Taking a Cue from The Queen’s Gambit - A Business Plan with the “End Game” in Focus

At their core, business plans all look pretty similar.  They have the same format, same components – business opportunity, company strategy, goals for the year, maybe a SWOT analysis, etc. – and are usually written by one person (typically the CEO).  

This is not an article on how to create a basic business plan.  If you want that, Google it.  For 2021, take a different approach to business planning, a more straightforward and teamwork-oriented approach, with a Queen’s Gambit-worthy “End Game” in mind.  Think where you want your business to be at the end of the year, and then work backwards.

Unlike the game of chess though, this isn’t an individual effort.  In fact, the whole premise of this approach is based on something business leaders don’t do enough, and that’s “collaborate”.  Assign each of these points below to your team. Put them behind the steering wheel. If you haven’t taken this approach in the past, the response from your colleagues may be one of blank looks, puzzlement, and perhaps a hint of suspicion.  That’s ok.  Once you all get rolling, they’ll start picking up what you’re laying down.

These are the 10 areas your team should address:

1. Vision and Values

These are so important, often overlooked, and rarely receive full team buy-in. Everyone in your firm needs to be able to articulate who you are, where you want to go, and what matters to you — as a firm.  On December 31, 2021, your clients and your team will say we epitomized “X” and “Y” through accomplishing “Z”.  Here’s an example – Too Tall Wealth Management’s vision is to be known as our clients’ trusted family advisor, and we will get there by putting our shoulders behind the company’s core values of honesty, transparency, and accountability.

Start here, and end here, with agreement and an adoption plan. You do this and you also get the added benefit of everyone becoming a firm spokesperson, and really, a salesperson.

2. Time Management

How you will reach your goal of successfully balancing work, home, and physical/mental health is key to a more productive life and business. But this is not just about you. Your balanced life does not mean a balanced life for your firm. I no longer believe in work hard and play hard. That’s over. It’s more individual now.

Assign someone in your team to interview others and decide what goals each of them has, in terms of time management for themselves. You’ll learn a lot from this as everyone does it differently.  Call a meeting and have employees share the best ideas. It’s collaborative. It’s fun. And your staff will learn more about each other and become a closer team.

3. Employee Development

You want to exit 2021 more skilled than when you entered the year.  What’s the game plan? Where are the talent gaps as you strive to a be a better, larger firm? 

Get your management team together and do a 360 on each employee. Who are the superstars? Are they compensated correctly? In this industry, talent is at a premium and the firm down the street would love to have your best. As with your best clients, make sure you have a strategy to retain your best people.

In turn, who is not cutting it from your perspective? You need to decide if it’s time to make a move for your sake and theirs. Or, if that person is worth saving — save them!  Get them the development help they need to be successful.  Everyone wins.

You are only as good as your staff. Make sure you spend the time and energy here to make your team the best it can be.

4. Technology Needs

Do you have a solid foundation? Are you built for the future? Technology is something to be embraced, not feared. Assess and address your current and future needs now.  And remember, your view of technology should be the same as your view of the ETF you bought for your client, and the piece of real estate into which you just poured money.  It’s an investment, not an expense.  Your team should agree  on what this technology should produce as a return on that investment, and measure that return.  

Technology is moving so fast.  It’s better to not get married to something for an extended period. In fact, outsourcing may be the best way to go to serve your firm’s needs.

5. Investment Goals

Not only do you need an investment goal for each and every one of your clients, but you need one for your firm. Take a look at how you performed as a firm for the past five years and decide what your performance targets are for this year — and how you’re going to achieve them.

Take a hard look at all of your investment strategies and do a 360 assessment of performance. Do you have the right people in place to execute your strategy and make the right choices?  Do you have the right resources to help them make these choices?  If you answered “no” to both questions, you might want to consider an outsourcing strategy.

Never forget, the reason you have a business is to take care of the goals and dreams of your clients. 

6. My Firm’s Financial Health

Once again, it’s about the “End Game”.  In this case, the end game is financial health, often measured by profit margin expansion. Work backwards from there. What to consider:

  • Are your fees appropriate and competitive? I’m not suggesting you lower your fees. But consider the overall value you deliver and whether they are market competitive. 
  • Are you compensating your employees correctly?  Your custodian and or broker/dealer will have plenty of benchmarking information on this topic.
  • Do you need all your office space?  The Covid pandemic has taught us to challenge conventional wisdom around office space needs.
  • Do your employees have everything they need to be productive remotely?  Spend wisely here and you have a real opportunity to lower your overall operating costs while increasing employee productivity.
  • Is there a product set or service offering you can bring on to increase revenue?  Custodians and Fintech firms are masters at the concept of adding additional, value-laden services to produce additional revenue. You can too!

There’s so much more YOU can add to this list.  Put everything on the table. This past year has allowed you that freedom to be creative financially and reinvent your firm’s finances.

7. Marketing Strategy

Do you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it? Do all the different parts fit together? Or are you winging it?

Make sure you are reaching who you need to reach — in your voice, with your thoughts. There is a plethora of digital marketing strategies to get you there. If you’re a larger firm with your own marketing staff, make sure you have an understanding of everything you’re doing and the intended outcome. If you have a smaller practice, consider outsourcing this endeavor. But if you do outsource, make sure what is being constructed represents you and your firm in a way that makes you proud, and delivers results. 

Importantly, remember that your marketing strategy needs to connect to your business development approach. Marketing and sales working harmoniously and productively together is a thing of beauty.

8. Client Experience

It’s time to assess whether you are truly delivering against “why” your clients have hired you and what they expect from you. The best way to do this is a short survey that you can execute through Survey Monkey or a number of other low-cost technologies.  If that doesn’t seem high-touch enough, consider a client Advisory Board. Select clients who will be forthright and honest about their experience with your firm, not just the clients you know are happy. Have a quarterly meeting with them and ask questions, listen much more than you talk, and take good notes.

From the survey or the meetings, you can assess your current service standards and set goals to get better.

9. Philanthropy

By the end of 2021, how will your community remember your firm?  You need an answer to this question in order to determine the steps to get there. I’ve witnessed so many examples of firms and their employees unifying behind a common philanthropic cause in their community.  In fact, it may be the event or purpose that your staff most cherishes from 2021.  

Remember, clients and prospects will also recognize what you’re doing to give back to the community or to a cause.  You’re not doing these good deeds to shine in their eyes, but let’s face it, a business that supports local or national causes is a quality everyone appreciates. 

10. The Fruits of Your Labor

What does the end game celebration look like?  How will you revel in the success you’ve achieved at the end of the year? Determine financial and non-financial rewards for team and individual success.  Have a party, hand out the rewards, have speeches, and fully embrace your accomplishments.  With the capture of the end game fresh in their minds, your team will be motivated to go after what lies in store for 2022.

Have your team submit their ideas to these points above, then jump on a Zoom, discuss, collaborate, decide and get buy-in.  As the CEO you always have ultimate veto power, but wield that sword wisely.  Once you’re done, memorialize the plan and revisit frequently throughout the year. Measure your progress, celebrate the successes, and reassess the shortfalls.

Should you set your focus out past 2021?  No. There are too many variables outside your control – Covid, new administration, etc.  Stay in the here and now, and focus on 2021.

Now that’s a plan.  A world champion chess player would be impressed.  Have fun and good luck!

Related: Don’t Let January 1, 2021 Be December 32, 2020