As a financial advi-sor, you must periodically re-engineer your practice in order to adapt to the constantly changing business environment. It is a process that requires re-examining, reinventing and reinvigorating your practice at different stages of its life cycle.

This sage advice is offered by George Hartman in his third book, Blunder, Wonder, Thunder: Powering Your Practice to New Heights. Hartman, who writes the “Coach’s Forum” column in Investment Executive, is a practice-management coach who has worked in the financial services industry — as an advisor, an executive and a consultant — for 35 years. His first book, Risk is a Four Letter Word (1992), is regarded as Canada’s first authoritative book on asset allocation. His collaborator on his latest book was Tessa Wilmott, who was editor of this newspaper for 18 years.

Hartman contends that the financial services industry is undergoing revolutionary change, increasing the challenges faced by financial advisors. Now, you must have a well-articulated strategy for staying on the right path to building your business.

The title of the latest book is based on the typical life cycle of a financial advisor. The “blunder” stage represents the startup phase, in which the rookie advi-sor makes mistakes and learns lessons. Typically, progress is driven by the sheer energy of the advisor, who relies on filling simple client needs with relatively few products. Advisors who survive this first stage then enter the “wonder” phase, when they begin to ask the question: is it all worth it?

At this stage, it is necessary to do things differently, such as engaging in business planning, putting a revised strategy in place and implementing simple systems.

Hartman suggests that if you ask the right questions and put the correct responses in place during the “wonder” stage, you can then enter the “thunder” phase. That’s when your business should expand beyond your expectations.

The book emphasizes the importance of constantly re-evaluating your practice at each phase, regardless of the progress you are making.Hartman uses real-life scenarios to help you understand the need to ask relevant questions and take appropriate steps to deal with the challenges you face in your practice.

And to help you retain the content, each chapter contains “coach’s comments” — groups of highlighted bullet points Hartman deems worthy of extra emphasis — and a summary for easy review. Perhaps most significant, each chapter has a worksheet, called an “action plan,” on which you review some of the mental processes outlined in the text. For example, the worksheet for the chapter on marketing plans asks you to list the attributes of your preferred client and the target markets in which you are likely to find them — among other exercises.

While the first two chapters discuss the dynamics and challenges of practice management, each of the subsequent nine chapters provides a detailed guide to one component of the business planning process. These include a strategic plan, a marketing plan and a sales plan. Throughout the book, Hartman points out the differences between the components of an overall business plan. For instance, while your business plan takes a broad view of how you want your future to look, your strategic plan represents the practical steps that will make that vision a reality.

Hartman uses case studies to demonstrate the development of each aspect of a business plan: an advisor comes to Hartman with a problem, and Hartman guides him or her toward a solution. This format shows the relevance of each element of the planning process in the context of a real financial advisory practice. The text is driven by dialogue between Hartman and the advisors he is counselling, which gives the book a readable tone.

As you proceed through the planning process in the book, you are encouraged to rethink your strategies, your tactics and your vision for your practice. More important, you will be urged to take action to implement the appropriate measures to build your business.

Hartman also stresses the importance of financial management and creating value, which is a measure of the quality — not the quantity — of revenue.

After walking you through the entire practice-management cycle, Hartman concludes with a sound analysis of succession planning. That’s the “plunder” stage, when, at the end of your career, you monetize the value you created in your practice. Reading Blunder, Wonder, Thunder will help ensure that value is high. IE