The new year serves as an inflection point—a reminder that it’s always a good time to get your ducks in a row.
The onset of the new year is something of a Rorschach test: You see in it what you want to see.
For some, it’s a time of unbridled hope and optimism—a fresh start and a clean slate. For others, it can be a challenging reminder of hardships experienced in the previous year and the continued demands on your time and wallet.
No matter your view, it is an inflection point that offers an opportunity to take stock and reflect. Even if you don’t believe in the premise of a “New Year’s resolution” or find the whole notion of it to be commercial and inauthentic, it’s a good time to get your ducks in a row.
With that in mind, here are 10 things financial advisors can do to set themselves up for success in 2023:
- Consider your succession glide path
It’s no secret that our industry skews older. While many veteran advisors struggle with the thought of their eventual retirement and succession, the dearth of young advisor talent to fill the ranks compounds the concern. The big firms are certainly aware that it’s top of mind for their advisors, demonstrated by the rollout of enhanced sunset programs last year. And while these retire-in-place programs are one way to monetize your business at day’s end, they are certainly not the only way. That said, it’s never too early to start thinking about the next stage of your career.
- Evaluate your team
In Jim Collin’s seminal book “Good to Great,” the author uses the metaphor of a school bus to describe team dynamics. His premise is that human capital is a business’s most critical resource—even more important than corporate strategy. As such, it’s imperative to first “have the right people on the bus” and then decide where to drive it.
- Define success in the near- and long-term
Beyond the obvious revenue and asset metrics that most advisors use to evaluate their business, consider what a “good year” might look like. I am a proponent of SMART goals: That is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. I like to come up with 3 SMART goals for the near term (this year), medium term (3-5 years), and long term (10 years+).
- Reflect on past failures
It’s unpleasant to remember our shortcomings, but doing so is essential. What can your past mistakes teach you going forward? This does not mean you should dwell on your mistakes and fail to move on. It simply means that it’s healthy to use past experiences as teachable moments. As the famous saying goes, “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.”
- Reflect on past successes
Most advisors can tell you their biggest failure or worst day from the previous year. But what about triumphs? Success is fleeting and should be celebrated wholeheartedly. As an added bonus, perhaps you could find something replicable from your success that may help you going forward.
- Define your version of “perfect”
I will ruin the surprise: There is no such thing as the perfect firm or model. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about what perfect would look and feel like to you. If you had a magic business wand, how would you wield it? You may be surprised at your own thoughts on the matter, and you may even find that many of the things you envision already exist elsewhere.
- Have a plan B
Debating the merits of stringent compliance regimes is beyond the scope of this article, but the reality is that we live in a world of heightened oversight. And while it’s the headliner terminations that grab our attention most, we also saw plenty of seemingly innocuous transgressions result in disciplinary action as well. That’s not intended as a fear tactic, but instead a reminder that no one thinks they will be blindsided with a termination. Always coloring in the lines and having a solid plan B will provide some protection—the latter’s usefulness will extend beyond termination situations. For example, what if management changes policies that impact your growth or ability to serve clients? Or perhaps you wake up one morning and feel limited by the products and solutions your firm offers.
- Know your value
One interesting dynamic in the financial advisor market is the supply and demand imbalance. Almost all firms (wirehouses, regionals, RIAs, etc.) are hungry to recruit advisor talent, and there simply isn’t enough to go around. That’s a good thing for a seasoned advisor with a book of business. It means that firms are willing to pay a premium to recruit. Even if you don’t plan to move, know what your business is worth on the open market.
- Plan time away from work (take a vacation!)
Need I say more? Most advisors don’t take much convincing on this point, but the world we live in moves 1,000 miles per hour. It’s critical to slow down and recharge. And trust me, your clients will understand.
- Learn one new skill or hobby
Perhaps this one is more of a challenge than a resolution, but I implore you to give it a shot. Learn a new language, practice art, learn to play Bridge, take a class at the local Y, become a certified sommelier. This may sound like a personal rather than professional resolution, but you’d be surprised at the overlap. Creative activities outside of work help to open your mind and builds empathy—two positive outcomes on top of the fun you’ll have.
This list is not a be-all, end-all list. Rather, it’s intended as an important reminder that just as we make resolutions and set goals in our personal life, it’s equally – if not more – critical to do so in our professional lives. And while January 1st is a symbolic clean slate, this list should be treated as a living, breathing document. It’s worth revisiting periodically (perhaps quarterly) to take stock of progress and update as needed.