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%.
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.”
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-
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.