5. Demonstrate consistent growth. Buyers will pay a premium for firms that are rigorous about new business development and that have an effective client-growth strategy. The most sought-after firms have multitiered growth strategies that utilize client referrals, "centers of influence" and marketing and public relations programs to capture revenue opportunities from a number of different channels. (So-called centers of influence are business partners and other professionals, such as accountants and attorneys, who can influence your ideal client to consider hiring you.) These firms have well-documented business development compensation and incentive plans in place for the entire staff, to ensure that everyone has a vested interest in the firm's growth.
Read MoreAttention, investors: Succession plans matter
Today's RIA owners have spent their careers building firms on a foundation of successful relationships and trust. Establishing a succession plan that secures their firm's legacy beyond their individual transition is critical not just to their firm and their clients but also to the long-term success of the next generation of leadership. The succession-planning process can take as many as five to 10 years to establish and implement—and there's just one chance to get it right.
Understanding the many factors that influence a succession plan is the first step. Advisors who take the long view, addressing their risks, scalability, growth and cash flow, will see their efforts pay dividends when the time to transition arrives.
—By Nick Georgis, vice president of business consulting and field experience for Schwab Advisor Services