You're A Financial Planner; Now What? Exploring the world of financial planning Tue, 24 Apr 2018 13:00:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 You're A Financial Planner; Now What? 32 32 Hannah Moore, CFP® interviews influential financial planners and explores topics relevant to those starting out as financial planners. From designations, to business models to the history of financial planning, find the resources and knowledge that you need to be a successful financial planner. Join Hannah as she explores the world of financial planning and finds resources and tools to help you become the best financial planner you can be. Hannah Moore clean Hannah Moore (Hannah Moore) Exploring the world of financial planning You're A Financial Planner; Now What? Weekly Tools to Help Facilitate Financial Health Tue, 24 Apr 2018 13:00:19 +0000 0 Dr. Brad Klontz and Derek Lawson have worked together to integrate behavioral finance, financial therapy, and financial psychology into the world of financial planning. Their research is guiding advisors everywhere to add a deeper level of value to the lives of their clients - and they want to help you do the same! Dr. Brad Klontz and Derek Lawson won the prestigious Montgomery-Warschauer award for their paper on Integrating Behavioral Finance, Financial Psychology and Financial Therapy in the 6 Step Financial Planning Process. The award goes to the researchers who wrote the paper with the most outstanding contribution to the betterment of the profession in the prior year.

Dr. Klontz and Derek Lawson’s research not only brings together three different areas of financial behavior, but they practically discuss how you can use these three disciplines to improve your financial planning skills and service to your clients. Their research is guiding advisors everywhere to add a deeper level of value to the lives of their clients.

The deeper purpose of financial planning is to help a client improve their financial health – which has multiple components. It’s more than setting up the right insurance, retirement plan, and investment vehicles put into place. As advisors, we seek to empower our clients to make decisions that lead to financial security and fulfillment.

This is where financial therapy and behavioral finance comes in. By understanding a client’s mental approach to their money, you can help them live financially healthy lives that extends beyond the dollars and cents.

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How do you facilitate a client moving through the financial planning process and keeping them on track? What do you do when you give a client a solid piece of advice, and they resist it?

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What You’ll Learn:

  • What is the difference between financial advice and financial planning?
  • What is the difference between behavioral finance, financial therapy, and financial psychology?
  • How can financial planners integrate behavioral finance or financial therapy into their practice?
  • Specific skills and strategies you can start implementing today to integrate the best practices of behavioral finance, financial therapy and financial psychology today.
  • How does financial planning extend beyond your client’s financial life?


Financial Therapy Association

Integrating Behavioral Finance, Financial Psychology, and Financial Therapy into the 6-Step Financial Planning Process by Derek R. Lawson, CFP®; and Bradley T. Klontz, Psy.D., CFP®







Dr. Brad Klontz and Derek Lawson have worked together to integrate behavioral finance, financial therapy, and financial psychology into the world of financial planning. Their research is guiding advisors everywhere to add a deeper level of value to the... Dr. Brad Klontz and Derek Lawson won the prestigious Montgomery-Warschauer award for their paper on Integrating Behavioral Finance, Financial Psychology and Financial Therapy in the 6 Step Financial Planning Process. The award goes to the researchers who wrote the paper with the most outstanding contribution to the betterment of the profession in the prior year.
Dr. Klontz and Derek Lawson’s research not only brings together three different areas of financial behavior, but they practically discuss how you can use these three disciplines to improve your financial planning skills and service to your clients. Their research is guiding advisors everywhere to add a deeper level of value to the lives of their clients.
The deeper purpose of financial planning is to help a client improve their financial health – which has multiple components. It’s more than setting up the right insurance, retirement plan, and investment vehicles put into place. As advisors, we seek to empower our clients to make decisions that lead to financial security and fulfillment.
This is where financial therapy and behavioral finance comes in. By understanding a client’s mental approach to their money, you can help them live financially healthy lives that extends beyond the dollars and cents.

What You’ll Learn:

What is the difference between financial advice and financial planning?
What is the difference between behavioral finance, financial therapy, and financial psychology?
How can financial planners integrate behavioral finance or financial therapy into their practice?
Specific skills and strategies you can start implementing today to integrate the best practices of behavioral finance, financial therapy and financial psychology today.
How does financial planning extend beyond your client’s financial life?

Financial Therapy Association
Integrating Behavioral Finance, Financial Psychology, and Financial Therapy into the 6-Step Financial Planning Process by Derek R. Lawson, CFP®; and Bradley T. Klontz, Psy.D., CFP®

Hannah Moore clean 1:04:17
Forming Partnerships, Starting Your Own Business, and Planning Mindfully Tue, 17 Apr 2018 12:00:29 +0000 0 Anne McCabe Triana, CFP®, CRPC®, has been in the financial services industry for over ten years. Her experience as a financial planner in a larger firm, as well as with starting her own financial planning firm, has taught her so much about the financial planning process and about being a business owner. Anne McCabe Triana, CFP®, CRPC®, has been in the financial services profession for over ten years. Having started straight out of school and having to immediately find her own clients, she shares what she learned through that experience and what she learned in that process. Her experience as a financial planner in a larger firm, as well as with starting her own financial planning firm, has taught her much about the financial planning process and about being a business owner.

In her practice today, Anne looks at the behavioral aspect of financial planning with her clients. Understanding the emotions that play into personal finance, and how to navigate clients through tough economic times, has been a critical component to her business’s success. Anne shares how she came up with her company name, Curo, and how important truly caring for her clients has been in building strong client relationships.

Over the course of this #YAFPNW episode, we’re going to talk about the evolution of running a financial planning firm, how “down” markets might actually be better for business, and how to provide the best experience to your clients.

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People hire you because of you, they don’t hire you because of the company behind you. – @AnneDayMcCabe

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What You’ll Learn:

  • How to know you’re ready to transition to business ownership
  • Ways to improve your client’s experience
  • How to draw from your past experiences moving into unknown financial planning territory
  • Why you should always be adding value to the lives of your prospects – even if they’re not ready to sign on with you right now
  • How behavioral finance plays into your financial planning
  • Why a “down” market may be better for your financial planning business
  • How to navigate client emotions when dealing with money
  • How to manage client relationships when transitioning to a new role within your firm or because you’re starting a new practice
  • How to reinforce that YOU are the value when working with your clients
  • How your marketing plan can and should change as your business matures.







Show Transcript

Ep94 Transcript

Hannah: Thank for joining us today, Anne.

Anne: Thank you for having me, Hannah.

Hannah: I am really excited for people to hear your story, but how did you get into the financial planning and wealth management business?

Anne: I randomly fell into it right out of college. I worked in banking right after I graduated high school and throughout college, and when I graduated college I had an idea of what I think I would do, and that was to work in economic development in Latin America. I studied Latin American Studies and Economics in college. I speak Spanish fluently, so I’ve always been drawn to Latin America and I thought that I would go down there and work on economic development.

I had a professor in college who sat down with me when I was about to graduate and asked me what my plans were, and he actually worked for the Inter-American Development Bank, which is like the World Bank but just focused in Latin America. Long story short, he basically told me that he didn’t think that I should go in that direction because he thought that I would be very unhappy with the bureaucracy that is part of that organization, just economic development in Latin America in general.

I did, at that point, what every college student who is completely lost did, I put my resume online and waited for companies to call me. I had some interesting opportunities, but the one that really caught my attention was from, at that time, American Express Financial Advisors, which very shortly after became Ameriprise Financial.

I went in for an interview. There were probably 60 other people there for the interview. It was a whole process, but that is, inevitably, how I ended up becoming an advisor. I was offered the job and went to study for my licenses and then went into production.

Hannah: So when you went into production was it one of the deals where you’re supposed to make a list of your 200 closest family and friends and start with them?

Anne: It was, but I did not do that. I made the list, but I didn’t feel right going to my family and friends knowing that I knew absolutely nothing. I really took to cold-calling and doing these lunch presentations that we would do, and I hustled as much as I possibly could so that they wouldn’t actually force me to touch base with my friends and family. I’m lucky that I didn’t actually have to use that as a marketing strategy, but it absolutely was very much one of the main marketing strategies that they preferred.

Hannah: What did that look like when you’re talking about hustling and cold-calling? What was that like? I’m assuming you’re 22, 23 at this point?

Anne: I was 22. Yeah, I was 22. It looks like a lot of hours and a lot of nos. You had to develop a very thick skin over a very short period of time because remember, you actually really don’t know anything. You’re on the phone calling people who are decades older than you because we were really trying to focus on people who were thinking about retirement, and you sound like you’re 12. You have the knowledge level of a 12 year old for financial services. So it’s really, really challenging.

I look back to some of the initial clients that I acquired and that still work with me today. First of all, I’m just in awe at their generosity, and I’m grateful that they gave me an opportunity, but I think really the only reason they gave me an opportunity is because somewhere deep down they knew that I was a good person, and I was an honest person, and I wasn’t going to try to hurt them in any way.

But, aside from that, there’s not really a lot of compelling reasons to … that I could look back on anyway, for someone to hire me. It was really, really challenging.

Hannah: What kept you going? I’ve heard lots of stories where people were just saying, “I can’t. I can’t do this”, but what kept you doing that?

Anne: Yeah, that’s a really, really good question, and it’s something I’ve reflected on a lot because I can tell you that multiple times in my first three years probably, I was one day away from calling it quits. Multiple times I can tell you that it just was so hard. I was working so many hours. I wasn’t making a lot of money. I had this question a lot of times, “What am I doing? Is all this worth it?” The only thing that kept me going was I would acquire a new client, and I would make a promise to this client, and I would get excited about working on their case. Again, I would be so grateful that they were entrusting their financial planning to me, that that was the only thing that stopped me from quitting.

Because I had just made this commitment, just made this promise to this family or this individual who had hired me, how could I disappoint them and how could I quit at that point? I look back and you add up one client acquisition with another client acquisition with another client acquisition, and it just got me through. I think probably around year three or four, I finally started feeling a little more confident in what I was doing.

Hannah: That confidence in what you were doing, did that just come from experience? How did you get better at doing investments or financial planning?

Anne: I made it a point to educate myself as much as I possibly could. I had a mentor early on who I am so very close with to this day, and he said to me, “You’re not going to be able to know everything.” He had been in the business for probably 20 years at that point, and he was telling me even 20 years in, he would learn new things on a regular basis.

He first said, “Try not to learn everything right away because you’re just not going to be able to do that. And if you spend all day reading and trying to learn everything you possibly can about the industry, that means you’re not out trying to meet people. And if you’re not out trying to meet people, you’re not going to be acquiring clients, you’re not going to have anyone to share this knowledge with, and you’re going to fail out of the business.”

I tried to balance my thirst for wanting to know as much as I possibly can and learning and growing, with also making sure I was actually out there talking to people. But I would spend my weekends reading magazines like Barron’s, and I would read The Wall Street Journal every morning, and just try to immerse myself in the vocabulary. I wanted to be able to know what was going on and be able to have intelligent conversations with people when I met them.

I think, for me, it was a balance of wanting to learn and spending my free time really reading books and magazines and articles about the industry, but also not spending that precious time during the day that I could have been on the phones cold-calling or I could have been doing a lunch presentation or out networking.

Hannah: You talked about the, you said 60 or 90 people who went in for that interview. How many of the people that you started with were still in the business in three years?

Anne: Oh, gosh. Probably … definitely less than 10. I want to say probably seven or so of us were still there of my class, yeah, after three years. Most of the people would actually leave the industry, they would go into a completely different direction. Some people left being an advisor and went to get a job that was still in the industry, but I would say most people got burnt out from the industry, and just had a very bad taste in their mouth and became a teacher or went into a completely different industry.

Hannah: Now you’ve been in financial services for 10-plus years at this point?

Anne: Yeah, I’ve been in since I’ve been in production, a licensed advisor, about 12 years, plus my banking experience. But, again, I started that right out of high school.

Hannah: Looking back now at the cold-calling, what are your thoughts on that? Is that an effective way to start a business today?

Anne: It’s not.

Hannah: What would you change if you were starting over tomorrow?

Anne: It’s just not. Let’s just me real. I’m sure you get cold-called all the time. I do, too. No, i just … If you’re not coming to me with a warm referral introduction. Occasionally I’ll get a compelling email that grabs my attention that’s a cold email, but am I ever taking action on it? No, because I have no idea who this person is who’s reaching out to me.

No, if I were starting now today, I think absolutely cold-calling is not the way to do it. Even when I started, so I went into production in 2006. That was the beginning of the Do Not Call lists becoming really popular, and people figuring that out. I think that even when I was cold-calling, it probably looking back wasn’t the most effective use of my time.

But, again, I didn’t want to go to my natural market so I was very motivated to make cold-calling work. I don’t know how many hundreds of dials I would make on a daily basis, but we had this whole matrix of how many meetings we had to schedule or how many dials we had to make, and we had to report on the numbers on a weekly basis. I’m also pretty competitive, so I never wanted to walk into that Friday morning meeting looking like a slacker. I made sure that I hit my numbers on a weekly basis.

But, no, I think if I were starting today, cold-calling would not be the way I would market.

Hannah: That’s funny. We’ll talk a little bit more about what you transitioned to away from cold-calling, and what that transition looked like for you, but I’m interested. So you started production in 2006, so 2008 was just two years away, so you hit that in your second or third year of the great recession. What was that like as a young advisor? What did you learn through that process?

Anne: It’s almost inexplicable just how difficult and challenging and chaotic that time was, but I look back at that time, and I’m so grateful for that experience so early on in my career. This was a once in most of our lifetime, hopefully, our lifetime experiences from a recession and a market selloff perspective. I just remember complete and utter chaos and fear. I remember portfolios. From 2006 to the top of 2007, so about a year, every investment I put my clients in had done well. If you looked at Morningstar reports looking back, sure, there were years here and there where things were down. 2001 was obviously a challenging year for the market perspective but, for the most part, things looked really rosy on Morningstar reports.

To answer your question about what I learned, I think first I learned to be very, very sensitive to the downside. I saw in real life how losing money actually hurts more than making money feels good. It’s one of the behavioral finance principles. People do not like that feeling of losing money, and they get really terrified.

The other thing I learned was to help people try to manage their emotions. I had a client during the financial crisis, no joke, every single Friday he would call me, every single Friday, and he would try to convince me of why we needed to sell out of his portfolio and go to cash. And every Friday I would have this conversation with him and I’d walk him off the ledge until the Friday, he would call again and we’d have the conversation.

Learning how to help people deal with the emotional aspect of investing and financial planning was one of the largest takeaways I had from that time. And it’s one of the things that I use on a daily basis still today.

Hannah: When you say that financial planning and you use that on a daily basis, what do you mean? Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Anne: Sure. If you are familiar with behavioral finance, which is this fascinating, relatively new body of research in our industry, it’s basically the difference between logically what we know we should do from a financial perspective and emotionally how we actually end up reacting. If you take a market downturn, for example, especially the worst downturn in any of our lifetimes, logically, you’ve heard a million times before, “Oh, you should buy low and you should sell high.” So if the market’s selling off, you shouldn’t be thinking about selling, you should be thinking about buying.

Logically you know that that’s what you are “supposed” to do, but what happens is, fear and very strong emotions come into play and they make you scared and they make you, or they allow you, if you let them, they allow you to make decisions that are completely the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. It’s helping clients take a step back and take a pause and take a deep breath and assess the situation objectively and try to make educated, logical decisions and try not to make emotional decisions.

Hannah: You go through that experience and were you able to find clients in the market downturn, or were you more just helping your current clients manage that process?

Anne: Actually, it was one of the most amazing client acquisition times of my career, which is maybe counterintuitive, but I think, it’s my opinion that when the market goes down, our client acquisition actually goes up. Right now, you can be a monkey and you can throw a dart at a dartboard, and you can make money. It is not hard to make money in the markets right now. People who are either doing their own investments, they’re do-it-yourselfers, and they’re feeling like, “Oh my gosh. This money management thing, this investment thing is a breeze. I should open a hedge fund, I’m so good.” They feel like they’ve got it because everything is going up.

When the market goes down, you have people who are do-it-yourself investors all of a sudden realizing, “Oh, man. Maybe I should get professional help.” And then you also have people who have been working with their advisor for a while and they’re not so dissatisfied that they’re motivated to make a change, but they’re just blah about the relationship. It’s going to take something like the market selling off and the advisor not returning phone calls or not proactively communicating. It’s going to take something like that to motivate them to make a change.

Back to the financial crisis, you had a combination of clients who were potentially managing their own investments and lost a lot of money. They were maybe fully invested in stocks and lost 38% or so in 2008, or you had people who were dissatisfied with their advisor, but it took something dramatic like a financial crisis to motivate them to make a change. I had amazing client acquisition during that time.

I tell advisors today, I’m looking forward to the next selloff because number one: we can buy things a little bit cheaper than we’re able to get them now and number two: there’s going to be so much money movement, it’s going to be an amazing opportunity from a practice growth perspective as well.

Hannah: I love that perspective. How do we position our companies well? And again, like you said, it all comes back down to client servicing and doing what’s best for our clients.

Anne: It does. It does. It also is about proactively talking to prospective clients right now who may not be motivated to make a change, but you want to be the first call that they make when they are motivated to make a change, for whatever that reason is. You want to make sure that you are in front of them so that when the market sells off or when their advisor screws up for the last time or doesn’t return a phone call, that you’re the first person they think of in your position.

That client may not come over today or tomorrow, but that will be your client in the near future for sure.

Hannah: You’re at Ameriprise. You’re not there anymore. What prompted you to look for other solutions?

Anne: I was at Ameriprise and I think I was there for four years. I felt like I had learned a lot. I’m so grateful to Ameriprise for the foundation that I’d got, for the training. One of the things that I still, to this day, have a model calendar, and I make sure I book time for working on my financial planning cases. I don’t book as much time anymore on the practice growth piece of it, I probably should book more time on that.

I’m grateful to Ameriprise for the foundation that I got, for the training that I got, also for the belief in financial planning, which is something that I still very strongly believe in. I got to a point where I felt like I wanted to see what else was out there, and I wanted to improve my knowledge and my skills on the investment management front. It happened to be that I had been recruited by UBS to move part of my book, not really a ton of my book made sense for me to move over.

I was recruited by UBS and I thought UBS is exactly what I needed to fill the gap in my skills and in my knowledge. They were a super strong global wealth management firm and I actually had been talking to someone over there, as well, about potentially partnering. So I moved from Ameriprise over to UBS and I ended up partnering with this person. We were partners for five years, so that was why I decided to make the move from Ameriprise.

Hannah: Again, like you were saying, it goes back to those relationships and building up those, even professional, relationships.

Anne: Oh yeah.

Hannah: Were you able to take a lot of your clients from Ameriprise? Had a lot of your clients followed you through the various transitions that you’ve made?

Anne: They have. That’s another thing I’m eternally grateful to them for. I didn’t invite everybody to come with me from Ameriprise to UBS just because it didn’t make a lot of sense just based on what I was doing for specific clients. But the majority of clients who I had asked to come with me from firm to firm have graciously done that.

That’s a big thing to ask a client to do, to repaper their account, and to lose all the history from the old firm. I realize that it’s a large commitment that they’re making, but I’m very grateful to say that most clients have come with me. Even when I went independent from UBS and then switched broker dealers, the majority of them have followed me.

Hannah: I’ve had a lot of questions lately on what advice would you give when you’re making that move, bout managing your client relationships? I see that as you’ve made these transitions, what did you do well or what would be your advice to somebody looking to make those transitions with clients?

Anne: I think that even before you are deciding to make a move, it’s really important that you sell yourself versus you selling the company that you represent. When I was at Ameriprise, I don’t think that very many people hired me because of the really cool Ameriprise Financial commercials that were on TV. When I was at UBS, we had a handful of people that worked with UBS because they were international clients and UBS had a super strong international presence, but it was a handful. The majority of people who decided to hire me and work with me, it was because of me and not because of the firm behind me.

I would say to any advisors out there who are even noodling, potentially thinking about making a move in the future, make sure that you consistently reinforce that the value that you bring to the table is not the sign that’s on your building, but it’s you. It’s you as a person. It’s how much you care about that relationship. It’s that you are going to do everything in your power to help those clients reach their financial goals.

I think that’s something that I did pretty well, is I didn’t sell UBS or Ameriprise or Wells, I sold me and what I was bringing to the table. And that’s something that takes a while. You can’t just flip a switch and decide all of a sudden, I’m not going to talk about my firm as much anymore, I’m going to talk about what I bring to the table. But, in my experience, people hire you because of you, they don’t hire you because of the company behind you. I think that that’s something that I did well.

Looking back at what I would have changed, I’d only ended up being at UBS for about a year. So when I got to UBS things started getting really bad again from … this was in 2009. We’d been through a financial crisis at that point but UBS had their own set of unique challenges throughout that time period. So looking back, I would have, instead of going from Ameriprise to UBS, I probably would have gone Ameriprise independent, which is what I ended up doing about a year later anyway. It would have been just one less move that I had to make and that my clients had to make.

So just really being thoughtful about what is your endgame and what is really important to you and what are you trying to do. In hindsight, the person that I decided to partner with and I at the point, the reason we didn’t go independent was all about fear. It was all about being scared that our clients wouldn’t come with us. Looking back I wish that we would have just gone independent, but I’m also a huge believer in not having any regrets. Looking back at every single experience that I’ve had in my life and being able to identify what I can learn from the experience, so I wouldn’t do anything differently, but maybe that’s advice that would be helpful for people who are considering a couple options.

It was way more work that it probably needed to be.

Hannah: Those moves are a lot of work.

Anne: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. They are.

Hannah: I love that comment on fear of … I know for me personally I almost have this … I notice that fear now when they come into decisions and it’s, again, like you’re talking about with clients, about how the behavior finance side of it. Most as a business owner, even if we’re not a business owner, in your career, if you get that sense of you’re doing something because you’re afraid, that’s really a time to pause, step back, and say, “Do I really need to push through this?”

Anne: Yeah, absolutely. And I think looking back on times in your life when you’ve been fearful and you’ve done it anyway, and how that feels, how it turned out. I had a friend recently who’s a business owner who’s actually in the technology space. He told me that every time he feels fearful about a business decision that he’s going to make, he actually gets really excited about it because he can look back in his career. He’s owned his business for over 20 years now. He can look back at his career and every time he’s felt that fear and he’s pushed through it and he’s done it anyway, it’s been the catalyst for the next wave of growth that his company experienced.

So I thought that was a really cool mindset, that when you feel that fear, instead of letting it paralyze you, actually try to channel it into the energy that you need and the motivation that you need to push through, make that decision anyway, and get excited about what is on the other end of that fear.

Hannah: I love that. Some of the best things in life are on the other side of fear.

Anne: Yeah. For sure.

Hannah: You said that you ended up working with a partner, and then now you’re by yourself. You have a staff but you’re not in a partnership relationship anymore, right?

Anne: That is correct.

Hannah: Can I just have you-

Anne: That was another exciting learning experience.

Hannah: Let’s talk about … oh partnerships. Let’s talk about, I don’t know, maybe a case for partnerships and maybe a case against partnerships, not against partnerships but you’ve been through both of those, can you just reflect back on why you went into partnerships? What were the positive things about that? But then, what ultimately led you to back away from a partnership and do it on your own?

Anne: Sure. I think that the idea of a partnership is supposed to be that you bring two people together and one plus one equals three, as opposed to one plus one equaling two. In the partnerships that I’ve seen, the successful partnerships that I’ve seen that are few and far between but they do exist. Great partnerships absolutely exist. The ones that I have observed that are successful, that is absolutely the equation and sometimes one plus one equals four, as opposed to three.

That’s the benefit to having a partnership is we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, and if you can get really clear on your strengths and also what you really enjoy doing in this business because we all wear lots of hats. If you can really get clear on what is it that you are really exceptional at and what is it that you really enjoy, and you can find someone who complements your weaknesses and their strengths are your weaknesses, then game on. It makes so much sense. That’s, on paper, what I think are some of the benefits of partnerships.

But you’re bringing two human beings together. So there are all sorts of challenges. I was in my partnership for five years. Ultimately, why I decided that it was no longer going to work for me is we had different ideas around how to run and grow the business, so clearly that’s a big deal if you’re running a business with someone, and you have different visions of where you want to take this. So that was a problem.

We also had different, let’s say, levels of commitment to just actually putting in the hours. I was willing to work a lot and hustle a lot and worked long hours. My business partner just was at a different stage in his life where he wasn’t as willing to do that. That was a problem because you build resentment for that person and you feel like, “Oh my gosh. I’m here busting my tail”, and the other person is not meeting you there. That’s challenging. To maintain over a long period of time the same level of commitment and work ethic is challenging.

It ultimately came down to this feeling that I had gotten to a place where I learned a lot from being in that partnership. I can look back now and be grateful for that experience. Again, I wouldn’t do it any differently, but I got to a point where I knew if I wanted to reach my own potential, both personally as well as professionally, I needed to let go and I needed to move forward on my own.

I’m making that sound really easy right now and it’s a very long process. It was definitely very stressful in there. Our split was not the most amicable split. There were a lot of challenges but moving through that and, again, looking back I’m grateful for the experience and I learned a lot.

Now I’m in a place where I’m the only advisor in my practice and I have three people who work with me who have different responsibilities in the practice. I feel really great about my team and the synergies. I feel like for the most part during the day, we’re working on things that we enjoy, and that we’re really good at. We complement each other really well.

One of the things you and I have talked about being a mom in this business. One of the things that was challenging is I just had my second son. He’s eight months old now. When I had my son, I was in a business partnership so when I had the baby, I was able to take more time off. I knew that things were going to get handled at the office. This time around, I have amazing staff who was able to handle almost everything, but at the end of the day, clients want you for some things. That was a unique challenge that I just recently went through.

You get through it, and it’s all worth it, again, all part of the process of learning and growing.

Hannah: A couple questions off of this, another thing that I’m hearing a lot from advisors, or people who are starting out, is that they really have this desire to be on a team, and that’s preventing them from starting their own practice or doing something along those lines because they’re like, “We want that support.” What would you tell that person?

Anne: I actually agree with that. If I were starting out today brand new, I think about this a lot. I wonder, I ask myself, would I go the same path that I went down and based on what I know now, the answer is no. I would absolutely try to team up with a nice, functional, successful team that works well together and I would try to learn as much as I possibly can.

If I felt really strongly about having my own practice in the future and starting that journey, then I would. But I think it makes a lot of sense to join a team, especially if you’re just starting out because there’s so much infrastructure, ideally, hopefully already built there that you can learn a lot and grow a lot from that experience and see where it leads you.

Hannah: You mentioned having two different babies in your time as an advisor. There’s a lot of talk about women in the profession and I know, gosh, we could probably spend a whole, several hours on just that topic-

Anne: Yeah, a whole interview.

Hannah: But I think it’s a really … Looking through having your own business, going on maternity leave, being a mom in the business, and just the expectations that moms have and business owners, can you just reflect on that a bit?

Anne: Yeah.

Hannah: And what would you want women coming into the profession to know?

Anne: One of the things that makes me very sad about our industry is any time I see a report about just how terribly we’re doing as an industry in terms of attracting females into the business. It’s been about the same number for the last three decades and at least the reports that I’ve seen recently don’t look like we’re making any improvements there, and that makes me very sad because in my experience, I think women are really good at this business. We’re empathetic and I think that we’re, for the most part, women have high levels of compassion and integrity. We can really kick butt and take names in this industry, so it makes me very sad that more women don’t get in the industry.

One of the things that I love about this business, and this is more so if you run your own practice than it is if you are an employee, so that’s just a reality. One of the things I love is that you absolutely, once you get to a certain point and you’ve built up a book of business and you’re not having to hustle as much as you did in the beginning, not that you ever stop hustling but you’re not having to hustle as much as you did at the beginning. You manage your own time and you manage your own calendar.

If I know that I have a … My older son is six, he’s in kindergarten now. If I know that he has something going on at school or a field trip or a play or an event, I can book that in my calendar and I’m not seeing any clients during that time. I have full control over what my calendar looks like, when I see clients, when I don’t see clients, if I want to take time off. So that’s a huge benefit, I think, especially, not that it’s less of a benefit for men or for dads, but I think it’s a huge benefit especially for moms as we do get to manage our time, and we can really be there for activities.

You know, kids get sick. Oftentimes even if you have a very hands-on dad, the kids want mommy when they’re sick. We have flexibility to manage our time, which I think is hugely important.

Hannah: For maternity leave with running your business, you said you were in a partnership for the first one and not the second one. Were you able to take time off? And what did that look like for you?

Anne: Yes and no. I’m the type of person who likes to be connected, even when I go on vacation, I like to check my email. I just find that if I completely check out for a week, it just produces more anxiety in me than is worth it. I know some people who absolutely just want to check out and I think that’s awesome. You just have to know what works for you.

For me, when I had my second child, I did not check in, did not check email, had no idea if the office was blowing up for three days, which may not seem like a lot of time, but for me, that was a big deal. I was completely present at home with the baby, with my older son, my husband, my family. I was completely present for those three days. And then I would start, I started checking my email more and checking in more. I did not see anyone, any clients. I did not have any meetings or any conference calls for the first six weeks.

I was at home. I would come into the office here and there, but for the most part, I was at home for those first six weeks. For the next probably month and a half, I would see meetings as need be. So if we had a client who had an emergency and had a time constraint decision they had to make, I would see that meeting. I would take a conference call. I would meet with prospective clients that we were referred to, but we weren’t actively trying to schedule review meetings during that time. It was more just on a one-off basis.

When I came back, it was about three months that I had a modified schedule, let’s say. Then after three months I came back full-time. I got all my reviews in that I should have seen during that time and came back to my normal schedule.

Hannah: Very cool.

Anne: The beauty of technology, I’ll just say, these days, when I had my first son, you couldn’t work remotely as much. He, again, is six years old. We just couldn’t do as much back then. I was with Wells, so there were limitations on what I could do from home. But now, it’s just so great because you can do so much from home. There’s even ways that you can make phone calls and your clients, it looks like you’re calling from the office. There’s just so much more flexibility that we have these days from a technology perspective to leverage if you do need to take extended time off like for having a baby.

Hannah: Or just a sabbatical. It doesn’t have to be just a baby.

Anne: Sorry. What’s that? Could you explain what that … Can you define what a sabbatical is? That sounds amazing.

Hannah: You started your own-

Anne: Yes.

Hannah: You left your partnership. Did you move to LPO or were you guys already at LPO?

Anne: No. We were with Wells. I split my partnership and moved broker dealers all in one fell swoop. You know because why not? If you’re going to have change, just have big change and be done with it.

Hannah: Rip the Band-Aid off.

Anne: Exactly. Yeah.

Hannah: When you moved to LPO, you started your company. Are you branded as, is it Curo Private Wealth?

Anne: Curo Private Wealth. Yes.

Hannah: Can you talk about that name? How you came up with that? Kind-of just the bigger branding of your firm and what you want to be for your clients?

Anne: When I had made the decision that I was going to split up my partnership, and I was going to basically start my own firm and rebrand solo, I really wanted a name that meant something. My business partner and I, when we started our company, it was our last names together, which is fine and that works for a lot of people. But I really wanted my name to mean something. I wanted to be able to tell a story about it and I wanted it to really be impactful.

I started asking clients as I was in the process of making the decision to split the partnership and start my firm. I asked clients a couple of questions. Why did they hire me? What did they like about working with me? Why did they continue to work with me? Why do they stay with me? Because clients are actively making a decision to continue to work with you on an ongoing basis.

I got lots of different answers, but the answer that I really cared kept coming up over and over again. Clients would say, “You know when we met with you, we could just tell that you care about us or you care about what you do or you care about our money and you care about our financial plan and the investments and all that, but you also care about us as people and you care about our family.” Again, the term to care kept coming up over and over again. I thought, “Okay, what can I do with that?” Because that was really the theme that came out of these conversations with clients.

I went on to the Google and I Googled how to say to care in different languages. Curo came up. It’s Latin for to care. I thought, “That is absolutely perfect.” So that’s how I decided on curo. What I want our brand to stand for is exactly that. I don’t want to be all things to all people. I don’t want to work with every single prospective client who comes in the door. And, in fact, gratefully, I’m at a point now where if I don’t feel like there’s a good connection, with the prospective client in that initial meeting, I will graciously let them know that I don’t think we’re a good fit and I will kindly decline the business.

That’s what I want us to be about, is that we care about our clients. We care about everything that we do. We’re completely committed to working with people with whom we feel a great connection, with whom we share values. We want our clients to care about us, too. We want to work with people who appreciate what we do and who listen to our advice, and who are kind and respectful to us as well. That’s what I hope our brand is all about and I work on that on a daily basis to make sure that we are upholding that.

Hannah: I like that. Keeping that culture within your firm, I think that’s such an interesting conversation. How do we keep culture? How do you maintain that culture through your staff and your employees in every interaction?

Anne: Yeah. Absolutely. I think it’s really important initially before you even hire anyone to do a good job of assessing that, those values. Because people will say a lot of things in an interview, but it’s important to make sure that you are hiring people that will not only say what you want to hear in an initial interview, but will live your culture every single day in the interactions they have with your clients.

Hannah: How many staff members do you have now?

Anne: Three.

Hannah: Three staff members. Very, very cool. How many clients do you have?

Anne: We have about 100 households right now.

Hannah: Oh that’s great. What’s next for you? Are you looking to grow your practice? Are you interested in other endeavors? What does the future hold for you?

Anne: I am definitely always looking to grow the practice. I was told by a mentor early on in the business that you’re either growing in this business or you’re dying. I don’t want to die, so I’m going to continue to grow. But I want to grow in the right way. As I said, I’m very committed to making sure that we bring on clients who share our values and who appreciate what we do and with whom we feel a great connection. I want to grow, not just for the sake of growing, but I want to grow those types of clients that we’re looking to work for.

Definitely growth is on the horizon. I think in the near future I’d like to bring on an associate financial advisor who can be the relationship manager for a number of our clients and also help with growing our business. The way that I see this working is we have an investment minimum right now, and I’d actually like to bring that down but would like for the associate advisor to be able to be the lead relationship manager with those clients. I’d like to be able to work with more people, and I feel like if I have that associate advisor we would be able to work with and help more people, which is exciting.

Then I’m also potentially interested if the right opportunity came my way, in practice acquisition. I think that there is so much opportunity in our industry. I think the average age of a financial advisor in the US right now is around 60, so there are a lot of advisors who are looking to retire, and I absolutely would be open acquiring a practice or two if we found the right one. That would be a growth goal over the next probably five years or so.

Hannah: Looking at new planners, what would be your main piece of advice for people who are entering the profession today?

Anne: I guess it would depend on their role. If their role was to find clients, I would pass on the same advice that I got, which is if you’re sitting behind your computer or behind a book all day or trying to learn everything that you possibly need to learn before you put yourself out there, don’t do that. You’re never going to make it if you don’t put yourself out there and you don’t try to find clients.

If your role is not really trying to find clients, and is not really more of a business development role where you’re doing the work, I would say to constantly be networking. Join a financial planning association, XYPN, if you can do that. Join organizations that are near you so that you can network with colleagues and potentially people who can offer you opportunities in the future. But put yourself out there and develop those relationships even if they can’t do anything or you can’t do anything for them today. You never know where those relationships will lead you.

Networking, which is not something we’ve talked about, but networking has hugely beneficial for me and my practice. One of the things that I did when I was cold-calling and hating it the first few years is I laid out what I wanted my intermediate term and my long-term marketing strategies to look like. I knew that I had to cold-call to make it and to hit my numbers and to not get fired. So I had to keep cold-calling even though I despised it. But I knew that one day I wouldn’t have to do the cold-calling, so I wanted to be really clear on what those intermediate and long-term marketing strategies looked like.

For me, networking was a huge one. I, right away, started trying to build relationships with CPAs and attorneys and I joined a VNI group. I knew that those relationships wouldn’t pay off right away but 50% of our new business every single year comes from centers of influence. It comes from CPAs and attorneys and real estate agents and loan officers and roughly 50% of our new business comes from client referrals.

I would just network and try to build those relationships as early as you possibly can.

Hannah: It’s really interesting. You talked about your marketing plan, your short-term, medium-term, and then long-term marketing plan. So your short-term was the cold-calling, medium-term, was that the networking? And what would be the long-term?

Anne: My short-term was the cold-calling and those lunch presentations I mentioned, which was very much an Ameriprise thing. It was called Lunch and Learns. That was my short-term. My intermediate-term was more of the networking. It was also speaking engagements. I really enjoy speaking and so I wanted that to become more a part of my intermediate-term. Then longer-term was more media.

One of the things I started doing is I tried to get more TV interviews. I was actually on a show that we had in DC called Washington Business Report. I was on quarterly just talking about the outlook of the markets and the economy and that was really fun until the station got acquired by a national TV company and they weren’t as interested in the micro DC assessment, so they canceled that show unfortunately.

The intermediate and long-term is networking and potentially more media opportunities as well as practice acquisition.

Hannah: Great. Well, thank you for joining us, Anne.

Anne: Thank you for having me, Hannah. It’s been a pleasure.

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Anne McCabe Triana, CFP®, CRPC®, has been in the financial services industry for over ten years. Her experience as a financial planner in a larger firm, as well as with starting her own financial planning firm, Anne McCabe Triana, CFP®, CRPC®, has been in the financial services profession for over ten years. Having started straight out of school and having to immediately find her own clients, she shares what she learned through that experience and what she learned in that process. Her experience as a financial planner in a larger firm, as well as with starting her own financial planning firm, has taught her much about the financial planning process and about being a business owner.
In her practice today, Anne looks at the behavioral aspect of financial planning with her clients. Understanding the emotions that play into personal finance, and how to navigate clients through tough economic times, has been a critical component to her business’s success. Anne shares how she came up with her company name, Curo, and how important truly caring for her clients has been in building strong client relationships.
Over the course of this #YAFPNW episode, we’re going to talk about the evolution of running a financial planning firm, how “down” markets might actually be better for business, and how to provide the best experience to your clients.

What You’ll Learn:

How to know you’re ready to transition to business ownership
Ways to improve your client’s experience
How to draw from your past experiences moving into unknown financial planning territory
Why you should always be adding value to the lives of your prospects – even if they’re not ready to sign on with you right now
How behavioral finance plays into your financial planning
Why a “down” market may be better for your financial planning business
How to navigate client emotions when dealing with money
How to manage client relationships when transitioning to a new role within your firm or because you’re starting a new practice
How to reinforce that YOU are the value when working with your clients
How your marketing plan can and should change as your business matures.


Hannah Moore clean 49:34
Telling Your Advisor Story Tue, 10 Apr 2018 18:01:13 +0000 0 Adam Kornegay, of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions and one of the people behind FPA’s new Coaches Corner, wants to help advisors communicate their value and move past the financial “lingo” to tell their story and actually connect with their ideal clients. Adam Kornegay, of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions and one of the people behind FPA’s new Coaches Corner, wants to help advisors communicate their value and move past the financial “lingo” to tell their story and actually connect with their ideal clients.

The way he sees it – you have the potential to add real value to the lives of your clients. The sooner you can start marketing yourself and your practice in a way that helps them connect with you on a personal level, the sooner you can start helping them and making an impact.

In this episode, Adam is going to go over the five key elements of telling your story as a financial planner, how to find your niche market, and ways you can start tweaking your marketing and communication today to better connect with your current and prospective clients.

hannah's signature

You need to be able to tell your story to everyone you talk to, because chances are good that they are going to be connected to somebody who is in your niche. -Adam Kornegay

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What You’ll Learn:

  • How to get involved with FPA’s Coaches Corner
  • The ways that your communication is pushing clients and prospects away from you.
  • How to avoid industry jargon in your marketing
  • Words to use that open the door for an honest, valuable connection with your clients
  • How marketing and communication can help you build long-term client relationships
  • How to define your niche market
  • The five key elements to telling your advisor story
  • The best way to articulate the value you bring to the table


Exactly What to Say






Show Transcript

Ep93 Transcript

Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today, Adam.

Adam: Thank you Hannah. Glad to be here.

Hannah: So I have heard your name in lots of financial planning circles for the various coaching that you do for financial advisors. And the FPA just opened up their Coaches Corner program and you are one of the coaches, you and Susan are one of the coaches for marketing.

Adam: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Hannah: And so, we are excited to have you on here to kind of pick your brain some more about marketing and what we can do as young planners to really – I don’t want to say be good at marketing, but essentially be good at marketing.

Adam: Absolutely. Yeah, The Coaches Corner, it’s pretty fantastic. It’s really a pleasure to be a part of it and for those of you that are just now learning about it, it’s simply C O A C H E S corner and there’s 6 different coaches with a variety of experiences and specialties that are available exclusively for FPA members.

Hannah: So, pretty cool stuff. I know I’ve been spoiled and looked at some of it and was like, “Oh. That’s helpful for me in my practice.”

Adam: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Good.

Hannah: So, let’s talk about young planners and really when it comes down to marketing. So we have, I mean, there’s lots of different groups of young planners, but we have you know the planners who are starting their firms, and then we have planners who are working for somebody and not sure that they ever want to start their own firm, but they really do love financial planning, whatever that looks like for them. But that underlying idea of marketing. What would be your advice to both of those groups, or what do young planners need to like, fundamentally` understand about marketing in order to be good at financial planning?

Adam: That’s a great question, and you know, it’s interesting. So my background is in marketing and that’s what I got my degree in, and for a lot of people they think marketing as simply advertising. I remember when I was choosing my career that’s, everyone thought, “Oh marketing. That’s the same as advertising, right?” And it’s really not. You know, there’s – we’ll test my knowledge here but there are the 4 P’s of marketing and it all relates to what is the client, or the individuals needs and what is it that the advisor or the sales person or what have you, what are they doing to meet those overall needs?

And what’s great about the planning profession of course, is that there’s – we’re doing such a great job now, especially compared to how the industry used to be, in terms of meeting those needs. It’s pretty fantastic. I’ve been in the industry, in fact my mother was an advisor when I was in grade school, so I’ve been around it pretty much all my life and it’s been fun to kind of watch and see how it’s changed. And now we’re doing such a good job of focusing on people’s goals and really providing the right value, but sometimes we get away from finding out a good way to articulate that value to our prospects, and for that matter our clients as well, so they can see it.

It’s an intangible, and selling something that’s invisible or intangible, makes life a little bit difficult. So we really have to work at, “How can I communicate the value of what I do,” or “How can I tell the story to virtually anyone that I speak with?”

Hannah: I always get sucked into watching those silly, you know, Facebook ad videos that you know, show some kitchen gadget or whatever and you’re like, “Oh!” You immediately see that, but you don’t get that with financial planning and telling that.

So, how do you tell that story of financial planning to people that really resonates with? I mean my gosh, our clients, but also like our family and friends who don’t really understand what we do?

Adam: So yeah. That’s a great way to talk about it, and you know one of the things I’ve always believed, and my company Pathfinder truly believes this, is you always need to examine what you do through the perspective of the client. So what’s that lens that you want to be looking through?

And so when it comes to telling your story, there are really 5 elements to consider, and I can spend a little time, and I’ll walk you through each of those 5 elements and kind of, hopefully provide a couple of examples of how this works.

So let’s say I’m talking to you Hannah, and I want to tell my story. I want to tell you a little bit more about me, what my practice does. The very first thing that I want to start with, is I want to make a connection with you. I want you to feel like, “Oh, he gets me. He understands me.” And so the way to do that is start by talking about your existing clients. And there’s lots of different ways to do that. So, one of the easiest ways to say is, “My typical client looks like this,” and so they’re retirees or they’re approaching retirement or they’re well into their retirement or maybe they’re corporate executives or whatever your particular market is. So that’s one way to do it.

But then you also can get into, “Let me tell you what their life is like.” And sometimes you can use words that are probably universal, but don’t necessarily sound universal. They don’t sound universal to the people that are hearing them. So let me give you an example. So I could say to you Hannah, “Like most of my clients, you are smart, busy and successful.” Now as soon as I say that to you, you probably start to think, “That’s right! That’s me!” You know? And it’s like, well who doesn’t want to be thought of as smart, busy and successful? So already I’m starting to make that connection with you where you feel like, “Oh yeah! Adam, he gets me. I like this.” And then I can go on and talk about you know, something about families or professionals or entrepreneurs. I can talk about you know, what’s important to you. What some of your personal goals are. But by drawing this picture of what my ideal client or my typical client looks like, you’re going to start to see that and you’re going to say, “Oh, I fit there. That’s a good spot for me. That looks just like me.”

So the second part, of course, is then you want to kind of speak to your perspective clients specific concerns and challenges. And one of the best ways to do that is through the form of questions. And you want to ask questions the same way your clients would express them. So, let’s say for you, I could say you know, “For a lot of my clients, some of the concerns that they have and some of the questions you may be thinking of yourself is, what is my retirement going to look like? When am I going to be able to retire? How much money can I spend in retirement if retirement is a big focus for you.” You want to be able to start laying out those questions, so that the prospect hears that and thinks to themselves, “Gosh. You read my mind. Those are absolutely the same questions I’ve been having up here. In fact, you even named a couple of questions I hadn’t even thought of yet.”

Hannah: Yeah, so you’re saying we need to like, basically give words to what’s going on in our clients head because we know people like them.

Adam: Exactly. And think about how different that is from a lot of what financial advisors do. I was looking at somebody’s website the other day, and I saw you know, kind of that laundry list of products and services that they’re offering, their offerings or their services. And one of them, was risk management services. And I guarantee you Hannah, there’s no one walking around out on the street and says, “Gosh. I need some help managing my risks.” No one` talks like that. But advisors will think, you know they put that on their website and think, “If I say risk management people are going to know what that means.” Talk in real life terms. Talk about the sorts of questions that they honestly have been asking themselves.

Hannah: So, that’s interesting, because I see that again, like on a lot of websites where you know, we say like, “Here’s what we do. Like here’s what our process is, you know, risk management.” So what would be another way of saying risk management?

Adam: Another way of talking about that question is how do I know that the investments are right for me. Or how do I know my investments are on track to help me meet my goals. Or, what am I missing out on when it comes to my investments? Or,

Hannah: So,

Adam: Go ahead.

Hannah: Oh no, I was going to say, this is where I think career changers or people new to the profession have sent, I forget what we call them, but like, we know too many of the words and so it’s hard for us to communicate in those ways.

Adam: Yeah!

Hannah: I know my assistant who was not in financial planning or financial services, she just naturally explains things better than I do.

Adam: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Hannah: Because again, she can just use those words. Like I get so stuck in this lingo. And so she has to edit, she edits it out. She’s like, “I don’t understand what this means.” And it’s like, such a valuable perspective.

Adam: And so it begs an interesting question, so do you use those words – there’s probably 2 reasons why you use those, the 50 cent words. One is, that you are wanting to come across as very knowledgeable about your particular topic, or two, you just kind of got into it and forgot that no one else understands what that is.

Hannah: I hope it’s not the first, but maybe. I mean,

Adam: I hope it’s not the first one either, but I’ll tell you, that’s what a lot of people do, right? Because they think, “Hey, I need to use these big sentences, or these big words because that’s going to show how smart I am.” A lot of times we’re doing it subconsciously, but it ends up happening. It’s so easy to do.

Acronyms of course are the worst. You know, we throw out acronyms a lot and we just assume that the other person knows what it is, and we may not. I’m sorry, we would, but the other person doesn’t.

Hannah: It’s almost like I need like one of those like taboo buzzers in the meetings with clients. Like, “You should just hit this.” Or in my office even.

Adam: Yeah! Well, better yet, what you need to do is you need to give it to your assistant, and she’ll just sit outside your office and every time she hears you do it she’ll just, she’ll press the button or maybe have it connected to red light that flashes when you start to use it.

Hannah: Oh that’s great. Well one of the other things I’ve done, so like I have a pretty detailed client persona in my own practice of who I work with. I have quotes, of what they’ve said.

Adam: Hmm.

Hannah: So if they ever say anything that’s like, really spot on, I go and add that to my client persona, because it just reminds me of how they talk, how my clients talk.

Adam: It really is kind of really trying to put yourself into their shoes. And realize too that there’s a big element of fear and uncertainty with them when they’re sitting down with you. They don’t want to feel like they don’t know what they’re doing, and so a lot of times, you can talk to them about a particular concept and they’re not going to raise their hand and say, “I have no idea what you just said.”

Hannah: Right.

Adam: You know, they’re going to kind of keep that to themselves. So it’s incumbent upon you, or incumbent upon the advisor to say, “Well let me make sure I’m breaking that down. And I want to explain this again, because I worry if I don’t explain this well you’re going to walk out of here and you’re not going to be able to explain it. You’re not going to be able to understand it.”

Hannah: You know, it’s so interesting, we talk about marketing so much in terms of finding new clients and you know, kind of the pizzazz around that. But really, what this is sounding like is good client communication and good client servicing. And it doesn’t matter if you have your own firm or not. Like, if we can figure out how to talk our clients language, I mean you’re going to be set.

Adam: Yeah! Yeah, absolutely. Another thing we’ve always believed at Pathfinder is, everything that you say and do, as well as everything that you don’t say or do, conveys a message, and make sure it’s the message that you want to convey. And, you know, Susan, my mother and my partner, she’s both my mother and my partner. She and I are always finding instances where, “Oh gosh, if you changed this little phrase, all of a sudden it makes a ton of difference.”

So for example, let’s say I’m talking to you Hannah, about introducing the concept of you know referrals. And I will say something to you like, “Hannah, if you run across somebody who could benefit from these services, will you call me?” And will, is a carefully chosen word, because “will”, that’s indicating a promise. You will call me, as opposed to “would”. And would is much more hypothetical. And so even just that tiny little word, a “will” versus a “would”, starts to make a real big difference in somebody’s mind.

There’s a real good book out there, it’s called, what’s it called? It is called, “Exactly What To Say” and the author’s name is Phil M. Jones. And it’s like 100 page, 150 pages total, and it’s filled with all kinds of little nuggets like that. So for example, you know one really easy way to start a conversation with somebody is to say, “I’m not sure if it’s for you, but,” and when you start a conversation like that, “I’m not sure if it’s for you,” that right then and there, kind of takes some of that pressure off. “Okay, I’m not sure if it’s for you,” so they’re picking up on the message of, “Oh okay. Well then, no pressure here.” And then you throw that but in, and as soon as you throw the but in, their brain’s going to flip and say, “Oh there actually is something here that I need to pay attention to.”

It’s little things like that, but it’s incredibly important, those words we choose to use.

Hannah: You know it’s, there’s such a fine line. You know we hear people talk about things like this and it’s a fine line between doing what’s right for the client and then using manipulation. So can you speak to that a little bit because I mean I know, I mean my gosh, I know some of the people who are listening to this podcast are working for people who might not respect or see them use kind of these, little nuances and tools in a, maybe not positive way.

Adam: Yeah. Absolutely. And so, like I said a few minutes ago, it all starts and ends with the clients. And for a lot of the advisors that I work with, I help them think through, what’s a good metaphor to use? So a real easy metaphor to use for the advisor, is of a lifeguard. So if you look out there and Hannah, you know this really, really well, there is a ton of people that could use the help of a financial planner. A bunch of them.

The problem is they don’t always realize it. Now you think about it from the metaphor of a lifeguard, there are people around you that are drowning. They need your help. But what happens when a lifeguard try’s to rescue somebody that’s drowning? They kind of kick against them a little bit. Right? They’re not used to it. And, if you start with that mindset of, look this person needs my help and I need to figure out ways that they can truly benefit from my help, to me that’s okay. You’re not trying to say, “Look you know, I’m trying to push you into the water and do something that you don’t want to do that’s not good for you. I’m trying to rescue you here.”

Another one of my younger clients, I was talking to him about this concept, and he actually used the metaphor of Neo from the Matrix.

Hannah: Nice.

Adam: So as you recall, right, so everyone in the Matrix, they’re, man it’s been forever since I’ve seen it but, everyone in the Matrix, they’re all plugged in right? They’re in those little pods and they’re plugged in. And so he saw himself as the person that went from person to person, and unplugged them from the Matrix, showed them the better way, “Here is a better way for you to do things, and now I’m showing it to you. At this point it’s kind of up to you if you want to come with me and whatever it was, take the red pill or the blue pill, and if not that’s okay. I’m going to plug you back in but then I’m going to go to the next person.”

Hannah: Yeah. You know it’s one of those, you know when you have somebody come into your office and even, again family and friends and whatever it could be, but it’s like when I talk to them, it’s not so much that I want them to work with me, I mean, a lot of people I would like to work with me, but it’s this idea of I hope that what I communicate is you need financial planning. So even if it’s not with me, like that’s what I really like selling people on because I truly believe that there is this power in financial planning that can really make that much of a difference in a client’s life and in their lives.

Adam: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Yeah, and so if you’re approaching, say a friend, and friends and family, it’s tricky for everyone, right? Because you don’t want to feel like I’m trading off on our friendship or our familiar relationship and kind of twisting the screws there. And that’s where you can just back off a little bit.

And so if Hannah you were my cousin, I might say to you at some point, “Hey Hannah, can I put my business hat on for just a second? You know, I got to tell you, one of the things that I’ve very consistently seen with people in XYZ situation, and then I would describe whatever situation that would approximate where you are, one of the things I’ve seen for a lot of people is that they think that they are too young to work with a financial planner or they don’t have enough assets to work with a financial planner, or they don’t have time to work with a financial planner. And I see that a lot and honestly it’s something that sometimes is concerning to me, so I felt like I almost owed it to you to at least bring that topic up. If you ever want to sit down, I would love to be able to do so. If not, or if you don’t feel comfortable sitting down with me because we’re cousins, I can give you the name of another advisor in the area who would love to, who would absolutely love to work with you.

Hannah: We’re talking through 5 elements. I’m sure this is going to come up to, a lot of it is who do you want to work with?

Adam: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Hannah: Because I know like, for myself like most, my natural market, like my natural friends and family don’t fit with my ideal client. So, I’m not trying to get my family or friends to become clients.

Adam: It makes it easier, right?

Hannah: Oh yeah. It’s great. They actually, come to me I think, maybe a little bit more than I would expect.

Adam: Yeah. And this is actually a good transition back into the concept of telling your story. Because even if you have friends and family that don’t fit into your niche market, you should still be able to articulate to them what the value that you provide to your clients is.

So in other words you should be able to talk to your brother, your sister, your aunt or uncle, what have you, about here’s the sorts of clients that I work with. So let me tell you what they look like. Let me tell you about some of the questions that they typically have, so they can start to see, “Okay. You know what? I know somebody like that. I have to introduce them to Hannah, because I bet they could really benefit from working with Hannah.”

You need to be able to tell your story, in other words to everyone that you talk to, because there’s a decent chance that they are going to be connected to somebody who is in your niche.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Adam: So let’s go back for a second. Let’s talk through where we’re at.

So the first one is simply create a connection with your perspective clients. You want the prospect to feel like “you get me.” That’s number one.

Number two is you want to speak to their specific concerns and challenges, and this is in the form of questions. You want the prospect to feel like, “Gosh. You read my mind.”

The third then comes to demonstrate how you can help. In other words this is your chance to say, “Let me show you what I do.” And the more thoughtful and deliberate you can make that, the better off that you are.

So typically for most planners it’s going to be taking the prospect through the planning process. So we start with this, then we do this, we typically look at that and just kind of walk them through, because they want to see, “Okay. How is it this person works? What does their process look like?”

Hannah: You mean it’s not all just like long walks on the beach, like the commercials?

Adam: No, no. Unfortunately not. Yeah, I mean but that’s where you roll up the sleeves, right? And this is your chance in part to show some of your expertise. And so if I’m hearing the message from you Hannah, I would want to hear, you know, “These are the questions I ask, this is what my typical process looks like, this is what you’re going to receive in the end, this is a little more of the nuts and bolts that go along with it.”

Hannah: Right.

Adam: So then the fourth step, is you want to be able to describe your key differentiators. And so in other words, this is where you’re saying, “Here’s how I am different.” And when you’re talking about your differentiators, it’s usually a little bit more about the how you do something, than the what. The what ends up a lot of times being somewhat universal. I mean there’s only kind of so many different ways to slice it, but it’s more about how you do it. So it could relate to your background, to your experience, to your philosophy, it could be that the way you communicate with people, it could be a part of your niche. It could be a lot of different things.

Hannah: So let’s talk about that. Like, in your experience working with advisors, like what are some of the key differentiators that really stand out to you?

Adam: Well first and foremost, probably the biggest thing is when you can speak to a specific niche. Being able to say, “Look. This is specifically the area in which I focus and you’re not going to find anyone that’s more knowledgeable about this particular area than me.” That’s huge. A lot of advisors out there are generalists. And generalists are good, it’s good to be able to have a generalist, but generally speaking, if you pardon the pun, there’s nothing about them that stands out.

So in other words it’s almost like if you think – I often think about a differentiator as something for people to grab onto like a handle, like a rough edge or something that’s not so smooth and plain that nothing leaps out. So it could simply be, you know you’ve got a specific area of specialty that you work with. It could be that you have adjusted your discovery meeting process to make it incredibly easy to work with, so that you’ve spent a lot of time working in behavioral management, behavioral economics. There’s a lot of questions that you’ve` specifically designed that are very, very different from people.

Other things that you could do, is you could talk about how if you are a virtual advisor, for example. So most advisors they’ll typically have you come into their office once a quarter. My approach is say, “Hey, I a little different here. I don’t want to take up your time. It’s easiest for me if we just simply get on the phone or get on, do a quick Skype call and we’ll talk everything through.” It could be any number of different things and each person is a little bit different, so it’s hard to say, “Oh, here’s a universal differentiator,” because there isn’t a universal differentiator. Everyone’s story is a little bit more unique.

Hannah: Gosh. I talk to so many young planners and I’ll raise my hand and be like, “I, was slash am this advisor, where you’re just itching to get out and start your own firm or to work with your own clients or be that lead advisor.” And I think what’s really cool about what you’re saying here is that time when you’re under somebody or you’re working with clients, like that is such a great time to be honing all of this. To be figuring out who do you work best with? What are the messaging? What makes you different? Like, what makes you different from the other advisors in the firm? Because even if you’re in an office of you know, 20, 30, 50 people, like what makes you special? Because that’s really valuable if you can identify that.

Adam: It is. And probably it’s one of the hardest things to sometimes come up with, because we lack that perspective on ourselves. Especially you know, the younger we are, the less perspective that we have. So if you’re a planner in your 20’s, I mean you’ve got half the life experience as somebody in their 40’s does. And so it’s harder sometimes to really pull those differentiators out, so one of the things you can do is just ask people.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Adam: You know, talk to your family members. Talk to your friends. Talk to your clients. Talk to the other people in your firm if you’re not out on your own, and say, “Tell me what’s different about me? What do you remember about me? What makes me unique?” And have them share that, and then once you start to see it, you can craft that story for yourself. Well look, here’s something about me that’s really, really different. You’re not going to find anyone who’s more X than me, whatever X may be.

Hannah: Yep. That makes a lot of sense.

Adam: And then I think the other thing too when it comes to talking about your differentiator, or differentiators, if it’s plural, it’s really helpful to set it up with a contrasting statement. So in other words, most advisors will do X, but my approach is to do Y. Because if all you do is you start with that second half, my approach is to do Y, the prospects going to hear that and they’re not going to know that that’s different from anybody else. So the more that you can pull that out, “Most people do this, but I do that.” “A lot of people will typically take this approach, my approach is a little bit different. I look like that.” And again, that’s giving the prospect something to grab onto. They can say, “Oh okay. I get it. I understand why Hannah is different in this regard.”

Hannah: You know, you were saying this and one example I’ve used with a number of clients, again that kind of contrasting element, is you know a lot of financial planners, you know they take all of your information, and then they give you this nice big binder that you take home and you’re supposed to implement and then you put it on your shelf and you never look at it again. And it’s funny because clients who really, that resonates with, I mean they’re nodding, they’re laughing, they’re like “Oh, we have one or two of those already.”

Like you’re saying, it’s telling their story.

Adam: Yeah.

Hannah: In a way.

Adam: Okay, so how do you prevent your plan from going on the shelf with the other ones?

Hannah: So I say we implement it throughout the process.

Adam: Okay.

Hannah: So we have 6 different meetings and so between meetings clients have action plans and I have action plans and so at the end of our 6th meetings, we have a fully completed financial plan, instead of just a starting point.

Adam: Ah, there you go. Perfect. Right? So now I’m hearing that, if I’m the prospect I’m like, “Oh. Okay.” So it’s not simply like a one and done, stick it on the shelf good luck, but it’s “I’m going to keep working through you. This is a living document that we’re going to be working on together. And it’s not you sitting over here and me sitting over here, it’s us sitting side by side and working on it.”

Hannah: And making progress. Like we want to see progress, throughout the process.

Adam: Exactly.

So then the fifth part of telling your story is simply providing next steps. And so that’s where both of you say, “Okay. What’s next?” And you want the prospect to really visualize that and see and understand, if I say yes or if I agree, here’s what’s going to happen now. It’s that call to action sometimes that you’ll hear about. So what goes next? If you’re talking to the perspective client through your website? Okay, what are they do next? What happens next? Do you get together for a, kind of a introductory conversation? Are you going to jump straight into the discovery meeting? What is it that you’re going to do?

But what you’re trying to do there is make it very clear. It’s like you have a big, red arrow pointing at, “Here’s what happens next”. Because one, it’s going to give them a sense of direction, here’s what I’m going to do next. And then second, it’s going to give them a sense of comfort too, knowing that here is the path that you need to start going down.

Hannah: Because we all want that direction, right?

Adam: We do. We do. You know, it’s amazing. Our brains are so jammed full of stuff, that people often take the easy route. Because if you say, “Go this way,” okay great. We’ll go this way. It’s easier.

And parts, honestly, our brains are set up that way. If we had to rethink every single decision in our lives, nothing would ever get accomplished. We have routines and we just kind of go along until we find a better path to go, and then off we go.

Hannah: You know I was listening to a talk from years ago about how to help client anxiety, when they come into your office. You know, and they say like most people would rather go to the dentist, which I hate the dentist, but they’d rather go to the dentist than go to my office. And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And the example that they gave was, you know if you go to the dentist and you just, you don’t know what’s next. And you have no idea and so you’re completely tense, the whole time you’re there because, when does the drill come out?

You know and so like one of the things they were saying you know in this presentation was, you know when clients come in, you know, tell them what’s going to happen in the meeting. Like let them just be able to breathe and they can kind of know where they’re at in the meeting. And that’s what you’re saying, it’s again that same psychological like need that we have to just know the direction, know the path that we’re going to go on.

Adam: Yeah, absolutely. And even when you’re like giving a, let’s say you’re giving a speech or you’ve get something that’s fairly lengthy that you’re explaining to somebody, having things that are numbered, makes a huge difference. We did that right here right?

Hannah: Yeah.

Adam: I said there were 5 steps to being able to tell your story. So people are listening in on this podcast and they’re, okay. Well they know I’m at step 3 or I’m at step 4 or I’m at step 5, so they have a general gauge of where they’re going to be at. I’ll tell you what, you know on that point about making it easier and reducing the anxiety for people coming in, that’s where visuals can help out a ton too. You know, where you’ve got – you know, here’s a picture of what our office looks like. The first person you’re going to see when you walk in is Dave, here’s a picture of what Dave looks like, and helping them kind of visualize, “Yeah. This is what’s going to happen when I’m going to walk in.” Makes things so much more comfortable.

Hannah: That’s a great tip.

Adam: So one of the other questions that I’m often asked is, can you give me some guidance on niche markets? I call them niche markets. Some people call them a niche market, but to me it sounds better if you call it a niche market, right? And they often wonder, “How do I know that I’ve got a good niche market? It seems so counterintuitive, especially when early in my career I’m trying to gather as many clients as I possibly can. Why on earth would I want to reduce my overall market? Why not keep it super wide, because that’s going to allow me to get more things done, right? And talk to more people.

And so for niche marketing, it’s really more of a question of focus. And it’s a question of focus both for you, as well as for your prospects and clients. So if you have a very specific area that you’re going after, it allows you to kind of shut out some of the other stuff that’s going on around you. So let’s say for example, I am going after corporate executives, that’s my niche market. Well I am going to become an absolute expert in working with corporate executives. And retirement’s a part of it, yeah, but I don’t necessarily have to be an expert at that. 529 plans, don’t need to know a lot about that, but I’m going to be super narrowly focused there.

So it’s good for you, right? Also too, from your marketing efforts, it allows you to be very hyper focused. You’re going to use a lot of LinkedIn, you’re going to do a lot of corporate searches, etc. But also too, it gives focus to the people that are working with you. So, if I’m a corporate executive and I have a financial advisor who I know specializes in working with corporate executives, that’s how I’m going to refer to them. “Oh you know what, you really need to talk to Joe, because Joe specializes in working with corporate executives. It gives everyone the big R, the referral that people are looking for, because they know, kind of how to, I don’t want to say pigeon hole you, but they know how to label you as opposed to, “Oh, work with Joe. He’s a really good financial advisor,” “Work with Joe. He’s a financial advisor who specializes in this particular area.”

Hannah: How do you see people pick their niche markets?

Adam: That’s a great question. Let me start with what people often do and the problem with that. What a lot of people will do, is they will solely focus on something that they enjoy doing. It’s almost more like networking as opposed to a niche. So, let’s go with tennis enthusiasts, right? So my niche market is going to be tennis enthusiasts because I like playing tennis and I go out and play tennis at my local club etc. Well that’s good, but tennis enthusiasts, they run gamut, right? You’ve got young tennis enthusiasts, you’ve got old tennis enthusiasts. Young tennis enthusiasts, they have one set of needs and challenges. Older tennis enthusiasts, they need others. And so they can kind of sometimes miss out on things because they’re not, they don’t have that right overall level of focus.

So to me there’s kind of three things that you should look at to know, do I have a good niche market? Let me take you through each one.

So the first one is it’s all about the people or the potential of that niche market. So the question that you want to ask yourself is, are there enough people in this niche and do the people in the niche have sufficient means to be an ideal client for me? So one way to kind of do a rule of thumb on it, is pick a number. 20%. If 20% of the people in that niche hire me, is that going to be enough for me to have a successful practice? So let’s say if your niche is 55 year old vascular surgeons in Podunk Iowa who went to Villanova. You know what? There’s only one person. So if you don’t get that one person as a client, you’re out of luck. And even if you did get them as a client, you’re not going to be able to build a business around it. So it’s got to be wide, but you also can’t go too wide.

So in other words, it always cracks me up when people, I ask somebody, “Well what’s your niche market?” And they will say, “Women.” It’s just like, come on. Women isn’t even a minority in our country. It’s a majority. And think about all the different types of women that are out there. Women executives, women restarting their career, women that are taking over the finances of the family for the first time.

So the first thing you want to consider is okay, you know what does the size of this niche look like and are there enough people in the niche that I can make a profitable practice around it?

Hannah: Right.

Adam: Second, do you have an affinity with the people in that niche? So in other words, do you have a genuine connection with the people in the niche? So, this is something that you either kind of naturally have, so say for example if you are a, let’s say you’re a widow or a widower yourself. Well that’s a great kind of natural niche for you, because you’ve experienced what life is like after losing a spouse, so you can talk to that. But it’s also something that you can learn. So, you can do a lot of research into the characteristics of somebody that has lost a spouse and dig into that a little bit more.

So you want to make sure though that it’s genuine. You can’t say I’m going to go after, oh I don’t know, corporate executives if you really don’t like corporate America. Probably not a good fit for you, right? So go after something that is naturally going to pull you towards that niche.

Then the third one, and the third one is probably the biggest one, which is that they need to have a common set of challenges that you are well positioned to help solve. And this kind of goes back to what we were talking about a minute ago with telling your story. What are the questions that the people within that niche are asking and am I an expert or can I position myself as an expert in that particular area?

And the reason all of that is so important is all of that’s going to govern your message to the people within the niche. So you want to be able to talk to, if I’m working with say, small business owners, well small business owners generally have the same sets of questions, which is, how much should I save for retirement versus reinvesting in the business. Or if you’re working with widows and widowers as a niche, they’re going to have the same types of questions themselves. “Well, I don’t have a lot of experience, how am I going to handle living on one income? I feel a lot of pressure because I’m the sole decision maker.”

And so by the people in that niche having that set of common challenges, then you can come and say, “Well I’m the expert in this area. I’m really good at helping people specifically here.” And that’s how you can start your marketing efforts towards them.

Hannah: So let me ask you, because you know I have really good friends who are working in firms and you know I’m such a believer that we need to be doing marketing, like even if we don’t have our own businesses. How does that work with firms, like with their marketing message like overall as a firm, versus individuals within that firm.

Adam: That’s a great question. And there’s probably a couple of different ways that you can handle that. I’ve seen some firms where they almost have a separate brand for that niche market. So for example, there’s a firm that I know of that I won’t name here on the call, but they have a younger planner and what she has done, is she’s kind of set up her own little brand, I say own little brand, her own brand, to work with the members of her niche with are generally the people that are in the younger demographic. So they’ve got a separate website for her, it’s kind of all of her branding. The brand colors are a little bit different, it’s completely separate. So that’s one way to approach it.

A second way to approach it is, almost think of it like a law firm that has areas of specialty. So you kind of say, you know you have like on your menu of your website what are the services that you offer, and you can put, “Here’s the work that we do for our retirees. Here’s the work that we do for our corporate executives. Here’s the work that we do for widows or widowers,” to pull them in that way. So it’s kind of like you’ve got these subject matter experts within particular firm.

Hannah: I’m trying to get somebody to come on the podcast and talk about building out your financial plan philosophy, and how important that is to do that. But I feel like that also applies to marketing too. Like what are you comfortable saying versus what are you not comfortable saying?

Yeah, and that needs to align with wherever you work, if you work for somebody.

Adam: It does. It does and it depends, as I’m sure you’re well aware and your listeners are well aware, that a lot of times when you’re joining firm or you’re part of a firm that’s been around for a while, there’s a little bit of, “This is the way that we built our firm and this is the way that we want to continue to build our firm.” And there’s some struggle that goes along with that. But a lot of times if you can start to generate some success, then that starts to open up doors for you, because you say, “Oh, okay. Well shoot, you know. I’ve been working in this particular area and it’s,” calling it more of an informal niche as you start to develop it, and it’ll naturally come.

The other thing too is niche marketing sometimes happens just naturally. There’s an advisor that I know, former engineer and all of his clients are that real, data crunching type. Because people want to work with the people that are like them and so they naturally just start to gravitate towards him, because that’s his style. And so some of those niches, he’s not even actively saying, “Hey former engineers, or current engineers come work with me.” People just kind of naturally gravitate towards him because that’s his style and his approach.

Hannah: You know I talked with a number of advisors who say that their niche found them.

Adam: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Hannah: You know where they thought they were going to be you know, working with widows, or you know what not, and its corporate execs. And they’re just like, “I don’t know how this happened, but apparently this is my niche.”

Adam: Yeah. And it’s pretty fantastic when that starts to happen. And you then the question then comes, okay. Well, going back to the points I made earlier, is that affinity there? So if your niche starts to find you and you don’t like working within that niche, that could be a little bit of a challenge, but usually that doesn’t happen. If your niche finds you it’s because you like working with them and they like working with you. It’s amazing.

It’s amazing the power of liking, right? If I like you, I’m going to like working with you and you’re going to like working with me and we’re going to live happily ever after.

Hannah: What other advice do you have, I mean in your years of experience in the financial services, industry and then profession and coaching advisors, like what would be the biggest mistakes you would hope new planners or young planners would avoid?

Adam: Let’s see. I would say it’s a couple of things, and this is somewhat off the top of my head, and one is nothing ever gets handed to you, and that’s tough because sometimes you think, “Well, as long as I’m smart enough everything’s just naturally going to come to me.” And that doesn’t always happen. You really do have to do the work. And that’s sometimes a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true.

Second is be brave and be confident. This goes back to the conversation that we were having earlier about kind of using the wrong terminology and just kind of getting so, kind of caught up in our own little world that we kind of forget what life is like for other people out there. We think, “Oh gosh. I can’t talk to this person. I don’t have enough knowledge yet,” and you forget that 98 ties out a 100 you have so much more knowledge than the person you’re talking to does, and so you have to be brave and willing to go out there and say, “Look, I can help you. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be able to help you with just yet because I’m just now getting to know you, but absolutely I can go out there an help you.”

Hannah: And it’s not an arrogance confidence. It can be a humble confidence.

Adam: No it’s not. No it’s not. And you know, that’s tough too, right? It’s that humble confidence. It’s the feeling of look, I can help people. As long as you keep that mindset, that mindset of, “look, I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it, but I know that I can help you.” Those conversations become so much easier.

This also too goes back to what we were talking about with being persuading versus manipulating. Now manipulating is trying to push somebody into a path that they shouldn’t be going into. And persuading is a matter of helping them get to the right spot. And when you’ve got that mindset, it’s a wonderful thing.   

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Adam Kornegay, of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions and one of the people behind FPA’s new Coaches Corner, wants to help advisors communicate their value and move past the financial “lingo” to tell their story and actually connect with their ideal clients. Pathfinder Strategic Solutions and one of the people behind FPA’s new Coaches Corner, wants to help advisors communicate their value and move past the financial “lingo” to tell their story and actually connect with their ideal clients.
The way he sees it – you have the potential to add real value to the lives of your clients. The sooner you can start marketing yourself and your practice in a way that helps them connect with you on a personal level, the sooner you can start helping them and making an impact.
In this episode, Adam is going to go over the five key elements of telling your story as a financial planner, how to find your niche market, and ways you can start tweaking your marketing and communication today to better connect with your current and prospective clients.

What You’ll Learn:

How to get involved with FPA’s Coaches Corner
The ways that your communication is pushing clients and prospects away from you.
How to avoid industry jargon in your marketing
Words to use that open the door for an honest, valuable connection with your clients
How marketing and communication can help you build long-term client relationships
How to define your niche market
The five key elements to telling your advisor story
The best way to articulate the value you bring to the table

Exactly What to Say

Hannah Moore clean 46:41
Defining Your Greatest Contribution Tue, 03 Apr 2018 18:01:38 +0000 0 Rianka Dorsainvil, CFP®, believes that everybody needs to be thinking about what they want their greatest contribution to this world to be. This idea is the cornerstone of her financial planning practice - Your Greatest Contribution - and everything she involves herself in. Rianka Dorsainvil, CFP®, believes that everybody needs to be thinking about what they want their greatest contribution to this world to be. This idea is the cornerstone of her financial planning practice – Your Greatest Contribution – and everything she involves herself in.

From her new podcast on diversity and inclusion in the financial planning industry, 2050 TrailBlazers, to her involvement with the CFP Board and NAFA – it’s no wonder she was voted as one of Investment News’s 2017 Women to Watch!

Early in her career, Rianka worked as a paraplanner. As time went on, she started to feel boxed in. “Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bird that can’t be caged,” says Rianka. Eventually, her health made the decision for her – and she struck out on her own.

She founded her own financial planning practice, Your Greatest Contribution, because she didn’t want to be defined by the widely accepted definition of “financial planner.” Financial planning is changing, and as financial planners our jobs are constantly shifting to meet the needs of the clients we care about – and everything we do needs to contribute to them, because that relationship is always the most important thing.

In this episode, Rianka talks about being a disruptor in the financial planning industry and her life, how to evolve your career and your financial planning practice to reflect your values, and the importance of connecting with people who are ready to push for positive change.

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If you aren’t bringing your full self forward every single day with the passions and gifts that you’ve been blessed with, then the world is missing out. This profession is missing out. @Rianka_D

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What You’ll Learn:

  • How to become a disruptor rather than the disrupted
  • Why you can’t be held hostage by your job title
  • How to move beyond financial planning to valuable relationship building with your clients
  • How to be true to yourself and bring your full self forward in your job
  • Who to look for within the profession to connect with and grow together
  • How to align your career with what you want YOUR greatest contribution to be


FJY Financial

RTD Financial

2050 TrailBlazers (Twitter)

2050 TrailBlazers (iTunes)

IN Women to Watch 2017







Show Transcript

Ep92 Transcript

Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today, Rianka.

Rianka: Thank you so much for having me, Hannah.

Hannah: First of all, I have to say congratulations for the Investment News, Women to Watch Rising Star Award that you just received.

Rianka: Thank you so much.

Hannah: It is so exciting to see women like you really being successful in their career at such a young age. Did you ever think that you would get to that point at such an early … Well number one, did you ever think you’d get to that point much less at a young age?

Rianka: To be honest Hannah, I don’t know. I don’t know. But what I do know for sure is that I’ve always been very mindful, and passionate about what I do and so I think because of that I don’t do anything just to do it. I do it and there’s a purpose behind it. Whatever I do, I do it with a lot of passion and I think it shows. I’ve been like that since I’ve been a young girl, in middle school, in high school. I see that there’s something that I feel like I can help, or change or make a difference and I always raise my hand. I was class president when I was in high school. I ran for vice president of the SGA when I was in college. I have a track record of not being able to just sit on the sidelines and do something about it, and I think it’s just overflowing into my professional career.

Hannah: Did you know that you always wanted to get into financial planning?

Rianka: No, actually. When I was younger, and I remember this, in the fifth grade we had career day and I dressed up as a doctor because my nana was a nurse. I just wanted to follow in her footsteps. I saw how she was helping other people and so that’s what I wanted to do. She had all these books around. I loved watching ER as a young kid. I was like, “Oh, this looks so cool.” She had her stethoscope. So I was just walking around, just wearing it all the time and that’s what I wanted to be.

When I got much older, somewhere it changed. I turned to have a love for math because it was very exact, like A plus B equals, I don’t know, AB. I don’t know, but with math there was something exact about it that you know you’re right or you’re wrong. And so I just turned to have a love for math, and then that love for math turned into helping other people who were having trouble with it, and that’s actually how I met my husband. I was tutoring him in high school. That’s a long story.

Hannah: Oh, that’s great.

Rianka: Yeah. But it turns out, Hannah, that he’s a brilliant smart person and he knew what he was doing the entire time, and he didn’t tell me until our engagement party six years later. So yeah, that’s a long story, maybe for another podcast on relationships, but here we are almost 15 years later, still together. Anyways.

Hannah: Oh, that’s so funny.

Rianka: Yeah, so I have a love for helping people. In middle school, high school, I turned to have a love for math, and then I paired the two and I started helping other people with math. Got to college, that was my major. I declared it to be a math major and then my sophomore year, I took a class called Vector Geometry Calculus. That was one class, Hannah, and I got a C- in that class. I was like, “And this is no longer for me.”

I immediately tried to find alright, what else is there to do? I took an elective course. It was Personal Finance 101. I can’t remember the exact name of it, but this is where I learned about disability insurance, credit scores, social security. My eyes lit up because I was like, “Wow.” Here is actual knowledge that is tangible, that I can use not only today but for the rest of my life. And again, knowing my history of being that type of person that feels like, “Okay. If I can make a difference, if I can fill a void, I will.” I became that financial guru person in college and started spreading the good gospel of personal finance amongst my peers and like, “Hey, did you know this student loan, you’re gonna have to pay it back six months after you graduate, and you’re probably incurring interest? So make sure you’re taking out as much as you actually need, not to go shopping.”

Hannah: Oh, that’s great. So you really bought into this idea of financial planning, really as a helping profession, as something to use what you’re naturally good at to help other people?

Rianka: Yes. For those of us who are financial planners, we know that that’s exactly what this profession is about. It’s about helping others. It’s about building relationships. There’s a lot of misconceptions and myths about financial planning. It’s all about numbers. Definitely if you have a love for math, there are pathways that you can take where you can heavily focus on something like investments, or stand behind the scenes, being the data person. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone doesn’t have to be a lead advisor if that’s not what you wanna do. But for me personally, I love that client interaction. Numbers is a small part of what we do. Well, it’s a big part, but the biggest part is building relationships and building that trust with that client, because you are learning things that most people don’t know about. Honestly, sometimes you learn things that their spouse don’t even know about. That’s huge. That’s a huge responsibility.

Hannah: Yeah, very much that confidante for a lot of people.

Rianka: Yes.

Hannah: I know a lot of new planners find this idea of this helping profession, really wanna help people, and then they get into quote, “the real world,” in their first jobs in the profession. What was that like for you, making that transition of being completely bought into this idea of financial planning, to actually doing financial planning?

Rianka: Well you know, Hannah, I was really lucky because the firm that I started off with, they believed that in order to be a successful financial planner, you had to be in the meetings. My first month I believe it was, I was sitting in client meetings. I started off as a paraplanner. I’m not a huge fan of that term, paraplanner, only because … My first tangent of our interview. Paraplanner, when clients hear that word they automatically compare it to paralegal. With the paralegal, you don’t necessarily have that foundation of education to become a lawyer. You just have this set of knowledge that is capped at what paralegals do.

For paraplanners, we actually have that set of knowledge and education so that we can continue to advance to be a CFP, or a certified financial planner. Though paraplanner is used widely, I would advocate for us to start using associate financial planner, or associate financial adviser because that’s exactly what we are. We have the education. Now it’s just us actually going through and getting our experience so that we can become that lead financial planner or financial adviser. That’s my first tangent.

Alright, going back to your actual question, with what I was assuming, did I get what I expected and the answer is yes. Again, the first month I started at my new job at the firm, we were in client meetings. Our responsibility was to be a sponge and to listen. What I appreciated about that time that we get a little antsy as new planners, because we are eager and ready to just start giving advice and everything, but I believe your first couple of years out of school should just be listening, being a sponge and learning body language. I took notes. I did the paperwork.

It came a time where the client looked to me to ask questions about the paperwork. It’s only paperwork, but you felt so empowered because it’s like I did this, I took ownership. I know exactly how to answer the question for this paperwork, and if anyone has ever filled out a brokerage account form or a transfer or rolling over of the 401K into the rollover IRA, it’s not easy paperwork. Now I feel like I’m dating myself. Now we can probably do it all electronically. But back in my day when we had to highlight the paperwork and put sticky notes in there, you feel empowered and you can answer those questions.

And then you sit, you learn body language. You take notes. It’s the lead adviser or the senior adviser that goes back, read the notes and say, “Hey Rianka, great job on catching this,” or, “You missed something and here’s what you missed.” It’s these little nuances that the senior adviser or lead adviser catch that you may not catch, and it’s a learning opportunity and learning moment. But you don’t catch it if you’re not sitting in the meetings.

I know that there are some firms out there that don’t allow their senior … Excuse me, their paraplanners or associate planners to sit in the meetings, and I think they’re completely missing out. They’re missing out on so much training that they can be giving their paraplanners or associate planners. It’s stunting the growth of that person and that person’s career, because I learned so much just listening and sitting in on those meetings. At that time, also I was building a relationship with the client. Even if I said hello and goodbye, it was still okay, this person could put a face to a name. Oh, this is Rianka.

Hannah: So your first job out of school, how long did you stay there?

Rianka: I was there for almost five years. Almost five years I was at my first firm. It was again, great learning, comprehensive financial planning firm. They actually taught me what it meant to a comprehensive financial planner. That was my example to go upon. When people say, “Oh yeah, I’m a comprehensive financial planner,” but the only thing you talk about is investments, I look at you sideways.

Hannah: You have this great job. You have this great firm. What prompted you to move onto a different role or different company?

Rianka: It was time for me to go. The best analogy I can view it is as a relationship. The first couple of years it was great. With any type of relationship, you go through growing pains. You’re learning me, I’m learning you. I’m learning what buttons I can push. They’re learning what buttons they can push. They know how far to push me. I know how far to push them. It’s great. And then it’s more growing pains, and it’s more growing pains. It started to be it’s me, it’s not you. So that we can just have a good relationship going forward, it’s time for me to spread my wings. If anyone personally knows me, they know I am a bird that cannot be caged. I started to feel that way, where I truly believe for me personally that I am a certified financial planner. I’m a financial planner but I’m so much more. I have so much to give to this world. That if you hold me hostage to my title of just a financial planner, you’re not allowing me to give all of my gifts to this world. And so I had to leave.

Hannah: Okay. Let’s talk about that really quick, because I think that’s a really interesting point that you’re making, that you’re more than your title of financial planner. When you say that, what does that mean for you?

Rianka: I believe sometimes we get stuck in what it says on the paper that our role is. As an associate financial planner, you do X, Y and Z and then it stops. Or when you’re the lead financial adviser, financial planner, it says X, Y and Z and then you stop. Again, for me I see that, and I see that okay, that’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s what I’m getting paid for. However, I have so much more to give. Sometimes what ends up happening is that the firm owners look to you and say, “Well, this is all that I expect of you. Of course, you can do a little bit more, but that’s it.” Then they hold you hostage to that title.

What I mean by I’m so much more than that, is yes I’m a financial planner, but I’m also an educator. I’m also a community leader. I’m also a mentor. I’m also a mentee. Sometimes those things are gonna take me out of the office. Those things will never come in the way of what I know what comes first, which is my clients. If you are at a traditional firm, and the firm has been doing things a certain way for over 20 years, and for someone like me who is a disruptor … And I say that in the most positive way.

A disruptor with technology, right? Technology right now is a disruptor because we have the robo advisers, which is just technology for investments. They’re not true advisers. But we have the robo advisers. That’s a disruption of technology. We have virtual firms now. That’s a disruption. That’s what I mean by just being that disruption of saying, “Hey, we can do things a different way.” Honestly, all of the new planners that are coming into this career, into this profession, they’re all disruptors because they are looking at things in a new light. Some people look at that as a negative, where I look at that as a positive. I’m saying if we’re going to continue to move this profession forward, we have to disrupt what has been going on so that we can stay with the pace of what’s happening around the world.

Hannah: This idea of that we’re all disruptors, I think that’s a really powerful idea of realizing you look at … I was talking to somebody recently about disruptive leadership. New planners coming into this profession, they’re not the future leaders of the profession. They’re the leaders today-

Rianka: Today.

Hannah: … of the profession.

Rianka: Yes.

Hannah: I think that’s such an important point, and such an important thing for new planners to realize. To me, that’s the most exciting thing for entering this profession is the impact that you can have in your first couple years. It can be so powerful on firms and the profession at large.

Rianka: I definitely agree. I definitely agree. For me, the lens that I’m looking through, I’ve said this before, you will be the disruptor or you will be the disrupted. I hope that these firm owners wanna be on the disruptor side, meaning they are looking at technology and seeing that as a tool that they can use from an advantage standpoint, and to also help move the profession forward. We have video technology where now we don’t have to physically ask clients to come into the office. I’m on the East Coast. I’m in the DC area. We can have clients in California. We can have clients in Italy. We can have clients literally all over the world. We can still build a really great relationship with them because it’s not just a phone call. It’s video. They can actually see us. We can see into their homes. I can meet their cats or dogs. I can meet their children, where a lot of that cannot take place necessarily in an office.

So from a disruption standpoint, it’s technology. You will either try to fight it, or you will embrace it. For the new planners coming in, what I will ask of them is please have patience because the firm owners have been in this profession for 15, 20, maybe even 25 to 30 years. They have been used to doing things a certain way. For them, that’s safe. Maybe they are almost at a point where they’re about to retire, where they’re just like, “You know what? I don’t wanna do anything different. I just wanna do things the way I know how to do it, and that’s it.” If that’s the mindset they have, don’t fight it because that’s who they are and you cannot change them.

Then there are firm owners who have been in the profession for 20 years, 20, 30 years and they are embracing change. They’re like, “Oh, well I can learn this bit of technology. Let’s try to bring this video technology into the office. Oh, you mean we can have a group discussion quarterly with our clients?” And they’re embracing it. Again, you’re gonna be the disruptor or you’re gonna be disrupted. You are going to embrace or you’re gonna try to fight. The firms who are fighting this new technology, the firms who are fighting these new ideas, they will be the disrupted.

Hannah: Yeah. I would add it’s really frustrating being in the job when you’re working with somebody who it’s so obvious to you that they’re gonna be the ones getting disrupted. But just know that there’s other planners out there who don’t think like that. If you don’t see them, find them.

Rianka: Right.

Hannah: Go to FPA events. Go to national events. Find those people, because those are your people. Those are the people you wanna be associated with.

Rianka: Yes. Yeah, and you touch on a good point, Hannah. Sometimes, especially as a new planner, your first firm is the only thing you know. That is your world. You make the assumption that all firms are like this, and that is not true. That’s the beauty about our profession, and that’s also the challenge. But the beauty is that all firms are not alike. All clients, the subset of clients that you’re working with, they’re not the same at every firm as well. If you are truly not living or bringing your full self forward, if you don’t feel comfortable bringing your full self forward every single day at your firm, you’re not at the right firm.

Now it’s just like what Hannah said. You go to these conferences. You go to the FPA Annual Conference. You go to gathering, retreat, residency. You find your people and you just chat with them. I’m pretty sure there’s gonna be a firm out there that fits for you, because the world is missing out. If you’re not bringing your full self forward every single day, if you’re not bringing your full self forward with the passions, with the gifts that you have been blessed with, then the world is missing out. The profession is missing out.

I was talking to someone the other day, and he is a minority. He’s a minority in a sense of from an ethnic standpoint. He shared with me that he feels like he can’t, maybe from a confidence standpoint, can’t be his true self. Everyone has a different upbringing. Everyone has a different starting line. When you start to hear these stories, listen. Don’t place judgment or oh, it shouldn’t be that hard. Just listen, first of all. When I was listening to his story, this is the exact same thing I shared with him. We need you to be confident. We need you to bring your full self forward because of the gifts that you share. He started sharing with me of his upbringing and all of this.

I’m like, “We need to hear that, because you can resonate with clients. Clients can then open up more, because they’re learning more about you. The more you share about yourself, the more the clients are gonna share about their self.” That’s when that trust starts to happen. That’s when you’re building relationships. For some firms, where their bread and butter is how the market is doing and they’re focused on investments, these are the clients that are gonna stay when the market tanks because they have a personal relationship with you. Their value of you as their adviser or their planner is not placed on how well the market is doing. It’s placed on you.

Hannah: Yeah. It’s such an important point. What makes you different actually sometimes is your most valuable asset, when working with clients or engaging in the profession. That’s what helps you stand out. That’s what’s gonna draw people to you, that they don’t feel comfortable anywhere else. What a gift to those people, when you bring your full self to them.

Rianka: Yes. And if at any profession, this is the profession to do it. Everyone is different. That’s the beauty about it. Everyone is different. Everyone has a different upbringing. You being able to share your story with clients is empowering, because then they can share their story with you as well.

Hannah: I was talking to a girl. Her family immigrated here. Her English, she didn’t feel her English was good enough to be a financial planner. It was so fascinating to me because she was talking about the confidence of this, and I’m just like, “Why do you have to speak in English when you’re doing financial planning? What a gift to your community if they could go, and instead of them struggling with their English too, that they could actually talk to somebody in their native language.”

Rianka: Their native language. Yes.

Hannah: What a gift.

Rianka: That falls under diversity, right? The inclusion that we need to start highlighting in this profession, instead of trying to have everyone fit the mold of what this profession has been for the past 20 years, which is working with millionaires, working with older clients who are pre-retirees or retirees. We can meet the clients where they are, instead of the clients meeting us where we are.

Hannah: It’s an entrepreneur’s dream profession, I say.

Rianka: Oh, yeah. Yeah, well we’re both entrepreneurs, right? We know exactly how fulfilled we both feel in our roles as business owners, so yeah.

Hannah: When did you decide that you were gonna become an entrepreneur?

Rianka: I didn’t decide. My health decided for me. I don’t share this story too often, but I think I can be open with you, Hannah. It’s just you and I listening in, right?

Hannah: Just us. No big deal.

Rianka: It’s just us. Honestly, what happened … And again, going back to I don’t wanna be held hostage to my title. That’s what I started feeling again at my second firm, again. There are people who are still there who are thriving and loving what they’re doing. That’s totally fine. It’s me, Hannah. I figured out it’s me. It’s me. What happened was before I left my first firm, I had this desire of launching my own firm. But I wasn’t confident enough, though I had my CFP designation. I don’t know. You go into this I’m too young, I’m a woman, plus I’m a person of color. Who’s gonna hire me?

I wasn’t confident at all to start my own firm, so I went to the second firm. It was blissful. Again, with relationships, bliss. Very blissful. It was a 180. Felt support, all of this, and then I started getting these migraines about a year into … Maybe it wasn’t even a year. Almost a year into my new firm I started getting these migraines. There were some things I wanted to do outside of work that I felt restrained that I couldn’t do, because it’s okay, well what are they gonna say if I do this. Again, not truly bringing my full self forward or being truly who I am. I started to say no to things where I really wanted to say yes.

I started getting these migraines to a point where it was debilitating, where I had to go to the ER almost every weekend. I called out of work a couple of times because I couldn’t move. Opening my eyes was so painful. It was because of work. It wasn’t because of the environment. It was because that’s not where God wanted me to be. I spoke with my husband and I said, “Reggie, I think I have to start my own firm. I am getting these migraines.” He was the one who was taking me to the hospital, so he knew this was real. I said, “I think it’s because I need to … God has something else for me and this isn’t it.”

He said, “Alright. Well, how are we gonna do this?” I put my financial planner hat on. I became my own client, which eventually we hired another financial planner, but we looked at our budget. What would it look like living off of one salary? How much should we be saving? Do we have enough in our emergency fund, and all of that? Once we decided that I was going to leave, all of my paychecks we started saving into just capital for the firm or whatever. I tell you, Hannah, the moment I decided that I was gonna start my own firm, the migraines went away.

Whatever your religion may be, whatever your spiritual connection may be, listen, because my health was at risk because I wasn’t listening to what my calling was. The moment I surrendered to what my calling was for my life, my health got better. It’s been almost three years, Hannah, and I have not had a migraine since. If that is not God just saying, “You’re on your right path, I don’t know what is.” Since I’ve left and started my firm, I have done things that I’ve never thought would happen. Just here recently in March, being the recipient of the inaugural Women to Watch Rising Star Award is just a testament to I am on my right path.

Hannah: That is so inspiring to hear. I love it.

Rianka: Yeah. I think this is one of the professions that you can truly follow your calling, follow your passion. It just so happens that for me personally, that’s what needed to be done for me. Everyone doesn’t need to be an entrepreneur, though. You can be an intrapreneur. What I share with the young planners who have this desire to work with their cohort or their community, is build a business case. If you just go to your manager or your boss and say, “Hey, I wanna work with young clients.” To them, what immediately comes to their mind is alright, that’s great. However, we’re running a business, so how can we make sure that one, we can continue to pay your salary, but two, that it makes sense from a business standpoint to service these clients.

My advice to these young planners who want to work with younger clients, these thriving young professionals, build a business case so that when you’re walking into this meeting, you’re prepared. They’re gonna ask you, “How many clients you wanna serve?” Make it clear that you will continue to serve the clients that you’re servicing for the firm, as far as these millionaires, or they have at least a million dollars of investible assets. You’ll continue to serve them. But say, “Hey, Mrs boss lady, can I bring on at least ten clients who may not be necessarily millionaires yet, but they will be? And here’s the salary range that we’ll work with. Here are the type of professionals we’ll work with.”

Who has a really good business case for this is FJY Financial. They work with thriving young professionals where they don’t pay the actual retainer that the normal pre-retirees or retirees pay. Even RTD, RTD Financial, they also have this as well. Check out their website. You can get some more information on that. Because we’re missing out, we are missing out if we are not working with these young professionals who are at an impressionable stage of their career and their life. They’re gonna say, “When I needed help and no one else would take me, you did.” They’re gonna become very loyal to you.

Hannah: Well, even just the marketing case for that. You look at the costs. Talking just straight business, because you have to be able to speak the language of the business owners, just from a business case, what’s the marketing acquisition cost of a new client? If you can onboard them for significantly less now, continue servicing them, and in 10, 15, 20 years you already have that client. A client is paying you to be in your marketing pipeline. It really is a compelling argument.

Rianka: Right. For these young clients that you’re bringing on, it’s definitely a long play. You may not make a profit for the first couple of years, but seeing the trajectory of their salary, seeing the trajectory of what they’ll potentially be able to invest is a good business case. Even, Hannah, as far as you were mentioning with the acquisition of a client, it’s become cheaper. These particular clients, you don’t necessarily have to ask them to come into the office. They can be clients that you just talk to through video, where it’s a legit hour. You turn on your webcam, turn it off and it’s an hour.

When I talk to other advisers and I tell them I have never met majority of my clients in person … Some of my clients I’ve known them from college and now they’re reaching out, or we just got the opportunity just through my travels and me reaching out to them, being able to meet them in person. But majority of my clients I have never physically met in person, and I have a phenomenal relationship with all of my clients. They’re like, “How?” I’m like, “I am in their house.”

I know their cat’s name. I see their cat. I see their children. They show me a new painting that they just got. They’re walking around with their laptop, sharing with me some of the things that is awesome to them. They’re showing me their bowling trophies that they just won, because they go bowling every Wednesday at seven PM, and so I know I can never meet with them at that time. When their year anniversary came up, I sent them a gift certificate to one of the really nice bowling allies here in DC where they could play a couple games. They can have a few cocktails and some food. They were like, “Wow.” I’m like, “Yeah. I listen.” That’s building relationships right there.

Hannah: Oh, I love that example. You’ve talked a lot about being passionate about what you do, feeling the sense of calling, and that really helped you take the leap into starting your own firm. When you started your own firm, what was your passion around that? Who did you wanna serve, how did you wanna serve it? What was really that vision that drove you?

Rianka: What drove me to start my firm was that a lot of people were reaching out to me. Either colleagues of my husband, peers from school for me, peers from school for him, and they were reading articles that I was writing. When I was at my first firm, I started a blog. It was called Golden Financial Nuggets, because I was like, “Alright, we’re learning this information. This is information everyone can use, not just people who can pay us $10,000 per year retainer.” I got approval to start a blog because I wanted to share the knowledge. Again, if I feel like doing something that can help a lot of people, I’m gonna share it. That was my way of sharing.

Because I was planting those seeds I didn’t even know I was planting of just that knowledge, and being that trusted person in their sphere of influence when it comes to personal finances, when people started to hit a pivotal point in their career as far as a huge salary jump, or a huge bonus, or something so special as expanding their family, I was the first person that they reached out to. To continue to tell these people I can’t help you because you don’t have $10,000 in annual retainer, or you don’t have a million bucks of investible assets, it stated to hurt.

It started to hurt me personally, saying, “I can’t help you because you don’t have money,” then I started to look at just me. I couldn’t even afford to be a client of my own firm, nor could my family. I did not grow up rich. I did not grow up with the white picket fence. I grew up poor. Let’s call a spade a spade. That’s how I grew up. Now here are other people who are trying to break that cycle, or break this chain of being financially illiterate, and now they’re trying to expand their personal finance knowledge and I’m saying I can’t help them. No. That didn’t feel right to me.

And so I started my firm. It’s called Your Greatest Contribution. I didn’t want to make this about me. I wanted to make it about my clients. I asked my clients, “What is it that you want your greatest contribution to be?” They share that with me. Now it’s my job to make sure that they have the foundation, whether from a career standpoint or a financial standpoint to make that happen. That’s why I started my firm, because I wanted to help people who wanted help. Not everybody wants help. But for those people who are reaching out and saying, “Hey, I’m willing to pay something. Can you help me? Can you help a sister out?” I wanna be there to help them.

Hannah: You start your firm and you have this great vision. You have this great story. It sounds like you might have even some clients lined up, just from the work that you’ve done previously in your natural network. Was it easy starting your business?

Rianka: Hannah, again, I believe if you walk in your purpose, things will not be hard. I take that back. When you walk in your purpose, things will not be impossible. Yes, things will be hard, but it will not be impossible. I believe that when you put out in the atmosphere what your goals and desires are, it conspires with you, not against you. Again, seeds that I’ve been planting for years that I didn’t even know was going to become fruitful when I started my firm. When I started out in this profession, I had no inkling that I was gonna start a firm. I had no desire to start a firm. It just so happened to happen. But when you walk in your purpose, things are not impossible. They’re possible.

I left my firm, the second firm, October 31st, on Halloween. That was my last day. I opened my virtual doors of YGC on December 1st, and I got my first client within the first two weeks of me launching my firm. She called me randomly. I didn’t even know how to answer my business phone. “Hello, Rianka Dorsainvil with Your Greatest Contribution. How can I help you?” I’m still learning. Before I got the phone, she was like, “Yep. You’re exactly who I want. I wanna work with a woman, and I wanna work with a woman of color. I’m so happy I found you, because I’ve been looking for years.”

Hannah: Wow.

Rianka: I was the right person at the right Google search. She hired me right off the bat. Then I got another call the following day and I was just like, “Wow. Okay, I don’t have any fears anymore. This is what I’m supposed to do.” Again, when you’re walking in your purpose and when you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re bringing your full self forward, the world will conspire with you, not against you.

Hannah: Let’s talk about some of the other projects. You’re not just a financial planner or just a business owner.

Rianka: You got that right, Hannah.

Hannah: Okay. There might be even more things that I don’t know about. You’ve been NEXGEN president.

Rianka: Yes.

Hannah: Served in the national leadership there. You’re on the CFP Pr, volunteering a lot of time with the C-

Rianka: Campaign.

Hannah: Yeah, with the campaign.

Rianka: CNBC financial adviser.

Hannah: Yeah, CNBC financial adviser. You have a new podcast and we’ll talk about that in a minute. What else is there?

Rianka: Right. Let’s see. What in the world is Rianka doing? It’s so funny because when people see all that I’m doing, they’re just like, “How?” I’m like, “You learn to build a really great team around you.” You see me on stage. You see me on this podcast. You see me, but I couldn’t do this without a really great team behind me. I take that back. I couldn’t do this with a really great team beside me, because people work with me. They don’t work for me. That is the reason why I can do all of the things that I can do. I think you named them all.

Hannah: I’m sure there’s gonna be more coming soon. Let’s talk about your new podcast. You just launched it. At the time of recording you just launched your first intro episode. By the time this podcast airs there will be several episodes up, but it is 2050 TrailBlazers. Can you tell us the vision behind this podcast?

Rianka: Yes. Again, I’ve learned to stop fighting God and just listen. Remember, when I launched YGC, it was because I was literally put on my back. It was silence, and it was just me listening to God. The same thing almost happened with this podcast, Hannah. People started to come to me about diversity inclusion, what can they do. I fought it, because I’m like, “Just because I’m a woman, just because I’m a person of color, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything.” I fought it for so long when people would reach out to me, wanted to talk about a podcast about diversity. I’m like, “No. I’m much more than a woman of color in this profession. I have expertise in other things. Don’t just talk to me about that.”

I fought it for so long, and then just things start happening in the background. I started to notice that when people did go on podcasts and start talking about diversity within the profession, I would follow up and look at these group chats. It was negative commentary around it. I’m like, “How can diversity be negative?” If anything, we should try to embrace it, because America is growing to be a beautiful melting pot. Our profession needs to look like the clients we are serving today, and who we are going to serve in the future. By seeing that negative commentary, and I started to see a division. We already have enough division in the world today. We don’t need it in our profession.

I think the reason why this commentary became so negative, and just people feeling threatened by the word diversity. It’s because the conversation happens so few and far in between. It’s one episode out of 50. It’s one panel session out of a whole conference that happens once a year. There’s no continuous dialogue that’s happening around diversity and inclusion. I was laying in bed. I was like, “I need to do something.” I fought it for a few months, Hannah. I was like, “No, no. I’m too busy. I got a whole bunch of stuff going on. I don’t have time for this.”

And then I started to lose sleep, where I couldn’t sleep. Just small things. I would randomly go on Twitter and somebody is saying something, and it’s negative. I would fall asleep with that. A couple of days later I would go onto Facebook, look at some group chats and something else. I’m like, “Are you serious? We can’t be divided in this profession. We just cannot be divided in this profession.” And so I was like, “Okay. Alright. What vehicle, what avenue, what platform makes the most sense?”

Then the podcast came about. I didn’t know what the name was gonna be, I just knew we needed a space, a very comfortable platform where people can just talk and be their selves, where it feels like, Hannah, you and I are in my living room chatting. It just so happens that thousands of people are just gonna be listening to our conversation. It’s an opportunity for them to listen. That’s how the conversation goes on 2050 TrailBlazers. It’s conversation around just addressing the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession. We’re engaging industry experts and leaders in this conversation so that we can encourage cultural awareness and cultural perspectives, and figuring out ways to make a measurable impact. We’re just not talking the talk.

First thing, one, we need to educate. What is the state of the profession today? The CFP board, they just through the censor for financial planning, just really it’s a press release, by the time this airs maybe a month ago, just sharing the numbers. I don’t see that as a negative thing. I see that as a positive. I’m like, “Alright, well now we have a foundation. Now we have the numbers so now we can build upon that.” We don’t know where to go unless we know our starting point. I don’t see this as now we need to be negative towards the CFP board and say, “Why is there only 1,200 African American CFPs when there’s 80,000?” No. It’s how can we get more, because we know that there’s more than 1,200 African Americans in the United States.

From a cultural perspective, there’s a lot of cultural nuances that we need to learn as financial planners so that we can properly serve the clients, the melting pot of clients that America is growing into. Again, this podcast is gonna be able to shed light on that. What does it mean to have a client who is from African descent? Not necessarily African American, because it’s two totally different things. Or Asian descent, and how they deal with money, or Latino descent, and how they deal with money, or their fear of dealing with the public sector of money because of now this fear of deportation.

It goes deeper than just the color of our skin. We have some culture around us, and some nuances that we are fighting to deal with as clients. If we’re gonna be great financial planners to our clients, we need to know how to work with them, how to ask the appropriate questions, what is not okay to ask, or how that could be deemed offensive. For so long, we have dealt with a small subset of America. We have worked with pre-retirees and retirees who have a million dollars of investible assets. It’s a very homogenous subset of clients. Now, if we’re going to not only expand our knowledge but expand our cultural awareness, we have to listen and not take offense to it, and not feel threatened when you hear the word diversity.

Hannah: What’s so … I don’t know if exciting is the right word. Maybe it is. What’s so exciting to me about this idea of diversity, within financial planning especially, is that is what makes us good at our jobs. The ability to listen to a client and understand them, the ability to listen to another adviser who I have a different background from. I’m not a person of color, but to hear that those stories, that’s what makes me good at my job. That’s what gives me hope about diversity in financial planning. We should be the leading industry in diversity.

Rianka: Yes. Oh my gosh, Hannah, you have hit the nail on the head. We need to be the example for other professions. We can. That’s the exciting part. We can set the foundation of what other industries and professions need to be doing. You also said something else, too. Just because we have different cultures or different backgrounds, there’s some similarities that we’ve shared off air amongst each other, where we have some similarities with our upbringing and all of that. Again, just building that relationship and that personal connection that it goes … Culture is an aspect of how we work with clients, but it’s a huge aspect.

In order for us to be really great planners, we have to understand that we have to look beyond just the dollars. That’s why I started 2050 TrailBlazers. I felt, with the connection that I have made throughout my career, the panels that I have spoken on, and honestly the leadership that I have in this profession, I feel is a responsibility. I can’t go comfortably in this profession just doing the bare minimum. I can’t. I just can’t. I feel like I have a larger responsibility, and I have finally stopped running away from what I feel like another responsibility is for me, which is being a vessel as we talk about diversity and inclusion.

Again, I don’t have all the answers. But I will bring people to the table who have some answers, who have great examples, and who want to share best practices. This podcast is just not for people of color. That’s preaching to the choir. This podcast is for everybody. This podcast is for industry leaders, professional leaders who want to make a difference, who want to bring cultural awareness into their firms for their personnel, and also for the clients so that they can better serve their clients. This podcast is for the technology leaders in this profession who want to make their technology more comprehensive from a diversity lens.

We haven’t even touched on the LGBT community, and how it just says you can only do Mr and Mrs. What about Mr and Mr, or Mrs and Mrs? What about hey, don’t call me that. Just I’m a human. This podcast is for people who, again, want to be the disruptors in a positive way, but who want to bring the profession forward, who want to move the profession forward. The only thing you have to do is listen. If you feel like you can play a role in pushing the profession forward, that’s when you raise your hand. That’s when you reach out to either a guest on the podcast, or you reach out to me. I’ve shared this on my podcast. This platform is available for anyone who has solutions, whoever want to share solutions.

Hannah: Where can people find you, find the podcast?

Rianka: Yeah, so you can go to We’re on all the social medias. It’s @2050tbs. Me, you can find me. I’m at rianka_d for most social media platforms, for Twitter, for Instagram, Facebook. I have a public facing Facebook profile, Rianka R Dorsainvil. Rianka is spelled R-I-A-N-K-A.

Hannah: Your firm name is Your Greatest Contribution so I have to ask you, what do you want your greatest contribution to be?

Rianka: That’s a good question, Hannah. Oh goodness. It has been said that the wealthiest place on this planet is not gold mines or diamond mines. It is the graveyard, because there lies the dreams that never came to reality, or inventions that were never acted upon. My greatest contribution will be for me to continue to give my full self to this profession, and to not hold back, and to stop running from my callings. Whenever my last day is on this earth, I want God to say, “Well done.”  

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Rianka Dorsainvil, CFP®, believes that everybody needs to be thinking about what they want their greatest contribution to this world to be. This idea is the cornerstone of her financial planning practice - Your Greatest Contribution - and everything sh... Rianka Dorsainvil, CFP®, believes that everybody needs to be thinking about what they want their greatest contribution to this world to be. This idea is the cornerstone of her financial planning practice – Your Greatest Contribution – and everything she involves herself in.
From her new podcast on diversity and inclusion in the financial planning industry, 2050 TrailBlazers, to her involvement with the CFP Board and NAFA – it’s no wonder she was voted as one of Investment News’s 2017 Women to Watch!
Early in her career, Rianka worked as a paraplanner. As time went on, she started to feel boxed in. “Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bird that can’t be caged,” says Rianka. Eventually, her health made the decision for her – and she struck out on her own.
She founded her own financial planning practice, Your Greatest Contribution, because she didn’t want to be defined by the widely accepted definition of “financial planner.” Financial planning is changing, and as financial planners our jobs are constantly shifting to meet the needs of the clients we care about – and everything we do needs to contribute to them, because that relationship is always the most important thing.
In this episode, Rianka talks about being a disruptor in the financial planning industry and her life, how to evolve your career and your financial planning practice to reflect your values, and the importance of connecting with people who are ready to push for positive change.

What You’ll Learn:

How to become a disruptor rather than the disrupted
Why you can’t be held hostage by your job title
How to move beyond financial planning to valuable relationship building with your clients
How to be true to yourself and bring your full self forward in your job
Who to look for within the profession to connect with and grow together
How to align your career with what you want YOUR greatest contribution to be

FJY Financial
RTD Financial
2050 TrailBlazers (Twitter)
2050 TrailBlazers (iTunes)
IN Women to Watch 2017

Hannah Moore clean 1:00:20
What it Means to Be a Business Owner Tue, 27 Mar 2018 21:43:52 +0000 0 Taylor Schulte has a refreshing take on financial planning, living life as a business owner, and being a young financial planner in today’s world. This episode is a must-listen for any financial planner looking for advice on starting their own RIA, or are wondering whether the risk of business ownership is worth it. Taylor Schulte realized he had an entrepreneurial spirit when he was introduced to and started working with a hybrid-RIA. He started to recognize that there are two clear paths: one of an entrepreneur and one of an employee. Personally, he likes both roles. He enjoys being a business owner and making high-level decisions, but also appreciates being in the weeds with financial plans.

As Taylor has grown his practice, Define Financial, he has slowly become more comfortable letting go of some financial planning focused tasks in favor of committing to the business owner mindset.

This episode is a must-listen for any young financial planner looking for advice on starting their own RIA, or are considering making the transition from investment-focused planning to comprehensive financial planning.

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 At our heart, we’re all a bunch of finance nerds. We love financial planning, but at some point you have to realize you can’t do it all. – Taylor Schulte, CFP®

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What You’ll Learn:

  • Why delegating is so important as a business owner (and what you need to know if you are working for a business owners!)
  • How to connect with other financial planners to improve your skills and gain confidence as a new planner
  • How to transition from investment management to holistic financial planning (even when it’s scary)
  • What “client ownership” means – and what it means to you
  • How to use your age to your advantage in this profession (even if you’re young)
  • Why committing to taking risks is crucial in your financial planning career







Show Transcript

Ep91 Transcript

Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Taylor.

Taylor: Hannah, thanks for having me.

Hannah: So you started your career in the wirehouse world. Is that correct?

Taylor: That is correct.

Hannah: So how did you end up there, and can you just give the listeners an idea of what your experience is like?

Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. I started in the wirehouse world, worked for one of the big firms that everyone knows by name. I started at 22 years old, day one out of school had the job lined up. I won’t go too much into my personal story, but just kind of early on in high school I just had this passion for money and finance. It’s weird. I look back at some of the papers I wrote even in college and it’s like I mapped out my career before I even knew what it was, and I had some instrumental mentors in my life who were in the wealth management industry.

Anyways, that led to, yeah, taking a job at, I worked for Morgan Stanley, taking a job at Morgan Stanley, 22 years old. And what’s funny is my ignorance was so helpful back then. I didn’t really know what being a financial advisor was, what it entailed. I have this very vivid memory of my boss at that time handing me a piece of paper with my sales goals on it, and the goal was that you needed to bring in $15 million in assets in two years or you’re fired. I remember I didn’t even think twice about it. I’m like, “Sure, yeah, whatever. Give me that, let’s go,” and I was just so happy to have a job I didn’t even think twice about it.

Like if somebody handed me that today, I feel like I’d have a panic attack. That’s a lot of money in a short period of time. I think my ignorance was just really helpful back then. I was just so happy to have a job at a good company, and that was in 2007, so we all know what happened shortly after that. It was an interesting ride. I was there for about five years, and then the rest of my career kind of started from there.

Hannah: So you hit that $15 million in two year goal?

Taylor: I don’t think that I hit 15 million in two years. Again, that was ’07. The recession obviously was right around the corner. I don’t remember exactly, but I think that they obviously adjusted a lot of our goals and quotas. I did leave Morgan Stanley in 2012, so five years. I did leave there with $15 million in assets, so I hit my goal, but it took me a little bit longer.

Hannah: You said that you had mapped out your career before you started. What did you mean by that?

Taylor: I thought I had this bright idea when I was an undergrad that I was going to go get a master’s in finance, and you have to write a paper as part of the application process, and the paper talks about: What are you looking for in a career? What do you want to do for a living? And I found that paper a few years ago, and it maps out exactly what I’m doing today as a financial planner helping people, and I’m like, “How did I know that that’s what a financial planner did at 16, 17?” Or no, no. Sorry, I was 19 years old, 20 years old. Yeah, jeez. I lost track of time. Yeah, but it’s just interesting that like I wrote all of that out and for the most part it’s what I’m doing today, which is pretty cool.

Hannah: That is really cool. So you started at Morgan Stanley and you got the sales, like you’re supposed to reach these targets. How did you go about finding those clients?

Taylor: Yeah. You’ve probably heard this before, but my philosophy was meet as many people as possible, do things that I enjoy doing anyways, right? If I go to an event that I want to go to anyways and maybe I don’t meet somebody, no big deal. I had fun at that event. So meet as many people as possible, go and do things that I enjoy doing anyways, and my philosophy was the more people I meet, the more people that like me and trust me, the more people will do business with me.

The hard part about that is that it’s a long play, right? Some of these people that I met early on in my career it took, jeez, seven, eight years for them to come around as a client or come around with a quality referral for me. So some of these relationships take a really long time. That was kind of my long play, and a lot of those relationships that I built way back then are really helping out my business today.

Outside of that, we did a lot of the traditional wirehouse-type marketing. We had some pretty hardcore sales training, and so we did door knocking, we did cold calling, we did seminars, we did a lot of events with COIs. It was kind of try everything and see what sticks, but, yeah. In summary, I did the traditional start with your friends and family and work through their Rolodex and try all these other marketing things and take anyone who has money. It’s just interesting to reflect back on that’s what we did then and what we do today. It’s just it’s so much different.

Hannah: As you went through the Morgan Stanley, as you’re going through all of the sales exercises and things like that, did you see yourself staying there long term, or kind of how did you respond to that internally?

Taylor: Yeah. No, that is a really good question. Again, I just had this kind of this feeling, this desire to go out and do my own thing, and I didn’t know what that looked like, but I just knew that I wasn’t going to be at Morgan Stanley forever. It was a great place to start. It was a great firm. I had great people around me. There is no chance in hell that I’d be where I’m at today without that, but I just knew that there … I started to feel just kind of complacent, like I just needed something more. Yeah, so I just kind of targeted the independent world and took that next step. I always kind of tell myself whenever I just start to, yeah, feel that complacency, I’m not feeling that personal growth, it always just kind of tells me, “Okay, it’s time to take that next step,” whatever that next step is.

Yeah, that next step then was the independent world, and I joined a hybrid RIA firm, and that was kind of my first experience with the RIA world and fee-only and fee-based and all these different things and having a custodian. This is all something different that I wasn’t used to working at a wirehouse.

Hannah: One more question about the wirehouse. You talked a lot about the sales training. Did they also give you training on like how to do investments and the financial planning side of the business?

Taylor: Yeah, they did definitely. But, I mean, it’s funny. It’s like when you get hired there, and I’m sure it’s changed today, but it was take your test, your Series 7, your 66, your insurance license, and it was like, “Just go out and sell.” There wasn’t a lot of upfront training on investments and financial planning. It was like, “You’ll just figure that out as you go.” There was a lot of resources around us, a lot of mentors, a lot of people to help, and eventually, yeah, I’ve become really well-versed in investments and financial planning.

But as a lot of people listening to this probably know, the strategy was to lead with the investment conversation first and then talk about financial planning second. So it was get the money in the door, talk about how great our investment strategy is and how we’re going to outperform the market and beat everybody else, get that money in the door, and then it was like, “Oh, by the way, we’ll do some financial planning too,” and I know we’ll get to where I’m at today, but we’ve completely flipped that on our head and we lead with financial planning first and investments second. I guess in summary, yes, they provided us training, but probably not as much as they should have looking back on it.

Hannah: So you start working at this hybrid RIA. What did you learn through that experience and through that job?

Taylor: I mean, I learned a ton because this was 2012, and I just had zero experience with fee-only, fiduciary, if that was even a thing back then. That term was just kind of coming to the surface. Having a custodian like a Fidelity or a Schwab instead of the firm you’re working, you know, Morgan Stanley was the custodian, and piecing together all the different technology and performance report. It was just like, I don’t know, like for the first time in my life I’m like, “Oh, this is how it all works. This makes sense.” Yeah, I mean, no one taught me that. I wish like day one out of school someone was like, “You need to go work for a fee-only firm that adheres to the fiduciary standard,” but those words were never taught to me. Yeah, it was just a really eye-opening experience, and I started to just learn more about who I was as a person, what was important to me, my morals and values and how I want to run a practice. I just started to just question a lot of things.

It was also then when I realized like I have this entrepreneurial blood inside me. I want to own my own business and I want to make my own decisions. I’m tired of asking other people, “Can I do this?” and, “Can I do that?” And I just had this creativity inside of me that I didn’t really know about. I was just so used to people saying no to me all the time, you know, “No, you can’t have a LinkedIn page,” and, “No, you can’t have a blog.” Yeah, I think through that experience with that hybrid RIA I’m like, “You know what? This is really important to me. Having that creative side and doing things different is really important to me.”

Hannah: One of my mentors, one of her big things was people are kind of wired two different ways, like you’re an employee or you’re an entrepreneur, and obviously there’s gray in the middle, but knowing who you are is really half the battle.

Taylor: Yeah. No, it really is. And, again, like no one teaches you this stuff when you first get started, and it was just something I didn’t know about myself. Some people were entrepreneurs in high school and they knew that that’s what they wanted to do, but, yeah, I didn’t really understand that you could be a business owner and own a financial planning practice or you could be a financial planner and you could work for a financial planning practice. I just didn’t really clearly understand that those were two different paths.

I mean, I’ve battled with that too because I love to do both. I love being a financial planner. There’s a lot of aspects of that that I really enjoy and I’m really, really good at, but I also really love owning a business and making a lot of the high-level decisions and putting a lot of the operations that we have in place, putting out fires and tackling challenges. I like all that. The problem is is I can’t do both. I can’t do both really well, and so I’ve started to learn that I have to let go of some of this stuff and really focus on, one, the things that I’m good at, and then, two, the things that I really love to do and start to delegate. That’s been a challenge.

Hannah: Okay, let’s talk about that because I’m curious about that. How do you identify right now? Do you identify more as the business owner or as the financial planner?

Taylor: Yeah. Today, I’m definitely morphing into that business owner. I’ve got help here now from some rockstar financial planners that I trust and I can delegate to, so I’ve definitely taken on that business owner role and business development role, and I’ve let go of a lot of the financial planning tasks that I have been doing for the last 10 years. It’s really a challenge. It really is, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. At heart, we’re all a bunch of finance nerds. We love numbers and we love financial planning, but at some point you just have to realize you can’t do it all, and so, yeah. It’s something that I’m learning every day. We’re taking part in an annual coaching program this year that’s teaching us a lot about how to segment a lot of this stuff out and delegate and outsource and hire internally. Gosh, I’m learning a lot. I’m having a lot of fun, but I’m learning a lot, that’s for sure.

Hannah: So are you still meeting with clients?

Taylor: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, look, we’re a small firm still, so my clients are like family. So I do still meet with clients, although I am getting better. I mean, just the other day we had a client who was coming in for a meeting, and just without even thinking twice I just assumed that I needed to be in this meeting, but that morning it hit me and I’m like, “I don’t really need to be at this meeting. I can spend some extra time with my son this morning. This is John’s department. John is really good at this step in the process. He really enjoys this step in the process. I don’t need to be in that meeting.” And so I pinged him and I said, “Hey, you want to run the meeting this morning on your own?” He’s like, “Yeah. Absolutely. No problem.”

It’s like I was on autopilot and I just had to kind of catch myself and say like, “I don’t really need to be in this meeting.” There are some meetings, or most meetings, that I probably need to be in, but I’m starting to recognize those little things and make better use of my time, even if it’s spending some extra time with my son or being out in the community more and speaking and prospecting or whatever it might be.

Hannah: Even if you’re not going to be a business owner, you’re usually going to work for a business owner.

Taylor: Yeah. No, you definitely will. If it’s not a business owner you’re directly reporting to, it’s one of their managers. So, yeah, you’re correct.

Hannah: Yeah. Even if you’re not planning on being a business owner, it’s still interesting to kind of get in the head of a business owner and kind of get that perspective. So you’re at this RIA. How big was this hybrid RIA that you were working at?

Taylor: Yeah. I think collectively we managed $300 or $400 million. There’s maybe 10 advisors there. It was a new venture for everybody. Again, a bunch of kind of independent financial advisors that just worked under the same umbrella. Yeah, I mean, it was a great experience. Again, I decided to look back on it, I learned a ton. Every step of the way I keep learning more and more, and I take the good and get rid of the bad and kind of move on to the next step. Yeah, great firm, great people, successful. I learned a lot, and most importantly, what I’ll tell people listening to this podcast, especially those new financial planners, is every job that you have in this industry think about the things about what you’re doing every day, think about what you enjoy doing, what you don’t enjoy doing, what you love doing, what you hate doing, and take not of that stuff. Write it down, because then you’ll know what you’re going to be looking for next.

We’re actually interviewing right now looking for a person, and that’s one of my questions to them is: What do you love doing? What are you really good at? And what do you hate doing and you never want to do again? And just listening to their answer and hearing if they’re crystal clear on those things, because if they’re not, they’re not … I don’t want someone who is uncertain taking a job. Don’t complain. You’re going to learn something from every job that you have, but take something from it. What do you love about that? What really excites you about coming to this job every day?

Hannah: So as you’re working with this RIA, was there a moment where you realized that you needed to start your own firm?

Taylor: I don’t think that there was a single moment where I’m like, “That’s it, I’m out of here.” I think just through the months and years I just, again, I realized that, one, I just had this entrepreneurial spirit inside of me. My grandfather, actually both my grandfathers were successful entrepreneurs. One of them came over on a boat from Germany dirt poor, no money in his pockets, and made a tremendous living for himself, and so I just had this … I just didn’t recognize it. I didn’t even think about it, but I learned that it just was just boiling up inside of me.

And then second to that I was tired of being told what I can and can’t do, which is normal. When you work for somebody else, like that’s their job is to tell you what you can and can’t do, so that’s totally fine. I just wanted to make my own decisions. I was young. We didn’t have a family yet, my wife and I, so I had the ability to take on some risks, and I just wanted to try something. It just was one of those things like I would have a regret if I didn’t give this a shot. I can always get a job in financial planning. Those are always out there, but I’m not always going to be able to go out on my own and try to start something.

Hannah: So how long from the point where you decided that you were going to start your own firm, when you made that decision to when you actually started your own firm?

Taylor: Probably about six months. I’d say at least six months, six to nine months. It was a lot of things to put in place. I’m a planner at heart. I don’t wing these things. I’m probably overly prepared for making a major shift like that. I just want to make sure all my ducks are in a row and I really understand everything. That’s just kind of the way my brain works. If I’m going to go buy a new TV for my house, you better believe I’m going to shop every single website, I’m going to know every single TV that’s out there. I’m going to pick like the best TV at the best price. That’s just the way my brain works. So imagine me trying to sift through all the different technology and platforms and trying to pick the best ones. It was a lot of work.

So, yeah, I gave myself a lot of lead time and putting those pieces together. I mean, I wanted to make a really thoughtful move. I wanted to put my clients first too and make sure that this move was going to be good for them, and so that was a really important piece to it. Yeah, so, definitely if it’s something you’re thinking about, definitely start the process earlier than later, that’s for sure.

Hannah: Did you have like a formal business plan put in place that you were working, or what did that look like on the planning for it?

Taylor: I don’t think I had a formal business plan. I think I had like a one-pager, just kind of a summary of what I was doing and how I was doing it, but I never had a formal business plan. I did have a couple of mentors in my life who were guiding me through this process, and then there was also some resources that, you know, the custodian as well that was kind of guiding me through what needs to be done and what step of the process we’re in, but, yeah, I don’t think I had a formal business plan.

Hannah: And were you taking clients with you?

Taylor: I was, yep. So when I left Morgan Stanley, we were part of Broker Protocol, so I followed all the rules. My clients followed me, came with me, and then at this new firm through contract I owned my book of business, so that was not a problem. So when I left, those were my clients. I took my clients with me. It was pretty easy.

Hannah: Now, the clients that you got at the hybrid RIA, were you able to take those clients with you, or just the clients that you started with?

Taylor: Nope. Yeah, all the clients. Any client that I brought with me and then any client that I secured on my own while at that firm. If that firm handed me a client or found a client for me, that would be their client. That never happened, so it wasn’t an issue. But, yeah, if I secured a client or brought a client with me, those were my clients.

Hannah: And was that a point that you needed to negotiate when you started working for that hybrid RIA?

Taylor: Yeah, that’s actually a really good question. I think we did negotiate that. I don’t think it was much of a negotiation. I think it was just something that was brought up and the owner of the firm was like, “Yeah, I’m not in the business of stealing clients from people, so.” It was a really easy conversation, but, yeah, you bring up a good point. It’s definitely something to think about as people are moving around and going to different firms. If you bring a client or secure a client, I’m of the belief that that should be your client, and that’s the same way that we do it today. If something happened here and John departed, I’m not in the business of taking clients from John. So, yeah, that’s definitely an important piece of the conversation that should be had.

Hannah: And so many firms operate so differently, and so it’s, again, that planner side of it. We need to know when we start working at jobs and finding clients who owns those relationships.

Taylor: Yep, 100%.

Hannah: So you started Define Financial. How old were you when you started the firm?

Taylor: Oh, jeez, now you’re going to test me. I started the firm in June of 2014 and I would have been 29. 29, yep.

Hannah: One of the things that I hear from a lot of planners, and I don’t know that this applies to you because you’d already been finding clients, is the challenge of being in your 20s and starting your own firm.

Taylor: Yeah.

Hannah: Did you run into any issues with that?

Taylor: You know, I battled with my age a lot in the beginning of my career, and I think that’s completely normal. Look, I mean, I was 22 years old with a Series 7 out there asking people for money. I mean, that’s insane. I’d love to like have video of some of these meetings that I was leading. Who knows what I was saying back then? So, yeah, it was a real thing.

I’d say that after I left Morgan Stanley after about five years, maybe even a little bit before, like four to five years in the business, I finally just told myself one day to use my youth to my advantage. Don’t hide behind your age. There’s nothing to hide. Use it to your advantage. There is an advantage to the client for working with a younger professional. I always say if you hire a financial advisor who’s been in the business for 30 or 40 years, most of them are stuck in their way of doing things. They’re doing things the same way they’ve always done them, so they’re not as quick to adapt, they’re not using a lot of the more recent technology. They just kind of have an older way of thinking about things.

I just kind of spun that around in my head, and I truly, truly believe it, right? I didn’t just like make this up as a sales pitch. Like I really believe it, and I just owned it, and so going forward, I never hid behind my age, I never put on the fake glasses or anything like that. I just owned it, and it’s like if someone doesn’t want to hire me because of my age, then they’re just not a client, they’re not a good fit.

Again, the advantage too for being 29 years old and married with no kids is like I could take that risk. If I was 38 with two kids and my wife’s not working anymore, gosh, that’s a big risk to go out and start your firm. It’s not cheap, and you’re working more than ever. So there’s a lot of advantages to starting this young, and what’s great is you have organizations like XYPN network that are making it easier than ever to go and start your own firm. Now, that can be dangerous too. You have too many of the wrong people starting a firm and not everyone is going to survive, so you have to be careful.

Hannah: You know, I work with a lot of pre-retirees and retirees, and I’ve had multiple clients tell me that one of the reasons they work with me is because I’m young because they don’t want to be switching advisors when they’re 80.

Taylor: Yeah, exactly. There’s another advantage, right? They know you’re going to be around for the next 30 or 40 years to guide them into and through the end of retirement, so that’s a huge advantage.

Hannah: So you started your own firm, and so you already had clients that you were bringing with you, so you weren’t starting from zero on your revenue.

Taylor: Yep, and that was a really nice benefit. You know, how many people get to say, “I started a business with six figures of existing revenue”? I mean, that just … You think about restaurant, people want to get into the restaurant business, and they start this restaurant and they pour all this money into it, and they don’t even have any customers yet. So, yeah, I had, gosh, I don’t know, 20, 30 paying customers that were providing me with revenue on day one, so it really helped out.

Hannah: So you’ve seen the wirehouses, you said you were in a hybrid RIA situation, and now you’re in a pure RIA situation. Can you give us the business case for being in a pure RIA situation versus being in the hybrid, or even the broker dealer, or not broker dealer, the wirehouse?

Taylor: Yeah. I said this on another podcast recently, I’ve never met somebody that went pure RIA or fee-only, whatever you want to call it, and regretted that decision. I’ve never met that person who’s like, “Man, I really shouldn’t have gone fee-only.” I’ve never witnessed that. I’m sure there’s some people out there, but … For me, it was more, again, I go back to like: What’s important to me? What are my morals and values? What do I feel really good about? What am I confident about in talking to clients?

One of the things I learned at that hybrid RIA, I never realized that there were these two channels, this broker-dealer channel and this investment advisor channel. When I was at that hybrid firm, it hit me. I’m like, “You know, I don’t have any accounts at this broker dealer.” We used this small little broker dealer nobody has heard of, and I’m like, “I have to deal with the compliance people there, I’ve got FINRA breathing down my neck, and I don’t even have any accounts at this broker dealer.” Sure, we sold a couple insurance policies here and there and got some commissions, but 99% of my revenue was coming through my fee-based business on Fidelity’s platform. That was one of my eye-opening experiences is I’m like, “I don’t need this.”

And then of course I started learning more about what fee-only meant and being a fiduciary 100% of the time. That’s probably around the time when I learned about Michael Kitces and XYPN was probably coming up around then. I just really started to educate myself and really become a student of the industry and really just learn from others and then develop who I was as a financial advisor and what was important to me.

Hannah: One of the things that you said earlier was at the wirehouse they kind of led with investments and followed up with financial planning. Can you talk about that transition to really leading with financial planning, and how is it different for you and how is it different for the client?

Taylor: Yeah. For me, it was scary as hell. For anybody who came from the wirehouse world or currently works there, like the thought of pushing the investment conversation to the side and starting with financial planning, at least for me, it was a really scary transition because I was so used to selling the investments, that that’s where the value add is, that we’re a better money manager than anybody else out there. And so to begin to push that to the side and say, “Look, we’re going to manage your portfolio, we’re going to do a really, really good job for you, but here’s what matters most: the financial planning.” It was such a different conversation when we flipped it on its head, but it just makes so much more sense.

We equate it to a doctor. A doctor doesn’t just like aimlessly write you a prescription, right? They put you through a bunch of tests and maybe draw some blood and do an MRI or an X-ray and ask you a bunch of questions, and then he or she will write that prescription for you. So when we put it that way, when we present that analogy to a client, it’s like, “Well, duh. Why wouldn’t you start with the financial plan? That makes so much more sense. That will drive the investment recommendations.”

So once we started to put this process together and come up with some of these analogies to talk to clients about, it just made more sense. It made more sense to us. It makes our job much easier to recommend an investment portfolio after we know everything about the client, right? Maybe they’re in a really good place and maybe they don’t need to take extra risk. Maybe they haven’t saved enough and we need to make some adjustments in other areas, including their portfolio. To start with that conversation just gives us so much more confidence in the recommendations that we’re making.

Hannah: As you made this transition to financial planning, the clients that you brought over from the wirehouse, were they primarily investment-only clients?

Taylor: They were. They were primarily investment-only clients. Well, I shouldn’t say that. Again, it was this like, “Our main job is to manage your investment portfolio and do a really good job, and then we do some financial planning on the side.” So a lot of them got a little taste of financial planning, nothing even remotely close to what we do today, but it was a slow transition.

I mean, in fact, we had a meeting with a legacy client yesterday who when he started with me, it was one of those accounts at the wirehouse that just got like thrown on me, right? An advisor left and this account just got dumped onto me. The account balance for this gentleman was $5,000. That’s how big the account was. It was a $5,000 account, and when I got these types of accounts, what I did is I treated these people like royalty. I remember this guy in particular I would take him to sushi like once a month. Who takes a $5,000 client to sushi once a month? But through those lunches and getting to know him, I learned that there were assets in other places, and so he eventually became a much bigger client and he’s still a client today 10 years later, which is just wild to say that out loud.

But he’s one of those legacy clients that not until yesterday, and that’s crazy to say too, yesterday, did we really introduce to him the full-blown comprehensive financial planning that we do for clients. There’s a lot of reasons for that that we don’t need to go into now. The point is is that it’s taken time to transition those clients. It wasn’t like one day I decided to call them all and say, “Hey, guess what? We’re doing things differently.” It’s definitely been a slow transition, probably slower than it needed to be. Sometimes I definitely take a little too much time. I need someone to like crack the whip and just tell me to take action, but it was a slow transition.

Hannah: And so when you introduce this whole idea of comprehensive financial planning, what are clients’ responses to it?

Taylor: I think some clients are overwhelmed by it, and the point of our conversation yesterday was to overwhelm this client, because if it wasn’t something that he was interested in doing, if he didn’t want to engage in financial planning, if he didn’t want to spend the time getting us all the information that we need, we essentially said that it wasn’t a relationship we were interested in having anymore. So we’re having a lot of those conversations where unless you’re willing to sign up for this comprehensive package, we’re just not in the business of just managing a portfolio anymore.

Yeah, so I think initially some of these clients are very overwhelmed by all the different pieces. It’s not just a performance report anymore and some little chitchat here and there. We’re having some really big money conversations, some really important stuff, and there’s a lot of work on their end as a part of that. Outside of that, I do think that clients see the benefit, just like I see the benefit in going to the gym, but like actually going to the gym is a whole different story. Clients see the benefit in doing this. It’s just a matter of getting them to actually take action and do it, but for the most part their reaction is obviously very good.

Hannah: Right. You’re building your business off of it, so we hope.

Taylor: Yeah.

Hannah: So when you started Define Financial, was one of the reasons of starting Define to really lead with the financial planning instead of the investments?

Taylor: I think initially the idea of starting the firm, again, was just to be able to start to make my own decisions, to try different things, to try some different marketing ideas that other people weren’t doing, to try some different fee schedules, right? Again, that was kind of around the time when XYPN was popping up and these monthly fees and one-time fees. So to be able to try some of this different stuff and just see how it worked, and we’ve tried just about everything that’s out there and we’ve made a ton of mistakes and we’ve failed, but that’s been the fun of it. I enjoy that I part of it. So I think initially starting the firm was just like I just want to explore, I want to figure this out. Who am I as a financial planner? What do I want this to look like? Where do I want to be in 10, 20, 30 years from now? And it evolves almost every day it seems like, but that’s just a big part of the fun for me.

So I think through that process I quickly learned that leading with financial planning was really what I wanted to do and really where I believe the value is for the next 10, 20, 30 years. We’ve since pivoted, and now all we’re doing is just fine-tuning things and finding ways to create more value and provide a better service, and we’re always going to be doing that. I mean, we’ll always be making changes and improvements.

Hannah: And so right now, what services do you offer clients?

Taylor: We offer comprehensive financial planning and investment management. I don’t know how else to summarize it.

Hannah: So like AUM based? Or how do clients pay you?

Taylor: Oh, sure. Yeah, clients either pay us a percentage of AUM or they pay us a monthly fee, and how that works is we have a minimum annual fee of $5,000 per year. So if they have the AUM to support that $5,000 per year revenue, then we will bill as a percentage of AUM. If they don’t have that and they want to work with our firm and we believe that we can help them and provide value, we’ll break that $5,000 up into monthly payments. It works really well. We’ve got some ultra, I know I said ultra, but high-earning young professionals who are in their 30s and 40s and making $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 per year. A lot of their money is wrapped up in pension plans or real estate, but they need help and they want help and they’re willing to pay a fee. I never want to tell somebody that they don’t have enough money to work with us, which is why we set a minimum fee amount instead of a minimum investment amount.

Hannah: For those clients, I mean, $5,000 is the minimum fee for the monthly retainer, so that can go up based on complexity as well.

Taylor: It can, and we do have a couple that it is higher. In a perfect world, it would all be the same to help kind of streamline things, so our monthly clients all pay $5,000 per year, and then what we are doing is when and if their assets get above $500,000, which would support a 1% fee, we would switch them to that percentage of AUM. For that $5,000 annual fee broken up into monthly payments, we do everything that we do for our other clients, right? We’ll manage their $10,000 IRA or whatever it might be, so we’ll manage all their assets still, but when their assets, if their assets cross that half a million dollar mark, we flip the fee schedule, and they’re obviously very aware of this and we set those expectations. Yeah, yeah.

Hannah: You talked earlier about when you started out at the wirehouse kind of the sales techniques that you used or the marketing techniques that you used. What do you do now at Define to help market your business?

Taylor: We do a lot. I shared with you before this phone call we talk about in the practice here individually what do we love to do and what are we good at and how can we spend more time doing those things. For me, one of those things is marketing. I just love it. I really enjoy it. I’m not the best at it. I’m not saying that, but I think I’m pretty good at it. We’ve had a lot of success, and I just really enjoy it, and so I look at our marketing plan is kind of this one machine where we do five or six things really well and really consistently, and they all kind of work together.

You and I were talking before, I started a podcast last year, and you were asking if I had traction with it. And it’s like, have I gotten a client directly from the podcast? No, I can’t trace that back to the podcast, but I’d be willing to bet that somebody landed on the podcast, ended up on our blog, downloaded our free guide, I don’t know, jumped on a webinar, saw me on social media, and eventually reached out. They probably don’t remember all those touches, but in my mind, that’s kind of how these things work. Or, a client heard the podcast and sent it to a friend and it led them to our website. Again, I like to think these five or six things that we do well and consistently all really work together.

If I had to share like a couple specifics, one thing that we worked really hard on is SEO, search engine optimization, and doing it the right way. Our goal wasn’t to like rank on the first page of Google tomorrow. It took years to put some of this stuff into place, but we have some good traction on Google now where people find us just by searching in San Diego for a financial planner, and then when they land on our website, we have some things for them to do in order for them to engage our firm.

Last year alone, just in 2017, we had 100 prospects for the year, and those are people that scheduled introductory phone calls automatically through our auto scheduling system on the website, which just like blew my mind. Never in my career have I had 100 prospects come through my door, you know, warm ones. It’s not like I sat on the phone and cold called all these people. So it was a really successful year in terms of quantity, but not so much in quality. So 2018 for us is the year of quality. I want to have less or fewer prospects but higher quality, so we’ve put some new things into place to make that happen. It’s been hard. We’ve been kind of sitting around and we’re used to the normal flow of two to four prospect phone calls a week, and that’s just not happening right now, and that’s okay because the ones we are talking to are a little higher quality.

SEO, being visible online, has been really, really powerful. You need to have somewhere for that person to go, something for them to do. If you just have a beautiful website that’s just confusing to the user, that’s not going to do you much good. So think about the entire process. You don’t need to have one of these like fancy sales funnel things that you see on, like you don’t need that, but just give the user action and make it really easy for them.

That’s been one thing, and then another thing that people are really surprised by, we actually run some print ads in a local magazine. We spend a pretty penny on these print ads annually, and they always pay for themselves. So we’re really strategic about it. It’s a really unique publication. I don’t know that it works in every city or not, but it was just one of those things where like the demographic for this magazine is great, no other financial advisor in my community would ever dare spend $5,000 on a print ad, and so there’s none in there. So if we put together something creative that looks different than what they’re used to seeing, it works, or it has worked. So those are a couple things that we’ve had a lot of fun with that are different that, again, like our competition just isn’t really paying attention to, and, yeah, we’re having some success.

Hannah: Looking at marketing, marketing can be really overwhelming for a lot of people, and I know you said you’re trying to transition more to that ownership, business owner role, but are you doing a lot of this yourself or in-house? What do you do with that workload?

Taylor: I probably need to get better about delegating. I do delegate a lot, so we do have some people in place. We have some editors on hand and some marketing consultants and podcast editors, but for the most part we do a lot of this stuff ourselves, and a big reason for that is we’re still in the beginning stages of things. It’s not like we’re Fisher Investments here and like we have a marketing plan and machine in place and it’s just on autopilot. We’re still very much in like trial and error phase. It’s hard for me just to like hand off to somebody and say, “Hey, run these programs.”

So I like to have control of things while we’re still in that phase, but there’s a lot of little things that just we shouldn’t be doing. John does a lot of writing for the firm blog. He’s a great writer. He’s got awesome things to say, but he shouldn’t be spending his time editing that article, making sure the grammar is perfect, and inserting some back length. That’s not where his time is well spent, and so he’ll write an awesome draft of blog post, and then we’ll shoot it off to an editor to polish it up and publish it. So there’s a lot of little things like that that are in place to help streamline and automate these things, but unfortunately we’re not completely there yet. That means that sometimes I’m up at 6:00 in the morning on a Saturday working on SEO things or staying up late writing out an ad campaign. It’s fun. That’s the good part. The downside is it just takes too much time.

Hannah: We’ve talked about, I hate the term “ownership of clients” because that sounds maybe not the best, but in terms of when you started your own firm, you brought clients with you, and now you’re working with John and other staff members. How does that ownership piece work? Are you the only owner, or what does that look like?

Taylor: Yeah, really good question. I am the only owner of the firm. John joined me about two and a half years ago, and one of the things that’s really important to me is that everyone shares in the growth of the firm. Let’s just say hypothetically all John does is crank out financial plans and eMoney all day. That’s not the case, but hypothetically that’s what John does all day. Well, if that’s what he does all day, then that frees up some of my time to go and do some business development and get some new clients. John should play a part in that firm growth because he was busy at the office holding down the fort while I got a new client, and I couldn’t have done it without him.

So from day one we created a compensation structure that compensates him kind of like he’s an owner of the firm or a shareholder, but he gets a percentage of gross revenue. So I don’t want him worried about expenses, how money is being spent in the firm, and so it’s a percentage of gross revenue, and if gross revenue is growing, John is growing, and if it’s declining, then we’re all declining. But it’s great because if we bring on a million-dollar client, we’re both happy because we both made some extra money or added some revenue to the firm.

So I won’t go into any more detail than that, but that piece of it is really important to me. I want everyone to feel like we’re all on the same team here working towards the same goal. I’d hate for someone to see me bringing on a million-dollar client and I get 100% of the revenue and they get nothing. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s been a really interesting fee structure, but I’ll say this: John has just become instrumental to this firm. He’s become a really integral part of it, and I think he’ll play a much bigger part in this firm going forward. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like yet today, but I’m very, very grateful for him and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that he’s poured into this firm and believing in me really. I mean, when he met me two and a half years ago, I was probably a mess as a business owner, so for him to believe in me and take a chance and put in a lot of time, I’m very thankful for that.

Hannah: I know. I’ve talked to a number of planners where once you start running the numbers, again, I always say follow the numbers when you’re working in a firm.

Taylor: Yep.

Hannah: On many different levels. What is a client paying? Where’s the money going? And just the disparity that happens between owners versus the people who are doing a lot of the work. I mean, sometimes that can be a huge difference.

Taylor: It is a big difference, and I don’t … You know, I’ve worked for other people, I’ve worked in other environments, so has, John’s worked at other places. I’ve just seen how people are treated, and I’m just not into that. I want everybody to be working together. I mean, everybody plays a part in this firm. Just because you’re answering phones all day doesn’t mean you’re not adding value to the firm or helping it grow, so I want to be really conscious of that and find every which way we can to treat people like we’re on the same level. We’re all in this together. I’m not interested in playing big, bad boss here that makes all the money.

Hannah: So we’ve talked a lot about being a business owner and an entrepreneur, and I think for a lot of the listeners if you’re on that track or even if you’re not, many times you’re working for business owners. Is there anything that listeners or new planners need to know about working for business owners?

Taylor: There’s probably a lot you need to know. If you play golf, go play golf with them. I always say you learn a lot about somebody by playing golf with them. If you don’t play golf, that’s probably not going to make any sense to you at all, but you spend five hours on a golf course with somebody. It’s a really frustrating game, and you see how people deal with challenges, whether they deal with them well or not. So if you play golf, that’s one idea.

But outside of that, I mean, on that note, you should really get to know who you’re working for or considering working for. One of the things that John and I did when he first joined was we hired a business coach. We hired a business coach to learn more about each other, our personalities, how we work, our natural traits and abilities, to learn how to work together in the same environment and not get frustrated with each other. So that was a really powerful exercise that we went through, so if you have a business owner that’s open to something like that, I think you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the other person and just how to interact and be a better team.

I think another big piece of this puzzle, and as you, again, maybe think about, maybe you’re thinking, “Am I in the right place?” Or, you’re thinking about joining another firm. I think the philosophy of the business owner is really important and how they run the business, how they think about the business, the goals for the business, and then their philosophy for managing investments and managing clients and financial planning. Like, does that all align with you? Because if it doesn’t, I think you’ll eventually kind of grow frustrated if it doesn’t.

And then there was an episode way back, it’s one of my favorites on Michael Kitces’s podcast, with the owner of Austin Asset Management, and he went from intern to CEO. The title of it is something like that. One of the things that jumped out to me was he was this intern working for this guy that owned the firm, and he makes this comment where he said he just followed him around all day with a clipboard and just wrote down everything that this guy was doing day in and day out, and then just like went back to his desk, was like, “How can I improve whatever process that was, and how can I take this off his plate, and how can I make this more efficient?” I just thought it’s such a cool idea for somebody that’s working for somebody else that wants to play a bigger part in the firm. Follow him around, take notes, find ways to improve.

I always say here at our firm, always ask why. Like, “Why are we doing it this way? Is there a better way to do it? Does somebody know how to do this better?” Yeah, I’ll stop rambling, but those are kind of my ideas that come to mind.

Hannah: No, I love that, and the: How do we make my boss’s life easier or the owner’s life easier?

Taylor: Yeah. It’s true. It really is true.

Hannah: What would be your advice for new planners who are starting out in financial planning today?

Taylor: I love this question. I’ll say a few things. One is just do something. Don’t be paralyzed by all the choices out there and finding the perfect firm to work for, putting together the perfect firm to start. Just do something. Get going, get experience, work for good people, learn, adapt, pivot. You’re not going to be at the same firm forever. Maybe, but probably not.

Second to that I’d say if you’re thinking of starting your own firm or maybe you’re in the beginning phases of starting your own firm, you’ve probably heard this before, but make sure that your spouse, if you have one, is on board 120%, because I promise you there is no way that I get to where I’m at today without my wife and her support. There’s just no way, and I probably won’t get to where I’ll be in 10 years without her either. It is critical in this business that your spouse completely understands what you’re up against, especially when you’re becoming a business owner and starting a firm.

And then lastly, about six years ago I came home with this bright idea. I told my wife that once a week I’m going to go have lunch with another financial advisor in our community, and her jaw was like on the floor. She’s like, “What are you talking about? Why would you go have lunch, spend your precious time with a competitor? Why would you go and do that? You need to be having lunch with clients and prospects.”

But it just hit me that there’s so many smart, talented financial planners here in my community that I can learn a lot from, and so I made that commitment, and I still for the most part pretty much uphold that today, have coffee or lunch or a beer after work with another financial planner, and I’ve been doing that for five or six years now. I mean, I can’t even tell you how much it’s changed my practice. I mean, I can’t even quantify it. John wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t doing that. That’s how I met him. So whether it’s finding a job, finding employees, finding new ways to run your business and new technology, I mean, it’s just … Get to know as many other advisors as you can. It’s super helpful.

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Taylor Schulte has a refreshing take on financial planning, living life as a business owner, and being a young financial planner in today’s world. This episode is a must-listen for any financial planner looking for advice on starting their own RIA, Taylor Schulte realized he had an entrepreneurial spirit when he was introduced to and started working with a hybrid-RIA. He started to recognize that there are two clear paths: one of an entrepreneur and one of an employee. Personally, he likes both roles. He enjoys being a business owner and making high-level decisions, but also appreciates being in the weeds with financial plans.
As Taylor has grown his practice, Define Financial, he has slowly become more comfortable letting go of some financial planning focused tasks in favor of committing to the business owner mindset.
This episode is a must-listen for any young financial planner looking for advice on starting their own RIA, or are considering making the transition from investment-focused planning to comprehensive financial planning.

What You’ll Learn:

Why delegating is so important as a business owner (and what you need to know if you are working for a business owners!)
How to connect with other financial planners to improve your skills and gain confidence as a new planner
How to transition from investment management to holistic financial planning (even when it’s scary)
What “client ownership” means – and what it means to you
How to use your age to your advantage in this profession (even if you’re young)
Why committing to taking risks is crucial in your financial planning career


Hannah Moore clean 56:28
Financial Life Planning Tue, 20 Mar 2018 19:36:40 +0000 0 Stephen Brody, CFP®, believes that financial planning is about digging deeper to move beyond the numbers and help clients put forward the lives they want to live. Through intentional leadership, he’s built a financial life planning practice - and wants you to know that you can do the same. This week on the #YAFPNW podcast, our guest Stephen Brody, CFP®, discusses how financial life planning is about planning beyond the numbers and leading clients to grow as people. After going through the Kinder Institute as a registered life planner, Stephen ventured out on his own to create a guided and intentional financial life planning process that reflected his values and was designed to grow both himself and his financial planning clients.

Stephen truly believes that financial planning is more than a numbers-driven practice. He focuses on marrying the reality of money with the helping people move forward with the lives they want to live – which is something we could all use to focus on in our own practices!

hannah's signature

We have got to be comfortable enough in our own skin to know that we’re not responsible for all the answers. We are the facilitators of the process. – Stephen Brody, CFP®

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What You’ll Learn:

  • Resources and training to look for in the financial life planning industry.
  • How to implement intentional leadership in your own practice.
  • How we can lead clients based on our own experiences.
  • Why it’s important to reframe our planning process to reflect purpose and the values of our clients.


Susan Bradley Sudden Money

GreenLeaf Center for Servant Leadership

George Kinder – Kinder Institute of Life Planning







Show Transcript

Ep90 Transcript

Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Stephen.

Stephen: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you for asking.

Hannah: Yes, well, I am so excited to have you on this podcast, and really introduce the listeners to a lot of your thoughts and thought leadership that you have around financial planning. But to give the listeners an idea of who you are, you have been a financial planner for 30 years, and specifically, a financial life planner for 30 years. So for our listeners, what does it mean to be a financial life planner?

Stephen: I think the simplest definition when I look at it, and it’s the one I use with consumers all the time, is that financial planning focuses on the money and the dollars and the investments and the estate planning and those pieces. And the client is really on the outside. Financial life planning differs in that the client is at the center. Their values, goals, money stories, functional and dysfunctional, and everything about them. And then the money is simply on the outside, is the details to support a life well-lived. So to me, that’s the most practical definition.

Hannah: And in practice, what does that look like? How, in practice, is your practice different than somebody who just does traditional financial planning?

Stephen: Well, I actually have a very defined process, and actually I believe tomorrow, an updated version of that will show up in the next Journal of Financial Planning under the title of Inspired Financial Planning. But the reality is that I probably spend about 15-20 hours doing what I call discovery, awareness, and clarity, which is the first quadrant of my process. And that’s really learning who somebody is today and why, both on the internal and external, working to create an awareness of what they want their life to be and what they want it to look like, and a big part of that is pulling out what Steve Covey called the secret place. As individuals, we have our public face and our private one, but then there’s that secret yearning inside that never comes out. So the awareness phase really focuses on bringing that out.

And finally, clarity aligns all of that with their both human and financial capital and resources to create a vision of what’s possible. So you’re looking at 15-20 hours worth of work back and forth between … before we ever really get to what we’re going to do with the money.

Hannah: Okay, so 15-20 hours face to face with a client?

Stephen: Yes.

Hannah: Wow.

Stephen: Meetings normally are scheduled for two hours apiece, and in that first quadrant, meetings take place no farther apart than every two weeks. What I’ve found over the years is that two weeks is that perfect time to still maintain the momentum of what you’ve been doing, and the energy, while allowing seeds to root, if you will, that we’ve put in place at the prior appointment. So that two weeks allows the client to show up for the next appointment different than the person they were prior.

Hannah: So interesting. So do you just have a list of questions for everybody? I know I do the money habits cards with clients. Do you have different exercises for every meeting?

Stephen: So initially, my discovery starts with a modified version of a road map. And the road map people are most used to is the one from Bill Bachrach, but I have my own version that I created. So the initial discovery is a very guided and intentional process. And within two hours, I’ve never seen another way to reach deeper levels of trust and intimacy with a client. More often than not, spouses are looking at each other and saying, “I didn’t know you feel that way,” and there are tears, and it’s just beautiful. It’s a beautiful space.

So after that, it’s really a matter of being present with the client and truly understanding what they have and why, where they are and why, and where they hope to be and why. So it’s very much respecting the process and patiently moving along with the clients. I look at it as a mastery process. You don’t move from one topic to the next until you’ve really sorted it out. And that way, you’re really always on firm footing moving forward.

Hannah: Yeah, that seems like such a long time, even to me. But the reality is for … I know personally in my life, there’s really no other place where I could dive that deeply into asking those big questions. So to really provide a space for that, I think, is a really cool thing.

Stephen: Thank you, thank you.

Hannah: You’ve talked a lot and you’ve done a lot of research around the essential leadership role of a financial planner. On one piece, one place where I’ve seen you write, you’ve said that planners need to be aware that clients instinctually assume, ascribe, and expect a certain set of traits and behaviors from the planner. Can you expound on this? What traits and behaviors do clients assume that we financial planners have?

Stephen: Well, I think what I’d like to do is take a small step backwards in that conversation, and one of the things has to do with something that’s called role theory. And everybody in their life as an individual takes on certain roles. Some statuses are ascribed, such as being a father, a son, an employee, a friend. That type of thing. And then other statuses are achieved or worked for, such as a spouse, or being a planner.

So we all carry multiple roles. Those roles are about us and our stories, but when a client shows up in front of us because of who they are, they have expectations coming in to what they hope, to see what they hope to happen, how they hope to be treated. So when we look at a client and they’re across the table from us, we’re the ones who are responsible for moving them forward. We’re responsible for making sure that they end up in a place, through proper facilitation and everything that goes into being a good planner, of being able to make progress with real change.

So when we look at the traits and behaviors, there are a lot of them. Simply, and I guess in its first iteration, talking about that, what I would say is … What I’d like to do is state a quote from John Quincy Adams. And his quote was that if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.

So given the role of a financial life planner, if we were to look in the mirror, don’t we, as financial life planners, want clients to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more? I would say, 9 out of 10 people would say yes. So first and foremost, you then become a leader by default. It’s whether you recognize it, and what are you willing to do with it.

So if you look at all the different roles that we fill as planners, being a coach and facilitator and advisor and technical expert and money manager and designated adult and mentor and change agent, and there are 20 more. When we look at all of those things, that’s being a leader. But then when we look at the characteristics that are related to doing really good jobs with clients and creating engagements in a way that create deeper and more meaningful engagements, there’s a set of research and a doctoral dissertation and papers that talk about having a certain set of skills.

So while there are a lot of them, they generally fall under the topic of the planner’s way of being. And spiritual intelligence, and good listening skills, and inspiring, and intuitive, and motivational, and self-aware, and non-judgmental, and calming. And Hannah, there are just a lot more that follow. So I think those traits are we put forth, or we hope to put forth, and what the client wants. But whether that actually happens or not is a different question.

Hannah: Okay, so this is interesting. Just a list that you listed off, like the coach and facilitator and all these roles. It can be overwhelming, especially as a young planner, trying to figure out, how the heck am I supposed to do all this or get better at all this, ’cause there’s so many aspects, what our roles are as financial planners and financial life planners.

But I like what you’re saying. You’re saying that the common characteristic is leadership skills. So if we can focus on our leadership skills, these other skills will naturally come about. Is that what I’m hearing?

Stephen: So I think the first general comment is, if we as a planner can understand our predominant role as being a leader, and in that way being a facilitator, I think that clears the path for a lot of things being done better, because if it’s about me facilitating or leading, then I’m not concerned about doing to the client. I’m not concerned about having to be the expert. I’m not concerned about all of those other areas. What I am concerned about is being present with the client, checking in with the client. Making sure I don’t get in the way of where the client goes.

One of the really fundamental tenets of financial life planning is, if you do it well, you ascribe to the fact that the clients know the answer. The clients know what they want. Our job is to help peel back the layers, hold up the mirror, and help them discover what it is that they’re looking for. So if you truly take that role, I think it does help you be a better leader.

Hannah: You talk about the four different types of leadership. So can you walk us through what are those different types of leadership, or maybe ways to show up as leaders? And then, how do they apply to financial planning? How are those made evident in our day to day?

Stephen: So, tiny little background is that my doctoral work and my dissertation was in the field of interdisciplinary leadership. So when you look at leadership from an academic standpoint, there are probably 10-15 legitimate theories on leadership that have a lot of research, that have been proven over time. And what I found in my three years of research is that there are specific leadership theories that really just walk hand in hand with being a financial life planner. So while there are some other ancillary ones, these four really are the main ones.

The first one is adaptive leadership, and adaptive leadership in its simplest form is about meeting clients where they are and responding appropriately. So the general iterative and evolving process in adaptive leadership is observing events and patterns, interpreting what is being observed, and designing intervention based on those observations. So we do that all day long as planners. But you have to be able to be with the client, be flexible, and be present. And then with adaptive leadership, the collaborative task really becomes for us to discover what their answers are in order to bring about change. So in a lot of ways, in a lot of circles, that could stand up to define financial life planning all by itself.

One of the other quotes that I love about adaptive leadership comes from Beans. From a gentleman named Bean, he says that adaptive leadership is courageously asking the questions no one else is willing to ask, and committing to finding the truth. That’s just such a beautiful quote for what we do every day with clients. So, adaptive leadership is the first one.

Second one is authentic leadership. Authentic leadership is showing up as your real self, and it’s knowledge-based about yourself. It’s a matter of the reflective practices that you do. And what we talk about a lot in financial life planning and doing deeper work is you can only take clients as far as you’ve gone yourself. And authentic leadership really falls under that category, ’cause we authentically have to be willing to understand our own money stories and our own biases and judgments in order for them not to get in the way in our work with clients.

So the really four components of authentic leadership are self-awareness, understanding your own values and identities and emotions. Having an internalized moral perspective, so we can regulate what’s going on. Be able to have balance processing and analyze what’s going on, because when we work with clients, it’s on the internal and external, and we’ve got to be able to balance those. And then the fourth one is relational transparency, being really open and honest.

Hannah: So one of the things that you said, and I hear this a lot, but I think this can be expanded on. You say we can only take clients where we’ve gone ourselves. So, I’ve never gone through retirement. I’ve never … Especially as a young planner, dealing with a lot of older planners in my day to day of work, how does that apply, especially looking at generational differences?

Stephen: So, I think that’s a great question. Without question, if you go through certain stages of life, they’re all moments to collect wisdom. So if you’ve never bought a car before, helping someone buy a car is a little difficult, or not as easy as it could be. So I think you’ve got a good point there, but at the same time, we’ve got to be comfortable enough in our own skin to be able to know, we are not responsible for all the answers. We are there as facilitators of the process.

So, correct. You may not have gone through retirement, but if somebody is talking about what they want and you’re facilitating them through exercises to be aware of what they want, how are you being at that moment? Are you uncomfortable, are you present, are you emotional? What did you see when your parents went through retirement? Those types of things, as you experience people who are transitioning from one part of life to another, how are you being there for them?

So while the experience may not be directly the same, you’ve got to be comfortable enough in the moment and be present enough in the moment where you’re not one moment ahead, you’re not one moment behind, but you are truly sitting hand in hand with that client. So in that regard is how you have to do your own work.

And a classic example is, if you happen to go through some questions and run up to a story and a client starts crying, are you going to say, “There, there,” and just keep going to what your topic was, or are you going to stop to be there with them in that moment, knowing that that crying’s okay? That crying is just a bell of awakening going off, and that’s inside that person. And the message is, something’s going on. Pay attention. If you as a planner have never done your own crying or your own searching, and you’re not comfortable with those emotions, then you’re not going to be able to facilitate that really important, pivotal moment for the clients. So that’s what I mean by that.

Hannah: A couple things come to mind really quick. One of them is, I remember, I do a lot work around transitional planning. Like the Susan Bradley Sudden Money program. And back where I used to work, I remember telling somebody about this and working with widows, and they’re like, “It’s a great market. You can make a lot of money in that. The key is to make sure you have the client sign the paperwork before they cry, so they can just leave when they start crying.” Isn’t that terrible?

Stephen: That’s horrible!

Hannah: But it’s this fundamental difference of saying, are we really willing to engage with our clients with everything that they bring into our offices, or do we just have our agenda that we need to get the client to sign the paperwork before we move on?

Stephen: Exactly.

Hannah: One of the things … So as you were talking, and I know we’ve had some off, not recorded conversations … So talking about life planning and this idea where you can only take clients where you’ve gone yourself, and I hear you saying that it’s more of … Are we emotionally aware of what’s going on within ourselves, that we can be aware of what’s happening within our clients?

But this idea of … I’ve had friends that have gone through the George Kinder program and things like that, and they’ve made … After that program, they’ve made significant life changes, as in quitting jobs, moving across the country, things like that. Do you think that financial planners have to be living their own life plan, if you would, in order to do this work? Or do they just have to be aware of where they want to go?

Stephen: I think they have to be on the journey. They have to be in a place where they are purposefully spending time in reflection to grow and develop in a predetermined way, because if you’re showing up for somebody as a financial life planner, and some people, in deference to Roy Diliberto, is … Financial life planning is nothing other than financial planning done well. So in deference to that, you have to be authentic with that client. You’ve got to be emblematic of somebody who’s on a journey.

One of the wonderful things and one of the awful things about being humans is that we never have the answer, and where we are is never exactly where we’re going to be a day later. And all of those things are okay, if you work with them and if you’re comfortable and you understand them. But if you’re constantly fighting that, then you’re not going to be able to do that for a client.

So one of the amazing things, when I interviewed 25 of the top people in financial life planning in the country, is all of them, down to the last person, described one of the main characteristics of being a good financial life planner or financial planner, being that you’re somebody who always is working on growing, developing. You’re not stuck. You’ve never arrived. There’s always more and something else. And I think having that internalized, ongoing inquisitiveness about what’s possible and what life can be shows up in front of a client.

To me, one of the amazing examples is a financial life planner who talks about living a balanced life, yet he’s happy to take phone calls on a Saturday when he’s in the park with his kids. I’m sorry, but to me, that’s out of balance. And at some point, a client’s going to look up and say, “You keep preaching to me about this, but you took that call.” So I think there’s an authenticity issue, and it’s about being able to look in the mirror and yourself and say, “I’m a work in progress, just like my clients are.”

Hannah: I like that. And I like the idea that, when we say we only take clients where we’ve gone ourselves, really tying that back to the journey. I think that’s, whether you’re 22 working with a 65 year old, or 64 working with a 65 year old, it’s what connects us.

Stephen: Very much so, very much so. So if we pick up on those other two leadership characteristics, or types of leadership, the next one is servant leadership. And servant leadership is huge, and I see it so much in our industry, because servant leadership begins with the natural feeling that you want to serve, that you want to be of service. And when you talk to the really good people in our business, while they want to have a good living and they want to have time and money freedom, they want to be able to make a difference.

So that’s a huge area of leadership, and one of the characteristics of servant leadership taking place, and this quote is from Greenleaf, who’s the father of servant leadership, is do those served … In other words, do the clients we serve grow as people? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants?

And I think when we deliver to our clients a level of freedom, and that comes from George Kinder, they turn around and they help others find their own freedom. So servant leadership is a big one. And when you look at the planner practically as a servant leader, another quote from Greenleaf is, is that servant leader one who seeks to draw out, inspire, and develop the best and highest within people from the inside out? And Hannah, you know that’s what we do with clients.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephen: So that’s another area. The fourth area is transformational leadership, and that has to do with our capacity to develop and promote values and goals. So, do we want for our clients, to help them to rise above low-level transactional considerations? It’s not just about the mutual fund, and instead pursue a higher-order sense of morality and purpose. We want them to live into that ideal life, and that’s really what a transformational leader does.

So when you look at those four academic theories of leadership, they all sort of describe what we do and what so much of us aspire to do.

Hannah: Well, and so with these leadership … There seems to be a lot of crossover. Would you agree with that?

Stephen: Very much so. And actually, transformational leadership is often paired with authentic leadership for its own theory, called authentic transformational. So there is a lot of overlap, and that really became apparent in my research. So there are nuances to each of those that tie into directly what it is that we do and what we aspire to do for and with clients.

Hannah: For the planners who are listening, who are like, “Okay, I bought into this, how do we become better leaders?” Especially as young planners. We don’t have the years of experience or decades of experience as a lot of other advisors. Is this an experience thing, or how do we be good at this?

Stephen: So I think the way anybody becomes good at it is, the first thing they do is look in the mirror and say, “I’m a leader and my clients are counting on me. And it’s my job to help facilitate, so it’s about co-creating, but my job is to help facilitate and co-create where it is they want to go.”

As you know, with a lot of young planners, they come in in the beginning. They think their sole value is to provide the answers. This is the answer to this and this is the answer to that, and that’s how you beat the market, and all of those types of things. That’s not their value. Their value is their heart. Their value is showing up and actually hearing clients.

So I think the first thing is to recognize that. And then what any planner can do, no matter their level of age or experience, is dedicated themselves to following a guided and intentional process. So for me, I’ve got my process. I know what the steps are. My job is to not get in the way of the process, all the while honoring the process. So I’m not going to take shortcuts that are about me, I’m not going to try to implement something before it’s time. I’m going to slowly and patiently be present with the clients, and facilitate and lean on that process til we get to where we need to go.

So I think that’s not about necessarily experience, but it goes back to the old Disney quote. When your values are clear, your decisions are easy. If I value that process, and I’m committed to following it through, then my decisions are easy. The client that walks in and say, “Well, I need to invest that million dollars today.” Well, because my values are clear and my decisions are easy, I know I can’t ethically or morally do anything with that money until I know them. And the only way I know them is to follow my process. So no matter what the age, the process is what stands in front.

Hannah: Maybe I’m projecting on some of my assumptions, and again, these have changed over the years, but especially when I first started out. This idea of financial life planning and really diving in deep, actively listening to the client, all of those things … I don’t know that I ever would have put process around that.

And so what’s exciting for what I’m hearing you say is we can dive deeply into our clients’ live and have structure around that. It’s not just this skill set that’s like, good luck. Go fill however many hours of talking about what’s most important to your client’s life. Can you talk maybe more about that process, or maybe what … 15 hours seems like a lot, but what have you seen other planners do in respect to that process?

Stephen: Well, I think the first piece is, you have to decide whether you want to do it on your own, or whether you want to go get training. So for me, I came through the Kinder Institute as a registered life planner, and that’s a very big part of how I do things and how I process. I did a lot of work with Bill Bachrach, who’s got unbelievable processes for discovery and awareness. And then as a student of Ed Jacobson and all of these people, for me the way to do it was to take a little bit from everybody and put it together and make it mine.

For somebody that’s new that doesn’t even know where to start, I would say, go find the training from somebody, whether it’s George Kinder or Susan Bradley or Carol at Money Quotient. Or just go up to somebody who seems to have it going on, if you will, and talk to them about the experience.

But one of the things that was really clear from my research is, your process has to be guided and intentional. It should pretty much be the exact same process every single time. But where people get caught up is, they think if they do that same process every time, it’s cookie cutter work. The reality is, is by doing the same process every time, you free yourself to be present with the client, and the results are different and unique based on each client.

So I think you start with somebody helping you figure out what it looks like. So for me, my process, I wrote a book 10 years ago now. And it’s called The Ultimate Guide to Connecting Your Money and Value. It’s called, What Your Happiest Friends Already Know: The Ultimate Guide to Connecting Your Money and Values With Your Life. And my process is in the back of that book. But as you know, with our financial life planning community, anybody can walk up to anybody and ask for help. And somebody’s always going to step up.

Hannah: That is so true. People love to share and especially with young planners, they get so excited. Again, it’s like what you talked about earlier about this, they’re always looking improve themselves, and new planners bring such energy and fresh ideas that these more experienced planners just love to engage with.

Stephen: Well, I think for us old planners, what we really look at is for most of us, the work we’re doing is the work we were put here to do. For us, it’s a calling. It’s when we’re in flow. And with that kind of understanding comes a stewardship obligation. We understand that we are using the gifts and talents that have been bestowed on us in a way that we’re supposed to be, and with that comes a responsibility and a humility that it’s not ours to keep, it’s ours to share. So I think our community takes that really seriously.

Hannah: It just makes me think back to Dick Wagner’s To Think Like a CFP, what does it mean for us to be a profession? And there is a sense of calling. If you go talk to doctors, there is a sense of, this is who I’m supposed to be. And that bigger sense of calling.

Stephen: Very much so.

Hannah: We’ve talked a lot about the roles that financial planners have, and the long list of what, really when we do financial planning, well, the roles should be … But does our role change based upon the client who’s sitting across the table from us?

Stephen: Oh, absolutely. And that goes back to adaptive leadership. We never really know what’s going to show up in front of us, and we don’t know whether one moment we’re supposed to be facilitating or in another moment, are we supposed to be the grownup in the room, or are we supposed to be the empathetic one, listening and hearing?

So I think what gives financial life planning so much power is, there’s really nobody that does what we do. We play in the reality of money, which can be different things to different people, but more so, we marry the reality of money with helping people put forth the lives they want to live. I’ve very long described what I do as, my job is to help free clients of financial stress and worry, so we can then actually create and have them live a happier, more inspired, purpose-driven life.

So when you look at just that one simple sentence, there are 15 or 20 different roles in there. So at any given time, I’ve got to have the ability and the flexibility and the adaptability and the willingness to shift roles. So with your experience, I’m sure that you’ve been in the situation where you’ve walked into a client meeting with an agenda, and within 30 seconds, it became really clear your highest and best use for the greater good of that client that day had absolutely nothing to do with your agenda. And after an hour or two, everybody’s a lot better off, and you did amazing work, and you didn’t cover a thing on your agenda. Have you had that happen?

Hannah: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Stephen: So, yeah, I think it’s about being adaptable and being present with the client, and that really flows back to honoring the process and being present, because if it’s not about you, if it’s about the client, and making sure there’s … that you’re going to patiently but persistently make progress, but progress is deemed by where the client is, then you keep moving forward.

So for me, that first quadrant of the process, discovery, awareness, and clarity, is normally, I don’t know, at most, five, six meetings for clients. But I’ve had some clients stuck in that quadrant for two years. But during that time frame, they have made progress. Piece by piece, they’ve made progress. And as long as there’s progress and it’s a high standards environment, and work’s getting done, then my job is to honor that. And during that timeframe, the only money I’ve made is the financial planning fee, and because I charge fairly for my time, that’s okay.

So, yes. You’ve definitely got to be adaptable.

Hannah: So, how do I frame this well? One of my … I think I’ve come to peace with this a little bit in the past, but one of my issues with life planning, especially being a millennial, and realizing how quickly life can change for millennials, especially the people who are listening who want to serve millennials. Life planning, it almost feels like a set it and forget it type thing. Maybe that’s my problem.

But this idea of, when I was back in college, I could’ve never imagined my life where it is today. Even my first couple of years in the business, there’s no way I could’ve imagined where my life was today. You have these inflection points that kind of just take you in a completely different direction. How does life planning manage all of those dramatic life changes that people have, especially young people? People in their 20s or early 30s?

Stephen: I think it’s consistent for any sentient being, if you will. Young, old, any of those things, is that once we get them in that process of discovery, awareness, and clarity, what we really do at that point is we move to the heart of the matter, which is the energy and vigor and meaning and purpose, and all of those things. And then once that happens, we implement around money and meaning. And while you’re doing that, the client experiences those increasing levels of financial security and confidence. And what was financial stress and worry, the focus is now flourishing and well-being.

But like any human being, and one of the great books about this is George Leonard’s Mastery book, is we spend our lives on plateaus with momentary spurts of growth. So while we may hit a place or a patch where life seems to be pretty good and it’s what we want, and we’re flourishing, the master’s journey is really enjoying being on that plateau, but the more you enjoy and live into what you’re doing, the more an upward spiral is going to take place in your life, either intentionally or as a consequence or something.

And then you really get to the evolving nature of being human. We have cycles of plateaus and unpacking and repacking and growth. But throughout most of that cycle, the life planning outweighs the financial planning, ’cause the money literally is just the details. It’s the simplest part of what we do.

So I think we work with clients on an ongoing basis to have a life of reflection and discernment. One of the amazing thing, and actually I’m going through this now. I’ve built this amazing routine in life, in my practice. And one of the really interesting things is, as you build in a lot of balance and freedom, while those things are wonderful because it’s yours, eventually you also find that you become somewhat of a prisoner to what you’ve built. And if you look at your life as going down a highway, those walls on the side have become really high. So even though it’s mine and I built it intentionally, after a while, I’m a growing and developing, evolving person, and I want more.

Another way to look at that is, if you’ve ever looked at Bachrach’s, what’s called a [inaudible 00:40:27] conversation. What’s important about money to you. There are a lot of times we’ll go back and redo that conversation every couple years, and the things that were on the bottom, the most basic needs, have fallen off. But there are new things on the top, because we’re seeing life with new eyes. And those new eyes always keep us centered in living an ever-evolving life.

So, Hannah, I don’t think life planning is one and done. I think it’s an ongoing, beautiful, burdensome, pain in the butt, wonderful process.

Hannah: And it’s interesting that you’re talking about it in these terms, because again, what you just described is something that I think most millennials experience even graduating college. And what our clients experience as they’re switching jobs or looking to retire. And to your point earlier, it’s really about this journey, and if we can understand those basic human elements, it doesn’t matter, the age of the person across the table from you.

Stephen: That’s right. And so with that, I put out a question, which is … So as we’re sitting across the table from our clients, is our job focused on their money, or is our job focused on them, their head, their heart, and who it is they were meant to be? And I would put forth that if we look at our roles as becoming an advocate for the greatest life that person can live, then there’s a lifetime of work to be done.

Hannah: And just to put it in such contrast to … I talk to so many new planners, and they’re working in jobs where the client meetings are completely centered on investments, and this is such a counter to that, it’s such a counterweight to that, of focusing on their life instead of just the transactions of investments.

Stephen: Very big difference. But it’s a conscious choice. I’ve got planners that I mentor around the country, and many of them started out with me, where they’re journaling daily and sending me journals. And then journaling weekly and sending me those journals. And when you go back and look at where they were, transaction-oriented, to where they are now, it’s unbelievable. And it’s mainly the perspective of the planner and how they see their role, and what is it that they want to be doing.

Hannah: Is there any final pieces of advice, or what you want new planners to know?

Stephen: I want them to pay attention to that tiny little bell of awakening that’s going off inside of them, saying, “I wish I was doing more. I wish there was something else. I’d like to be doing this instead of this.” I find so many people sadly hear those voices, but they don’t pay attention. And I think taking the time to sit down and truly be with yourself and be mindful and be reflective and to practice discernment makes all the difference, because that’s when you harness the energy and the power and the vigor and the focus of getting ready to make life changes.

The young planners who have inspired me most are the ones that are out there saying, “Just because all you old folks have done it this way, that’s not what I want. It’s fine if that’s what you want, but I want something different, and I’m willing to do the work to make that happen.” So my wish would be that people pay attention to that voice and start a journey, whether it’s reading everything you can get your hands on, whether it’s picking up the phone and calling somebody.

If you want to be the person that instills change on behalf of your clients, you’ve got to be the person who instills change on your own. And whether you do that yourself or with a coach or a trusted friend, doesn’t matter. But just be open and willing to do the work, and trust, and have faith that if you’re going at it with open eyes and an open heart, it’s going to turn out the way it’s supposed it.

Hannah: One thing I just want to highlight in what you’re saying, and I think this is so important, especially for new planners who say, “I think this could be different,” to realize that there are so many older planners who are cheering you on and they’re your advocates. You just have to find the right people to be around.

Stephen: The first time you and sat down was at Naz, and just by virtue of showing up at Naz, you change who you are. Show up at FPA retreat, which is a small, intimate gathering, and find, before you go, find the five people on your wishlist to talk with. And they’re going to be there, so have the nerve to just go up and introduce yourself and say, “Can I talk to you for five minutes?” That’s how we’ve all done it, and it is truly one of the most beautiful things about our community.

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Stephen Brody, CFP®, believes that financial planning is about digging deeper to move beyond the numbers and help clients put forward the lives they want to live. Through intentional leadership, he’s built a financial life planning practice - and wants... Stephen truly believes that financial planning is more than a numbers-driven practice. He focuses on marrying the reality of money with the helping people move forward with the lives they want to live – which is something we could all use to focus on in our own practices!

What You’ll Learn:

Resources and training to look for in the financial life planning industry.
How to implement intentional leadership in your own practice.
How we can lead clients based on our own experiences.
Why it’s important to reframe our planning process to reflect purpose and the values of our clients.

Susan Bradley Sudden Money
GreenLeaf Center for Servant Leadership
George Kinder – Kinder Institute of Life Planning

Hannah Moore clean 48:24
Why Becoming an Expert Should Be Your #1 Priority Tue, 13 Mar 2018 18:51:49 +0000 0 Many young financial planners are nervous when first sitting down with clients. Jeffrey Levine takes time in this episode to outline how researching your niche, studying financial planning, and embodying what it means to be an expert can eliminate your worry when you’re just getting started. Jeffrey Levine, CPA/PFS, CFP®, believes that the key to getting started in this profession is to know your stuff. And he’s a testament that it works. Jeff is a self-proclaimed retirement tax guru, and has found his passion within retirement-focused financial planning and helping others organize their financial lives.

When he got started in the profession, Jeff worked for Ed Slott of Ed Slott and Company, LLC. Being surrounded by such big players in the financial planning profession at such an early point in his career, Jeff learned first hand that being engaged with information and with people who are willing to guide and mentor you is a big key to learning as much as you can, and being the best advisor you can be.

As one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40 and a successful co-founder of Blueprint Wealth Alliance, he has truly thrived living by the “know your stuff” philosophy. Many young financial planners are nervous when first sitting down with clients. Jeffrey takes time in this episode to outline how researching your niche, studying financial planning, and embodying what it means to be an expert can eliminate your worry when you’re just getting started.

Jeff also encourages people to stay patient and do the hard work that this career requires. With time, your dedication will pay off!

hannah's signature

When you know your information, people know you know your information. Your confidence comes naturally. @CPAPlanner

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What You’ll Learn:

  • What building a successful financial planning practice looks like.
  • What kind of information you need to know when partnering with other planners.
  • Why it’s important to surround yourself with successful, intelligent people who want to help you grow and mentor you.
  • How putting in the hours helps to solidify your “expertise” in the eyes of clients, colleagues, and your own mind.
  • How to manage your calendar to stay engaged – even as you get busier and grow in your career.
  • Why it might be a good choice to start your own firm rather than taking over someone else’s.


A Guide to the New 20% Pass-Through Tax Deduction by Jeffrey Levine

2018 NAPFA Spring Conference Speaker






Show Transcript

Ep89 Transcript

Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today Jeff.

Jeffrey: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Hannah: Yeah. I’m so excited to have you on. You have had quite an interesting career that doesn’t necessarily line up with a lot of I guess traditional financial planners. You worked at Ed Slott and Company, working with America’s IRA expert. Can you tell us what that was like working for that large brand and what your role was within that?

Jeffrey: Sure. It’s funny, you’re right, life really takes you in some really funny directions at times. My goal growing up was never to be in the financial planning industry or financial advice or to be a CPA or a CFP. But through a series of really odd occurrences and just happenstance I ended working with Ed Slott and Company. It started out really just as an opportunity to learn and to contribute and to be someone on the team who was really doing a lot of grunt work at the time. A lot of research, a lot of writing up of tax court cases and diving into code sections and doing the background work. It really taught me at an early age the importance or really putting everything you have into a particular area and becoming a specialist in that area.

One of the things that struck me was, I think it was probably my second year with Ed Slott and Company. I must have been about 26 or 27. An attorney actually came to meet with us in the office, with me in the office. We didn’t do a lot of consultations with the public, most of it was B2B with other advisors and other professionals in the financial industry. But occasionally we did what we call these IRA consultations and charged $500 for up to an hour’s worth of time. So whether it took five minutes or whether it took the full 69 minutes, it was $500.

The reason for that, Ed always said, “We spend the time to learn this stuff so that we can answer a question quickly. We shouldn’t be penalized for our really deep knowledge. Just because we can answer that off the cuff doesn’t make it any less of of a difficult question. So this attorney came into the office and I could see as soon as I walked out to greet him, he kind of had this look on his face. He had driven actually four hours to come down and meet, and I could see he was like, “Oh my God, I’m here to meet with this 20 year old kid who doesn’t know anything. Why am I doing this? Why?” You could really sense, so we promised, “Listen, if I cannot answer your questions at the end of this, I promise we’re not going to bill you.”

By the time he walked out, he was apologizing, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive, it’s just that this is complicated and you’re so young.” It really taught me the value of diving deep into an area and becoming an expert, because at the end of that meeting he didn’t care that I was 20 or 25 or 45 or 85. He just wanted to know that someone was competent enough to answer his questions in a way that would help him to alleviate the issue that he was dealing with and know that it was the right answer. That’s really what he wanted.

Hannah: We talk a lot about confidence with new planners, and how when I talk to all these young planners it’s always, “How do I be confident in these meetings?” I love your solution of, “Just become an expert.”

Jeffrey: That’s it. When you know your information, people know you know your information. Your confidence comes naturally because … and you love it. You want to show people how smart you are, and to tell them, “Oh yeah, I saw that. There was this odd case from 1969 that came out,” and people look at you like, “How do you know that?” It’s because you spend the time you put it in. Right now the Olympics are going on and I suspect that none of those Olympians just walked in at the opening ceremonies and said, “Hey, I’m going to compete in this.” They’ve been training for years at one thing to do it really, really, really well. I think that’s what a lot of new planners should do, is do one thing but do it really, really, really well.

Hannah: So did you always know that you wanted to be more on the technical side of the profession?

Jeffrey: No. Like I said, I never even wanted to really be in the profession. It was such a fluke. Growing up I always was planning on being a doctor, from the time I was two to the time I was 21. And then my last years in college I just decided I wanted to go in a different way. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Ultimately I decided, “Hey, I’m going to become a financial planner.” Now Hannah there’s actually one thing that I don’t know that you know about me which is kind of interesting, and kind of relates to all of this.

My mother is actually the managing partner of Ed Slott and Company. Yeah, so she’s not a technical person at all. She doesn’t know anything about the tax code. If you ask her about her finances she’ll say, “I don’t know, ask my son.” But she’s a great, great, great businesswoman and she’s excellent with relationships. So I have known of Ed and known Ed Slott and Company since I was a young kid. I remember at 11 years old, I think, I worked in his office and his father was still alive at the time, he was also a CPA. I worked during a holiday break. In fact, I think it was probably the February break that we’re close to now.

At the end of the week, I’d worked in there for the whole vacation because my mom had no one to babysit me, his father came over and gave me $100 bill. My mom promptly ripped it out of my hand and gave it back to his father and said, “You can’t give him $100. What are you? What are you, nuts?” He said, “No. He’s going to learn the value of hard work under my watch.” So I had grown up around this, and I’d heard this. I remember even as young kid, when Ed was first doing local radio, my grandfather and I would sit by the radio just to make sure that if there weren’t enough question asked at the time we could always call in and be a question for him. So it goes back many, many, many years. When you hear something so many times it becomes ingrained in you.

A typical line that I joke around with people is like, “I knew how to roll over before I knew how to roll over.” It was a really, really young exposure to this. So after deciding not to be a doctor I said, “I’m going to become a professional financial planner.” I see Ed working with all these wonderful advisors, I want to help people just like they help people. So like many of your listeners, many other advisors in this field, I went and I did some research and I tried to find what was the best company at the time offering training. I went there and the first week was fantastic. It was rah-rah, we’re going to help people. The second time we went, during the second week, one visit per week, the second week was one of the best motivational lectures I have ever heard in my life, called, “212 degrees.” Are you familiar with it?

Hannah: I’m not.

Jeffrey: Okay. So I’m a science nerd. Even though I’m not a doctor or didn’t go down the science path, I still am a science nerd at heart, so this really appealed to me. The whole idea behind it was, basically water, summing up an hour discussion in 30 seconds. Basically water from 32 degrees to 211 degrees Fahrenheit goes from being cold water to hot water. There’s a lot of energy being put into that system, but nothing’s really changed. If you were to put in a little bit more energy, just one fraction more amount of energy into that system, all of a sudden you go from 211 degrees to 212 degrees and the water turns from water to steam. Now we can power locomotives and send ships across oceans and lift things with steam power.

The whole concept of it was that you could be putting in all this effort to something and you think you’re giving it everything, and you’re not seeing any results and maybe you get frustrated. But maybe it was just that last little bit that you could have put in, and all of a sudden you would have seen everything happen for you. It always stuck with me all these years. I’ve said, “Am I at 211 degrees or is there something else that I could be doing to get to that 212 degree to see the results I want.” That was great.

The third week was a discussion about life insurance, which is fine. If you’re going to be an advisor you’ve got to know the tools of your trade. But by week four it was the classic, “Hey, bring in a list of everybody you know and let’s see how much financial product we can push down their throats as quickly as possible.” Now that’s not of course how they worded it. It was, “We’re going to help people and your friends and your family and the friends of your family.” But I have this crisis of conscious, I’m not a salesy guy. I couldn’t it, and more than anything being in the unique position that I was growing up, I said, “How could I possibly sit down across somebody now, look them in the eye and say, “Give me your money,” when I literally know hundreds of other advisors who are way more qualified than I am? So I got really frustrated and I did something I never do, I said, “I can’t do this. I’m not going to do it.”

And again, life works in mysterious ways. Ed Slott and Company was putting on a technical program and they were short-staffed so they needed help. So of course I fly in, and I’m telling this exact same story to a group of financial advisors I know, just again from growing up around them. Lo and behold, there’s an advisor at a table behind me and he overhears everything. “Hey Jeff,” the next day he comes up to me, “Hey Jeff, listen. I work in a CPA firm down in Florida and it’s one of the largest CPA firm in South Florida. We do the financial planning for this firm. How would you like to come down and essentially be my junior? You don’t have to go out there and hunt for clients or whatnot. We have enough volume coming in as it is, you can just learn the business under me. You’ll sit in on my meetings, et cetera.”

I was like, “Wow.” This is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to learn. I wanted to apprentice. I wanted to become an expert before I sat down with someone and said, “Trust me with your life savings.” So I jumped at the opportunity. I ended up moving to Florida. After about a year and half or so in that position, it was an unbelievable opportunity, I learned a lot, but at the of the day it just wasn’t the right fit. So, I was going to go off on my own. I didn’t know what to do. I’m in my mid-twenties. How do I start a practice? Which way do I go? So I called up Ed and Ed say, “You know, I don’t know that he’s hiring but I have a good friend down in Florida,” or, “someone I know. He’s a high quality professional, been in the business for years. Why don’t you go see him? I bet you he can give you some tips about starting your planning practice.”

So I make the call and I spoke to this advisor. He says, “Absolutely. Any friend of Ed’s is a friend of mine. I’m happy to meet you. We just can’t do it tomorrow because I have a book signing. Why don’t we meet the following morning?” “Okay, sounds great.” That was the plan, and then right before he hung up I asked the question that without a doubt changed the direction of my life, changed the course of my career path, et cetera. I said to him, “Do you mind if I come to your book signing? I’d love to buy a copy of your book and meet you.” Really it was my way of saying, “Thank you for taking an interest in me. Let me take an interest in what you’re doing as well.”

So the next evening I went to his book signing. I introduced myself. I bought a copy of his book, he signed it. I went home that night, and then I thought to myself, “What can I do to show this guy that I am really serious?” I decided I would stay up all night and read his book cover to cover, so that I could go in the next morning and talk to him about it. It was a great book. It’s still on my bookshelf, in fact I’m just turning around now to take a peek at it. It’s an awesome, awesome book for financial advice. But there was this on problem, it had about three or four really esoteric IRA mistakes. I didn’t know what to do, because this guy is doing me a favor, right? He’s going to give me free advice and take some of his really valuable to come sit with me, someone he’s never met, never heard of.

Do I look at him and say, “Thank you so much. By the way, there are mistakes in your book. You’re a top advisor and I don’t have anything to hang my hat on. I’m just telling you you’re wrong.” Of course not, I could never do that. So I called up Ed and I said, “What do you think I should do?” He said to me, “No, no, no. This guy, there’s no way there’s mistakes in this book. It’s not possible. I know him. He’s a top advisor, been in the business 20-30 years.” I said, “Ed, I’ve been listening to you for a long time, I’m pretty sure I’m right.” He says, “No. No, it can’t be. In fact, I know the editor of the book. They would never let a mistake go by.” “Ed, I’m faxing you the pages. Humor me and take a look would you?”

I fax him the pages and 10 minutes later he calls back and says, “Son of a gun. You’re right. How did you know that?” And that’s what I said to him, I said, “I have been listening to you all my life. Doesn’t everybody know this?” To me it was this stuff that was like one plus one is two, you know this things. He was like, “No, this is really technical stuff.” So long story, which this was already but to shorten it up, he said, “Come to New York, I want to talk to you.” It turned into a job offer to start doing some grunt work. He said, “Clearly you’ve got a mind for this and a talent for this. How would like to come work with me?” And whenever there’s somebody that’s the top in the country at anything and they say, “Would you like to work with me?” Your answer should always be yes, I don’t care what it is. They’re the best garbage man, I’m going to work with them for a while because I want to learn how to be the best at whatever I can be.

So I packed up and that was that. After a while I ended up moving back to New York and that’s where I am now, it’s where my practice is. It was an unbelievable opportunity to learn a lifetime’s worth of work in a really condensed period, because there we weren’t getting the easy questions, we were getting everybody’s hardest questions. So you have to learn these things really, really, really quickly. It was awesome, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity of working there.

Hannah: I have to ask, with the advisor who got it wrong, did you ever tell him that he got it wrong?

Jeffrey: Ed actually called him before I went in. He said, “You’re not going to believe this but he’s actually kind of smart.” And that was the foray. He told when we met, he said, “I did call him,” and that was it. Yeah, but I couldn’t possibly bring that up. I would have looked like such a jerk at the time. I mean really, it is a great, great, great book. When I say esoteric I mean these are really mundane things, and unless you’re nose deep in the tax code you probably have no business knowing. But everybody has their unique ability.

Mine is you sing a song twice and I know all the lyrics. So having heard Ed speak about it many times, again it was just ingrained in there. It was by osmosis, I just picked that up. It was just an unbelievable learning experience for that time, and again it really changed the course of my life because when people find out, “Oh, your mother’s managing partner of Ed Slott and Company,” the first thing they think about actually is, “Yeah, you have a job because mommy works there.” And in fact that was a big concern for me. It was a real big concern.

When I came back to New York and I sat down with Ed and he offered me the position, I said, “That’s great but I have two thoughts. One is I really love financial planning. I love that interaction one-on-one with clients, and that same sense of satisfaction of someone saying, ‘Thank you. You’ve helped me.'” That was the thing that drove me more than anything, was seeing that look on someone’s face, where they were so concerned and then all of a sudden they understood that they were going to be okay, or that there were things we could do to improve on their situation or to protect them against potential hazards, and they just felt relaxed and calm. That sense of satisfaction, I said, “I have a hard time giving that up.”

He was very, very fair about, he said, “Listen, if you’re going to write for us or research, I don’t care if you do it at three in afternoon or three at night, as long as you get it done, done well and done on time. So if you want to continue to do financial planning on,” I hate to say on the side, because basically for the entire time I worked at Ed Slott and Company I worked like 90 hours a week because I was doing two full-time jobs. “But if you want to continue doing that as well, go for it,” and so I did. But my other issue was, I said to him, “I don’t want to work somewhere where everybody looks and says, ‘You only have a job because mommy works there.'”

His answer was true but I took it as a challenge. He said, “You’re going to have to know twice as much and be twice as smart to get half the credit as anybody else who works here because of that.” I just took it on as a challenge. I said, “All right, so be it. Let’s roll.” That was what led to the next I think eight, nine years of my life.

Hannah: So you were building a firm while working full-time with Ed Slott, is that right?

Jeffrey: Yeah. Building … I certainly wasn’t ignoring a firm, but building is a tough word for me to use because I wasn’t really out there actively marketing in the sense that a lot of other advisors are. It was really very soft word-of-mouth, the occasional client that came in. Since I’ve left Ed Slott and Company now and started to focus more on my advisory practice, I would say that now I’m really building something. There it was more of … It really depends on your definition of building. You’ve got a lot of time when it was more in the running and working of the business, and I didn’t always have an administrative assistant or staff at the time or partners like I do now, so I was doing a lot of that stuff myself and that was a necessity because my hours were all over the place.

I would be traveling with Ed Slott and Company for teaching or doing things, so it really was difficult at the time to get to train someone else to help me with some of those tasks. It was a challenging time for, and because of that I never wanted to take on too much and really go out there and let’s say open the flood gates and now I can’t serve all these clients by myself and do my Ed Slott and Company job. It was growing but it was kind of growing really ultra organically, I would say.

Hannah: What made you take the jump and leave Ed Slott and Company and start your own … I mean not start your own, you already had it, but really dive full steam ahead into your own practice?

Jeffrey: I was very fortunate, in that when I got into the space and when I had the situation when I left the other firm in Miami, most people would have to roll up under somebody or they may have to go to a large firm. I was able to call in a favor if you will and start out as an independent broker dealer in essentially my own branch with no clients and no existing revenue. Basically, someone said, “Hey, he’s a smart kid who’ll do the right thing. Give him a chance,” and they did. Which is unusual for an independent broker dealer, because why are they going to take on the risk of someone when there’s really no corresponding revenue.

My first year was a pretty successful year, as going the independent route. I really then hovered kind of level for the next six or seven years, again because I wasn’t really focusing on growing it so much. It was just as it was coming in. Ultimately, I decided to make a change back in 2015, because I just felt a change was in order. I wanted to really expand the practice and team up with some other individuals. I ended up switching broker dealers, but very quickly I realized something that I probably knew in my heart but just wasn’t ready to admit. Which was it just wasn’t the right space for me.

I’d already transitioned most of my business into the advisory space before and really didn’t do too much in the brokerage side. But I really thought that the advisory side was for me, but I didn’t want to build my own advisory firm. It seemed unmanageable, and at the time I was still working with Ed Slott and Company, and I was concerned that if I became an employee somewhere else or part of another advisory team, it’d be very challenging to serve two masters who demanded my time on an ongoing basis. When it was my own practice, it was me versus Ed Slott and Company, but if I had two essentially employers, I think it would have been very difficult, if not impossible.

So ultimately I decided to leave the broker dealer space. It just wasn’t worth it, and as much of a challenge as it would be to start putting together an advisory practice from scratch and go through the SEC registration process and all of that, from soup to nuts. That’s what I did in 2016 with someone I actually met down in Florida while I was working down there initially. We became very good friends. We always wanted to work together. He’s kind of the yin to my yang. We enjoy doing the polar opposite of things in the financial planning spectrum and we’re good at different things in the spectrum.

It was really a very seamless partnership, and probably would have happened much earlier if we weren’t always at odd points in our life, where I was moving back to New York, or he was having kids, or I was having kids. It was just the timing was never there, and then ultimately it was, and it took off. It took of really quick. I was really left with a tough choice. It was very demanding to have both jobs, if you will, full-time.

So in June of 2017, Ed and I talked and it became apparent that Ed really needed someone to do what I was doing, and only be doing that, and I had other interests. I really do enjoy the planning. I still love speaking, I still travel to speak and I love business to business consulting and working with other advisors and helping them as well. I love writing, I still do a ton of it. I love reading and researching. When the tax code came out, the new tax law, I think I sent out 200 tweets in the first day or something like that. I love pouring through and learning new things, but it just couldn’t be with Ed Slott and Company. I needed to have more control over all aspects of my life, so it was time.

They’ve since moved on and brought in some new talented people there. I think it’s been the best thing that I ever could have done for myself, my practice and my family. It’s given me more time with them and that’s been really important to me as well.

Hannah: That’s great. What I like about your story is that sometimes people get in jobs and hope to stay there there rest of their lives, and sometimes there’s a natural point where it’s better for both parties if you just move on, and it’s a really healthy and good thing.

Jeffrey: It is. It is. You know what, I didn’t expect it, and I think a lot of people were caught off guard because I would go places, and obviously it changed somewhat from place to place, but the standard introduction was like, “And here’s the heir apparent to Ed Slott.” Which was certainly never words that I used, but they were use quite frequently as the introduction. Like, “How do you introduce you?” “Well, you can say whatever you want.” “Okay,” and that’s how they would introduce me. So a lot of people really thought that I was going to be there, again especially because I have family working there as well. As a managing partner it was just assumed, like, “He’ll be here to take over one day.”

And you know, perhaps if I didn’t really enjoy financial planning as much as I did, maybe that would have been a possibility. But I can’t really imagine my life without working with some of the amazing people I work with on the client side. I just love that sense of satisfaction, of helping someone to have that peace of mind and to know that they’re going to be okay. There’s no substitute for that for me. I don’t have to do it all the time, but I don’t think I could do it none of the time.

Hannah: That’s really interesting, I mean hearing you say all that. You chose to start your own practice instead of potentially taking Ed Slott and Company someday. That’s crazy, hearing that.

Jeffrey: Yeah, maybe to some people but you know what, there’s no guarantees in life and it’s not like there was a contract in place that said, “Hey, when something happens you’re going to be here.” I was the younger person on the staff who had the knowledge and there wasn’t a clear second person. And yeah, again, I’d taken over a lot of the speaking responsibilities and someone of the things that Ed had done previously, he had passed onto me over the years and I had taken on much greater responsibilities within the firm of higher level tasks and so forth. But there were certainly other very, very talented and super knowledgeable people that I worked with there for many, many, many years, twice the amount of IRA information in my brain. It just was a matter of where are you at that point in life? It has to be the right time, the right position and the right place and it just didn’t line up.

Hannah: Yeah. You know, we talk about succession plans a lot on this podcast and various places, and your life has to line up with that. There has to be a larger narrative around that. It sounds like your larger narrative was leaning towards your own practice, or partnering with somebody.

Jeffrey: Yeah. I love doing, I love having a little bit of both part. Speaking really excites me, and I think that if I were to say, “What is it that I am the best at? What is that I do better than anything else in my life?” It’s taking really complex, really mundane things, and making them simple to understand, before even more important than that, fun to listen to and exciting presentation. Something that’s not boring, because no one wants to listen to someone yap about taxes for eight hours when they sound like Ben Stein from the dry eyes Clear Eyes commercial. Like, “Dry eyes, try Clear Eyes.” You just want to fall asleep, and that’s the typical tax seminar that advisors or CPA’s go to.

So I think that’s an area where I want to continue to focus and build out. I really enjoy doing that, but again I could never leave entirely, at least at this point, my individual clients. I love that too. So I don’t think people have to pick just … As you grow and as you find out your course, I don’t think you have to just do one think. I think that you have to develop the expertise in one or a few areas, so that you can choose to pursue those areas in various ways that you want.

Hannah: One thing that you said that you do, I don’t know, a lot might be not great word, but is a lot of B2B consulting. What does that look like for you? What are you consulting on?

Jeffrey: In the past, when I was in Ed Slott and Company, that was one of my primary roles. We had a group of about 400 advisors that trained on an ongoing basis. They essentially, as part of their membership fee if you will, had carte-blanche access to the Ed Slott and Company technical team. It was me and generally, depending upon what year you were talking about, anywhere from two to three other individuals. We would be responsible for answering all the questions that came in. They came in by phone. They came in by email. They came in by message board.

That was one aspect of it, and then we also had advisors who weren’t affiliated with that group who just needed additional help on certain complex matters, often times for their client. They would be working with a client who was either already an existing client, or they would be trying to win a new client relationship and as part of their value proposition they would essentially say, “Here, I’m going to pay for this consultation with this firm because this is an area where we need to bring in experts.”

That’s kind of translated, I still do that to a degree. It’s admittedly probably the smallest portion of my business makeup at this point. Speaking makes up a significant portion. My financial advisory practice makes up a significant portion. I also run and service the technical content expert for the Horsesmouth Savvy IRA Planning program. That’s another area in which I focus.

And then, the business to business at this point has really, has taken a backseat, just because it’s not something that I’ve pushed as heavy, because it’s not scalable. At least not until I have let’s say a whole crew of other people like me working with me in the technical space. So it’s just not a scalable thing day one because everything has to delivered for one-on-one, is not one-to-many. I’ve tried, at least at this point, outside of my financial advisory practice to focus on the one-to-many things that I can do.

Hannah: You just went through a whole list, that sounds like two or three full-time jobs, of everything that you’re doing right now. How do you manage having so many different roles with various places?

Jeffrey: It’s something that I’ve had to become better at to be honest. Managing time and being super organized isn’t something that comes natural to me. I freely admit that I … I would even go so far to say there are times that I really, really struggle with it. Certain things that other people do I’m amazed. There’s someone in my office, he’s the most organized human being I have ever met in my entire life. He has lists for everything and everything is categorized. I look and I marvel, it’s like, “My goodness, I don’t even know how to start with that.”

But I’ve really tried to embrace three things. The first being other people, delegating. That’s been something that I’ve worked on a lot lately. The other, the second thing is to embrace no. I’m really bad at that. I think probably I pegged it one month at about 10% to 12% of the time that I was spending on a working day was actually being spent, when I tracked it for a month, on tasks that were not related to really any of my businesses. They were just things that I said I’d help people out with.

Like, “Yeah, sure I’ll call the IRS for you for that one and see if I can help take care of it.” Just because I didn’t want to say no. I wanted to be the guy who says yes to everything. I’ve really tried to embrace saying no. Which sounds awful but it’s really important, and I’ve learned its importance.

And then the third thing is technology. Technology has really helped me to become a more organized person and to become much better at time management. I still work a lot. I still work more hours than I’d like to, but I look at this really as a startup phase for the next 20, 30, 40 years of my life.

I really love what I do now, and so I don’t ever envision the traditional retirement. I just think that I might maybe speak less or travel less, or maybe at some point I don’t see as many clients. But I don’t ever imagine that traditional retirement because I don’t know what I’d do with myself, that I love this too much.

Hannah: Thinking back to earlier in our conversation, you were talking about the well-respected advisor who wrote a book and there were IRA mistakes in his book, and just with the work that you’ve done with so many advisors, especially speaking to younger planners, how do we be sure that we’re not the guy who’s writing a book, or gal who’s writing a book, with mistakes in it like that? What would be your advice on that?

Jeffrey: You know, the first thing is don’t … This is going to sound like really the dumbest statement ever or the most obvious thing but don’t trust everything you read on the internet. That’s the very first thing I would tell people, especially for young advisors. A lot of the younger advisors that I spoke too, they’ve grown up with the internet. They don’t remember the days of pre-internet, and so everything is a Google click away from them.

Google is amazing, and there are some tremendous resources out there on the web. But just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s right. What I always used to do if there was something I was looking up, I’d always try to find someone who’d written about it from a place that I would trust normally. But then I would go back and do the background research. I would try to find the actual code that they reference, or the private letter ruling that they referenced, or the court case that they referenced, and read it for myself and make sure that I really understood it.

That’s not going to be for everybody but if you focus on an area and you become very knowledgeable at that one thing, then you expand it just a little bit, and then you expand it just a little bit more. The other thing that I would say is write. Write as much as you can. Writing is probably the easiest way to become an expert at something, because when you write there’s no hiding.

We’re recording this podcast now, and maybe I said something before that’s not 100% correct. Now hopefully not but maybe I did. You can excuse someone when they’re speaking extemporaneously and they’re just going off the cuff and answering a question or having a discussion for the mistake here or there. Because sometimes our mouths don’t work as fast as our brains do.

But when you’re writing, it’s there and it’s permanent. Someone’s going to be able to print that and 10 years later they’re going to be able to walk back to you and say, “But you wrote this.” It’s kind of almost a catch-22, is how do you become at writing and make sure you don’t make that mistake. But writing in the first place is important, doing that and starting that process, and then having people check your work.

That is extremely important, having people check your work. Again, it’s not that people will make no mistakes. We’re people. We’re no infallible. We’re going to make mistakes. But having someone check your work is extraordinarily important. Back when I was working with Ed Slott and Company we did a blog on … We blogged I would say usually three to four times a week on different topis.

No article ever went up without at least two people looking at it first, even if it was super easy and it was the most basic topic and we were just doing a refresher. And a lot of these articles were written consumer-focused, not necessarily for the advisor. So they were fairly simple at time, some of them were more complex but a lot of them were very simple, and even those always had a second technical expert on the team look at the article before it went out. You know what? You’d be surprised the thing that you find. You’re putting dates on there for required beginning dates and RMP’s, you type a number wrong, you type a year wrong, and you’ve written it and you’ve read your own work so many times that you read what you think is there but what’s not actually on the page. You know what I’m talking about, right?

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely.

Jeffrey: You read, you see what you want to see as opposed to what’s actually on the page. So having someone check your work, and to be humble, to be able to accept criticism and to not look at it as being negative but to look at it as improving you, to making you better.

And then I would throw one other thing out there, it’s to invest in yourself. I think you’ve got a wonderful podcast. I think what you’re doing to help new planners come into the business Hannah is just phenomenal, because no one should have to come into the business and be forced to sell, sell, sell, sell, sell and hopefully stick around long enough so that they can learn something.

I always say, “You should learn before you earn, and not the other way around.” I think what you’re doing is incredible. This is a great start. Those who spend the time to listen to this podcast each week are probably upping their game. But to take it a step further, if you want to focus on let’s say working with business owners, go out there and find a course that specializes in dealing with business taxation or succession planning.

Take your game to the next level and spend the money on education. It is by far the investment that … And you know what, of all the things that Ed Slott and Company, my time there taught me, it was to make sure invest. Some places have some tax services to get you updates on the latest tax developments. We had four of them. When there was a new book that came out and there was a subtle change from year to the next, you probably need the new book. We got new books every year to make sure we always had the best material.

This is like a carpenter going to work with a hammer that’s not quite really attached. You’ve got to have the tools of your trade. You’ve got build out the resources around you in order to provide that high level of guidance that today’s consumer demands.

Hannah: You’ve talked at several points about being an expert and how, really find what you can specialize in and be the best in that. My question for you, and again it’s a little bit of a rhetorical question. How would you advise young planners as well? But how did you know that you were an expert? And how did you know that you had enough to offer clients before starting out on your own, really providing those services on your own?

Jeffrey: Wow, it’s deep. I don’t know that there’s ever moment where you say to yourself, “I’m an expert.” I don’t even know that I would say that today, because I’m still learning things every single day. Every single day. I think becoming an expert is like the end of a rainbow that you can never quite get to. You can become as close as there is but there’s always something more to learn. There’s always something new.

And literally every day I learn something. I can’t think of the last day that came, that went by where I … something on the technical of things I didn’t pick up, some little nuance that was not known to me, or known to me beforehand. So I don’t know that there’s a time where you can strike out and say, “I’ve done it. I’m here. I’m ready to go.”

You build up essentially an expert bank if you will. You build up the street cred, and over time … You know, it’s not an overnight process. It’s about … I’ll give you the best example. You asked, how did I know when I became an expert. Again, I’m not going to use that word, but let’s just …. the time when I most surprised, I said, “All right. I might know what I’m doing.” I needed to look up something and I couldn’t remember what it was so I went and I googled it.

I can’t remember what the exact topic was, but I went and googled it, and an article came up. I was reading and I was like, “Wow, this is pretty good.” I finally finished it and I got to the end, I’m like, “Wait a second, I think I remember this.” It was something I had written eight years ago that was picked up on another site, that I hadn’t authorized. They basically copied my work and pasted it onto their website. Yeah, not really great from a copyright point of view.

But I looked at it, it’s like, “Yeah. I wrote that. Okay.” That’s when I was like, “Okay. When you can start googling yourself for technical information, then that’s not a bad sign.” But you know what? It’s a process. It’s a process. When I first started out I could answer let’s say 90% of the questions, but that meant I had to ask either Ed or some on the technical staff to help me out with the other 10%. And then maybe year two it was 95%, and 99%.

Along with becoming a specialist or an expert in any field comes knowing when something is beyond your scope. I still run across that today, and every planner will, and every advisor will, and every CPA will. There comes a time when it’s not your area of expertise, or it’s just above your pay grade so to speak. The worst thing you could is to try to extend yourself, because that’s when you go and make those mistakes. You reach and you don’t want to say no, because no one likes to say no, but you’re so much better off telling someone, “Listen, I can help you with all this other stuff but this one thing, you really need to go see this attorney for,” or, “this CPA for,” “this other advisor for,” whatever it is.

That’s I think a really important thing, and as an expert the last thing you want to do is make a mistake because then that calls into question your credibility as expert. So much better to defer and put something off and to say, “I can’t do this,” and to not make the mistake, than to try to take it on and not be able to fulfill that promise.

Hannah: You’ve mentioned several times about writing, and writing seems to be maybe a difficult skill for a lot of planners. It’s been interesting, I’ve been talking with professors and they’re actually making students write blogs in their colleges classes now as they prepare to enter the financial planning profession. I think that’s an interesting angle on it. But how do you … Number one, should just be expected that financial planners can write? And then also, how do you … I mean I guess it’s practice, but how do you get good at writing?

Jeffrey: I think that you don’t have to be a great writer. I think that you just have to be good at conveying a message, because there are a lot of different ways that you can convey that message. You can write and type, but you might use a program like Dragon Dictation let’s say and just go out there and just talk. Talk as if you were talking to your client, and maybe that’s your blog. Maybe your blog isn’t the, “And thus, therefor, this is … ” Maybe your blog is the super conversational blog, or maybe you just never write it all, you write three sentences to caption the video that you do, and you record a video on your iPhone once a week about a topic that’s of interest to you or that you want to express some information on.

There’s a lot of different ways in which you convey it. I like writing because people tend to be able to keep that writing. I think of myself and what I do, and I don’t know how many of your users, or rather listeners, use Evernote, or whether you use Evernote or a tool like Evernote. I had kind of created my own Evernote without knowing what Evernote was. Then about two years ago someone came to me and said, “Why don’t you use Evernote?” It was revolutionary. It saved me so much time building my own essentially information library.

I store all these articles that I want to go back to at some point, or that I want to be able to reference, by tagging them with keywords and so forth. You can do that relatively easily today. I can pull that article anywhere. I can pull it on my cellphone. I can pull it up on my computer. You can’t necessarily do that quite as easily with the video medium, so I really love writing.

I love video too, but I love writing because I think it’s one of the best ways to get a message out there permanently. People like to read things more than once on the technical stuff. They want to read that passage again because it’s complicated and they need to make sure that they understand it. When you’re listening to the audio or watching a video, it’s not as convenient to drag it back. You do of course, but …

There are a lot of different ways to get that message out and to be a writer without necessarily having to write well. I think it definitely helps, and there are classes out there. In fact, there are people who teach classes just on writing and blogging for financial advisors. So if someone wants to become better at it, maybe you’re never going to be great. I don’t think I’m ever, ever, ever, ever going to be great at organization. I’ve gotten much better but that’s my Achilles Heel. I’m not naturally an organized person. I have to work hard to organize myself, and use tools, and read about it, and take best practices, because it just doesn’t come naturally to me.

Maybe writing doesn’t come naturally to someone else, but if they work hard I’m pretty confident that, like anything else practice makes closer to perfection. Not perfect but it certainly gets you closer there. So that would be my advice, and don’t be afraid, put it out there. People, you’d be amazed …

One more tip too. One last thought on that that I think is really important. There is rarely an original thought today. When a new law comes out or there’s a new case, then obviously everybody’s working on it simultaneously and there’s almost a rush to be first to print, the latest thought. Which is why I like Twitter so much, you can get out in 140, or 280 now, characters bits of information on things and almost be first to market on the new information. Which I think is awesome.

But other than that, there really is no new thought. So if you were writing on something, I would read five other articles on the same topic that you’re writing about. Obviously you don’t want to plagiarize, you don’t want to steal anybody’s information, but see how something is presented. Maybe it kicks a thought in your mind as to how you would organize it.

A lot of times I read something and I say, “You know, this was really great but I think I would have understood much better if it was presented in this order or this format, as opposed to the way this person chose to present it.” So then when I write it, I’ll present it in that matter. I think that can be a helpful tip for those who aren’t really confident about their writing either.

Hannah: I like your point of I think would agree that to be a good, especially if you’re client-facing, you have to be a good communicator, and writing is just a way to communicate.

Jeffrey: Yeah, it’s just one communication medium. I mean there are … I know a advisor in, he’s in Nevada, he’s a young advisor, and he doesn’t write at all. When I say not write at all, I’m sure he actually sends emails from time to time, but almost everything he does is a video message to his clients. They’re all younger, millennials. He doesn’t work with … He does work with some older individuals but they all have to tech savvy, that’s kind of his rule, his thing. He answers everything by video because it takes him way less time to write. He doesn’t really like to write. He doesn’t enjoy it. He says he’s not very good at it. So he just sends video clips to everybody. When someone sends him a email, he answers it with a video message. When he wants to make a phone call or update a client, he does it via video. That’s what works for him and hopefully everybody finds what works well for them.

Hannah: One of the things that you’ve talked about is researching, and researching deeply. Going, you said reading court cases, or reading the tax code or things like that. Can you talk a little bit more about that? When I’ve talked to other advisors, it seems like that kind of in-depth research feels very overwhelming and feels very out of reach for them.

Jeffrey: I think that that’s going to change over time. I think technology is going to force that to change over time. Because the traditional bounds where a advisor, or where a client would find an advisor, are not going to continue to be the same. For instance, in the past the primary limiting factor to the advisors that you could work with was generally a geographic location. You wanted to be able to go and see you advisor and sit down in their office.

There are still a lot of people who want that face to face interaction, but clients of all ages, whether they be young millennials or boomers or even older, have gotten increasingly comfortable with digital communication or doing video conferences remotely, et cetera. If you’re not going to be a specialist, then you’ve got to look and say, “Who am I working with? Why are these people working with me?” It could just be, “Hey, I’m the local advisor and I’m the one that’s close to you, and I’m like you generalist doctor.”

Look, generalist practitioners that are doctor, they make good livings. There’s nothing wrong with that and we need generalists. In fact we’re short generalists right now. But specialist is where the money is physicians, and I think that’s going to continue to be the trend for advisors. Especially as these geographic barriers continue to be broken down. Because I type in, IRA expert, social security expert, business succession planning expert, into Google and I’m going to look and I’m going to see who comes up on the first three pages of Google, today maybe the first page of Google.

I’m going to start there if I don’t really care, if I want to go to the best at something. And a lot of people want just the best at something. I think advisors have to do a gut check. Like, “What is it that I want to do? Do I want to be that generalist?” Maybe if you’re only in the business for another five or 10 years it’s not a big deal for you. But for young advisors, for like you, like me, like I’m sure many of your listeners, who are going to be around for the next 20, 30, 40 years or more in the profession, I think you’ve got to figure out what it is that you do really, really, really well, and then figure how to become great at it.

Not everybody’s going to be lucky enough to fall into a situation like I did, literally, where they can study under the best at something. But there’s ways that you can go out. Reading. I talked to an advisor, maybe it was four or five years ago. He had asked a question about a law that basically had changed in 2002. We’re talking about this advisor and that was in 2012. He’s completely off the books, or off the rails, for a law that had changed a decade ago.

I said, “You didn’t know that?” He says, “No. I don’t really like reading much.” How could you be an advisor and say, “I don’t like reading much?” How do you not stay up to date on the latest changes? And not even the latest changes, the changes of the last decade. You’ve got be willing to put in time.

Advisors bill time in their calendar for calling clients and for … A lot of advisors time block their time. “These are the times that I meet clients. These are the times that I do phone calls. These are my networking times.” I would say build in educational time into your practice block. Build in self-improvement into that time block and take it very seriously. Don’t let that be the first thing to go when you’re backed up on paperwork. Stay the extra hour at the office and get it done. Put in that time for you to get better at whatever it is that you really, really, really want to do.

There is no substitute for time. A lot of the old advisors, older advisors, or I shouldn’t say old, but those who have been in the profession longer, the more mature advisors, they remember the days of dialing for dollars. In fact, I have an advisor in my office who built his initial book doing that same thing, dialing for dollars. I look at it today, it’s like, no, the modern advisor is going to be learning for dollars, reading for dollars, writing for dollars, not dialing for dollars.

The old days of you reaching out to clients is really going away. This is much more a business of attraction, as opposed to reaching out to that client. You need to do something to attract them to you and make that person want to work with you, as opposed to trying to convince them that they should work with you.

Hannah: If you were to start over, whether that means starting over in the profession year zero, ground zero, or if you were looking to start over with a firm without maybe your background or your name recognition that you already have. Where would you start?

Jeffrey: Without a doubt I would … this is an easy one for me to answer because I tell almost every young person who asked me that same question the same answer. The first thing I would do is I would try, while I was a student let’s say, is to intern as many different places as possible. Get your feet wet and figure out what it is that you really enjoy. You can find out what your passionate about. Find out what you love doing, because the things that you love doing you’ll inevitably be much better at than the things that you don’t enjoy doing.

And on top of that, by getting those things out of the way and figuring out what you want to do early on, you’re way ahead of a lot of other people who have to change mid-stream or make adjustments along the way. That’s the first thing, but the second thing is if you want to become a financial planner. If that’s really your goal, the thing that I would say don’t focus on money right away. Focus on the best educational opportunity.

Give up a year or two of income if it means that. I’m not saying that you should make nothing. I don’t want people to live on bread and water. But the first job, when I went down to Miami, it was not a high paying job. For me it was, “Hey, I get to learn under an advisor, where I don’t have to go out and hunt for clients. I’m going to be apprenticing and I’m going to learn everything I need to know, so that when I go out on my own I can do those same things and do them with confidence and do a good job for clients.

That’s what I think young planner … If I could apprentice 100 young planners over my career, I don’t think that will happen. It’s probably too lofty of a goal, but my goodness, that would make me feel amazing because I want more people to get into the business the right way. To me the right way is finding a place where you can learn, where you’re not out there day one meeting with clients. It’s not your role. You don’t know enough day one.

The worst thing is when you don’t know enough, or when you don’t know what you don’t know, that’s even worse. I think it was Donald Rumsfeld years ago who said something like, “There are known knowns. There are known unknowns, the things that we know we don’t know, and then there are unknown unknowns.” It’s those unknown unknowns that are super dangerous to advisors, because you don’t know where you’re giving someone the wrong answer. The only way you can really, to resolve that is through experience.

So I would say, go out, find your local advisory firm, find your local financial planning firm. If you want to be an asset manager find your local asset management firm. Listen, if you want to be a broker and that’s what you want to do, then find a brokerage firm. Find someone who’ll take you on and do whatever it takes to get them to say yes, because all you want to focus on is learning from someone who’s really good. That’s the only thing you should focus on those first few years.

The money will come. I promise you. You know that old adage of people not making it in the business, it’s because they were going out and trying to sell when they had no knowledge. Of course more people were bound to fail. I don’t remember what the exact statistics were but it was way more advisors fail than succeed in the business. Again, it’s because you’re going out there and trying to sell something that you don’t even know enough about to really sell, which is you. Right? Your information, your knowledge, you haven’t built it yet.

So if you build it, because corny as it is if you build it they will come. They, being the client. So build that educational base. The best way to do it in my opinion is to go out and find someone to apprentice under. You have to entice them to do it, because as the owner of a practice or as a, let’s say a primary financial planner, maybe they’re not looking for that junior at that time. Maybe they don’t want that junior. You’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes. Whether that’s filling out the paperwork or maybe staying afterwards.

Maybe you fill a role during the day which is learning and sitting in with meetings with them, but when you sit in with meetings you’re not doing the other work that needs to be done. So you might have to put in the longer hours afterwards, or on weekends. That’s the trade-off I think for that type of opportunity to learn and to not have come into the business and to be hocking friends and hocking family members about buying this or putting money you. You’re kind of gambling on people’s livelihoods. It’s just not a good way to start.

Hannah: Great stuff there. Well, thank you for being with us Jeff, we really appreciate it.

Jeffrey: It was such a privilege. Really, I really wish all of your listeners the absolute best. For those that have struggled who think about, “Is this really for me?” Just keep at it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it really … you asked me, what would I change if started over. Not much. I really love what I do. If this is something you really love, if you stick with it, if you’re passionate about it, you put in the time, it will work out. There are opportunities out there for you. Hannah, thank you so much for letting share my story with your listeners. It was really fun.

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Many young financial planners are nervous when first sitting down with clients. Jeffrey Levine takes time in this episode to outline how researching your niche, studying financial planning, and embodying what it means to be an expert can eliminate your... Jeffrey Levine, CPA/PFS, CFP®, believes that the key to getting started in this profession is to know your stuff. And he’s a testament that it works. Jeff is a self-proclaimed retirement tax guru, and has found his passion within retirement-focused financial planning and helping others organize their financial lives.
When he got started in the profession, Jeff worked for Ed Slott of Ed Slott and Company, LLC. Being surrounded by such big players in the financial planning profession at such an early point in his career, Jeff learned first hand that being engaged with information and with people who are willing to guide and mentor you is a big key to learning as much as you can, and being the best advisor you can be.
As one of Investment News’s 40 Under 40 and a successful co-founder of Blueprint Wealth Alliance, he has truly thrived living by the “know your stuff” philosophy. Many young financial planners are nervous when first sitting down with clients. Jeffrey takes time in this episode to outline how researching your niche, studying financial planning, and embodying what it means to be an expert can eliminate your worry when you’re just getting started.
Jeff also encourages people to stay patient and do the hard work that this career requires. With time, your dedication will pay off!

What You’ll Learn:

What building a successful financial planning practice looks like.
What kind of information you need to know when partnering with other planners.
Why it’s important to surround yourself with successful, intelligent people who want to help you grow and mentor you.
How putting in the hours helps to solidify your “expertise” in the eyes of clients, colleagues, and your own mind.
How to manage your calendar to stay engaged – even as you get busier and grow in your career.
Why it might be a good choice to start your own firm rather than taking over someone else’s.

A Guide to the New 20% Pass-Through Tax Deduction by Jeffrey Levine
2018 NAPFA Spring Conference Speaker

Hannah Moore clean 1:02:07
Digging Deep on Content Marketing and Communication Strategies Tue, 06 Mar 2018 22:41:24 +0000 0 Dan digs deep to find the real marketing issues that financial planners are facing and how they can solve them. We’re going to go over how to set up marketing initiatives that matter to your clients and prospects, and how to change the conversation from being numbers-focused to story-focused. Marketing often overwhelms financial planners – and with good reason. There’s so much information out there about SEO, content marketing, social media, and more. How is it possible to get it all done, and have every effort be effective?

Enter: FPA’s Director of Marketing… Dan Martin, MBA. In this episode, Dan digs deep to find the real marketing issues that financial planners are facing and how they can solve them. We’re going to go over how to set up marketing initiatives that matter to your clients and prospects, and how to change the conversation from being numbers-focused to story-focused.

The financial planning profession is undergoing a lot of growth right now, and we’re all charged with the responsibility to change the conversation and the perception of financial planners. Dan believes that every voice in this conversation matters, and the way we communicate will truly change the future of finance.

hannah's signature

If individually we all start to change the way we talk to clients and prospects about the value of financial planning and take it outside of the numbers, everyone that lends their voice to the effort is a step in the right direction. @DanW_Martin

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What You’ll Learn:

  • What starting a blog as a financial advisor entails.
  • Whether or not outsourcing your content is worthwhile.
  • How associations like FPA are helping to change the conversation around financial planning.
  • How marketing should be “story based” instead of numbers or fact-based.
  • What aspects of your marketing you should focus on.






Show Transcript

Ep88 Transcript

Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Dan.

Dan: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.

Hannah: So, I read an article that you posted on FPA practice management blog. And I think I read it and three weeks later, it was still just rolling around in my head. So, I really want to get to that. I’ll give the listeners the title of it. “Financial Planners, Stop Making Excuses and Start Marketing.” So, well jump into that a little bit later, but for the listeners, can you give them just a little bit about yourself? Kind of what’s your role with an FPA. You have a degree in marketing. You’re not a financial planner, right?

Dan: Correct, yes. Degree in Journalism and then a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing.

Hannah: For your whole career, have you been involved in the financial services profession?

Dan: I have, yes. So, I graduated from the University of Denver in 2006 with a Journalism degree, and it turned out that that was not a great time to look for print journalism jobs. So, I gravitated to marketing because I wanted to at least use some of the skillset. And I think the journalism degree, it’s still been so valuable for me. But I ended up in the insurance world, so the retirement insurance world. And so, over the last 11 years I’ve had marketing communications roles and many different parts of the financial services world. But I think my favorite and probably the most useful stint was, at least in my early career was with a broker dealer, because it was there that I was finally able to build relationships with financial planners.

And we’ve talked a little bit about this beforehand but, I thought meeting all these planners that first of all, I love these people, and most of them are nice, they’re smart people. They’re trying to make a living by helping others which is just such a wonderful thing. And what struck me was how totally different it was to meet these planners, than how they’re perceived, even within their own industry. And so, at that point I kind of made a decision that I wanted to try to change that paradigm and not just because I think it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s a great marketing challenge. The shifting perception is that’s one of the central tenants of what marketing can do. So, right now I’m Director of Marketing at Financial Planning Association, and that’s a position where I think and hope that I can do some good in terms of changing the perception to be a little but closer to reality when it comes to what financial planners can do and the kind of impact that they can make.

Hannah: Let’s talk about that discrepancy. Because I think we all know that it’s there. I think sometimes we’re a little too close to the trees to see the forest. Can you describe what that discrepancy is? Like what’s our perception, and then what do you see is the reality?

Dan: Yeah. I think the perception that is out there, and granted, I don’t want to make too heavy of generalizations, but just that advisors and financial planners, first of all, that a broker is the same things as a financial planner, which there is a large, a huge gap between those two different types of things. But also, that a financial or an adviser or a broker is first a salesperson. They’re going to try to sell you a product. And I think there’s a lot of reasons for this, that perception. But part of is that it’s a numbers-focused industry, and there this connection with Wall Street and the perception of Wall Street is, and in some ways correctly, that they’re going to get as much money out of you as they possibly can, regardless of whether or not it’s good for you.

And granted, there’s always, every tree has rotten apples, but most of the planners that I’ve met are, what we were talking about before, that they’re small business owners, for the most part. They’re people who are trying to help others, and they really believe that they’re trying to, or that they treat their clients like they would treat their family. And something like money is so personal and so central and so emotionally-driven, that an advisor is, the numbers piece is sort of implied, but an advisor is there is almost one of your most trusted confidants. And the difference between the perception and the reality of that is stark and in some ways even shocking.

Hannah: Maybe this is a million dollar question, but from your perspective as a marketer, how do we fix that?

Dan: Well, I think one way is, and granted, I’ll plug the podcast here, I think what you’re doing, what you do in this podcast Hannah is so wonderful. Just because it’s going to take a collective effort. Any time you’re trying to, it’s like the analogy of turning an aircraft carrier. It’s going to take time. And it’s not something that anyone can do alone. It’s going to take a collective effort of organizations like FPA, other industry focus group, profession focus groups. But I think you cannot underestimate the impact of what the change you can make on a personal level for all financial planners. And I think what this podcast shows is that your contributions do matter.

So, if individually we all start to change the way we talk to clients and prospects about the value of financial planning and take it outside of the numbers, everyone that lends their voice to the effort is a step in the right direction, and collectively if we can all do that together, I think it is possible to change the perception. But, I think part of the title you were talking about is, we need to stop relying on everyone else to do that for us and saying, “Well, that’s the industry’s job. That’s an association’s job.” It’s really all of our jobs.

Hannah: One of the things that I’ve struggled with personally just having my own firm and being a solo advisor is, I see these ads on TV. They’re doing a great job. And I see all these companies, they have focus groups that they’re paying to really, their marketers are working with focus groups in order to get the best copy and everything on there. And I struggle sometimes with how do we compete? And maybe, yeah, how do we compete with that?

Dan: Yeah, I think that’s a really great question. I think that that’s, well, if you read a lot of marketing blogs and things like that, there’s a change you get completely overwhelmed and say, “Oh well, I don’t have money to do, spend a lot of money on some Google ads or get into search engine marketing.” Or, “I don’t have SEO,” or, “I don’t have a big CRM.” And all of those things are helpful, and they can certainly help you increase your reach and distribute the content that goes out there. But I believe so passionately that the story is what matters the most. And if you can create your own story from a personal standpoint, and it’s a story that’s true and that shows both your strengths and where you’re maybe even vulnerable, and then what your vision is, sort of what you focus on that maybe other planners don’t, I think that there is the David and Goliath story that there is a way that planners can still compete if your story is powerful enough.

Something like social media has leveled the playing field. Because a lot of that, some people say you have to pay to play, which is true from an advertising standpoint, but social media gives you the reach to compete on a level that frankly, those smaller businesses couldn’t before. So, I think that yes, you’re probably never going to be able to compete on in terms of the total spend, but I think there are ways to level the playing field.

Hannah: So, a lot of people talk about story. And I love that idea. But how does that actually play out within a financial planning firm?

Dan: So one thing, and that’s a great question, because there’s always, and marketing has this problem just like everything else, that there is theory and then there is implementation. Okay, that sounds great, but how do I do that? And I think something that everyone can do is to start a blog. And I think the term blog scares some people, because people think that you have to post something every single day, or that you’re going to spend all your time on the blog, and then you have your business to run and you have your clients to meet with. But really, if you have a website, which most planners do, it’s really nothing more than a new tab and addition of some buttons. Or you can even launch a standalone site in Squarespace for a couple of dollars a month. And it’s really intuitive to use.

But, so there’s compliance regulations, of course, and the content itself. You may have to submit posts for review and that sort of thing, but I think depending on the content, what you have in there, that can be really a minor hassle. And here’s why a blog is valuable: Number one is, you need to build your, a social media following, which is the only free marketing basically that you can do besides in person and referrals face-to-face. You need content. And you look at social media, the vast majority of posts are driving users to something else. The content of the social media itself is sending people back to a blog or a video or a webpage.

And so, the blog, that is your story. That if you create a blog and you, let’s say you do one post a month even, to start, that’s, and even that could be aggressive, but it’s I think everyone has time for one post a month. And you take that directly from your client interactions, you have all the content that you’ll ever need sitting in the chair right across from you. And so, if you talk once a month about the sort of hot topic of the month, and what you did to solve the client’s most important problems, and even taking it from your own lens as a planner, then you repurpose and share that one post on social throughout the month. That is the foundation of a content strategy. And so, to me, it’s overwhelming when you look at all these things telling you that you have to have a content strategy and personas. And again, those things are important, but really, if you start with a blog and social media, that is the beginning of your story telling program.

Hannah: One of the things that I’m seeing a lot of advisors do is paying to outsource all of their content. So, they pay a writer to pitch them ideas, and then they’re writing for their blog. What’s your perception of that?

Dan: Well, I’m biased as a content creator myself. But I think it can probably be successful in some capacities, but I always fall in the camp of the personal tone is what matters most. So, here’s an example of that. There’s like market commentary for example. Like a lot of advisors like to use market commentary, and that’s something that’s easy to outsource. And so, there’s all manner of companies who are saying, “Here’s the newest market commentary,” and you just put your name on it and send it out.

But so, let me compare that to when I was working the blog for the large insurance company that I used to work with. I had a colleague who’s a great writer, and I was really trying to get her to write something for the blog. And she said, “Well, I don’t really have a,” she worked in PR, said, “I don’t really have a financial background, a planning background. I don’t know what I would have to say.”

But she eventually, we had an international trip to London for a conference, and she was going to drop her kids off at her parent’s house, and they would not take her kids, because she had not written a will and testament. And she was going with her husband. And so, if the worst should happen, there was nothing to say what would happen to the kids. And so, she was shocked by that. But I think her parents had a point. And so, she went through the process of creating a will. And so, she wrote this deeply personal post, nothing about, there was no numbers in it or, and it wasn’t, if you want to call a product. It was more just about, this is my personal story about creating a will and why I can tell you as a person, it’s important. It was the single most-viewed piece we ever had on the blog, and for an entire year. Most pieces have a shelf life of a month or two.

And what that tells me is that a market commentary is something that every planner can speak to. Yes, it fits your skillset. But they’re often so dry, and they talk about the American consumer, and people don’t want to be the American consumer. They want to connect with you on a human level. And so, I think that that’s, and a lot of times when you outsource content, you lose that personal touch. And I think that is what engages people. A blog is designed to pull users onto your website. From there, you can talk about, you can tell your story in your about section of your website, but the blog is attracting people to the story to say, “This is something that I’ve felt. Yes.” It’s connecting you to the reader on a personal level, and there’s just no substitute for that.

Hannah: As advisors, we love to pride ourselves on being the experts. And so, it sounds like you’re advocating to be more of that personal, and for a lot of people that’s really vulnerable, and they’re afraid that people aren’t going to view them as the expert, especially listening to this podcast, we’re getting a lot of younger planners who feel like, it’s what they have. They have being an expert. What are your thoughts on that?

Dan: That’s one of my favorite topics right now because it goes so counter to ever tying that we’re taught. We’re taught all of our lives never to show weakness. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about relationships because we all have weaknesses. And so much of marketing is about building a camaraderie, building a relationship that, and financial planners are excellent at that, and so there’s a lot of financial planners I meet with that say, “I’m not a marketer.” And that’s probably true. But I think if you’re excellent at building relationships, you have something that honestly a lot of marketers struggle with.

And so, I think to start, when you’re thinking about vulnerability and weakness, think about the things that every client that you’ve ever had struggles with financially, because there’s that laundry list of topics. And it could be saving enough money. It could be prioritizing college saving versus retirement. Any one of the things, market volatility that’s going on right now, that’s a great example. Then, think about those things that you yourself have struggled with. And so telling, and marketers do this too, that’s marketer they think, telling your clients on social media or your blog or whatever medium you choose that you, a financial planning expert as you say, that you have struggled with something in your own life, is such a powerful message because it tells a client or prospect that, “I’m not perfect, and I’m opening up this relationship to you to say, listen, this is something that I even struggle with.”

And so, to me that doesn’t make you less of an expert. It makes you more of one. And it tells them, what I think everyone wants is they want to know that it’s possible to learn. They want to know that it’s possible to get to the, financial planning at the end of the day is about the outcome of I want to make sure you can fund this uncertain future. And what you’re telling them by opening yourself up to that is it is possible. I did it. And so, I think that that, that to me is connecting at the human level. And a lot of people say that. But, financial planners have this amazing opportunity to really do that. That’s really not available to every profession.

Hannah: Many of the listeners are millennial or on the younger side, and at their firms they’re not working with other millennials. They’re working with Boomers or people that are looking to retire or have retired. Can they still make that personal connection even with the generation difference, do you think?

Dan: I think so. I mean, we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a challenge. And I think, and anyone who’s been in a relationship where you’re younger and you’re having to tell someone older, give someone older advice. But I do believe that it is possible. And I think it’s finding those commonalities and experience because there are some things like, and it annoys me to no end all the things about, “Here’s how to deal with millennials,” and “Here’s how to deal with baby boomers,” and those things come out every day, and yes it gets a lot of clicks, because everyone wants to figure those things out. But I believe that we’re more similar than we are different. Just, and that’s certainly up for debate. But that’s always what I believed.

And so, I think looking for those commonalities of experience, and that there are certain things that all of us feel. And so again, it’s coming down from the high level to the personal of it’s a lot of, and financial planning is a unique example, these things that have been historically numbers and data-driven, are about feelings. And so, you find those commonalities and connect with, regardless if someone could be 80 years old and you can be 22, there’s some shared experience there. And I think more shared experience than not. And making sure that, focusing maybe even on those shared experiences. It’s like meeting strangers in public and somebody drops their phone and you help them pick it up. I think there are those opportunities for us every single day in every aspect of our lives, but as a planner, I think the age, hopefully, matters less than the experience.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, you talked about your journalism background. I want to touch on the article you wrote in the Journal of Financial Planning that just came out this month. So, it’s called, “Using These Behavior Tips to Science Your Clients on Savings.” So, your background is marketing, and this is more of a behavioral finance piece. Can you talk about what kind of led you to write this piece?

Dan: Definitely. Yeah, it’s something that I’ve been interested in for quite some time, and just, because so marketing as a profession, being a marketer I think was really different ten or 15 years ago. And it’s gone from kind of the nuts and bolts and sort of push pull, more of this, I guess if you want to call it the scientific side of marketing to more of a, marketing is more of sort of the human element. And marketing, and financial planning too, which is this great, one of the reasons why I like being a marketer in this industry, this great confluence of both are a lot about how humans behave and how we all perceive things.

Because for example, in saving, I spend a lot of time in the retirement industry thinking about, so why do we all know that saving is important? If you did a survey out of everyone, and everyone responded, they would all say, “Yes, saving is important.” But then, the percentage of people who have actually saved for retirement is 40% or whatever the numbers are.

That’s, it’s just like the perception gap for financial planners is that, that to me is so interesting. How can we go about something that we know what to do, but then, we can’t do it? And I think a lot of it comes back to our brains. One of the most interesting things, and I think this article touches on that, is that when you dream, you can age everyone else in your dream, and you have these dreams with people from all aspects of your life. And your brain can age every other single person in there. And your brain is so powerful, so you can look at it and say, “My colleagues in my dream, they’re 35 years old, but my brain can make them 70.”

But if you happen to look in your mirror, you can’t age yourself. Because your brain is so wired to live in the short-term, which is an evolutionary response. But what really struck me and the reason I wrote this article is that, so your brain is working against you every single day. The person that you know 30 years in the future, yourself in the future, that person may as well be a stranger. And so, that I think, if you read The Power of Habit, which is a wonderful book by Charles DuHigg, is he gets into habit formation and behavioral science and those sorts of things.

And one of the most valuable pieces from that book for me just because I, it’s like I said earlier that you want to know that’s possible to change, and I like anybody else have a lot of bad habits that, you read this book and he says, “Step one is just even understanding that you have the habit.” Because part of the brain is being able to remind yourself on a daily basis that this is an area where you have a weakness. Even that is a step in the right direction.

And so, there’s this kind of aspirational message of, yes our brains are in some cases working against us, but we can overcome that. And in that, it’s a great financial planning message of that’s, instead of separating the client or the investor, you’re the investor, you’re the planner, and the planner’s trying to get through to the client, but you’re not connecting. The financial planner has a wonderful opportunity to help a client understand that, “Hey, listen. In a lot of cases this may not even really be your fault that you’re not doing this, but if we can work on this together, there is a way to sort of break out of these habits and to train your brain.”

So, long-winded answer to a short question, but it’s just so interesting to me, and I’m trying to pick up everything that I can on behavioral science and behavioral economics, just because the brain affects so deeply both the world of marketing, how you communicate with prospects and clients, and the world of financial planning.

Hannah: It’s so interesting to me with that crossover. Some of my clients have credit card issues, and when I talk to them about that, and we kind of talk about the issues, it’s realizing that these credit card companies have marketing teams trying to get people to spend more money on their credit cards. It’s all these competing forces trying to get our clients to change their behavior.

Dan: And there’s some companies and organizations that are doing better than others, but I think it’s going to come down to that in terms of, my most recent post on the [FPA] Practice Management Blog was about differentiation, and I think that’s going to make a difference in terms of the people understand that you’re really just trying to communicate, connect with people. And I think there is, the hard sell piece of the credit card company that think some of them are good at it. But my hope and dream is that the hard sell will be slowly phased out in all areas of marketing and just in terms of our lives and all the millions of advertisements we see every day. I think marketing is specifically, and I think financial planning in some capacity is, as we talked about, is focused more in some cases on dollars and cents. So, marketing the question is always, what’s the return on investment? And even in a small business, obviously that’s very important. If you have money going out, you have to have money going in.

But I think, to the point about the hard sell is, if you focus only on immediate returns from your promotions or communications, I think that that can be extremely short-sighted, and I think it’s an outdated way to look at marketing. And small business, big business it doesn’t really matter. I subscribe to Jay Baer’s theory that smart marketing is about help, not hype. He wrote in his book Youtility, that’s Y-O-Utility. It’s still my favorite marketing book I’ve ever read, and I would encourage every planner and business owner to read and internalize it. It was written in 2012, but it’s still so valuable. And it’s all these case studies of all these different size businesses and different products, different services, part of the point being that, if you can simplify what you’re doing, and instead of trying to sell yourself or sell your business, that if you can build the relationship instead, and that it not only drives the sort of client for life mentality, but it also drives the numbers. And so, the difference is making the money secondary.

And so, when I think about marketing relationships, which nothing could be more important in marketing. Just imagine how you’d feel if someone gave you the hard sell on the benefits and features of being their friend. Right? And so, in just a human relationship, I think I would hate that. Right? Instead, so marketing needs to focus on I think helping those who may be interested in working with you, with no expectation of return. And that’s kind of, if you read the book, that’s sort of the heretical, it’s heretical to the common traditional marketing approach. But I have to believe that marketing must focus on telling the truth, because it’s really about helping others understand who you really are.

And I think that’s what will help all of us stand out in this. Everything is a commodity now. And so, if you can do these things, the belief is that your clients will choose you, eventually not because you tricked or you forced them to, but because they want to work with you. And I think that’s how you move from a transaction. And so a client is already looking for their next planner the second they step through your door, because you’re competing on things like price, or I have more features than you, or I have this technology that they don’t, to a relationship, a real relationship where a client who just can’t simply, who can’t imagine working with anyone else.

And obviously that’s easier said than done. But starting with things like the blogging we talked about before, I think it’s such an important shift for the way that we communicate not only with clients, prospects, but just with each other because the more of us that start to think this route, the more we’re going to really drive overall change in, to your point about the credit card companies, change throughout industries and professions which I think, just as financial planning the profession is changing, I think the marketing world is changing too. And it’s driving it, I hope and believe, to this sort of model.

Hannah: You’ve talked a lot about what’s your story. You being vulnerable. What about the person who is, there’s a lead adviser, they’re on a staff of 20 or so advisors. Is there a way to kind of build out their own marketing story? Or how is that? Are there competing marketing stories within a company, or how does that work?

Dan: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. And I think, at least in the organizations I’ve been in, there absolutely are competing stories. That’s every marketing department and communications department, you’re always trying to get to one consistent message. But that’s difficult to do. I mean it is, and I think it’s something that’s sort of, you’re constantly always, you’re always working toward it but it’s not always going to be perfect. But I do think, one thing that’s been helpful to me just as I’ve gone through my career is, focus on building your personal brand as much as you can. Obviously it’s within the compliance and within the regulations. But oftentimes there is the businesses, the practices story, this is who we are, the sort of formula that I like to use is sort of the positioning statement, “We do X for Y, so they can Z.”

And so I think that’s been out there for quite some time, but you have that vision for the overall practice. But I also think that you can build your personal brand too, and Hannah, you’re a good example of that. Having the podcast, of course, is a piece of it, but there’s the connection between your business and your personal. And so, I think even if you have advisors above you or you have a lead advisor, or just one of many in the business, I think that shouldn’t stop you from building your own personal brand and again, social media’s a way to do that. And it’s not just original content. It’s social media following, it’s based on what you share too. And so, that can be a pretty easy part of it. Again, within compliance obviously, but you personal brand is, a share is an advocacy for that idea. And so, what you share is build up your own personal story on social media. I hope that answers your question, but I think you can do both.

Hannah: Well, and going back to the title of your first one, “Stop Making Excuses and Start Marketing.” Maybe a little harsh, but.

Dan: Right. Well, maybe a little click bait too, but.

Hannah: Hey, it worked on me. Yeah. So, your second article that you wrote for the practice management blog. So if anybody’s not subscribed to it, it’s a really good content. I’m embarrassed to say I only started subscribing like year. And I was really missing out. But you talk about to find your differentiation, focus on your “and”. Can you talk more about that? Like, can you kind of tease that out a little bit?

Dan: Definitely, yeah. And it’s, I don’t drink a lot of soda now, but when I do, I pick up a Coke Zero. Even though they changed the formula, it’s still delicious. But there’s a Coke Zero advertisement, I link to it in my article, but there’s a young man and he’s shown in a bunch of different situations. Like one of them is he has a job interview, and the manager offers him the job. And he says, “You get the job.” And he says, “And?” And then he ends up with a boat or something, or the same, and he gets an ice cream cone and he says, “And?” And he puts sprinkles on it. And I love that commercial. I think Coke has forgotten more about marketing than most of us I think will ever know. But it’s a good, I think, analogy for this idea of for so long, so much marketing, and financial planners are not the only ones who are guilty of this. So many industries are of just giving people a long list of, “Here’s all the many skills, here’s all the many things that I can do.” And it ranges from minimizing the impact of taxes to just a long list of many things that financial planners have skill in.

But essentially, what we’re doing is, we’re just talking. We’re giving them a list of all these things that are implied, without really focusing on what’s different. And so, the “and” piece to me is, that a lot of the greatest companies, the product is almost secondary. The service is almost secondary. It’s sort of, this is what we believe in. This is our mission. This is what we’re doing. Oh, and by the way, we also, I’m also an expert at financial planning. And so, the end concept really made me think of that as like, what makes you as a planner, truly different? What sets you apart?

And it’s often something that’s more of an emotional driver. And so, something that, and it could be done maybe through testimonials, but I think these are the reasons why people choose firms in most industries as, if it’s all about the price or if it’s all about the specific product, yes the product has to be good, yes the price has to be affordable, and it has to fit with the rest of the industry. But, I think that those things are secondary to what really makes you unique. And it’s not always going to be something that’s extremely tangible. I always think about it as great marketing, it can’t be asking our prospects, so the people that we’re looking to build a relationship with, we can’t ask them to sift through the message to find what speaks to them, because first of all, they won’t do it.

But it’s also, think about how you shop online. Think about how you shop for anything. We’re in this world of we look at reviews from our peers. We’re more likely to make a decision based on a review than we are 100 marketing brochures or websites from that company. And so, we should treat our prospects in the same way, and show them that what we care about the most in the world, is solving their important problem. Like, what’s the reason people are searching for a financial planner is because they have a problem. And I think a true financial planner, which is, that is a class in and of itself, can solve those problems. But it’s finding that differentiator within that piece, that that’s going to make a difference. And to your question earlier about how do you separate yourself from, and how do you compete with people putting all this money into marketing? I think it falls into that category, doing some soul searching about why am I different.

Hannah: Do you have any good examples of this?

Dan: Amazon is a great example. I’m just pulling up the site. So, when they came out with Prime, so their vision, the mission statement of Amazon is, “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, and to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” So the first part of that, especially the vision is, it’s not really about how fast the box gets to you. And it’s not, because that’s a great benefit of Prime, and that’s the product Prime. $99.00 per year, and this will get to you in two days, and if it doesn’t, then you can do what you need to do and they’ll give you credit or whatever it is. But being Earth’s most customer-centric company is, that makes Prime an “and.” So, and we also  get it to you in two days.

But like for example, I bought something and a totally different product arrived from Amazon. And I went on their website, and just to file a claim I had to click one button, and instead of the claim even going to the third party seller, Amazon just said here’s a credit for the amount. We basically, we trust you that if it’s the wrong product, you keep that product and we’ll send you a different one.

That is being Earth’s most customer-centric company, and that sort of thing will make me an Amazon Prime for life. And so, if my net Prime shipment comes in three days, I’m probably not going to complain about it. But that’s what I mean about differentiating the product itself from who the company really is.

Hannah: Okay, so I’m selfishly trying to figure out how this applies to my company. Figure out what my thing is. On your article, you did say that it takes some soul-searching. So, maybe that’s more where my next steps lie.

Dan: Yeah, I think so. And you might start with, and most great marketing I think today starts with what your customers have to say. Because you, it’s like any marketer’s dilemma, always is. I have access to all this great data, and I have my marketing experience, and then I have the company that I, the organization that I work for, but I could still make a decision that’s totally off base for what my customer wants, in this case the number. Because I have to take what they actually have to say into account, and so I think surveying current existing clients, or taking, excuse me, taking testimonials from current and past clients is, you’ll find, I think, in those, the gems that sort of, this is, “Hannah transformed my life for these reasons. Working with Hannah was not what I expected for this reason.” Like those are the types of things that that’s how you build your story.

And so it’s not, you’re not selling it based on, “Your portfolio got five percent,” or “You’re not trading on those things.” It’s more along the lines of like, my client, this is testimonial directly from them, but that said, “I can’t imagine working with anyone else because she changed my life. I had a, insert life event, and Hannah was the first one I called.” And those things, if I read that type of review, I’m thinking that’s what I need. I’ve had a life event. That’s what I would want.

Hannah: And so, testimonials are kind of hard, but I mean, with the compliance side of it, but we could, I mean, case studies are a great way to do that.

Dan: Right, exactly. Yeah. And a case study is a little bit even more detailed. Yeah, a testimonial is interesting from just from working on thinner side of things that it’s how they classify testimonials and how compliance looks at testimonials is different. But yeah, a case study, and maybe we wouldn’t even want to call it a testimonial. But just finding ways to especially to stay away from the product or stay away from guarantees or promissory statements, I think that is still a possibility. You just have to be maybe a little bit creative with it.

Hannah: Let’s pretend that I’m writing good authentic blog content every once or twice every month. And I have my story down. What’s the next step from a marketing standpoint?

Dan: So, I’m a content guy. So, I always start with content, but. But I think, so if you have one or two good blog posts a month, you have the foundation of your strategy. Then the next step is deciding how to distribute that to clients. One way is, and I think a blog post is, in some ways, what I would call a keystone content. So, it’s a nice, big substantial piece of content that you have. So you can use that in a myriad of different ways. You can put it, you can probably tweet about it ten to 15 times a month just using a different lead-in or a different quote from the article. You can put it on other social platforms. If you have an older client base you could print the post out. There’s a lot of templates online where you can, free templates where you can find a way to print it.

You obviously have to get some of these things reviewed. But number one is making sure you get the most value out of, especially since once a piece of content is approved. Get as much possible, squeeze as much juice out of the lemon as much as you possibly can in doing a bunch of different ways. That will help you build your reach, number one. But you’re also, you’re not spending so much time creating content. And I think number two is probably, so you read a lot about influencer marketing.

But once you’re able to get these types of things out there, getting either clients or other planners to help share the content, because a share is probably the most valuable thing that can happen to you when it comes to digital marketing, because it just expands your reach so much. You’re accessing every share. You’re accessing a totally different network of people. And so, it takes time to build that network of people who are willing to share your content. Sometimes it’s quid pro quo. They want you to share their stuff and, which probably isn’t a bad thing if their content’s really good.

So, basically all of these are ways to get this content in front of the most possible people in your target market without having to spend a huge amount of money on marketing. We at FE are calling it a free-to-pay strategy where you start with what you can do for free. Because there’s a lot you can do in marketing now with social media that it’s not that expensive. And I don’t want to say completely free, and could put money toward it. But then move towards if you want to make a big splash, there are things you can pay for too, but making every piece of content count, but making your budget count while you’re doing it.

Hannah: What is the future of marketing, from your perspective?

Dan: I think the future of marketing is what we talked about in terms of relationships. And my sort of utopia, marketing utopia is that all of marketing is being that sort of helpful friend to, no matter what the product is, no matter what the company is, is that all this information is out there. A lot of it is already. But all of this information is out there and available to help people try to get as far as they possibly can on their own. And that’s the central tenent of content marketing. We were talking about that earlier that you give your content away for free, and it’s so valuable people come back and become your clients, because they can’t live without you, they can’t live without that content. And I think that’s sort of swept the world in a lot of ways, but we’re still not quite there. And so, then you’re really, I think you’re competing on more the value that you’re providing to the prospect or the client as opposed to competing on things that are transactional.

And so, I would love to be in a world where no matter where you work as a marketer, everyone believes that’s the, that strategy is more about just being absurdly helpful to everyone. And maybe it’s too much to ask but, that’s the kind of marketing world I want to live in.

Hannah: What advice would you have for planners?

Dan: I think number one has to be to try to keep is simple in terms of, because if you’re living in this sort of perception does that meet reality world, there’s, and plus you’re getting messages every day saying, you need this for your marketing. You need this platform. And a lot of marketing now it’s tech and it’s digital. But technology is only as good as the people who are using it. And so, if you can buy some fancy great piece of technology, and a lot of those people are great salespeople, so they can, they’ll sell it to you. And a lot of it, as I said, is valuable.

But if you don’t have your story down, and if you don’t really understand who you are as a planner, as a practice and probably more importantly, who you are not, then none of those platforms probably won’t help you. And so, to the point of the soul-searching is, starting simple and sketching out, sort of, what’s why, what do they call it, target client profile. But, even deeper than that, where can I make the most impact as a planner? Where are my strengths? And where are the places where is somebody comes to me, I will probably refer them elsewhere? Because I think, especially with small business owners, there’s this temptation to be all things to all people, but in marketing and in ever tying, that often spreads us too thin.

And so, just sketching out, maybe it’s a simple even piece of paper or Word document of, “Here’s our mission as an organization or as a practice. Here’s where I feel like I’m really strong. Here’s where I’d like to get stronger. And here are things that maybe I’ll refer out.” Just understanding that, and another great marketer to follow is Doug Hessler, and he writes a lot about being insane, having insane honesty in your marketing. And it’s very much that concept of that you’re not going to please everyone, but if you can get to the point to have the courage and obviously the financial ability to bring on the clients that fit, that are the type that fit your values, that fit your business, and to sort of ignore the other ones, that’s I think where you want to get to. Obviously easier said than done, but starting simple and starting small and then working out from there. Not trying to bite off more than you can chew would probably be my number one piece of advice.

Hannah: I struggle with not biting off more than I can chew.

Dan: Right, me too.

Hannah: Oh, that’s great. Well, is there anything else that you wanted to be sure that we hit on.

Dan: Well, I think a couple of, I like to end a lot of my posts with, and it’s, well, it’s not probably cheesy, it is cheesy. But I still like to make two points about marketing that, again, it’s like any industry, you’ll get a top five, here’s five things to enhance your marketing. And a lot of times they’re sort of how to sort of spit shine it and polish it. Nothing wrong with polish, but I think number one, just making sure that your passion is available and out there in terms of your tone is so important. Because it’s better to be if, we’ve all seen it where, and I don’t know if this is even possible, but I’ve heard people say, “That person’s too passionate. They’re over the top.” But I think it’s better to be too passionate than to look like you don’t care.

I think we’re in this business especially we’re kind of pushed towards, you want to be drying, you want to be, everything needs to be clean and professional and have the same stock photo. The same people having a serious conversation. But I have to believe that it’s better to go overboard on the passion piece, because that’s who people want to work with in a lot of cases, is they want to know that you like your job. That you love your job. And so, don’t be afraid to inject a little bit of passion into your content. Because I think it will make a difference.

And then the last piece is, have fun with your marketing. Because we’ve talked a lot about the personal aspects and the tone of what you put out there. And how you perceive yourself, it’s easy to perceive yourself in one way, and then to show up in a totally different way, just because, and that’s why marketing is difficult. But, I think your enjoyment and telling and showing your story is contagious. I think, again, with the passion piece, if you love what you do, how much fun you’re having in telling people about it should be readily apparent. And so, I have a post-it that I keep in my desk, where like, “Don’t forget to have fun doing it.” Because that shows, I think, more than anything.

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Dan digs deep to find the real marketing issues that financial planners are facing and how they can solve them. We’re going to go over how to set up marketing initiatives that matter to your clients and prospects, Enter: FPA’s Director of Marketing… Dan Martin, MBA. In this episode, Dan digs deep to find the real marketing issues that financial planners are facing and how they can solve them. We’re going to go over how to set up marketing initiatives that matter to your clients and prospects, and how to change the conversation from being numbers-focused to story-focused.
The financial planning profession is undergoing a lot of growth right now, and we’re all charged with the responsibility to change the conversation and the perception of financial planners. Dan believes that every voice in this conversation matters, and the way we communicate will truly change the future of finance.

What You’ll Learn:

What starting a blog as a financial advisor entails.
Whether or not outsourcing your content is worthwhile.
How associations like FPA are helping to change the conversation around financial planning.
How marketing should be “story based” instead of numbers or fact-based.
What aspects of your marketing you should focus on.


Hannah Moore clean 48:57
Growing a Personal Brand as a Woman in Financial Planning Tue, 27 Feb 2018 22:04:21 +0000 0 Many clients call Mary Beth their very own rent-a-CFO. There’s no doubt that she’s an innovator in the space of business financial planning for creative entrepreneurs. Get ready to be inspired, because Mary Beth is here to talk about pushing past fear and being unabashedly yourself in your work. Mary Beth Storjohann knows that financial planning is something that bleeds into every area of a client’s life. That’s why she has developed a service model that assists solopreneurs and small business owners with their personal financial goals, business finances, and the psychology behind advancing their career.

Many clients call Mary Beth their very own rent-a-CFO. There’s no doubt that she’s an innovator in the space of business financial planning for creative entrepreneurs. Over the four or five years she’s been in business, her practice has evolved to include these services – she had no idea that these are the niches she would serve!

This is an important point that many advisors will connect with. We don’t always know where our financial planning practice is going to grow when we first get started. We so often put pressure on ourselves to have everything figured out right out of the gate, but things truly do evolve over time – and they should.

Mary Beth also has a unique approach to growing her business. She has created such an incredible library of content, and she’s always open to new avenues of reaching her clients. She currently has a podcast, a blog, and a book (and she wrote her book while on maternity leave – talk about a financial planning warrior!).

We can all find inspiration in the energy and the passion Mary Beth pours into her practice. She keeps it real, and it’s what sets her apart and allows her to grow valuable relationships with her planning clients.

hannah's signature

I say it to my clients and I say it to my friends, ‘Life is a mullet. Business in the front, hot mess in the back sometimes.’ That’s just what happens… I think the future [of financial planning] is human. @marybstorj

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What You’ll Learn:

  • How to stay flexible when growing your financial planning practice.
  • The different ways having a personal brand pays off.
  • How to define your target market.
  • Why your marketing will turn some people away – and why that’s okay.
  • The ways a target market helps you build meaningful relationships with your clients, and helps you enjoy your work more.
  • How to look ahead and decide how your firm will need to change and grow.
  • Why ignoring what the industry “norm” is pays off.
  • Different methods of marketing your business.
  • How to understand the fear and do it anyways.
  • How to try something, and pivot if it doesn’t work.


Workable Wealth

Work Your Wealth: 9 Steps to Making Smarter Choices With Your Money

Work Your Wealth Podcast

Work Your Wealth Blog







Show Transcript

Ep87 Transcript

Hannah: Well today we have with us Mary Beth. Thank you for joining us.

Mary Beth: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Hannah: Yeah, so your firm, Workable Wealth, you’ve really built up a really great personal brand. We’ll get into that a little bit more. But can you tell us about your practice, how it’s structured and who you serve?

Mary Beth: Sure. Workable Wealth is the only financial planning firm. I work virtually. I’m based out of San Diego. Clients all over the country. The way I work is I do actually a full on financial plan up front for my clients, and then we work together going forward to implement the recommendations and to adjust for changes along the way. I predominantly work with clients probably, if we’re talking age range, I’d say late ’20s to it’s evolved now to actually early ’50s. Probably I have someone in the ’60s as well, but when I started I marketed to gen Y. But my clients are probably older gen Y, gen X, the whole spectrum there.

Mostly professional entrepreneurial women and military officers and families, young families. I’d probably say those are the subset. I have a lot of professional or entrepreneurial women who come to me first. They find me and then they bring in their spouses. I’d say that’s one area. Military families is another subset, and then just general young families who are buying homes, getting married, having kids. Those are the three subsets of who I work with, and sometimes overlapping in all three areas.

Hannah: How many clients do you have?

Mary Beth: As of right now I think I’m at around 60 to 65, somewhere in that range. Maybe 63-ish.

Hannah: Oh, that’s great. How long have you had your practice for?

Mary Beth: I launched in August of 2013. I think I took my first client on the November, December timeframe. This is going into my fifth year. I think just four years. A little over four years in.

Hannah: When you started your firm, what was your vision for your firm?

Mary Beth: Honestly, to make financial planning fun, affordable and accessible was what I always said when I launched. I just wanted to have more personality and to be something fun and not necessarily dry, coming from the traditional financial planning world, there is a lot that I learned but I just felt that there was constantly the mahogany desks, the really fancy reports and just lots of wine tasting events and it was so formal. I felt like there was just something missing, and so when I launched my firm my vision really was just to bring it back to the basics. At that time, that’s why my focus was on gen Y. I thought okay, this is the group that needs just the basics.

And then as the firm grew and my marketing presence, media presence grew, I realized nope, all age ranges need just the basics. I have women who, even from learning in the firms, I saw and worked with women who were in their ’40s and ’50s who earned hundreds of thousands of dollars, who still didn’t know what was going on with their finances either, where their cash flow was or understanding the difference between a stock and a bond.

My vision really was just to make money fun and educational. So many people are afraid of it, and so my vision was just to be okay, no, I want you to trust me as your financial planner, I want you to value my opinion, but I also want you to feel empowered around your finances and what’s going on with it. That was really the vision, was just to make it something that was relatable, to take away the taboo. All of this formalized processes and just extra stuff that’s been added in by our industry and the media, just making it so complicated when really it doesn’t have to be. My vision was to peel back the layers and just show nope, if you stop comparing yourself and stop worrying about what everybody else says and focus on your own goals first, money can actually be fun and then you will feel great about using it towards those things that you now have clarity on.

Hannah: And what’s interesting to me hearing you say all this, is that you were targeting gen Y at first but that you found that message really resonated with older clients as well.

Mary Beth: Oh, yeah. It was kind of surprising to me. I spoke to millennials. That was the hot topic when I launched. It was the newer thing to do, to work with millennials. Millennials were just becoming the thing five years ago, and it was just they didn’t have money or whatever. Maybe it’s still a thing but I’m just not on that side of the industry anymore where people are saying no, they don’t want the help. But yeah, by talking to them I found that people were reaching out to me like, “Well, do you work with this age group?” I was like, “Of course I do.”

I ended up realizing that I was speaking more to a type of person then I was speaking to an age range. Because we say gen Y is going through all these transitions, but gen X is going through all of these transitions as well. You start to realize oh, this is who my niche is and who I work with. Yes, I’m bringing on clients in their ’50s, who have done well and gotten themselves to a good point but still they’re like, “I have no idea how I got here. I have all of these things happening and I’m not sure if I can meet my goals.” Those are actually really exciting conversations for me, because I realize that I can tell them, “You’ve done great, but if we have some clarity and a plan in place, look how much progress you could actually make by going in one straight line instead of 15 different directions.”

Hannah: So do you do a lot of career coaching as well, or do you stay more in the financial planning side of it?

Mary Beth: Oh, no. I do a ton of career coaching. Career coaching and actually business financial planning as well. I’d say the business financial planning is one of the things that sets me apart a little bit from what other people do. I say that because I haven’t seen other firms that do it to my level yet. But I also live in my own little world right now as well. So career coaching, in terms of negotiations for salaries and that’s a personal thing for me, especially working with this age group and fees and what not. I always personally like to try and get them raises that cover my fees. That’s just a thing that I do because I’m competitive like that. If I can do that, that’s fantastic. But yes, career coaching, salary negotiations. I review job offers and let them know what to go back and ask for. Comparing benefits, all of that sort of thing.

And then on the entrepreneurial career coaching side, I actually do profit and loss analysis with them. I help my clients understand what they’re looking at in terms of their business cash flow, what they’re pricing their products and services at and if it’s actually sustainable. So understanding cost of goods sold and what they value their time at, and how that should actually be factored in, and helping them think through those calculations so that their businesses are more sustainable and grow an income as well.

Hannah: So when you’re looking at a lot of the business side of it, are you just trying to get them to meet certain ratios, or just basic business concepts?

Mary Beth: That’s the interesting thing right, because I work with a lot of solo entrepreneurs or service providers, to be honest. They typically ask me, “What should my profit margin be?” And so one of the questions I always have to go back at and say is, “Well, are you factoring your time in there? Are you paying yourself for your time or is your profit margin including your services?” I don’t necessarily target ratios for them. What I do is if somebody signs on with me, I basically say, “If you own a business, we’re gonna align your business goals to your personal financial goals. So we need to know what you need to accomplish to achieve your personal financial goals, and that’s how we set some income goals for the business.”

That’s more big picture where I focus. I try to give them some ratios and educate them around that, but it’s so hard when you’re a service provider to really get that. Even us, for example, financial planners. There’s my time, but then I have team members who help or I outsource some of the content development. There’s so many things that it’s hard necessarily to understand those ratios as much when you’re doing service, so I focus more on what do we need you to do, what’s attainable and hourly rate that would make you happy. What would you feel good at, and what do you need to meet your goals? I really just tie them all together as part of the financial plan.

So I say basically, “If you’re pricing a package or service that you offer at $1,000, for example, but you’re outsourcing $400 of it, okay, you net $600. But if you’re spending ten hours on it, you make $60 an hour. You say your rate is 200, but you’re making 60. Is that in line with what you want?” And they’ll typically say no, and so we go back and increase their prices, or try to understand how they can refine their process or systems so they’re spending less time in those areas. It’s educating them about what those numbers actually mean and how to think about it.

Hannah: So do you work with them on just the marketing and that side of business development?

Mary Beth: Some of my clients refer to me as their rent-a-CFO. In terms of understanding their cash flow, that’s a big part of it. In terms of marketing, I don’t necessarily coach them in terms of media development. There’s a handful of clients, maybe a few actually, that I’ll say, “Okay, well realistically, from my own experience, here’s how you can create content. Here’s the resources that you can leverage so that you save yourself time and money, or increase your exposure.” I will coach them on that side of it, just because from experience and what I’ve built already I know those things.

But a lot of the times what we’re going through is we’re looking at the P&L and I’m saying, “Okay, you spent a lot in this area this month. Is that anticipated? Is that ongoing? What are your business goals? Where do you see yourself needing to invest? Are you planning on making a new hire? Do you need to go from LLC to S corp and set up payroll?” I really help to strategize around those areas. A lot of the women who come to me don’t understand the benefit of having a payroll set up, for example, or the retirement plans around that.

Honestly, I can tell you most of my clients like, “Oh yeah, I have a bookkeeper.” And I say, “When was the last time you looked at your P&L reports?” And they basically never … A lot of them just feel good knowing that somebody else is organizing the numbers, but they don’t know how to interpret those reports. A lot of the time I’m spending time just helping them and teaching them, again, about how to read the reports, about how we’re gonna take that okay, if you have … Creative female entrepreneurs, for example, have a thing with buying domain names. If you have a hundred domain names that you’re not using, let’s give some of those up and free up your cash flow. And so stuff like that I’ll show them as a percentage of their income, here’s where it’s going.

There’s the thing, which we all hear as well in our world, “My business is netting, or I brought in six figures. I brought in half a million dollars,” whatever it is. That’s great but what did you actually net? What are your expenses? And so helping them to understand that whatever everybody else is doing and bringing in does not actually reflect anything unless you know what they’re netting on the other side and what they’re putting in their pockets. Teaching them those kind of financial concepts helps them to be more strategic and make better decisions in their businesses, and helps them therefore to meet their personal financial goals.

Hannah: Did you know that you’d be working and doing this type of work with clients when you started, or has this been an evolution over the four years you’ve been in business, four or five years?

Mary Beth: A complete evolution. I had no intention of doing business financial planning, and that’s actually just become a subset of what I do. When I started I was just like, “Who’s gonna work with,” … I had the same fears that we all did, like who’s gonna work with me? Is started from zero. I launched no clients, had the benefit of having a part-time income, because the firm that I left kept me on part-time to phase me out and phase in my replacement. But I had no idea that it would evolve to me working with these niches and it was really a learning on the job. I found that this was the group that was coming to me. These were the questions that they were having.

I found myself answering those questions over and over again, to the point where, as I mentioned before, I do an up front financial plan that I was finally like, “Send me your P&L,” and now my financial plans have a business planning section in them. That’s where we address some of the big picture concerns that I can see are red flags, like the payroll, the bookkeeping, continuity plans for your business, disability insurance, liability insurance. Those are some of the issues that I see with clients. I plug those also into the action checklist and recommendations that I have for clients.

Hannah: I love it that it’s an evolution. I feel like so many times we put the pressure on ourselves to have it figured out right out of the gate. But realizing that these plans have to change over time-

Mary Beth: Oh yeah, completely. I will say one of my best practices that I’ve done since I launched was, because I do the plan up front in terms of streamlining processes and systems, I have the template obviously for the plan. But new clients come on all the time and so I’m creating new plans and everybody … Things are similar but things are different, so I found myself making different recommendations. I actually have one golden document that I think is 50 pages, or I don’t even know how long it is at this point in time. It has all the recommendations that I’ve given in plans so I can also open that and template it, basically. I had an intern actually create it for me. I can go in and plug and play different things. I can see maybe there’s something that pops up that I hadn’t considered. I can very easily see what I’ve done in the past for other people as well, and it helps make it a little bit more efficient.

But that was how I realized that this was becoming a need, was I was finding myself giving so many business recommendations and found that area growing in the template. I realized okay, this is actually just a marketable part of what I do and so I should speak to it more, as opposed to just having it pop up as a part of the process. Now I’m proactive about it instead of reactive.

Hannah: Clients come on and you do the full financial plan for them up front. Are you doing most of that work yourself, or do you have a team behind you that’s helping you put that together?

Mary Beth: I’m doing most of it myself. I have a director of client services, director of getting it done. She wears a ton of hats. I’ve had an associate planner who’s helped me in and out with different things. I had them prep the template, so I start the plan template, plug in some certain areas like the cover page, that sort of stuff. But in terms of making the recommendations, I typically make all of those myself. But again, with the help of the template that I have.

Estate planning is, if they don’t have a trust, you’re pretty much recommending the same thing for everybody. Get your guardianship, if they don’t have an estate plan. You’re making the same recommendation for everybody so that’s templated, and I’ll plug in certain attorney recommendations and I’ll alter that. But estate planning recommendations take maybe, to be honest, ten minutes if there’s no documents in place because I’m just saying, “You need documents and that’s on our to do list going forward.” There’s not much more time to spend there. That’s a copy and paste thing if there’s nothing done then it’s recommend a referral and then moving on. There’s stuff like that, that you can make more efficient.

Hannah: You’ve done a lot. You’ve started your own firm. You’ve written a book. You have your own podcast. You have 60 some clients that you have right now. You’ve also had two kids in this time period. How do you do it all?

Mary Beth: I’m a little bit crazy. So A, number one, I laugh when I say that, but it’s like I’m a little bit crazy because people are like, “You wrote a book while you had your baby the first time?” That’s how I wrote Work Your Wealth was I was on maternity leave with our daughter. Babies sleep, and when you don’t have another baby, you think you have time. But this past time I realized I have no time during this maternity leave because there’s a toddler. So for the record, there’s that. A couple things.

I will say when it comes time for me to do big projects like writing the book, or launching the firm, launching my podcast, launching the book, but after writing it, the launch process, I will invest in a project manager or a coach. I need the accountability. I’ve always been a procrastinator. I work better under pressure, and so for me to get things done though, I’ll say, “I’m paying you to nag me, hold me accountable.” I will invest in it that way, because that’s how I hold myself accountable if there’s nobody else on the other side. That’s one area. When it’s a big project that I know can pay off or can benefit me, I will invest in help to be held accountable.

Also, having a super supportive husband has been very helpful. I always say that I would not have gotten to where I am without his support. He’s a huge cheerleader for me, because it’s a rollercoaster, right? There’s good days and bad days. Even though I’m passionate, so passionate about what we do, there’s days where it’s just exhausting, right? We’re in a relationship business. When you have six client calls in a day, you’re just drained sometimes from being on, even though you love your clients. I’d say having a support system in place from early on, understanding what the changes were that were gonna impact us by me giving up my income when we did launch. Because again, we went from a nice income to not much of an income from me. So what that was gonna look like, still having his support there, and being able to make the adjustments.

Also, I think by being in contact with other people. Having a study group, a mastermind to lean on. Those are the things that have helped me to get things done. I don’t believe that I can do things on my own. There’s the humble part of me that’s like I look to other people for guidance or support or input on certain things, people that I respect and value their opinions. I lean on other people for support. I was never the kind of person who was gonna start my own firm, close the door and not reach out to anybody, because that would have been probably awful and I would have failed. Having a study group or mastermind in place from early on, and reaching out to other people to connect was also something that helped me to do all of these things.

Hannah: When I hear your name, I think she’s a great example of really building out a personal brand along with her practice. What are your thoughts about a personal brand versus your practice?

Mary Beth: It’s really interesting. I still think about that, in terms of building the personal brand. I didn’t necessarily know I was building a personal brand. It happened accidentally. I mostly was focused on going back to the beginning, so when you ask me what my vision was, I was really just focused on being different. Not having the older retired couple, holding their hands on the beach on my website. None of that and then none of the lighthouses or mountains. There were certain things where I was like, “I don’t want those.”

I had looked to what some others were doing and I ended up just like okay, my face is gonna be on the website. I’m weird about stock photos. Yeah, these people are so happy about their money. I just never thought somebody would open the webpage and be like, “I can relate to that.” I personally will open a webpage and if it’s somebody that I’m gonna hire or I’m considering working with, if I can see them smiling back at me I’m learning about them, then I feel better. But if they have a stock photo I feel like not so much. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about those things. That’s how it happened.

Honestly, I think right now for where my practice is, I think it works and it still works. My practice is still growing. I constantly have people reaching out to me. It’s opened up other doors and opportunities. I think really it just depends on what your short and long term vision is for what you’re trying to build. Obviously this thing has evolved more than I ever thought it would, but I think it’s paid for me a legit personal brand. Will I eventually add stock photos and a team? Yes, and if you go to my website now you can see pictures of Lisa and Lex, who I’ve worked with. They’re on there. There’s a team section.

It’s just incorporating in that way, but I still think the personal brand, being able to share part of my story, that I was a military spouse, that I grew up in a family that struggled financially, that I had my own anxiety. Sharing stories and pieces of who I am has led to clients reaching out to me like, “I’ve listened to your podcast and I can totally relate,” or, “We wanted to reach out to you just knowing that you’re a military spouse and you know our numbers and know the language that we speak.” Or women who struggle financially, or just with the emotional side of things and they know that I’m not some guy in a suit with a mahogany desk. I’m very low key and relaxed. Low key and relaxed is probably now how people would describe me, but that I’m laid back. I won’t judge you. Nonjudgmental would probably be the better word.

But doing that has actually worked out really well. Being authentic, I think, has worked to me building the practice. Will it work long run? I think it will still continue to grow, but obviously there’s a point where I have to shift my messaging to you will work with me and/or my team, or somebody on my team. That’s the shift that I’ll have to make probably in the next year or two. They come to me but there’s also these qualified people on my team and here’s who you’d work with, that sort of messaging. But for right now it’s worked out really well, and for the people that I wanna work with. It depends on your target market, I will say.

There are people who are turned off by my marketing and messaging because it’s not professional enough, or refined enough or whatever. Those are not people that I wanna work with, though, so oh well. Everybody’s got an opinion. But for me, and what I’m trying to build, and the practice that I want to support my life and allow me time with my family and allow me to really enjoy my clients and my relationships, it works.

Hannah: One of the things that I’ve heard a lot, especially from younger advisors, is that there is this fear around even just putting your picture on the front page of your website, or sharing more about your story, putting all that information out on the internet. What are your thoughts around that? Was that a concern for you when you started?

Mary Beth: I was a little nervous about it to start, because it is so different. There’s a concern because you’re different. Our industry says one thing. I was nervous about what other people would think. I was nervous about what other people in the industry would think, though. We’re being told one thing. I was being told before I launched that this generation didn’t want advice, people wouldn’t pay you for it, the subscription model wouldn’t work, all of the things. I had this fear of oh gosh, am I wrong? Will it work? Will it not? What will happen? I understand the fear. The thing is do it anyways. Your website is always editable. Put it up there and give it six months.

I’m a woman and I know this is a totally different thing with men and how much to share or not to share, and there’s a different thing, but for me I work with women. Women appreciate other women who are being vulnerable. My study group and I, we say … I had a coach one time. Tara Moore is the author of the book Playing Big, I think, and it’s your inner critic. So my coach made me name my inner critic, and I always say I named her Betty. And so we say is Betty talking or not? Basically, there’s always gonna be this person, this Betty, this negative voice who you’re gonna be afraid of.

But worst case if it doesn’t work, you pivot and honestly women, for me to be vulnerable, to put myself out there and say, “Hey, I struggled financially,” and to even share about my family, that was a scary thing for me. Just to talk about my parents and their finances. I wondered how they would judge me or how they would react, and I really wanted to do it appropriately and work it into my story but not shame them, obviously, either. Those were scary things to do, but they ended up being so appreciated by clients and people who reached out to me.

Knowing that I struggled and I came from the same upbringing, and that I say that I still have bag lady syndrome even though I’m a financial planner. There’s still a fear of mine that I’m gonna end up on the street running out of money, just because of the way that I was raised. They appreciate that. Because they don’t wanna know that you’re above them, they wanna know that you’re basically next to them guiding them along, and that you too have your own story and your own experiences. And because of that, you’re able to better help them.

I think there’s this concept from how we were all raised in the industry that we’re supposed to be better than, and show them that we’d never make mistakes, and that we’re professional and polished. That maybe worked for one generation, but for the group and demographic that I’m working with, that would just not work. If I showed up in a suit to meet some of my clients, it would be awkward to say the least. They’re in jeans and flip flops and they meet with me virtually. Literally one client propped me up on their dining room table one night while they were feeding their baby and eating dinner. We just chatted while the kids were in the background.

That kind of stuff is what works, and again, that’s what I’m building. So there might be that fear, but I think the more that you share of yourself and your background and your own story, the more people can relate to you and the more likely they are to then schedule a consultation. They’ll come to the consultation and feel like they already know a bit about you, and they’re more comfortable with you because you’re putting that out there already, as opposed with being like okay, there’s nothing to talk about besides the weather or maybe sports teams or whatever. They already know I have two kids, that I was a military spouse, that I have two dogs, I live in San Diego, I like to drink wine. They know those things from my website and it’s nice. We already have a connection before they even sit down.

Hannah: The phrase that keeps coming to mind as you were talking, I can’t remember what conference it was at, but they were talking about how the future is human. It’s not just interactions with other people sitting across the table from us, our clients sitting across the table, it’s also how we present ourself. Are we willing to present ourself as humans to the world?

Mary Beth: Exactly. One of the things that’s been interesting to me too, and I’ll be totally honest, when I was launching I was looking to other … I think Brittney Castro had launched and had her own firm before I did. I looked to Brittney. And then Sofia Bera and I launched around the same time and we were in the mastermind together. Looking at some of these women, other women who have big online presences … Presence? I don’t know what presence is. Figure that one out later. I felt a little different because I’m over here married and popping out kids.

I had my own comparison thing where I was like oh my gosh, they have more freedom and flexibility to do these things. I don’t have that power single woman thing going on for me. There was a little fear there. I also felt a little insecure, like oh gosh, how am I gonna do this, and manage the family and do these things, especially when I got pregnant with our daughter. I really struggled with can I do it all? Can I be this power woman business owner and be a mom? And then probably 6 to 12 months after I had Ellie, just started leaning more into the mom role.

I had to embrace it. I could fight it or I could embrace it. Nope, I’m a mom. It is part of my story. It is who I am, and holy cow, now I’m raising a toddler and it’s funny and I have to talk about it. It’s just otherwise you’ll cry. You have a two year old terrorizing you. And so now that I incorporated that into more of my messaging as well, in terms of Instagram or Facebook, my media marketing, I’ve actually had more people reaching out to me by me just being like, “I am a mom. This is it. I have a business. It’s put together, but man, life can still be a crap show behind the scenes because you got kids running around.”

NBC was supposed to come over a couple weeks ago, and then I realized oh my calendar’s open Monday, and then I realized oh my calendar’s open because preschool’s closed and I have a newborn. There’s no way I can actually handle that interview. He was supposed to come over and I was gonna try and power through and then I had to cancel it. I was like, “No, I cannot do this to you or to myself,” because that’s real life behind the scenes. There’s no way that was gonna go well.

But I share those stories, though, and when I lean in it makes other people … Again, it’s more relatable. That’s human. That’s life. That’s what happens to everybody, and when we’re all trying to put on this protective layer and show that we have it all together, it’s not real. I say it to my clients and I say it to my friends, I say, “Life is a mullet. Business in the front, hot mess in the back sometimes.” That’s just what happens when you have families and little kids.

But yeah, I think the future is human. I think that’s what makes relationships sticky. I will say, I love my clients. That was one my fears too, was could I ever have clients like I saw other people, those relationships they had in the more traditional firms. Those clients were 60 and 70 years old and I was like, “Oh, I don’t relate.” But now the clients that I have, they’re friends and they send their friends to me. I get so many referrals and I get some really good, qualified referrals and leads from my clients. That is amazing, that these people trust me enough to send their friends and family my way. It’s become really cool and it’s because, again, we have these foundational relationships that we can build upon and relate and share stories and laugh about with.

Hannah: One of the issues facing our profession, you kind of hit on it here, was really women in the profession and how do we retain women in the profession. What are your thoughts on that? Or I guess what I’m really trying to get at is I wish all the women out there knew that there was a career path that could really bring them, I don’t want to say everything, but a lot of what they want.

Mary Beth: I think there needs to be more mentorship in our industry, honestly. One of the things I struggled with early on was … I’d say I learned a lesson very early on. I didn’t struggle with it. I learned a lesson very early on when I was at my first firm. I got my first job in the industry in college, and when I graduated I had all the CFP courses done as well because I majored in financial services. One of the advisors told me that I couldn’t sit for my CFP exam until he could sit for his. I had already been in salary and negotiations with them, trying to get a raise, and he was serious. He was not kidding.

I realized holy crap, nobody’s going to look out for me. I look out for myself. It was at that point that I became an advocate for myself in terms of salary, in terms of position, in terms of the things that I was looking for. I realized that although our generation was known as the ladder hoppers and would just move around places to find whatever’s a fit, that was me. I would move firms and constantly build upon my positions to grow. I didn’t have enough women mentorship in my life. I didn’t know.

The problem was with women, I think this service that we do for most of the next generation and women especially, is that there’s no way for us to get comfortable. I feared starting my own firm for so long because of the word sales. I hated sales. It was just a gross word. I felt like car sales was what it was. When it came time for me to have to get my own clients and to think about that, I just had total anxiety and panic. Then I launched Workable Wealth and early on I remember Alan Moore telling me, he’s like, “You need sales training.” I was like, “I don’t know how to sell,” and then I finally just sat down and built up my script for how I wanted to run my consultation calls. After a while I was like okay, this sales thing is actually educating people on what I do. That’s basically what sales is. There’s not really anything else. You’re educating people.

I think there’s this disconnect. Women don’t know about this industry because it’s basically pushed as sales. I remember being in college and Northwestern Mutual people coming to try to recruit us for their firms. And then even being in the traditional firm, told I had to bring my own clients in. I was told I had to bring in people who had a million dollars, investible assets, who were my grandparents’ ages. It didn’t relate. There was nothing pulling at my heartstrings to do that at the time. There was nothing in there for me, and so I lacked in that area. I actually contemplated leaving the industry multiple times throughout my career because I just felt like this is not for me. This can’t be done.

It wasn’t until I think FPA came out with their mentorship program. Gosh, must have been six, seven years ago. I had already known who Brittney Castro was and she happened to I think accidentally sign up as a mentor and she was also a mentee, but I picked her as my mentor. She had already had her thing. I think she was with maybe LPL at the time, or maybe with another … Whoever it was before that. But I basically chatted with her once a month for six months, I think, while I was still at the other firm and learned what she was doing and how she did things. It wasn’t until a year, maybe a year and a half later that I launched Workable Wealth. But that was what started me to realize okay, how she had built it, what she was doing. Other people were taking these risks.

But I think the big thing is we need more mentorship from women. We need women reaching out to other women, sharing about this, and also educating the sales side of it, what it actually can look like. You can work with people who are your peers and there is a way to do it. Are you gonna make a million dollars off the bat? Probably not. So again, going back to being clear about your personal financial goals and what you’re trying to accomplish, but I think there just needs to be more women talking about the issues in the industry. The issue is that there’s not enough women mentoring other women at this point in time.

I find that a lot of women aren’t comfortable advocating for themselves. There was points in time where I would encounter women who were stuck in the client service associate roles. They couldn’t get out. They were just told again and again, oh eventually you’re gonna grow. But the firm owners never really pulled them along and so they were just waiting. A lot of women just sit around waiting to be recognized. I think that is a big issue. If you’re not being recognized, you just need to move. Take initiative and go. If you’re not being recognized now, you’re probably not gonna be recognized in six months.

I tell my clients the same thing. If they’re not willing to give you a raise, and they are not willing to work with you to create a path to get you that raise or to get you to that next level, that is your sign. Move on and take a risk to do something else. I find that too many women stay in positions just hoping that something will come their way or something will change eventually. It typically doesn’t, though.

Hannah: Yeah. I love that you have to take control of your own career.

Mary Beth: Did I answer your question? I went in a roundabout way. I don’t know if I answered the question. But those things, mentorship, taking also control of your own thing too, I think is really important.

Hannah: My question was a roundabout question too. Okay, so you’ve written a book, Work Your Wealth. You also have a podcast. How have those impacted your practice and your brand?

Mary Beth: Oh, the book has made me a ton of money. No, not really. The book basically-

Hannah: I was like “That’d be a first!”

Mary Beth: … was a passion project. Yeah. No, that’s not why you write a book. Just FYI, do not write a book to make money. But the book was always a passion project of mine. I’ve always loved writing, even before I launched my firm. Early on, when blogging just came around I had a blog under an alias. Personal finance blog that I wrote. I think it was called … Oh gosh, I can’t remember. I don’t know. Financially savvy something. The writing this was always a passion of mine. And then as I was building Workable Wealth, I was finding that even though my fees were lower at the time than they are now, I was finding a large amount of people reaching out to me who couldn’t even afford the lower fees that I was at. And so I wanted to have something of a starter point.

I know there’s a lot of personal finance books out there, but for me, I wanted to make it fun. I basically wanted to walk people through how I created a financial plan for them, what my process was, what to consider, each step, and basically teach people how to build their own financial plan in a way that wasn’t so pay off your mortgage first. And also a way that was speaking from one peer to another. I wrote Work Your Wealth and I chose to self-publish.

That’s a question I get a lot. I chose to self-publish although I had options to reach out to other publishers and could have been on that route. My full purpose on doing the self-publishing route was so that I could have full control of the creative process. I had a vision for what I wanted it to look like and I had a vision for what I wanted the cover to look like. You give up some of that control when you work with a traditional publisher.

Work Your Wealth has a big glittery dollar sign on the cover of it. It is just by having the gold glittery dollar sign, it ends up being geared towards women because men are not picking up books with gold glittery dollar signs on it for the most part. With the book, though, I did a whole launch team around it. I built a Facebook group around it. It launched. It did great. It literally is still paying off. I think I wrote it three years ago. I can’t remember. I have a newborn and so I’m pretty sure I wrote it three years ago at this point. It could be two years. I really can’t remember, to be honest. I need to double check this. It was either two or three years ago at this point.

Basically even just recently, the book had sold thousands of copies all over the world. Maybe I was on maternity leave just recently at the end of 2017, somebody reached out to me and wanted to buy over a thousand copies of my book for a subscription box that she sends out to female entrepreneurs. This book that I wrote is now … I’m being paid for the copies of the book. Obviously I gave her a discount for a bulk order. Being paid, making money on the sale of the books, and then the books, over a thousand books are being mailed to my target client this month actually. It’s going out all over the world, or all over the country, I mean, to a thousand women.

Stuff like that is pretty cool. Those are opportunities that the book has opened up for me. Every new client that signs on, they get a copy of the book along with a pre-printed note card that has pretty calligraphy on it that has a quote and says, “Welcome to the Workable Wealth family.” Basically it’s enabled me to do more speaking and to leverage the book. Through speaking, I can sell discounted books as part of my speaking fee basically. I throw in books in there as well. I can get paid more. It’s a business card, basically.

I’ve definitely gotten clients from the book, and people who reach out to me who say, “I read your book first,” and they can go here and schedule a consultation. I was able to do opt-ins in the book. People sign up for worksheets and so they’re on my mailing list now. That’s how the book has worked out. As we were just chatting before the call, the podcast is something that I created spinning off the book. People ask if I’ve gotten clients directly from it, and I don’t know. From the measurable, I found your podcast and then I found you … Mostly people find me from other podcasts and then they find my podcast. I don’t know if they’re directly finding me. I think it’s building trust and building credibility.

I had a consultation call this morning with somebody who has already emailed back and said yes, they wanna move forward. When we were on the call she said that she had spent a day or two listening to my podcast, just so she could get to know me and my style ahead of time. She came to the call feeling like she could already relate to me and she knew my story. The fact that she listened to that to educate herself up front, and literally emailed me two hours after I sent the consultation follow up email and said, “Yes, we’re ready to move forward,” that’s fantastic. That’s a $7,500 retainer right there. That’s how it pays off in the practice, in ways like that. It’s staying relevant, staying top of mind, and it’s really a value add is what I think.

Hannah: I find this really interesting. You wrote this book basically outlining your planning process or what you would take them through to do a financial plan. Has that kept clients from coming to you because they got all the information that they needed?

Mary Beth: No, because the big thing is, as most financial planners know probably, is the accountability to actually getting things done. Somebody will spend $10 on a book, read the book, and they can pick and choose things. It’s a great baseline, but when you’re at the point of your life getting complicated and you need somebody to actually do a mortgage analysis for you, chances of you doing it for yourself, for example. If anything I think, again, it helps to keep me top of mind and relevant to people. I have people reaching out now for consultations who are like, “I followed you.”

I have a consultation I think next week. I was just going through them and she’s like, “Oh, I found you two years ago or three years ago from Jessica Lively’s podcast,” which is a podcast that was small at the time when I was interviewed and then it blew up afterwards. This woman’s been following me for three years. She’s probably read the book since then. But people reach out I think as their situations get a little bit more complex and they’re more qualified to need that kind of help. I think if anything it’s actually, again, just kept me more in front of them than anything. I don’t think it’s prevented anybody from reaching out.

Hannah: You also do a lot of media. You talked about NBC coming to your house. I think I just saw you on an AARP commercial recently.

Mary Beth: Did you?

Hannah: Well, I saw your Facebook share of it. It wasn’t on TV. But still very cool. So what’s that like, seeing yourself on TV and in that role?

Mary Beth: I love the majority of it is not live. Live TV is a little nerveracking. I usually do okay with live but I’m always like, “Okay, please edit me.” Financial planner to financial planner, it is great in terms of, again, building that trust, building trust with people who say that they’ve seen me on NBC or in Forbes or commercials or whatnot. There’s that trust factor there, where they’re like, “Okay, this woman knows what she’s doing or must know what she’s doing if she’s on these things.” Does it bring in clients? To be completely honest, I think I’ve gotten one client from all of the things that I’ve done for NBC. I’ll be completely honest there. It looks cool and it is cool. I love the experiences.

One of my personal passion projects is obviously educating a wider audience. That’s why I do what I do. It’s cool to see and it’s cool to experience because it’s aligned with those things that I’m passionate about. Does it bring in money? No. For the most part it doesn’t bring in money. I do have some paid gigs and those things, and that’s a different kind of opportunity. But to see myself on TV, I will say the coolest thing for me is honestly when friends or family will text me or send me screenshots like, “You’re on my TV.” It’s across the country. NBC stuff gets syndicated onto other channels throughout the week after I’m on sometimes, so I’ll hear from somebody a week later that they saw me in Florida and I’m on NBC San Diego.

Stuff like that is cool, and honestly my favorite part is being able to show my daughter when I’m on TV. She’s two and a half and she can say, “Mommy’s on TV.” To her, seeing that sort of thing, that’s probably my favorite part. Just seeing how excited she gets and knowing that I can be a role model for her. That’s probably the totally cliché, but I just love seeing her get excited for those sort of things.

Hannah: One of the other things that I think is really fun about you is you’re one of the few advisors that’s really on Instagram, and doing some interesting social media stuff. I guess this goes even bigger than just Instagram. But all of your writing, do you do that yourself or do you have a team that helps you? What does that process look like for you?

Mary Beth: When I launched I did it all myself, and then as I grew I started to outsource some of the writing. At this point in time my blog content is outsourced. I do have a social media marketing content manager. She does everything for me. She does my Facebook, she does my Twitter, LinkedIn, and she writes and schedules my blog posts for me. The Instagram is the one thing that I do myself, and so I use Kailey, who a lot of you probably know.

Kailey does a lot of my marketing and media stuff, and she will now pull from … As I’ve started to incorporate, going back in, more of my family stuff into my Instagram that’s a little bit more of the blend, the mix, the mom and the business type stuff, as I’ve started to do that she will actually pull from my Instagram and put it on Facebook. There’s sometimes where even me I’m like, “Am I ready to share that to my Facebook audience?” So yeah, I still get a little bit nervous, but it’s almost good that she takes that out of my hands and does it. I’m like okay, this is a little bit vulnerable, it’s a little bit funny, and a lot of those sometimes prompt things. Again, it makes me more real.

But yeah, the Instagram is the one thing that I manage on my own, and then Kailey does the rest for me. We have a whole editorial calendar in terms of what the topics are, what I wanna address each month. I try to do monthly themes and that’s all planning on my part. I delegate topics and that sort of thing, and then as I’m quoted in things or if I’ve written anything else on my own, because I still do a lot of my own writing as well in different areas, like I’m writing for Forbes right now and different things, I’ll forward those links to Kailey and then she’ll just work them into my marketing schedule.

That is an area where I say that I invest in. My practice is still run from my house. I have a home office. There’s not necessarily a need for me to have office space right now, because honestly my clients are all over the place. Where I don’t invest in office space, I invest in having help with the media and marketing. Those are trade offs and things that are important to me.

Hannah: With your media plan, do you have an online sales funnel that you take people through, or is it more of a just get them on your email list?

Mary Beth: Oh dear lord, I wish I had a sales funnel of something. But no, I do not have a sales funnel, to be completely honest. I should. From all of the online marketing that I do and all of the people that I talk to, there should be some sort of level one, two and three, but there’s not. For the most part all of the opt-ins lead to one endpoint, which is the newsletter list. They can opt-in from the book, they can opt-in for the worksheets and then they end up on the newsletter list. There was a podcast for there’s a Work Your Wealth for entrepreneurs book that’s gonna come out eventually. There’s a list for that already too, that puts them onto one list. But eventually they end up all on the newsletter list and that is something that I write for myself as well. That goes out once every two weeks. That basically is a roundup of the most recent blog posts, the most recent podcast episode and then three or four around the web articles that I think are relevant for my newsletter audience.

Hannah: You said that you worked with creative entrepreneurs. What have you learned about being creative from working with them?

Mary Beth: One of the things that I’ve learned in terms of being around this group is the small things, in terms of little touches. For example, gifts. If clients buy a new home, instead of sending them a bottle of wine or champagne, I send them a personalized address stamp with their last name, the little re-inkable ones. I shop small for my clients by being around my clients, basically. I shop small. I send them a handmade, personalized address stamp. If somebody has a baby from Etsy I order a piggy bank with the baby’s name on it, and it’s hand painted and it has little polka dots or whatnot and I send it to them.

Doing small touches like that, really personalizing things, sending out the Work Your Wealth with the note cards that I’ve had designed by a calligrapher and they match the Work Your Wealth or Workable Wealth brand colors, those small touches and those personalizations incorporates more of my brand, my personality into the business and allows me to show my clients it’s not a generic thing. I can do personalized gifts and small things to recognize them or to celebrate with them. I think that’s one of the big things that I’ve learned, is just little, small thoughtful touches as opposed to the old school send a gift basket or just a Starbucks gift card. It’s just stuff like that.

And then I had, again, birthday cards that were designed by a small business calligrapher, that were designed with Workable Wealth branding. I paid a small business for that, and then those go out every month to clients. I do the snail mail, so small touches like that. I spend time in those areas and I learned that from this group, basically. Shopping small, supporting other small businesses and helping them to build themselves up too has been really fun.

Hannah: Do you identify as a creative now yourself?

Mary Beth: I do. I always say I cannot design or create colorful, pretty things for the life of me. My PowerPoints are super bland. But I will, again, pay somebody and outsource that to make them pretty for me now. But I have always called myself a creative because of just the way that I choose to deliver advice and the writing side of things. I can’t paint, or draw, or do calligraphy for the life of me, but in terms of the writing side of things, that is my creative outlet. That is what I choose to do and that’s my creative side. Most of the content that you see on my website, any of the early blogs, that’s all me. Even making resumes sound better and stuff like that. I have a way with words. That’s where I’m creative.

Hannah: Oh, that’s great. You have this great brand built up. You have this firm that you’re hiring people. I mean, you have hired already people. Where do you go to continue learning? Where are your places to go?

Mary Beth: This is a really interesting thing for me. When I launched, I had a study group that I was part of, a mastermind group. That was really great in terms of getting us out there, launching, lifting each other up in media presence. That group then served its purpose. You don’t have to be with these groups forever. I think after a year and a half, two years, we just went our separate ways. I found myself lacking, in terms of I wanted to connect with other people who were more on the technical side who I can talk financial planning strategies with. How are your tackling your investment analysis or your life insurance analysis? I was craving that.

I now have another study group that I’m a part of, who I leverage a lot. There are six of us in that group. Three men, three women. We meet every Tuesday. I learn a lot from them and we bring a lot of ideas together. Obviously I’m the marketing guru, so I’m constantly pushing them to do more marketing. Sometimes you can over focus on processes too, so I always say, “Stop focusing on the processes and just get butts in the seats. Get clients in there first, before you’re worried about doing it all and having it perfect.” I leverage my study group. Kitces’ blog, I read his blog all the time.

One of the things I’ve struggled with locally, there is obviously a big San Diego FPA presence. There’s NAPFA, those sort of things. I found myself pulling away from those A, when I got pregnant, and B, when I realized there wasn’t a lot of educational information for my client base there. There’s not a lot going on. Social security planning and Medicare planning isn’t necessarily relevant to my clients quite yet, so I pulled back from there to be honest. I leverage more online stuff.

I am now getting more involved in NAPFA. I’d say the NAPFA conferences are the ones that I would go to and learn the most from and connect with. That’s the ones that I found are the most relevant probably to me. NAPFA and mostly learning from my peers. Peers who have done it ahead of me. But again, I leverage my study group a lot as well. I’ll pull from other resources that I can find, but I’d say those are some of the main ways that I try, and also reading books and those sort of things, staying relevant.

Hannah: Yeah. What are you reading right now?

Mary Beth: Right now, to be completely honest I am reading nursery rhymes and bedtime stories because I have a three year old at home. I dream of the day that I can read a book again. I have Financial Planning 3.0 on my desk downstairs, that’s sitting there staring at me and I would love to read it. I have gotten halfway through, I think it’s the Big Leap. That’s the one where we get in our own way, I think that one. I’m listening to that one on tape right now. Or not tape, on audio. I don’t have tapes. But I have that one downloaded right now from the library. I try and piece things in when I can, but to be honest it’s literally mostly I read a Minnie Mouse story probably ten times a night. The same one about cupcakes. That’s what I’m reading right now.

Hannah: They say having kids is supposed to increase your creativity, right?

Mary Beth: Yeah. Minnie Mouse is a lot of beautiful colors involved, so we’re talking about cupcakes and popcorn and you can actually get really creative in terms of how you retell a story to a two year old who doesn’t necessarily know that you’re not reading the words. There’s ways to speed it up or slow it down, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish that night.

Hannah: Oh, that’s great. So what’s in store for you for the next five years? Where do you see yourself in five or ten years from now?

Mary Beth: Oh my gosh, five to ten years. Okay, so goals that I really have right now. Ten years hopefully the practice is bringing in probably about one and a half million, is my big picture pie in the sky goal. Having a team probably of about six. That’s probably where we’re gonna end. I don’t necessarily wanna have a huge … I don’t see Workable Wealth going to this ginormous firm, but I wanna have about 1.5 million of revenue coming in, a team in place to support that and the clients there, and then honestly the goal is to build upon the Work Your Wealth brand as well. I always see myself working with clients. I’m very passionate about that.

In the mindset right now of up leveling from just where my fees started to where I am right now, this year is a game changer for me in terms of now I have two kids at home. I am just getting really, really efficient and unfortunately we’ll have to get rid of some of my clients because it’s just not sustainable for me to have all my time divided in these areas. So up leveling fees, up leveling just in terms of processes and systems, refining things, getting that narrowed down so that I can spend time focusing on the Work Your Wealth brand, which is going to be not necessarily revenue focused, but really again, aligned with … I want those goals to be focused on the number of people that I can impact or reach through financial education.

Workable Wealth has a revenue goal, and then once that’s met hopefully by ten years from now Work Your Wealth is happening. Work Your Wealth Entrepreneurs will be out. I have other products and things in mind that I want to do and create. Again, just be able to expand financial education and literacy.

Hannah: You don’t have to answer this, but where are you now in revenue for your firm?

Mary Beth: So revenue, I just hit 200,000 in recurring revenue. And then with that though, let’s say that you bring on 20 new clients a year, $1,500 up front minimum for the fees, and then there’s the media consulting income as well. So 200,000 recurring, and then there’s opportunities. We’re 2018, I might close around 250 to 300 would be my guess for the year.

Hannah: Well, is there any other piece of advice that you would have for new planners who are listening to this podcast?

Mary Beth: I think the best thing that you can do is just reach out to other people. Reach out to other people, definitely don’t launch your firm if you don’t have any experience. I will say that. It’s my one disclaimer. Please get some experience under your belt by working with other people first. That will make you a better financial planner and it will make your clients love you that much more. But take every opportunity you can. When you’re feeling like you’re stuck and in a rut and something isn’t working for you, think about what you can do to benefit you in your long term career.

If you’re in a position right now where you wanna do something else, or you’re feeling a little bit stuck, what can you do as a value add or a side project, or what can you work on and develop to enhance your own education, to enhance your skills as a planner? Don’t necessarily wait for things to be delegated to you. I think that’s the biggest thing, is take control, be creative in that way with your career. Just take whatever opportunities that come your way and see how you can monopolize upon them.

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Many clients call Mary Beth their very own rent-a-CFO. There’s no doubt that she’s an innovator in the space of business financial planning for creative entrepreneurs. Get ready to be inspired, because Mary Beth is here to talk about pushing past fear ... Mary Beth Storjohann knows that financial planning is something that bleeds into every area of a client’s life. That’s why she has developed a service model that assists solopreneurs and small business owners with their personal financial goals, business finances, and the psychology behind advancing their career.
Many clients call Mary Beth their very own rent-a-CFO. There’s no doubt that she’s an innovator in the space of business financial planning for creative entrepreneurs. Over the four or five years she’s been in business, her practice has evolved to include these services – she had no idea that these are the niches she would serve!
This is an important point that many advisors will connect with. We don’t always know where our financial planning practice is going to grow when we first get started. We so often put pressure on ourselves to have everything figured out right out of the gate, but things truly do evolve over time – and they should.
Mary Beth also has a unique approach to growing her business. She has created such an incredible library of content, and she’s always open to new avenues of reaching her clients. She currently has a podcast, a blog, and a book (and she wrote her book while on maternity leave – talk about a financial planning warrior!).
We can all find inspiration in the energy and the passion Mary Beth pours into her practice. She keeps it real, and it’s what sets her apart and allows her to grow valuable relationships with her planning clients.

What You’ll Learn:

How to stay flexible when growing your financial planning practice.
The different ways having a personal brand pays off.
How to define your target market.
Why your marketing will turn some people away – and why that’s okay.
The ways a target market helps you build meaningful relationships with your clients, and helps you enjoy your work more.
How to look ahead and decide how your firm will need to change and grow.
Why ignoring what the industry “norm” is pays off.
Different methods of marketing your business.
How to understand the fear and do it anyways.
How to try something, and pivot if it doesn’t work.

Workable Wealth
Work Your Wealth: 9 Steps to Making Smarter Choices With Your Money
Work Your Wealth Podcast
Work Your Wealth Blog

Hannah Moore clean 58:04
Virtually Serving Planners Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:19:26 +0000 0 Charesse Hagan believes it’s time to challenge the narrative that the only career path within financial planning is working toward being a lead advisor. Through her experience as a paraplanner and operations consultant, she has learned first hand that there are countless exciting opportunities for people to find their fit within the financial planning community. Charesse Hagan is a testament to the fact that there are many different career paths available to professionals in the financial planning industry. After working for two years in the advisor world as an associate planner, Charesse began to feel that working for a wealth management firm wasn’t necessarily for her.

Feeling confident in her experience, she struck out on her own. At first, Charesse exclusively involved herself in paraplanning work. Over time, her business model evolved to offer both operations consulting and some light paraplanning for long-term clients.

In the financial planning profession, we’re often fed a narrative that the best (or only) route for young professionals to take is to work toward being a lead advisor at a large firm, or to launch your own RIA. Charesse, however, believes that we need to challenge this narrative and highlight all career opportunities within the financial planning industry so that everyone can find their best fit.

Charesse has had colossal success running her own consulting and paraplanning business, and she’s excited about the possibilities that are still open to her in the future. By committing to the entrepreneur lifestyle, she has the potential to live and work as a digital nomad, add additional services to her business model, hire employees – the opportunities are endless.

Tune in to learn more about Charesse’s journey, and how you can find your own space within the financial planning community.

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I think the industry is also okay with you creating your own career path. If you don’t fit the mold, then I think there’s an opportunity to move at your own pace. @charesse_hagan

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What You’ll Learn:

  • Different career opportunities within the finance industry.
  • What kind of education or experience you should look for if you’re considering launching your own business that serves financial planners.
  • What technology Charesse finds valuable for financial planners.
  • The difference between an associate planner and a paraplanner – and how you can determine which is a best fit for you.
  • How staying organized and building out processes can help you to implement strategy.
  • How providing the best customer experience possible is often all the marketing you need.


Simply Paraplanner

Charesse Hagan






Show Transcript

Ep86 Transcript

Hannah: So I love your story, and I love how much you’ve been able to do in such a short amount of time. So for our listeners, you’ve had two internships and two shops over the course of about two years before jumping out on your own to really do paraplanning and operations consulting. What really was a motivator for you wanting to jump out on your own?

Charesse: Well, this was not something planned for me. When I first decided to jump out on my own, it was really like just trying to find clients. So basically, I was working at a wealth management firm. They had about two billion in assets, and I was there for like a year and a half. At that point, the mentor I had at the company, she parted ways, so it was just really hard for me. I was traveling between two offices and trying to find like a good fit with another advisor with the company.

Basically, their team structure was kind of siloed, so you only worked directly with one advisor rather than being paired with two and helping service their clients. So I was working at the main office, and they had about 40 employees. I ended up moving to a smaller office, but in a better location, and there were only five to six employees. The office fit wasn’t good for me.

Then I moved on to another firm. They had about four billion in assets, 20 associates, and a lot of responsibilities I had at my first job were taken away from me. I couldn’t attend client meetings anymore, and the firm I was at, they were using something called Lotus, which Lotus is like Excel before Excel came out. When I was at my previous job, we used Money Guide Pro, so my job became very manual, like a lot of input, data entry, way more than you would have to do with a financial planning software, so I was just spending 40 hours a week just sitting there typing in information to Lotus, and they took away the attending client meetings too.

Then I reached out to maybe 25 to 50 advisors, just looking for another opportunity. One woman I reached out to, she’s an XYPN, and I told her I was interested in a job, and then she told me she doesn’t have the capacity to hire anyone full time, but she would hire me as a part-time contractor.

So then I tried to work with her and my full-time job, but due to the conflict of interest, I wasn’t allow to. Although she didn’t have AUM, they still didn’t allow me, so I was so miserable there, I just decided to leave.

Then I ended up working with her, and another advisor hired me, so I started off with two advisors when I first started.

Hannah: So did you know coming out of college that you were more wired for that entrepreneur route, or was that something that you kind of just discovered in being unhappy at your jobs?

Charesse: I knew eventually that it was something I wanted to do. I just didn’t know it was going to happen this early.

Hannah: You had basically like two to two-and-a-half years of experience at this point. Did you feel like you had enough experience to make that jump?

Charesse: Yes because the experience, the two-and-a-half years of experience I had is focused on paraplanning, so that’s why I think this is a good transition for people that want to be self employed. When I was at the job I was at with my initial firm for maybe a year and a half, my job was to build out financial plans in Money Guide Pro, attend client meetings, take meeting notes, prepare the meeting followup, and there were very good processes in place to help me streamline that process and perfect it.

They gave me a lot of training since they were a big firm. They sent me to Money Guide Pro training. I got to attend a TDA conference, so I had the skill set in place to be able to do what I do now, and honestly, I’m doing the same thing, but just remotely. I work with five firms. I also do operations consulting, and that’s just due to working with big firms, and I’ve worked with 20 firms the past two years, so basically some people don’t need paraplanning, but they need help structuring their business. I really focus on learning the best practices of the industry.

Hannah: You’ve been on your own for what? A year and a half at this point?

Charesse: Yeah, so I started contracted February 2016. I officially quit my job May 2016.

Hannah: How did you build up the network to, first of all, be able to contact 20 to 50 advisors, and then second of all, to get 20 advisors as client. That’s really impressive.

Charesse: Honestly, word of mouth. I’m just … I tried my best to give my clients the best experience ever. I try to go above and beyond. We all do. Word of mouth mainly.

When I first started, it was really hard because no one knew me, but a lot of my past clients and current clients have highly recommended me.

I feel like with this, it’s all about word of mouth, so I feel like people, if they’re looking in to it, to really focus on structuring their business, how they can serve their clients to the best of their ability.

Hannah: One of the things that I think is a detriment to our profession is this assumption that every … If you want to have a career path, you have to be going towards the lead planner role, and you’re really kind of going more towards that operations and paraplanner role. Did you run into any issues or tension with that? Maybe the general assumptions of our profession versus what you’re doing?

Charesse: Yes. I just spoke at the TD Ameritrade conference, and our panel was focused on developing non-advisor careers in the industry, so this is something that’s really big. I spoke about a mindset shift in the industry. A lot of people are no longer on the advisor path, and that was my personal experience. I wanted to become an advisor, but I realize, when I was trying to do the associate planner route, I wasn’t being fulfilled, and I feel like the advisors could notice that, but when I started doing the operations and actually just perfecting the paraplanning service, I realized my clients are more happy with the work I’m doing, and I feel more fulfilled.

Hannah: From your perspective, what are the other non-advisor career paths that are out there for somebody to pursue?

Charesse: Client service manager. A lot of people are interested in investment management, working in that part of the business, like developing portfolios and keeping up with the research, and then some people are happy in their current roles, and they just want to become more efficient and provide better quality work.

Like me, personally, I really didn’t think I would add on the operations consulting, but now that’s the bulk of my business right now. I was just focused on services my clients for paraplanning more efficiently versus like creating a streamline timeline for where I want to be.

I also think if you’re not working in an office and you want to do the entrepreneur route, you can grow your business. You can add paraplanners to your team or you can move up. For me, I do operations consulting, but I know a lot of advisors are starting to ask about practice management, so that may be a direction I go.

Hannah: What’s so exciting to me, and I know I’ve experienced this personally and so many of my friends have as well, is once you start doing something and just really getting out there, doors just open. You don’t necessarily have to have a full path laid out. They just start opening.

Charesse: Yes. And back to your question I was thinking about, about the mindset shift and how not everyone wants to be an advisor. For me, a lot of my clients ask me what my angle is because they need an advisor on their team, so at first it was hard for me to say I’m happy with what I’m doing because a lot of people are like, “Well, what’s your angle, or what do you want to do?” And I’m doing what I want to do. I really enjoy what I do.

At first, I was really confused, and then I was talking to a friend, and she was like, Chareese, you know what you want to do, but you just have to tell me people.” And I’m like, it’s okay. I now know it’s okay that I don’t want to be an advisor anymore.

Hannah: Accepting that can sometimes … Yeah.

Charesse: Yeah. And it’s the prestigious position that everyone wants. That’s what we’re trained to do.

Hannah: Like it’s what good advisors do with our clients, right? We say, “What’s your ideal life?” And sometimes that is taking … It’s not a step back, but just kind of going in a different direction against what the norms are.

Charesse: Yeah. I agree.

Hannah: So, one of the phrases that I’ve seen around is the digital nomad. Do you classify yourself as a digital nomad?

Charesse: Well, not really. When I first started, I would travel a lot. I think when you’re a digital nomad, you really don’t have a location. You are a remote worker that travels around the world, and I, honestly, spend most of my time working from home at this point. Eventually, my pursuit is to become a digital nomad though.

Hannah: And so for the people listening, can you describe what a digital nomad is?

Charesse: A digital nomad is basically someone who works off of their laptop, and they’re usually self-employed, and they travel the world while working remotely.

There’s a lot of programs now that help people work remotely and travel the world whether you’re self-employed or work for a company. They have like remote year. They have something called WeRoam, and there’s a lot of places like in different cities that have like coworking spaces and apartments that people can rent on a month-to-month basis, which is really cool.

Hannah: It’s very much a lifestyle decision.

Charesse: It is. It is. I was so focused on lifestyle when I started this. I was like, “Oh I just want to travel the world and work remotely with advisors.” And another reason why I started this was because I worked in wealth management, and all the clients were high net-worth, and I really wanted to work with advisors that served millennials, so when I started, a lot of the advisors I worked with were really young. I enjoyed it, but now I have a mix of clients.

Hannah: If somebody wants to go in this paraplanner role, or they’re just starting out in a paraplanner role, how can they be successful in that role?

Charesse: I think you have to be very open-minded when you are a paraplanner, and you’re not going to know everything, and it’s going to be okay.

Another thing, I feel like you have to be very organized as a paraplanner. A lot of advisors count on me to be fully prepared when managing their clients. Also, I think, having a background in finance whether you went to college or having prior experience is very helpful.

I would think like … A lot of people I tell, like having a checklist. Like don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to, but having a process in place for how you’re going to approach every case to make sure you’re not missing anything.

I feel like these things can be built out with an advisor. If you collaborate with your advisor and streamline that process, it’ll make things easier for you and the advisor. The advisor will have a clear understanding of how you are going through financial documents and building out the plan, and also you know the expectation of the advisor.

Hannah: With working with advisors and building out these processes, is that back and forth with the advisor? Do you bring that to the table? Is every client different? How does that usually work with multiple clients?

Charesse: Okay. When I first started, I usually just jumped in to the processes the advisor had in place for paraplanning, but now, after I’ve been working with so many advisors, a lot of them ask me what’s the best process. So usually, I think it’s always going to be a collaboration because at the end of the day, it’s their business, but I feel like they come to me for guidance more now.

It’s … I think, like just … It comes with building out workflows so one thing I built out for my longest standing client. She kind of lets me just handle my own processes, and she usually comes to me for a lot of things, but with her, I just built out a data entry workflow, and I presented the same workflow to another advisor I work with, and they like it as well.

It’s just … I usually work with advisors that use E-Money. I haven’t done one for Money Guide Pro, but it’s nice to just go into Wealth Box or Red Tail and see what you have to do and pick up where you left off too.

Hannah: And so, with working with advisors, do you get your own logins for everything? What does that look like?

Charesse: I have two services I offer. For the operations consulting, sometimes they give me my own login for the CRM, but usually we’ll just share, but that’s because it’s a short-term engagement. It may be like three to six months. But with the paraplanning clients, they usually give me my own logins for everything.

I really think it would be beneficial for me to probably get my own E-money login and just add a technology fee because with four E-Money logins, at that point, you know. They’re paying all that money, and it would be like a great service for me to add that to my services, but I don’t know any paraplanners that pay for their own financial planning software.

Hannah: If somebody has you as a paraplanner, what are you doing? What is your … What are the tasks that you do on a regular basis for advisors?

Charesse: So normally, I would check to see if we have all the documents on file to build out the upcoming plans for a client. I will build out the plan, obviously, and then if there’s any meeting followup, I will prepare that as well. Then there’s like research on different topics as well.

I think there’s a big difference between a paraplanner and an associate planner, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this conversation with anyone, but just seeing what people are looking for when they list an associate planner versus a paraplanner, you can tell the difference, but some people think a paraplanner and association planner … Like they overlap at some extent, but they’re really not the same role.

I would consider myself like an associate planner with one of my advisors, so basically I have client contact, and she’s the only person I have client contact with. I will reach out to the client myself if we need to request more information, like making sure the risk tolerance questionnaire is up to date, and then for the meeting followup, if I need to reach out to the client, I will as well.

Hannah: Is the distinction between the associate planner and the paraplanner basically just client interaction or how else would you make that distinction?

Charesse: I would say it’s more client interaction. I am not an expert on this, but so basically I’m just basing it off of how I see other paraplanners work.

Attending client meetings. Like some paraplanners don’t want the client facing aspect, but some are willing to do it. I have in the past, and I don’t mind doing it, but now that I’m working with five firms right now, I usually have my own meetings, like 10 meetings a week, myself, so I really couldn’t attend client meetings for all my advisors, or my schedule would be crazy.

Hannah: And so those 10 meetings, are they with the advisors?

Charesse: Yeah, so some are … Usually they’re with the advisors or just situations like how I attended … How I spoke at a conference. If I need to book a meeting for that. Mostly are with the advisors, so that can range from five to six meetings.

With my operations consulting clients, I will schedule calls with them to demo a new technology if they’re interested. Normally that would push me over like my weekly meetings that I usually have with all of my clients.

Hannah: For the advisors who are listening to this who are really … Well, I guess it goes both ways, the advisors or somebody kind of in your path, what do you charge in the range or what’s the going rate, if you would, for working with a paraplanner or an operations consultant?

Charesse: For paraplanning, I would say at a minimum maybe $30 to $35 an hour. For the paraplanners that already have the CFP designation, I see them charging between $50 to $60 an hour normally. There are cases where I know someone personally that’s charging $85 an hour.

Then if you think … But you also have to think about the experience, so I’m sure a lot of people have heard of Delgated Planning. Her services are over $100 an hour, but I know she’s offering a lot more than what the normal paraplanner does.

For the operations consultant, I really don’t know anyone else that’s an operations consultant with like my experience. I know there’s larger companies and more experienced people who may have 10 plus years that are doing it, and I honestly don’t know what they’re charging.

Hannah: So if somebody is hearing your career path and is like, “Oh my gosh. This is what I want to do.” Where do they start?

Charesse: I think it’s very beneficial to pursue the registered paraplanner designation or the CFP designation and just start taking the classes just to become more familiar with the financial planning process. I definitely think people should do the research. That’s something I did not do when I started. I was charging very little compared to what I could’ve.

Also, creating a website so people can find you, and Simply Paraplanner was a really good resource for me when I started. I think I got about two to three jobs off of that website, so that’s a good resource as well.

Just thinking through your services and what you actually want to do, and write a business plan.

I waited a year in to write a business plan, and once I did, it provided a lot of clarity for me, and that’s when I realized that I want to continue growing this business.

Hannah: I like it so much that your clients are advisors, so it’s … Yeah.

Charesse: It’s awesome. It’s very profitable, and there’s a big need. I’m actually hiring someone at the end of this month to start helping me with the operations consulting mainly, and then probably data entry, so I like reached out to universities that have the CFP program to see if anyone’s interested, and then just people I’ve mentored along the way to see if they want more experience.

Hannah: So you get to see a lot of technology working with all these different advisors. You get to basically test drive all these various technologies. What are features of products that you just love working with? Especially with advisors?

Charesse: Features or softwares?

Hannah: Either-or, or both.

Charesse: Okay. I really like CRMs. I think they’re very resourceful, and I’m pretty sure all advisors have one, but honestly, there are some people I started working with, and usually the solo advisors, they’re not using it. They have it, but they aren’t maximizing the automation integration with it. I love technology integration just to help eliminate steps and save people time.

I really love helping advisors find the value in their technology because if you’re a virtual firm, or even if you have an office, technology is expensive, so it’s like good to maximize on it.

I really like what the CRMs are doing. I mainly work with Red Tail and Wealth Box, and they have an email feature that I think is very useful. You can build out email templates within the CRM.

Before Wealth Box started that feature, I would have advisors add their email templates into canned responses. The problem with that is if your team starts to grow or you hire anyone, they’re going to have to do the same step over again. But now that the CRMs have this built in, I think it’s great.

E-Money has been doing amazing. That’s just one financial planning software I work with mainly. I’m not sure about the other ones. The client onboarding process has been great. The tasks, like automatic email reminders, that’s amazing. I feel like the main thing for advisors is meeting followup, and My Plan Map is really great with that. You can add tasks in the system and then set up weekly reminders to be automatically sent to your client, and that’s just something you put it in once, and the system takes care of it.

Some people don’t want to add on an additional software for tasks like that, so E-money has the task reminders as well, but the client’s only reminded one time.

Hannah: So, that’s really interesting. So those task reminders, is that a separate program, or is that through existing software?

Charesse: I know Right Capital and E-Money, they have a spot where you can add client tasks into the software, and the clients can go in and complete the tasks, and you can also set a due date reminder, so when that due date comes, the clients get an email notification to complete it. That’s something if you already have Right Capital or E-Money, that’s a feature you can use today. But for My Plan Map, it is a separate software, and it’s purely for task management.

Hannah: One of the concepts that I’m really, really interested in right now is this idea of managing up because I know how many of these financial planning firms are run, and that financial planners aren’t necessarily the best business owners. You just call it what it is.

Charesse: Yes.

Hannah: So, what are your thoughts on managing up. How do you manage your advisors if that makes sense?

Charesse: Yeah, I think you have to manage up. When I manage up, my clients are more satisfied, but I would say early on, I didn’t do this, and people … Well, advisors that I used to work with would tell me like that’s your next step. You need to manage up.

My advisors like that I manage up. I’m usually ahead of them on things, and they like it. For example, with my operations consulting, I manage that whole relationship. I build out the timeline for how long it’s going to take to work on projects. I prepare the meeting agendas. This is what’s next, and in the past, I would also say, “These are the tasks I’m going to work on the next two week.” But I would never tell the advisor, “This is what you’re going to work on.” I do that now.

Also, just recommending technology to advisors and telling them, “Hey, this process isn’t working, and this is why.” I think if you want to be a virtual paraplanner, if you want to be a great … If you want to be like a great paraplanner or a great employee at your company, I think that this is just a skillset that everyone should have, and you become more valuable.

Hannah: How do you handle when you say, okay, advisor or boss, or whoever, depending on what your role is, you didn’t do what you said you would do. How is that handled, because I know that comes up?

Charesse: Yeah, for sure. So, this is really funny. When I started the operations consulting, I envisioned meeting with the advisor every other week, as like a strategy meeting, but now I meet with all operations consulting and paraplanning clients weekly, and I would say this happens with paraplanning clients as well. Advisors really don’t look over anything you email them. I mean, that’s a very general statement, but normally, if I send a long email, like here’s all the projects I worked on this week. Here are the notes from the meeting … Here’s the notes from the plan I just worked on last week. They usually won’t read it, and then during our call, they’ll ask me about the plan or the project I previously worked on.

For me, I think it’s good for a paraplanner to have a great line of communication, and also consider doing a briefing meeting or a debriefing meeting. If I’m mainly working with an advisor for paraplanning only, I’ll have a briefing meeting for a plan I completed.

That briefing meeting, I’m reviewing the plan with them and asking them any questions I have, and we’re looking at the what if scenarios to see if anything should be changed. Then the advisor would go to their client meeting, and then after that client meeting, and then after that client meeting, we would have a debriefing meeting.

So they’ll tell me, “I had the client meeting. This is the followup that needs prepared.” If there’s any updates on the plan, they’ll let me know, and then we’re done with that plan until the next quarter, month, whatever their process is.

Hannah: I really like how you kind of built in just that regular, almost like cycle of communication where there’s always a feedback loop with the advisor and coming in front of them.

Okay, the word that’s coming to mind is maddening of how you like put all this time into writing this long email or writing these summaries, and the advisor’s not reading it. Is that just something that you have to accept when you’re in that managing up role? Or, I just-

Charesse: Well, I tell advisors … Recently, I’ve noticed this problem because I normally don’t work with this many advisors at once. Like, one time, I worked with six, and it was hectic, but now I manage better, but I’m getting a lot of feedback from my clients, which is very helpful, and one advisor told me, she said, “I really haven’t sat down and looked at all the work you’ve done.” And I’ve sure a lot of advisors haven’t, but they just haven’t told me. I told her, I said, “If you don’t want to review this work alone, then we can schedule more meetings.” And if they’re willing to pay for the meetings with me to go through everything I did, I’m okay with that, but I tell them, if you’re not looking over the work, and we’re not having more meetings, then that’s just going to push back the projects that we’re working on.

Hannah: Well and so much of it, we talk a lot about client change and how to get our clients to change and really realizing that we can’t, and what our job is to say, “Here’s the options.” And advisors, if you’re not going to read this email or respond to it, then this gets pushed back.

Charesse: Yeah, I would say the underlying trend for me though is that advisors would probably prefer to sit down and review the work, and I mean, just thinking about a normal client in the financial planning industry, you’re sitting down with them and presenting the plan, so if I’m working on three workflows, and I want to present to you the technology integration that’s involved in it, the email templates that are involved with it, I definitely think that it would probably be best for us just to sit down, talk it through, and then I can make the changes and the process is implemented rather than me doing the work, the advisor looking it over, emailing it me, and then it comes up on the next meeting anyways.

So thinking out loud right now, but I definitely think I probably just need more meetings in my service model.

Hannah: And it goes back to this idea of we talk a lot about with clients, and again that’s where I know, it’s the future is human. It’s that hand-holding. As advisors, we need hand-holding.

Charesse: Yeah, I really think I collaborate well with advisors. I don’t think I’m doing all the work because again, it’s your business, and you just need help. You are servicing your clients. You want to grow the business, so to have someone come in and help streamline everything, to just make that process a lot easier, why not … What I normally tell advisors, like you provide the vision, then I execute it.

Hannah: I’ve seen that you’ve spoken on how employers can attract millennial talent. Let’s kind of flip this because most of the people listening to this podcast are newer planners who are hoping to get into good jobs. What are signs that a firm is doing it right in order to attract talent, and that somebody’s walking into a good job situation?

Charesse: I think if the firm is thinking about longterm where you’re going to end up in five years, even within the first year, just creating that timeline. I think that’s really essential.

I actually met a student when I was at the conference last week, and he told me they gave him a year timeline, like quarterly goals that they want him to hit, and I think XYPN just started the 90-day training timeline. If they really thought through what they’re going to do with the new hire, I think that’s great because it’s a thorough thought process, and they’re thinking through every aspect.

Also, I think it’s important for the interviewee to interview the interviewer because that’s something I haven’t done in the past, and I’m happy where I ended up, but I think if I would’ve spent more time asking questions to the employer, that would’ve helped me along the way. I ended up in a job that basically demoted me. I wasn’t able to be client-basing, and I had the opportunity beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have left the company.

I think it’s good to ask questions on what you’re going to be doing on a day-to-day basis. Then also flexibility. When I was working full time, I didn’t have the same flexibility as like my friends that were in marketing or IT. They were able to work from home once a week or once a month, and just like the flexibility. Like if you have to go a doctor’s appointment, and you can go and work later, like things like that. I feel like I’ve always worked at firms that were really strict along those lines.

Also, you want someone who is going to offer you the resources to be successful in your role and in the industry making sure they will continue your education whether that’s paying for the CFP exam or attending conferences or becoming a FPA member. I think those are really important so you can have outside communication from with … Like if you only talk with people in your current company, then how is your company going to grow? How are you going to bring best practices into the operations procedures or the paraplanning workflow if you’re not able to speak with anyone outside of your company?

Hannah: What have you learned in almost three and a half or four years that you’ve been in our profession, what have you learned about our profession?

Charesse: I learned that the profession is growing. I think there are a lot of advocates that want to help millennials, women, and minorities grow in the industry. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for young professionals to enter this industry, and there’s so many career paths, and I think the industry’s okay with you creating that career path on your own.

If you don’t fit the mold, then I think there’s an opportunity to move at your own pace.

Hannah: If you don’t if that mold, then that means that you stand out which is a really good thing.

Charesse: Yes. Yes, but I definitely think the industry is changing. They’re becoming more innovative just like with companies like XYPN. THey’re amazing. They’re setting the standard that younger advisors can launch their own business. And Simply Paraplanner, they have a job board specifically for virtual help, so I think these businesses are starting to pop up, and I meet people who have virtual businesses they’ve been running for 15 years, so it’s been around, but I think now it’s becoming the norm.

Hannah: Well, as we wrap up, are there any final pieces of advice that you would have to people who are entering the profession?

Charesse: If you’re prepared, you will normally be successful, so I think everyone should do their research and create that timeline on how they can achieve their goals.  

Hide Transcript

Charesse Hagan believes it’s time to challenge the narrative that the only career path within financial planning is working toward being a lead advisor. Through her experience as a paraplanner and operations consultant, Charesse Hagan is a testament to the fact that there are many different career paths available to professionals in the financial planning industry. After working for two years in the advisor world as an associate planner, Charesse began to feel that working for a wealth management firm wasn’t necessarily for her.
Feeling confident in her experience, she struck out on her own. At first, Charesse exclusively involved herself in paraplanning work. Over time, her business model evolved to offer both operations consulting and some light paraplanning for long-term clients.
In the financial planning profession, we’re often fed a narrative that the best (or only) route for young professionals to take is to work toward being a lead advisor at a large firm, or to launch your own RIA. Charesse, however, believes that we need to challenge this narrative and highlight all career opportunities within the financial planning industry so that everyone can find their best fit.
Charesse has had colossal success running her own consulting and paraplanning business, and she’s excited about the possibilities that are still open to her in the future. By committing to the entrepreneur lifestyle, she has the potential to live and work as a digital nomad, add additional services to her business model, hire employees – the opportunities are endless.
Tune in to learn more about Charesse’s journey, and how you can find your own space within the financial planning community.

What You’ll Learn:

Different career opportunities within the finance industry.
What kind of education or experience you should look for if you’re considering launching your own business that serves financial planners.
What technology Charesse finds valuable for financial planners.
The difference between an associate planner and a paraplanner – and how you can determine which is a best fit for you.
How staying organized and building out processes can help you to implement strategy.
How providing the best customer experience possible is often all the marketing you need.

Simply Paraplanner
Charesse Hagan

Hannah Moore clean 38:37
Quickly Growing a Firm Tue, 13 Feb 2018 20:43:02 +0000 0 Five years after founding Strategic Financial Partners at 25 years old, Sten Morgan has built his financial planning firm $100M. Tune in to learn how he pushed past what was comfortable and challenged himself to grow, improve, and find a tremendous amount of success. Sten Morgan struck out on his own at 25 years old to start his own financial planning practice. After an internship at Northwest Mutual and a job at Raymond James, he chose to start a financial planning practice in a new town where he knew almost nobody. People said he was crazy, but he knew he could push himself past the difficult growth period to a point where he was running a healthy, booming financial planning practice.

Five years later, Sten has built Strategic Financial Partners, his financial planning firm in Tennessee, to over $100M. He pushed past what he knew he was comfortable with and challenged himself to find creative ways to get in front of clients. From taking a public speaking course to gathering email addresses from a local hospital’s directory, Sten worked to market to one of  his niche markets in the medical field and add value to their lives.

Sten is a big believer that most people are ignorant of what they’re capable of achieving, and the resources and information available to them that will help them grow. He wants all advisors to be aware of just how much they have to gain by taking risks and breaking out of the rut they’re stuck in.

You’re going to be blown away by Sten’s out-of-the-box ideas, and the encouraging advice he has for both new financial planners looking to get started and find success, as well as seasoned planners who have been feeling the urge to grow and improve themselves and their businesses.

hannah's signature

Many people think: How can I get the results I want with the least amount of discomfort? And you’ve already lost if you have that mindset.


What You’ll Learn:

  • How a business owner comes up with processes for working with clients.
  • How Sten became successful with running his own firm in a short period of time.
  • How Sten focuses on Centers of Influence (COIs) to build his firm and grow his client base.
  • How to power through what makes you nervous to challenge yourself and find success.
  • How to better understand your weak points and set discomfort goals to stretch yourself and grow.
  • How to change your mind-sets to move you toward success.


Strategic Financial Partners

7 Mindsets of Success: What You Really Need to Do to Achieve Rapid, Top-Level Success

7 Mindsets of Success Website






Show Transcript

Ep85 Transcript

Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today Sten.

Sten: No, happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Hannah: Absolutely. I am really excited for you to talk about how to build a practice in a cold market. We’ll get to that a little bit later. But first of all, I’d love to hear more of your career path. How did you get into the financial planner profession?

Sten: You bet. I started in the business maybe like a lot of young CFPs or folks coming out of college. I didn’t really quite know what it meant to be a CFP or financial advisor. If I would have known that meant some amount of selling or even running your own business I might not have even got into this world because that would have intimidated me a lot of the time. I just knew I enjoyed people and I enjoyed numbers. I had a professor tell me once, he says, “There’s two ways to go with a business or finance degree. There’s in front of people or there’s behind computer screens all the time.” I think that was a little extreme at the time but it kind of helped me make the decision that I wanted to go the people path and feel that out.

My first job was an internship at Northwestern Mutual and I had no experience in the industry at all. I went there and learned a lot of what they do is sell insurance and they have some other things available and I got some really good foundational training, but then I learned I’m really interested in the investment side. I hear the wire house thing, that sounds really sexy. I want to go try that out. I jumped over to Raymond James for a little bit and was all investments all the time, and got my CFP through that process. I got my CFP before I could even use it, there was that work experience requirement back then but I knew I just wanted to learn at much as I could.

After being at Raymond James for a while I said, “I think I can do this on my own. I want to be able to control what my practice looks like. I want to do some fee based planning. I like the insurance side as part of it but I really want to be this boutique shop. That’s when I said I think I can do this on my own. I was about 24, almost 25 when I did that.

Hannah: It’s really interesting because I hear a lot of people looking at internships for Northwestern Mutual. Was that a positive experience for you? Maybe another way of framing that, what would be your advice to people who are looking at an internship with Northwestern Mutual or firms like that?

Sten: That’s a great question. I think it’s great foundational learning, especially coming into an industry you don’t know a lot about. I think a company that has a good system in place is really beneficial. I think if the small groups I’ve seen or even if you jump onto an independent team right away you can get a lot of experience but they might not have a system that keeps you busy all the time. You may sit around for hours just waiting for someone to tell you what to do. At Northwestern I appreciated there was weekly trainings, they linked you up with other advisors to give you some joint work, but then they also said, “Hey, go out and sell also because if you do you get to make some money.” I think it was a really good way to see the industry, see the hard side of the business, but also get some foundational training.

I think every advisor has to decide do I want to be really heavy on insurance, because I got some guys doing big insurance all the time, do I want to be the hedge fund guy, or all investments, or do I want to be the financial planner to people who they come to and I help them oversee it all. If somebody said, “I want to do insurance all the time,” I think Northwestern could be a great option. They’re really building up their broker/dealer more I’ve heard. As far as getting into the business, I think they do just as good as anybody else does.

Hannah: I like the sales training. I know for a lot of people who jump straight into an RA or various places sometimes they’re smaller shops and they don’t have the resources to do full out training, like some of the bigger firms do.

Sten: Then from there you’re maybe just learning through mistakes. That’s good to do at times, but if you can learn from other people’s mistakes and not have to do it yourself that’s what I preferred.

Hannah: You were you said 24-25 and looking at starting your own firm at that point. What led you to decide that you wanted to start your own firm?

Sten: I was partnered with the Raymond James office and they were doing a lot of business. I think this 1 advisor had like 1500 clients. They did a lot of A share business and it was a lot of activity and I learned a lot, but I looked at the book of business when I stepped back and said, “I just don’t have that many clients because it’s really hard to follow through on the commitment you made to them initially.” It seems like you end up just finding new clients and the older ones kind of felt forgotten about, maybe some of them stayed around, maybe some of them don’t. I said, “I think I can design a practice to where it’s more specific, it’s still profitable, but I can target business owners, physicians.”

I feel like in today’s market place there’s a lot of investors that if they want to open up a Roth or a 529 they can do it online themselves. I think there’s advisors still adding value with that process but I got really excited when I could do a complicated estate planning or tax harvesting and investment account where I could really show the client by working with me I just saved you $10,000, $15,000, $20,000. I think that just really protects your value prop. That’s where I said I want to just design my group a different way.

Hannah: Was the first that you were working with open to that idea or did you know that you wanted to do it on your own?

Sten: Part of it was the payouts because there were so many layers. They were owned by parent companies so I think the highest payout you ever got was 50%.

Hannah: Ouch.

Sten: Yeah. So I think even in that model when you’re doing a lot of A share load stuff and then you’re getting a 50% cut I think as my mind started thinking more like a business owner I said I think I can have fewer clients and actually end up making more money. Then going to a place where it’s close to now I’m close to 90% payout you have all your own expenses and there’s more business owner type decisions, but I found out that’s just more how I was wired.

Hannah: Did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur before this?

Sten: I didn’t and then I talk about in the book a little about just my upbringing and how things were just so hard all the time that my whole goal in life was really just to be comfortable. The thought of working for somebody, working hard, getting a steady paycheck was just what I thought the pinnacle of success was for a long time. It took some time for me to realize I think I’m capable of more. I’m actually open to taking on challenges and risks even though for a long time I wasn’t. I think it’s once I internalized that that I said, “I think if I did this for 10 more years I’d look back and regret delaying the risk of doing my own thing.” I wasn’t that way for a long time, but a switch flicked to say, “I think that’s really what I want.”

Hannah: Did people think you were crazy to want to start your own firm at such a young age?

Sten: Oh yeah. I tried to stay with Raymond James for a while and they were like, “Hey Sten, your older partner’s right down the street. He’s a big producer. You’re 25 we just can’t really rock the cart, you need to do your own thing.” For me I almost … I just got married, just bought a house, actually I wasn’t married yet so my wife still kids that when we got married I was unemployed. It’s hilarious looking back but I just started going to the office not knowing who to call and started coming up with some unique ways to get in front of people. Recognizing that I was 24-25 and who is going to take advise from me, but really trying to change those mindsets that were holding me back to say, “I can add value. I do have a CFP.” Most of the time I still know more than most of the people do in the room even though I’m 25 years old. I think people eventually thought Sten would make it because he desires it. I just don’t think they wouldn’t think that I would have surpassed them in four years when they’ve been in the business for 20. I think that’s what caught people’s attention.

Hannah: When you started out this was the Legacy Investment Planning Group.

Sten: That’s right, which was me.

Hannah: One of the things that I hear a lot from listeners is lack of confidence, especially when people are graduating oftentimes they don’t come from a background. A lot of their clients are high net worth at many of these firms and so they’re trying to give advice and they’re young. What would you say to that person who perhaps is lacking confidence in their 20s, or heck, even their 30s.

Sten: That’s a great question. The good thing about our business is that, and I’ve learned this from other business owners and physicians, is there’s going to be some people that the age is just a no-go for them and you’ve got to move on and that gets frustrating at times. I remember when I was 25, this was one of my first clients when I broke off, it was a 30 year Merrill Lynch client with a few million dollars, they switched over to me, a physician, because I sat with them and talked about things that Merrill Lynch never brought up, like tax harvesting, estate planning with their life insurance, long-term care planning. It was just a different kind of conversation.

What gave me more confidence was realizing even though I’m young if I put together a good value prop and a good deliverable for clients most advisors aren’t doing that. I think I assumed that most advisors were, that they were meeting with their clients frequently, that they were really trying to add unique value. But if a lot of your listeners are CFPs they’re already steps ahead of people that have been in the business for a long time just because they know more. I’ve worked with business owners that they don’t care if you’re 12 or 50, if you have a strategy that’s going to save them $50,000 a year in taxes they’ll work with you. I think it’s just recognizing that you are valuable and the knowledge you have is not something that everybody else has, and you need to continuously improve yourself because you are the product. Hannah’s the product. Sten’s the product. That’s really who they’re working with. What ends up happening is that your age is maybe a barrier initially but then I just turned 31 and now clients are coming to me because they want to work with somebody that’s young, that’s established because they want to work with us for the next 30 years and not their advisor that’s retiring next year.

I found, I talk about it in the book, that’s literally so much of it is mindset, it’s perception drives reception. It’s what are you conveying? What is the product? I think sometimes that’s the way you dress, it’s the way you talk. I don’t think every advisor has to wear a three piece suit and try to be the smartest person in the room all the time. But just thinking through if I was in the client’s shoes I want somebody that listens. I want somebody that really knows their stuff and it can’t be the basic stuff. I think if anybody meets with you they’re already expecting you to know something, that’s why they’re meeting with you. You need to make sure that if they met with two other advisors that however you are explaining your value prop that it stands apart. I feel like most advisors are saying the same thing as every other advisor and then they’re surprised why they don’t get the business.

I have a good buddy that I was at a conference with years ago and he was competing for a client, it was like $60 million, the guy sold a business. He got down to him and one other group, Morgan Stanley or something. He ended up losing the client, but he knew the client well enough to go ask him, “Hey, would you tell me why I didn’t get the business?” The client’s wife said, “We just honestly couldn’t tell the difference so we flipped a coin.”

Hannah: Wow.

Sten: So he lost a $60 million account over a coin flip because he was saying the same thing as the other guy. His packet probably looked the same as the other guy.

One thing we do at Legacy is we’ve kind of patterned it off the “Blue Ocean Strategy”. Hopefully, maybe your listeners have heard of that book, but it’s are you creating a blue ocean where there’s very little competition or are you trying to hang out in a red ocean where there’s blood in the water and you’re saying the same stuff as every other advisor and hoping they just pick you.

Hannah: What does that look like in practice? How is your pitch different than every other advisors?

Sten: We do fee planning. When we work with a client we open up with just a flat fee plan to start the relationship, but it’s really trying to convince clients. We focus on pain point, which means if I meet with a business owner taxes and estate planning are big. We don’t open with investments and insurance even though we get paid if we do some of that stuff. I feel like a lot of advisors lead with the products they have. We focus on if it’s a physician it’s taxes, it’s reading through their disability policy they’re not aware of. We go to hospitals at times and we tell doctor clients that, “Hey, have you actually read through your group disability policy? You know it’s own occupation for two years,” and we got them. It’s really being a student of the game to say with this particular client what is the pain point going to be. That’s my foot in the door. From there I can do everything else.

We’ve also always thought about positioning ourselves to the client as their financial planner because clients will buy investments from their financial planner. They will buy insurance from their financial planner. They’ll pay a fee to their financial planner. If your client sees you as just a stock broker or an insurance salesman that’s really what you’re going to be in their mind forever. We spend a lot of time on what is our first impression. What are they going to see us as from this point moving forward. Then they’re also going to refer us that to people. Our referrals are much higher quality because we know what they’re telling the other clients what we do.

Hannah: Are you really defining that through the niching down in your business?

Sten: Yeah I think we do. The main three parts of our business where we generate clients are physicians, we’re endorsed by the Tennessee Medical Association. We work with business owners and we advertise that specifically. Then we do corporate education. I’ll go into large groups and speak to them about retirement, but we’ll get in front of a group of 60 people at one time and then me and the other advisors will meet with them one on one and that generates a lot of activity for the other advisors. As opposed to casting an extremely wide net I said, “Okay, I’m not going to say that I only work with 45 year old business owners and manufacturing.” I’ve heard people say it’s super specific, but I say I’m going to try to focus on a few areas and really nest in there. Where it started in my business in Nashville, because I didn’t know anybody when I started Legacy, was physicians. I said, “I know they need help.” A lo of them don’t make the best decisions not because they don’t want to, just they don’t have the time to and they don’t slow down enough.

I started targeting hospitals because I could get the doctors email addresses off the website and I started hitting them with periodic emails about, “Hey, have you read through your group benefits? Do you know your disability policy doesn’t cover you for this? Have you reviewed your 403b asset allocation recently? Not a two page email that they’re not going to read. It was literally like a one sentence email saying, “Hey, I’m going to be by your office tomorrow. Can I stop by and hand you something?” Out of 100 of those reach outs I would get maybe 20 responses, 10 would say yes, I’d end up meeting with maybe 6 or 7, which was much better than a cold call. I was able to work myself through that network and those hospitals by really adding value.

Hannah: I think that’s such an important concept. The more I learn about marketing the more I realize everything needs to be tied down to results. A 6%-7% success rate is actually really good.

Sten: Oh yeah. I remember I used to hear it was kind of the 10-3-1. You get ahold of 10 people, 3 meet, you get 1 client. With me being young in the business in a new town, getting married I couldn’t wait. Those metrics just weren’t going to work for me and so I had to be a little more specific about it. I put together something called The Advisor Handbook, which is something that everybody getting into the business should really go through. It’s kind of the 10 best practices of what we do to say if you’re an advisor, no matter what stage you are, if you’re not doing these 10 things you’re missing something. I’ll give you that info later if you want to shoot it out.

There’s a lot of good people that want to get into this business that have the heart, they just kind of get beat up by the business, the sales, how long it typically takes to be successful. They kind of say, “I want to do this, I just can’t wait that long.”

Hannah: That’s a really interesting point because part of your story is how fast you grew your business. Now you moved across the country, is that right?

Sten: Yeah I grew up in Oregon, outside of Portland.

Hannah: Then you moved to Nashville and then started your business?

Sten: Yep. I worked with a group here for a year and a half, I kind of settled in, but really just serviced their clients. When I broke off it was Sten and that was it. It was not a good idea. I would suggest anybody making a move do a little more pre-planning than I did. I think the takeaway is even though you don’t preplan … I was in Wisconsin speaking to a group last week and I said, “Anybody that thinks that you can’t do it in three years.” Our practice has over a $1 million of revenue now and that was from 0 clients and 5 years later. Even though it’s unusual it is possible. It’s now just other advisors figuring out what are they doing, how do I do it because if people are doing it it’s possible, it’s just not the easy route, but you could do it if you wanted to.

Hannah: Let’s talk about that. You start your own practice and you start targeting physicians. What else did you do that helped you achieve that success quickly?

Sten: I never stopped studying for the first three years, whether it was a CFP, CHFC, conferences, because I really internalized in my mind that I was the product. I took speaking courses, which I built my college curriculum around not speaking in front of groups. I realized that if I can get in front of a group, and I had an opportunity, and I could teach a seminar all of a sudden I’m the expert in the room right away, if I could be the person at the front of the room. That speaking course, which led to teaching a small seminar, which led to signing 2 contracts with big companies with 2,000 plus employees that we’re there once a week speaking to 60 people at a time it’s maybe not having the end in mind but it’s saying I’m going to continuously develop myself so when an opportunity does come up I’m confident enough to step in and take it. I needed economies of scale when I starting in Nashville. I had to get in front of as many people as quickly as I could.

It really does come down to the numbers. You need to call people, but I hated cold calling so I was like where do I get warm introductions. So I’d do a networking group once a week. I’d go to the hospital, I got kicked out of the mail room once because I was putting things in the doctor’s mailboxes. Nobody else is doing that, so it’s like what is different? What is every other advisor doing and I’m not going to do that besides the kind of basic blocking and tackling that we all need to do I needed to somehow stay in the park.

Hannah: When you started, I know this is always a topic among firm owners, did you have a minimum of what you’d work with? How did you balance that prospecting for new clients versus managing the inflow of new clients?

Sten: That’s a great question. I think it was at first if you could fog a mirror I was going to work with you. I think I moved past that quickly because I realized that if I was going to promise a certain service model I had to work with a certain clientele. For a year or two it was really if I could add value I’ll work with you. I was willing to meet with anybody because I didn’t know who they may be able to refer me to.

How I did control my client growth was I didn’t always engage them as a client. I would meet with somebody. I would follow up and give them some good value add but if it wasn’t going to be a profitable long-term client I wouldn’t really try to engage them, whether it was mutual funds, insurance, I would just say, “Hey, here’s some good overview topics to cover. But if it’s buying a $40 a month term policy there’s a lot of policies you can do that. Let me know if you have any questions.” I focused on assets under management. I set that about 100,000 initially, give or take, and that’s just grown from there because I was dead set on even if I only made $30,000 the first year I was going to really control the quality of my client so that I could actually deliver on the process.

One big thing I did differently is I made centers of influence a huge part of my practice. I came up with a strategy that I used to get in front of attorneys, CPAs, and other centers of influence. But I did recognize the best ones were getting called all the time and so I said, “What kind of call would they actually take and would they actually meet with me?” I developed a script that I talked about in that advisor handbook that gets me those meetings. I started getting those COIs as clients and now they’re my best referral sources.

Hannah: That’s interesting. I’ve heard somebody else say that where you actually go after the centers of influence not for their network but for them as clients.

Sten: First the approach can’t be, “Hey, I want you as a client.” The approach at a high level is I’m actually looking for centers of influences to serve my clients. They didn’t know I only had 10 clients but they’re willing to meet with somebody because everybody at some point, I wouldn’t say it’s even greedy, but if it’s going to be beneficial for them they’ll take the meeting. If you’re calling a COI and saying, “Can I meet your clients?” Click, they’re going to hang up because they just got 10 of those phone calls before you. I think it’s about constantly saying I’m going to add value before I ask for a referral. I’m going to add value before I try to partner with a COI. What that means, and people are implementing that online now when people sell courses is you give free stuff away, you give free stuff and then you ask for something as opposed to asking for something before you’re really even proved that you could add value. I keep that in mind a lot when I’m trying to meet with new COIs or new clients.

Hannah: Do you have a regular drip marketing campaign for your centers of influence that you’re just in regular touch with them?

Sten: We sent out a monthly newsletter to COIs, which is, again, it’s not a, “Happy January, hope you have a good year,” it’s, “Here’s a specific strategy that you may not be aware of that can add value to your clients.” I think we have like an 80% open rating-

Hannah: Wow.

Sten: … in those emails. We might have a call to action sometimes and the call to action’s not 80%, but we get the open rate because these people, even though we don’t meet with all of them on a quarterly basis like we do with our closest COIs they know that we’re adding value. They know our email is going to give them something that they can use with their clients or that just improves their skillset. I think that’s really important is to protect the quality of information you’re giving to clients, COIs, because if you’re sending out a monthly client newsletter and it’s just the same stuff all the time eventually they’re going to stop opening it. It’s really hard to get them back once you lose them.

Hannah: Do you have writers on staff, or do you outsource that, or are you writing that content yourself?

Sten: Typically we’ll have … I sign up for newsletters, whether it’s from JP Morgan, PIMCO, Fidelity, VanGuard that just gives us info. I have some attorneys that will write some white papers for us, but the COIs and the clients don’t even really want a long email. I might take what I read and I’ll paraphrase it down to like four sentences. The end goal would be for them to say, “You shared enough for me to know that I don’t know what you’re talking about,” so I’m either going to refer my clients to you or I’m going to give you a call to talk about it.” One of those we did when the social security law changed and they closed some loopholes is that we did specific emails and did some seminars around it. The seminars were fairly well attended, but what it really did was there was like three or four CPAs that, for whatever reason in their mind, all of a sudden we were the social security experts and they just started referring people to us because it was beneficial for them and clients were definitely going to ask, and they didn’t have anybody to send them to.

It’s gets back to that what’s the perception of your practice and you to attorneys, to CPAs, are you the when I send somebody to Sten they’re going to make me look really good and they’re not going to try to sell my clients something if they don’t need it then they’re going to refer you to more people.

Hannah: In my experience is that centers of influences are very sensitive to their clients getting sold too.

Sten: Oh yeah, definitely. But if you give them a good runway, which means you don’t expect a COI to refer you to somebody in the next week after you meet them or even you refer somebody to them I’ve kind of held to I’ll engage a COI and probably work with them for 6-12 months and send them some periodic clients if it makes sense before I hold their feet to the fire to where I say, “I’ve sent you 10 people. You’ve done a great job, I appreciate it, but I know you know people that I could help. What am I missing? How can we do this better?” To be honest, what I’ve learned is that these COIs need coaching. They need you to tell them how to refer because they’re just not wired that way. They have to be told, “When you hear this catchphrase…” When somebody says, “I hate paying taxes,” or, “Oh man, retirement accounts are lagging behind that,” that’s when you need to say, “I have somebody who can help with that.” If you don’t coach them on it they’re just going to get right back into the regular routine and just not think about it.

Hannah: One thing you mentioned earlier was when you started your new firm you had the processes in a way that you wanted to serve your clients. Did you come up with that on your own? What was the evolution of you deciding how you wanted to serve your clients?

Sten: It was a combination of things I’ve seen, done well, and then things I’ve seen not done well. I knew I wanted to automate my process, which is still a work in progress where I can be touching with my clients with valuable content so that I’m not feeling like I haven’t talked to that client in two months or three months. Service is really important to us because what I’ve learned is that at the end of the day if market drops not a lot of clients are going to fire you because the market went down, but if they don’t hear from you, if they don’t feel heard it’s really kind of that warm and fuzzy emotional stuff that really can trap a client long-term and really keep them from questioning you as much if you educate them and set good expectations.

We do monthly client newsletters. We meet with eight clients at least twice a year. Everybody, A, B, and C gets a birthday card. We do an annual client event. We send Christmas gifts to A clients, B, and then maybe some C if they’re good referral sources. It’s really saying I want to have 12 touches at least per year on the clients and hopefully maybe 7-8 of them are more automated. You’re really covering all your bases then.

Hannah: I find myself falling into this trap, sometimes I want to recreate the wheel and do something more creative, but this is kind of the blocking and tackling of our business.

Sten: I still think it can create a blue ocean. I think there’s a way in your service model to be different and unique. I’m hearing stuff from advisors all the time in some of these conferences I go to, I’m like, “Wow, that’s really creative.” But that’s the reason I pay to go to conferences. It’s like if we get trapped in our own little world sometimes it’s hard to just break out of that and think differently. That’s why I hire coaches. I hire coaches for my team. I hire coaches for speaking. Hiring coaches doesn’t mean that you’re spending a lot of money all the time but I’d say any new CFP or somebody that’s a few years into the business you need to have somebody that’s speaking into your practice and your business outside because if you don’t what’s going to happen it you’re going to do the same thing. You’re going to get really focused on just acquiring new clients and you’re going to forget about a lot of this stuff that builds a good foundation. Coaching is kind of a big thing for us now.

Hannah: Absolutely. You’re five years into running your own firm. What does your firm look like? How many employees do you have? What’s the structure?

Sten: There’s five of us, so we’re kind of small. We have three advisors and two staff. We’re kind of at a stage where we’re looking to add a junior advisor, so any of your listeners that are CFPs in Nashville that want to be challenged and take it to the next level we’d love to talk to them. We’re to the point now where I’ve always tried to grow ahead of myself or hire ahead of myself. I felt like a lot of advisors in the past, whether it was staff or other advisors, if you wait too long and you think you have the business to support it you waited probably a year or two long to hire that person to kind of try and keep ourselves accountable to that. We’re kind of a growth stage now to where our service model not to be compromised we need more folks because we’re turning away good business now that doesn’t really fall into my A and B, but would be a great client for another advisor.

Hannah: That advisors that are on your staff are they responsible for bringing in business or are you really the rain maker of the firm?

Sten: They are also. One of our other advisors is really well networked and just … Again, I’m from Oregon and California and so in the south it’s a little different. He’s from Kentucky so he just speaks the language around here. Us West Coast guys can come across a little harsh, so he does a really good job with the rain making piece too. The other advisor is more of the in office guy. I think we have enough rain making happening, it’s just we need more sharp people to deliver on the opportunities we’re running into.

Hannah: You wrote a book “Seven Mindsets for Success” what made you want to write a book?

Sten: I had never thought about writing a book before. If somebody would have asked me a few years ago it wasn’t even on my bucket list. I think it must have been a year and a half ago I was sitting one night and I just couldn’t get these thoughts out of my head. I’d experienced really unusual success in the business at a young age that I’d go to conferences and people would ask questions about, “What are you doing?” I think what people were looking for is what’s the magical thing that I could do tomorrow to duplicate your success. I realized that all of us were doing the same thing, we’re prospecting, we’re surveying our clients, we’re educating ourselves to be unique.

There were some things I was doing that were a little different but I really thought what is it really. Why am I doing the same thing as some other people but getting dramatically different results? I think it really came down to just the way I approach my life and my business. It’s what I call mindsets. That’s where I said I need to put this stuff because if it can help one advisor stay in the business because they learn to think about it differently then I think that would have been a big win. It’s gotten much bigger than that and turned into speaking engagements and getting in front of groups of 100 advisors to challenge them, so I’m very blessed by that. That was the motivation behind it.

Hannah: Let’s talk about mindsets. Can you give us an example of what you’re talking about and how that plays out?

Sten: I’ve defined mindset as a controllable filter to the world around you that impacts every single decision you make. The way I grew up, single mom, three sisters, we had a lot of tough situations. I think we had like 27 houses before I was in middle school. For me the world was tough. Authority figures always let you down. We’re all shaped by our upbringing and for a lot of years we don’t have control over that. Our mindsets and my mindset coming into be a late teenager and my early 20s was so clouded. I played basketball in college and I got in fights all the time. I was just mad and I felt like success didn’t happen to people like us. That really drove the success I experienced. It was later in college that I realized the fact that I think authority figures are out to get me, and therefore, I don’t take advice from anybody is probably really holding me back.

I didn’t do any joint work initially in this business. I felt like Sted it’s all on you. That was a terrible mindset. That was a way I was viewing the world, but it wasn’t reality. Once I changed that and I started learning from people and taking constructive criticism it changed my business dramatically. It really helped me focus on what are these filters in my life. I’ve kind of put it into seven mindsets in the book. What are these seven filters that if they go off track can impact what I’m doing and therefore cause me to underperform in everything I’m doing. That’s where I really started focusing on are my mindsets healthy, am I making good, effective decisions.

When I do some of my speeches I have these drunk buster goggles that if you put them on they’ll give you a headache because you feel like you’re intoxicated, but it’s really putting people in the mindset of if you don’t have everything figured out in your head, in your mindsets, what you’re really is you’re really trying to operate wearing these goggles. Anything you do is probably not going to be as successful as you want it to be. You’re not going to make effective decisions, you’re going to doubt yourself. For me I felt like success starts with the way I think and what my mindsets are, then I can go from there.

Hannah: It’s really interesting, we had Rick Kaylor from South Dakota on the podcast just a couple weeks ago and he was talking about money mindsets with his clients and how that’s really helped open up and make the clients make better financial decisions for themselves. This is a really great pairing of our mindsets.

Sten: Oh yeah, it drives everything. Another chapter in the book is about pursuing discomfort. I mentioned earlier today that my whole life was about pursuing comfort. At one point in my life I thought if I could make $100,000, because that was the most successful person I’d ever met up to that point then I would have arrived. That’s the ultimate level of success. I reached that point and I realized the only way I’m going to continue to grow is if I find the next really hard thing. I set a discomfort goal every 30 days for myself. It’s not always a huge one, it may be a speaking course, it may be writing a book. It may be going after new clientele that I was worried about, or learning about a new product, but it’s constantly stretching myself to get better.

In the book I talk about something called a misogi, which is really fascinating. A Harvard professor came up with what he calls the modern day misogi. It’s a physical or mental challenge that you have about a 50% chance of success. By completing it it essentially opens your mind to what you’re actually capable of doing. So with some coaching clients I have I challenge them to that. I ask them, “What’s one thing you never thought you could do?” Then we try to do it. It’s pretty amazing the results from that.

Hannah: What would be an example of that?

Sten: I think in our business one thing would be I’ve talked about a lot of people get their CFP in a year because you can take a class. I got it in five months because I self-studied at night like crazy and then challenged the test. It could be traditionally in our business clients you might be really comfortable with insurance so you sell it but you’ve avoided investments or financial planning because it’s uncomfortable. Well you should learn it. Taking things that you know you’re avoiding, we all know we’re avoiding something that we know will grow us and saying yes to it and doing it.

Hannah: This may seem like an obvious question, but what are the indicators or how would somebody know if maybe one of their mindsets is off?

Sten: I’ve put together, and this is a card that if any of your listeners want to email I can send this PDF to them, but I’ve broken down the mindsets. The book walks through it that perspective, for example, was a mindset that if your perspective mindset it clouded it means you think you have it all figured out. You think that just on your own you’ll continue to be successful. But if you perspective mindset is clear you realize that there’s so much you don’t know that you need to be constantly perusing outside feedback. For me that was a hard one because if anybody when I was young told me what to do I’d want to fight them on the spot. For me, I had to learn just to one, accept constructive criticism, but as I’ve worked more on that mindset my goal now is that I hire coaches to tell me what I’m doing wrong and I don’t even take it personal. I just say, “Great. I want to do better. What’s next?”

In the book I walk through each mindset to say here’s probably where you are maybe. Some people might have some of these mindsets really clear, but I guarantee that any person’s going to read this and they’re going to say, “Wow, I don’t handle conflict very well.” Whether you’re leading a team or you have hard conversations with clients the future self mindset is really challenging. How do I feel about discomfort? Most of us, human nature, is that you pursue comfort. When you’re face with a decision you try to say, “How can I get the results I want with the least amount of discomfort,” and you’ve already lost if that’s where your mind is going, so you really have to retrain that.

Hannah: One of the things that I’ve just observed from various friends in various stages of their business models are what they start out to do isn’t what they end up doing. They find that their goals and the path that they want to go on changes. What are your thoughts on that or what would your advice be to them?

Sten: That’s what I call future self in the book. It’s kind of having this ongoing conversation about saying, “Where do I see myself?” I’ve never defined that as a career. It’s really been more about what really gets me more excited. If you do something really well you can always make money off of it if you learn how to monetize it. When I got into this business I thought I was going to sell insurance so I never thought I’d run my own business, and have employees, and run a team. I never thought I’d write a book, or be a speaker, or a coach, but I always was focused on building my skillset so that when those opportunities came along I was ready for it.

That’s what I think it really comes down to is that don’t get so hung up on where you think you’re going to be in 10 years as far as a career or how much money you’re making, but focus more on what skill am I refining in myself that gets me excited. It will help every single person to be a really good public speaker, even if you don’t want to be, so go do that. Studying and getting more certifications will never hurt you, so do that. Find the thing that’s going to just push you. What most people do is they don’t, and they’re 70-80 years old and the most common regret is I wish I would have taken on more challenges. I wish I would have spent more time with family. Let’s learn form that. Let’s learn from what most people’s regrets are and do it differently now. That’s that future self mindset that I coach people on that says how do I keep myself in that state of mind all the time.

Hannah: When you started did you have a support system around you to focus you on that or was it more internally driven?

Sten: For me it was internally driven. I had a few different father figures growing up that left and a few that I came home one day and I’ve never seen since. I think that really clouds that mindset around mentors or coaching. I don’t think I was very coachable early in my career so if people might have tried I just wasn’t having it. I think I did it the harder way though. For me, what really motivated was I looked around at my three sisters and mom were still struggling and I finally realized that I had the power to make that easier for them if I just stepped up.

I think it would be easier for anybody if people did joint work, they found a mentor, whether it was in this business or just in general. But I think it’s easier said than done to find a good mentor. I wouldn’t pair yourself up with the first person that offers. Be selective, but I would encourage people to find that. That’s something I’m trying to be now because I didn’t have it so I’m saying even though I’m 31 what can I do, the book’s part of that, the speaking’s part of that but I think if you can get a little more intentional about your direction earl on and avoid some pitfalls it will just make you that much more successful.

Hannah: How do you find a good mentor?

Sten: I didn’t do this well, especially moving to a new town it was hard, but I look around for successful people. I started going to groups that would have guest speakers that were successful business people, whether there was nonprofit doing a speech and this person was coming to talk about being a generous giver. For me it was less about I want the person making the most amount of money in my business, it was, I want to find the person that’s doing really well but has balance in their life. Since I didn’t have a dad growing up it was like I have two daughters and I want to be there for them, but I always want to do as well as I can in my business and impact a lot of people. I think that was the kind of mentor I was looking for.

Somebody else may say, “I want a mentor that’s in the best physical shape and I want to learn from how they did it,” or maybe I want to make the most amount of money, so who’s doing that. I think you got to define who do I want to look like. I’m going to try and surround myself with those people.

Hannah: What does the next 5 or 10 years look like for you?

Sten: Really open to growing the team. At some point I’ve learned you can make a great amount of money and you can give a lot of it away, but as you build your brand more people keep coming and it’s really hard for me to say no to people that want our help. I’d love to build the team and let it bless other people. Let them get into the business and do really well. Then also maybe impact the industry with the book and speaking to say, “I did this thing in four years that people say takes 20 in a cold market, so it’s possible, but here’s really the way you can do it.” But I also want to help people be more effective at everything they do. These mindsets, if you figure this out, it doesn’t just make you a better advisor it makes you a better father, a better mother, a better sister. It’s just the right way to think and impacting people in that way gets me fired up.

Hannah: One of the things I’ve heard from several thought leaders recently is that working with clients is how you are with the clients or how you be with the clients, is the term that I’m hearing. So much of this mindset is exactly that. If you can improve yourself you can improve the way you show up with your clients and that’s going to make you a better advisor.

Sten: Oh yeah. In one of the graphics I have, if anybody emails me it’s on the other side of the mindset card, is I talk about there’s three stages, there’s ignorance, there’s awareness, and there’s belief. A lot of us are ignorant to what we’re capable of or what information is out there that would make us that much better. Our main pursuit in life should be awareness because the most successful people in history, the most successful people in our business are the most aware. They’re the most aware of themselves, they’re most aware of the market around them to figure out how to be different. Once you become aware of what you’re not doing that you should you then move to belief, which means now I have to figure out how to get to where I know now that I can go. Those are things, the mindsets, and plus the ignorance awareness belief process is something I have right next to my computer and I think about every day.

Hannah: What other advice do you have for new planners who are starting out into this profession.

Sten: I think I mentioned that don’t forget that you are the product and constantly improve yourself. Be open to risk in this business and I don’t think that means that if you’re a CFP and you really enjoy the back office stuff, preparing reports, that you all of a sudden have to go be the rain maker. I think it’s what’s the riskiest thing you can do within your possession to be better off. Don’t be fearful of risk. Remember, you’re the product. Then don’t get stuck in a rut. If you feel at any point that you think, “I could be doing more. I want more,” don’t ignore that sense, spend a little more time on it. Try to figure out what that is.

Hide Transcript

Five years after founding Strategic Financial Partners at 25 years old, Sten Morgan has built his financial planning firm $100M. Tune in to learn how he pushed past what was comfortable and challenged himself to grow, improve, Sten Morgan struck out on his own at 25 years old to start his own financial planning practice. After an internship at Northwest Mutual and a job at Raymond James, he chose to start a financial planning practice in a new town where he knew almost nobody. People said he was crazy, but he knew he could push himself past the difficult growth period to a point where he was running a healthy, booming financial planning practice.
Five years later, Sten has built Strategic Financial Partners, his financial planning firm in Tennessee, to over $100M. He pushed past what he knew he was comfortable with and challenged himself to find creative ways to get in front of clients. From taking a public speaking course to gathering email addresses from a local hospital’s directory, Sten worked to market to one of  his niche markets in the medical field and add value to their lives.
Sten is a big believer that most people are ignorant of what they’re capable of achieving, and the resources and information available to them that will help them grow. He wants all advisors to be aware of just how much they have to gain by taking risks and breaking out of the rut they’re stuck in.
You’re going to be blown away by Sten’s out-of-the-box ideas, and the encouraging advice he has for both new financial planners looking to get started and find success, as well as seasoned planners who have been feeling the urge to grow and improve themselves and their businesses.

“Many people think: How can I get the results I want with the least amount of discomfort? And you’ve already lost if you have that mindset.”

What You’ll Learn:

How a business owner comes up with processes for working with clients.
How Sten became successful with running his own firm in a short period of time.
How Sten focuses on Centers of Influence (COIs) to build his firm and grow his client base.
How to power through what makes you nervous to challenge yourself and find success.
How to better understand your weak points and set discomfort goals to stretch yourself and grow.
How to change your mind-sets to move you toward success.

Strategic Financial Partners
7 Mindsets of Success: What You Really Need to Do to Achieve Rapid, Top-Level Success
7 Mindsets of Success Website

Hannah Moore clean 43:41
Facilitating Financial Health Tue, 06 Feb 2018 20:19:52 +0000 0 Rick Kahler believes that financial planners, like himself, can facilitate financial health with their clients by embracing their behavior, helping them uncover their money mindsets, and listening to their stories and goals. Rick Kahler knew he had to do more to differentiate himself as an advisor and started to explore financial therapy. He’s constantly amazed by how little numbers mean at the end of the day with research showing 90% of financial decisions are emotional decisions. Instead, Rick prefers to focus on being with his clients.

He knows that the majority of their money decisions won’t be driven by the numbers – they are driven by emotions. Rick knows that 80% of all client engagements are what can’t be replaced by robo-advisors – listening to your client, stepping into their shoes, and being empathetic.

In this incredibly revelatory episode of #YAFPNW, Rick explores how we as advisors can relate to our clients on a deeper level by simply being with them, and how that helps us build a financial plan that motivates them to stay on track, change negative money habits, and more.

This episode will be sure to expand your skills as an advisor and explore ways that you can align yourself with your clients in a deeper, more authentic way.

hannah's signature

We start by learning how to be with the client. It’s learning how to be present with the client. We are not going to change this client, no matter how much they are overspending. We’re not going to change them. At best we’re going to be facilitators that will help them change.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to facilitate behavioral change with your clients.
  • How to listen well to your clients.
  • How to approach financial planning using psychology to better understand motivators, conversational tactics, and more.
  • The best ways to dive deeper in your initial onboarding process to truly know your client and bring more value to their lives.
  • How to keep a beginner’s mind
  • What money scripts are and how to work with our client’s money scripts
  • How to recognize our own money scripts and the impact it has on our relationships with clients
  • What financial therapy is and where to go to find more resources
  • How to facilitate financial health with your clients


The Nazrudin Project – Bending the Profession Since 1995 by Richard Vodra, JD

Kahler Financial Group, Inc.’s Financial Planning Residency Program

How Clients’ Money Scripts Predict Their Financial Behaviors

Wired for Wealth by Brad Klontz,‎ Ted Klontz,‎ and Rick Kahler

Golden Gate University – Programs in Financial Planning

Financial Planning 3.0 by Dick Wagner

Mindful Asset Planning

Troy Jones, CFP®

The Enneagram Institute®

Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon

Sarah Swantner, CFP®

Kansas State University – Financial Therapy Certificate

Creighton University – Finance

Sudden Money Institute

Become a Certified Financial Transitionist®

The Kinder Institute of Life Planning – EVOKE® 5-DAY LIFE PLANNING TRAINING






Show Transcript

Ep84 Transcript

Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Rick.

Rick: Thank you for having me.

Hannah: So, you have an accomplished career with writing books. I know you’ve built this really strong financial planning practice in Rapid City, South Dakota. Much of your thought leadership though is around financial therapy, these money mindsets, and integrated financial planning. What prompted you to go down this path?

Rick: Well, the short answer is a divorce. And that really introduced me to therapy, more specifically, group therapy. And, because I seem to be a slow learner, I was in group therapy for 12 years. And saw a lot of things discussed and a lot of topics, but money wasn’t one of them. And I suppose, folks fantasize about a lot of things, I fantasized about, I wonder how it would be to do therapy around money. You know, it was just the black hole between the mental health profession and the financial planning profession because mental health profession doesn’t talk about money, and has quite strong projections onto money, and the financial planning profession certainly back in the 90s didn’t talk about relationships or emotions. So, that was really at the very beginning of my wondering of, I wonder if we could blend these two areas? And that really started peaking when I joined the Nazarene Project in 1996, and started doing teaching with George Kinder, his two-day workshop, which was really transformational for me. It was the first time I saw money and spirit and emotions come together.

And then, of course we know the findings right around that time, the turn of the century, and Danny Kahneman was doing his work where he discovered that 90% of all financial decisions are made emotionally. And, it was around that time that it came to me that eventually, financial planning would be commoditized. That was at the beginning of investments being commoditized. And that if I wanted to stay relevant, I had better figure out how to add value around the relationship with money, which I just didn’t see would be commoditized.

Hannah: So, you just said that you wanted to figure out how to add value to the relationship with clients, basically around that emotional side of it. So, how did you do that?

Rick: Yeah.

Hannah: How do you do that?

Rick: Well, if 90% of all financial decisions are made emotionally, it’s first recognizing that. And beginning to learn how to be with a client rather than throw numbers and throw mutual funds and charts and statistics at them, which is what I used to do. It’s learning that there’s a human being sitting in front of me. And this person does not think logically and does not act logically, and does not … at least … now, that’s a very judgmental statement based on my baseline of what that is and is not going to make decisions on their own self-interest. And this flies against everything that we learn in economics and certainly back in that day, and a lot of what financial planning teaches us. Even today, I employ … I have a residency program, three-year residency program, we have two residents in that right now, and even coming out of some of the cutting edge financial planning programs in the nation, they’re still struck at how much emotion plays in the financial planning process, and how little all the numbers really mean in the end of the day. And I don’t want to minimize the numbers; they’re really important. I don’t want to minimize the financial part of financial therapy, but I don’t think in the past, that the emotional side, the human side, has been really underscored.

So, we start by simply learning how to be with the client. And I know that that can kind of sound spacey and not very logical, but it is actually incredibly logical because it’s learning how to be present with the client and understanding the research that we are not going to change this client, no matter how much they’re overspending or they’re not saving or they’re not going to action around their wills. We’re not going to change them. We are going to, at best, be facilitators of helping them make the decision to change. So, it’s really at the heart, whether it’s coaching, financial coaching, financial therapy, it is learning exquisite listening skills and learning how to be with the client. 70% of successful therapy is based on two things: 40% is does the client trust the therapist and 30% is based on the listening skills of the therapist.

Now, if you look at what we as financial planners do, it’s all about trust, isn’t it? People are coming to us, telling us their money story, which they haven’t even told their therapist, and can we learn how to listen? Listen. If I can learn how to listen, anybody can learn how to listen and I’m not suggesting I’m a great listener, but exponentially, I’m far better than I used to be. So, I’m just saying that it’s not as hard as we make it sound sometimes, and that’s saying that I’m gonna do double speak and say probably learning to listen has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Hannah: You said that 90% of financial decisions are emotional decisions. So, I agree with that and I completely understand that, but that sounds really negative towards the client. Like, we’re viewing our clients in a negative way. How would you respond to that? Like, are we really viewing them in a negative way, or do you bring that up with clients, or how do clients respond to that?

Rick: Yeah. I bring that up with clients, ’cause guess what? Financial planners are not excluded from that statistic.

Hannah: I love it.

Rick: We have the same brain they have. 90% of all my financial decisions are made emotionally. Now, that is really … I don’t like that, you know? My 10% cerebral brain would like to think it’s 90% logic and 10% emotional. So, that’s the first thing we as planners … that’s a great reflection, Hannah, because somehow, we as planners think we don’t need this stuff. That we’re above needing financial therapy and we’ve got it all together and nothing could be further from the truth. We might have some of the numbers and some of the basic understanding, but we have just as many money scripts and money disorders and problematic money behaviors as our clients do. So, it’s really important that we’re not judging the client and making them the patient, so to speak. We’re in this with them, and I think we hear a lot about partnering, co-collaborating with our clients. Well, this is really at the heart of it is understanding that even though we … I was telling client this just a few days ago, that while there might be a right financial decision that would maximize dollars in some situation, it doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for the client.

Firstly, we need to drop our judgment that we know what is right for this client. Are they coming to us for advice? Kinda. They are more coming to us for knowledge. They’re coming to us for education. They’re coming to us for support. They’re coming to us for guidance. But, I think, and this may just sound really crazy, and I know the first time I ever thought of this or heard it, I thought it was crazy too. We need to be real careful before we give advice. We need to be real careful before we say, “This is what you should do”, and attempt to eliminate should from our vocabulary. It’s here’s the options, and it’s listening to the person and helping them make the decision that is right for them and dropping our judgment. Having a beginner’s mind around that client and really serving as a guide.

Hannah: You’ve alluded at how do we get clients to change their behavior? And we’re gonna dive into that later on, but one term that you brought up was mindset. And so, you have written books on money mindsets. For the listener who’s never been exposed to the idea of a money mindset, can you explain what that is?

Rick: All of our clients have a history. All of our clients … And by history, that means they have a life. You could say they have baggage, that’s more of a negative connotation, but we all look at life through a lens that we’ve developed. And we don’t look through the same lens. So, it’s important that our clients understand what their mindset is. How do they view money? What is their relationship with money? And you might’ve expected me to say it’s really important for us to understand how our clients view money. And while that’s a component of it, it’s more important that our clients understand how they view money. And the reason goes back to the fact, we’re not gonna change them. We’re going to help them make sound financial decisions, and one component of doing that is for them to understand how they’ve made it and understand what their biases are and understand what their mindset is and their relationship around money.

So, that’s one part of our intake that’s important is helping a client self-discover some of their own history, some of the way they view money with the money scripts. Brad Klontz has further developed a Klontz Money Script Inventory, which we use with our clients to help them boil down their money scripts into four major categories as the way that they can tend to view money. There’s not any that are right; there’s not any that are wrong. Every money script is partially true, you know? A big one for me is you gotta work hard for money. Well, that works great when I work hard and the money comes in. But, what happens when … There’s been times in my life when I’ve worked hard and the money has not come in. And there’s a great amount of pain there. And so, I found out that heck, I can work hard and money doesn’t come in, I can work hard and money comes in, I cannot work hard and money comes in, and I cannot work and money doesn’t come in. Those are all truths and they’re all based on the circumstance. So, it’s helping a person kind of understand the lens that they have viewed the world and viewed money with, and helping them begin to build flexibility around those mindsets.

Hannah: Can you give us an example of a money mindset that you’ve seen with a client, and kind of how that played out through the relationship with that client?

Rick: Oh, my. There’s so many of them. I can think of a client who … She was an entrepreneur, and just loved to start businesses. And in fact, I remember helping her on Christmas Eve. My wife and I are playing Scrabble, and she’s texting me, and we don’t have any time limits on our Scrabble game. So, while my wife is thinking about her next move, I’m texting her and we’re going back and forth on the terms to buy a business. And she bought that business. And this was actually as she was coming on as a client. We hadn’t done the emotional intake work yet. When we did the emotional intake work, one of her money scripts was, “If I don’t buy or start new businesses, I will go bankrupt.” And that caught my attention because I had made a projection that she bought new businesses and started new businesses because she loved being an entrepreneur.

What she found out, and I found out, was that she was doing it out of fear because if she didn’t do this, she’d go bankrupt. Now, any financial planner listening to this is going to go, “Well, that sure doesn’t seem logical, because don’t we know one of the fastest ways to go bankrupt is to buy and start new businesses?” So, with that knowledge, we were able, every time that she was polled to start a new business or buy a new business, we’d bring that up. We’d kind of laugh about it, and we’d use that as a touchstone to, oh, what’s really behind this? Is it fear that’s operating around this, or does this really make good sense?

So, I can’t tell you how many times that clients that have, you know, maybe the market’s going down and they’re getting scared, and they’ll refer, “Well, there goes my money script again.” And this particular client had a money script that being in the market was gambling and eventually, she’d lose everything and be a bag lady. So, it really helps a person begin … Once we build awareness, I mean, we’ve heard awareness is 50% of making progress or growing, and it is. And so, it’s just raising awareness to, oh, there’s that mindset. There’s that money script that I developed you know, as a five year old, and be acknowledging it. And actually, having some compassion around it, that it was developed to keep us safe and help us cope and then being able to set it aside without acting on it.

Hannah: Do clients know that they’re gonna be looking at kind of, how they viewed money as a child when they start working with you, or what is that conversation look like?

Rick: I’m thinking of one client who you know, half way into the on-boarding process, said, “You know, and all I thought you did was manage money. I had no clue you did any of the rest of this.” Our clients come to us largely for the same reason they come to any other financial planning. Number one, our investments, and number two, our retirement plans. So, you know, maybe a few more come to us because we do financial therapy. I mean, we are developing a over-financial therapy department of our practice. So, more and more people are coming from that. Our current clients are learning. Gee, I had a touching experience just two days ago. I had a physician become suddenly disabled. I mean, just boom. He was done with his practice. And they came in, it happened a couple months ago, and his opening remark, and this is not a client you would … a pretty gruff client. His opening remark was, “Is Sarah still doing that financial counseling? I think I need some. It’s really hard to go from being in charge of a staff and seeing patients 12 hours a day to the biggest thing I’ve got to do today is clean out my basement.”

Hannah: Wow.

Rick: And so, our clients are asking more and more for those services. But, when somebody comes on … I digressed a little bit. When somebody comes on as a client here, we just have a default process. And the default process includes a … we call it Interior Intake, our discovery of what they think, feel and believe about money, and we have about six exercises we give them, and they’re all the exercises we have in facilitating financial health. And we tell them very clearly that, “Here’s your homework. And there’s some good news here. It’s not like the homework you got in college or high school. You get to not do it and there’s no penalty whatsoever. And that no is a complete sentence. So, anything we give you, if it isn’t working for you, you’re not interested in it, you can completely not do it. It’s absolutely okay.” I have had one set of clients out of, I don’t know, 150 or 200 that have said, “No” to any of it.

And I’ve had clients complete that that my staff said, “Okay. This is gonna be the first person that is not gonna do this ’cause this guy is not gonna do this.” And I’ve had that same guy do all the exercises and at the end of the intake period, when we went over everything suddenly say, “Well, this was really good. This was really insightful stuff.” So, it’s just our default, and we give people complete permission not to do any of it.

Hannah: Yeah. I have my clients, probably not to the extent that you do it, but do a lot of, dare I say, the touchy-feely type of stuff. And I found that, if I’m comfortable with it, then they are too.

Rick: Well, that’s a great point. That is a great point, because I was one of the planners in 1989 when a Dr. Nixon psychologist talked to the … I see a peer he treated that time that came out of that meeting saying, “What is he doing here? We are number crunchers. We do not belong in doing anything with psychology.” And the truth of the matter is, generally, when we planners are pretty skeptical and resistant about this is because we’re not comfortable with it. A lot of planners don’t know a therapist, don’t know what goes on in therapy, it’s a big black hole, they have a lot of projections onto therapists and therapy. Just the word therapy is a terrible, terrible word. I have done focus groups where everybody in the group had a different definition of what it was. And in fact, it’s not a legal definition anymore than financial planning is not a legal definition.

So, it’s definitely problematic, but it really does … I mean, you just nailed it. If I as a planner am not comfortable with what I’m doing, my client is certainly not gonna be comfortable. And therein lies one of the secrets … I know Dr. Ted Klontz was asked a lot, like, “You know, how do I know if I’ve gone too far? How do I know when I’ve gotten in too far?” And part of his answers will be, “Well, A, anytime you’re uncomfortable, you’ve gone too far. And anytime you think you’ve gone too far, just ask the person a question, because that puts them right back in their head and you’ll pull out.” So, it’s just not as problematic as sometimes we like to think it is. But, we can … and I’m thinking of Gayle Colman, who’s a CFP, practices in Carlisle, Massachusetts, who said one time, “We can only take a client as far as we’ve gone ourselves.” And that is so true. I mean, we can’t learn to be with a client.

There’s another phrase for coaching, it says, you know, if you want to be a great coach, you’ve got to have been coached. If we want to do this work, we can’t be giving clients exercises and taking them through this process if we haven’t been through it ourselves. It’s not a formula, you know? This isn’t a decision tree of, well, if they object here, then you say that, then if they say this, you go here. It’s a complete mindset with the financial planner of learning to really be with and listen to the client.

Hannah: Well, and I just love how you brought up that exquisite listening beforehand. I know, to share a little bit of my story, you know, I was 26, had bought this practice, felt so in over my head, and I just … I focused on listening to the client and it made all the difference. It took everything, the pressure off of me and it was all about the client. And so, for me when I give advice to new planners, so much of it is, just learn to listen well. That’s the biggest differentiator you can have.

Rick: That’s absolutely true. And, you know, that is … that’s gonna be really hard to commoditize. Somebody, I don’t know who said this quote, but said, “All people need is a good listening to.” I can’t tell you how many times in the trainings that I’ve done that people, planners, therapists would say, “This is one of the first times I’ve ever told that story. This is one of the few times I’ve ever really felt listened to.” It’s a pretty rare commodity. It really, really is. And that’s when we start thinking about adding value, that adds a huge amount of value. I mean, I can remember when finally, I got it, that it wasn’t my agenda, it was the client’s agenda and just simply asking the client, “You know, I’ve got a list of stuff we can talk about, but what’s really important today for you to talk about?”

And I remember one time early on, a guy started talking about his farm and the homestead and his family that came out and where his parents were buried and just going through this story, and I today, forget exactly the relevance of all that. But, we got done. We had about five minutes left, so I kinda hit some of the high points on my agenda. And when we were done, you know, I would’ve normally spent this time going through all the asset classes and the returns and how they were comparing to our benchmarks, and you know, honestly, I love investments. And so, I had to reduce that to five minutes, and so at the end, he says, “Well, you know, this has probably been the best meeting we’ve ever had.” And I’m just like, gobsmacked. Like, you didn’t get any of my brilliance. How is that possible? And I just can’t tell you how many times we love to be listened to.

Hannah: It’s so simple, but not easy.

Rick: Well, then you do come up against some friction. I teach a graduate course, and that’s at Golden Gate University, and we talk about this. You know, there are things that need to be done in an financial planning meeting. When you have an IPS that needs to be signed, or redo an allocation or you’ve got some estate planning issues or some things like this, or something that needs to be tended to on an account. There is this kind of natural friction between some things we do need to accomplish and what’s top of the client’s agenda. So, I did go through a period of time in my career where I just went to, “Well, client, what do you want to talk about? Where’s your energy today?” And it threw my practice into total chaos, ’cause we didn’t know where any client was in their process. We threw the process out the window, and then we came … Of course, before that, had a very structured, inflexible process. So, today, we have a combination of both. So, there is some give and take, you know? We do need to reserve a little time to get some immediate things done, but the important thing is that we address what the client really is on top of their mind.

I remember once, I did a intake. I used to have the mindset that, we are not gonna talk about any financial numbers until we do this discovery period. So, I don’t even want to even know about your numbers, I don’t want to know about your finances, we’re gonna find out about you, and we’re gonna do all this discovery stuff first. And I remember once at the end of doing all of our intake, this client says, “Are we done with this stuff now?” I said, “Well, yeah.” “Okay. Let’s get on to this 401K distribution and what are we gonna do about that? Because I got five days left and I’ve gotta make a decision.” And, I learned to, let’s go with where the hemorrhage is first because you know, even in doing discovery, if a client comes in, and I can think of a couple clients recently … They had a real burning financial issue and we went after that. We took care of that burning issue, and now we’re doing the intake, and they’ve got a lot more space because they’re not … their anxiety has subsided, so they’re a lot more present to do the deeper work.

Hannah: So, you have a book on this, and you said that you’re teaching the graduate level at GGU, Golden Gate University, on Facilitating Financial Health. What does it look like to be financially healthy?

Rick: It’s what a healthy relationship would look like. It’s honesty. It’s being aware of what my finances are. Being aware of what my net worth is and my income. It’s being aware of my in flow and out flow. It’s being aware of my money history and how that affects me. It’s being aware of my money mindsets, my money scripts. It’s having an honest relationship with money, with looking at reality, not being delusional. So, you know, I think it’s all the components of a good relationship with anything or anybody would be financial well-being.

Hannah: I feel like these maybe tie in, but what is your goal when you work with clients?

Rick: At the simplest, my goal is to help them sleep better at night … To help support their quest for meaning. To help them have things in order financially so that that’s not filling their mind, you know? To reduce that anxiety so that they can really live the life that they were put here to live.

Hannah: So, looking at this idea of financial health, I mean, I don’t even feel like this is a question. It’s more of a statement of, financial planners are the ones in prime position to help our clients and the general public facilitate financial health. I mean, would you agree with that or maybe put that differently?

Rick: Well, I think that’s very true. Our company purpose is to facilitate the financial and emotional well-being of people. So, we really feel that we’re in the well-being business even more than … certainly more than the investment business or the financial planning business. I mean, what’s the point of all this? I tell clients, “You know, there’s a low probability that on your death bed, your last words are going to be, you know, life was so good. We got 5.8% compounded annually for 20 years with Kahler Financial Group. I mean, just made it all worth living.” You know, the bigger picture is, what are we doing? What are we helping people accomplish and be? And, I don’t think there’s any profession that helps people in this area deal with the well-being. And we include emotional well-being, because we found, it’s really hard to separate financial well-being from emotional well-being. So, it’s really an interesting field and I think it will grow, it will develop. And who knows? Maybe someday, we’ll add physical well-being to that. I mean, we certainly help clients with aspects of physical well-being and making sure that they have enough cash flow to do the basics in life and help them with their healthcare and some of their healthcare decisions. But I think someday, we may be venturing into just the entire well-being package. I don’t know of any other professional that really does that.

Hannah: That’s really exciting, you know, thinking about what financial planning could really be.

Rick: That could be part of Dick Wagner’s Financial Planning 3.0 is continuing to take financial planning toward a profession. And just as law’s a profession and medicine is a profession, and mental health is a profession, financial planning hopefully will step into being a profession and could evolve to the well-being profession.

Hannah: It’s such a fun time to be a financial planner. So many opportunities.

Rick: Yeah, it’s definitely changed. I mean, you know, when I got my start, I was performing a crude form of financial planning in the late 70s. And it looks completely different today than it did back then.

Hannah: Oh, well, that’s great. I’m sure it does. So, let’s go back to this idea of money mindsets. So, when we notice a money mindset in our client, how should we as planners respond to that?

Rick: All of our clients have money scripts. They all have a mindset. They all have a history. They all have a way that they look at money, and so do we. So, it’s really important to understand ours. And, it’s important that we do understand the basics of our clients, the way that they view money. And there’s a lot of different tools. I’ve played with a lot of different tools of helping myself understand my clients, and understand their various personalities and understand how they do money. And there’s a lot of things out there, you know. There’s Susan Zimmerman has an evaluation tool called MAP, M-A-P. Troy Jones introduced me to the Enneagram 25 years ago that probably to this day is one of the most useful tools that I use in helping understand a client, where they’re coming from and how they may make financial decisions.

You know, and bottom line, I think it’s really important, as helpful as understanding the mindsets and the tools and things are, I can tend to start detaching myself from the client or beginning to kind of put them into a stereotypical box and forget that my first duty is to just really be present with that client. I mean, I can’t think of anything else that’s better with the client than to just be focused on them and be listening to what they’re saying and really understanding what they say. Because terminology is so problematic. I mean, even when we use terms like money scripts and the term retirement, what does that mean? I had a client once, I asked him, and he says, “Nobody’s ever asked me that.” He says, “Well, it means you die.” And everybody in his family died within two years of retiring. And he had not been saving for retirement because, in that moment, he discovered, “Well, why would I want to save for to fund my death?” Now, that may not seem logical to some, but it was perfectly logical to him. And, understanding that, he was able to change that around, being saving $7,000 a month.

So, I hate to be simplistic, or beating the same drum, but if we can just learn how to be present with our clients and really hear, really hear what they’re saying, we don’t need a lot of evaluation tools or a lot of stereotypical boxes to put our clients into to try and figure out how to help them or respond to them.

Hannah: One of the things you said was how important it is as advisors to recognize our own money scripts. Can you give us an example of what a money script that an advisor may have that would have a negative impact on how they’re practicing financial planning on their clients?

Rick: I had a money script that everybody wants to minimize their estate taxes. And this was back in the day when … what, I don’t know where the estate tax started, at 250,000 or a million or something pretty low, and I had a client, and I spent 10 hours going through minimizing their estate taxes, and they were probably worth 10 or 20 million at the time. And, the client leaves me. Drops me. And I’m like, “What is going on here? I just came up with a plan that saved these people five million or 10 million dollars or whatever it was, and they quit as clients.” And it was 10 years later, they came back as clients, and I was saying something that, “You know, every decision isn’t about the money.” And I remember the wife just about came off her seat. “I can’t believe you’re saying that.” I said, “Well, what do you mean?” “Well, I’m glad you have finally learned that.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” “Well, 10 years ago, we were here. Remember that?” “Yeah.” “Remember, we left? We quit?” “Yeah.” “We quit because I told you that what we pay in taxes when we’re dead is of no interest to us. We don’t care about minimizing our taxes, and you came out and spent all this time and came out with this big plan that minimized taxes.” I said, “I did. Oh.”

So, that was a money script I had, you know? Who wouldn’t be interested in saving taxes and maximizing what you pass on? Well, guess what? A lot of people.

Hannah: That’s such a great example. And letting clients question our assumptions that we make.

Rick: Now, when we’re working with clients, it’s so important that we try to take ourselves off the pedestal. ‘Cause clients will have us on the pedestal, that we must do money right and we must be all together. And that really impedes the relationship. It’s real hard to have a relationship with someone who is superior. I can fill up a lot of time telling people the bad money decisions I make. In fact, I joke with clients. I say, “Listen. My job in life has been to make every bad money decision there was so that I can help you not make those.” And, as I will relate that to clients, I have had so many say, “You know, when you started talking about how you struggle with money, how you and your wife, your relationship, you’ve had your struggles with money, how you’ve made bad money decisions, I just relaxed and felt so much closer to you and so much safer that you’re just like me.” And that may be confounding to the planners listening to this. I mean, there would have been a time in my life I would’ve never told a client I made a money mistake. Oh my … They’ll fire me. They’re coming to me because I know. And I find it’s actually quite the opposite.

I had a trainer once, when I was in a train the trainer course, and he says, “When you get up in front of people, and you’re training them, the last thing you want to do is tell people how you’ve done everything right. Because first nobody cares, and second, nobody relates to somebody who does everything right. When you get up in front of people, you tell them every wart you have, every way you’ve bungled deals.” This was back in my real estate days. “And they’re going to love you, because now they can relate to you because you’re just like them.” And, there was such a core of truth in that. Therapists know this; it’s called self-disclosure.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Rick: And a good therapist is going to self-disclose appropriately. So is, a good financial planner. It’s so important that we let them know of our struggles and you know, appropriately kind of how we got through those, you know, if we got through them. That said, I think it’s pretty important that a financial planner not be in bankruptcy, but I can tell my clients how I have faced bankruptcy three or four times in my life. And that can be pretty valuable, ’cause all of a sudden they understand I relate to where they are when they’re struggling.

Hannah: It’s such an important concept and so counter to what we’re taught or what we just assume to believe is true.

Rick: Yeah. Absolutely. I can remember one of the … When I started doing therapy or playing around with it, I went to a couple psychologists who never said a word. At that time, I didn’t get a whole lot out of listening to myself talk, and I would go to a therapist, and he’d spend 40% of the time talking. And I was like, “Oh, this is so refreshing.” You know, and he’s telling me all, “Yeah. I’ve had problems with that. Yeah. I have struggled with that.” And it was so refreshing to me. So, I think that’s really important. When people come into our office, I mean, they’re typically pretty uptight. I never knew that. I work here. I’m not uptight here. You know? I’m not on edge. But people feel such inadequacy around their money. How many times have we heard, “I don’t know if I have enough to come to you.”

Hannah: Yeah.

Rick: Everybody listening to this that’s a planner has had that happen. “Do I have enough money?” And I’ll tell people, “You know what? What you have is all you have, isn’t it?” “Yeah.” I said, “Well, that’s a lot of money, isn’t it?” “Yeah.” So, people can feel just less than in our offices, and shame that they’re here. I mean, people don’t wake up one morning going, “You know, this is a great morning. Sun’s shining, birds are singing, I think I’ll go get a financial planner.” They typically are drug into our office by some life event.

Hannah: Yup.

Rick: So, I think it’s really important for us to be sensitive to that and to really try to help them relax and help them understand that we are not the gurus and gods of finance. That we are not omnipresent and we don’t know everything. But, we know a lot of things, and we’ve been through a lot of things ourselves. And we’re help. You’re here to just collaborate with them and help educate them. Help give them some things that they don’t know, some benefits of our wisdom, and just to be with them through this process.

Hannah: I’m thinking of all of the ways that I relate to that personally with other professionals that we work with.

Rick: Yeah, people are used to going to professionals and not understanding what they said, you know? They go to the estate planning attorney and I remember the first one I sat through back in the college of financial planning days, and they’re talking decedent and set lower and creator, and grantor and grantee, and I’m just like, Rick Kahler, who are you kidding? This is Greek to me. I’m supposed to learn this stuff? And our clients experience the same thing in their offices and the same thing in the accountant’s office and the same thing in the physician’s office and how many times have you heard somebody just go on and on about a medical practitioner that really took the time and really related and really listened. It’s impactful.

And you know, that’s … more and more, that’s what we’re in the business for. With 20% of our engagements are all of our technical knowledge, but 80% that can’t be replaced or done by a robot or done on the Internet is our ability to listen and to connect emotionally and empathically with that client. And I can hear my old planner voice in my head saying, “Well, that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to give advice and numbers and help them get the right insurance and everything else.” And we are, but if we really want to help the client and help them go into action around what is a good money decision, we’ve got to hear them so that we really know that we’re going down the right road. I tell a client, ’cause you asked me earlier, you know, do I let clients know all this? And all this, like, 90% of your decisions are made emotionally. Yeah, I do. Because I say 90% of mine are made emotionally.

And here’s what we’re trying to do: what we want to do is find out what your limbic system really believes about money. And, if we can do that, it’s going to be insightful to you. It’s gonna be insightful to us, and that’s gonna help us come up with a plan of action that you have a high probability of actually doing. And that has a high probability of really meeting your needs, rather than one that’s cookie cutter formulated around what you should be doing and what I think you should be doing.

Hannah: We had touched on it just very briefly beforehand, but this idea of how do we get clients to change? Or how do we help facilitate change in clients’ lives around their money? I’m thinking the client that overspends or even the client that under spends. How do you approach that situation? Or how do you help a client change their behavior?

Rick: Yeah. You know, that’s a big one. It’s first understanding that change comes from within the person. It doesn’t come from without. So, we have a list of 12 things that will not help change a person, and actually will tend to set them back, and they were developed by a guy by the name of Thomas Gordon in a book of how not to talk to your child. And it includes manipulating, cajoling, directing, even two of the 12 are praising and … oh, I forget the other one. It’s pretty profound … or asking questions. When you’re done, you go, “What’s left?” I mean, and what’s left is being very, very curious with a client. “Tell me more about this. I’m wondering about this. We said this word. Define that for me. Tell me more about what retirement means.” And really, it’s helping a client discover to kind of run into themselves, especially when there’s maybe contradictions or there’s seemingly illogical behavior.

We have to remember something: that there is no illogical behavior. That every behavior makes perfect sense when we understand what the underlying money scripts are, or the beliefs. And this is true in every case. So, no matter how illogical that behavior may seem to you or others, it makes perfect sense. And it’s helping a client discover that, “Oh, no wonder. Oh, I get it.” And it can take time, which is one of our biggest resistance as a profession. You know, we want to get in, and here’s our schedule, and we got four meetings and we need to get the plan done. And so, we can get pretty anxious ourself about the client proceeding in something that seems so clear to us, is not clear to the client. It’s just really important that we have patience, and that can be so hard. We’ve changed our model to try and work around that, because it used to be that while a client … nothing got done here unless they had a meeting. And we were being told by our client service staff that, “You know, a lot of clients just come in because they can’t get their stuff unless they meet. They don’t want to meet with you as much as you want to meet with them.”

And so, we went to a model where we deliver … we have a four-year schedule where we’re delivering all the financial deliverables, whether it’s an update of the retirement plan or their estate plan, their taxes, looking at those once a year. The insurance, review that. Where that just happens and it’s sent to them. And then, they call us when they want a meeting. And we tell them, “You can have unlimited meetings.” What’s happened, and actually, this was influenced by Sarah Swantner, who’s just about to get her Master’s in Counseling. She’s a CFP in our office, and she said, “You know, in the mental health model, people come in because they want to come in, not because they have to come in.” So, we said, “Well, let’s try this.” So, what happened is we weren’t … actually, our meetings dropped off, which is scary, because I’m like, “Well, gee, if our clients aren’t coming in, are they gonna fire us?” But what that’s allowed us to do is that we are now available. You can get an appointment with me next week. In the past, I was six weeks out, maybe two months out. And, we can see clients, Sarah can see clients weekly if they have something going on. So, we can really begin to spend more time with clients around the issues that are really important.

Part of this is it does take time. Behavioral change takes time. And we can delude ourselves into that, well, my clients change all the time. Enough shaming and beating and cajoling, we can get people to conform for 30, 60, 90 days. That is not permanent behavioral change. So, what we’re talking about is permanent behavioral change.

Hannah: What would be your advice to the new planners who are listening to this and just starting their financial planning career?

Rick: Well, I would encourage them to get all the technical training because that’s really important. The CFP is a great designation. A Masters in Financial Planning I think will continue to bring more weight and be more recognized, and I would add, something like Kansas State has a certificate program in Financial Therapy. Creighton University has the Financial Behavioralist. Susan Bradley has a Certified Financial Transitionist that she’s rolled out. George Kinder has his course of study. And I’m sure that I’m missing some somewhere, but I would absolutely at the same time, if possible, be enrolled in something that’s going to give me skills in understanding people, understanding the human brain, understanding psychology and developing my listening skills. And, really putting that together.

I think the premier financial planning engagement of the future is three-fold. I think there will be the traditional financial planning. Added to that is financial coaching, which has been happening for a long time. We call it life planning, but I like to reframe that as financial coaching, which is being with the client and looking toward the future, what’s possible. George Kinder’s three questions is indicative of financial coaching. What can we create? And then, financial therapy is more taking a look at the past, saying you know, where have been the problems and how can we get you into the present so that you can look into the future. I would definitely work and expose myself to that relational side because it will pay big benefits, not only in your practice, but to yourself personally. It’s real hard to work on the relational side in a context that doesn’t involve yourself because you know, the numbers side is very academic, isn’t it?

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Rick: We can read books and understand how to do financial planning, but we can’t read books and understand how to do a relationship. It’s experiential; it’s not academic. Yeah. For people who play golf, you can’t read a book and go out and par, right? You’ve got to experience the swing. You can’t read a book and learn how to meditate. So, you can’t read a book, as much I would love to sell books, you can’t read a book and learn how to be an exquisite listener. It’s something that comes through practice and very experientially.

Hannah: So, one final question: how would you finish this sentence? Financial planning is-

Rick: Financial planning is learning how to be with people in such a way that we can help guide them to greater financial well-being.

Hide Transcript

Rick Kahler believes that financial planners, like himself, can facilitate financial health with their clients by embracing their behavior, helping them uncover their money mindsets, and listening to their stories and goals. Rick Kahler knew he had to do more to differentiate himself as an advisor and started to explore financial therapy. He’s constantly amazed by how little numbers mean at the end of the day with research showing 90% of financial decisions are emotional decisions. Instead, Rick prefers to focus on being with his clients.
He knows that the majority of their money decisions won’t be driven by the numbers – they are driven by emotions. Rick knows that 80% of all client engagements are what can’t be replaced by robo-advisors – listening to your client, stepping into their shoes, and being empathetic.
In this incredibly revelatory episode of #YAFPNW, Rick explores how we as advisors can relate to our clients on a deeper level by simply being with them, and how that helps us build a financial plan that motivates them to stay on track, change negative money habits, and more.

This episode will be sure to expand your skills as an advisor and explore ways that you can align yourself with your clients in a deeper, more authentic way.

“We start by learning how to be with the client. It’s learning how to be present with the client. We are not going to change this client, no matter how much they are overspending. We’re not going to change them. At best we’re going to be facilitators that will help them change.”

What You’ll Learn:

How to facilitate behavioral change with your clients.
How to listen well to your clients.
How to approach financial planning using psychology to better understand motivators, conversational tactics, and more.
The best ways to dive deeper in your initial onboarding process to truly know your client and bring more value to their lives.
How to keep a beginner’s mind
What money scripts are and how to work with our client’s money scripts
How to recognize our own money scripts and the impact it has on our relationships with clients
What financial therapy is and where to go to find more resources
How to facilitate financial health with your clients

The Nazrudin Project – Bending the Profession Since 1995 by Richard Vodra, JD
Kahler Financial Group, Inc.’s Financial Planning Residency Program
How Clients’ Money Scripts Predict Their Financial Behaviors
Wired for Wealth by Brad Klontz,‎ Ted Klontz,‎ and Rick Kahler
Golden Gate University – Programs in Financial Planning
Financial Planning 3.0 by Dick Wagner
Mindful Asset Planning
Troy Jones, CFP®
The Enneagram Institute®
Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
Sarah Swantner, CFP®
Kansas State University – Financial Therapy Certificate
Creighton University – Finance 0 Andrew Sivertsen offers insight to young planners on how they can develop a career path, and how to consistently better themselves and focus on adding value to the lives of their clients. Andrew Siversten is passionate about working with younger clients – and he’s built his role within The Planning Center to reflect that. Siversten originally started working part time at The Planning Center in 2007, and over the next several years his role began to evolve from analyst to a more involved, senior member of the planning team. Today, Siversten is a partner and senior planner at The Planning Center.

In the ten years Siversten has been with them, The Planning Center has effectively doubled. They now have six offices around the United States, and have grown largely through merger and acquisition.

Siversten has played a large role in evolving The Planning Center’s approach to residency programs and building a career path within their firm. In this episode, Siversten explores The Planning Center’s career path process for developing young planners, how he’s advocating to work more with young professionals within the firm, and how being part of a constantly growing financial planning practice brings positive change and opportunities into your life as a financial planner.

hannah's signature

Know that it’s [financial planning] a lifelong pursuit of mastery, and it’s always skating toward where the profession’s going, and trying to figure out, ‘How can I better improve myself?


The Planning Center

FPA NexGen

NAPFA Genesis








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Show Transcript

Ep83 Transcript

Hannah: Thanks for joining us today Andrew.

Andrew: Hey, it’s great to be on. Thanks for thinking of me.

Hannah: Yeah, so we are going to dive into your firm’s evolution and the service model for younger planners, because you guys have been doing that for 10 years. But before we get to that I’d love to hear how you got into financial planning, and what your career path has looked like.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think you mean how we serve young clientele …

Hannah: Yes, thank you

Andrew: Yeah, I guess to just back up time here a little bit, I graduated 2004 from the University of Illinois with a degree in finance, so I’d always say that was kind of my skillset, was just working with numbers and problem-solving, and always enjoyed that through high school, college. I really had a passion for serving others, serving people, and back in 2004 there weren’t financial planning programs, CFP programs, things like that. I didn’t even know this career existed. I kind of thought of finance as working back office for a bit corporation or bank, and that just wasn’t all that attractive at 21 years old. I had this passion to work with people, so I worked with two nonprofits for six years, one education based, one more ministry based, even taught overseas for a couple years.

All through that time, my older brother Matt Sivertsen, who’s also one of my partners here at the Planning Center, he had started right about the time I was almost graduating college. So I said, we would have conversations about what he was doing, and this career in financial planning, and it really kind of piqued my interest. I didn’t realize that personal finance, and these things that really hit home to me and my gifts, also okay met my passions, that you work one-on-one with these individuals and families, and that’s where you’re going to spend the bulk of your time.

By 2007, while I was still kind of working with some of the nonprofits, I started part time with the Planning Center, and I was working maybe 10, 12, 15 hours a week, really doing a lot of project work, systems work, just getting exposure to things like cost basis and modeling, some of the data entry into some of the systems. But they also gave me a little bit of exposure, would let me sit in on a few client meetings here and there, just to see, is this something I might be interested in? It was just a real great time to just get some exposure to the career.

By 2010 I jumped in with two feet, came on full time. That’s where, really kind of progressed from what we would call a planning analyst, or now we would even kind of call it a residency, to really more of a senior planning analyst. One of the things I was required to do, and we still require, is to get a Series 65, so most of our residency program is not … We’re not finding CFPs right out of the door. They’re usually people who don’t have that designation yet. Might just be the fact that we live in Moline, Illinois, which is a blue collar town that’s about a quarter million people. It’s nice though, because we can essentially groom them from the start. I passed my Series 65, which then allowed me to start getting some exposure, helping out with some of the trading operations.

I really probably split my time maybe half with just company projects, things that our COO, Eric Keyes, kind of needed me to do, versus probably half my time where I was getting more exposure into client meetings, and really being in charge of a lot of the prep and the followup. There’s koa natural progression there, where early on you’re just constantly … They might run emails past the advisor before you would send them out, to all of a sudden you’re just generating correspondence and CC-ing in the advisor, and then as the career progresses you might … And all of a sudden the clients start realizing, I can just go directly to Andrew and Andrew could just respond, and not need to go through some of the formalities. I think that’s a great time to learn systems, learn projects, learn some of the paperwork and things that eventually you’ll be delegating out as a planner. Of course I got to working pretty hard on my CFP, blew through that pretty quickly in a year and a half or so, and just had to wait on my experience, which I got by 2012, and became a financial planner.

Hannah: Let’s talk about how long it took you to get from each phase. How long were you working at the Planning Center as a part-time employee?

Andrew: Probably about two and a half years. I would say that kind of that planning analyst role, if you were full-time, we’d probably be looking one, at least two years, as a planning analyst, building some of that core, then there’s a couple milestones that we kind of want to see. Of course the Series 65 is one of the big ones, and some of the systems. Then from there … I kind of did it more part-time, which I think is okay, whereas those coming on now kind of spend that first year or two full-time doing that planning analyst role. Then they kind of move into the senior planning analyst role, which for me, again, would’ve been probably about two years, so two and two there. Where it’s just kind of then wait until I passed my CFP, got my work experience, and I was able to be certified to work with clients.

I recognize that might look a little bit different for firms that are hiring CFPs right out of CFP programs. If we hired a CFP that might kind of shorten that a little bit, but a lot of them still need their work experience, and so they would still kind of … Maybe they could jump past the planning analyst role and right into the senior planning analyst, which I guess, that’s really what we called it when I was in the role. Now I think we really just more call it the resident, senior resident, type of title. Just has kind of a little bit more relevancy to, I think, our profession, as we kind of mirror what the medical profession has done with career development.

Hannah: One thing that I think is really interesting is, the Planning Center has grown significantly since you’ve started working there, from my understanding. When you started, how big was the Planning Center?

Andrew: That’s a great question. We were founded in 1998 by Marty Kurtz, so we’re celebrating our 20 year anniversary, which is pretty cool. By the time I came on, 2007, there were probably about 10 or 11 of us: Marty, Matt, and Eric as kind of senior advisors, me working through the ranks, and probably three or four on the service team. In 2013 we began doing several mergers, and we now have six offices around the country. We’ve got one in Fresno, California, Twin Cities up in Maple Grove, Minnesota, we’ve got one in Chicago right downtown, and now we’ve bought a practice in Anchorage, Alaska that we run, and most recently have brought in Jude Boudreaux and his group down in New Orleans. We’ve got quite the team, I think we’re up to 13 certified financial planners, two CPAs, and then another probably 12 support staff. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 26, 27 toll employees.

Hannah: You guys have almost doubled in 10 years since you’ve started.

Andrew: Yep, that’s probably about right. A lot of it through merger acquisition. Our staff has more than doubled, and the size of revenue, assets, those types of things, have more than doubled as well. Yeah, we’ve gone through a lot of growth and growing pains in the last 10 years, in my experience.

Hannah: Even just when you were talking, you kept kind of going back and forth between what you experienced and what the new planners would experience. The career path within the planning center has really evolved, is what I was hearing. Would you say that’s right, or is it just more fine-tuned?

Andrew: I think it’s more fine-tuned. I think I was really the guinea pig in hindsight, that it’s like, Eric and Matt had to kind of fight their way into this profession as young planners and saying, what would it look like if we could give some direction? Eric Keyes had kind of penciled out some stuff into Excel spreadsheets and said, “What do you guys think about this? That not look great?” When I was interested in a job, it was very, very rare 10 years ago to come into an RIA and have a career path put in front of me. I could see, okay, within a few years I’ll be a financial planner, and beyond that a senior financial planner, and possibly partnership opportunities and things like that. It was even tied to compensation schedules and growth and all of that.

I could really see a career path forward. I was surprised, probably a couple years after that, when I went to my very first NexGen gathering, and the topic of career paths came up, and the question was asked, has anybody been shown a career path? My hand was the only plan that went up in the room, of probably 30 NexGen planners at this gathering. It was kind of a shock to realize.

Now I think things have changed. We’ve seen a lot of the good quality firms are developing residency programs, so we’ve been able to have other firms to bounce ideas off of, and so we’ve been able to fine-tune things and learn, what work well, what do we want to improve, and be able to develop that. Then we have several who have recently kind of just gone through the ranks of the residency program, and recently certified, so it’s kind of cool to see that next generation, wave of planners coming through.

Hannah: Let’s talk to the people who are like everybody else at that NexGen gathering who don’t have a career path. You’ve seen, I’m assuming, so many of your friends go through that. What would be your advice to them as they’re working or looking at job offers that don’t have a clear career path?

Andrew: I don’t necessarily think that that means it’s a bad firm to work with, and I think I was very fortunate to have that career path, but I think the conversation that some of the principal advisors and owners of the firm, or lead planners, where’s your direct mentor, really should be open to the dialogue. It’s okay as the young planner to be leading the conversation, so I’d encourage people to just not say, “Well they don’t have a plan for me,” but to be a part of developing that plan. I think that’s where podcasts like this, resources from FPA NexGen, are going to be phenomenal, because over the last 10 years more and more firms are developing resources that people can take a look at and say, “This is how one firm did it, let’s look at what they did, and what’s going to make sense here.” I really think that if young planners can’t see a way forward, if they can’t see a career path, then it’s going to be tough to want to stay. I think just the willingness to sit down and have that conversation, and help gather the resources, and help the senior leadership walk through that path.

Hannah: So much of it comes down to having the right conversations, and being willing to have those conversations.

Andrew: Yep, absolutely.

Hannah: You said earlier that you are a partner at the planning center. At what point did you get offered a partnership, and what did that look like?

Andrew: For me, sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time. Also I think being kind of an early career transition, that I did have six years of experience doing other work, and just a little bit of age, that I think helped maybe speed up the process in my particular situation. I believe I became a CFP in 2012, but had already been doing quite a bit of planning work, and I think I became a partner in 2013, and so was very early on in that financial planner role. I’d say most likely that probably would be a couple more years under normal circumstances, where someone should be probably a financial planner for a few years before being offered a partnership. But I think just due to a few circumstances that really helped accelerate my career, but I think that really came available. With Eric and Matt already kind of working through some of their internal succession plan, it was kind of nice to be ushered along at a little earlier phase than most.

Hannah: You got the benefit of them having to go through the painful parts.

Andrew: Absolutely.

Hannah: Did you have to put money up for that, or were you offered shares, or how did that transaction work?

Andrew: By then Eric and Matt had already bought some shares where they did do cash purchase type things. Part of our mission is, wouldn’t it be cool if 50 years from now we have different advisors talking to different clients about the same pool of money. Just this idea of just a forward-looking … We do things with future generations in mind. When we started looking at our succession planning, we really felt like we should have a system that would be able to pay for itself, that we should have a evaluation that honors the selling stakeholders, but also honors the longevity and the buying approach.

We have a structure where it’s kind of an internal buyout, where we take on a promissory note, and in that note it has language that structures being able to pay, basically, with our quarterly dividend check. It allows a little bit of some flexibility to pay some tax estimates out of the dividend before paying off the note, and also some flexibility, since as minority stakeholders, we wouldn’t be controlling the vast majority of what’s happening with the firm, and therefore if profits were gone we would not be forced to make a payment. Of course we know, if you don’t make payment you’re also building interest, so there’s still a lot of incentive to keep the firm profitable and grow the firm to continue to pay down our notes.

Hannah: And it’s, when you become a business owner you assume risks, and that’s just a risk of being a partner in a business.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Additional ownership of … We’re not quite to the point where we’re big enough to be institutionalized, so essentially all of the partners need to wear multiple hats. We have committees and things that need to be addressed. Someone needs to run the investment committee, and our technology committee, and our human capital HR committee, the budgeting committee. Just various things that each of us kind of has to take our gifts and talents and do above and beyond just as serving clients.

Hannah: How did your perspective change from being just a salaried employee to becoming a partner in the firm? Or did it change?

Andrew: It definitely changed. I think you just become very sensitive to resources. Things that, you just realize that it’s not all about top-line. I think that part of the career path is really, as a financial planner, which really should take two, three, sometimes even upwards of five years to kind of get your base training before you’d relay be a senior financial planner and in charge of revenue generation. I think you’re more aware of, for this thing to be sustainable, for me to grow my salary, we need to be bringing on new revenue and new clients, but also I think sensitivity to the systems and the things that … It’s like, here’s a cool new thing, well it costs his much money, how does that affect the bottom line.

I even remember, it’s like as a resident, or analyst as we called it back then, it’d be like, as soon as you hit a technology upgrade schedule, heck yeah I’m going to … If they’re going to buy me a new laptop computer it’d be like, yeah, I’m all aboard. Now it’s kind of like, okay, can I stretch this thing out another year, another two years, just knowing that, what are ways that we can look for efficiencies and say, we’ve been writing this off over in Iowa City, and I found a way that’s going to save us $6,000 a year. I just think you problem solve and you look at expense items differently as an owner.

Hannah: Talking to people who are in jobs where they want to be the owner, they should start thinking about that now. Would you agree? How can people prepare themselves for that well?

Andrew: I don’t know if you can prepare. I think the realization that there are several ways that you can improve the profitability of a company. I think all are going to benefit even if you’re not an owner, with a more profitable company. There’s three ways to do that. You can increase revenue, bring on new business. You can decrease turnover, so ways to, how can we better serve clients so that they want to stay with us. Just making sure we’re doing high-quality work, which is probably the most important thing in that early career, financial planner, resident-level, is to focus on just high quality of service, because that’s really going to decrease turnover and really help things.

But I think looking at technology and systems and expense items, and just saying, “Do we really need this? Is this really worth it?” Because when you look at a business projection, it’s actually more valuable to find one dollar to cut out of the budget than it is to bring on one dollar of new revenue. It takes a lot more dollars to grow the top line, compared to if you can find dollars to cut off the bottom line, which is a better way of improving profitability. If it’s a system that’s needed that’s not the case, of course that’s a valuable system, but finding things that are wasteful or things like that can really help out.

Hannah: Great advice. What is your role right now within the planning center?

Andrew: My role now is, I’m a senior financial planner. I’ve been certified now for what, six or seven years. I think the progression from financial planner to senior planner was fairly natural. Those first two or three years, was just shadowing a lot of clients. We really wanted Eric Keyes to take on more of a business management role. I sat in on almost every single one of his meetings, a handful with my brother Matt Sivertsen and a handful with Marty Kurtz, and it was a kind of a natural progression where each year was kind of like, here’s some low-hanging fruit that’s, let’s just have you take these over.

After two years it’s like, here’s another wave that, Eric might just start bowing out of meetings, kind of pop in and say hey, but really try and build me up as the planner. Rather than, if a client asks something, he might say, “Andrew, what do you think about it,” or, “Why don’t you explain it”. Then if they said, “Eric, what do you think about it,” he would really kind of build me up and say, “Andrew’s totally right here,” and maybe expand upon things a little bit ,but really reinforcing the fact that this is who we should be listening to. Then after probably about that three year transition, the bulk of the clients, probably took over about two thirds of Eric’s client relationships, was managing those. At that point, had really started taking on more of a new business role, so that’s one of the things, switching to financial planner is just kind of being expected to be a part of bringing on new clients.

During those first couple years, this kind of ties in too to working with young clients, I was like, when we’d have some young clients that would come in it’d be like, “Hey Andrew, why don’t you work with these cases”. It’s a great way to develop experience as a solo advisor in those early years, and then into the senior planner role it’s like no, you’re fully ready and equipped to be bringing on all clientele and our ideal client as well.

I’d say my role right now is primarily, number one, to service clients, so to be a financial planner. As a partner I’m in charge of revenue generation, so I kind of have a certain number of clients that we’ll hopefully be able to bring on throughout the year. Then like I said, also partner responsibilities, I head up two of our ongoing committees, or investment committee, so doing a lot of the due diligence with our vendors that we work with, mutual fund companies, custodians, meeting in an ongoing with those. Then also preparing resources and conversations for our monthly committee meetings. As well as our marketing committee, so managing that group as well.

Hannah: Looking forward, do you just see yourself more in that same role, or how do you think that your job is going to evolve over the next five or 10 years?

Andrew: That’s a great question. I really love working with clients, so I think my role as a senior financial planner will really kind of follow me into this mid-career stage for another five, 10-plus years. I think we’ll see … Of course part of my job too is helping to mentor some of the newer staff. Now we’ve get my brother Matt Sivertsen who kind of heads up our human capital committee, and so he does a lot of one-on-one meetings and things like that with the younger planners coming through the ranks. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still be mentoring them, and as they get pulled into my client meetings, that we can be talking about things. I do think that that’ll be kind of a key role.

I’ve got to think 10 years from now that hopefully we’ll kind of hit that institutionalized mark where some of the systems like running our investment committee and trading and all that, that we might have a full-time CFA that runs that operation. I may actually see some of my side responsibilities kind of phase out, and focus more on working directly with clients and mentoring some of the younger staff. At the same time, I love the work with the investment committee and the marketing committee, and would be okay if those haven’t transitioned away either. We’ll see.

Hannah: Let’s talk about the clients of the planning center. What does your normal client look like?

Andrew: That’s a great question. Obviously with six offices around the country that have all merged together, right now one of our big initiatives is, we’re kind of working on what we call the way, or the TPC way, and just unifying our client service. Obviously with as much transition as we’ve been through in the last 10 years, we don’t have a very specific niche or anything lie that. I’d say that I have a fair number of clients, maybe a third or so, who are retired and have ongoing needs that we kind of touch in. The other two thirds are probably kind of split between baby-boomers, late baby-boomers, kind of in their 50s, early 60s, who are kind of going through a lot of transition planning, preparing for retirement, et cetera. Probably my other third working with a lot of young professionals kind of my age, in their 30s and early 40s. In each of those, the needs and the servicing looks a little differently, which ties into how we’ve really built our planning process or service model as well.

One cool thing that we have seen is, when Marty was running the shop by himself, and even some of the firms that have all merged in, it was pretty interesting, the average age of our client was Marty’s age. Every year that just ticked up as he kind of aged through, and then what we saw when Eric and Matt came on, and then myself, is that average age plateaued, and then in fact started going down, as we’ve really brought on a whole new wave of clientele with our service model, and being open and willing to work with mid-career and young professionals.

Hannah: When did you guys start wanting to work with the young professionals?

Andrew: Those conversations really were going on right about the time that I came on, so about 2007, when I came on part time, my brother Matt had probably just about passed his CFP, and Eric had been onboard for a couple years. They kind of looked at each other and said, at that time we were charging AUM, and minimums kept kind of ticking up a little bit, and said, geez, we can’t even work with ourselves, and we’re telling all of our friends and network and peer group what we do, and it’s like, but wait, we can’t work with you. It was kind of just this oxymoron. It’s like, here are these young professionals that think that this is a valuable service, that they would love to have this service, but they wouldn’t even be able to sit across the table for themselves. It’s kind of a racking of the brain, how can we do this? Fortunately Marty Kurtz was extremely open to the conversation and willing to let them, and really me, who kind of then pioneered the program that they built, run with this.

What it is, is there really weren’t anyone serving young clients 10 or 11 years ago, but we said, what do we think a young professional would be willing to pay for a financial planning service? We looked at cellphone bills and gym memberships and things like that and said, seems like maybe about 100 bucks would be a decent starting spot. We said okay, what do they need, and what can we really afford to do to at least power the advisor costs and the advisor time, looking at the advisor salary to let them do that?

That’s where we kind of came up with this program called the cornerstone, where we were really starting with the foundational blocks. We establish a track record, really explain, this is one of the most important things we can be watching and building and understanding. We’re huge cash flow believers, so we’ve got a proprietary firm called First Up Cash Management System that we use to teach cash flow. It’s a very forward looking conversation. Then with some simple recommendations on how to set up their bank accounts they could really automate the program and make healthy decisions to make sure their past commitments are taken care of. They know how much they can live off of week to week with their present day choices. Really kind of helping them plan for future needs and wants.

We came up with that cash flow system, we would help them make sure they’re establishing and building an emergency fund as part of that cash flow and network checking. A lot of them would have debt management concerns, so coming up with debt snowball plans, refinancing or things, whatever would need to be done to address paying down debts, and then really helping them just get used to the idea of establishing and tracking goals that we could do. That was the cornerstone program. We weren’t doing investment managements or insurance analysis or tax planning or estate planning, things like that it was really focusing those first few years.

The idea was that someone might do this for say 18 to 36 months, then we would transition them onto our full-service model. Which by then we had moved away from an AUM to an annual service fee, and we had a fairly low minimum for that, so it was a pretty easy transition from $100 a month to our, I guess it was $3,000 at that time, to just bring them onto our full-service platform. I think that’s kind of how that started, but that’s evolved over time.

Hannah: Let’s talk a minute about the cash flow. I’ll raise my hand and say, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, I’m getting a lot better. I’m getting much more hands-on with cash flow with my clients. I know a lot of my advisors just avoid the cash flow conversation, because it’s messy, it’s just not … It’s a lot easier to talk about investments or other planning concepts. Did you find that working with cash flow with your clients was very time intensive, or can you go into, what did it actually look like working with a client on their cash flow?

Andrew: Yeah, and I think you’re right. Cash flow can be a very hairy and sticky topic. It’s kind of where the rubber meets the road. It’s where we experience our money, and we know that the second leading cause of divorce next to infidelity is financial matters. Typically that comes down to income and spending. If we can’t have a platform for a healthy conversation, I think that can really be a huge problem, especially for couples. However we think the system is extremely valuable for single individuals as well, and to be honest it really doesn’t take as much time as people think.

We might spend five or 10 minutes just kind of explaining the concept and the idea, and then what we’ll do is, we’ll probably gather their fixed expenses on all of their bills, their debts, their insurances, service utilities, property taxes, any other commitments, monthly tithing and things like that. Those are pretty easy for them to find, and we can structure those, and we put those into what we call this static bucket. We know how much each month they need to be flowing through their bank account to make sure they can take care of their commitments.

Then what we do is, we kind of explain, what we’d like to do is siphon off and set up a separate checking account for each member of the household, that we determine how much is a weekly amount that is just going to be enough for you to be able to take care of all of your needs throughout the week? To be able to buy lunches and entertainment and dinners and groceries and gas and all those variable expenses. It should be enough that things aren’t too crazy, they just set up kind of a weekly transfer and they get used to having a stopgap on how much they can spend. For those who are savers it gives them freedom to say, “I’ve actually got a few hundred dollars each week that I can spend on this.”

Then with savings accounts we can set up what we call a dynamic bucket for their future needs and wants so we can talk through, what are dynamic things, to saving for travel, or college education, or home and auto maintenance, or things like that. Saying don’t worry, what you’re spending week to week with your control bucket is not going to affect the fact that you’re putting away enough money into savings accounts that you’re going to be able to enjoy these bigger ticket things that you’re excited about, that they’re part of your annual and lifetime goals.

Then we punch the numbers in, we figure out what’s going to make the system work, and everybody gets on the same page, and then we can give them a checklist to go set up your bank accounts. We might come back six weeks later and say, “How’s it going? Is it working out? Do you need to bump this up a little bit or this down a little bit?” Then the odds are the system kind of runs itself, and people can, we might check in on it once a year and have a short five or 10 conversations about it.

I don’t think it takes as much time as people think. In fact it takes a little bit of working, but even our high-income clients, we think that this system is more valuable for them than a newlywed. That’s what people think of when they think of budgeting. It’s like, that’s for college grades and newlyweds. No, this is a powerful conversation tool that, now you have an idea where your money’s going. It’s going to reduce stress, it’s going to give you more peace of mind. Because when people start making 10, 20, 30, $40,000 a month, they have no idea where it goes. They just feel invincible. With a system like this, it’s really not hard to operate, and now they have a clear picture of where everything’s going. In fact the system doesn’t even work that well if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, because it relies on needing a little bit of slush in there to be able to operate the system.

Hannah: I really like that idea, even with high net worth clients, that this is a way that we can really add value to clients, is through cash flow.

Andrew: Yeah. We can look at those dynamic goals, and I think it was 2008 and 9 we were using the first step system with our clients, and we’d have clients who would say, “Let’s look at these dynamic goals. Geez, I’ve been spending $12,000 a year on gardening” or something like that. It’s like, “I could maintain it this year for $2,000”. Conversations like that, and then all of a sudden it’s like, wow. Rather than just looking at the plan and saying, it’d be a great idea if you could cut $10,000, $20,000 out of your annual budget. It’s like no, they actually have the cash flow system to say, let’s look at your goals and priorities, and is there anything in here that could take a back seat for a year or two, and allow markets to recover, and not hit portfolios as hard as needed.

Hannah: You were working with these young professionals, and you were charging you said about $100 a month, so $1,200 a year, and then you bumped them up to that $3,000 service model.

Andrew: Yeah.

Hannah: Is that still how you do that, or how has that evolved over the last 10 years?

Andrew: Over the last few years we’ve kind of phased out our cornerstone program. As our advisor team got a little bigger … It was always kind of tough to say, “These are the only things we’re going to do.” It’s tough to come to the table as a comprehensive planner and turn off part of your brain, and so there was just a little bit of a rub there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way that it was being done, and I think it can be a great business model for people who want to try, and especially a nice way to differentiate and introduce. I think it’s a nice stepping stone for firms looking to incorporate a service for young clients to have the differentiated packages, and then that way they can really track revenue and profitability and things like that. However we just kind of felt that …

We were big believers in our angel service fee, and we use a formula that’s calculated off of net worth and income to be a proxy for the size and complexity of the case. We just recognize that not all cases are created equal. We some cases are going to take more time, more expertise, they have more risk more value, and that there are cases that are going to and should be paying you more than other cases. We’ve really found that net worth and income really is that best approximation of the case and the complexity, and the time and the value that we’ll be providing.

We said that it’s kind of like we’re going from this monthly service package to now this whole different formula, and we just said, can’t we just sign them up on the full net worth and income formula? We’ve really said, what are, in regards to services provided, what do we provide? We’re looking at their balance sheet, their assets, their debts, how do we improve and maximize those. We’re looking at their cash flow, we’re looking at investing, investment management, we’re looking at accumulation and retirement planning, we’re helping with tax management, philanthropy, we’re viewing insurance and asset protection, and we’re helping with estate planning. We kind of have these eight different fields of expertise that we’re helping every single client with, but we realized that at each different stage the needs and complexity grows.

Sometimes it’s a little different, but we really change from calling cornerstone to saying, “You’re on our full-service package,” but we’re kind of building the fundamentals. How do we spend a few years just building the fundamentals in all eight of those categories? For instance, investment recommendations might look a little bit different in that category because in the fundamental stage your savings rates are more important than your rates of return, and so cash flow and balance sheet and all those planning are much more important, and building a real complex asset allocation and asset location plan.

Then as people grow past fundamentals, they kind of move into more of an accumulation phase where we are providing fairly robust services in all eight of those categories, to beyond that, we start thinking about high net worth families that, the management of all of those, it looks even different. On our website we explain what each of the things that we provide in each of the categories, but even beyond that you can look and say okay, how does cash flow differ for someone who’s in the fundamental stage versus the accumulation stage versus the management stage? It’s like, fundamentals, we might be helping them create a simple framework for cash flow, whereas with management, we might be helping them manage income from multiple sources: businesses, real estate, farms, the portfolio. How do we have a plan that kind of works in concert with tax and investment strategies? I just think that things look a little bit different as they grow and progress through the system.

It depends a little bit advisor to advisor, but I’d say across the board you would probably kind of have what we would say is a $5,000 soft minimum, meaning that this is, for us to have an ideal client, where we’re profitably servicing them, taking them through all this stuff. Then obviously if they’re under 40, and the net worth and income schedule doesn’t quite hit that number, if we really think that they’re going to be an ideal client, or someone who is a professional that’s going to be in need of the way we do financial planning, the advisor has the discretion to wave that minimum and then just bring them on at a lower rate, knowing that in two to four years they’re probably going to grow up closer towards that minimum. That’s kind of how we look and think about the career planning path of a younger client.

Hannah: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Your minimum, like you said, it’s not a hard minimum, but it has increased over time as you guys have been able to really articulate the services that you are able to provide for them.

Andrew: Yeah. I think the net worth and income model has really opened up a blue ocean for us. Even at 6,000 annual service fee, that’s $500 a month. We might have some high-income doctors that are straight out of residency, and they’re starting to make these real high salary careers, but they’ve got a negative net worth. It’s like, because we build off of net worth and income we can say, you’ve got high income, you’re going to have more needs than your typical peer that’s not making as much money. We can then essentially … They’re like, “I don’t have any investments for you to manage, but I’ve got needs, and I’m willing to pay you $500 a month to take me through this process.” We think that that’s been pretty cool, that we’re able to bring on clients like that.

Hannah: You guys don’t charge … You said you guys just charge a retainer fee, you guys don’t charge assets under management or anything like that. Is that right?

Andrew: We still have clients on assets under management, but I’d say, we launched the NWI back in 2008, so we’ve been doing it for 10 years now, and all clients prior to that, we pretty much just fathered into AUM. Over time we’ve tried to review cases to say, if it’s a better deal let’s have you switch over. The Moline office, we’ve done a decent job of paring back a lot of that, but we still have a significant number of AUM clients. When other offices merged in, Fresno, Mable Grove, Chicago, Anchorage, they were all using AUM models. We didn’t want that to be a hindrance of the merger so we said, let’s just leave it as is, we’ll match up AUM schedules, but over time let’s start telling this story. But every client that comes on today comes on under NWI, so there is a lot of legacy business that’s still AUM, but all new clients are NWI. With the exception of Jude Boudreaux. His office, he’s been in the study group with Eric Keys, so he was already using our service model, he was using our fee schedule with permission, using net worth and income, so his entire business was already built around the model we were using. That was kind of a cool transition, to just have that all lined up already.

Hannah: I also think it’s really interesting, maybe I’m guilty of this as well, but a lot of young planners come into firms and they want to change a lot right away, and so it’s really interesting to hear how maybe that change doesn’t happen right away, and bringing on new clients under a new model … I don’t know, what are your thoughts on that?

Andrew: I think there needs to be kind of a healthy balance between learning and respecting the model, but I think we should be asking questions. “What’s the reasoning behind that?” We’ve had a very collaborative environment, a very open environment. Our entire office meets together once a month in what we call circle, where everybody’s on the same level playing field. There’s not presidents and CEOs and rank and file, we all have a voice to just talk through, is there a better way. Once a year we get together for an annual company meeting where for two days we spend some visioning, and going through things.

A lot has changed, and it’s funny thinking back over my career. Some of those projects I did when I was part time, pretty much all of them, I remember dismantling. That was a project that we did, and we used it, and it’s like, technology has replaced this, and we’re going to do something else. That’s okay, it’s kind of funny to see that happen, but you know you’ve arrived and you’ve been somewhere long enough where you see some of your projects or creations be dismantled and undone, so I don’t think we should ever be tied to doing things one way or another.

We’re big believers that you never master something. The idea of mastery, that it’s this lifelong pursuit of improving. I think that was probably one of the most humble lessons I had to learn as a planner. I think when we study to take our CFPs there’s so much technical knowledge, and I think you realize that from a technical standpoint you know more numbers than the senior advisors. You’re just so excited to share that with clients, just have all this confidence and things, but the reality is that doesn’t necessarily make you a great planner. In fact we’re really in the business of relationships, and we’re helping people through transitions.

I have gone through the Sudden Money Institute Program, it’s now the Certified Financial Transitionist Program with Susan Bradley. One of the greatest things is, I’ve had the privilege of having one-on-one coaching calls, and just realized that most of what I do needs to be asking good questions and listening.

I can think about my first couple years as a certified financial planner, I’d find that all of a sudden I’d get done with a client meeting and my throat would be dry and scratchy and I’d be like, “What’s going on,” and, “How come I’m not bringing on new clients. I know the story, I can do this.” Then I realized that, wait a minute, as soon as I realized it’s not about me and what I can do and what we can do and all these things, it’s about them, it was like a light bulb went off in my head, and my skills and my career took of. Because all of a sudden it’d be like, if you’re having an initial consultation meeting, 80% of the talking should be the clients.

When I discovered that we’d be spending the bulk of that time just asking questions, asking questions, and “Tell me more about that,” and really figuring out what they value, figuring out their goals, their intended outcome, understanding their concerns, their transitions, their family and their career and how they want to be communicated to, and all of these things that are just extremely important, then it’s like, we’ll I’ve got expertise, we’re fiduciaries, we’re fee-only, we’re going to put your interest first, and we charge a fee based on the size of the complexity of the case.” They go, “I love the idea.” “Here’s the next steps, here’s what we’re going to do,” and people are onboard, and they’re excited.

Most have never worked with a financial planner before, and so I think they just really love our model, and I don’t need to tell them how great we are. Practice it, and get to know them, and make sure you really understand where they’re coming from. That’s probably the most valuable thing I can teach new CFPs, is just take a step back from the technical training and really learn the art of listening, and make sure that we’re listening more than talking.

Hannah: I’m not sure we could end on a better note. What advice would you have for new planners as they’re coming into this profession?

Andrew: I would say get involved in our associations. The FPA has a program called NexGen, NAPFA has Genesis, there’s other national and local networking opportunities to get involved with other professionals, because I think realizing that you’re not doing this alone … Because they’re going to have people who’ve now walked the walked. We are an emerging profession, so it’s no longer these career changers at 50 who are working with other 50 and 60 year olds. We’re creating a profession, we’re creating career tracks, and so that there’s going to be places to go to find, what are the different types of models, what are RAs, what are brokerage firms, what’s it like doing financial planning for a bank? What are the servicing miles, how are people paid? What is the compensation structure? Really understanding, how can I really put clients’ interests first, and really serve them well?

Ultimately then that’s going to lead to creating you as a better planner. Finding ways to improve skills that are going to help the clients, whether they be your technical skills, which, frankly as technology continues to grow, those technical skills are going to become less important, and it’s those personal skills that are going to become extremely valuable. I don’t think computers and robo technology will be able to replace the human element. That our work is going to be much more oriented around behavior and transitions. Know that it’s a lifelong pursuit of mastery, and it’s always skating towards where the profession’s going, and trying to figure out, how can I better improve myself? It’s not just, I’ve mastered financial planning, I’m going to do that for five or 10 years, and then I’ll move on to the next thing. It’s, how can we grow and enrich our lives and our education in that?

I probably had three or four things in there, but I think, get involved, because that’s going to help you find some of those other things that I was talking about.

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]]> Andrew Sivertsen offers insight to young planners on how they can develop a career path, and how to consistently better themselves and focus on adding value to the lives of their clients. Andrew Siversten is passionate about working with younger clients – and he’s built his role within The Planning Center to reflect that. Siversten originally started working part time at The Planning Center in 2007, and over the next several years his role began to evolve from analyst to a more involved, senior member of the planning team. Today, Siversten is a partner and senior planner at The Planning Center.
In the ten years Siversten has been with them, The Planning Center has effectively doubled. They now have six offices around the United States, and have grown largely through merger and acquisition.
Siversten has played a large role in evolving The Planning Center’s approach to residency programs and building a career path within their firm. In this episode, Siversten explores The Planning Center’s career path process for developing young planners, how he’s advocating to work more with young professionals within the firm, and how being part of a constantly growing financial planning practice brings positive change and opportunities into your life as a financial planner.

“Know that it’s [financial planning] a lifelong pursuit of mastery, and it’s always skating toward where the profession’s going, and trying to figure out, ‘How can I better improve myself?”

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Virtual Paraplanning and Building Processes Tue, 23 Jan 2018 19:12:04 +0000 0 Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner and operations consultant - and is thriving in her role! Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner – and is thriving!

So many financial planning students (and planners who have been in the industry for a while) don’t consider their virtual options when planning their career. But, as the world gets more connected and we consistently work toward a place where work/life balance is viewed as more important, virtual options are becoming more available.

In this episode, Jen dives into the ins and outs of virtual planning, how to build a strong relationship with virtual clients, and how to construct best practices and operation processes as a virtual company.

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For me, it’s been the best thing I could’ve done. I had a really hard time when I first got started in the industry finding my place. I was really lucky that I fell in with these advisors, and I was able to test the waters. If you’re not sure where you want to go in the industry, it’s a really good way to find out what you enjoy doing.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to build virtual business processes.
  • How to map out a communication plan for virtual advisors and employees.
  • How to grow strong relationships with virtual clients.
  • How to transition to working with virtual employees if you’re currently an in-person firm.
  • What virtual paraplanning can bring to your financial planning practice.


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Show Transcript

Ep82 Transcript

Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today, Jennifer.

Jennifer: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Hannah: We were just talking beforehand and you have only been in business for three years, which just blows my mind because when anytime I think of virtual planning, I think of you.

When I first met you, you were working for four different firms virtually, is that right?

Jennifer: Yes, that’s right.

Hannah: How did you get there? How did you get those four firms to sign up and what was that like?

Jennifer: I actually … so I graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in financial planning and I kind of did some job hopping afterwards. The first year was kind of rough. I reached out to one of the advisors that I ended up working for and he was part of the XY Planning Network and I saw what he was doing and I was like, “This looks awesome, how do I do that?”

I reached out to him and was just trying to get some insight into his path and how he got to where he was and I started a mentorship between me and him and I mentioned one day that it would be really cool if I could actually work for someone like him or other people in that XY community. Him and his study group were actually looking to hire. None of them could really hire full time so they were looking to maybe hire someone where it would be part-time for each of them but then it would equal full-time for the person that they hire.

Because I was already talking to him, it kind of made sense for me to connect with the other advisors that were in his study group. I interviewed with all of them, which was kind of a fun interview. It was very laid back and just getting to know each other. That’s how I met all of them and then they decided to hire me from there.

I went from working as a full-time in person employee at a local firm to basically giving that up to go work for these advisors that were paying me hourly, hoping I would get 30, 40 hours a week.

Hannah: Where are these advisors located around the country?

Jennifer: The advisors that I worked with … I’m down to two now but originally … one of them is in Ohio, two are in California and then one of them is in Oregon.

Hannah: Do they all have different processes or is there some continuity between them.

Jennifer: Right now, the tow that I work with, their processes are pretty much the same and whenever I started working for all of them, they were sort of the same but they didn’t really have processes I guess, I don’t know if you could say they were the same or different. That was part of what I did when I came in is actually help them establish their processes.

The idea was being that, because they were all friends and they shared ideas already, if we could set everything up to where I do the same thing no matter I’m working with, then it makes them all more scalable and allow them to have more time to focus on their clients.

Hannah: That’s really interesting, so what I’m hearing, correct me if I’m wrong, you basically created these processes for them, right?

Jennifer: Sort of, it was in conjunction with them. We would meet weekly and I’d be like, “Hey I thought of this process, what do y’all think,” and then we would make tweaks.

The thing is, whenever you’re by yourself, processes … I mean, it’s good to have processes and it’s good to have them established but most people don’t do that. Most people don’t get those in place until they actually hire someone. We went through a whole … we’re still working on processes to today but that first six months was really figuring out how do we set this up to where it’s easy for me to work virtually without having to go back and forth on a lot of things and without there being a lot of confusion.

Hannah: Okay, so processes do no come naturally for me at all. I’ve been pretty open with that. Did you learn how to build up processes through your Texas Tech program or is it just an on the job skill or are you just blessed? Just know how to do it.

Jennifer: I think part of it … whenever I was job hopping, one of the companies that I worked with had really good processes so that kind of helped me realize that how important they were. Whenever I went into this, I was so used to having those in place that not having anything drove me crazy. I don’t think that I’m the best at creating them but I do think that I know what I want the outcome to be so it makes it easier for me to create them.

I don’t enjoy necessarily sitting down and putting workflows into Redtail, but I do creating the process, if that makes any sense.

Hannah: Yeah, yeah, that’s great.

Jennifer: It’s basically in order for me to be sane and be able to work with all these different advisors virtually, I needed processes in place. It just happened naturally I think.

Hannah: What type of work are you doing with these advisors? Is it planning work, client services, are you talking with clients?

Jennifer: It’s changed over time. When I originally started, I was doing a lot of paraplanner admin type work. I spent a long time organizing all of their files, I spent a long time creating the processes, doing account paper work. I was communicating with clients from the beginning but mostly through email. I think about … it wasn’t that long, it may have been three months in, I started sitting in on client meetings, which are done virtually.

One of the advisors that I work with only works with clients virtually. It made it really easy for me to be able to sit in on client meetings, ’cause we just did it through the camera, versus being in person. I kind of transitioned from paraplanner, data entry, account paper work, that kind of role into an associate.

I didn’t drop off on the paraplanner admin stuff because I am the only … I was the only employee, I was just adding on and doing more associate work so actually creating plans, presenting some of the topics in the client meetings and being the relationship manager with the client. Now, I think the goal this year is going to be taking on my own clients in 2018. It’s been kind of a quick transition but I’ve gone through all the stages.

Hannah: Yeah, that’s a normal career path. If we were to say there is a normal career path in financial planning. And to do it within three years, that’s just crazy to me. That’s really cool.

Jennifer: I don’t know if being virtually is what kind of helped speed it up but I work with some amazing advisors and they’re super encouraging. They’re kind of my cheerleaders and they push me to learn more and to speak up in client meetings. I think that’s really helped. I don’t think being virtual has hindered that in any way.

It’s interesting because you talk about career paths and that term actually makes me cringe a little bit because yes, I like the idea of career paths but I don’t like the idea of timelines because everyone should be on a different timeline depending on their skill level. I just happen to be working with people who believe in me and believe that I’m at a certain point that I’m able to now be client facing and starting to lead clients three years in.

Hannah: You said that tone of the advisors has all of his meetings virtually, but the other ones, do they still meet their clients in person?

Jennifer: Yes, one advisor, she’s actually based out of LA and she only has one client that she meets in person with just ’cause he really, really wanted to meet her in person, but the rest of our 40 clients we meet with virtually. Then the other advisor that I work with, he’s also based in California out of San Diego and he meets probably, lets say 75 percent of his clients are in person and then the rest of them are virtual.

Hannah: When he meets somebody in person, is he just putting the notes back into Redtail or the CRM and then you’re following up on that?

Jennifer: It depends. It depends if I’m the associate on the client or not. If I’m the associate on the client we’re actually bringing me up during the meeting on the screen. I’m actually sitting in on those in person meeting. If I’m not the associate on the client then he does the notes and kind of does those associate task of putting it into Redtail and those items.

Hannah: Do you get paid differently if you’re the associate on the account versus not?

Jennifer: No, I’m on salary so it’s the same, depending on kind of what I’m doing.

Hannah: On what you’re doing, so it’s more of just managing the total hours that you’re working.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah and I just have to make sure that I’m splitting my time kind of evenly between the two advisors that it currently work with.

Hannah: I think it’s so interesting that you just made this assumption that everybody wanted me virtually except for this one client and I feel like most advisory firms would say, “Everybody wants to me in person except for this one client.” That’s really fun.

Jennifer: Yeah and it’s interesting because we’re able to work, for that specific advisor … most of our clients, that once they join us and they go through the onboarding process, we haven’t really had any leave. It’s been an interesting experience because I think because we are virtual and most of our clients live in other parts of the country. They don’t pick us because of location, they pick us because they want to work with us and it’s a very good personality fit. You couldn’t match up as easily if you were just choosing other people that are in person. If that makes any sense.

Hannah: Yeah, so what do the clients look like? Are they younger clients? Older?

Jennifer: They’re younger, our average age is actually 40, which I think is a little bit higher than I original thought it was but when I ran it the other day it’s 40, but that’s because most of our clients are early career physicians, so they’re just now getting out of residency, kind of in their mid-thirties. That’s kind of our niche.

Hannah: When you’re working with these clients, is it a high touch relationship with them as they’re going through this process?

Jennifer: It is. We do a lot for them. We have a very … we kind of call it, we have a very high level of concierge service. We’re communicating if they’re buying a home, we’re communicating with the mortgage people. If they’re getting insurance, we’re direct contact for the insurance people. We even have clients where we have direct contacts to their employ, to their HR people so that we can help them with their employee benefits. It’s very high level service that we’re providing to the clients.

I don’t know if that … I think you can do that in person versus virtually, you can do that no matter whether it’s a virtual or in person but it still … that’s kind of how we are set up.

Hannah: It makes sense with doctors because they’re just naturally delegate.

Jennifer: Yes.

Hannah: To their nurses and to the staff and everybody else. What does it cost, if a doctor wants to sign up for your services?

Jennifer: It depends on which advisor. The two advisors I work with, they have different fee structures, it really kind of depends on which one. I guess the physician focused advisor … there’s one that focuses on physicians and her fee is higher. We do a retainer fee for the year. If you’re under a certain level of assets, then we do a flat minimum fee. Then once you go above that level of assets, which we don’t have a whole lot that are above that amount, then you switch to … we calculate it based on …I hate saying assets under management because it’s not your traditional assets under management. We basically look at what at are the investments including, real estate, 401k plans, anything that we help them with, we calculate that and then we do a percentage of that amount but then it’s affixed for the whole year. It doesn’t change throughout the year. Does that make sense?

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. The minimum that you charge … that she charges, is that several thousand dollars or …

Jennifer: Yes, are minimum right now is at 10,000.

Hannah: At 10,000 dollars?

Jennifer: A year.

Hannah: Yeah.

Jennifer: I mean, obviously we change it. We’ll work with residents who are still kind of going through the residency program and will provide a discount to them. Then we have them on a schedules saying, once you’re done with residency, you switch over to our normal fee schedule.

Hannah: Then when people are working with you, how often throughout the year are you in touch with them?

Jennifer: It depends. For the first year, we actually meet with people about every two months. Once they get past that first year and we get a lot of the upfront work done, we switch to quarterly. We tell our clients that we’re always available, if something comes up and you need us, email us schedule … we have an online calendar so it’s something they can go on there and schedule time. We’re pretty much available whenever they need us.

Hannah: These are all over the country, right?

Jennifer: Yes. We have … if I can remember correctly, I think the last time I ran it and I think it’s changed since then, we ran about 20 different states.

Hannah: Wow.

Jennifer: Yeah, and that include Alaska. It’s pretty cool how it’s crazy that we can work with people from all over the place. We even had client meeting where it was me, the advisor, and it was a married couple. One of the spouses was in … they were in Pennsylvania and one was in South Carolina. We were able to meet, even though we were all in different locations.

Hannah: One of the critiques that I’ve heard of virtually planning is that you aren’t able to develop the deeper relationships with clients. Has that been your experience?


Well it’s all about finding solutions for your clients, right?

Jennifer: Right, and I think we still do … we do life planning and we do Kinder 3 Questions and we’re still able to have those deep goal discussions virtually and it doesn’t seem to be an issue so far at least.

Hannah: What I like about your story is …I hear a lot of planners who are looking to start their own firm and to do it virtually and it’s really like a one man shop, or one woman shop or whatever.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hannah: But I like it that you’re working for somebody else virtually. I know that is a huge trend that’s happening right now where people are looking to … there was a local company here who … they’re not young but they have somebody who moved to Oklahoma and she’s working virtually now. Can you talk about best practices if you were working virtually, whether it is for a startup company that’s just structure that way or even one whose more traditional.

Jennifer: I guess it depends on if you’re talking about whether you’re talking about working with clients or working with your employee. Do you have a preference which one I talk about?

Hannah: Yeah, lets jump to employee.

Jennifer: For employee side, I think it’s really important to have communication standards. For me, and everyone’s different and this is why, you need to talk to between the employee and the advisor, how do you guys want to communicate. For me, I prefer … it works really well to do instant message and so me and the advisors will do Google Chat all day. If we have questions, we send it back and forth. We prefer that over just sending each other emails and bogging down our email system.

Then also, randomly calling. Because I work virtually, I work from home and I don’t work normal hours. I could be doing something that’s not related to work whenever they call me and then it’s kind of like, Oh, I get flustered and so … we know how we communicate best. We schedule everytime they talk face to face, which to me means through camera. Then we talk through instant messaging.

I think having that communication figured out is extremely important. Then also, not every … and this is kind of something that we’re trying to figure out now. I think that every position can be virtual but I think certain positions are a little bit harder of the advisor to outsource to be virtual.

Back office kind of stuff is a lot easier to … for an advisor to outsource and have that virtual hire versus someone that’s client facing. We managed to be able to do it with a client facing role but part of the reason I don’t necessarily work with some of the advisors I started out with is because they needed someone in person to be that associate. Knowing your personality and knowing what can you, as an advisor, handle as far as hiring someone virtually is really important.

Hannah: What would be the signs that you shouldn’t be hiring somebody virtually?

Jennifer: I guess if you’re talking … if you’re hiring someone that you want to be client facing, if you have … if you have an issue bring them in on client meetings because you meet with your clients completely in person and you don’t feel comfortable bring them up on a screen then you probably shouldn’t hire a client facing associate virtually.

Also, just if you have an issue doing those communication styles where you have to use instant messenger or other ways of doing things other than just poking your head in the door, then it might not be very easy for you to hire a virtual person, but if you feel comfortable using technology and utilizing other areas of communication, then it’s usually pretty easy.

Hannah: What about the person who’s working at a firm but is looking to move or whatever their life situation may be. How would you pitch that to the firm owner to maybe working virtually?

Jennifer: It kind of depends. I actually have a really good friend that’s about to go through that. She currently works in Louisiana in person and she’s moving to Oklahoma. She’s kind of been asking me about the same thing, she didn’t have to pitch it to her boss because they knew it was gonna happen but the idea of that transition and I think you really have to look at what do your current processes look like and can you be virtual with them.

If you’re doing everything on paper and you print everything out and now you’re expecting your associate to move across the county and be able to do their work, that’s gonna be really difficult if you’re not using the cloud for your document management system.

If you have everything set up on the cloud and everything’s set up to where that associate or paraplanner can work from home then it makes sense to me that they can live wherever they want. That’s also up to the advisor and does their personality welcome that and does it work well for them.

Hannah: Right.

Jennifer: Did I answer your question?

Hannah: Yeah, I think that’s great. If it was me, I would say I want my pay to stay the same. Is that a fair thing to ask? From your perspective, do you get paid more being in person versus being virtual?

Jennifer: I wouldn’t say so. I would say … I don’t feel like there’s standard in our industry that’s well known and so it’s kind of hard to say. Whether I’m in person or virtual, my salary should be the same unless there’s a cost of living adjustment. We’re talking about me possibly switching to be in person now that I’m going to be more gonna be in a lead role but that’s still up in the air but if that happens then I have to go out to California. Well, that’s a big cost of living difference between Texas and California.

It’s the same as if you were working in person in Texas and in person in California, it’s gonna be different. I don’t think there should be a difference now. It is a different on the advisor side because if you have a virtual hire, you’re not having to pay for all the extra thing that you would if they were in person. It’s actually cheaper for the advisors to hire virtually than it is to hire in person. I don’t think that should change what you’re paying that person.

When I started, I was a 1099 contract worker and not a salaried employee and I think that’s also a different situation. If you’re hiring someone part-time, a part-time hire to do all of your plans, you’re probably gonna be paying a higher hourly rate than what you would if you were hiring someone full time in person. The reason being you’re outsourcing a specific task and who you’re hiring has expertise in that task and you’re only using them for the amount of time that you need versus hiring a full time employee.

Hannah: Let’s talk about the advisor who would be looking to hire somebody to put their plans together. What does the advisor need to have pulled together in order to be able to do that?

Jennifer: The biggest thing with that one is making sure you are able to get that back office planner or paraplanner, whatever you want to call them, they need to be able to get all the data that they need. Easiest way to do that is to be on the cloud. If you’re not then you have to have some way of getting them the information they need. If you’re not on the cloud then it’s just gonna make that a little bit harder.

Hannah: It’s getting on the cloud, then do advisors need to already have their processes ironed out or can they jump in without that and kind of work with that along the way?

Jennifer: I always tell people that it’s always best to have your processes in place. I was also hired without processes in place and I created them. It kind of depends on how much control do you want to have over the processes and if you’re outsourcing plans, making sure that that planner is using the assumptions that you want them to use and creating the reports that you want them to create, that also depends on how much control, do you want them to take full control and just do what they know how to do or do you want to control what they prepare for the client.

It really depends on the situation and the advisor you’re working with.

Hannah: How does it work with all of your processes that are in Redtail? The virtual planner would obviously have to have access to those, right?

Jennifer: Right, you would have to give them, if you have Redtail, so a Redtail login. With a lot of CRMs now you can actually assign by role versus just a person. That seems to be really helpful if you can say, this virtual hire is assigned to this client as an associate. In Redtail, you can go and say, “All of these clients have this person assigned as their associate so the workflows are built out, anytime it’s assigned to associate, it assigns to that person.”

Hannah: I guess maybe good communication’s answer to this next question. How do you manage the work load of that?

Jennifer: You’re right, it’s communication. There are times whenever I do have to tell, since I work with two different advisors, there’s times I have to tell one of them, “Hey, I’m doing all of this for you right now but I still need to do this for the other advisor, I need to kind of balance my time.”

It’s a matter of being okay with having that open communication and not shutting people down whenever they do that. I’m in an unique situation that the two advisors I work with also are friends and so it’s easy of me to do that. It kind of depends because there’s a lot of … I don’t think we mentioned this yet. I work with Simply Paraplanner, which is basically connecting virtual paraplanners with advisors. There’s a lot of different ways you can go about hiring someone. You can hire someone that you want to only work with you or you can hire someone that has expertise and they have their own business and they’re working with multiple advisors. That kind of changes the dynamic of the relationship.

Hannah: How much does it cost to outsource to a virtual planner, a virtual paraplanner?

Jennifer: It depends on what you have them doing. It ranges and it depends on their experience. It’s just like hiring someone in the traditional world, what’s their experience, what are they gonna be doing? If you have a CFP who’s been in the industry for 10 years and has a business doing virtual paraplanning and creating plans for multiple advisors, they’re probably gonna be on the higher end and when I say higher end you’re looking at 50 to 75 dollars an hour. Whereas if you’re hiring someone to do account paper work and kind of do more of the, I guess operations kind of stuff and maybe just some data entry, then that’s gonna be closer to the 20 to 35 range, I guess.

The reason I’m giving you such wide ranges is because it varies depending on experience, whether they’re a CFP or a register paraplanner and just how long they’ve been in the industry.

Hannah: People do just flat rates, if they’re gonna make a plan for somebody, will that just be X dollars? Is that an option as well?

Jennifer: For some paraplanners, I think it is. We have kind of seen a trend with the virtual paraplanning community moving away from that. We’re seeing a lot of people setting minimum hour requirements. If you decide to work with me … I own my own business as a virtual paraplanner. I work with multiple advisors. If an advisor wants to hire me to create plans for them, then I’m requiring that they have to pay me at least five hours a week.

The reason people are doing that is because people would hire them and then they would decide, “Oh well, I’ll use you this week but I’m not gonna use you for the next three weeks and then I’ll use you again in the week after that.” And it was just really in consistent. That doesn’t really work well whenever you’re trying to run your virtual paraplanning business.

Hannah: Right, no, that makes sense.

Jennifer: I do know there are some people that still will charge just on a plan … just to do a plan but the other inconsistency with that is every advisor, what they call a plan is different. You can have one that you’re doing like a 50 page plan or you could have one where you’re doing one page plan. There’s some inconsistencies in there as well.

Hannah: For the amount of time that it takes as well to.

Jennifer: Right, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hannah: If somebody wanted to find a paraplanner or even, I love the idea of some who’s listening being like, “Oh this would be a great way to outsource some of the work that they’re doing.” Even though they work for somebody else. Where can people go to find paraplanners?

Jennifer: I don’t know if I’m allowed to plug in from here…

Hannah: Please do.

Jennifer: Simply Paraplanners, so that’s what we do is we connect virtual paraplanners with advisors. You can also … one of the advisors that I work with, we just hired a client service associate to take some of those task off of my play and we basically just post it on Facebook.

We got I think 10 applicants and ended up with a really awesome CSA. It’s who you know, social media and then also using things like the job board that we have on Simply Paraplanner.

Hannah: Do you have any tips or thoughts for somebody who is interested in pursuing this virtual planning route?

Jennifer: Yeah, I mean for me it’s been probably the best thing I could have done. I had a really hard time when I first got into the industry finding my place and I got really lucky that I came across these advisors that I fit in really well with. I was able to test the water. It’s kind of one of those things where you’re not sure where you want to go in the industry, I think it’s a really good way to figure out what do you enjoy doing, by doing kind of this virtual work for maybe multiple advisors or even just one advisor, just kind of figure out, what are the tasks you enjoy doing and I think that’s helping a lot of people find their place in the industry, rather than try to work for a traditional firm and finding out that they don’t want to work with those types of clients or they don’t fit in well with the company. It gives you a little bit more flexibility in figuring out where you want to be.

Hannah: If somebody’s graduating college right now and it’s just like, “I’m interested in this,” where do they go to build their network?

Jennifer: I think it’s kind of like traditional, you do traditional networking and then also joining different groups online. There’s FPA Activate, there’s the XY Planning Network has their own Facebook page. There’s Simply Paraplanner that they can join. There’s a lot of things online if you’re wanting to do that virtual route.

My partner in Simply Paraplanner, she met the advisor she works with at a conference. There’s still that traditional networking that you can do but then there’s also the online networking now that things are becoming more and more online.

Hannah: And it would make sense if you want to do virtual planning to meet people virtually.

Jennifer: Yes, yes.

Hannah: In person as well but also the virtual.

You had alluded to the fact that you are looking to become a lead advisor so what does the future look like for you?

Jennifer: That’s a good question. We’re still figuring it out. As you already mentioned, my path has been an interesting path and it’s been a very fast path. I think that’s just because the nature of working with startup firms, things can either go down really quickly or they can go faster.

As of right now, we’re looking at 2018, me starting to take on some more responsibility and taking on some clients of my own, not necessarily completely by myself but just leading the relationships. Eventually I will have to go down to working with one firm, just capacity reasons and then also marketing reasons.

We’ll see how that goes. We’re still figuring that tout and it’s constantly … things are constantly changing because we’re growing very quickly. It’ll be interesting six months from now where I’m at.

Hannah: Well I hope these firms are bidding against each other to get you to stay.

Jennifer: They don’t talk about it right in front of me so I’m not sure how they. But they do both try to convince me to move to either … ’cause one’s in LA and one’s in San Diego and they’re both like, “You should move here.”

Hannah: You expect that you’ll likely be moving in the future?

Jennifer: I do. It has nothing to do with … one of the advisors, she works completely virtually, she’s told me, she goes, “If you do work with me full time, there’s no expectation that you come and work with me in person ’cause we actually work very, very well virtually.” That would be more for, I guess extra experience and extra learning, if you want to look at it that way. It’s just kind of like if I’m in person, we can sit right next to each other while we’re going through an analysis and talk about where right now, we have to put it aside and then talk about it on our weekly call.

It could just increase my path or make my path even faster. There’s no need for me to meet in person but more than likely, I will be.

Hannah: That’s so interesting, you start out virtual and you end up in person even though you might not have to.

Jennifer: It may be one of those thing where I go in person for a year and then I end up going somewhere else. Not changing jobs but staying with them but moving ’cause my ideal world would be to live in Colorado. I may end up there one day. There’s so many different paths I can take because we are capable of being virtual.

Hannah: I just love it that within financial planning, you really can find your career path and what really fits you best.

Jennifer: It’s interesting because I actually met, doing this virtual paraplanning thing, I met a lot of people doing this and networking within this world. There’s a lot of people who really enjoy doing financial planning but they don’t enjoy being client facing. This is kind of a perfect job for those types of people. They really enjoy the analysis and putting things together, making things look good but when it comes to actually presenting it, they don’t really want to do that. They don’t really want to interact with clients.

I think there’s a lot more people out there that are like that than they realize in the industry but traditionally it’s always been, “Oh, you have to go through this whole traditional path where you’re doing the background stuff and then eventually you’re going to be expected to be client facing because we want you to bring in more clients.”

A lot of people have found that they can do the background planning without having to be pressured in to being client facing by doing this virtual paraplanning stuff.

Hannah: Like you said, if that’s where you want stay, that’s great but you could also advance if you wanted to do something different later. What I love about your career path or your … maybe not a career path, whatever phrase that is, is that you just keep learning and evolving as a professional. That’s really exciting.

Jennifer: It’s interesting ’cause I … when I fully explain the path I’ve taken, everyone thinks it’s so crazy but if you really think about it, it’s actually pretty close to the traditional path but it was just much faster and it’s done virtually. That’s not to say … there are a lot of people who are doing this virtual paraplanning thinking that that’s what they want to do. They want to be virtual paraplanners, they don’t want to be client facing, they want to do the background stuff.

I’ve kind of taken … I started as the background person and I kind of worked my way up like you would in a traditional firm. There’s a lot of different paths you can take in this industry and I think it’s … it’s just so exciting to see how things have changed, even since I graduated three years ago because I didn’t think this was possible when I graduated and there are so many more things that are possible now and it’s just really exciting to watch.

Hannah: Lets kind of switch gears a little bit and talk about working from home.

Jennifer: Okay.

Hannah: As somebody who does work a lot from home, what are you tips on making that work out well for you because I know a lot of people really struggle with that.

Jennifer: For me, and this isn’t something I’m always successful with, but I will say having kind of a schedule does really help. For me, I actually realized over the past couple months, ’cause I actually just moved out of a family member’s house into my own place and that’s when I really needed a schedule because I’m now living by myself and working mostly from home.

I figured out a morning schedule that helps me get my mind right. That’s really helped. I do say … I did join an office space last month. I worked from home of are year and a half but I was living with other people when I did that so it was very easy for me because I would be in my own head all day and then my family would come home and I’d interact with them and I’d have my social time.

Now that I live by myself, I have to find somewhere else to work because I’m just a social person so I needed a space to talk to other people. I guess another thing would be making sure that your office space has its own space.

In my apartment now, I originally had my desk towards the center of my living room, then I realized when I sat down on my couch and wanted to look out my window, which looks out on forest, I couldn’t see my forest because my desk was in the way and I could relax and watch TV because my desk was in the way and I was constantly thinking about work.

I actually shifted it over to the corner of my living room now and now it feels like I have a designated office space and when I walk out of the space and go sit on my couch, I don’t have to think about work anymore. I would say that another thing working from home that I found helpful.

Hannah: Isn’t that just a great analogy on life?

Jennifer: Yes.

Hannah: That’s great. What advice would you have to the person listening or maybe to yourself when you first graduated college?

Jennifer: That’s a hard one. I’ve actually thought about this a lot. Anything is possible and I didn’t realize that. I guess the advice to keep an open mind and anything is possible. Whenever I was in school, I was under the impression just ’cause of the nature of the business back then, which was only three years ago, that you could only work with retirees that had a ton of money, because I was searching and I kept an open mind and I networked with other people, I found this other world where we work with 30-year-olds and I do it from my home.

Just keeping an open mind is a big … I think, have been advice I would have given myself.

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Audio updated on 01/24/2018 (Thanks Stacy!)

Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner and operations consultant - and is thriving in her role! Jen Pritchard had no idea that virtual paraplanning work was an option until she graduated college. Now, three years later, she works as a successful, full-time virtual paraplanner – and is thriving!
So many financial planning students (and planners who have been in the industry for a while) don’t consider their virtual options when planning their career. But, as the world gets more connected and we consistently work toward a place where work/life balance is viewed as more important, virtual options are becoming more available.
In this episode, Jen dives into the ins and outs of virtual planning, how to build a strong relationship with virtual clients, and how to construct best practices and operation processes as a virtual company.

“For me, it’s been the best thing I could’ve done. I had a really hard time when I first got started in the industry finding my place. I was really lucky that I fell in with these advisors, and I was able to test the waters. If you’re not sure where you want to go in the industry, it’s a really good way to find out what you enjoy doing.”

What You’ll Learn:

How to build virtual business processes.
How to map out a communication plan for virtual advisors and employees.
How to grow strong relationships with virtual clients.
How to transition to working with virtual employees if you’re currently an in-person firm.
What virtual paraplanning can bring to your financial planning practice.

Texas Tech University – Personal Financial Planning
Simply Paraplanner
Simply Paraplanner on Facebook
XYPN Radio VIP Community
FPA Activate Facebook Group

Click here to find out more about NexGen Gathering 2018! FPA Members can register here.

Audio updated on 01/24/2018 (Thanks Stacy!)
Hannah Moore clean
Defining Success as a Business Owner Tue, 16 Jan 2018 19:12:55 +0000 0 Chloé Moore has always known financial planning was for her. This episode will provide many valuable insights into how you can develop a career that helps you achieve your unique vision and definition of success. Chloé Moore has an amazing career within the financial planning profession and always known that planning was where she wanted to be. She launched her own RIA, Financial Staples, to start putting more of a focus on providing financial planning for people her own age who need financial planning. Chloé describes her clients as young professionals who are doing amazing things in their careers, getting out of debt, and growing their wealth.

Chloé understands that her clients are going through many changes in their young lives, and she prides herself in meeting them where they are and working with them every step of the way through her high touch service model. In her first year, Chloé grew her RIA to 18 clients – which is incredible.

Unlike many new advisors, Chloé has built her practice to fit her lifestyle. She enjoys travelling, cooking, spending time with her family and friends and volunteering. To meet her ideal work/life balance, she’s decided to monitor and limit her firm’s growth to ensure she’s growing in ways that fit her definition of success. This concept isn’t one you hear planners talking about, but it’s so important!

Chloé isn’t only a rockstar financial planner with a successful firm, she also runs a consulting business in tandem with her planning practice. She knows that operations is her strong suit, and because she’s passionate about it, she founded C-Level Consultants. This consulting firm serves financial planners exclusively, and helps guide them to a more organized, streamlined operation of their firm.

It’s no doubt that Chloé has found exactly where she fits in the financial planning community and is thriving there. This episode will provide many valuable insights, both into launching your own RIA and tailoring it to fit the life you want, and into creating a successful side hustle that helps to give back to the profession.

hannah's signature

“With what we do, we’re really able to help someone. Really change the path of their life.”

What You’ll Learn:

  • What a year of financial planning services looks like for younger clients
  • How to decide what growth means to you.
  • How to define success as a business owner.
  • Different ways to approach your marketing.
  • How you can run a successful secondary business alongside your RIA.
  • When to take a deeper look at the services you provide, and whether or not you’re happy with your business.

C-Level Consultants

Financial Staples

NAPFA – The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

XY Planning Network

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Financial Planning Association®

CFP Board

40 Under 40 Investment News


Show Transcript

Ep81 Transcript

Hannah:               Thanks for joining us today, Chloé.

Chloé:                   Thank you for having me.

Hannah:               Can you tell the listeners a little bit about how you spend your time these days with your businesses and consulting work?

Chloé:                   Sure. I have two businesses. The first one is C-Level Consultants. I work with other financial advisors and financial advisory firms as an outsourced financial planner or operations consultant. I do that I’d say probably about 30 to 40% of my time right now. Then I also have my RA which is Financial Staples. I work primarily with young professionals anywhere from their late 20s to late 40s, and so that’s my second business.

Hannah:               We’ll talk a little bit more about how you’re running your practice right now and the services that you’re providing to your clients. But, I’d like to talk a little bit about how you got into financial planning. How did you get into this industry or profession?

Chloé:                   I went to University of Alabama Roll Tide.

Hannah:               Congratulations, by the way.

Chloé:                   Thank you. I majored in financial planning there. I started originally as an athletic training major, and I quickly realized that I was much better with numbers, and logic, and reasoning than I was with memorizing anatomy and biology and all those things. I switched to financial planning because one of my counselors was actually a financial planner, and I never even knew that career existed. I learned about it through her and so as soon as I got into my first class, I was immediately intrigued and I knew that this was what I was meant to do. Once I graduate from there, I started working with the firm in Baton Rouge and started financial planning there as an associate advisor. I was there for a couple of years. Then I moved to Birmingham and worked for another small firm. Then I moved to Atlanta and I’ve been here for the last 10 years.

Hannah:               First of all, how did you find those jobs?

Chloé:                   I found the job in Baton Rouge through my counselor. She had connections with a lot of different firms locally like in Alabama and then just in the Southeastern area. They encouraged us to go and do research and look for firms of just in whatever areas we wanted to live. I contacted a lot of firms and just went in and ask them if they had open positions. I sent them my resume, some samples of my work. I was very much proactive in finding firms and just trying to get myself out there. I did some interviews in Nashville, in Baton Rouge and Birmingham, all over. I landed my job in Baton Rouge.

Hannah:               With your firms, did you find that they weren’t really doing financial planning or was it more of an investment centric company?

Chloé:                   I’ve been very lucky in the sense that every firm I’ve worked for, they’ve always done financial planning and that was the center of what we did for our clients. Investment management was secondary. For every firm I’ve worked with, we also charged separately for financial planning services. That’s probably something that’s a little bit unique about my experience.

Hannah:               When you are in Atlanta, what were … See, now I’m stumbling over my words. When you moved to Atlanta, what was your job there?

Chloé:                   I worked with a trust company. They were a Southeastern-based trust company. Their headquarters were in Memphis, Tennessee. Then they also have offices in Nashville and Atlanta. Yeah, I was a financial planner there. We’ve provided financial planning services and then investment management services and also trustee services so we could service trustee, or co-trustee, or executor.

Hannah:               I think the trustee path is such an interesting way for people to get into the business. For people listening who don’t really understand what a trust company is, what is a trust company and what’s unique about that role versus where you were at other firms?

Chloé:                   With the trust company, I got to learn a lot more about trust administration and trust accounting, which is something that typically you don’t learn a lot about, especially with the CFP program. It was definitely a different experience. Overall, we also worked with larger clients. A lot of our clients had taxable estates. That was just another level of planning that a lot of people just don’t typically get experience in working with tax planning and estate planning for 10 million plus clients. That was definitely a different aspect of it. Then even on the investment side, there’s a lot more opportunities once you have at least a million plus in investment assets. There’s different opportunities that you can tap into there. We did some private equity. We actually had our own private equity funds at the trust company. There’s opportunities to do private real estate, private debt and some other investments that the traditional advisor just doesn’t typically delve into.

Hannah:               How long were you there at the trust company?

Chloé:                   I was there for seven years.

Hannah:               Did you go from your trust company or to the consulting work and starting your own firm?

Chloé:                   Yes. Yes, I left there in 2014. I started doing consulting work immediately after that. I was consulting for two years before I started my RA.

Hannah:               When you’re at the trust company, what prompted you to want to leave?

Chloé:                   There are a few things. The major reason is just that I was really burned out on working with clients who were in the ultra high net worth space. I just really wanted to work with clients who are more like myself. I think one of the things about our industry is that we tell people, “Go figure it out yourself. Get rich and come back to me when you have a million dollars.” That’s not something that everybody is able to do on their own. Then people make a lot of mistakes along the way. I see that just with our generation we have a lot of bright people who are doing great things in their careers. They’re making good money and they just really need guidance. That’s where I wanted to have an impact on the front end and at the beginning of people’s careers instead of on the backend.

Hannah:               As you’re thinking through this and you’re working at the trust company, what were people’s response to that idea of serving your peers?

Chloé:                   I didn’t really talk about it. It wasn’t something that we did there. We did work with clients or children of the clients, and so that was something that we did. But typically they were inheriting millions of dollars and so it was a situation where it was just easy to take over that relationship. We dealt with a lot of people who were beneficiaries and trust. It was a different type of situation as far as working with my next gen clients.

Hannah:               You left the trust company and started consulting. When you left the trust company, did you know that you wanted to start your own firm?

Chloé:                   I didn’t. I actually didn’t think it was possible at the time. It was just 2014 so it wasn’t that long ago. I knew I didn’t want to manage investments. I’ve always been a planner at heart. I truly love planning and investments has never been something that I was interested in or it’s never been a strong suit of mine. I really thought that I couldn’t start a firm unless I was managing assets. It took a little while for me to see other people who are out there being successful without managing assets for me to realize that I could start my own firm and be successful as well.

Hannah:               You left and then was your goal after you left the trust company just to start a consulting firm for other financial planners?

Chloé:                   Yeah, I thought I was just going to do that for the rest of my career is to be able to help other advisors whether it’s helping them with actually doing the financial planning work or figuring out other financial planning services that they should offer, looking at technology, figuring out efficient leads in their business. I really thought that was what I was going to focus on, but I was still in that high net worth space working with the advisors that I was working with. I just really wanted to get away from that space. Then I saw that, like I said, having a financial planning firm and not managing assets was possible. That really led me down the path of starting my own firm.

Hannah:               What’s so exciting to me about your story is how quickly things can change.

Chloé:                   Yeah, definitely.

Hannah:               And how important those years of just being like, “If only this was possible.” How important that is to really know what your final direction.

Chloé:                   Yeah. I’ve realized, too, just being on my own even the first year, I did so many networking events and I got so much more involved in FPA. We have a local estate planning council and just some of the local groups here. I really got out there a lot more. You just realize that you’re in a bubble when you work with a company. Again, you don’t know what else is out there. That was something that just opened my eyes just being on my own and being able to speak with other people and just see what the possibilities were.

Hannah:               You decide to start your own firm. What does that process look like?

Chloé:                   Well, operations is a strength of mine and processes as well. I’m very organized when it comes to anything. When I started my firm, the first thing I did was I made my checklist of all the things I needed to do. I really wanted to hone in on my target audience, what types of services I wanted to provide and how I was going to charge for those services. Just coming from the high net worth space, we’re very much comprehensive in what we did. We’re very much involved with our clients. They’re CPAs. They’re attorneys. We did a lot of handholding. I knew that I wanted to have that level of service and bring it to younger clients, but also had to account for the fact that on the revenue side I wouldn’t make as much per client. I really had to think through that and just think about my structure for my business. That was the foundation of it. Then from there, just all the pieces came together.

Hannah:               Who is your ideal client?

Chloé:                   My ideal client, I don’t have a specific profession that I work with, but my ideal client is typically in their late 20s to late 30s. They’re at the point in their career where they’re just now getting a good paying job or they’ve just gotten their first significant raise. They might be single or just getting married and starting their life together. I’ve really want to help them at that point before lifestyle creep gets out of control and just before they started making any huge mistakes. I want to help them set the foundation and get their budget together and figure out where should I save and how should I save and what things do I need in place to set me on a path for long-term success?

Hannah:               Do most of your clients, are they at six figure incomes or are they … What’s the general income level of your clients?

Chloé:                   Most of my clients are at six figure income level. I’d say they make at least a hundred, 250,000 a year at a minimum. A lot of them fall into this space where … There’s really two categories. They fall into the space where they have some complex benefits so they might have stock options or restricted stock. I have some people who work at tech companies or corporations where they’re at a level where they’re receiving some of those types of benefits in addition to having high income and they’re fairly young and they don’t know what to do with those things.

Then I also have clients who are small business owners. They’re making pretty good revenue in their business and they need to get a better understanding of how to run their business and how to just manage their tax liabilities and those types of things.

Hannah:               Do you help them with running their business as well like business coaching or …

Chloé:                   To a certain extent I do. Yeah. Because their businesses are all over the place, I guess I don’t have a specific profession that I work in. Within any business, there’s some fundamental things that you need to have in place. Because I am strong on the operations and the process side and just the organization structure of the business. I can help clients with that and I also have people that I refer clients to whether they need help with marketing or just different aspects of their business. I have good relationships with all types of what I call allied professionals that I help clients with. I help them develop a team of advisors that we can all kind of work together to help that client get to where they want to be.

Hannah:               Oh, that’s great. Well, it’s so much … You’re adding value at multiple levels.

Chloé:                   That’s the goal.

Hannah:               How do you charge your clients if you’re not charging AUM?

Chloé:                   I have two services. The first one is the comprehensive service. For that service, it’s a long-term relationship. I try to stress that it is a long-term relationship and it’s an ongoing thing. Financial planning is more of a process. It’s not a product or a one-time thing. For those relationships, I charge an annual fee and it’s based on income, net worth and complexity. For individuals, it starts at 4,200 a year. Then for couples and business owners, it starts at 6,600 a year and that’s billed either monthly or quarterly just depending on their preference. Then the other service that I provide is hourly and so for those clients, it’s more of just a project. If they have just a couple of things that they need, questions they need answered or they want to do just a neat project that’s centered around a couple of topics, then we’ll just do an hourly rate, which is my hourly rate is 250. Then I’ll just estimate the time that it’ll take to work on that project.

Hannah:               With the comprehensive services, well, obviously, people have been willing to pay that price. Have you had any pushback like that it’s too high, or too low, or what’s been your feedback about that?

Chloé:                   Yeah. Actually I just increased my prices this year.

Hannah:               Good for you. That’s awesome.

Chloé:                   I’m just starting out at this higher price level. Before, my minimum was 3,000. I went up by $1,200 a year. I have had a little bit of pushback from some clients. I truly just don’t feel like those are the clients for me. I’m looking for clients who really value a long-term relationship with an advisor, and I also value the idea of outsourcing and having someone else, relying on someone else’s expertise. If a client is more of a do-it-yourselfer or they just want a second opinion, then I’m typically not the advisor for them. My clients, they’re busy with whatever they’re doing, whatever their positions or they’re executives. They really want to focus on their job and what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about and they want to rely on me to help them with the financial decisions.

Hannah:               When you start your own firm and you put it out into the world, did you get traction right away?

Chloé:                   It took a couple of months I’d say. I officially launched in November of 2016. I’d say by that January I started to receive a lot of prospect calls and prospect meeting. It took a little while to get myself out there. I’d say a year, a good year into it now, it’s definitely more steady. I feel like I’ve set a good foundation to where I’m receiving a lot of steady prospects.

Hannah:               Is it just you or do you have a team behind you?

Chloé:                   No, right now it’s just me. I do plan to … This year, one of my goals is to get some consistent help. I’ve had people help me along the way, just pieces here and there. I just hired someone to help me with my content marketing, and so my goal is to definitely get someone to help me with administrative things and also get someone to help me with some of the planning aspects.

Hannah:               How many clients do you have now?

Chloé:                   I have 18 clients right now.

Hannah:               That’s really impressive in a year, just a little over a year.

Chloé:                   Thank you.

Hannah:               That’s great. Where do you see your firm growing? Do you want to cap it or do you want to have it go as many clients as you can serve?

Chloé:                   Yeah, I definitely want to cap it. That’s something else that I thought about in the very beginning. I feel like when you’re starting a business, you need to have in mind how you want it to end because it can get away from you and you’ll find yourself 10 years down the road doing something that you don’t want to do or you’re not happy in your business and your business is running your life. I’ve seen that happen so many times. I knew going into it that I needed to have a good vision of where I wanted to be long term.

For me, I wanted to make sure that I had time to spend with family and friends and to travel and most importantly to volunteer. I’m going to help other people. In order to do that and to live the life that I wanted to live, I knew that I needed to keep my business small. My plan is to cap it and probably I’m hoping 35 to 40 clients. If I can get 35 to 40 comprehensive clients that are long-term relationships and recurring revenue, then that’s the plan is to cap it there. That will give me the income that I would like to have and it would also give me the opportunity to take more time to do more pro bono work and even some discounted work for lower income people and just find a way to serve that market as well.

Hannah:               Oh, I love that so much. One of the questions I think all advisors have to ask is how much is enough.

Chloé:                   Exactly.

Hannah:               I love that you’re answering that. This is what’s enough.

Chloé:                   I know people who they just want to make as much money as possible or they have some crazy goal for making the certain amount of money at least one time in their career or just at some point. I’ve never had a goal of making some astronomical amount of money. I know what is comfortable for me and what will allow me to live what I feel is a good life and allow me to help others. That’s really what’s important to me. I feel like even when I hear people say that they want to make a certain amount of money or they want to grow their business to some level, my question is always why? There has to be a why behind it. A lot of people just don’t think about that. They don’t think about why do I want this. Is it really something that I want? I think if people would dig into that a little bit more, the answer might be a little different. They might be on a different path.

Hannah:               When you run a business, you have so many different hats and you’re the financial planner and then you’re the business owner and the marketer and everything like that. How have you found balancing all of those roles?

Chloé:                   That’s something that I still struggle with a little bit, especially in the beginning you have so many clients who are the onboarding part of the process and onboarding is definitely the most time-consuming than it is when you’re three or five years or 10 years into the relationship when things are a little smoother. Yes, I still struggle with that a little bit. I think the best thing there is having good processes in place, having good technology that you can leverage. Those things are definitely helpful and I try as much as I can to document what I’m doing to track my progress with my clients and with my business. I think that helps me to stay on track as much as possible.

Hannah:               One of the things I hear, especially from new planners, is that they don’t want to be in just a sales role. As a business owner, there is an element of sales in the marketing to what you’re doing. Have you found it to work well with what you’re doing?

Chloé:                   I don’t think of it as sales in this sleazy sense. Most people coming out of school, they’re probably … The opportunities that are available or that they’re considering might be where they’re selling a product and not necessarily selling a service. For me, I think of it more as selling myself and selling my service. I enjoy it. I enjoy speaking with prospects and just hearing people’s stories, learning about their lives and just seeing how I can help people.

Hannah:               On your marketing, have you been doing mostly online marketing? Are you doing it in person?

Chloé:                   I’d say a large percentage of my referrals have come online. I have profiles on NAPFA’s website, XY Planning Network. I’m a member of FPA and then the CFP where I have a profile in there. People go to those sites when they’re searching for financial advisors, specifically NAPFA because they’re looking for fee-only advisors and fiduciaries. I get a lot of traffic through NAPFA and XYPN. Then I’d say the second tier is probably referrals from other professionals. Because I don’t manage assets, I’ve aligned myself with advisors who only do investment management and they’re not planners and they have no interest in planning. That’s been very helpful for me because there’s no conflict there. I can refer business to them. They can refer business to me. That’s been very helpful and then the traditional CPAs, attorneys, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, just people like that.

Hannah:               Other investment professionals are referring you clients for financial planning.

Chloé:                   Yes.

Hannah:               That’s really interesting but it makes a lot of sense.

Chloé:                   It works well because, like I said, I never wanted to manage investments so I can partner up with an advisor who that’s all they do is manage investments and they don’t want to do planning. It works out really well. We can both do it what we enjoy doing and help the client.

Hannah:               One of the things when you go to your website, Financial Staples, which everybody should go to, hey, first of all, the name. Can we talk about how did you get Financial Staples?

Chloé:                   I love to cook. I am passionate about cooking. I love food. I love to eat. When I’m cooking in my kitchen, I always try to make sure I have what I call my staples. That way, I can pretty much make any meal and I can whip up a meal pretty quickly if I have my staples. I was thinking about the concept of how can I merge my love of food and my love of cooking with finance. I think if you have your staples, which are your good financial habits and then if you have a recipe, which is a financial plan, then you can really make anything happen.

Hannah:               What I love is how you integrated, like you were saying, your passion for cooking with your passion for financial planning. Let’s talk about how you service your clients. What does a client experience look like?

Chloé:                   The first year is a little bit different from the years to follow. For the first year, we’re really just setting the foundation and getting the plan in place. We have a series of meetings. I always start out with what I call a discovery meeting. With that meeting, we don’t talk about any money, anything financial. I typically don’t even ask for documents ahead of time. We really just sit and have a conversation. I learned about their family history, just how they grew up, their memories of money, how they define success, just what they’re passionate about, how they want to live their life. I really just dig in to who they are. Then also what they want to accomplish long term. That sets the foundation and it really just helps us to get to know each other. It builds the relationship. That’s the first step.

Then after that, then that’s when I start to gather all of the information. I’ll set them up. I use eMoney and so I’ll set them up with a client website. Then I’ll give them the documents, the list of documents that I’ll need. We’ll start gathering all of the information. Then from there, once I have that information, I’ll pull together a basic network statement and cashflow and make sure that we have those things, I would have everything accounted for and that I have a good understanding of where they are right now. We’ll have another meeting just for data validation and just making sure that we’ve captured everything. We’ve captured all of their goals. Then from there, I’ll build a plan out. We’ll have a plan delivery meeting. We’ll talk about all the aspects of their financial planning whether it’s taxes, insurance, investments, budgeting, cash flow, retirement planning, estate planning. We’ll just look at everything.

From there, what I’ll do is I’ll start prioritizing all of their action items. We’ll try to work on maybe two or three at a time so it’s a lot easier to swallow. Once we’ve completed the plan, we’ve confirmed that everything is accurate and then we’ll just go from there as far as knocking out the action items. On the implementation side, I’m definitely hands on, like I said, before. Let’s say they need a will. I’ll introduce them to an estate planning attorney if they need an introduction. I’ll actually help them with the process of helping provide any documents that they need or helping them think through some of those things ahead of time. As far as what their wishes are, I’ll review the drafts with them. In some cases, I’ll summarize or diagram how everything looks. I’ll make sure that everything really matches with what they want and using my knowledge of their overall picture. I’ll just work with them on that and work with the attorney as a team.

I’m very hands on with what I do and same thing with tax claiming and CPAs and insurance planning. I don’t just send them off and say, “Hey, go talk to this person and get this done and come back to me when you’re finished.” I’ve seen that happen. In some cases, that doesn’t work out very well. I definitely try to make sure I’m very much involved in the process.

Hannah:               In that first year, how many times are you meeting with the client do you think?

Chloé:                   It could be anywhere from four to six times of that first year. We’re definitely meeting more frequently. Like I said, it’s really just setting the foundation for the future years.

Hannah:               After that first year, what does a client experience look like?

Chloé:                   After the first year, then I just have things throughout the year that I do for clients. It’s just based on a calendar year but we’ll pick up wherever they are in the process. The beginning of the year, I try to focus on … At the beginning of the year and mid year, we typically look at their net worth statement and their cash flow and compare last year to this year and see what progress they made and really set some goals for the next year as far as what they want to accomplish with their savings or with paying down debt or even if they have some other action items that they need to complete, we’ll just set goals there, some things like planning for a house or a new baby or anything like that.

We’ll establish that at the beginning of the year and then we’ll have a mid year check in to check on their progress. At the beginning of the year, we focus on tax planning and in the spring we’ll look at their investments, see if there’s any rebalancing that needs to be done there. The summertime I try to focus on estate planning and insurance planning and just reviewing what they have in place. Making sure they’re still on track there. In the fall, we look at their investments again and rebalance. I call it cybersecurity check. Check their credit and make sure that there’s nothing out of line there. We’ll look at employee benefits. I just have things that I do for them throughout the year and then of course if they have any concerns or any changes that happen in their life, they can contact me and we’ll plan around those things as well.

Hannah:               Are you contacting them every time? Are they having to do work every time for every one of these items every year?

Chloé:                   In some cases, I will contact them. I might give them little homework assignments here and there or it could just be simple as, hey, I want to review your insurance. Can you upload your new statements? It could just be something as simple as them providing me with information or there could be some homework assignments there.

Hannah:               Do you find that people are really good about staying on top of that?

Chloé:                   I try to meet clients where they are and make sure that … I know some clients they want a comprehensive list and they can knock it out and they’re very much proactive with those things and I have some clients who we have to give them step by step and maybe one or two things to work on at a time. It really just depends on the personality of the client and how they work best. That’s something else that I try to establish, too, in our discovery meeting just how they best receive information, how they want to work together and then at the one year mark, I’ll definitely check in and see what worked in the past year and what can we do to improve our relationship going forward.

Hannah:               I think that’s so important. What’s so exciting about boutique firms is you really can customize them per client.

Chloé:                   Yeah, definitely.

Hannah:               Do you have those things noted in your CRM or is it you just know the client?

Chloé:                   I try to know as much as I can. It is a little funny because I do … It is just me. It’s a little silly sometimes or I feel a little silly over documenting things on CRM. I even have clients who … The best days to meet with them are Wednesday mornings and Thursday mornings. I have that noted in my CRM. If I ever need to call them, I make sure it’s on one of those days or just different things about their schedules or what they’re doing or their preferences. I try to note that as much as possible and even though I’m small and I plan estate small it’s all about setting yourself up to build a scale. I want to know that once I bring on someone to help me, there’s not a huge learning curve. I have so many things documented and in place so they can easily pick up and everything is just not in my head.

Hannah:               I know that you’re really passionate about financial planning and this may sound like maybe a trite question but why financial planning?

Chloé:                   I feel like financial planning is one of the few professions where you can truly have a drastic impact on someone’s life. I just think what we do is so important. Some people think of it as a luxury, but I think of it as an expensive necessity. I think everyone needs financial guidance. Everyone needs someone to run things by and just someone to help, be in their corner and help prevent them from making huge mistakes that could be costly or set them back for years. I feel like with what we do, we’re really, really able to help someone really change the path of their life. I’ve seen clients who are in a job that they hate and they’re just not happy. The idea of helping them figure out what they want to do and what they’re passionate about and seeing them change careers and move to a job that makes them so happy, that has a huge impact. Even just simple things just like making sure that they’re taking care of their families and their kids and just having peace around that.

Hannah:               Talking to the new planners who are listening to this, what would be your advice for them?

Chloé:                   The biggest piece of advice is just don’t give up. This is not the easiest industry to get into at times. It takes a little bit of time to find your path whether it’s working for a company or working on your own. I’ve seen so many people who are extremely passionate about this industry and extremely good at what they do leave the industry because they just can’t find the right company or the right opportunity. That really breaks my heart. I’d say just don’t give up and really, really continue to push until you’re able to find a happy place.

Hide Transcript

Chloé Moore has always known financial planning was for her. This episode will provide many valuable insights into how you can develop a career that helps you achieve your unique vision and definition of success. Chloé understands that her clients are going through many changes in their young lives, and she prides herself in meeting them where they are and working with them every step of the way through her high touch service model. In her first year, Chloé grew her RIA to 18 clients – which is incredible.
Unlike many new advisors, Chloé has built her practice to fit her lifestyle. She enjoys travelling, cooking, spending time with her family and friends and volunteering. To meet her ideal work/life balance, she’s decided to monitor and limit her firm’s growth to ensure she’s growing in ways that fit her definition of success. This concept isn’t one you hear planners talking about, but it’s so important!
Chloé isn’t only a rockstar financial planner with a successful firm, she also runs a consulting business in tandem with her planning practice. She knows that operations is her strong suit, and because she’s passionate about it, she founded C-Level Consultants. This consulting firm serves financial planners exclusively, and helps guide them to a more organized, streamlined operation of their firm.
It’s no doubt that Chloé has found exactly where she fits in the financial planning community and is thriving there. This episode will provide many valuable insights, both into launching your own RIA and tailoring it to fit the life you want, and into creating a successful side hustle that helps to give back to the profession.

“With what we do, we’re really able to help someone. Really change the path of their life.”

What You’ll Learn:

What a year of financial planning services looks like for younger clients
How to decide what growth means to you.
How to define success as a business owner.
Different ways to approach your marketing.
How you can run a successful secondary business alongside your RIA.
When to take a deeper look at the services you provide, and whether or not you’re happy with your business.

C-Level Consultants
Financial Staples
NAPFA – The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
XY Planning Network
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Financial Planning Association®
CFP Board
40 Under 40 Investment News
Hannah Moore clean 36:55
Succession Planning & Working with Business Owners Tue, 09 Jan 2018 21:00:17 +0000 0 Josh discusses how he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice that focuses on working with business owners. He also explores the world of succession planning and how both buyers and sellers can come out on top. Studies have shown that working with a niche is an excellent way for financial planners to narrow their focus, define their specialty, and become an expert in helping their unique client base. Josh Patrick, CFP®, has had first hand experience with this as a financial planner whose firm focuses on working with business owners.

In this episode, Josh discusses he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice. He has a simple but effective approach to inspire clients to act and work toward financial freedom. He believes that honesty is key, and helping business owners work toward retirement (rather than perpetually saying they’ll retire without taking action) is a necessary goal.

Josh discusses business owners who are in the “permafive” stage continuously, which plagues many financial planning succession plans. This means that business owners are always thinking how they’ll retire in five years – but don’t actually take the steps needed to make that transition. Josh knows this applies to financial planners looking to retire, as well.

Financial planners who are in a “permafive” situation have often already lined up a buyer for their practice – and it’s usually a junior level financial planner. Josh walks us through how young planners can benefit from buying a practice, and how a planner in that “permafive” cycle can finally break free and act on their ideal succession plan.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode, and anybody who works with business owners, is a financial planning practice owner (or is aspiring to be one) will get a lot out of it!

hannah's signature

It’s much safer selling to a junior planner…Because you’re doing an internal transaction, you can set the deal up so that a) it’s tax friendly to the buyer and b) you can stay in control of the firm until you sell it off.

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to work with business owners
  • How to buy in as a junior level planner
  • How senior advisors can set themselves up for retirement success
  • How succession planning can help both the buyer and the seller
  • How to get business owner clients to act on their financial plans and retirement plans


The Purposeful Planning Institute

Business Enterprise Institute

Exit Planning Institute

The Sustainable Business

Stage 2 Planning Partners


Show Transcript

Ep80 Transcript

Hannah: Yeah, we could just jump in. Sorry, you said that and I’m like, well hell, I’m a business owner. I want to know the answer to that. So maybe we’ll do that, we’ll restart. Okay. So thanks for joining us today Josh.

Josh: My pleasure.

Hannah: Yeah. So you have a passion around figuring out what makes businesses successful. So let’s just start right there, what makes businesses successful today?

Josh: Well, it depends on … I mean, here’s the truth about success. The beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, meaning that what a successful business is to one person would be a giant failure to another. So it really comes down to a personal feeling of what is successful. You obviously have to have a business that brings in enough cash to pay the bills, then enough money left over at the end of the day to pay yourself. So for some people, that’s a successful business. For others, a successful business, “I built my business to 500 people, I get to $100 million sales and I find a great big payday at the end of the road.” And for them, anything less than that would not be successful.

So the first thing is you sort of have to say, what does success mean for me? I mean, the obvious thing is obviously you have to have enough cash come in the door to pay the bills and have a reasonable lifestyle. I would say that the vast majority of people who own privately held businesses fall into that group, not the $100 million and 500 employee group. I’ll just give you some statistics to actually back this up. There’s 28 million businesses in the United States. Only 6 million have employees. That means 22 million businesses are solos. No employees, just the business owner by themselves. That entire group has, by definition will not have a business that’s saleable. You cannot have a saleable business until you have employees, so that really brings us down to the 6 million. And of that group, only 300 thousand do more than $5 million in sales and only 150 thousand businesses do more than $10 million in sales.

So the numbers get really small really fast for what is a, probably what people would think of traditionally as a successful business. Does that make sense?


Now I actually help most of the people I work with create a sustainable business, and among that is retirement planning. We do have a process we call ‘The Financial Freedom Project,’ which is part of our work we do with private business owners, because at the end of the day you have to become financially independent. And if you don’t, you’re really limiting your choice for what you can do as you age out of a business. And aging out can mean many things for many people.

Hannah: Yeah see, you really pair your financial planning practice almost with being a business coach essentially. Would you say that’s true?

Josh: I would say that is absolutely true, although I think of myself more of a thinking partner than a business coach. You know Susan Bradley, and that’s her term, and I’ve loved it and I’ve basically co-opted it for myself.

Hannah: And so your clients, do they really respond to that idea of a thinking partner?

Josh: They do. When I use that term it resonates way more than a coach. I think people are sick of coaches. And I don’t think they should be, but I think they are. And the reason is, is someone thinks of a coach as someone who’s telling them what to do. I think the right thing is, I talk about this a lot, which is collaboration. And I work a lot on the topic of collaboration and work actively with an organization called The Purposeful Planning Institute, which is around collaboration. And my viewpoint is collaboration starts with your client, because if you’re not collaborating with your client, what the heck are you doing? And the problem being a coach is coaches really are not very collaborative. They more or less tell you what you should do, and then they yell at you if you don’t do it, and that’s not my style.

My style is to help you discover what’s important for you and develop strategies that you’re willing to do. And that’s a big deal is that I work with most of my clients who are over 50 years old. Somebody over 50 years old is likely not going to make a radical change in how they live their life. They are more likely to make changes around the edges, and it’s my job to help them figure out how they can make those changes around the edges and still have extraordinary results in the business. And a thinking partner is better to do that than a coach.

Hannah: So you have terms like financial coaches becoming a bigger term. What-

Josh: Yeah, what does a financial coach do?

Hannah: That’s the question. What does a financial coach, is it just a marketing term or …

Josh: Well to me, it’s not a positive term. A financial coach means to me someone’s going to come in and tell me I need to spend less money. And although that sometimes is something you have to do, in my experience it’s rare. If you think about your business, this is especially true for business owners but it’s also true for regular employees. If you’re going to be a good financial coach and you’re not an expert in the industry your client works in to help them learn how to make more money, you’re not doing a very good job as a financial coach. And the reason is, what’s the most valuable asset an individual has?

Hannah: Yeah, it’s their ability to earn money.

Josh: Right. And how many financial planners do you know that actually work with people on how to earn more money?

Hannah: Yeah.

Josh: I mean, for example if you’re working with an employee at Intel, an engineer at Intel, well, when is it time for them to leave Intel and go someplace else? How can they get their LinkedIn profile put in place so people think they’re worth more money than they are? These are all questions that financial planners in my opinion who are working with employees need to be answering, and the sad thing is they mostly don’t. Same thing is true with business owners. Instead of saying, “Gee, you need to spend less money,” “What can we do to help your business make more money? Do you have a good niche established for example?” I mean, any private business, whether it’s a solopreneur or just a few employees, if they say their answer in their market segment is everybody, that means nobody. That’s one of my favorite sayings about niches.

So instead, if I’m doing a good job as a ‘”coach,” I’m going to work with that business owner to say okay, who are the people that you most enjoy working with? Who are the people who are the easiest to make a lot of money with? And who are the ones that are most profitable? And then we look for the intersections of that and we say, “That’s your niche, and you should say no to everybody else.” Now, financial planners, just to use them as an example, have a really difficult time saying no to anybody that wants to invest with them. Well the truth is, when you’re saying yes to everybody, nobody really knows who you are. If you say no to everybody except people in your niche, the people who aren’t in your niche won’t know who you are but you don’t care about that. You only care that the people who are in your niche know that you’re the guy they should be going to or gal they should be going to. Person, how’s that.

Hannah: Yeah, I love that marketing perspective. We’ve been working on getting that narrowed down in our business right now as well, and it just focuses everything.

Josh: Yeah well, I mean, all businesses … Yeah, I mean, I only work with privately held business owners. If you don’t own a business, you’re not working with me. It’s not because I don’t like you, it’s just because I have to learn all these things I’m really not interested in learning about your business or about your life, and my peeps are business owners. I’m very blunt, I’m very … I tell you exactly what I think, there’s nothing that’s a secret about me, and that sort of approach works better with private business owners works better with private business owners than just about anybody I work with. So that’s where I go, and that’s where you should go with your business.

Hannah: So when you’re working with business owners, what are the unique things that business owners face that the average client for a financial planner doesn’t face?

Josh: Well, there’s three things. The first thing is the value of their business, and when I listen to financial planners in general do presentations, how they plan for business owners, I cringe. And I really believe that if you’re going to work with private business owners, you need some technical skill around how to value businesses and how to build business value. Because those are the two issues that business owners get wrong, and as a result have a false sense of feeling good about their financial future. Let me give you an example. Let’s say there’s a business out there who’s living on $150,000 a year and their business has a pretax profit of $200,000. And the business owner might say, “Gee, my business is worth $3 million.” Well, it’s not worth $3 million, that I can tell you, but most financial planners will say, “Oh, okay,” and they put $3 million down in the financial assets.

But what they don’t do … First of all, it’s not worth $3 million. It’s probably worth between $600,000 and $1 million if the business is even saleable, and most financial planners have no idea whether a business is saleable or not. And that’s where you get into the sustainable part of a business, not the successful start. So let’s say the business is worth $1 million. Well, it’s not really worth $1 million because you’re going to have to pay taxes and fees before you get to spend the money. So after taxes and fees, if we’re lucky we’re left with $600,000, and if we’re going to be aggressive we can spend 4% of that which gives us $24,000. Well that $24,000 is a long way from $150,000.

And most financial planners will miss that 100%. At $3 million with no taxes and fees, it looks like you’ve got $120,000 to spend. Well, financial planners will either close up the plan and say, “Hey, you’re in good shape, keep going, put a little money in your 401(k).” The truth is, that business owner is a long way from being financially independent. And a good financial planner will know that if they work with privately held businesses. Now, my niche is there, so I have a specialty in that. I don’t expect the standard financial planner off the street to get that, but I would expect the standard financial planner off the street to say, “You know, this is not my specialty, let’s get a business specialist in here so we can get the right numbers.”

And by the way, there’s tremendous opportunity with business owners because they often have excess cash while they’re running their business. And I call that pre-funding the buyout of my business. I use retirement plans for that. So if you’re going to work with privately held business owners, one of the things you need to do is you need to be an absolute expert on how to use qualified plans to help your client get to retirement, and I am. I mean, I can talk to you ad nauseam about different retirement plans and how they should be used in the appropriate manner depending on the size and the type of the business it is.

Hannah: So you had said three things that make working with business owners unique. The value of their business, what are the other two? Or did I miss, were they in there?

Josh: Yup. Doing a business owner’s financial plan, meaning when you do the financial plan you have to realize that business owners generally live their life in a pretax manner. The first is the value of the business, the second is doing the plan itself which is making sure you track expenses the business owner has accurately. So if a business owner says, “Look, I spend $75,000 a year,” they really spend most likely $125,000 a year because they’re burying a lot of personal expenses on a pretax manner in their business, meaning they make it deductible. When they sell their business, they’re no longer going to have that pretaxability, so you need to adjust that in the plan.

And then the third piece is, once you figure out a business owner is not going to make it to retirement or financial freedom with what they’re doing, what can they do in their business to make life better? And that’s where the business coaching partner or the business thinking partner comes into play. And in our ‘Financial Freedom Project,’ the third piece is if you’re not able to be financially free, let’s put a strategy together for you to do so. We don’t do the coaching to implement the strategy, but we help people identify the strategy. Now, I do coaching with some few people, but it’s very expensive.

Hannah: So I think that’s a really, I’ve heard you speak in other places and I’ve really been interested in asking you, so how do you talk about that uncertainty with clients when it’s, they might not be able to reach their goals? How do you approach that?

Josh: Well, because I really am not very subtle, I just tell them. So … I say, “I hate to tell you, but what you think is true is not true and here’s why.” Now, I have a tool I use to do this with, and I usually get this out of the way right up front. It’s called the four boxes of financial independence, and in there is a business qualified retirement plans, investment real estate, and other investments. And I just put what the after tax value is, what the cashflow would come out, and I say, “Well you’re spending $150,000 a year and you’ve got $40,000 in identifiable revenue when you leave your business. We’ve got a little problem here we need to fix.”

I’m a big fan of what I call simplification where I take the complicated and make it simple. Too often in any, if you’re working with anybody who’s really smart, they tend to take the simple and make it complicated. I like to do the opposite, because the folks I’m working with, they’re not financial experts. Most of them can’t even read a cash flow statement. They don’t even know what a cash flow statement is. So if I don’t make them understandable, we’re not going to get action. And understandable is somewhere between a third and a fifth grade level of complexity, meaning that somebody in the third grade to the fifth grade would understand what I’m talking about.

Hannah: And I like that idea of if we can make it simple, then clients can act on it.

Josh: Well, that’s absolutely true. And the truth is, the meaning of your communication is the way it’s received, not what you thought you said. And if you’re speaking in jargon, you’re speaking in a complicated manner, you’re talking about things that are over the comprehension of your client, they’re not going to understand what you’re saying and they’re going to feel dumb and they’re going to resent you. And I don’t think we want to have our clients thinking that way.

Hannah: How do planners help business owners as they move into retirement? Because that’s a really big transition for business owners. What can we do better as financial planners to help them in that transition?

Josh: I’m actually working on this project with Sudden Money right now, and there’s two things which I have discovered in the last year or so. As you know, there’s four stages of transition. The first is anticipation. The problem with working with business owners, and I think this is one of the reasons they don’t plan appropriately, is that business owners are in anticipation of leaving their business for somewhere between five and 20 years. And if someone’s been in anticipation for 10, 15 years about leaving their business, they’re probably going to think they’ve done the planning to leave their business successfully because they’ve thought about it so much. They actually haven’t done anything, but they’ve thought about it.

And this fits in with business owners thinking strategically but not acting strategically, which is a big problem I have. So we have the anticipation stage where they’re anticipating forever, thinking they’ve done planning when they haven’t done any. So that’s one issue that you need to be talking about with a business owner, and actually go through the four stages of transition. So anticipation, ending, passage, new normal, and say, “You know, you’ve probably been in anticipation for a long time. You may think you’ve done all the things that are necessary to do. My bet is you haven’t. Just because you’ve been thinking about it, you’re thinking you’ve done it.”

And most business owners believe it or not are going to be positive about that conversation. And then the second thing we can work with is as business owners go through the transition, 100% of them are going to experience seller’s remorse. And for the last 20 years, I’ve been trying to get people to avoid seller’s remorse, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion I’m not. They’re going to have seller’s remorse. My job is to help them get through that, which is passage. You have a loss. When you sold your business, you have a loss. And before you get to your new normal, you’re going to go through all this passage stuff, and that’s where seller’s remorse lives. So we need tools for helping people to get through the seller’s remorse portion and pop out the other side in the new normal where they have a life that’s satisfying and fulfilling.

And the truth is, business owners, even more than employees of any company, much of their self worth comes from them being a business owner. And when they’re not a business owner anymore, they have a hard time figuring out who they are, and that’s where seller’s remorse comes in and it’s our job to help people think through seller’s remorse and come out the other side. And there’s a bunch of tools that are available for doing that. Doing a bliss list is one thing, what makes you really happy, how do you spend a lot of time doing that versus a couple of hours a month which is what most business owners do before they sell, and after they sell they really haven’t figured out, “Well, how do I take this passion and put a whole bunch of time into it?” And our job is to help them figure that out.

Hannah: It’s so interesting, because I’m hearing you say all this and I’m immediately applying it to succession planning within financial planning and see how so much of this is relevant in that space as well. So would you say that same seller’s remorse is true of financial planners who are selling their firms?

Josh: Oh God yes, of course. Even more, it’s a bigger deal with them than it is with somebody that has 100 employees because their customers are intimate related with them and they feel a real connection, and there’s a lot of guilt around financial planners retiring. In my opinion, and we’re going off a little bit topic here, is this is not the best strategy for young advisors because they’re not going to be able to buy in. But the truth is, most financial advisors don’t have a young advisor waiting in the wings to buy in. So they’re better to do what I call an 80 20, or the wind down strategy. They take their bottom 80% of their clients, find a new home for them, and just keep the top 20% so they go from working five days a week down to one day a week or three days a month or whatever.

It’s an easy way and a good way to leave your business. Now, if I’m a younger advisor and I want to buy in, it’s important for that group of people who are your peeps to understand that the industry dramatically over values wealth management businesses. There’s a valuation firm and an MNA firm, same company, and they basically value businesses as about 2.4 times the revenue. And you should never value a business based on revenue, you should only value a business based on free cash flow because that’s what you pay for the business with. And there’s a risk for the buyer, lots of risk for the buyer, and it’s even more risk for the seller. So if you’re a young advisor and you agree to buy the stock of your senior partner and you’re paying 2.4 times the revenue, you’re actually going to end up paying closer to 3 and a half times the revenue, because if you buy stock you do it with after tax dollars which people don’t remember.

So for example, if you’re in the 40% tax bracket state and federal, now in Texas you’re not but in Vermont you would be, that means that you’re not paying $1 million for business, you’re paying $1 million 8 for the business. So when you factor the cost of taxes in, it becomes unaffordable to buy a business valued that way. So there are other strategies you need to learn. You need to learn how deferred compensation works as a strategy to buy a business, because you make a significant portion of it pretax. Now the seller of the business is to say, “I don’t want to pay ordinary income,” that’s where you need to be thinking about what’s the difference between an average tax rate and a marginal tax rate? And it’s huge.

When you buy a business, you’re using marginal dollars to pay for it because the last dollar you earn is a dollar you have available to pay for the business. But when you’re getting money from the sale of a business, it’s not the last dollar. It’s a first dollar. So if I have a way of deferring all my income while I’m getting deferred comp, there might not be that big of a gap between capital gains and ordinary income. Typically it’s 4 or 5%. And I can raise the price of the business a little bit if I’m using a pretax methodology and I’m saving the seller a huge amount of money. And again, this is basic exit planning 101, but most financial advisors have never been trained in this stuff and they don’t know about it. So if you’re a junior trying to buy out your senior partner, you have to understand the cost of taxes in the transaction and you have to understand the cost of whether you can actually afford to pay for the business and afford to pay yourself.

I’ve consulted, I actually used to be a blogger for The New York Times, and I’ve written a bunch of posts about horrible financial planning firms’ transactions that just went terribly wrong because nobody thought about cash flow. Which is hard to believe from a financial planner, but it’s true.

Hannah: As a financial planner, it’s just assumed that you could sell your practice. There’s … It’s like, “How much is your practice worth?” I don’t know, maybe the conversation right now, the assumptions are-

Josh: It’s the dumbest conversation in the world. “What’s my practice worth?” Well the way businesses are sold, they’re worth what you get paid in cash up front, and that’s 35%. Now again, it’s the same firm that’s now made standard in the financial services business, unless you’re a big big firm, meaning 5, 6, $7 million in revenue, you’re going to be selling your firm for 35% down and you’re going to be holding paper for 65%. Well, that’s about the dumbest way to sell a business that has ever been invented, because what you’ve done is you’ve sold all control of your business, and most of the time these sellers never even bother to get a personal guarantee from the buyer because the buyer doesn’t want to give it to them. Well, then don’t sell the business to them.

Now, I get crazy about this. It drives me nuts. I mean, if you go to a bank and you borrow money, if you went to, there’s a bank called Live Oak that is lending money to people to buy financial service firms. If they’re not getting a personal guarantee they’re being irresponsible as a bank. Well if you’re lending money and you’re holding paper to a buyer and you’re not getting a personal guarantee, you’re being irresponsible to yourself because without a personal guarantee, why would somebody pay you?

And the truth is, for most people in the financial services business should not be thinking about selling about their business, they should be thinking about winding it down. It’s a much safer, much more profitable, much more satisfying way to leave your business on all levels.

Hannah: So I talk to people who, they’re the junior advisor being told that they’re going to buy the business and it’ll be five years away.

Josh: Right. Oh, you just hit my favorite thing. Anytime somebody’s talking about five years, you have to question whether that’s true or not, because what you get into is what’s called permafive. And permafive when a business owner tells me, this triggers anytime I hear this word, anytime a business owner tells me anything is five years away, I immediately think, and they’re going to have to prove to me I’m wrong, I immediately think that they have no idea what needs to happen for whatever it is they want to have happen because they said five years away, but they believe that whatever needs to happen over that five year period will magically appear and will magically implement itself without any work from the owner. So when you say five years away, that junior partner’s likely to hear five years away two years from now and then hear five years away five years from now and hear five years away 10 years from now.

And the reason is, is the senior partner knows they can’t afford to leave, they know there’s something wrong, they don’t know what it is, but it’s magically going to reveal itself over the next five years so they can fix it. And that just doesn’t happen, so that’s where permafive comes in. So anytime, if you’re a junior advisor, you hear “Well I’m going to sell it to you in five years,” don’t believe it.

Hannah: Oh man, so many questions here. So what would be your advice to that junior planner in that situation?

Josh: Well, start educating your senior planner on what the business is really worth and what can be afforded to pay for it. Now, they may decide that “I’m not going to sell to you, I’m going to sell to a third party,” in which case they’re going to get screwed, meaning that they’re going to sell for 35% down and 65% they’re going to hold paper and they’re not going to get paid because people don’t pay earn outs when they can’t afford to. But there’s a belief in the financial services world that everything is going to be rosy and we all live in a land full of unicorns. My experience is that’s not true. I’ve done at least a dozen conversations with business owners in the financial services world who sold to a third party and it went bad.

Now there are some deals that work, so I’m not going to say they all go bad, but enough go bad where you can’t afford to have your business sale go bad. It’s much safer selling to a junior planner. You may not get paid as much or you might be holding more paper, but because you’re doing an internal transaction, you can set the deal up so A, it’s tax friendly to the buyer, and B, you can stay in control of the firm until you’ve been paid off. And you do that by a reclassification of stock where you do voting stock for 1% and nonvoting stock for 99%, you sell the nonvoting stock, and when it’s paid off you sell that last 1% and you’re all done. Now, that would typically take five to 10 years. You have a chance to wind down your involvement in the firm, you have a chance to see what’s next in your life.

You’re not going to get rid of seller’s remorse, but you’ll limit it. And you have a much safer transaction, because if the junior planner starts doing stuff that doesn’t make sense, you’re there enough and you get reports on a regular basis that you can step in before it’s too late. You do a third party sale and you’ve got a personal guarantee, it might be two years before they stop paying you and you’ve seen no statements, you don’t have a personal guarantee, there’s nothing for you to do to get your business back, and frankly if you do get it back it’s in shambles. So you don’t have anything to take back.

This is not a business that’s got a bunch of manufacturing equipment. The value in the business is your client base, and if the new owner screws that up, that client base disappears and you have no recourse.

Hannah: And so really that retention is one of the biggest risks on succession planning.

Josh: It’s a huge risk. It’s a risk for anything for every business. Now, when I sold my food service company, I had a vending and food service company. We fed people that worked in factories. Not only did I have recurring revenue to sell because the vending machines and cafeterias were in place, I also had contracts to sell because all our big accounts were on a contract. There was relatively little risk for the buyer because they could just point to the contract and say, “Gee, I’m sorry, we have a contract with you, and you can get rid of us but you have to wait for six months,” or a year or two years or three years, depending on what was left in the contract. And that gives you a chance to fix what’s wrong. And the contract had a way to get out of it, and there was also, we had clauses in the contracts for fixing problems and they have a 30 day and a 60 day notice before they could get rid of us.

In the financial services business, we don’t have that. So if your clients don’t like what you do, they walk. They go to the advisor next door, they sign an ACAT, boom, the money’s gone. You might not even know it. So, but the truth is, client retention in the wealth management business is very high. You have to try to get to lose your clients. And it happens a lot in the transaction because the new guy says, “Well I’m going to do what I do and forget what you’ve done with your clients for the last 20 years,” and the clients get annoyed or nervous or … And they move. But if you do an internal transition, the people who are taking over the client base, they know the deal. Their clients aren’t going to be uncomfortable because it’s the same thing they’ve always had. And everyone expects advisors when they get older to retire, and if they have the same people who they’ve come to meet and know and trust, they’re likely to stick around.

And it’s easier for me to go to you if you’re a junior partner, say, “I’m happy to sell you the business, I’m going to loan you all this money, but you’re going to have to give me a personal guarantee if you want to buy.” And you might say, “I don’t want to,” and then I’m going to say, “Well then don’t buy it. I’ll find someone in the company who’s going to.” But if I’m a senior advisor, I want to be talking to my junior advisors immediately if I’m thinking about selling the business about a personal guarantee long before I get the paper signed. And if they don’t agree, then I need to move on and find other people I can sell the business to.

Hannah: It’s like succession planning done well is what I’m hearing.

Josh: Well, there are best practices. And by the way, this is not unique to the wealth management business. Wealth management business is more egregious as an industry towards selling their businesses than any other industry I’ve seen. But every industry has a bit of this going on, it’s just the fact that if you think that you’re going to sell your business for an inflated value, selling your stock on an after tax basis and you expect to get fully paid, you’re kidding yourself.

Hannah: I have seen, I’ve had many friends who are 10 years plus into working for a firm where they have been told that the owner will retire in five years. At point from your perspective do they just cut their losses and move on versus trying to stay and make something work?

Josh: When they go to the senior partner and they come up with a plan that is a reasonable plan and they show the senior owner how they’re using 35, 40% of their free cash flow to pay them … If you use any more than that you’re putting yourself at risk. That’s a whole different conversation, which is making sure your business transition is financially viable with a down term, so I don’t like to see any more than 40% of free cash flow going to the retiring owner. That gives us a safety realm. But if you put that plan together and you understand how to structure a deal, and you go to a structured deal and the owner says, “Well I’m not ready yet,” and the question you need to be asking that senior owner is, “What would it take for you to be ready, and how will I know?” And if they don’t get a good answer, then it’s time to move on.

But the truth is, the senior advisor is not being an adult, so then it becomes the job of the junior advisor to be the adult in the room. And we see that in our relationships with clients. A lot of times, you find that parents are not being the adults and the children have to be the adults to keep things moving forward in the family. Now, I’m talking about adult children, not children children. And it’s the same thing with senior owners versus junior owners. Now, just because you’re a senior owner and you’re older by 20 30 40 years doesn’t mean that you’re wiser necessarily. You should be wiser, but most people have not gone through a business transaction and they really don’t understand what happens in there.

Now I’ve done hundreds of them, so to me, every time something comes up, I say well, that’s not unusual. Sort of like due diligence. One of the rules I think needs to be held, and this is with a larger business transaction, say a $10, $15, $20 million transaction, there needs to be somebody in that transaction who’s neutral, and that’s a role I often play. So as I’m going through this transaction with an owner they say, “I want to pull my business,” I think they’re being rude during due diligence. And my job at that point is to help them evaluate whether what they’re saying is true or not. They might be being rude, and that’s part of due diligence, but nobody likes to have their business taken apart and put under a microscope which is what you do in due diligence.

And I often have to say to people, say, “Look it, gut it up, get through this, it’s part of the process. They’re going to try to lower the price on you, we’ve done the right things to keep that from happening, because when they ask you, they say, ‘Well you don’t have employment agreements, we have to lower our price,’ you can say ‘Yeah we do and here they are.’ Or they can say ‘You don’t have contracts with your clients, we have to lower our price. We thought you had contracts.’ You say, ‘Well actually in the letter of intent, you saw that we said there were no contracts, so you can’t change the price based on that.'”

So it really comes into somebody who is working with you that understands the process. And even though if you’re in the wealth management world and you say you work with business owners and you’ve been through this, unless you’ve been trained specifically, and I’ve got lots of training in exit planning, you’re not going to understand what the process is. You’re going to say, you’re going to go through this with your being confused. So if you’re a junior partner and you want to buy the business, learn what it takes to do a successful transaction and use it.

Hannah: So where would somebody go to get resources for transitions like you’re talking about?

Josh: Well, there’s two organizations, there’s actually three organizations that train exit planners in the country. One is Business Enterprise Institute which is out of Denver. I’m good friends with those folks, John Brown’s been a good friend of mine for a year. John actually invented the exit planning world as an academic structure. There’s the Exit Planning Institute which is out of Chicago, they were recently sold … I’m told they do really good stuff. I have not talked to anybody out there so I don’t know that personally, but I’ve been told by people I respect that they do good work. And then there’s John Leonetti who’s in Boston. And I don’t know if John’s actually doing exit planning training right now or just doing exit planning himself, but those are three people.

The first two, Business Enterprise Institute out of Denver and the Exit Planning Institute out of Chicago, are the two academic programs that have certifications that go with it if you want that, and my guess is they both do pretty good work. And they’re not all that expensive to go through. I know BEI has a bootcamp that’s something like $1,500 for a day and a half. And you learn the basics of exit planning.

Hannah: And then if you’re going through a transition yourself, you can find somebody who’s been through their program.

Josh: Yes. Or call me because I actually understand the stuff.

Hannah: Yes. So … So I had a conversation with you several years ago, and it really stuck out with me, so I’m going to try to frame the question right to get the answer, and if not I’ll tell you what I’m looking for. But what does it take for there to be a successful succession plan?

Josh: A business that’s transferable sold at an affordable price.

Hannah: So one of the things that you had told me before was about gratitude.

Josh: Yeah, I’m a big, oh yes, that’s a big deal. This is especially true in a family business by the way. It’s more true in a family business than a manager buying out a business. But it’s true under both, and I often find juniors in a business, could be a wealth management firm, could be a manufacturing company. They don’t really appreciate what the founder has done to get the business to that point, and most business owners will not let go of their business until they feel the juniors are being appreciative of the work that they’d done before them. I just finished up an engagement with a firm, it was an engineering firm, and the son was absolutely unappreciative of what the father had done. And that wasn’t the reason the father said he wasn’t selling the business, but I would tell you pretty much that’s the reason he’s not transferring the business. He doesn’t feel validated for the work he’s done, so he’s saying, “Screw you” to his son, “I’m not selling you the business.”

And the other issue is that seniors come and go, whether they’re willing to sell their business or not, and that window is open for a relatively short period of time. So when the window opens and that senior says to the junior “I’m ready to do the deal,” you better have your team ready to drive that thing done, and do it quickly. Because sure as heck, that window will close again if you don’t put the deal in place fast.

Hannah: Yeah, I think I’ve heard you say also that most people when they decide they want to sell their business, they want it done in two months or a very very short time period.

Josh: They do, and it usually doesn’t happen. If somebody comes to me and says “I want to sell my business,” I’m going to say, “When?” They say “Yesterday,” we have a good laugh, he says, “No really, I’d like to be out in three or four months.” I say, “How about 12 to 18 months? Let’s get a realistic timeframe here,” because frankly, most people don’t have a buyer waiting in the wings and due diligence takes time and lawyers get in the way, and I can give you a whole laundry list of stuff that slows down the process, but it’s not a fast process. It’s not like buying a house.

Hannah: Great, well thank you so much Josh. So where can people find you? I know you have a blog, you write, you’re very prolific online. Where would be the best place for people to follow you?

Josh: I’ll give you two places, an email address, and a phone number, how’s that?

Hannah: I love it.

Josh: I have two websites. Our wealth management company website is, that’s the number two. My business coaching consulting thinking partner site … And Stage 2 by the way does have a blog, it has tons and tons of eBooks on it which I’ve written over the years. My other site, which is, that’s, is where the thinking partner site is, that’s where my podcast lives, I also have a blog there and tons of videos that I put up about how to create a sustainable business. That site focuses on taking a successful business and making it personally and economically sustainable. Which leads into my new book which is coming out next month, and it’s called ‘Sustainable: A Fable About Creating a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business,’ and that’s at You can find out more information there, you can join our Facebook group by clicking on the button. Soon we’ll have a button there that you can actually pre-order the book.

And if you want to contact me, my email address is, that’s the number two, and my phone number is 802-846-1264 extension 2. And if you happen to be- I have one more offer for you, this is actually something people can get. If you’re interested in learning about what it takes to create a sustainable business, I have a free one hour audio CD I’ve made which we mail to you. And if you text the word ‘sustainable’ to 44222, you’ll get a link where you give me your name and address and we mail you out the one hour free audio CD, and it’s about the five things you need to do in your business to take a successful business and make it personally and economically sustainable.

So that’s a big mouthful, sorry I went on so long, but there’s lots of ways to find me.

Hannah: Well I love it, and I just want to add the tidbit, if you want to see an advisor doing online marketing well, follow Josh. He gets it.

Josh: Thank you. And I’m old on top of that.

Hannah: Even better.

Josh: Yeah.

Hide Transcript

Josh discusses how he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice that focuses on working with business owners. He also explores the world of succession planning and how both buyers and sellers can come out on top. Josh Patrick, CFP®, has had first hand experience with this as a financial planner whose firm focuses on working with business owners.
In this episode, Josh discusses he combines business coaching with financial planning for a successful practice. He has a simple but effective approach to inspire clients to act and work toward financial freedom. He believes that honesty is key, and helping business owners work toward retirement (rather than perpetually saying they’ll retire without taking action) is a necessary goal.
Josh discusses business owners who are in the “permafive” stage continuously, which plagues many financial planning succession plans. This means that business owners are always thinking how they’ll retire in five years – but don’t actually take the steps needed to make that transition. Josh knows this applies to financial planners looking to retire, as well.
Financial planners who are in a “permafive” situation have often already lined up a buyer for their practice – and it’s usually a junior level financial planner. Josh walks us through how young planners can benefit from buying a practice, and how a planner in that “permafive” cycle can finally break free and act on their ideal succession plan.
We cover a lot of ground in this episode, and anybody who works with business owners, is a financial planning practice owner (or is aspiring to be one) will get a lot out of it!

“It’s much safer selling to a junior planner…Because you’re doing an internal transaction, you can set the deal up so that a) it’s tax friendly to the buyer and b) you can stay in control of the firm until you sell it off.”

What You’ll Learn:

How to work with business owners
How to buy in as a junior level planner
How senior advisors can set themselves up for retirement success
How succession planning can help both the buyer and the seller
How to get business owner clients to act on their financial plans and retirement plans

The Purposeful Planning Institute
Business Enterprise Institute
Exit Planning Institute
The Sustainable Business
Stage 2 Planning Partners
Hannah Moore clean
Career Paths and Building a Stronger Profession Tue, 02 Jan 2018 22:03:48 +0000 0 Cheryl Holland discusses the foundation of her firm, Abacus Financial Planning - developing career paths and growing leadership skills in herself and her team members. She explores how new planners can define and follow a career path within their current firm to encourage growth. Cheryl Holland is the founder of Abacus Planning Group, and she is a rock-star supporter of new and young financial planners. Abacus Planning Group focuses on developing leadership skills in their team members, and Cheryl has gone above and beyond to create a system of career paths for all of her partners to feel successful and fulfilled.

The career paths program at Abacus acts as a leadership pipeline for the firm. It includes what skills need to be developed, as well as the behaviors and resources that need to be mastered in order to move forward in a career anywhere from 5 to 10+ years down the line. This is a phenomenal resource for new planners that they can download on our website, and gives them a concrete way to measure their learning progress.

Cheryl firmly believes that understanding the career paths that are available to you as a new or young planner is critical to your own development. She incorporated this program into Abacus because she knew from the firm’s beginning that she wanted to take this wonderfully unique approach.

One of the core values at Abacus is listening well. Cheryl shares how to listen well and provides resources and examples on how new planners can improve their listening skills and immediate improve as a financial planner.

hannah's signature

Growth is truly about being able to provide the resources and paths for employees… I can’t think of any negatives to growth so far for clients. I think our clients have better advice now than they did 20 years ago.

What You’ll Learn:

  • What different career paths require from you as a new planner.
  • How to develop skills to move you down a career path and into a leadership role.
  • How to maintain a unique vision for your practice, your individual career path, and how you want to fit into the financial planning industry.
  • What to do if your firm doesn’t have a career paths program (or opportunities for growth).
  • How to embrace change.
  • How to hold on to hope and be patient as you experience growth.
  • How to listen well.
  • What it takes to continually invest in yourself.
  • How to incorporate laughter into your day-to-day to maintain a positive outlook.

Shared with us from Abacus:


Kathleen Bollerud

The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company

Outliers: The Story of Success

Laughter Yoga University

G2: Building the Next Generation

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

Tracy Beckes

Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t

Family Firm Institute, Inc.


Show Transcript

Ep79 Transcript

Hannah: Well thank you so much for joining us Cheryl.

Cheryl: Hannah, it’s a joy and a delight to be with you today.

Hannah: We’re going to get more to your story and how you got to where you are but I just want to jump right into this idea of a career path and how you guys have really developed this out at Abacus. Can you describe what your career pass looked like for your employees?

Cheryl: Hannah, thank you. We have I think in my mind probably three career paths at Abacus and then they have permutations and branches at each level for each career path. But we basically have three types of employees who come in the door and they’re usually on one of three tracks. That’s operations, so they may come in as a client source administrator that does all the paperwork and support work for a client and that person may evolve over time. That’s definitely a rule that we have and that would include our chief operating officer and our office manager. Then we have a role for investment advisors and that person typically comes into the organization and begins to do support work for the investment team, whether that stock analysis, portfolio administration, and over time they go into a portfolio manager for individual clients all the way up to chief investment officer for the firm.

Then we have a cohort that is on the financial planning track and those are the individuals who come in who are seeking to be financial advisors who are either achieving their CFP designation or already have and they typically do all of the financial planning advice that’s not investment-specific. They come in as a support advisor, they may come in as a client service advisor and jump over to financial planning. Sometimes people come in as an investment advisor and jump over financial planning so there’s no necessity to stay on a track. But on the financial planning your goal would be all the way up to principal relationship for a client, head of financial planning team would perhaps be another goal. Every three of those categories you have the possibility to become a shareholder and we have had individuals on all of those tracks become shareholders in the organization over the arc of time.

Hannah: How many employees do you have to give people a concept?

Cheryl: Right now we have 24 full-time equivalents and that includes some interns who are in college working part-time.

Hannah: Then how many of those 24 are shareholders?

Cheryl: There are four current shareholders including me and there are four more individuals we have made an offer and mapped out a plan for them to become shareholders by the end of 2018.

Hannah: I’m looking at this document right now that we’ll have in the show notes for people walking through the career path. How long before somebody becomes a shareholder?

Cheryl: Hannah, great and just for the audience at Abacus we call this the leadership pipeline and actually got the idea from our management coach of many years, Kathleen Bollerud who gave us the book, The Leadership Pipeline. It’s a very long, dense book meant for leaders at General Electric or Amazon but we condensed it down into something that’s useful for a much smaller organization. As you just noted I would say when you come to Abacus as a brand new employee with little experience in the planning world I think it takes you about three to five years to become a great investment advisor, a great financial advisor, a great operations person. I think part of that is … I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the concept deep smart? Sometimes people note from Malcolm Gladwell’s book 10,000 Hours to Mastery but it is this concept that it takes 10,000 hours to become good at anything.

Whether you’re a ballet dancer, a pianist, a financial advisor, so much of what you have to do is just experience and shoe leather. No matter how smart or talented or gifted you may be out of the gate she’ll have to put in the time for mastery. That’s that three to five years to get yourself to that level. That’s where we look at the basic level one. You can notice a real difference in people here after three years. There’s light bulbs start to go off every day going, “Oh, that’s why I do this, oh, that’s how this connects to that.” Then the next five to ten years is for people who are developing additional skills to become what I call a world-class advisor, a world-class manager, and beginning to build the skills to become a world-class leader. If you think about it there’s basic work habits that most of us have like get to work on time, write a nice letter.

Things that we learn in college but we don’t have the workplace practicality. That’s that first three to five years, getting your own work done at a high-quality level. That next five to ten years are starting to get that work done through other people and so that takes a whole different skill set. As you move up the ladder as a financial advisor you may have a client service administrator and support advisor working with you. How do you make sure they know how to manage up, how do you know how to manage them effectively so as a collaborative team you’re effectively servicing the client. You and I can imagine that’s a whole different skill set than just doing a great job as a financial advisor. Then the third level, that ten plus years is becoming a terrific leader, someone who can move the whole organization forward or your whole division forward.

That’s a completely different skill set. I always liked to say when I started developing this with the team and we began to build it together and trust me, it was very rough, don’t worry about it, looking elegant and finished. I realized immediately, “I am super good at basic work habits and I’m pretty good at leadership skills.” But I was terrible in the middle. I did not have any good management skills. That was a great aha for coaching that I needed to get better at something. I would say most shareholder offers come to individuals sometime between their seventh and tenth year with us. Then at that point if there are things they’re not doing that they need to do to get there we’re saying to them, “You can become a shareholder but these three things are missing.” And they have that runway to get those things accomplished.

Hannah: What I like so much about this is this career path document that you have is so clear and lays out, these are the skills that you need, these are the behaviors, this is the reading, these are the resources, there’s little confusion on what your expectations are.

Cheryl: And Hannah may I just comment in on that because for young planners listening or maybe young planners in firms with older planners like myself, for us, for those of us who began a profession when it was really a nebula in the universe of possibilities, we forged our own career path. So anybody who was in the organization was like, “Well can’t you just figure this out? Do what you need to do and you’re going to get there.” That was not helpful to people. That’s helpful to entrepreneurs maybe but it’s not helpful to everybody in your organization. It took me a long time to figure out that it’s not a weakness for people to need a clear path. So thank you for pointing that out.

Hannah: That’s such a great perspective. For the listeners who are in jobs right now that they may love the financial planning work but there are no career paths, there is no next step for them. What would be your advice or your thoughts or perspectives on that?

Cheryl: I would answer that in three ways. First I would say there are always possibilities. So, one possibility is… are there ways to enhance skill sets while you’re on this job, the jump to where you want to be? For example you might be very good at planning but taxes aren’t your strength and your senior partner’s strength is taxes, maybe get your Enrolled Agent so you have a designation but you’re also learning to strengthen your tax skills. One is to just enhance the skill set you have while you’re working with the organization you’re working with to move to the next firm that you’re going to work with and make yourself a more attractive candidate. The second thing is to go to that person and say, “I have this idea. I would like to grow this area of the firm and I’ll take all the risk and here’s my plan and I’ll split revenue with you.”

Or however you need to say to that person, but come up with something that you know will move the organization forward. But it’ll be on your shoulders and your risk-taking and ask that person’s, not their permission but their blessing and their support to move forward. I think that’s certainly a lot of what I did on my first job. I was always going to the primary shareholder of the organization saying, “I think we should do this or that.” I think it was fine as long as I did all the work. Which was fine with me at the time. So, I think that’s a secondary. I think the third thing is what’s wrong with going out on your own? You and I know it’s scary and risky and there’s a lot of reasons not to but if it’s not working with you in your current organization… take the jump. It’s never too late to do that, never too late.

I think you would have to be probably over 50 where you would have to say, “What’s my runway here?” Not in your own eyes but in the eyes of clients. If it doesn’t seem very long take some young people with you or have an early plan to get young people in the organization so that people see there’s sustainability to what you’re doing. Some people don’t care about that. We just merged with a firm in another town in South Carolina with an extraordinarily talented planner in his early 70s. His plans weren’t going to go anywhere. When he left that was fine with them, but they went to work with him until the very last moment, until he could no longer serve them. Not everybody’s looking for sustainability in their current organization.

Hannah: Yeah, but I do think that’s an important point that some people really are looking for that. Which is an advantage for younger planners.

Cheryl: I mean now when we have a new client come in the door I am careful to pair them with three generations if possible. They’ll get the gray hair, they get the senior… the middle person is doing the vast majority of the work and then they get the younger planner who’s learning but that person can see, “I’ve got the possibility to be here for 34 years if I need to be. Even if that person isn’t here they know we’re working effectively to have that multi-generational support system for the client.

Hannah: Do you have those conversations with the client or is it just more of a show, don’t tell?

Cheryl: We’ve always been very transparent about that and probably around the time I turned 55 people started asking more bluntly. We’ve always published our succession plan in our newsletter, randomly we’d go over it internally once a year as it’s changed over time. We had an inquiry recently that said, “Yes, thank you for meeting with me but I want to meet with the younger people who are going to be serving me directly.” I think there’s a savviness that people are bringing to the table now to be aware of that.

Hannah: One of the things that’s just so great about Abacus is you have such a clear and unique vision and mission and it just … I was talking to somebody before this interview and it’s just the essence of who you are and who your company is really shows through. How did Abacus get started or what was your story or what created Abacus?

Cheryl: Well I’ll say three things for any young planners that may be helpful or new planners, not necessarily new young planners. I worked with another organization which was transitioning to investment management only and I had a powerful belief that wealth creation and wealth preservation and peace of mind require both excellent investment advice and excellent financial planning advice. I don’t know how you decouple them. So I thought I’m just going to go out on my own and do it the way I would like to do it, and I didn’t really have a great growth plan or any plan at all. I wanted to do it in that way. I did know as a woman that I needed office space because so many people made an assumption that I was going to work out of my bedroom and go my own happy little way. So I did get office space and we had a card table and a desk, that was about it.

We had a big plan and so out of that, first thing I did was… I wanted to be a holistic planner. Very devoted to that. The second piece was the notion that, I guess the way to say it would be, we always wanted the clients to think of us as a group so it was not going to be the Cheryl Holland Show. So I did not name the firm after myself. I have learned that lesson both from my old organization where it was named for my former boss and people would call him, want to talk only to him. I thought to myself, “I don’t ever want to be on the hook that way.” Then my husband who was the young partner in an architecture firm, the firm’s names were three of the senior partners’ last names and what were they going to do about the last names of the junior partners? I realized that was a catch 22, there’s no way to win that.

So I thought if we had just a corporate name we could avoid all of those challenges. From day one we did not want to be the Cheryl Holland Show and we communicated that broadly. Then finally for just … I’m just eccentric and quirky and I never shied away from that. I realize people enjoy that. We had a solar eclipse party and we had over a hundred people here. We had so much fun, we had water balloon toss for the planetary system lined up and you had to toss the balloon through Pluto to get certain points. We had two-year-olds and 90-year-olds, we just had a wonderful time. And so embrace your own self and how you show up in the world. People are going to be attracted to that and people aren’t going to be attracted to that, but the good news is you’ll have a very firm culture. People either hate it or they’ll love it, you’re either in or you’re out and there’s nothing wrong with the people who don’t like it.

They just think we’re weird. So we have laugh club, we have a leader in the firm, Eddie Kramer. He leads us in laugh club and it’s really where we all do these laugh exercises. When new people join the firm it’s a good test if they enjoy laugh club or they survive it we know they’re going to be good for the long-term. If they walk away shaking their head which you can imagine they would that’s okay too, we’re just a little too weird for them.

Hannah: What is this laugh club?

Cheryl: We saw this, we had a strategy day a long time ago and our facilitator brought this video of a man in India, a physician and he realized that he did not have the resources to heal all the people in his community that had physical and mental health problems. But he thought if he could make people laugh every day that would also be a healing power. So he started something called laugh club and there’s a routine you go through and things you do to force yourself to laugh, but then it becomes contagious and you’re just hysterically laughing and you let go of all that stress and worry and concern and just five or ten minutes of laughing every day, which we don’t do it that often, can be very healing. Now of course science is showing there’s some realism to that. Some fact-based evidence, as we like to say.

Hannah: You said this is a YouTube video we can watch?

Cheryl: Yeah. I’m sure you can look it up, it’s called laugh club.

Hannah: Laugh club.

Cheryl: It’s called laugh yoga. In fact there’s a laugh yoga university, for health, happiness and world peace. There you go. There’s Abacus.

Hannah: That’s great. How long has Abacus existed?

Cheryl: We’re getting ready to celebrate our 20th anniversary next year.

Hannah: When you started Abacus did you have the vision that you would have these 24 employees and …

Cheryl: Absolutely not, no. Absolutely not. I had a vision that I wanted to do what I loved every day and I love two things. I love the brainwork of analyzing a tax return and looking at a portfolio, and I love listening and talking with people. And so to have a job where I get to do both every day is a gift and a blessing. And so that’s what I wanted to do. When I got my first handful of employees both of whom became shareholders I knew pretty quickly I was going to have to grow the firm in order to create a path for them. So, growth is truly about being able to provide the resources and paths for employees. I also think growth … I can’t think of any negatives to growth so far for clients. I think our clients have better advice now than they did 20 years ago.

Hannah: I think that’s such a key … When I talk to young planners at their firms and the frustration of not having a career path it’s: Does a firm owner really want to grow? Because if they don’t, maybe there isn’t a career path there.

Cheryl: I think that’s true and I think that’s a conversation you just have to have, and have to say, “Are you planning to grow? If you are can we talk about my role in creating that growth and sustaining that growth and if you’re not planning to grow how should I think about my future?” That’s a scary conversation to have but you don’t want to waste their time or your time because there may be someone out there who doesn’t want to be in a growing firm. They do want to come to work every day. We’ve had team members like that, brilliant, talented, empathetic team members who did not want to be in the hurley burly chaos of a growing firm.

Hannah: With your employees do you have them … Are they in a growth … I don’t want to say quotas. But do you have sales metrics that you put on them or how does that work?

Cheryl: We do a completely different approach and I would recommend everybody read Philip Palaveev’s new book, G2. Because it talks about this issue in his book similar to the way we think about it. That is we require young advisors to have activities so we fully expect them to go to a charitable event where we might have a table and meet a new colleague. We fully expect them to be doing activities that might get a press release related to them like finishing their chart of financial analysts or their CFP. We fully expect them if we have a networking event to show up, to make a connection, to take someone to lunch within that accounting firm that we invited to come over. But I think it’s very difficult to say to a 25-year-old planner for the firm that has really a $3 million minimum and is really working more with the five to $10 million client, bring in business.

But I do expect them and so does our business development team leader, and he works with each of them to create a personal marketing plan. So the expectation is you have a marketing plan that is appropriate for your skillset, your stage of development, we fully expect you to execute and complete that plan and exceed it where possible. So my own personal marketing plan is completely different than someone who’s just started within the firm. But everybody has one, we’re expected to complete them so you will not get your full raise if you do not complete your personal marketing plan.

Hannah: That’s really interesting. So everybody’s doing the activities that could potentially bring in business?

Cheryl: That’s exactly right. The difficulty is, and every organization’s different. We are fortunate in that the phone still continues to ring with amazing client possibilities. But a lot of it has to do with people are out doing activities so they’ve met someone, they know our brand, they’ve known that individual for a long time and attorney knows the work we do for other clients and therefore we get the referrals in are still our strongest piece. Very little of what we do is going out and bringing in business in the way I think you would think about it traditionally. Again we’re known, I think this is the other important thing about doing things that are true to yourself. We’re known in the creative world so we’re very well-known in the music, art, anything to do with the creative class we have a very strong presence.

I’ve been on a lot of national volunteer boards so we get business from those organizations because I’m on the investment committee and people trust me and then they trust the organization. Because of 20 years we have very deep roots with the top CPAs and attorneys in town which is normal for an organization. But you have to remember those relationships were built from a time I was about 35 until now. I think if someone in the firm starts building their relationship with the people their age when they get to my stage at 50, 45, they’ll start to get those referrals because their colleagues and their peer professionals are going to be at the stage they can also refer over that business. So yeah I think you have to have patience and patience on both sides.

Hannah: You talked about being known well in the art community and the creative community. Was that just a natural expression of who you were when you started or how did you develop that image, or how did you develop when you started? Maybe that’s-

Cheryl: Yeah that’s not even our… Our niche is we’ve always worked with … Our niche, our focus is on closely held business owners and families with shared wealth. So those families may own real estate together, they may own a company together but we realize in South Carolina wealth comes not from Fortune 500 companies, it comes from people who have their own companies or inherited real estate, that kind of thing. Sorry, that’s our niche. But I think what happened was because my husband’s an architect, my in-laws are gifted musicians, we started personally … I realized I’d have Abacus write a check, it’s my money but we get the brand of Abacus out there for the Phil harmonic, for the Contemporary Art Center, for the Rothko Show at the museum. And so we started building and that’s where people with money go.

They also go to sports but to think about that, who’s most likely to be at those events, people who have wealth. And so, it just became a virtuous circle for us.  And we’re known for that. I don’t know if you know this but my husband designed our office and in fact he spoke at the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors this fall, conference on designing office for an advisory firm so when you come to our office it feels creative and interesting and our personal art collection is here, or a lot of it. It’s just kind of a, things we love to do we wove into our business. Again it’s back to the authenticity. Everybody’s different like I can imagine if you love beekeeping or gardening or sailing or your local sports team or you’re a big Texas Tech fan, all those things you can weave that into the way you present yourself.

Hannah: You build relationships with people. It’s harder to build relationships with brands but it’s a lot easier with people.

Cheryl: Absolutely, that’s exactly right. If you drive by our office, one of my big fantasies and I’m sure this will super appeal to all the men on the call, was to have fresh flowers in the office every week. Once we could achieve that here’s the virtuous circle. We have a beautiful office front that’s almost all glass and it’s lit beautifully at night until a certain time when the lights go off and we have these fresh, amazing flower arrangements from our local flower farm and people that don’t even know us find out that’s where we were. Like, “Oh, I love that building. I love driving by there.” So again there’s this tie-in that … So building your brand is 24-7 and it’s not like you have to be conscious about it, you just have to reinforce it and redo it and be consistent all the time. But I can imagine if you’re a planner with a new office would you have the local …

If you lived in Melville Alabama would you have moon pie sitting out on the desk every day? I don’t know but you do something that people knew when they came they were going to have this wow experience.

Hannah: I love it that your advice is to lean into that rather than be, I don’t want to say stuffy, but that is the word that comes to mind.

Cheryl: No, be quirky with it. One of the things to think in your minds and what did you love best of something new you ever got? I’ll give you another example, we’re maybe getting too far afield. But one of our team members found these beautiful baskets that are hand-woven by women in Africa, they’re small baskets maybe about eight inches by five and they have a top. They’re called blessing baskets and they have a little card where the woman who made them. Now when a client is ill or has a big celebration we all write a note and put that in the basket and send it to them. The baskets are like $18. So much nicer than a get well card. It has to be for, but clients go through these tremendous life cycle events so ways of commemorating that better are unique to you, that they feel special, that you’ve really given some thought to them. That’s what I would be going for.

Hannah: It’s making me think about my own clients right now.

Cheryl: But I love the language. My love language is gifts so that’s where I’m going to lean in. Other people’s love language are different things and so just think about how you express yourself from the world and run with that, is what I would say.

Hannah: So looking at your website which I just love the language on your website, that’s just what always draws me to your website. So anybody out there should go check your website out. But one of the things you say is we’re the Abacus Planning Group and we create abundance. How did you get there, what’s the essence behind that?

Cheryl: That’s a two-part story. When we were, Tracy Beckes who’s our coach of 20 years had worked very hard to focus us on our one-page business plan. As you know on the one-page business plan you have to have your key missions statement on there. We thought and thought and thought about it and I thought, “For clients coming here what are they seeking? It’s all over the map, they’re seeking more time, deeper relationships, more money, less stress.” And so it’s the word more, they want more but it’s not all about the consumer material, financial world. And so abundance just fits perfectly, the abundance, you can have abundance with very little financial resources and you can have no abundance with tremendous resources. We want to attract people who are seeking abundance. Having said that Alex Chastain, who’s one of our shareholders, is going through the Schwab executive program and she’s reading a great book called Practicing Positive Leadership.

It talked about abundance in the book and she said, “But you know I don’t know that everybody here, abundance resonates with them.” She had this brilliant idea of having each staff meeting having a different person in the firm tell their abundance story. What does abundance mean to you? I wish I had videoed them and then we could put that on a website next to each person’s photo as part of their website overview/bio. But most people start saying, “You know I’d not thought about her or I wasn’t connecting but once I began to look inside and think about what we do at Abacus or what I enjoy doing, here’s my abundance of joy. It came naturally for everyone. So not only do we have the origin story of abundance but each of us has their own story of abundance and why we love working here. Very powerful outcome.

We’re not done, not everybody’s told their abundance story yet but we’re enjoying ourselves along the way.

Hannah: My goodness. I can imagine if you really, as a millennial, if you connect with somebody’s purpose or mission statement like that I would imagine that you probably don’t have much turnover.

Cheryl: You know it’s interesting. I think we don’t have too much but I tell you what’s happening with what we’re struggling with is the fact that people do want to stay but they want to get engaged to the person in California or their husband gets a job in X or their wife gets promoted to this cancer lab somewhere else. And so they want to stay, and how do we make all that work? It’s an interesting conundrum that we’re working on that we don’t seem to quite know exactly how to make a virtual … I think 25% of our team members are virtual now.

Hannah: Oh wow.

Cheryl: Yeah. So, we’re new age workforce without quite knowing how we got here. How do you develop a career when you’re virtual? How do you develop management and leadership skills when you’re virtual? I think those are all possible things but it’s an interesting journey we’re on.

Hannah: One of the things on your website, you list out your core values on your website for your clients to see. The one that stands out to me is that “embrace change” is one of your core values. The whole working virtually sounds like that. How do you create a culture that embraces change?

Cheryl: Well it’s interesting because I don’t know that I’m the strongest person in the organization to reflect on that but I’m working on improving my change acceptance. I think any of those cultural values, if you don’t state them they’re definitely not going to happen. So there’s that and then what happens is any one of those cultural norms, there’s been a time period we thought, “That’s not who we are, we’re not actually living that norm.” The leadership team will take ownership and say, “On a scale of one to ten we rate ourselves a six and a half and the organization rates us a seven and we need to be a nine or a ten. How are we going to get there?” What’s really interesting Hannah is it takes two or three years when you were falling short as an organization, you start to think, “I think we need to change this and we need to do this differently and let’s listen to feedback from people.”

It takes a long time to move that organization from a seven to a nine. It just does. But I think on the embrace change we have always been that way and we have to be that way. I think the thing that’s been a struggle for us is as you get bigger and you have more team members it’s harder. The beauty of being a young new firm is it’s easy to change software, or it’s easy to change service models. It’s just easier because you have less baggage. But luckily people here because we have that embracement they push for it and expect it and they hold you accountable for that. They’re not going to get away with, “I like what we’re doing now” ever.

Hannah: That’s really interesting. Your employees hold you accountable for embracing change. How does that work within a company?

Cheryl: As you can imagine we’ve already been talking about people who follow their stagnant organizations it’s hard to tell the boss what you really think. And so we do two things, we have a 360 review every 18 months. Everybody in the organization gets rated by everybody else that they know well enough to rate. We rate them on the cultural values and then some other leadership attributes. If I got a low on embrace change and then I get some comments on that then I always share my peer review with the leadership team. It’s posted without security in our document management system so everybody can see it if they want to go to the trouble. Then I go over it with the other leaders, the other shareholders. Then I make a commitment to improve whatever I’m weak on.

Hannah: This 360 degree review, what is that?

Cheryl: We hire our corporate psychologist and he constructs a survey that basically you go in and on a scale of one to seven I think it is you rate each individual on about 25 different attributes. And then you make open, written comments on things they do well and things they need to improve. That’s all confidential and private and then everybody in the firm gets their report back. Our corporate psychologist comes and goes over it with that person and then their supervisor goes over it with them and then they effect goals for improvement. In their performance review they have to say, “Here’s how I’ve improved on my peer review and what I’ve been doing to get better.”

Hannah: So people are very honest in that feedback. Is it anonymous?

Cheryl: Oh yes. It’s anonymous. This is the brutal reality of that, we always tell people the first year you’re always going to get great, everyone loves you because you’re new. The second you get is a little more honest and then by the higher up the ladder you get the more honest again. For what it just does because everybody’s aware of you and secondly everybody needs you to be on your A game. They can’t afford for you to be weak in something. Also it’s their one way to say something to you that they may not be comfortable in saying it in person.

Hannah: I love it how you have your just as public where anybody can read it in your firm. It seems brave of you.

Cheryl: I have this saying, I always want a gin and tonic. I don’t even drink them except when I get my peer review.

Hannah: We talked about succession plans a lot and some of these are really hard conversations. But if you’re not willing to have the hard conversation or to really get that feedback maybe you’re not ready for that leadership role.

Cheryl: I totally agree. One thing that we should do two hands post for everybody is we have something we called internally defense-o-meter, but it’s how open are you to change? It’s this wonderful scale of someone recommends a new idea, secretly you’re planning to undermine it tomorrow all the way to, “Okay, I may or may not agree but the group thinks we should do it. I’m going to brace 100%, I’m going to lead in every way I can.” Things sometimes, it’s good to just look at that and see where you are as a leader on a daily basis if you can. Especially when new ideas are presented.

Hannah: One are the other core values that you have is listening and on your website, I love it where you go to your website and most financial advisors have their services and that type of thing. Your first option is listening. I just love that focus. So, when you click on that it says “many financial planners and managers fail to truly listen and hear. Both are special skills at Abacus.” Can you talk more to that and what does it mean to really listen and hear?

Cheryl: Well I think listening is the gift you can give anyone and it’s a very difficult skill to master. This came about in, gosh, more than a decade ago we read Jim Collins’ Good To Great like many organizations do. We spent a long time thinking about what our hedgehog concept should be, meaning what could we be the best in the world at? Strangely enough we decided on listening, which I know doesn’t sound anything like what a financial advisory firm should pick. But we had been doing some training around listening and we began to see the power of good listening with our clients. And so we learned to be comfortable with silence, we learned to be comfortable with tears, we learned to be curious, we learned to ask open-ended questions and we found that clients often solved their own problems with much greater efficacy than we did without that skill set.

Then we had a team member leave and we always do an exit interview with those individuals. He said, “Abacus is really good at listening to their clients but they’re not always so good at listening to one another.” So we began to be more focused on that like when someone’s talking to you internally are you truly present, truly listening? They feel heard, they feel valued, they know that you’re listening to them. I think we found that we got much better as an organization, we have far to go on that or at least I do. But we also found we’re better parents, we’re better spouses, we’re better adult children. So it doesn’t just make us better at what we do, it makes us happier in our home lives. I would encourage each and every person to become a master at listening. You enjoy your job more because it gets so much easier, you can relax into it.

Clients begin to use you for all the right things. And yes the portfolio is important but I’m nervous about the markets and that anxiety is so much more important than what you’ve done around diversification. They know you’ve done a good job as a professional or your best job, they just want to be heard. They’re worried, they’re anxious, the world has changed on them.

Hannah: Where would somebody go to get better at listening?

Cheryl: We had someone come and work with us for a very long period of time, he just retired. Now we’re anxious about that. We’re thinking about how to do that. We teach modules in the office so now senior advisors teach that to support advisors or the operations team. We haven’t found an ideal outside resource. There’s some good articles I could send you that we could post that would break down the components of good listening. I’m sure there are some terrific videos for that that we could research together. Right now we’re teaching it internally but we know in our heart of hearts, have talked at the leadership level how we’re going to keep ourselves on the A team list for listening. I think that requires an outside coach or an outside resource to hold you accountable in ways you just can’t see yourself.

Hannah: That’s such a good point of we can’t see our own blind spots.

Cheryl: That’s why you have to do a 360. Everyone knows, I always try and think about it this way. If you had a mole on your back your best friend’s going to see it and say, “Hey, you need to get that mole checked out.” It’s the same thing for bad habits, bad behaviors, sub-optimal skill sets. Someone has to point it out to you. You need to know it, everybody else sees that mole on your back. It’s not a secret, it’s just you don’t know it.

Hannah: You make it sound so normal. I feel like that’s such a counter-cultural or counter-instinctive way of responding to criticism.

Cheryl: It takes a long time and I will say this is so fascinating to me. We have a process for giving critical feedback in the office and what’s fascinating and this may help people Hannah… is the way you learn to give praise is the first segment of giving critical feedback. You can’t readily give true, genuine praise that everyone deserves every day here. If I just stop to think two seconds as I walk around the office I’m just blown away by what people are doing. Do I stop and say, “Is that not enough, or write that down, not enough.” But the way you give praise is you point out something someone’s doing and then you say specific like, “Hey Hannah. I wanted to tell you thank you for creating this podcast for young planners. That’s amazing how you go about, the energy you bring, the homework you do, the thoughtfulness with which you give your questions.

“I’m just so impressed and honored that you asked me and delighted that you’re doing this for the profession.” I’m pointing out something you’re doing and then I’m giving you specific behaviors that you did that led to that success. You do the same thing for giving critical feedback. What’s amazing to me is I’m probably the worst in getting it here because I learned that so late in life. But the planners who’ve been here two or three years, they’re swimming in water. They’re so used to getting it they totally get it’s a gift.

Hannah: Do you have an example of what that critical feedback, doing it well would look like?

Cheryl: I think for me what I have to do is, I’m going to make up something. I’m looking at William who’s sitting next to me, but he does everything so well. I’m going to pretend William wears shorts to work on a professional day which he’s never done. But if I had to say to William, “William, on a scale of one to ten this is a one. But I need to share it to you that yesterday when Doctor and Mrs. Longacre were coming in they weren’t meeting with you. I know you had a half day. When you came over with shorts and they happened to see you it made me uncomfortable and reflected on the professionalism of the firm.” William, none of this is true. So you tell him on a scale of one to ten, this isn’t very important. But if it is you’re going to tell him it’s an eight so he’s sitting up straight thinking, “I’d better pay attention.”

Then just as if you were taking a video you point out exactly what happened. Then you have to tie the strategy for the firm, we are professionals, strategy for him, I want you to be a professional. Then you shut up and you listen. As he might say, “You know what? I totally agree with you. I had to take my grandmother’s car and I knew her car had a lot of oil and I didn’t want to get my clothes dirty and I wasn’t going to have time to get it done with this meeting and change, and blah blah.” That’s a perfectly good reason and we agree it won’t happen again. On the other hand he might say, “Wow, I had no idea this was important to the firm.” And then we can talk about what are we going to do in the future, what happens if it happens again and what are the consequences of that. Easy-peasy to do, sort of, in theory.

We have a one-page handout that we use for everybody to prepare when they have to give it. People usually ask someone else to role play with them. So I’m not comfortable telling William that I might say to Eddie, “Eddie, can you play William and let me pretend I’m giving you feedback before I go in and do it in real time?”

Hannah: That’s just the culture of your firm? That’s just the normal language that people speak now.

Cheryl: I absolutely think that’s true. I think there are people who create more psychological safety than others to allow for that but I think if you are hearing feedback in your performance review which is once a year for the first time, we have failed you.

Hannah: Looking at young planners what would be your advice for them as they enter this profession?

Cheryl: Be prepared for change. I don’t think what I do now every day is related in any day to what I thought I was going to be doing when I started. I don’t serve who I thought I was going to serve, my daily work has changed, there’s so many different ways that my life is different than what I imagined. So you have to be preparing for change, not just embracing it. You have to be preparing for it all the time. I think the second piece is just be patient. There’s a lot of shoe leather in 10,000 hours to mastery. So because you have the educational background and you have some experience, none of us are there yet. I fail every day. I make bad decisions every day and I have to be humbled by that and realize I have a long way to go to be where I need to be and the organization needs to be. So that’s just chew every step along the way.

The third piece I always say is invest in yourself. I mean that superficially as well as spiritually and intellectually, so superficially you need to go out and buy nice shoes if you’re a man and a good tie and a good belt and a suit, unless you’re working in a firm that’s just not required. For women professional tie or be very thoughtful about what you’re buying and invest in good, professional clothes. That’s your brand whether you like it or not. I think invest in your education so do the Enrolled Agent, take the CFA, go to the Family Firm Institute and take the Certified Family Business Advisor Designation which is a lot about listing and the softer skill set. I think finally take time for respite and refresh and reenergizing, whatever that looks like for you. It might be time with family, it might be time in your backyard, might be time hunting, might be time in church.

It’s different for all of us or a combination but I think those are the three keys to being long-term successful and long-term happy.

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Cheryl Holland discusses the foundation of her firm, Abacus Financial Planning - developing career paths and growing leadership skills in herself and her team members. She explores how new planners can define and follow a career path within their curre... Cheryl Holland is the founder of Abacus Planning Group, and she is a rock-star supporter of new and young financial planners. Abacus Planning Group focuses on developing leadership skills in their team members, and Cheryl has gone above and beyond to create a system of career paths for all of her partners to feel successful and fulfilled.
The career paths program at Abacus acts as a leadership pipeline for the firm. It includes what skills need to be developed, as well as the behaviors and resources that need to be mastered in order to move forward in a career anywhere from 5 to 10+ years down the line. This is a phenomenal resource for new planners that they can download on our website, and gives them a concrete way to measure their learning progress.
Cheryl firmly believes that understanding the career paths that are available to you as a new or young planner is critical to your own development. She incorporated this program into Abacus because she knew from the firm’s beginning that she wanted to take this wonderfully unique approach.
One of the core values at Abacus is listening well. Cheryl shares how to listen well and provides resources and examples on how new planners can improve their listening skills and immediate improve as a financial planner.

“Growth is truly about being able to provide the resources and paths for employees… I can’t think of any negatives to growth so far for clients. I think our clients have better advice now than they did 20 years ago.”
What You’ll Learn:

What different career paths require from you as a new planner.
How to develop skills to move you down a career path and into a leadership role.
How to maintain a unique vision for your practice, your individual career path, and how you want to fit into the financial planning industry.
What to do if your firm doesn’t have a career paths program (or opportunities for growth).
How to embrace change.
How to hold on to hope and be patient as you experience growth.
How to listen well.
What it takes to continually invest in yourself.
How to incorporate laughter into your day-to-day to maintain a positive outlook.

Shared with us from Abacus:

* Career Path document
* Defense-o-meter
* Integrating Health Challenges into Wealth Planning
* 6 Ws – the gift of feedback

Kathleen Bollerud
The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company
Outliers: The Story of Success
Laughter Yoga University
G2: Building the Next Generation
National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
Tracy Beckes
Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap an...]]>
Hannah Moore clean
Solving the Client Implementation Problem Tue, 26 Dec 2017 20:13:15 +0000 0 This idea of selling people on the value of financial planning is critical as a young planner - and it will completely change your outlook on your approach to your practice! Patrick Dougherty, financial planner and founder of Dougherty Wealth Management in Dallas, Texas, believes in financial planning. In fact, he was one of the original founders of the “live sessions” of #YAFPNW!

Patrick has been a long-time mentor of host, Hannah Moore, and provides excellent insights in this episode for young financial planners. His biggest philosophy is one that we can all get behind – no matter which prospect you’re sitting down to chat with, they should walk away understanding the value of financial planning.

This idea of selling people on the value of financial planning is critical as a young planner – and it will completely change your outlook on your approach to your practice!

hannah's signature

The investments are the easy part. Planning changes lives.”

What You Will Learn:

  • What your introductory meeting with financial planning clients should look like.
  • How to sell the concept of financial planning – not your services and pricing.
  • How you should conduct discovery sessions with clients.
  • What embracing life-changing planning looks like for your practice.


Dougherty Wealth Management

FPA NexGen Gathering 2018

Show Transcript

Ep78 Transcript

Hannah:               Thanks for joining us, Patrick.

Patrick:                 I’m glad to be here.

Hannah:               Yeah. One of the founders of the You’re A Financial Planner; Now What? series. So, there’s been a couple sessions that you did that were just really impactful for me when I first started out, and I know we were talking before about hopefully having you on for more of those later. But the one I want to talk about today is how to affect implementation. So, first of all, why is this an important topic? What are your thoughts on why this is important or why new planners need to know this?

Patrick:                 Well, I believe a perfect plan doesn’t mean anything if it’s not implemented, so it’s worthless and it’s just an academic exercise. It may feed the ego of the planner, but it does nothing for the client. I believe you have to learn how to affect your clients to implement your plans. I think that starts way before the plan presentation meeting. I was at a study group several years ago with some really senior planners, and we were talking about what challenges we face and everything, and it seemed the big thing everybody had in common is they couldn’t get their clients to implement their plans, so the big challenge everybody had was how do you implement your plans, or how do you get your clients to implement your plans.

I’d been in the business eight or nine years at that point, and so I … That was shocking to me that these senior planners were still having this challenge after most of them had a decade or more in the business. And so, I started thinking about how I had achieved that, which I still believe almost all my plans are implemented completely, is how did that happen, and I think it’s because I’ve always been taught perfection is impossible, but excellence is not. How do you shoot for excellence is my … I do post-ops. Every time I have a plan presentation or a meeting, I do a post-op and I ask myself two things: what to keep and what to change. My first eight or nine years in the business, there was a lot of what to change and very little about what to keep, so over the years it started getting more and more what to keep and a little less and less of what to change.

And probably eight or nine years into it, I started realizing that everybody was implementing my plan recommendations. So, it wasn’t easy and I took a decade to find out how to do that, but I realized that you can’t wait ’til the meeting where you present the plan. It has to start way before that. Now, I even believe it starts when you have the initial conversation with the prospect over the phone. Somebody refers them to you, or you somehow meet them at an event or something, so they call you and you talk about … You’re trying to qualify them and they say, “So, what do we bring to our first meeting?” Most of the time they say, “Do we bring our statements?” Because that’s what most people ask them to bring, and I say, “No. No, don’t bring your statements. Don’t bring anything but yourself,” because I believe to have your client accept your recommendations, I think there’s four key things.

They have to believe that financial planning will help them, and they have to believe … Excuse me. They have to have confidence in your technical ability. They have to have assurance of your insight into their goals and challenges, and then finally, and the big one is they have to trust your motives. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you recommending what you’re recommending? Is it to help you or to help them? So, I believe those four things: belief, confidence, assurance, and trust, you have to have that with all the clients, and it’s something you can’t do … Most people just have a discovery meeting and then plan presentation meeting. How do you expect somebody you’ve never met before to accept all your recommendations after they’ve met with you twice?

Hannah:               Well, one thing that I like, and again I know you kind of more than some, but you say that belief that financial planning will help them. So when you’re really positioning yourself and when you’re selling to clients, you’re selling financial planning instead of selling anything else.

Patrick:                 Yes.

Hannah:               So, and yeah.

Patrick:                 Well, I found that most planners, I’m not sure they believe planning is powerful. A lot of times they pick it as a profession, they go to college, they graduate, they get into the business and they get their CFP, but do they really believe how powerful it is? I believe it’s really powerful. It can change people’s lives permanently for the better through planning. I always say people, if the planner doesn’t believe it, why’s the client gonna believe it’s real? If you really believe in the power of planning, it’s gonna come across in your enthusiasm and how you talk about it, then the client believes it. That’s the first thing you have to do is get them to believe that what you’re gonna do with them over the next two months is gonna change their lives and help them get rid of some of the challenges they face and help them achieve their goals and have their kids go to college, so all of the things that planning does for them, but they’ve got to believe that you believe it.

Hannah:               What would be your advice for new planners as they’re entering financial planning today?

Patrick:                 I guess I’m trying to narrow it down so I can give you an answer in less than an hour. I have a lot of advice to give planners about growing their practice or getting into the business or surviving financially or learning to be a better planner, so what are you talking about?

Hannah:               Let’s talk better planners.

Patrick:                 Okay. Better planners is knowing that you don’t know everything. When I passed the CFP exam, and I didn’t pass it the first time. I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t study. So, when I did pass it, I walked out of the exam, probably every planner that’s at the height of their technical knowledge when they pass the exam, right? It never goes higher than that usually. So, I left the exam thinking, “I just passed,” … or when I got the note in the mail saying … It was in the mail when I took it. I got the note in the mail saying I had passed, and I thought, “You know, I just passed this big CFP exam that says I’m halfway competent to be a planner, and I feel like I know about 30% of what I really need to know to be a good planner, so I need to start learning.”

But now, in my 19th year in the business, I still feel like I know only about 30% of what I need to know to be a good planner. So, I think my advice to young planners is you need to have a thirst for this business and a thirst to be better at what you’re doing and always do your post-op and say, “What can I keep, and what can I change?” Whether it’s a meeting with a client or a meeting with a mentor or a meeting, whoever you’re meeting with, you need to always think, “How can I do this better?” And if you have that kind of thirst for excellence and to learn how to do this … I still have a list of designations I want to work for. Not only do I enjoy doing it, but I think I need to do it to be good for my clients. Hopefully, you have a thirst for knowledge about our profession.

Hannah:               One of the things I took away from you a couple of years ago was, it was this idea of when you have prospects come into your office, they need to leave that even if they don’t work with you, they have to work with a financial planner. That’s how deep the conviction needs to be in what I’m communicating with clients.

Patrick:                 Yes. It may not be a fit. We’re not always a fit for each other, it’s maybe personalities or whatever reason. Some planners charge more, some planners charge, so there’s a lot of reasons for a client to choose you or not. But you want them to believe they need to find somebody. So, yeah, that’s a great question.

Yeah. First, you have to believe in the power of planning so the client will believe in it, and then the technical prowess … You got the standard stuff like education, your certifications, I’ve got my ego wall behind me, your experience in the business, the brand name of your firm sometimes, but the big one for me is do you intentionally and actively educate your clients during the planning process? Does the client see you as a technical … Does the client see the technical knowledge coming out of your head?

I know that sounds kind of silly, but you can’t do that with a PowerPoint presentation because half the time that’s put together by somebody else and you’re just kind of reading through it, and they know that. They can tell that. So, it’s not with PowerPoint, it’s not with “What If” scenarios with planning software. When the client sees you draw on a legal pad or on a whiteboard, they see that knowledge coming out of your head. That’s what builds their confidence in your technical prowess. So, there’s no shortcut around that, and you can’t just meet with somebody, and even if they sign up and give you a check, they still don’t know if you’re technically competent or not.

The way I do that is through education mostly. Obviously, I have my education and certifications and all that, but I wouldn’t need any of them at this point because the way I educate my clients, they know that I know what I’m doing. There’s no shortcut for that.

So, to the third, how are they assured of your insight into them? Well, it’s because, first, you listen more than you talk. Ask a lot of question. Ask big open-ended questions and then shut up and let them talk, so they understand that you’re really caring about them and what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and you’re learning about their families and their kids.

Most families have warts, most families have problems. You need to understand them. I always talk to my clients about, “When this is done, I’m gonna know more about you than your doctor because I’m gonna spend more time with you and ask more questions and I need to do that to help you do this correctly.”

And then finally the last one is how they trust you. How do you say to somebody, “You can trust me”? It’s not by using the fiduciary word. I personally have a higher bar than that. W whatever your higher power or your moral compass, whatever moral compass guides you, it needs to be apparent in the way you treat your clients, every interaction starting with the first phone conversation.

Hannah:               Well, it’s this whole idea. I mean, I hear people use “fee-only” as a marketing ploy, and people are using “fiduciary” in the same way. It’s like that’s … It feels, I don’t want to say “shallow”, but it doesn’t hold water.

Patrick:                 Well, it’s canned. Here’s the question I … people that want to use … They say they’re fiduciaries and they don’t even have a certification out for being a fiduciary. Here’s my question that I would say to a client, “I’m required by law to be a fiduciary, so you can trust me.” That’s what you’re saying. When you say, “I’m a fiduciary,” that means you’ve agreed and signed saying, “I’m gonna act as a fiduciary because the law requires me to.” That’s pretty sad.

Hannah:               Well, it’s not talking about who you are and this idea of that we need to show up as planners, and that’s just a legalese term rather than, “I will always act in your best interest.”

Patrick:                 Yes.

Hannah:               So, do you bring up fiduciary with your clients?

Patrick:                 I’ve never used the word ever. No. But I can tell you that they really believe that I act that way because I act that way, the way I talk to them, the way I ask them questions, the way I … If they ask me questions …

This happens with every client I have. They ask me a question that I don’t know the answer to and I say, “I don’t know the answer to that. I’ll do some research and find out,” rather than BS my way through it and give them an answer. People like it when you are vulnerable and say, “I don’t know everything.” Sometimes when I make a mistake with a client’s account, the first thing I do is call the client and say, “I made this mistake. I just wanted to let you know about it. Here’s what I can do to fix it. I just wanted to let you know immediately that I made this mistake,” and they go, “Oh, well thanks for telling us. We wouldn’t have known.” But that’s the kind of thing that they realize that you really care about doing the right thing.

Hannah:               The marketing term that I’ve really come to understand recently is, “You show, don’t tell,” and it’s like so much of the fiduciary is we’re telling you what we’re gonna do instead of just showing them what we’re gonna do and really, yeah, articulating our value that way instead of just …

Patrick:                 So, let me tell you where I believe achieving full implementation starts. It starts with the very first prospect call. You’re trying to, in the qualifying call, you’re trying to decide if it’s somebody you want to work with. It may be a personality issue. You may have minimums. There’s a lot of reasons you may choose or not choose to work with somebody. One of my main criteria is if they weren’t a client would I want to have dinner with them. I don’t want to work with somebody that I don’t have that kind of connection with, and I actually do often have dinner with most of my clients. I want to have that kind of relationship with them, where we’re comfortable with each other and we enjoy being around each other, not just because we’re doing a plan.

So, in the phone call, they generally say, “What do you bring to the meeting?” And I say, “Don’t bring anything but yourselves. I’m gonna bring a pen and a legal pad, and here’s what we’re gonna do in the meeting. We’re gonna learn about you, your family, your goals, your dreams, what you want to do with your kids, your careers, when you want to retire, how do you want to retire, and what are your challenges in achieving all that. That should take about an hour, an hour and a half.” I always plan two hours for an initial meeting and this is the prospect meeting. This isn’t the discovery meeting. This is where you’re deciding to work together or not.

After you learn about them a lot, then we tell them what we do, why we do what we do, how we do it, and then what we charge, what our fees are, how we’re gonna be compensated. I’m completely transparent on all that, and that’s what the meetings for. And finally, and I tell them this over the phone before meeting, “We’re not gonna sign anything in the first meeting. All we’re gonna do is get to know each other. I’m gonna learn about you. You’re gonna learn about us and how much we charge and how we do that, whatever fees or commissions or whatever.” And there’s no right or wrong way on that, it’s just they need to know that upfront. As long as you disclose it, I don’t think it matters.

I personally, if I wanted to hire a planner, it wouldn’t matter whether they’re a fee or a commission. If they were somebody that I trusted and I believed