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Strategic points

Strategic planning is a must for advisory businesses, who should view it as a process within a defined framework, and principals should be heavily involved. The Business of Advice gives you a step-by-step guide

David Shelton, Head of IFA consultancy service, Scottish Widows
David Shelton, Head of IFA consultancy service, Scottish Widows

If you are the principal of an advisory business, important changes, such as those arising from the retail distribution review, make strategic planning essential to support the long-term development of your business.

Answer the questions on the right to test where your business stands, with 1 = poor and 10 = brilliant.

If you have scored over 50 per cent, you will be ahead of the market. Most advice businesses do not undertake formal long-term planning although many can articulate very clearly what they are trying to achieve. The gap is how this will actually be done.

You need to view strategic planning as a process and undertake it within a defined framework.

As the chart below shows, the process is wide ranging at the start and becomes very specific at the end. Many issues will emerge under “opportunity analysis” but only a few will have a direct bearing on the business. These are identified at the “key issues” stage and will normally form part of the implementation plan.

The section on “direction” should summarise where the business is headed and what it will look like in three to five years. This can be quite
detailed and helps prioritise the “implementation plan” in the final section.

To get the best from this framework, you need to set up the planning process in a particular way.

Select a good facilitator
Principals need to be heavily involved throughout the process and this is best achieved if somebody else runs the process and the meetings.

The facilitator must beable to:

  • Keep a meeting on track – topic and time
  • Sort out main trends and direction from a wealth of detail
  • Write quickly and clearly on a flip chart
  • Turn work round quickly
  • Use any templates you have set up

You should use a capable and respected member of your team. If you do not have the right person in-house, use an external specialist who has
a track record in facilitating this type of activity. It is more difficult than it may appear.

Plan in advance
Before you run the first meeting you need to decide:

  • Who to invite
  • What information to give in advance
  • What work (if any) you would like people to do before the first meeting
  • What you will do with the outcome

You should invite people who are:

  • Key decision-takers
  • Able to make a good contribution to the process
  • Vital to help deliver the plan and from whom you need buyin from the outset

Before the meeting, tell participants about the rocess and what you are trying to achieve. This is important because the term “business planning” can mean different things to different people.

Schedule the day
The running order for the first meeting is:

  • Strengths and weaknesses: two hours
  • Opportunities and threats: one hour
  • Key issues: 30 minutes
  • Vision: one hour Headline implementation: one hour
  • Risk and monitoring: 30 minutes

Create the right conditions by setting aside a full day and, if possible, run the meeting offsite.

The term business planning could mean different things to different people so explain what you are trying to achieve

After the first meeting
The facilitator should draft a plan as the outcome of the initial meeting, highlight any inconsistencies and circulate the draft in advance of the second meeting. Principals need to be satisfied that the draft is accurate and that they are happy to present it at the second meeting.

The second meeting

  • The aim of this is to review the draft plan and make sure that the implementation plan is achievable. The running order is:
  • Review of draft plan, section by section: one hour
  • Overview discussion to check the plan is achievable: 30 minutes
  • Detailed review of the implementation section to ensure each project is clearly specified and that the work can be completed on time: up to 1 hour
  • Communications plan to inform rest of staff: 30 minutes

After the second meeting
The facilitator should finalise the plan and circulate it one final time.

Principals should secure endorsement of the plan at a formal management meeting and agree arrangements for the staff presentation which should be about 30 minutes.

This process ensures that everything is covered and the framework provides a logical process for the thoughts and ideas of the planning team.

The Business of Advice contains all the details and templates to enable you to implement this process in your business.

The Business of Advice, the definitive guide to running a financial advice business, is available for £145 from

To what extent…
1: Do you have a written strategic plan?
2: Is the plan referred to regularly to check progress and direction?
3: Have you presented your plan to the advisers and support staff?
4: Have you devoted at least two days to strategic planning in the past year?
5: Can you describe the scale and scope of the business in three to five years?
6: Do you know what actions you will take to develop the business in the longer term?
7: Have you achieved your turnover and profit targets in at least seven of the last 10 years?
8: Are your planning meetings well organised and stick to the agenda?
9: Do you use management information and reporting to monitor progress against your plan?
10: Do you make sure that your one year operational plans contribute to achieving your long-term aims?


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