Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today, Eric.
Eric: Oh, you’re welcome. This is, like I said to you before, this is gonna be a great conversation with a fellow planner, so I’m excited.
Hannah: Yes, absolutely. So for the listeners who don’t know, Eric is the owner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock, and we’ll get to more of that story of how that firm came to be, but I wanted to first learn, how did you get into financial planning? What was your first entry point into, I guess the investment world, or financial planning?
Eric: College. The Wall Street Journal, specifically. In college, that was, I got a free Wall Street Journal in my dorm room every week. So I was started to read that and I became very interested in the trading world. Didn’t actually end up being a trader out of school, I ended up going into a couple larger banks, like State Street Bank, and JP Morgan, the first part of my career. So I stayed in financial services, but it wasn’t until 2007 when I actually dove into financial planning, as we know it, so then there was another journey from thereon.
Hannah: So what sparked, so you’re working at these big banks, what sparked the interest in financial planning?
Eric: I think the … it’s really weird because I’d like to look back and say, well it was this thing that sparked it, and then I made this move because I’m so motivated and focused that I know exactly which steps to take next, and it wasn’t like that. I think it was more about, I wanted an opportunity, outside of JP Morgan because I didn’t want the corporate culture anymore. I was getting sick of that. And there was an opportunity that popped up with a friend of mine who said, “Well if you want to leave there, you can still stay in financial services, become a financial planner.”, because I was doing more analysis than planning at JP Morgan, and he said, “I will sponsor you for your Series Seven, and your Series 66, and your life insurance license, and we’ll see how it goes.”
So it was just a void in not knowing where to go, this opportunity coming up, and me saying, well, I like finance, I like personal finance. Let me just give it a try, and a worst case scenario, I leave and it doesn’t work out. So that was the impetus for me to go into personal financial planning.
Hannah: So when you made this transition, was there a pay cut, or what was it like financially for you to make that transition?
Eric: I don’t know if there’s a word, ’cause certainly pay cut doesn’t give meaning to what actually happened to my finances. It was more like an avalanche of just in tune emptiness, ’cause I had no money coming in. When I left JP Morgan, my salary stopped, and then it was all based on commission and fees at my new financial planning job, and I was not very good at it and I didn’t make any money.
Hannah: And so while you were at JP Morgan, what were your expectations of what it would be like when you moved to becoming a financial advisor?
Eric: Yeah, that a good question, because I guess that was the reason I finally left JP Morgan. I didn’t know what to expect, there were a few things though that actually had me go. One of them being the roof was taken off my income potential, right? So at JP Morgan, and at State Street Bank, I was constantly feeling like I had to convince my boss about why I deserved more money. And as a financial advisor, the way it was gonna be set up, it was if I produced, I would get more money, so I could do good things and really make an impact, and have my income be reflected in that impact. So that was cool to have that ceiling removed.
One of the other things that was there for me was, I didn’t really like the whole cubicle environment. So finally, after five years, or … yeah, five years in cubicles, I was going to be able to create my own schedule, and do my own thing on a daily basis. So that freedom, that thought of freedom was something that was very enticing to me. And the third thing was just being able to finally be removed from the corporate environment. Being client facing and being able to work with people one on one, to be able to help them with their finances and see the impact of my skills and my experience with a client, helping them see things they didn’t see before, and then enjoying the fruits of that. So that was the icing on the cake for all of the, all of it.
Hannah: Is that when you started looking into getting your CFP®?
Eric: I didn’t really know what a CFP® was at that point. I was just learning about what a Series Seven was, and what a Series 66 was, and I was moving into a hybrid broker dealer model, so I was able to sell insurance, I was able to manage assets. So I needed a Series Seven, a Series 66, and my life insurance license. It wasn’t until a little, a few years down the road that I actually started to look at the CFP®.
Hannah: So we talked about what your expectation was of this, stepping into this financial advisor role, so what actually happened when you … You’re at that new job now, what was that like?
Eric: Oh man. That was an eye opener for me, because I didn’t, so I didn’t know what to expect, so I couldn’t say that it really fit my expectations or it didn’t, I was just there now. So I did have an office space that I was using in this new company’s office. I was basically renting space from them, which is basically giving them part of my revenues that I brought them in. But we’d have meetings and just kind of … Actually, you know what the first thing that happened, which was very exciting, too, I left JP Morgan and I was telling people that I was working with that I’m moving to this new company, and the first thing that we’re gonna do is head out to California and we’re gonna go to an insurance seminar.
So people were like, “Oh, I want a job like that. I want a job where I can actually travel and do things.” And I said yeah, this sounds really great. So I flew out to California for a weekend with a friends of mine, with the guy I was working with, and we went to this life insurance seminar. So that was really cool, but overall it was very tough, because I soon realized that it wasn’t as easy as just talking to somebody that’s interesting in financial planning, and then doing work with them. I had to go find the people, and then convince them, or so I thought, that I was the person that could help them. And then they would say yes, and then I would do the work. That way, it was a really, really tough process. And, mind you, this was the end of 2007, so if anybody’s familiar with the stock market, and the crash of 2008, this was when it started to crash.
So I fell into this world in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression. And it was a huge learning experience for me. Not all good stuff, but great experience.
Hannah: And so were you able to build up a book at that location?
Eric: No. I was not. I was really not. What I did was, they had some connections to teachers and firefighters, and a lot of the municipalities in town, so I was initially going to middle schools and sitting in the cafeteria, hoping that a teacher would come up to me and ask me about 403 B Plans. I didn’t want to be the guy walking around interrupting lunch, ’cause I wasn’t rude, yet sitting around waiting for something to walk up to me was not actually working. ‘Cause they didn’t really …
Hannah: People didn’t want to …
Eric: They don’t know. Teachers don’t know about retirement, most of the time, they’re busy teaching their kids. So they’re like, oh, the 403 B guy’s here, great. I’m not gonna talk to him. One of the other things, too, that … this was like more of a cool story, not a cool story at the time, but cool story looking back. We had sent out flyers to, or postcard to a bunch of people that fits the, I don’t know, they were probably like 65 years old or more, taking social security, and the postcard said, we can help you save taxes on social security. So, really looking back, what it was, the door opener to try to get in and sell an annuity.
And so all these mailings went out, and then it was my job to follow up with these people by phone, and try to set up a meeting. And I am the worst, I am the worst cold caller you will ever meet. So this was the most stressful part of my job, trying to call this list. I would probably end up after a day of looking at the list, I would call five people. I remember one night, I was in the basement where I had my, I had a desk in the basement of this building, and it was six o’clock PM, nobody was there anymore, and I had to finish this list. So I was doing push-ups to sike myself up, jumping on the call to try to get somebody on the phone, holding my breath while I was talking, and trying to get a meeting, and hanging up the phone.
And I would do this, just to try to get myself siked up to do the phone calls. It was really, really awful.
Hannah: And that was really the … I mean, that’s how they teach people how to do it. Obviously, probably not the push up part, but the … you send out a mailer, you make the phone calls, you get the appointments, and then you work your close right, and that’s how you get clients.
Eric: That was it. That was the broker model. That’s what you see on TV, the Wolf of Wall Street and these people that are just making calls and closing deals. Always be closing, right?
Hannah: As you’re going through this, what was the point where you were like, this isn’t working?
Eric: I don’t know that I ever said, well, this I guess, defining this. This as a career move, I never said that it wasn’t working. This as in, well this company may not be working out for me, just the set up doesn’t fit, that started to happen pretty soon, maybe six months in when I was not making any money. I was making very little money. Certainly not enough to support myself. I had just before I left JP Morgan, coincidentally, I had to move out of my, the place I was staying. And my friend was getting married, so he was like, you have to move out because my fiancé’s moving in. And, very selfish of him, but that’s what he said, so I moved up back to my parent’s house, at 27, just thinking that it was gonna be a short stint. Like two months, and I was gonna go buy a place. And that’s when I made the move, and suddenly I realized that I couldn’t move out of my parent’s place ’cause I didn’t have any income, so I was stuck.
So six months in, not making any income, now still at my parent’s place, something had to change.
Hannah: And so what changed?
Eric: I started to do a lot of research on … ’cause again, most people, even beginner financial planners, don’t understand the full breadth of this industry. The many types of people, the positions, the job requirements, the way you make money. It’s so vastly different, depending on who you work for. I was just starting to realize that, after, you know, right? I had a degree in finance. I worked for State Street Bank, JP Morgan Chase, and then became a financial planner. And only then did I start to realize how crazy the industry was, because it was so desperate. Right? There was so many different types in there. So I started to do research about what I might want to do, and I came across a firm that, and so when I was working at this first firm, there was no real marketing funnel. Which means that, there was no way for me to consistently get prospects and bring them in and then create clients out of that prospect list, other than doing these manual things about calling people.
So I found a company that did seminars. So what they would do is they would send out similar mailings to people and then the people would opt in to a seminar, like a free dinner, and you would be there in front of the advisors, and the advisors would give you a presentation and then the idea would be to get them interested enough to have a meeting with you and then they become clients from there. So they had a successful process for doing this, and I wanted that. ‘Cause I said, well I can remove the marketing stress for me, because they have the marketing already. All I have to do is go over there and do my job. So I found that and I moved over to that firm in 2009, very early in 2009.
Hannah: I’m always interested when broker dealers promote marketing as this is why you should come work with us. Was that successful?
Eric: It … well, for them, it was successful until 2009. So, my luck was running out, very quickly because 2008 was a horrible year for the market. By 2009, this seminar thing was no longer working. People were scared to death of anybody. Banks were crashing, so talking to a financial advisor was even worse. And no one would come to these seminars, so the company before, actually, saw this happening by the turnout of the seminars, they stopped. They said, I’m gonna not do this anymore, we’re gonna do back to our old marketing, which as basically what I was doing before I came to this company, so one month into this new company, they changed the reason I came over … I came there for a reason. They changed their marketing, and I was back to square one. So it was not working.
Hannah: And so were you able to bring clients from your last broker dealer to your new one?
Eric: I think I could, although I didn’t have that many. I think, there were a few that I brought, but I think there were others that I got through the 403 B program, which I had to leave that behind me. So I really didn’t have any clients. I was starting over again, at this new company. And it was not, I mean, they pitched themselves as a financial planning firm. I mean, they had financial planning software, so they had to be a financial planning firm. And really what it was, is was a glorified sales technique to sell more annuities. So, I didn’t love that either. So now I was getting no clients and I was in a place where, they weren’t really doing what I thought was best for the clients. Because it was a lot of commissions being had by annuity sales.
Hannah: So did you stay there long, or what was your tenure there?
Eric: Back then, it was a long time. It was about nine months.
Hannah: The longest nine months of your life.
Eric: Yes. In that nine months though, again, I was learning so much. See, I would never change any of it, any of this, because it gave me so much experience, so much understanding. Making mistakes, finding opportunities, that I would never change any of it. But, in that nine months, I did realize that well maybe I can go out and find a small advisory firm that has one advisor, who is older, because I came to realize that the average age of a financial planner was somewhere in the 50’s, in their 50’s. So I could make a relationship with a single advisor, in their 50’s, build up my own clients, because they might have some sort of prospect funner, or some marketing technique to bring in new clients. And then, potentially, if all worked out, take over that business down the road.
So I was seeking that out, and because I was seeking that out, something came across my desk, and I make my next move in 2009 to a small broker dealer firm, under Commonwealth Financial Network. An amazing broker dealer, by the way.
Hannah: Yes, very good one. Do you … So, you found an advisor. Did you go into it, were there conversations about being a succession plan, or was it just something you assumed with the age, that that conversation would eventually happen?
Eric: I think a little of both. I was clear in that, ’cause it, at this point, this was my third financial planning job, so I knew what I didn’t want. And I made sure that I expressed what I ideally did want. And it wasn’t … So the positive was that I did express it. And he did say yes, that seems like a good idea. The negative was that there was nothing on paper that said that that would actually happen, but I was okay with that, because it was just an opportunity for me. Going back, I may have approached it a little differently, ’cause of course, it didn’t work out, but that was the goal. And we both understood that that could happen, maybe, down the road.
Hannah: What did you learn at that firm?
Eric: That is probably where I learned the most about what a financial planning job could really be. Because it wasn’t about selling annuities or life insurance. It was about doing planning for clients. Using financial planning software to actually help clients understand how much money they would need to retire and live throughout retirement without running out of money. So we focused on people that were 55 or older, that had at least several hundred thousand dollars of investible assets, but they were really looking to understand how to make the transition from working years to retirement. And as you know, that’s a big transition, and there’s a lot of planning that goes along with that. So I was really able to understand how to communicate with clients. How to do real planning for clients. And how to really run a business. ‘Cause I was the back office, running this business. And I got a lot of really good experience.
That’s also when I was exposed to the CFP® … Well, no, I take that back. I did start taking my CFP® classes in 2008, but I put it on hold, because I’d made so many transitions that I didn’t know where I was gonna be. That’s when it came back up, and he said you should really get your CFP®, ’cause he had his. He had had his since the ’90’s. He said it’s a good thing to get, so he sponsored me, or paid for my CFP® program, as long as I passed the test.
Hannah: So your employer really encouraged this CFP® program and building that out.
Eric: Yes. He understood that that education, you’re gonna get nowhere else, and it’s the exact education that you need to be able to do comprehensive planning.
Hannah: So were you building your own book at this point, or were you just like a straight employee, working with his clients?
Eric: That was a point of contention. I was not actually building my own book. I think at some point in my working years with him, there was a non-solicit agreement that I signed, which meant that any client that I brought on board, I could not take with me for a year after I left. So it really did mentally block me from freely bringing on potential clients. ‘Cause I was like, if I bring on a friend, what if I bring on a friend and then I leave? And then he’s stuck there for a year? He’s gonna hate me. So I didn’t want to do that, so I was really limiting myself to bringing on people that I didn’t know at all, potentially bringing them on, and then … Because if I didn’t know them, and I brought them on, then it wasn’t all that big a deal if I left. So I had one foot out the door a lot of the time, because it wasn’t like a clear path to move forward, which is very common in this industry.
Hannah: People talk about you’re either an employee or you’re an entrepreneur. Did you identify yourself as an entrepreneur throughout this process for the last several years?
Eric: No. I would say that I was not that at all. I was, I felt more like a mouse in a maze than an entrepreneur. I was just trying to make it. I was trying to survive. I was trying to get to a point where my income was sufficient enough for me to live the life that I wanted to live. And that was not a place to do that. I was not in a position to do that. So even though I went to Babson College, which is known for entrepreneurship, so I think I always say that it was like osmosis, that I had the entrepreneurship bug leaked into my pores when I was there, and then it came out while I was at this firm, and I realized what I needed to do to get to what I needed to be, to be an entrepreneur, and to run the business the way I saw fit.
Hannah: So that’s interesting. So you said you figured out what you needed to do, so can you talk about that?
Eric: At this point, so I worked for several different firms, with several different business models. Working with clients, different types of clients. I realized that I wanted the comprehensive planning position. I didn’t want to be the salesperson and … But I didn’t want to be focusing on older individuals. I was 30, 30 ish at the time, so I wanted to work with younger people. People that were more my age. People that I was naturally networking with when I went out to networking events. So that was what I … that was in my sights. I needed to do comprehensive planning for younger people. And how I did that was a question. Because that was not really done in this industry at the time. People weren’t just working with younger people. There might be clients kids that they worked with because their client was paying them enough money to make sense, to have that make sense, but for the most part, certainly, nobody was going out there and working with younger people unless you were trying to sell them a life insurance product.
Hannah: And so you just wanted to do a straight financial planning fee for these young clients.
Eric: Yeah. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to be objective, and I wanted to help younger people.
Hannah: Did you have conversations with your boss at that point about this vision that you had?
Eric: I don’t really remember if there were specific conversations about that vision, ’cause I think that was slowly starting to grow as a vision inside of my brain. I didn’t know it exactly what it looked like yet, ’cause we were tying at the time to acquire other businesses, to … It wasn’t … We had no surefire way to bring on new clients consistently. The amount of clients we needed to expand as quickly as we wanted to, so we were looking at buying another firm, and we did come across a firm to buy, but that actually didn’t work out. There’s a lot of details there that probably aren’t relevant for this conversation, but it didn’t work out, and it really pissed me off, the end result of it. So I wasn’t all that open about that I wanted to do, because I didn’t trust that it would be met by somebody that would support my vision.
Hannah: Yeah. You judge people by their actions, not what they say.
Hannah: In this business, yeah. You have to.
Eric: Yeah, at that point I was three years into this new company and I’d learned so much. I am very grateful for the experience that I had with this firm and the owner of the firm, and how much time and effort he put into teaching me what he knew. But it was not a place for me to be long-term, so that’s when I was like, alright, I am here for three years, there’s no succession plan on paper yet, there’s no … I have no clients of my own. So it’s more risky for me to stay at this firm and have the owner change his mind about what he saw my path being, than it was for me leave and start over again. So for the third time I started over again, in 2013.
Hannah: And so this is the Beyond Your Hammock, right?
Eric: There was a short stint of a six month period where I was leaving his firm. I wanted a fee-only firm to work with. I didn’t know if I wanted to start my own, ’cause I wasn’t really confident that I could build a book of clients from scratch, so I worked with a friend of mine who had a structure, he had an RIA, a registered advisor company, and he was an investment guy. He was a really small RIA. He probably had five million dollars under management at the time and he said, “I’m the investment guy. You have your CFP®, why don’t you come on board and do the financial planning, and maybe we can support each other and grow this business.” So I said that sounds great. So, basically I was working from home, and for six months, I was trying to do what I didn’t realize I was eventually going to do. Working with younger people, doing financial planning, but I was selling financial plans, basically. So I would say, alright, eighteen hundred bucks, I’ll give you a financial plan, and then, hopefully, thinking in my head that that financial plan would push them in the right direction, so eventually they would have assets, and then I can manage those assets.
But after six months I realized it was just a transactional type of setup, where I had to keep selling financial plans to make any money. And it just wasn’t working. And at that point, in June of 2013 is when I … Actually, when I met you, because I went to the Next Gen gathering out in … What was it, Minnesota? Is that where we were?
Hannah: Yeah. St. Johns. Yup.
Eric: Yeah. Which was awesome.
Hannah: I remember that.
Eric: And that experience from the Next Gen group was just like mind altering for me, because not only did it show me that other people were out there on their own islands, thinking about this, like that they were by themselves, I’m the only one that’s young and in this business, and that wants to do financial planning and I can’t get there. There were many people thinking that way and we all came together at the next gen gathering, and it gave me the confidence to realize that I could actually start my own registered investment advisor company. ‘Cause at the time, Sophia Bera, and Mary Beth Storjohann were both at the Next Gen gathering and I had met them, and they were both starting their own companies and I said, I want to do that. I can do that if they can do that. So I left in June, came back, told the guy I was working with that I wanted to start my own company.
He was a friend too, so he was cool with that. And by August of that year, I had launched my own RIA called Beyond Your Hammock.
Hannah: How did you get the name Beyond Your Hammock?
Eric: That is a good question, because everybody asks that one. And I love when people ask it, because that’s why it’s there, right? I didn’t name it Beyond Your Hammock so it could just be like a white elephant in the room. It’s called Beyond Your Hammock because, number one, I needed to have a name that didn’t have people assume what I did. So Roberge Wealth Management, or Roberge Financial Planning, that was right out. That did not work because people would come in to me and yeah, “Oh yeah, I know five or six people that do what you do, they work with North Western Mutual, and New York Life, and bla, bla, bla …” and then, suddenly you’re down a path that you don’t want to be down, and you have to backtrack before you can actually build a story about what you do and why you’re different.
So Beyond Your Hammock, a name that was different, would start off from a blank slate. So people say, “What do you do?”, ’cause they don’t even realize that I’m in the finance industry with Beyond Your Hammock, right? So, that gives me the ability to, with a blank canvas, build the story about what I actually do and why it’s different. So I can say that, I’m a financial planner, or I don’t say that, actually. I take that back. I say I help people in their 20’s and in their 30’s, use their money as a tool to live a life that they love. So basically, I’m a certified financial planner, so I use that experience to do things a lot differently than financial planners do it. And now they’re interested. They’re like, okay. It’s different. Now, what does that mean? And then I get to build that story from there.
The second piece of it was making sure the name had an impact in a meeting. And for most people, Beyond Your Hammock has a standalone name, does not have a meaning. But, for me, Beyond was a key word, because I always wanted to look beyond society, beyond the every day. Doing things differently than the crowds. So that beyond really gave me a tingly feeling in my neck, to say yes, outside of the norm. The hammock part just fell into place as a cool word, because relaxing, who doesn’t like to lay in a hammock? So, the best part about this, and this is what really cinched the deal for me is when I put the words together and said Beyond Your Hammock, I didn’t really love it at the time, but I texted my brother-in-law, and I’ve told this story a bunch of times.
But I texted my brother-in-law, and I said what do you think about this name as a business name? And he said, “Well, coincidentally, I was out in my backyard the other day, and I was looking at the hammock that I have out there, and it’s tied between two trees, and I was looking to carve two sayings, one on each tree. And on the first tree I wanted to carve ‘Work Whenever’, and on the second tree, ‘Relax Forever’.” And I just sat there for a second, and I’m like that is so cool. That is the message that I want, whether it’s subliminal or direct. For all of my clients to understand that they have a choice as to whether they want to work or don’t, and that they can always relax. That is just such a cool place to be. So that sealed the deal. And that’s why I went with Beyond Your Hammock.
Hannah: So you opened the doors for Beyond Your Hammock. You’ve had the struggles of trying to find new clients. You have this marketing message that’s different and unique now. Did that resonate right away with clients? Or what was that journey like to build your business?
Eric: I think there’s a piece that’s missing here, too, that really, really, really helped me gain the confidence I needed to launch the business, and then create a message that I wanted to use as a marketing message. And that was doing some personal growth training and development. So I was very much, like when I left JP Morgan, I was in a, I would say a dark place. Now, people have all kinds of definitions of what dark means. I wasn’t in a basement dissecting mice with a blindfold, I was just in a place where I was questioning what the future looked like, where I was going. And I was a lost soul, so as I was becoming a financial advisor, I just felt like I still hadn’t found myself.
It was like a quarter life crisis. So I was reading all kinds of books, self-development books and just anything I could get my hands on, I was trying to learn from. And it wasn’t all financial planning. It was actually very few financial planning books, and mostly, growth books, business books, personal reflection books. Think and Grow Rich was one of the ones that I read, which was an awesome book to get me to see things in a way that people didn’t normally look at their lives. And that led me to work, to find some programs that I could go to and work on myself. So for a couple years, as I was switching out of the employee to employer role, or at least employee to entrepreneur role, I was going through these programs, and reflecting on myself, doing a lot of work on myself. Seeing where I came from, why I do certain things, why I think certain ways. And really completing that past, and moving forward with again, an open canvas, and trying to create something new, because I could do that. Why would I not be able to do that? Every day, every moment, you have the ability to choose what you do next, and how you react to certain things, and how you proactively go out and build something.
So that was where my mind was when I started this business. And it was all about, it was all positive. It was like, what can we create here? So I just started to share, and this is one thing that I think is key. I was not selling at this point, in the past I had sold, I tried to sell things. In this case, all I was doing was sharing what I was doing ’cause I was so proud. I was so motivated to do this thing that was different to help younger people use their money as a tool that it just was like a wildfire going on inside me. So I would just tell people what I’m up to, and I think a lot of people miss an opportunity when they, when someone says, hey what’s going on? What’ve you been up to? To say, nothing, or not much, just totally, just lose so much in that conversation. Because what I would do is say, you know what actually what I’m doing is starting a business, and I’m working to build this new type of financial planning firm that’s actually helping younger people understand how to use their money now and in the future.
And it just, my own way of being in that conversation, and what I was saying, with such a different perspective than the normal person was used to when it comes to the financial planning industry, that it gave me so much room to have a good conversation, that I just kept having those conversations. And it slowly spread, and I started to develop a clientele. It wasn’t quick, but it was building one after another, after another.
Hannah: Well, I love that. It’s like you let your passion show through to your prospects, and they felt that. They wanted to be part of that.
Eric: Yeah. That’s one key, I think that starting your own business, I think, can give you that. Because, and it’s not the only way. But for me it was the way that allowed me to really look at my business as part of me, and I’m very proud of who I am, so I wanted to make sure that what I was doing for my business, made me proud as well. So it was just this one big, I don’t know, circle. It was … I was my business, my business was me, and I had my life, and it was just … I was my brand. So it was very motivating to go out into the world feeling that way and sharing with everybody what I was up to.
Hannah: Just following your story up to this point, was the business not sustainable for you?
Eric: No. No. Actually, when I left the employer, so the advisory firm with Commonwealth Financial Network, when I left at the end of 2012, I knew that I needed to find some income replacement, ’cause they had actually started to pay me a salary over there. Because in the past I hadn’t found income, I knew that that wouldn’t work, so I actually got a job, for the first time in my life, at the age of 33, as a waiter at a restaurant. And although I was going into that thinking that I would be the next Tom Cruise in, you know, be a bartender, and be like yeah this is great, I’m making money on the side, and I’m starting my business. And this is awesome. I slowly realized that, I quickly realized that I didn’t have any experience as a waiter or a bartender so nobody wanted to hire me. But I did find a job as a waiter in February of 2013. And I worked as a waiter for 10 months to give me some sort of income to survive as I was trying to figure things out. And that is a very key factor in allowing me to think through, even though it was stressful, think through without completely being stressed out of my mind, how to actually build a business effectively, and not just because I needed money.
Hannah: Yeah, I think it’s so admirable when people do these side gigs, if you would, to really be able to build up their dreams. I also think it’s really interesting ’cause you were just talking about how you reached this place where you were just like oh my gosh, everything is firing on all cylinders, everything is going go great, and you were a waiter at that time, too. So it’s … usually when you hear the waiter, you tie that do negative thoughts of being like, oh they’re down on their luck. But for you, I don’t know if that was maybe the case.
Eric: Yeah. And this is a good point to bring up, because it’s all about perspective. Circumstances don’t run our lives, so we can’t let them do that, right? If we let them, they will run our lives, but they don’t need to run our lives. So when I looked at being a waiter, I said, yeah, I am a waiter now after a college degree, and working at big banks and really being successful in those positions, and now after 11 years I’m a waiter? For the first time in my life? This in itself is not right. It was a big hit to the ego, but I was looking at it from, as a stepping stone. I was not going to be a lifelong waiter, and I mean, nothing wrong with being a waiter, if you can do it well and that’s what you want to do, go for it. But that was not what I wanted to do.
So I wanted to use that as a stepping stone to be able to create income short term to allow me to get to that next level. And I always had the end goal in mind, which allowed me to work Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a waiter, and then start, and launch my business Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday every single week.
Hannah: That’s such a great story, and I think such a great lesson for anybody who’s listening, myself included. You do what needs to get done in order to achieve your dreams.
Eric: Yeah. It’s always … Everything’s possible. It’s just a matter of how much you want to commit to it and how much hard work you want to put in, and how long you can do that before you see results that is going to make or break you.
Hannah: So you have had Beyond Your Hammock now for, is it three years?
Eric: No, I had my fourth birthday in August.
Hannah: Fourth birthday. Congratulations.
Eric: Thank you.
Hannah: In the four years that you’ve had your own firm, what have you learned about your clients?
Eric: I’ve learned that my clients don’t know much about money. And that’s not their fault, it’s the fault of our education system, not actually having anything to do with financial planning, personal finance, or learning about how, what makes a dollar, a dollar, and what makes it grow. And how negative debt can be to someone’s life. I’ve learned that … so I’ve also learned that they are hungry, my clients, again, right now my client, my average age of my clients probably 35 to 38 years old. People in their 30’s are transitioning from like a … Their first part of their career in their 20’s, and now they’re hitting a point where they’re making good money, they’re getting married, they’re having kids, they’re starting businesses. There’s a lot of transitions happening and they just don’t know where to go to get objective advice.
‘Cause everywhere they’re turned, they’re getting sold a life insurance or disability insurance product, and not being given financial planning advice. So they are just ready to meet somebody to provide them with some direction, some clarity, some education around what they can do for themselves. And what’s the best thing for them to do for their situation based on their goals and their financial situation.
Hannah: There’s a lot of talk and I know you’ve heard it more than I’ve heard it, about how it’s not possible to have a financial planning firm that targets people who don’t have assets, or who have limited assets. So from your experience, what you would say to that objection that I … that we hear often in our profession.
Eric: I’d say that is completely wrong to say that you can’t do it, because I’ve done it. Now there’s a lot of nuance to that answer, the details anyway. And that depends on what you need to do. What you are looking to do, who you’re trying to target, what are their needs? And then you can build a revenue model that supports their needs. And that’s just like any business, right? You find a need, you build a business to meet that need, and you create revenue by meeting that need. There’s no difference, it’s not different, it’s just different in our industry. So all you have to do is figure out what their revenue’s gonna be. The revenues can be a monthly … So I have a monthly subscription model, and this isn’t something I created, it’s been around, but I think it was never used for younger people, and never used as the sole way to do business before… for younger people anyway.
So I just developed it out of need, out of my own need. And lined up with how I was giving my advice to clients, like an ongoing, a personal trainer for your finances is what I call myself. So I was lining up with the way I provided my services, and it also allowed me to build a consistent income stream for myself, working with people that didn’t have a bunch of money to give me. And if you don’t have any money to give me, I can’t charge one percent and make any money. Right? It doesn’t take a financial planner to figure that out. So whether it’s a monthly subscription, an hourly service, or half of it’s under management or commissions, those are all ways to make money in this business. You just have to figure out who you’re going to target, what they need, and how you can align your revenue stream to your advice.
Hannah: You make that decision based on your clients. The client situation is really what dictates how you build your business.
Eric: Yeah. Exactly. Right, ’cause it’s not the age. ‘Cause what if I was just working with 30 something millionaires? I could manage money just like anybody else does, and charge one percent, and make a great living. But if I’m working with somebody who has all of their money tied up in a 401K plan, I can’t manage that money, but I want to work with them, and they need my help, so what else can I do to create a revenue stream that works?
Hannah: From looking back over your, well I guess it’s more than just four years of being a business owner, what have you learned as a business owner?
Eric: I’ve learned that my business is a business. And I think that doesn’t necessarily make sense until you’ve actually walked the walk, because a lot of times people just come from the world of being a financial planner or producer or whatever else you want to call yourself in this business. And you are a person, and you are a person that delivers a product, or a service, and that product or service creates an income, but there’s never a separation between you and the business. So when you start a business, suddenly there’s Beyond Your Hammock, and there’s Eric Roberge. Certainly I am the founded of Beyond Your Hammock, but I am not Beyond Your Hammock. And that’s a big differentiation between my mindset before, when I started the firm, and now. I have a business, that business is not me. I have the ability to maintain and grow that business, but I need to make sure that I am separate. I have my own personality, I have my own life to live, and my business will still run. So keeping those things separate is a key factor in having success, not only in business, but in life. That’s one big thing I learned in these years running a business.
Hannah: So is that just having healthy boundaries in business of saying this business can’t consume my life, I still have to live my life?
Eric: Well, yes, that’s part of it. And it’s certainly one that I focused on this summer. Really saying that I do have a life outside of this business, and I don’t want the business to consume me because it could totally fill up my schedule if I let it. So blocking out time for me, to be able to spend time with my fiancé, my family, and travel is important. So that in itself is one piece of it, but I think there’s something bigger and looking at your business as a business allows you to put some structure in the business. Whether it’s looking at the entity type and saying, well I started off as the sole proprietor, it doesn’t make sense to be a sole proprietor anymore, I should be an LLC or an S Corp. And then, also being able to look at it as a revenue generator on its own.
How can this business generate revenue without me lifting a pen or making a phone call? So there’s the, there’s just the business running on its own, there’s … I don’t even know how to explain that any more than that, but the gears are in motion, the business is running, because I’ve built a structure. I’ve built the process, I have software, all these things are the heart and soul of my business, but those are things that I just added to the business. And … Does that make any sense, or am I just talking in circles?
Hannah: No, I think it does. Well, I think it’s … there’s … I mean, I look at my role, I have two different roles, I’m the business owner and I’m also a financial planner. And those are very distinctive roles and distinctive mindsets that I have to have as I approach whatever problem it is that I’m approaching.
Eric: Yeah. Exactly. That’s … and that’s really tough to express, ’cause I don’t think I would have grasped that if I didn’t experience it first.
Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And making that transition between them, it’s not a seamless transition. It can be a hard mental shift to make.
Eric: Oh yeah. For sure, and many people don’t ever make it.
Hannah: Do you have staff that help you with your business?
Eric: I don’t have staff. I started to look for interns and then some outsourced financial planning help for a stint, and I used some people to do some back office planning, like doing, putting my … the client data into a financial planning software and running reports for me. And that was fine, but I think what I realized it was a Band-Aid on me not being as efficient as I possibly could be, and my processes not being as tight as they could be. ‘Cause I was talking to somebody and they were a president of a large registered investment advisor company, and they said, you really shouldn’t be considering hiring anybody, especially full time until you have $300,000 in revenues coming into the business. And I thought that was an extreme number, but that wasn’t the point. I think the point was to have me look at things differently and see where I could maintain efficiency and maintain that single person company, and do it so well that I could expand my revenues and still do what I needed to do for my clients and new clients before actually expanding from an employee standpoint.
So that’s where I walked up a couple steps, and then took a couple steps back when I had that conversation, and right now it’s me and I also am lucky enough to be engaged to an amazing online marketer, Kelly Hock, who is doing a lot of my online marketing and writing and blogs and social media posts, so that’s a huge part of the business, and it’s as you probably know, it’s a huge time suck, so it’s nice to be able to have that support, because then I can focus on running the business and managing my clients.
Hannah: Well that’s great, your interests are completely aligned on that.
Eric: Yeah. It is perfect.
Hannah: Oh the advantage of working with a significant other.
Eric: Bingo, yeah.
Hannah: As we wrap up, what would be your advice to yourself back in the day, if you would?
Eric: I think it’s the same advice that I give to myself today. And it’s that you gotta focus on what you can control. There is so much noise out there, and so many things that impact you that you really have no control over. And we can either choose to spend our time worrying about those things, or cut them back and focus on the things that you actually can do, that can make a difference. So taking baby steps, and doing what you need to do. Especially, so as an example, you’re starting a business, and when you start a business, as a financial advisor you need to register that business with the state or with the SCC. You need to get some compliance structure and you need to have the documents you need, and you need to be able to have the website and your software, and if you start to look at all these things before you start any of them, you’re gonna feel overwhelmed and crawl into a hole.
All you can do is make a list of all the things that need to get done, and then go after them one at a time. And as you complete one task, you check it off the list. And you move to the next. So that’s the type of thing that I do in my business now, always understand what the priority is, and then do that thing and then move on to the next thing.
Hannah: That’s great advice. And it’s so any point where you’re at, whether you’re always gonna be an employee, or if you want to start your own firm, I think that’s so great.
Hannah: What are you looking forward to in terms of your business, or even the profession as a whole?
Eric: I think there’s so much opportunity and I thought this, coming into this business, there’s just so much opportunity for me at a personal level, but now that I’ve been in the business really since 2007 and have my own business, I think there’s so much opportunity as an industry to be able to create ourselves newly as objective guides to your personal finance. And being able to grow this industry to a way that we can help more than just the rich people, more than people that are just retiring, but also be able to educate the masses to understand the value of your money. And what you can do to put yourself in the best position possible. So there’s so much to go there, I think for me, personally, I’ve been focusing, and this is something that I’m doing with Kailey, is really focusing on showing how I follow my own advice.
So the things that I teach my clients are not things that I teach my clients because that’s what I have to teach them. It’s things that I believe in based on my experience, based on my education and based on my own personal situation. So I do the things that I tell my clients to do. So I’m trying to bring in the experiences that I have in my life, and associate them with good money management. So being able to go on a trip that actually doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, and to be able to enjoy myself because the values that I have for my life exist in that trip. So rather than going to Punta Cana for seven days, where I’ve done in the past, and didn’t really give me all that much gratification, I now might take Kailey up to Maine and we’ll go hiking for three days. And it’s probably a third of the price, and it gives us so much more satisfaction than it ever did before. And then I’ll take pictures, and create stories behind that, and show people how they can too to that thing.
Use their money to support their life and not the other way around.
Hannah: Well it’s that whole marketing, you want to show, not tell.
Hannah: And that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Eric: And I want to tie that, so the, my purpose of even saying that was to, I want to use that kind of thought to create a book. ‘Cause it’s been, there’s so many financial planning books out there, and money books. And I don’t want to be just another money book, so I want to bring in my own personality and my own life to it, so to tell stories about how money was a problem, how it’s been a solution along the way, and have that be a lesson, or an education for people who want to read the book, so they can get that basic money knowledge, but they have it done through my own personal perspective. So that’s the next thing I really want to do, and that’s gonna happen, at least start to happen, this fall.
Hannah: Well is there anything else, Eric? Any other thoughts, anything that we missed that you want to be sure that we touch on?
Eric: I just think that we need to continue to have these conversations. Whether it’s to help people that are in the industry, or people that are looking in to the industry wondering if it’s a career for them. Showing what all the possibilities are in that it doesn’t have to be a cookie cutter approach to create a career and a business for yourself that actually is both gratifying because you’re helping people, but also gratifying because you get to live the life that you have dreamed of along the way. So this is, there’s such a great opportunity here, and I always want to keep these conversations going. So thank you for allowing me to have this conversation with you.