There have always been leaders in the advisory space, but the gap between the best and everyone else is widening. In late 2011, Russ Alan Prince and I completed a study with 628 advice professionals on behalf of Forbes. Of that group, just 17% were operating in a way that prompted us to dub them "elite practitioners." When compared to their counterparts in the study, this tiny segment was more systematic in its approach to finding new business, offered more focused solutions to their clientele and was more critical in its self-assessments. They also had wealthier customers, were more consultative and had significantly higher incomes.

I readily admit that most measurable populations can be broken down into the top 20%, the bottom 20% and everyone else in the middle. I've seen that pattern emerge time and again durng analysis, but this study was different. Instead, we found that the biggest percentage of advice practitioners was not in the middle of the performance curve, but at the bottom. (See Figure 1.)

The ugly truth is that in today's political, economic and social climate, being an average advisor will probably result in a below-average outcome. These days you need to work harder, think smarter and be more creative to compete and retain your clients. If you're feeling frustrated, keep reading. Some of the most inspiring (and, frankly, surprising) success stories I've heard have been from advice professionals who aren't afraid to think and act outside the box:
The advisor who replaces one of his top three referral sources every year, regardless of how much new business he's received, in a quest for continual improvement.
The private banker who allocates half of her annual vacation to join her clients doing volunteer work in Third World countries to forge multi-generational relationships within families.
One of my all-time favorites is the wealth manager who receives nearly all of his new business through cooperative educational seminars he hosts with a funeral director in his community.

In future issues, we'll share more details from the Forbes study, with insights on how to keep advancing your business and your professional development. In the meantime, what can you do to bring more value to your clients and your practice?