SAN DIEGO — What is the biggest dream that you have for your firm, and how can you take one step toward that dream this year?

That was just one of many questions Debra Wetherby, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Wetherby Asset Management, put forth to advisors at her wide-ranging presentation on success, leadership and big lessons learned in her 30-plus years of running a fee-only wealth management firm.

Among many helpful takeaways for planners -- from the personal values she discovered to big-picture ideas about expressing gratitude and giving back -- her No. 1 business lesson was this: Write an annual business plan.
It doesn't have to be long, she told planners at the annual NAPFA conference here, but it should be on paper.

Wetherby spelled out five reasons advisors need to write out their business plan each year:

1. Writing clarifies your thoughts. When you write, she said, you naturally prioritize and put things in the proper sequence to get them done.

2. A plan offers momentum and motivation to act. Writing something down tells your brain you are serious about it.

3. A written plan helps you be proactive. Without one, advisors are more likely to be reactive.

4. Writing down a goal makes you more likely to take action. If you want it to happen, put it in writing, she said.

5. You can see and celebrate progress. Wetherby has business plans going back many years, she said, and she finds it valuable to be able to review them to see what her goals were, how she achieved them and where she is now.

And what exactly should advisors have on paper? There are three important components of a plan, Wetherby said:

  • Guiding principles and values. These are the things that are most critical, that you will not compromise on. They are your rules to live by.
  • Vision for yourself and business. Wetherby said her firm views the strategic plan as the bridge between where they are now and where they want to go.
  • How to work well with your firm. Wetherby's firm writes up a document to share with vendors on "how to work well with us." This includes guidelines such as "honor your commitments" and "follow up" -- things that we all expect, she said, but that they spell out. Vendors know that, if they follow these principles, they'll work well together because Wetherby's team will do the same.

Advisors agreed that having a well-thought-out and documented plan is an important way to measure success. Jessica Hovis Smith, a planner and the vice president of Longview Financial Advisors in Huntsville, Ala., said her firm has a one-page business plan that lays out its core values, central purpose and one big 20- to 30-year goal.
As a company, the firm reviews the plan each quarter. "We measure our results so every year we can go back and see if we've been successful in meeting those goals," Smith said.

One major benefit, she said, is that "it has helped our culture, getting everyone involved and excited."

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