If your office is like mine, many clients and staffers are on vacation this month, meaning you might actually have some time to think about the direction of your practice. I'm talking about working on your business, not just in it. Here are 10 steps to give you a practice management jump-start into the fall.

1. RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITORS

You probably know most of the advisors in your area, but do you know how they do business? A good business plan includes competitive research analysis to help you determine who your rivals are and what makes their offerings different from yours.

Do you know how they stack up compared with your firm? Pay attention to the number of clients as well as what types of clients they serve. Do your competitors provide planning and portfolio management services? Pension consulting? Do they publish a newsletter? You can find out how you can seize the advantage by learning more about other firms around you.

Due to the relatively new SEC requirements for an online brochure, Internet users have access to more information than ever. Check the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure section at sec.gov for details on the firms you want to research.

Remember just because you believe these firms are your competitors doesn't mean they are. Ask some trusted clients who they might have chosen to work with if not your firm. Your completed competitive analysis will help you to better position your work in the marketplace.

2. REVIEW MARKETING MATERIAL

What are you giving to prospective clients? Does it sufficiently describe the work you do and how you can help people evaluating whether to hire you? Remember features versus benefits. While stating what you do is essential, expressing it in terms of how your clients may benefit from your efforts is much more important.

Prospects want to know what working with you will mean for them. Consider developing various trifold brochures you can customize. For example, consider creating handouts specifically designed to show your experience working with lawyers or doctors or dentists. How about developing one for widows or single women, if that's your market? The more focused your approach, the easier it is for your prospects to identify with the services you provide.

For a relatively small fee, you can hire a graphic designer to give your brochures a fresh look. Also, print a prepaid postcard that prospects can fill out and mail for more information, and stick it in your brochure. You can also use these cards at seminars or speaking engagements.

3. DETERMINE WHAT'S WORKING

Develop a marketing impact analysis report to track how successful your efforts really are. Track your various activities - direct mail, public relations, seminars, events, website, etc. - by listing each and noting how many responses you got and how many turned into clients. I keep track in 13-week intervals so I can make necessary adjustments easily.

Just because something isn't working now doesn't mean it won't work another time. Alternating your approach can generate new interest from a stale prospect list.

4. SPRUCE UP YOUR FINANCIAL PLAN

While our office generally opts for collaborative and interactive delivery of planning (we use Money Guide Pro), there are times we want to provide additional materials. Does your plan look like everyone else's who uses the same software? Are you including too much boilerplate information that distracts the client from the vital details you want him or her to learn?

Read through what you are delivering and, more important, have someone outside of the business read the non-confidential portions too. How can it better reflect you and your advice? Consider developing an action plan that you hand to a client during each visit. Include what work needs to be done, who needs to do it and the time frame to get it completed.

5. REREAD YOUR WEBSITE

When is the last time you did this? If you are registered with the SEC, you have an obligation to keep your website fresh, but material such as how you work with clients, as well as bios and pictures, rarely get refreshed.

If you were looking for an advisor, would your presentation appeal to you? Your website is often a first introduction, so ensure that it's warm and inviting with enough information to compel a prospect to call.

Be sure your approach highlights the benefits of working with you. Have a professional take new pictures that are more warm and friendly. Resist the temptation to fill each page with words. Pictures and blank space are essential design components.

6. REVIEW YOUR PAY

If you have professional staff working with you, it's wise to periodically review your compensation structure to ensure it's competitive and appropriate. My friend Mark Tibergien, CEO of Pershing Advisors Solutions, suggests that, among other issues, your compensation structure should fill in these blanks: "If I do more of ________, then I will get ________."

7. WATCH AND LEARN

If you can, take a seat where most of your staff sits and look at how work is processed. Is there a more efficient way? Ask staff for ideas and plot workflow so that you can easily see where you could make improvements. Consider cross-training of staff, particularly with procedures that are time-sensitive or complicated. Having formalized job descriptions will help identify workflow and facilitate cross-training.

8. MEET WITH TECH SUPPORT

If you have a contract with an information technology support team, make an appointment to talk about a long-term tech plan. With so much Internet support residing in the cloud these days, it may be faster and ultimately cheaper to discard your old hardware and outsource everything. Your IT support staff should be able to design a plan to show you how to be more efficient and less dependent on hardware that needs constant upgrading and replacement.

Need more enticement? There's a good chance you could save money.

9. ASSESS YOUR CLIENT BASE

Do you have clients with inappropriate habits or who make impossible demands? Do you have clients whose expectations are so unreasonable that you'll never satisfy them?

Look at your current relationships to see if it is time to make changes. Don't hesitate to make them.

Clients who are consistently unhappy will not change suddenly. It's better to have fewer good relationships with clients than continue with those that are unrewarding. If you do keep difficult clients, be certain that you are well paid for your efforts.

Similarly, are their great clients you haven't acknowledged enough? Arrange a lunch or dinner to say thanks and let them know how much you value their business.

10. DEVELOP A THEME FOR 2012

What personal and staff development should you concentrate on next year? For example, you may want to focus on improving leadership or communication skills in your professional staff. Research various books, seminars or educational programs that can assist you in taking you and your staff to a new level. Shared development projects not only increase the capabilities of your workforce, they also facilitate bonding and support.

Taking time to make your practice better will always pay off. A little investment goes a long way!

Deena Katz, CFP, is an associate professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University. She is also chairwoman of Evensky & Katz, an advisory firm in Coral Gables, Fla.