Before enrolling in a course to get a new designation, think about how it will change your services and benefit clients.

Your professional development planning should always be about building your business, building your confidence and benefiting the client, says Rosemary Smyth, owner and coach of Rosemary Smyth and Associates in Victoria.

Here are some points to keep in mind before signing up for a new designation:

> Look at your competition
Check out other advisors in your market for ideas about what designations are appropriate.

If many of your competitors are advertising and promoting that they have a particular designation, such as a certified senior advisor, says Smyth, then that might be worth looking into.

> Make it part of the plan
Continuing education and earning designations should part of your long-term business planning.

When you are setting out the direction you want to take for the upcoming year, Smyth says, map out what designations you need in order to reach your goals.

Keith Weber, a certified financial planner and president of Weber Consulting Group in Fort Collins, Colo., recommends planning out further than a year ahead. He recommends thinking about what designations will do for your business in five, 10 or even 15 years.

> Consider the time commitment
Before signing up for any courses, make sure you can handle the time and effort required.

Decide whether you have the hours and the energy necessary to complete a program, Smyth says. For instance, if you plan to take the first CFP exam in six months, think about whether you have vacation plans during that time or if it will conflict with a busy period such as RRSP season.

> Decide how you will study
Think about the different ways courses are available.

If you are planning on taking the CFP, Weber says, you could consider taking a university or college program designed to prepare you for the exam. If you cannot afford to take time from work, self-study and online courses are available.

> Study hard – regardless of your experience
“Don’t be overconfident going in and think you don’t have to study for these designations,” Smyth says.

Even if you’ve been doing financial planning without the official designation for years, she warns, that doesn’t mean the course will be straightforward.

Take the program seriously and review all the material, regardless of your practical experience.

> Avoid the “alphabet soup”
Sign up for courses that will add value to your business.

Advisors often make the mistake of going for lesser-known designations, Weber says, just for the sake of having letters after their names. Clients, especially high net-worth clients, are savvy these days, and know the value of quality credentials.

Says Weber: “I’m not a big believer in the ‘alphabet soup’.”