"If short-term decisions don't materially enhance your business," Tibergien says, "you should probably put them on ice."

Ross Levin, founder of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina, Minn., is pondering what to put in the ice bucket. His firm has roughly 35 employees, but staff cuts aren't in the works for now. "If we maintain and grow our client base, which is what we're doing, I don't see how we can cut back on staff," he says.

Levin estimated that his firm's asset base was at about $600 million in early 2009, down about 19% from the previous year. He says he invests a lot in his staff--everyone gets five personal charity days a year; a yoga instructor comes into the office once a week; and all of the CFP licensees on staff get an annual $3,000 education allowance.

"We're looking at all of these things to see what makes sense to cut back, change or delay," Levin says. "Yet we have to recognize our staff is working very hard during this period and we want to continue to reward them."

The company owns its office building, which Levin says is a big help financially. He's been through several downturns during his 25 years in the business, and while none are worse than this, he exudes a sense of optimism that both his firm and the industry will see better days again.

In the meantime, he has one eye on cutting back non-essentials and the other eye on investing for the future. He said the company is contemplating a switch from its proprietary database to a public one, such as Junxure, where the initial investment is higher but is ultimately more scalable. The company also recently upgraded its research staff by hiring a new certified financial analyst, and its principals want to upgrade client services by adding legacy planning capabilities such as video ethical wills.

They've put some projects on hold for the time being to focus on customers, both by serving current ones and bringing in new ones. "We think this market is a great opportunity to bring in new clients," Levin says.

All Things Must Pass
The markets will recover someday, and so will client assets and advisor revenue. But to quote a popular catchphrase, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. In that vein, industry consultants such as Rebecca Pomering of Moss Adams see this as an ideal time for advisors--particularly those who have positioned themselves as wealth managers focused on holistic planning--to gain new clients from the wirehouses, and also to take clients from those advisory firms who sold their story based on investment returns but who failed to deliver the goods.

"In most cases, firms who are losing clients now didn't tell their story right," she says. "At Moss Adams we told clients we're a goals-based organization, that markets go up and down, and their portfolios are structured around their risk tolerance and time frame. We're not losing clients, because they knew what to expect."

Palaveev is telling his network of wealth managers to invest in their firms during the downturn. "If anything, we're telling our advisors to increase their service levels," he says. "There are a lot of good people who are available because they're getting laid off, so you should bring them on board if you can afford it.