Hannah: Well, thanks for joining us today, Benjamin.
Benjamin: I’m super excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Hannah: So, you have quite the story with how you got to where you’re at. And for our listeners who are interested, I know you have a number of resources out there, but I’m really curious. There’s a couple of things that really stand out to me about you. So, one is you’re a podcast host and dare I say junkie?
Hannah: And second, I’m also curious to hear more about your firm, because you’ve really embraced this idea of a lifestyle firm. So, can you tell our listeners, how long have you been in business right now? And kind of talk about your practice as a lifestyle firm and the decisions that you’ve made in order to maintain your lifestyle.
Benjamin: Well, my firm is Capital City Wealth Management. We are located in Bismark, North Dakota, which is 33 miles from the geographical center of North America, if you’re near a map. And we serve clients that are living off their money, so that’s generally Baby Boomers. That’s who we talk to with our show. I started my firm a little over five years ago, on my 33rd birthday. And we were the first ever, according to NAPFA, the first ever fee only firm in the history of the state of North Dakota. Right now, we serve about 75 households and we’ve got about $60 million in assets under management.
Hannah: So, are you the only planner at your office right now?
Benjamin: Yep. It’s myself. I’m the only planner, and we have two support staff.
Hannah: And so you talk about a lifestyle practice. So, what does that mean for you?
Benjamin: So, a few years ago, my oldest daughter turned 10, and I had this feeling of dread, realizing that her time with me was more than half over. And I knew that I wanted to create a successful business and a profitable business, so I could do everything with my family that I wanted to do. I have six kids now, but I didn’t want to miss their lives in order to do so. So I knew I needed to achieve balance. So I joined a coaching program, Limitless Advisor Coaching, after I heard Matt Jarvis’s … I think it’s episode number seven on Michael Kitces’s podcast. And he’s taking 100 days off a year and he’s only meeting with clients a certain number of months out of the year. And I thought, “I need to figure out how to do that.”
Benjamin: So in 2018, we decided to test it out by not meeting with clients in the month of December. Meaning we take all of our December clients and we just meet with them in October or November. I mean, we were doing the same amount of appointments. We’re just doing them more structured, rather than kind of an ad hoc, reactive basis. That worked really well. So then in 2019, we decided to meet with clients every other month. And that worked really well. So our goal in 2020 is only meet with clients in May and November.
Hannah: And so do your clients know this about you, or is it just kind of a byproduct, like we only reach out to them to schedule meetings in those months?
Benjamin: Yeah. We only reach out to the schedule in those months. I mean, it’s not a secret, but it’s not something we really advertise. If somebody dies, if somebody inherits some money, if somebody retires, if somebody has a question, they can call us and we’ll meet with them, if we can’t just solve the issue over the phone. But I think if you try this out, you’ll find that 80% to 90% of your appointments are ones that you proactively reach out for, and you can schedule those anytime you want.
Hannah: So how does it work with new clients? Do you only take on new clients in those months, or how do those meetings work?
Benjamin: Well, we think we’re going to have to … So, in May and November, that’s going to be three weeks each month of probably five appointments a day, so we probably would not visit with new prospects those months. all of our clients, new prospects come from our show. They come through our website. We nurture them in our email lists, and then they have to answer a quiz through Acuity Scheduling, which is going to weed out probably 90% of potential applicants. So, we had 29 new client appointments last year. Only about three of those were people that we felt good about and they felt good about hiring us. So the volume, once you’ve sort of set all the filters in place to … We have $1 million asset minimum, so that’s going to weed out 97% of the population already. And so if you have those filters set up, you’re not going to talk to that many prospects by design.
Hannah: Looking at 2020, where you’re only going to meet clients in two months a year; new clients, will those be outside of that two months?
Benjamin: They’ll have to be, because we’ll be booked minute by minute.
Hannah: And so you’ve been in business for about five years, and I think that’s a pretty incredible place to be, of getting $60 million in assets in five years. What’s really been the driver of your business and your success?
Benjamin: So my firm, Capital City Wealth Management, is five years old. I was with an insurance company before that, so I’m all about making me sound awesome, but that makes me sound a little bit too awesome.
Hannah: Well, I appreciate that perspective on there.
Benjamin: Yeah. So we were able to bring over roughly $15 million or $20 million from our relationships at the old company, and so the rest we’ve built by podcasting. And we teach in-person courses at our local college, adult enrichment classes, and then the occasional referrals here and there. We made some really great inroads with some local companies that had generational hiring. And so as that generational hiring was rolling over, we were able to get several clients, maybe a dozen or two from those efforts.
Hannah: You are big into podcasting. You’re one of the financial advisors. In 2015, you started podcasting. And has that been one of the biggest drivers for finding new clients and growing your firm?
Benjamin: Yes. All of our clients either come from “the internet,” or they come from the podcast specifically. So we ask every person that comes through the website, you’ve got to go through the website, you’ve got to have a free 20 minute introductory call with us. And then, if we meet beyond that, then we’ll do it either on Zoom, or if they’re geographically local, we’ll do it in person. So we ask everybody where they meet us, and it’s 100%, maybe it’s 99% from online activities, usually the podcast. We’re also … We ranked for North Dakota Financial Advisor, Bismark Financial Planner. We rank really well for retirement podcasts, and we’ve a lot of time targeting those terms cause they’re unique, they’re relevant to us. And that’s where we get all of our clients from.
Hannah: So thinking of the listeners and the people that I’ve talked to who listen to this show, they’re either interested in starting their own firm or they’re working for a firm. And I think this is a really cool value added they can bring to their existing firm. If you were to start over today, where would you start?
Benjamin: I would start either podcasting or blogging, which with the changes that Google is making are going to be identical in the next few years. Just start to craft your message, start to discover how you feel about certain things about financial planning and speak to that to the world. Start to build a platform, start to collect email addresses. Start to dial in a niche, and either you will find yourself as an independent advisor with some traffic and some potential clients, or you’ll make yourself incredibly attractive to a larger firm if you bring in your own marketing funnel.
Hannah: So tell me, when you say a marketing funnel, tell me what you mean by that.
Benjamin: So I … And this isn’t from me. If you want to learn about it, learn from Russell Brunson. He’s the guy behind Click Funnels that is constantly filling up your Facebook feed. And he calls it the the value-driven sales funnel. And so the crux of the value-driven sales funnel is just constantly, at every transaction, exceeding people’s expectations. So that means if you download my free resource, it’s not really a free resource because you’re giving me your email address and then that’s sort of an unwritten expectation that I’m going to market to you in the future. So I need to exceed your expectations with that free resource. And then I need to exceed your expectations with whatever marketing I’m doing to you, or else you won’t travel with me to the next step in the value-driven sales funnel.
Benjamin: The next step might be an ebook. It might be that you purchase, it might be listening to my show, which is a commitment of 20 minutes of your time, it might be attending a webinar, it might be purchasing an online course, which I don’t have yet, but some advisors do. So if you picture this staircase, most advisers are .. After the handshake, the original meeting, it’s like, “Can I please have your life savings?” Which is more of a cliff than a staircase.
Benjamin: So we need a value-driven sales funnel as advisers, where we’re seven or eight steps before we ask for their life savings and we’re exceeding their expectations at every level. So I guess I forget what the original question was, but that’s how I approach it; is that I want several iterations of me exceeding your expectations, and then by the time I ask you for your life savings, it’s a no brainer because I’ve already proven that I can exceed your expectations. So there’s no risk there for you.
Hannah: And so in terms of a marketing funnel, so what are your marketing activities in a week? What does that look like for you?
Benjamin: I do two things. I record my show, which publishes Monday mornings. And I talk to my email list every Thursday morning. The name of the email list is called Everyday is Saturday to remind our audience that in retirement, every day Saturday. And so I’d only press record on my show … Again, I’ve been doing this five years. I’ve got a firm that is really profitable so I can pay somebody else to do all the not so fun stuff like editing and creating show notes and creating blog posts that go along with it and things like that. And then I write my email list myself. I stole the idea from Roger Whitney, who stole it from Tim Ferris. Roger has Six Shot Saturday. Tim Ferris has Five Bullet Friday. And the essence of the email list is just two or three ideas. It’s also kind of the essence behind the Animal Spirits podcast. They have two or three or five or six ideas that they just discuss. So that’s what we do on the email list. As I say, “This is the most interesting article I read this week. This is the book I’m reading. Here’s what my family did this week.” It’s an opportunity outside of the show to get more personal and nurture your audience a little bit more.
Hannah: People are always curious about sharing about their family and their personal life of, number one, do people want to hear it? And number two, what’s appropriate. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on that.
Benjamin: So the wonderful thing about building an audience, and especially super laser focused on one area of financial planning, the more people know about you, the easier it is for you to market. Because if they disagree with you or they dislike you in any way, they’re never going to call you, which is great. It saves you the time. People that are going to call you can literally finish your sentences. So the likelihood of you closing that business is very strong. But we’re in the relationship business, right?
Benjamin: I think people do want to learn a little bit about my family and you don’t want to be a stranger, right? You don’t want to be just a super stuffy guy that has a starch white shirt and things like that. I mean, maybe that comes through in a blog, but a podcast is much more stream of consciousness. So that’s kind of the personality medium, I think. Video could be, too, but I think on the email list, that gives you an opportunity to kind of let your, if that’s your thing, let your freak flag fly. But talk about what you’re up to, talk about your family. I’ve gotten good feedback that that doesn’t belong on the show, because people are investing time, listening from start to finish. But I think it does belong on that email list.
Hannah: So how do you pick out the topics for your podcast?
Benjamin: I just talk about things that I’m already talking about with my clients and prospects. So I separate my show into segments. I used to do monologue shows, but it was really hard to come up with 15 or 20 minutes on one topic. So I do segments. I’ll do a retirement headline segment, I’ll do a listener question segment, I’ll do our retire ready planning segment. Hmm, what else? I don’t know. Maybe there’s two or three others, but I have maybe three or four or five minute segments on the show, so I can kind of change gears, and it’s a lot easier for me to create content when I’m creating it in small pieces and then kind of pulling those pieces together.
Hannah: People talk about blogging a lot. Do you also … I mean, I guess you do show notes. That counts as a blog. But are you like writing any … You’re not writing any content or anything like that for your blog.
Benjamin: No. So I mean, my audio content is also the blog content.
Benjamin: So I pay Podcast Fast Track to make my show notes. So they listen to the show, they know what my niche is, so they will SEO optimize that underlying blog post. So it starts out as a transcript, they transform it into a blog post. Because while Google might love transcripts, someone that finds you through your SEO channels and finds your blog post version of your show, is not going to care about a transcript. It’s not going to read well. So they kind of create a happy medium for me.
Hannah: So I’m curious, you’ve been podcasting now for, it’ll be five years this year. What have you learned in that process?
Benjamin: You know, there’s a saying that says you don’t really understand something unless you teach it. So I think I’ve learned much more about financial planning, and how to explain that to people in a way that they can understand. I’ve also learned, and this is mostly from my mastermind group and from my mentors, that people are thirsty for wisdom. They don’t care about knowledge. Knowledge is what you search for on Google. And if you try to compete with Google, you’re always going to lose. Google’s always going to win the knowledge game.
Benjamin: But if you try to craft wisdom, that’s really where the prosperity lies in your firm or in your show or whatever it is that you’re trying to create. Try to figure out wisdom. So an example of wisdom would be, I helped Jim and Mary save $5,000 on their taxes, and here’s how I did it. You know? That’s wisdom. That’s taking a problem that you solved for someone else and then sharing that with the world. And then hopefully there’s other people with the same problem. So, yeah, don’t talk at people. Don’t read out of the CFP manual. Sometimes as planners, that’s kind of … We sort of enjoy that. That’s why we became planners and became CFPs. But your audience doesn’t care about that. So you got to find wisdom.
Hannah: What do people need to know about SEO today? Because I know that’s something that continues to evolve over time.
Benjamin: People need to know that you could do your own SEO for very low cost. You don’t need to hire some $50,000 a month SEO company. But people also need to recognize that they need to fight in their own weight class. There are different weight classes in SDO, and it’s basically called your website authority. And so when I talk to advisors, they’re going to write a really great blog post about Roth IRAs and they’re going to hope that that lands on Google. Well, there’s probably 20,000 people a month that are writing that same article, and you’re never going to rank unless you’re already Forbes or Kiplinger’s or somebody with great authority on their site.
Benjamin: So what financial advisors should do, and you can do this geographically local, like local SEO, for Fort Worth Financial Planner or North Dakota Financial Advisor. And you can use tools like SEMrush and Serpstat to find out what the traffic is. And you should probably be targeting terms that have between 50 and 200 queries a month. That’s the lighter weight classes. And then you should blog and get back links around those terms.
Benjamin: So yeah, fight in your own weight class, and you don’t need to spend a bunch of money on SEO. It’s more of a concept than people think. Once you learn the tricks, as long as it’s lower ranking stuff, but there’s not a lot of competition around it, you can rank for anything.
Hannah: So what would be an expectation of somebody who is going to start blogging or podcasting? What would you tell somebody? Like, “This is what you can expect in the first year.”
Benjamin: So I would say target one term at a time. So if you were going to target Fort Worth Financial Advisor, we’ll just use you as an example. Is it Fort Worth or Dallas, do you prefer?
Hannah: We’re here in Dallas, yeah.
Benjamin: Okay. So Dallas Financial Advisor. Do you have any specific a niche other than that?
Hannah: We do retirement planning and transition planning.
Benjamin: Okay. So I would go on SEMrush, SEMrush, or I’d go on Serpstat, and I would play around with those terms. You could also go to a website called answerthepublic.com and you could search Dallas Financial Advisor retirement, and it’ll give you a whole bunch of short sentences around those terms. So you’d find maybe 10 or 15 of those terms. Then you go over to SEMrush or Serpstat, and you search each of those terms and you find out … You don’t want to target terms that nobody’s searching for, obviously. But you don’t want to target terms that 5,000 people a month are searching for. You want to find that 50 to 200 range probably, if you’re just starting out. And then you want to pick whatever the best term is for traffic and the best term for what you actually do, and you want to target around that.
Benjamin: So you’d probably want to change the metadata in your website that says, “Name of my firm, Dallas Retirement Planner,” if Dallas Retirement Planner was the term that got good traffic behind. And then you want to back link that. So you want to take the keyword phrase Dallas Retirement Planner, if that genuinely has some traffic behind it. And then when you’re mentioned in the media, you highlight Dallas Financial Planner, linking back to your show or linking back to your website. That’s going to teach Google that people that are interested in Dallas Retirement Planner are stopping their knowledge quest at your website, and that’s going to teach Google that you should rank for that term.
Benjamin: And then once you’ve crushed that term, you move on to another one. And then before you know it, you’re building a blog or building a podcast, which now are basically the same thing. You build that over time and your site authority is going to grow.
Hannah: I’ve been around a couple of years now, and it’s been really interesting to watch the trends that have happened. Because a lot of what you’re talking about right now is content marketing. You build really good content, you build around keywords and things like that. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on paid traffic versus content marketing.
Benjamin: I would never pay for traffic in my life.
Hannah: Well, that’s a direct … I can appreciate that. And for anybody listening, paid traffic would be Google Ads, Facebook Ads, different things like that trying to direct people to where you’re going. So you’re firmly in that content marketing camp?
Benjamin: Well, sure. I mean, you’re nurturing people, right? I mean, we’re … And this phrase gets played to death, and I hate saying it, but financial advisors love to ask for marriage on the first date. Right? That’s what cold marketing is. You’re getting cold traffic to your website. They don’t really know who you are. They don’t care. They don’t care about your content, and they’re going to be on your page six seconds and then go somewhere else.
Benjamin: I want to nurture people over time so that by the time to pick up the phone, they already know who I am. They know what I like and don’t like. They know about my situation, whatever it is, how I feel about certain financial planning topics. If they are fans of the show, they can literally finish my sentences, which makes my job, as closing that financial advisor business pretty damn easy.
Benjamin: If it’s just cold traffic, I’ve got to spend a bunch of money, I’ve got to cast this huge net. I’ve got to talk to 50,000 people a week and hope that one of them picks up the phone. I mean, you’re just working twice as hard to go half as far. Whereas if you’re nurturing people over time, you’re working half as hard to go twice as far.
Benjamin: Yeah, so that money that you were going to use to buy cold, boring traffic; use that to create content. Your life will be so much easier.
Hannah: What do you see for the future for you? What’s next for you?
Benjamin: So we’re transitioning right now from growth mode to kind of sustainability mode. I’m 38, I’ll be 39 this year. And my goal is kind of three intersecting goals. It’s 100 households, it’s $1 million in revenue or it’s $100 million in assets. And so we’re getting very close to that. We’ve got room for … We’ve got two years until my birthday. We’ve got room for maybe a client a month until then. And if they have a little bit more assets, it’s less than that. At that point. I’m just going to sustain the business I have and we’ll have a waiting list for new clients potentially. I really don’t see myself at this point hiring new advisors. I think there are studies that Michael Kitces points to from time to time that an advisor overseeing five other advisors has roughly the same income is as one advisor and two support staff serving 100 households. Our firm is amazingly profitable. We’ve got a better than 50% profit margin due to the lessons I’ve learned in coaching. I don’t see a lot getting much better than that, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but we’re kind of winding down growth mode and slowly transitioning into sustainability mode.
Hannah: Did you start with that vision in mind, or has that evolved over time?
Benjamin: It has evolved over time. I thought that I wanted to stop at 100 households. When I was in the insurance world, I really got a bad taste in my mouth that you had to find new clients every year and you also had to take care of the clients that you had. And so it was just day one developing this totally unsustainable business model, and that every year, you’ve got to go find new clients. And it was sort of unwritten law that you just had to take worst care of your current clients; your last year’s clients every year. And then after 40 years, you’ve got 3,000 clients and you don’t know any of them. And I really disliked that model, and that’s one of the reasons I broke away and started my own RIA.
Benjamin: So that’s kind of how I got there. I needed some modification when I started coaching because I still had that vision, but I hadn’t really converted it to numbers. It was just still in theory mode. And I thought, “Well, yeah, I think I want this sort of an income at this profitability,” and you kind of do the math backwards. And it said, “Well, you already have 83 households. Unless the next 17 clients have $4 million each, you’re not going to hit what you claim your goals to be.” So we had to go back and we really had to redefine our niche and redefine who our avatar client was, who we could be the most helpful for. And then we had to transition away about 20% of our book of business. And we did that in 2018, which was difficult, but we’ve referred all those clients to new advisors. And our firm is much more stronger since we’ve done that.
Hannah: Did you transition those clients to just another RIA practice? Is that kind of how you did that?
Benjamin: Well, there are no other RIAs in North Dakota.
Hannah: I’m from South Dakota, so I understand.
Benjamin: Oh. So, it’s me and Rick Kahler. We’re hanging out. That’s it.
Hannah: Yeah, yeah.
Benjamin: I never met Rick. Maybe he’ll hear the show and he’ll give you a shout.
Hannah: So did you … I mean, I’m assuming you just referred out those clients. Did you sell the practice to somebody else, or did you just refer them out?
Benjamin: No. No, I didn’t. Yeah, I didn’t sell it. Maybe I should have. I don’t know. But those clients either stayed with Fidelity and worked with Fidelity directly, or we worked … There’s an Ameriprise advisor that I interviewed here, and there was another advisor. Once they saw these letters start to go out that were disengaging this relationship, we had quite a few advisors reach out to us and said, “Can I please be the guy that you send clients to?” So we had a couple of those interviews and vetted some of those people, and started to do that.
Hannah: One of the things that’s interesting, I know you’re starting an advisor group around podcasting, so can you talk about that for just a minute?
Benjamin: So right now we’re just finishing up beta testing on the Advisor Podcast Accelerator. And basically it’s teaching podcasters how to nurture an audience, how to create super fans, and then how to convince those super fans to become super clients. And so how do we create content? How do we get it out there, how do we get recognized by Google? I think podcasting is a super power, and I think every advisor should learn, as long as you have something unique to say. I don’t want you to read the CFP manual into a microphone. As long as you have something unique to say, every advisor should have a podcast.
Hannah: I love it, that podcasting is a new blog.
Benjamin: Yeah. So that’s the crazy thing. Google … I went to Podcast Movement in Orlando at the end of 2019. And one of the presenters was from Google Podcasts and he said, “Google has decided to make podcasting a first-class content citizen.” So what a first-class content citizen would be, like a blog or YouTube would be a great first-class content citizen, where they serve that at the top of your Google searches. Well, now they’re going to make podcasting a first-class content citizen. And there’s currently 65 million people that listen to podcasts every week. Google is going to double that over the next couple of years. So even if you start your podcast today, you’re going to be an early adopter when we look back on your show five years from now.
Hannah: When clients come in and start working with you, what does that look like? What does that process look like for you?
Benjamin: So they schedule an appointment. It’s a 20 minute free call. They can only schedule that appointment if they answer a few questions: Do you have at least $1 million in investible assets, not including your house? I forget what the questions are. I copied them almost word for word from Taylor Schulte, so you could go look at his website if you’re curious. He’s a friend of mine.
Benjamin: But basically that list exists to probably eliminate 97% of people that … There’s only about 3% of the country that has over $1 million dollars in assets saved. So that, hopefully weeds out 97%. And then they get on my calendar, we talk for roughly 20 minutes. They ask any questions they want of me, and if we both feel it’s a good fit, then they move on and they basically move through the CFP retirement process. We do a one page retirement plan, more or less one page. And then we either decide to manage all of their assets; we don’t do any partial asset management. And yeah, that’s what we do. Maybe there’s more to it than that, but that’s basically it.
Hannah: And all of your clients kind of fit that same profile, so there’s a consistency in that experience.
Benjamin: Yeah. I mean, that’s why we can charge a little bit less than the industry average. If you meet our minimums of $1 million, we’re charging you 85 basis points. And we can do that because we’re one mile wide and ten miles deep. We’re doing one style of investing over and over and over. I mean, we basically have two portfolios. We have a moderate and a moderate aggressive portfolio. That’s it. It’s super, super simple because we’re serving one client over and over and over and over and over again.
Hannah: Well, I’m curious what your advice would be to new planners who are just getting started in the profession.
Benjamin: Grow your audience. Find something to say. Learn what your opinions are about financial planning. In financial planning, I mean, there are some absolutes, but most of it is opinion. I answered a question on my show this week. Should I do a Roth conversion or should I pay off my house? I don’t know. I don’t know. It depends on what your goals are. So we talked about that on the show. That’s what you should do. Answer listener questions. Now, of course, when you first start out your show, you’re not going to have listener questions, so you should steal them from somewhere else. Go on Quora or go on NerdWallet or wherever and choose those questions. Don’t lie to your audience, but craft your message in a way that you’re answering questions from the internet or from Reddit or wherever. And form opinions around things. You should be not intentionally provocative, but don’t be afraid to have opinions. Because your clients are going to find out your opinions eventually anyway, so you might as well be as transparent as you can on your show. People that don’t like that message won’t call you, by design. And people that do resonate with that message, they’re going to call you and you’re much more likely to have an ongoing relationship with them because they’ve already vetted you or they wouldn’t have called in the first place.
Hannah: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you being on the show.
Benjamin: I could talk about this for hours. I’m glad you’re keeping me to 30 minutes.
Hannah: Good stuff. Really good stuff.
Benjamin: Excellent. Thank you so much for having me. It was a blast.