There are some things that are essential for life. I mean really essential, like food, water and oxygen.

    Likewise with any advice business, there are elements which are both essential and interdependent.

    For me, the three fundamentals that underpin a great advice firm are integration, intentionality and integrity.

    These elements are doubtless already present in your business, albeit probably on a sub-conscious level.

    In the same way that you can’t prioritise food, water or oxygen, I wouldn’t be able to place a priority on any one of these three advice fundamentals.

    I believe the absence of either integration, intentionality or integrity would ultimately lead to the demise of a business. Equally, a conscious decision to build on each of these can only be positive.

    Let me explain what I mean by each of these, and why I consider them to be so important.

    Integration

    By this I mean that all parts of the business are pulling in the same direction.

    Rather like a tug of war team pulling on the call on “three, two, heave!”, their co-ordinated effort multiplies the effect of the collective pulling force.

    At a firm level, not only do all staff need to be aligned in their efforts, but so too do all the resources and systems deployed.

    Some years ago, I was discussing my former firm's risk rating process with an adviser who had joined us a year or two earlier. 

    He then produced from his desk drawer a risk questionnaire from his previous employer which he continued to use, arguing it to be superior. Whether or not he was right, that sort of non-conforming with the rules simply can’t exist in an efficient, joined-up firm.

    Any space given to individuals or standalone service offerings or internal processes will simply detract from the overall effort.

    Intentionality

    Have you ever felt that your business runs you rather than the other way around? You are not the only one.

    To counter this sense of things getting away from you, take some time to reflect on the things that really matter. Try to resist reacting to the daily noise.

    Never forget that ‘no’ can be and is a valid answer. This might mean turning away a prospective client, rejecting a fresh idea that doesn’t work for your firm, or saying no to the occasional meeting.

    Let me give you another example.

    There is a business I know and have admired from a distance for a few years that has grown rapidly and built a great reputation.

    They are a strong regional advice firm specialising in wealth management advice for individuals.

    To my knowledge, they don't offer general insurance, mortgage services or group pensions. While they could do so, alongside a range of other complementary services, they choose not to.

    They simply know what they are good at, and stick to it.

    Learning to say no may really be one of the best things you ever do. Know what you want to achieve, and only pursue those initiatives that are likely to get you there.

    Integrity

    Ultimately, this comes down to just doing the right thing.

    You may have the best intentions, but your business will flourish or flounder based on your actions alone.

    I am not immune from this: there are times when I regret not listening to that little voice that said: “Really? Are you sure?”

    One recent example of integrity being called into question comes in the form of the criticism of Hargreaves Lansdown, and the role its best buy lists played in encouraging investors to invest in the now collapsed Woodford Equity Income fund. 

    It is troubling that some of this criticism has been voiced, in part, by founder Peter Hargreaves himself. Perhaps Hargreaves Lansdown is too big to be affected by what's happened, but somehow I doubt that.

    Doing the right thing, and dealing with the consequences, will always pay. After all, the right thing is always the right thing.

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