The question “What is your vision statement for your practice?” often elicits funny looks from financial planners. Many individuals chose the financial planning profession because of its orientation toward numbers and the technical aspects of the work. These planners are not altogether comfortable with vision statements, which to them are a form of consultant-inspired navel gazing. It’s intangible, crunchy and has no value to the real work of planning: helping clients to solve problems!
I, too, like the practical and realistic. Day-long visioning retreats that produce deftly worded mission statements and never-read manifestos are not my cup of tea either. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the tangible real-world value of having a vision and writing it down. Ask yourself the right questions and you can have a vision statement with an hour's work.
Vision statements communicate to all your key stakeholders where you want to see your business and your life in the future. You get to decide when the future happens—five years, ten years, longer? Pick a time frame that works for you. Vision statements should use plain language. Avoid business jargon and the self-help verbal coleslaw. While you “self-actualize,” the rest of us are achieving specific life goals and doing work with people we enjoy working with. Your vision statement can be as long or as short as you want or need.
First, the vision statement should serve you, the author. Start with answering the questions:
- What do I like to do on the job? What actions give me energy?
- What do I not like to do? What tasks do I procrastinate at?
- What am I good at doing? What am I lousy at doing?
The answers to these questions should inform where you should spend your time and resources. Your future is in doing the things you like to do and are good at, and thus should be reflected in your vision statement.
Your vision statement should also reflect how you relate to your clients and other stakeholders. Ask yourself:
- How will you positively impact your clients' lives?
- What are the characteristics of the clients you like to work with? And those you don’t?
- What evaluation would you want a future buyer or successor to make of your practice?
Review your answers to these questions, then write a draft statement. Don’t think about it too much, just get your thoughts down on the page. Then set it aside for a day or two. Revisit it for a few minutes a day for a week, tweaking language and ideas as you go. Once you have a version of your vision statement you are happy with, share it with a trusted advisor—your spouse, your partner, a professional colleague—and get their feedback.
Now that the “visioning” is done, let’s get practical. Use the vision statement as a screen against all the elements of your business plan: Do your current goals, business structure and client value proposition get you to that future described in your vision statement? Do you have the right talent in your staff to get you to your desired future state? Are you personally spending your time on the objectives that will make the future a reality?
Finally, communicate your vision to your staff. They have to know where you are piloting the ships to and the route you plan to take there. Staff who know the vision—and even better are inspired by it—will make decisions, serve clients and take actions consistent with that vision.
So, grab the nearest piece of scrap paper, napkin or shirt sleeve and get started on your vision statement. It is a practical approach to building your future.