Conventional wisdom says it takes 21 to 28 days to develop a new habit, and that's probably why so many marketing plans already are blown to bits by the time the first quarter ends: most people can't stick to the plan long enough for it to take effect.

But fear not. Even as we march into the year's fourth month, it's not too late to save the 2003 marketing plan. In fact, now might be the best time to begin treating marketing plans as living documents that must be regularly tweaked and revisited.

The first thing you need to do is disconnect the phone, close your door and read your plan — again — from beginning to end. Does the information resonate within you and inspire you to help more people reach their financial goals? If it doesn't, it's unlikely to attract more clients.

Next, think about revisions. Only a month removed from letting the ink dry on the plan, you might be hesitant to change it. But financial advisors often goad clients to rebalance their portfolios frequently. What's good for the goose…

As you look for ways the plan should change, understand that it takes time for your target market to see your message and process it. Repetition of the message doesn't hurt its success rate either. So now is probably not the best time to be ripping up the annual plan and starting from scratch. Rather it's time to evaluate the results you've seen (however limited) and to start tweaking the plan based on those results.

For example, if you added public relations to your marketing mix for this year, you could have already mailed out a couple of press releases. But unless you're working with daily or weekly media outlets, it could be more than 90 days before you're squarely in the public eye. Even then, you're unlikely to know how those press releases influenced your marketing goals for yet another 60 days.

For this very reason, I like the idea of keeping a scorecard to track progress and successes, as well as opportunities for improvement. The scorecard should be a simple document that you stow in your marketing binder. (If you're so inclined, you could post it on the wall in your office, so long as clients won't see it.) The scorecard will help you stay on track because the best way to reach your destination is by looking at your map frequently.

On your scorecard, list all the marketing activities planned for the year and their target dates for completion. Give the listings some depth. List the marketing activity, the message and when it was completed. Then give the activity a letter grade as well as a brief description.

Here's an example: January 15. Sent mailer to existing clients with tax planning information. Grade: B+. The mailers increased assets by 2.3 percent and proved educational for clients. Next year: send out sooner so clients can take advantage of year-end tax opportunities.

Another key factor in achieving new goals is the connection of rewards with accomplishment. We all know about using positive rewards to generate behavioral change in animals. Guess what? We are animals. Putting simple reinforcements in place so you appreciate the fruits of your labor is very important. One of the challenges with marketing is that hard work and great ideas might not bear fruit for a year or more. Many of us want immediate gratification, so it's important to have interim incentives in place to help you keep at it.

Once you've been at it a while — say 60 days — you're likely to find that you're generating more creative ideas and, by extension, more effective campaigns. If you find a particular strategy's working, add fuel to your marketing machine in the form of new executions.

At the end of this reassessment, you will have organized and improved communications with clients, and you can move on to the next phase — management of your plan. If you're doing it right, resolutions will generate successes that will in turn generate more resolutions. Remember that marketing plans are living documents, and if they wither, so do your chances of success.

Writer's BIO:
Martin R. Baird
is president of Phoenix-based Advisor Marketing and author of The 7 Deadly Sins of Advisor Marketing.