Building a business plan? Keep it simple

Starting the year with a solid business plan is one of the most important things advisers can do for the success of their practices. If you’ve already completed yours, congratulations! You’re kicking off the year from a position of strength. All that remains is to communicate your firm’s goals and priorities to your team.

If you’re like many advisers, however, you might not have a business plan — and that’s a mistake. As Yogi Berra once put it, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.”

If you’ve never developed a business plan, preferring to keep it all in your head, you might think it’s complicated. As an industry, we’ve probably made business planning more complex than it needs to be, which is why I’m a big fan of one-page business plans.

Keep it simple; it’s better to write something down than nothing, and there’s no need to put everything down. Although there are a wide range of business plan ideas and templates, here are a few of the most important elements to include.


Don’t succumb to jargon and talk about your “holistic wealth management process that puts clients’ unique needs and goals first … blah blah.” What you’re looking for is clarity, so strip away anything extraneous and get to the heart of what you do. As one example, Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It’s short and descriptive, without delving into everything Google does. What would yours be?


Be clear about what you want to achieve. You should have long-term (three to five years) and short-term (one-year) goals. Where do you want your practice to be in three to five years? Perhaps you’re thinking of going independent or moving to a fee-only practice, or maybe you want to focus on a niche or add advisers to your firm.

Once you know your longer-term direction, consider short-term goals that will move you toward achieving them. Do you need to change your website or marketing strategy? Should you invest in technology or CRM? These smaller goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely.

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These should be the people you most like to work with — the ones who take your advice, the ones you look forward to seeing. Because you want to attract similar clients to your practice, be as specific as possible. An ideal client is not, as I often hear, someone with $1 million in investible assets who likes to delegate; that’s not actionable for you. You’re looking to go deeper; for example, you might target:

Shipyard workers who are less than five years from retiring and must make complex decisions about pension options, health care and how to maintain the family’s standard of living.

Pharmaceutical executives who receive complex compensation packages with stock options, restricted stock units, bonuses and other awards, and need tax planning and diversification.


Once you’ve identified your ideal clients, what problems do you solve for them? It’s important to be able to differentiate your services. Think of how you would answer if a client asked, “Why should I work with you?”


There’s only so much time in the day (or year), so do the important things first. What are the two to four things you must accomplish to move your business forward? Attack these things first, then, only when you are close to completing them, add more to your to-do list. I once had an adviser send me a plan that detailed 26 key priorities. Want to guess how many were actually achieved? Focus your time and energy on high-impact activities and see if you can delegate other items to team members.


View the business plan as part of a process, not an end product. Think of how crazy 2020 was; it’s hard to imagine a business plan that wasn’t changed in some way. That’s okay! As Winston Churchill wrote, “The best generals are those who arrive at the results of planning without being tied to plans.” Churchill understood the benefits of taking the time to thoughtfully develop goals and a course of action, even while knowing plans often change without warning.

If you create the best business plan you can (with the information you have), you will have put yourself much closer to achieving it.

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Kristine McManus is vice president and chief business development officer at Commonwealth Financial Network.

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