And so, says Goad, the large number of advisors practicing as solos is here to stay. "We have been involved in numerous studies each year over the last decade and the only measurable change from solo to multi-owner firms was a period four to seven years ago where independent broker-dealer advisors moved into the pure RIA channel, resulting in a small increase in multi-owner firms.
Otherwise, the demographics of today's profession are still within a few percentage points of the previous numbers: solo advisors 85% and multiple owner firms 15%. Obviously, most advisors want to be solo practitioners."

Let's look at four such practices to give you a better feel for this phenomenon. 

Craig Duvarney
Craig DuVarney, a CFP licensee, is clear on one thing: "Many solo practitioners are trying to add support staff or merge their practice to form an ensemble firm. They invest hundreds and thousands of hours working towards this goal. Once the new firm is formed, they invest even more time managing the office, adding and training staff, and meeting with their partners. Was their effort really worth it? What impact did this additional time spent at the office have on the advisor's relationship with his/her spouse and children, not to mention the advisor's health? While I have never seen a study done on the qualitative impact of this work, I can tell you that the financial planning model for an ensemble firm has never been something I've been interested in."

DuVarney works in his Concord, Mass., firm with only his wife, Joanne. He runs the practice from his home but also has office space in Concord where he meets with clients. "My clients are all aware that I work from home, and this has had no impact on the growth of my practice."

Staying small has its perks. "This arrangement has allowed me to balance the various aspect of my life, and therefore helps me achieve my definition of success. My morning commute is about 30 feet-from my master bedroom to my home office," DuVarney quips. "By eliminating commuting time, I am able to get to my office earlier in the morning, and therefore get more work done in a day. In addition, most days I have lunch with my kids, and unless I have an evening appointment, I come down from my office at 5 p.m. sharp to have dinner."

What kind of practice could this 33-year-old have developed with this philosophy? Doing various forms of planning for just over a decade, DuVarney is now on his own with 150 clients and $60 million under management. Like all of the advisors profiled in this article, DuVarney provides comprehensive financial planning and asset management to his clients. Providing award-winning service (he's a five-time qualifying member of the Million Dollar Round Table and a two-time member of the prestigious MDRT "Court of the Table," based on his outstanding product knowledge and client service).

DuVarney manages to take six to eight weeks off per year. In 2009, his practice grossed $300,000 with expenses of just $35,000. "I literally run my practice with a laptop, Internet connection and phone," he says.

How is this possible? To smaller advisors struggling to realize a modicum of efficiency and larger firms that hire more and more employees without a commensurate increase in revenues, DuVarney's business model may seem a fluke. (It's not, as we'll demonstrate later in this article.) But what DuVarney does any advisor can do. He takes full advantage of technology.

With a Web-based CRM, a paperless office, form-filling software, aggregation tools and a unified communication system that channels all voice mails and faxes into his e-mail inbox, DuVarney is truly a one-man band.

"The lifestyle business model appealed to me because I always want to be in sole control of my practice; I don't want the distraction of employees or a partner to oversee my decisions," he explains. "And while multi-member firms may generate more revenue, they don't necessarily generate more to the partners."