When Everything Matters, Nothing Matters

Most business owners are spread too thin. You know it. You feel it. And you see it. 

My definition of business hell is seven projects, all 95% complete. 

Why is that hell? 

Because an unfinished project yields nothing. It’s only a 100% completed project that brings you and your business some benefit.

You might be able to cast your mind over the multiple projects you’re trying to push forward right now. When you start to think about what’s on your plate, how many are there? And at what stage of completion (or non-completion) are they?

When everything matters, nothing matters. As Jim Collins, author of Good To Great and Built To Last said, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”

We know the symptoms, but what’s the cause?

Lack Of Clarity

In my experience, it all comes down to a lack of clarity.

For entrepreneurial types (that’s you, by the way, if you run your own financial planning business), the problem is not a lack of ideas. 

For most business owners, the problem is too many. 

And when you haven’t done the (admittedly) difficult work of clarifying what you want, where you’re headed, and the best way to go about getting there, everything sort of looks like an opportunity. 

And that’s a problem.

Let me give you an example that was big 6-8 years ago. I think it’s easier to look back in hindsight and see how silly something was. It’s not always easy to do that in the ‘now’.

Remember when auto-enrolment was brand new? 

I had many conversations with clients I was consulting to at the time about whether or not to get involved in auto-enrolment work. 

With the benefit of hindsight, most financial planning firms did well to not get involved in that space. 


Because the inputs required to be successful were different from the inputs that allowed them to be successful in the financial planning or wealth management space. 

In auto-enrolment it was about payroll and technology and access to larger groups of employees. One firm I know was making plans to approach local accountants about getting access to the small businesses they looked after. 

How much time and effort would that have involved? Bucketloads.

What were the chances of a successful outcome? Slim or none.

It would have ended up as a 6-12 month detour from what they should have been focusing on.

In financial planning, the inputs are one to one communication skills, as well as tax, investment and pensions technical knowledge. 

Eventually, most financial planners realised they shouldn’t be playing in the auto-enrolment pond and avoided too much cost and distraction.

Why Did They Even Consider It?

Let’s ask the question; why were the owners of financial planning firms even considering getting involved in the auto-enrolment space?

The answer for me is a lack of clarity. 

If you believe that “more-is-better” then chasing shiny things (the ideas that pop into your head relatively frequently about how to grow) makes sense. 

But that’s the only time it makes sense.

“More-is-better” is a terrible maxim to run your business by.

A better place to start is by asking “Who do we serve?”

And I’m not looking for a low level, no effort answer here. 

Dig in. 

Think of your answer in a much broader context. 

The shallow answer might be, “we serve all and sundry” because you look at your current client list, accumulated over 20 years of hard work and see a broad church of people. 

However, if you think about your level of experience as an adviser and the experience of the team around you, you might realise that you’re well placed to be serving more complex or sophisticated clients. You’ve probably already got a few of these types of clients at the top end of your client bank. 

When you think of the career journey you’ve been on and where you’re poised right now, you realise that the answer to “Who do we serve?” is a much more specific type of client. Clients that look like your top 5, 10 or 20 clients in your current client bank. 

Once you know this, the answer to your “How do I grow?” question is not simply, “anyone will do because more is better”. 

Only certain types of clients will do. 

Only certain types of marketing will attract those clients.

Only a certain type of client experience, and office premises, and use of technology will be appropriate.

And one piece of clarity simplifies a whole raft of business decisions and eliminates a whole lot of ‘noise’.

But it all starts with clarity. 

As the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Related: What Does Your Perfect Advisory Look Like?