know the most successful business leaders are those who unyieldingly focus on delivering what they said they would. And we also know, and may be guilty of it ourselves, someone who has bags of business ideas but never quite manages to follow them through to a successful outcome.
Articulating, reviewing and checking back against your core business purpose is a sure sign of a focussed business owner or manager.
This is a very useful activity for me; to carry out a quick SWOT analysis of my business. SWOT analysis, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats by the way, allows you to look at your internal operation in terms of your strengths and weaknesses, and your external and internal environment, in terms of opportunities and threats. These are important so let’s break them down and examine them in a little detail:
- Strengths: A business author I follow called Marcus Buckingham wrote a book ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’. His research suggests that if we focus on improving our weaknesses we can become semi-good at something, whereas if we focus on developing strengths, we can become truly amazing. Identifying the strengths of your business and your staff allows you to plan in the year ahead how you will maximise them to best effect.
- Weaknesses: Now that’s not to say that weaknesses can be ignored, especially when you are working in such a highly regulated environment. Knowing what needs to be addressed and committing that to paper are the first steps to defining a plan to overcome those weaknesses.
- Opportunities: With your business purpose and focussed direction firmly in mind, are there opportunities you could follow which will allow you to be more efficient and effective in what you do? It may be that changing your back office and client management systems, or maybe there are specific growth opportunities you could build into a plan for 2017, such as acquisition? Identify them, and play to your strengths.
- Threats: Looking out for potential dangers is essential for business success. You may perhaps be looking at changes in the market for advice, what potential compliance/regulatory hurdles are coming up, as well as threats which you can identify as being very specific to your business which may arise. All these are key to having a risk mitigation plan in place. Considering and planning for potential threats ensure you can overcome these bumps in the road without significant disruption to your ‘business as usual’ operations.
A SWOT analysis needn’t be an arduous task. Bullet points for each heading are a good starting point, and give you something to come back to as you set objectives and continue to review them throughout the year ahead.
Setting goals & key performance indicators( KPIs).
So let’s get to the meaty bit of the plan. What are you going to achieve in 2017?
Typically, I would start with financial targets, and ideally do this in a detailed way – not simply a fixed % of year on year growth. The more specific you can be, the more you can measure against it as the year goes on and see if you are on track. An example would be to set a goal on the number of brand new clients you will take on in 2017, and what value of assets under advice/management you would hope that they bring to the firm (this number of clearly trickier). When you multiply that into fee revenue, you can then split it into achievable chunks, such as monthly or quarterly.
To win new business, we typically must maintain a certain level of activity to generate referrals, enquiries etc., so setting a monthly target for those tasks all contributes to delivering your financial objectives overall.
You should go back to your SWOT and identify a couple of goals from this analysis. For example, developing a team incentive plan (not necessarily financial – the American author Chester Elton writes very convincingly on the benefits of non-financial recognition) may build on that strength in your business. Perhaps you identified a growth opportunity by recruiting more support such as a paraplanner, or by acquiring another business? Whatever it is, committing this to a goal for the year ahead is more likely to make it happen than leaving it in the back of your mind!
Don’t forget the age-old structure for goals, that they should be SMART ie specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based. Test your goals against this rule. If you’re wondering about the difference between achievable and realistic, a trainer once described it as running a marathon – is it achievable for 90% of the population? Almost certainly… Is it realistic? Probably not..!
Breaking your goals down into bitesize chunks, and setting them alongside other business key performance indicators (KPIs) is something I am passionate about. Not simply because I love a spreadsheet, but primarily because when you measure performance with KPIs you can honestly say if you/the team/the business has done well and, most importantly, you can then celebrate that success.
Making it happen
For some of us (women especially – no sexism meant!), making the plan isn’t such a challenging thing. It’s in delivering the plan, when we’re juggling everything else which is where things can come unstuck.
Now we all work differently, but I have a few ways to ensure I am accountable to delivering what I say I will as outlined below:
- Get weekly ‘Q2’ time: Dr. Stephen Covey talks about time management in his excellent ‘7 Habits’ books. Principally, he categorises our time use into four quadrants to help us to focus on and value the important tasks as opposed to the urgent ones:
- Q1: Important & Urgent – all the ‘business as usual” (BAU) things you must do to run a business and keep it on track
- Q2: Important & Not Urgent: All the strategic planning, relationship building, long-term tasks
- Q3: Not Important but Urgent: these are things like emails and meetings we commit to which don’t have an importance to us running and developing our businesses
- Q4: Not Important and Not Urgent: trivial timewasting, which falls on your desk because no one else wants to do it!
Carving out ‘Q2’ time in my diary each week is how I make sure that I progress my strategic goals. Typically, I do this outside of the office, with my emails switched off. This gives me time to think about the future of my business and also to work on the actions surrounding my goals, which is so essential to making them happen.
- A monthly business MOT. This is where I produce a report of my KPIs, typically measured against my target for the year and ‘TTLY’ – this time last year. By looking at these numbers every month I can spot if I am off track early, and set out a recovery plan. I share this with my business partners and key members of my team along with any new actions I need to take. I’m not sure if they always read it, but knowing I’ve made the commitment to doing it and sending it ensures I complete it and also think about what the numbers are telling me
- A quarterly review of strategic goals, as part of a board meeting. This is where I present progress, challenges and action plans for the goals I have set to my business partners, giving me accountability beyond myself and useful feedback from objective supporters.
With 2016 drawing rapidly to a close, each of us has to find what works best for us as individuals. However, we all need to have a sound process to work through to help us to make the effective plans which really do act as the building blocks of our future business success.
I hope that you have found some of the ideas and processes which I’ve talked about here and which work well for me, to be useful for you too. You will have noticed I follow a number of business authors and learn regularly from their teachings. If you’re looking for some ideas for reading material for your Christmas wish list, here are some business books I have found particularly useful and would thoroughly recommend. Happy reading – and a very happy and successful business new year to you and your team too!
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits/Scaling Up, Verne Harnish
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Managers/People, Dr Stephen Covey
A Carrot a Day/The Carrot Principle, Chester Elton
Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham
Built to Last, Jim Collins
Key Performance Indicators: The 75 Measures Every Manager Needs To Know, Bernard Marr
Louise Jeffreys Biography
Louise is the managing director of Gunner & Co., the boutique M&A brokerage service for financial planners to define and undertake exit planning, and equally with financial services businesses looking to grow through acquisition.