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Plan of action

If one of your business clients called you a hypocrite, would you have a leg to stand on?

The only reason I ask is that I go to a lot of regional meetings up and down the country and one of the issues we have been discussing recently is the value of a business plan. Straw polls at these gatherings imply that everyone, without exception, believes them to be a good thing. They give a business direction and purpose, provide benchmarks and milestones and determine processes for monitoring and review.

The only problem is that the same straw polls show that nine out of 10 firms of professional advisers do not have a business plan.

That may be a slight exaggeration. The chances are they had one but that was years ago when they went to a bank to secure the necessary finance to establish the business in the first place. Since then, well, other things have taken precedence.

Appointments have to be made, clients want to be visited and their needs have to take priority and who am I to deny that? But perhaps if at least some of those nine out of 10 people who have been so honest at regional meetings were to spend less time making excuses and put more effort into drawing up and sticking to a well thought through plan, their businesses would become more effective.

They would be surprised at just how much more efficient they would become and think of all that extra time they can spend with their clients or maybe their family or golf coach.

Successful firms have clear, concise business plans. You do not need to graduate from Harvard to put one in place. You do need to know where you are going, though. Small, medium and big businesses alike need to plan ahead, whether it is the intention to keep the company in much the same shape, grow it or branch out and specialise.

The lack of a plan and the failure to keep on track are the fundamental flaws undermining many firms. To all intents and purposes, it leaves vulnerable what would otherwise be effective professionals, turning them into people struggling to keep their heads above water.

So many advisers that I meet seem to exist in an “if only” world. There are times when I despair for their future and it is hardly surprising that an accusing finger is so often pointed at this profession, dismissing it as a cottage industry that does not have the first clue as to what sound management and success look like.

There will still be doctors who fail to take care of their own health and doubtless this translates across every occupation but there is no excuse for people running advisory businesses in this industry who want to be treated like professionals and yet persist in acting like amateurs.

It is sheer hypocrisy to set out your stall as someone able to provide advice to people on how to plan for the future when it is apparent that your own preparation is so woefully inadequate. You may well be indignant that I should be so critical but just ask yourself how sustainable your business is in its current state.

You promised to be there to help your clients over the long term. How realistic is that in your current enterprise or will you be obliged to close down yours and join another one soon?.

The PFS is reviewing its training programme and will be bringing out a pilot scheme in the autumn to address the clear need for improved business skills in the industry.

Tim Eadon is chief executive of the PFS

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