Anna Sergunina, CFP®, is the CEO of MainStreet Financial Planning – a fee-only financial planning practice with five locations across the United States. She purchased the practice from MainStreet’s original founder in 2014, and now acts both as a financial planner for a portion of MainStreet’s clients as well as the business owner.

Anna’s experience with succession planning differs from many other financial planners we hear from. Her firm’s owner, Jim Ludwick, had planned on having her take over client relationships at some point, but Anna knew that she was ready to take over the full operation – and she approached him directly about it. Anna admits that this was a bold move, but it paid off! Jim was interested in having her buy the practice when she brought it up, and he has since stayed on the team as the self-proclaimed Chief Troublemaker.

Buying a practice is notably different than starting a financial planning practice and building it from the ground up. The ups and downs that come with purchasing an existing practice and growing it are often unexpected, and hearing Anna explain how she leverages technology and a virtual team to continue growing across the country is fascinating.

If you’ve ever considered buying a financial planning practice, want to know more about growing a multi-location practice, or wondered how a national, virtual team works together to serve clients on hourly and project-based financial planning cases – this episode is for you. Anna covers a lot of ground, and every minute of this podcast is jam-packed with valuable information!

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What You’ll Learn:

  • What buying a practice looks like
  • The benefits of being bold when it comes to succession planning
  • What business operations look like for a multi-location practice
  • How you can build a sustainable practice with hourly and project-based planning
  • How to manage multiple advisors across the country
  • Ways that a virtual team can work together
  • How Anna is giving back to women in the financial planning industry with the community she’s building – Kolective Network

 

Show Transcript

Episode Transcript


Hannah: Well thanks for joining us today, Anna.

Anna: Hi, good to be here.

Hannah: Yeah, so I’m so excited to have you on the show. So let’s just jump right in. Your financial planning firm, The MainStreet Planning, can you tell us a little bit about how it’s set up and structured, and how that’s different from a lot of the firms out there today?

Anna: Yes, totally. So MainStreet Financial Planning, we’ve been around since 2002. And traditionally have been an hourly fee only practice. My partner, Jim Ludwig, started the firm in 2002 in Maryland, DC area. That’s where I used to live. So we’ve always been focused on providing financial planning to clients without having to manage their investments. And that’s because we wanted to work with clients that didn’t have access to good quality financial planning advice. The way that we’ve structured and how we work with clients, it’s essentially a project-based approach. So when clients find us, they don’t necessarily know that it’s gonna be a financial plan that they need. They have specific questions and they need help.

Anna: So when they land on our website or however they find us, mostly online or through your referral sources, then they get to see what option is best for them in terms of, okay, do you have one or two smaller questions that you need immediate help with and don’t really need a comprehensive plan? Or perhaps the questions that clients are asking, or they’ve made up their mind and they know what they want to plan, then we can go the route of a full comprehensive plan. And so our plans, it takes a good nine months or so initially to lay out a plan for somebody because we have sessions, we have homework for an advisor, for a client. And so it’s an engagement that lasts initially that long to create a plan, to help them identify their goals.

Anna: Just because we’re not an investment management firm, we would still provide investment advice as part of the overall plan because investments are important in everybody’s plan. But it’s not the leading up front kind of thing that we talk to clients about. It’s really … Gets to the back burner for the time that we’re working with clients because we want to help them create a strategy of what they want to accomplish, right? What kind of goals they have. Sometimes, or most of the times, they don’t realize what they are and how to identify. So that’s kinda the leading piece. And then of course, we’ll close with giving them proper recommendations. How to invest, what to invest, how to save, and all of those things that everybody does in the comprehensive plans.

Anna: The way that it works, it’s either hourly. So if it’s a small question or project. Or a flat fee for a comprehensive plan. And clients pay us overtime for that. Once we finish the initial plan, then they have an option to work with us for checkups. Annual checkups some clients come every six months, some come quarterly to maintain the plan that they initially laid out for themselves.

Hannah: And so this is really kind of a … It’s not a new model. I mean, you guys have been around since 2002. But it’s not the what we see in the mainstream for financial planning. So can you just give a ballpark of what is the cost? What are people paying you for these financial plans?

Anna: Right. So it is not a new model. What we’ve done differently from what you’re seeing out there is that we’ve packaged our services based on the kind of clients we worked and still work over the years. Because we looked at who is interested in our services, what kind of questions they were asking. And so instead of leading with saying, “Alright, I’m gonna charge you hourly, let’s just sit down and push the button and the clock will start ticking.” We said, “Alright. Well, here is how …” For example, the two big demographics that we work with are families. Younger families starting out and then clients who are facing retirement. Either close to retirement, entering retirement. So around that phase because things get complicated. So these are the two big groups that we would service. And based on doing the hourly project work for a while, we knew how many hours it took us to do a plan for a family. Right? Maybe young family, getting married, having kids, buying their first home. And then we have identified how many hours we had to spend. And so we did.

Anna: We created a package. And so when they show up at our door, they’d look at it and say, “Okay, I know that the plan will cost me,” and these are all available on our website, by the way. But for example, a starting or growing a family package is $3700. So that’s that initial nine months or so worth of service that I was describing earlier. Retirement plan, nearing retirement is $4300. And that’s, again, that initial work of laying out everything for a client comprehensively.

Hannah: If somebody wants to engage with you ongoing, do they just kind of revert to the hourly rate after that? Or what does that look like?

Anna: Both. It could be both. Depending what they actually need. If it’s something shorter or something kind of one time, hourly is always available. It’s available to clients initially showing up at our doors. And it’s available for the ongoing work. If they stay and want to maintain the overall plan that we’ve laid out for them, it’s … We have ongoing services. It’s either, again, twice a year meetings. And there’s other things that we do for them over the course of the year. Or quarterly. So just to give you kind of an idea of the fees, the twice a year is $1800 and then four times a year is $3300. And they can pay us quarterly or they can pay us monthly as well for those types of services. And then hourly if they just want one or two questions, they can always do hourly.

Hannah: And do you find that a lot of the clients want to do the ongoing service? Or is there a drop off once they had their financial plan?

Anna: It’s a mix. I would probably say it’s a 50/50 kind of a split. Initially, everybody’s a little cautious and say, “Alright, I’m gonna try this.” And especially if they haven’t done it before, they just want to kind of figure out how it works, how are they gonna be doing with it, are they committed, are they gonna do the work? So up front, less people are saying, “Okay, I’m committed, I’m gonna stay the course.” What we find interesting, and that’s why we hae ongoing services as an option, right, unlike traditionally, you kind of sign up to work with the firm and that’s how they do their planning. You staying on forever.

Anna: We give an option because they can pick and choose if they want to come back right away. We find it interesting that some clients, or a fair amount of clients come back year two, for example. Or in a little bit of time. Not necessarily right away. Or some clients come back five years later, right? So it’s getting over this initial kind of more heavier, up front work that gets them intimidated a little bit. Especially if they haven’t done it before. But once they’ve done initial plan, it’s much easier. And they know, that’s I think it’s a beauty of this business model that we have, they know that they can always reach out to us. If there’s an emergency question, they can retain our services on a hourly basis. Or if they need … A Major life change has happening, they can come back and we will do a full plan update. And they’ll be able to answer their questions.

Hannah: It’s fascinating hearing you talk about this. Even for my own firm, I have AUM clients. So it’s like once you kind of get them in, they’re there every year and paying me every year. But how is … How have you approached the difference differently because, I mean, a lot of these people are just paying you one time versus, “Oh, I know if I get this new client, I happen to have this new income base.” You’re always looking for clients.

Anna: Yes, that’s … I think this is where this business model is quite different from the traditional AUM model. Although we have about 175 households who work with us on these programs on continuing basis from year to year. So when you’re comparing AUM client that you know that you gonna have that recurring income for years to come, this is our way of kind of predicting and measuring, right, what are we gonna have to face the following year, right, in terms of client load and how many plans we have to update. So yes, we always look at how many new clients we have to get in any particular calendar year. And every advisor. We as a company have goals. And then every advisor has their specific goals in terms of how many clients they are required to work with. New clients and then returning clients. And then of course, right, the clients that we’ve serviced in the past that may not necessarily said, “Alright, I’m working with you in 2019.” They’re could be coming sometime in May or June, right? And we haven’t necessarily knew that they’re gonna show up at our doors, unplanned.

Anna: So it’s always looking for new opportunities. And we’ve … It’s somehow worked over the years in terms of … Definitely every time … Every beginning of the month you kinda look at the calendar and say, “Okay, well how many new meetings,” or we call them get acquainted meetings. Or short, GA’s. How many new GA’s are we going to have? Right? Because that predicts how many clients potentially will … Or prospects, I shall say, convert to actual clients. So yeah, it’s just I, honestly, most of my career have been practicing this kind of model. So I think I just don’t know any different. And so looking at this, it’s normal, right, for us to say, “Alright.” And we’ve structured out business in a way where we have particular meetings throughout the month, right, with the team. Sales meeting, marketing meeting where all of these things get discussed and to make sure that we stay with the targets that we’ve set up for ourselves.

Hannah: What really strikes me hearing you say this, I talk to so many planners. I was just having a conversation this week with somebody about how they don’t know how to articulate the value of financial planning to a prospect. And hearing you say all this, I’m like, “Man, you know how to do that. You know how to sell financial planning.” So what are your thoughts on how to articulate the value of financial planning and really get somebody on board with financial planning and working with you?

Anna: Yeah, it’s a good question. Well, the way we lead our conversations and the way we positioned our marketing materials, our website, and how we … How the whole process really goes to us. And that’s why I mentioned at the beginning that we don’t focus on investments, right? Or we put that towards the end because what we want to do, and this is where, I think, the value … The client has to recognize that the value is in actual work. And how can we help them reach their financial goals? That’s kind of the big driving force and once we … And we have a very particular process when somebody knocks on our doors. And I do a lot of prospecting calls. And if you want to kind of follow along, I can model a little bit of this.

Anna: But on our website we have a very detailed step by step process. I walk them through and explain to them what is going to happen, what they’re going to be responsible for, what they’re going to get from us, right, so that when they show up at our doors and we actually charge up front $100 for initial consultation. So that’s one also. One step to kind of eliminate folks that are not serious and are just aren’t ready to commit. So they actually know and understand that goals … And this is the way the overall plan is laid out is that if they can see how … If they can connect all the dots. Because a lot of times, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this with your clients as well is that they’re just … The clients are just not sure how to put all the pieces together. Right?

Anna: And so if we … An analogy I like to use a lot is let’s think of this whole financial plan, financial life, all these things you’re dealing with as a puzzle. And so we help you solve that puzzle. But until we can put all the pieces together, we have to sort everything out, identify what it is that you want, right? And I think the piece that most people are interested in is that. Is what is it that they want and how … Because once they identify that, then everything else is seems to be pretty straightforward. You know how much you have to save, you know how much you … Or how you have to invest your accounts. You know how much life insurance you need to get. All of those things that they’re asking questions about, it just falls into place. So the way that we describe the value is in explaining what the process is like. Because especially if they haven’t done it before, it’s like, “Oh my gosh. And then I have to pay you 3000 or $4000. What is it that I’m gonna get?” So that’s kind of our approach to that. Hopefully it clarifies it for you.

Hannah: Yeah, absolutely. And so with your young families, is there usually a certain income level that you are seeing in your practice?

Anna: Honestly we do not have any requirements in terms of what their assets have to be, what their income … None of that. Because it’s not a defining factor for them to work with us. Some of them have negative net worth because they have gigantic student loans. But guess what, they still need help, right? They need exactly the same help as somebody who has a positive net worth or a certain income level. And because of our locations … And we have five offices across the country. So we’re spread out with the physical locations, but we work with clients remotely. Not just here in United States, all over the world. It just depends on where the clients are geographically, their income levels might be different, right?

Anna: For example, I’m here in San Francisco Bay Area. It is a totally different world here in terms of cost of living, income levels, and everything versus Maryland, DC. Right? Example, we have a lot of military or federal employees as our clients. Different demographic, right? Different income levels. They have pensions versus somebody who is here in the Bay Area and works for Google or Facebook and they have huge stock options, right? So it’s just … It really varies all over. And that’s why we decided that we’re not focusing on any of that but rather what is it that they’re trying to accomplish, what kind of goals do they have, and how can we help them reach all of that?

Hannah: I love talking to you. And I just want to even go back and re-listen to all of this because I feel like so many people get stuck in this rut of we have to manage investments because, I mean, they have to have somebody to manage their investments. But it’s so exciting to hear you talking about there’s really an appetite for the consumers for actual, true financial planning.

Anna: Right. Investment management is very much needed for sure. It’s just we’ve decided as a firm is that we aren’t gonna be doing it. But again, just to emphasize. We still provide investment recommendations very specific. What are they gonna … How they rebalance their portfolio? What do they have to buy? What do they have to sell? It’s just we don’t … With a lot of do it yourself options these days and clients being tech savvy, personal finance savvy, all of these things are freely manageable for them. And if there are clients who need professional investment management service and we can’t provide it to them, we have people to outsource it, and we have a number of clients who have a portfolio manager that does just that for them. And then we stay on with them for the financial planning piece. Because there’s more things that we do in terms of the hand holding aspect, right? Than just, “Okay, here’s your plan. Go implement it.” As you probably all know, the hardest part is the implementation. It’s not the overall sessions and meetings we are going to have with them to lay it out. It’s making sure they actually get it done. And that’s the hardest piece.

Hannah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). With that implementation, is that usually done in those nine months of when you’re meeting with the clients?

Anna: Yes, it is. It is. For sure. We have regularly scheduled sessions with the client once we present the right … Once we worked out through the overall plan, had our planning sessions, have the recommendations together, and along the overall process, the client doesn’t have to wait until we’re done to get start, right? Sometimes they just jump on it and start working through things. We have specific check in calls that we do. And then we have what we call a six months check up session.

Anna: So initially, just to kind of give you a timeline, it probably would take us three months or so. Maybe two to three months to complete the initial plan. And it’s not that it takes us that much time, it’s just having regularly scheduled sessions two to three weeks apart will take that amount of time, right? And so we’ve laid out the initial plan. They know what they’re supposed to be working on, they have their action plan. We use my plan map. It’s an automated action list, kind of to do list of all the things that they have to work on. So that helps them constantly stay on the top of their to do items. It sends them reminders. But then, of course, the proactive approach on our part, right? Just because they’re gonna get a reminder by email doesn’t mean they’re gonna get it done, is what kind of moves them along the process.

Anna: And then at about nine months or so, we have a what we call a six months checkup session to sit down and look at that to do list that we’ve created and see how far along they’ve come. And I swear, there’s some kind of magic happens right around that when we’re supposed to schedule that meeting, a lot of things get checked off the list or not. And then the client just comes and says, “I’m the worst kind of client you’ve ever had. I haven’t done anything.” Or they push the meeting out another month or so. Or there’s all … I mean, I’ve seen all kinds of things. But regardless, they know, right? Because we’re humans. We all need a little bit of kick in the butt to get things going. So those are the different ways that we help them make sure that they stay on track. And if they continue working with us in the next phase, right? If they stay on for the next phase, that of course, right, gets us even more time with them to say, “Alright, what do we still need to work from the original plan? What are the kind of updates are coming on,” and so forth. So it’s just more continuation into what we have done for them initially.

Hannah: So I know you have a whole team of planners working for you. I’m curious. So in the traditional wealth management space, I mean, they say how many clients can you really do financial planning for? And I’ve heard anywhere from 40 to 80, maybe 100. What is your perspective of … In your model, how many clients can one planner work with?

Anna: I think that the numbers you’re saying are right about where we are with. So we have four CFP’s on staff, including myself. So I’m still very active with seeing clients. That’s probably about the same amount, I would say. About 50 new … Just because our business model is different where we have to have goals for new clients. So about 50 new clients per advisor … Or actually, 60 new clients is what our goal this year. And then all the returning clients, they’re coming back either from the years right before or the ones that are gonna sign up throughout the year. So I would say that 60 to 100 is a good target for your kind of client book. And again, with us it’s different than in the AUM model where you have … Or your turnover is as low or lower than it is with us. But there’s always gonna be clients that are just gonna show up and say, “Alright, I need help.” And so I think 60 to 100 is a good kind of target.

Hannah: Well, it’s really cool to hear that there are so many clients that just come back. So there are some … Like you get to a certain point and there’s just some mass that just keeps you moving.

Anna: Right and we have a creative marketing ways to get them back into the overall process. I mean, our whole intention, of course, from the beginning is to work with them continually, right? But it just really depends. We’ve decided that we want to me them wherever they are on this financial planning spectrum. And because, I think, there’s still so many people that are quite intimidated by this process, or just even thinking that financial planning is for them, right? It just sounds so sophisticated. It just sounds that you have to be so rich to do this that I think we gotta give them a platform to be able to get advice that they need without kind of blocking them in the box and saying, “Here’s how you have to do it and there’s no other way.” So but yeah.

Anna: We have to be really proactive. That’s one thing about our business model is proactive about reaching out to them. Proactive about making sure that they’ve done … Implemented all the recommendations. And for them to come back because if they … That’s where the value … Right? That’s where they start seeing the value. If we lead at the beginning with talking to them about what we going to do and how they’re going to identify their goals, in order for them to continue … Want to come back, they’ve gotta hit their targets, right? They’ve gotta know that they’re on track. And the only way for us to show them is to help. And so it sort of all falls together after a while. But yeah, that’s how we do it.

Hannah: So in the traditional AUM business plan, the marketing is referrals, really. If we’re gonna be honest. That’s a lot of them.

Anna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hannah: It’s like you obviously have built out a pretty robust marketing platform inside of it. I know I see you going live on Facebook on a regular basis and doing a number of things. But can you talk a little bit more about the marketing side of your business?

Anna: Sure, sure. Referrals are still pretty big part of our model as well. Just because … And referrals I mean clients themselves. Right? They tell their friends, they tell their families. Professional referrals, attorneys. Financial planning firms who do not do financial planning. They’re still exist, actually, out there. And I remember probably I would say 10 years maybe, maybe a little more than 10 years ago, it wasn’t as common to do financial planning and not do investment management. So those are big referral sources for us. But aside from that, that’s just traditional, right? Referral sources from anywhere. We do a lot of kind of non-traditional marketing efforts and so yeah. I do … I have … All of our advisors have shows that they do, right? It’s either a podcast. It’s either … I have a weekly show that I do on Facebook lives, which is kind of cool. It really forced me to get out there, and get comfortable in front of camera, and connect with people, right? Just through a different channel as you would if you go to a networking event. We produce a fair amount of content in terms of blogs, and articles, and webinars for clients that we already service and in fall the prospects who come to our doors.

Anna: The other big piece of the referrals or where we get our business are associations that support this fee only, hourly project-based kind of a business model. And they are NAPFA, Care Planning Network, FPA, what am I thinking? XY Planning Network. Those are the four, yeah. And we get a fair amount of referrals. And also having physical location. So we have five offices across the country. Three on the east coast. Maryland, DC. We have an office in New York and then in California we have southern California and northern California. Folks are still finding us based on their zip code. And it’s funny how they find an advisor because they’re here in their local backyard but then they’re still opting out to do online meetings just because it saves them time, right? And traffic. But it still works, so we can’t figure that one out just yet.

Anna: But so that’s kind of where the overall market. So we have a lot of what clients that come to us are more how we would call them more from the passive efforts. From all of the online kind of space. And then of course, referrals, they’re the ones that … All the connections that we created over the years and keep creating and meeting new people. They’re the ones that we have sending us clients as well.

Hannah: So I’m curious to hear more of your story in the financial planning profession. Like how you got to where you are. And then also the evolution of the firm. Because having five different offices with multiple planners across the country, I think that’s a really interesting story. Can you tell us more of your story and then kinda how does it intersect with the firm and then the larger story there?

Anna: Totally. Yes.

Anna: So I started … I mentioned earlier that Jim Ludwig started our firm in 2002 in Maryland. And I used to live on the east coast in Maryland as well. When I graduated from college, I just got my toes wet with understanding or learning about financial planning. And I started to take classes at the local college. And kinda started to do my own research because I had no idea what I was gonna do with my business administration concentration in finance degree. I certainly didn’t want to go work for a company where I had to sell products. I knew that right away because I had an internship at Smith Barney and that was heavily sales oriented kind of a culture there. It was great experience, but I wanted to … I really wanted to do more of the real financial planning. So I found all the traditional sources where new advisors should go. FPA was one of those. I learned about NAPFA. And so from there, kind of all trickled into.

Anna: And then I … My husband at the time was … He’s a CPA by training. He was doing an internship at a local CPA firm. And he came one day home and says, “I think I have an idea for you how you can get into the financial planning.” He’s like, “You have to go out and find a firm where you can start from scratch, basically,” right? Because I had nothing. I only had a college degree and a few courses under my belt, right? But I knew I wanted to be a financial planner. And kind of work your way up. And I think by … I’m not sure if this was luck or it was really more just all the stars aligned for me. I actually saw … And it was really on FPA, this was a local chapter in Maryland. There was an ad where Jim posted and said he was looking for assistants, right? And he was a solo practitioner that just started his firm. This was late 2005, early 2006. So it was a couple years into owning his business. And it kinda started from there. And I was willing to take any job that was offered to me because I wanted to get in. And so I told them … I told Jim that I want to make a career out of this. And if he was interested in getting help, this is kinda what I needed.

Anna: And there I was, 2006. So 15, 14 years later, we’re still kinda working at it. But over the years, I got my CFP a couple years later. Had enough experience to qualify. Started to seek clients on my own. At the time, we only had one office location. And as I mentioned earlier, because clients started to sort of find us, right, through all of these different marketing channels. We’ve opened up another location in Washington DC. Jim was originally from southern California, Santa Barbara. And so he would go back to visit his family and friends and had an office there as well. So it was kind of bi-coastal practice to begin with. And then in 2011, my husband and I decided that we wanted to kind of explore other parts of the country and move to northern California. And that’s where I’ve just came here in the San Francisco Bay Area. And didn’t know anyone. I had no clients. And just opened up … Found an office, opened up another location, and it kind of grew from there.

Anna: But as far as how my role evolves aside from just moving and opening these different locations over the years, and I’m sure a lot of you listening financial planners out there, probably would’ve either experienced this or will at some point. This client’s asking a question. Especially if you’re a little bit older is how long are you going to be doing this? Right? And can I fully trust and be here with you? And grow old together kind of a question. And so Jim would always say that, “Well, if I can’t take care of you, then Anna will.” And so this conversation kind of kept on happening.

Anna: And I remember attending one of the … I think it was a NAPFA conference at the end of 2013. And I think around that time, there was a lot of talk about succession planning and just everywhere you could go. And I think I’ve probably had enough of hearing about it. And I finally pushed in and said, “Well, you’ve talked about all of these things happening if they’re happening and I could take over the clients. But I think I’m ready right now to take over the whole business operation.” And that’s kind of how it happened. And I was able to purchase the practice from him in early 2014. And since then, I’ve had an additional responsibilities of managing that and being a business owner. And by 2014, I already was living here in California. So we truly had a remote practice because Jim was in Maryland and all of our clients were spread out. But we started … Just to kind of summarize, we started from just the two of us, right? A small firm to a growing team of eight right now and are still working remotely with all of our clients and our team as well.

Hannah: I love it that you just approached him about I’m ready to take over the business side of it. And so many conversations I hear about succession planning, it’s years of conversation. So I’m curious how that went for you.

Anna: Yes. I think it was about the same for me as well. It wasn’t … I just described that one particular moment where I said, “Okay, I’m ready to do this.” But it certainly did take us years in terms of kinda thinking, and talking about, and releasing our eight. And as well for Jim, right, agreeing to do something like this. And for myself as well, and saying, “Alright, do I really want to become a business owner? I really enjoy the aspect of financial planning. That’s what I know how to do. That’s what I’ve been trained to do.” I had zero skills in managing a business. But it still took us a little bit of time to figure it out. I think it maybe … Because we worked together for so long initially, it may have been just an easier conversation and kind of an idea. But I want to take the credit for the fact that I was ballsy enough to say, “I’m ready to do it now if you are.” So I’ll give myself a credit there. The rest, you’ll have to interview Jim. He’ll tell you his side of the story on this.

Hannah: And so when you bought the practice, did you envision that you would be having five offices around the country with eight staff members? Was this part of your plan or did it just kind of unfold that way?

Anna: It was. I’ve always … I think in that one of the biggest reasons I wanted to buy the practice from Jim is because I wanted to create a true financial planning firm. I wanted to move it beyond just initially Jim, right? When you’re a sole advisor, everything is centered around you. Clients know you. It’s you. Then when I started seeing clients, it was Jim and Anna. So I really wanted to get away from that because the whole idea was how can we help more people? And so my vision always has been can we have more locations? Can we help more clients? Can we get more team members so that they can surface more clients? So it’s always been that idea. And so I think without really having a grand plan initially, I knew that the first step would be if I could be in charge, right? If I could have my own ideas or be able to implement my own ideas, this would be the way to do it.

Anna: And so, but yes, it certainly … And buying a practice is very different from starting your own practice. There’s a lot of its own challenges when you buy in a practice because you already have a set ways of doing financial planning. You have a set ways of running a business. And there’s set ways of what programs and system. And there’s … You basically get everything. And there’s a fair amount of mistakes that I’ve made trying to change things and of course, right, because that’s what I wanted to do. As opposed to when you start your own firm, there’s a set of challenges there. Not having enough clients and growing that. So is there a better way to do it? It really depends where you … If you have an opportunity to do that or if you don’t.

Anna: But it certainly … What I’ve realized over the years as well is that it certainly requires running a business and if … Because my idea was always I wanted a business. I wanted a company that would run without me having to be there, right? And I’m actually now starting to experience that. Because I had a life-changing transition. My husband and I just had a baby. A baby boy named Liam. He’s six weeks old. And so I … This is for the first time ever, I actually took time off. I’m still taking the time off. I’m technically still on maternity leave. But that’s the idea of but how can your business actually run without you? And it’s very hard to do in the service type of business, which is what we are all in. And so I’m far from having a perfect, perfect, perfect set up, and perfect structure. But working really hard on getting there.

Hannah: As you’ve grown your firm, when you bring on new advisors, are you expecting them to generate revenue? Are they on salary? Are they commission based? How are you structuring that from a firm process standpoint?

Anna: Yes. So our advisors are salaried advisors. But they are expected to service … There’s two things. They’re expected to service clients that we already have, right? We have a base of clients that are signed up and working with us in any particular calendar year. We have a base of clients that we’ve serviced through all of these years that any time would show up at our doors and they should be ready to work with them. But also, every advisor has a specific new client sales goal that they’re obligated to meet. And so business development, professional development, all of those things that you will have to do if you were running your own firm is part of what they … What everybody’s involved in.

Hannah: And then do you help them with that marketing plan and kind of building that out?

Anna: Exactly. Exactly. So we have sort of the corporate … We call it a corporate structural. So it’s not … But the corporate efforts that MainStreet does as a company. How we promote our brands. And then what each individual advisor will have to do. Because it still comes down to … Even though you work at a firm, right? Like ours or any other firm, you’re still your own individual advisor. And clients are still … Even though they may be attracted to our business model, they’re still gonna be attracted to one of our advisors more than the other. So you have to put yourself out there. And so everything from social media, from writing blogs. And that’s why we do all of those things because that’s how clients and prospects get to know us. That’s how they become comfortable with getting closer to having a relationship, a closer relationship with one of the advisors.

Hannah: And so your locations around the country, do they correspond with an advisor that lives there?

Anna: Not necessarily by any means. We do a fair amount of travel. I, of course, have cut back on that substantially. But no, not necessarily. And again, I think more emphasis these days is even though when we have … So the offices that we have … Just to clarify because some people may think, “Oh my gosh, you have a huge expense for paying rent on all of these locations.” It’s actually not. And it worked quite well for us because of the shared office space kind of a concept. So we have physical locations in all of those that I’ve mentioned. But if a clients … And Jim and I do a fair amount of travel. Liz is located in the Maryland, DC area so she kinda services that area. And then Cynthia, who’s here in San Francisco Bay Area, she covers this territory. So it’s not a proportionate allocation of advisors of any kind. It’s really just where the clients are and oftentimes if we can convince them to work remotely, that’s a win. We don’t have to travel. But we are very strategic with the travel too. Not to say that any time there’s a client, I’m jumping on the plane. Not really. It’s specific days of the month that either Jim or I, we’re traveling to the east coast or to the west coast. And we sort of group all of our appointments. And so it’s very time efficient.

Hannah: Well and speaking of efficient, just hearing you talk, do you leverage a lot of technology? I mean, I assume you do in your firm to really streamline the processes and everything that you’re doing. Firm wide and also to your clients.

Anna: Yeah. So we do. I mean, we have to be. We have to adapt a lot of technologies early on just because we were positioned. We were located that way. And we wanted to be more efficient. Nobody wanted to sit in the office and only have a desktop. Not be able to take your laptop and go. And plus, with the travel, we had to. So we … I mean, we use pretty much all the traditional kind of things that a lot of the firms use. All the documents are in a cloud. We use two financial planning software. We have a CRM. We use Zoom for online meetings, Slack for kind of internal communication, we use Asana for project management and all the business operations in the background. Yeah, we use G Suite for all of our emails on calendar.

Hannah: And do you use Asana for just the project management or do you actually manage the client processes in Asana?

Anna: No, all the client processes, we have … One of the things … That’s something that I actually … Good question. I wanted to sort of emphasize on this earlier. One of the ways that I think we’ve been successful over the years in servicing so many clients. And I think we, by far, if you look back at how many other advisors you’ve talked to on this podcast, we do about 125 to 150 new plans every year. So this is new clients. So it’s a lot of new information, and new families, and everything’s new. So we have worked really hard in creating workflows that help us guide the process. Because there’s different parties that are involved in this overall financial planning process. From Cassie our admin person scheduling, and coordinating to advisor, having meetings. We also have paraplanners that we employ. Paraplanners doing all the work and so forth. So we have a very precise process that is laid out on our workflows in the CRM that allows us to … For this to work seamlessly. Because first of all, the team is all remote. The clients could be remote. And so all of these pieces come together. So Asana is really just for more for business function, management. But the client pieces all lives in our workflows.

Hannah: So you mentioned that you have a six week old baby. Congratulations on that.

Anna: Thank you.

Hannah: How did you see your mindset shifting as you were pregnant and as you were anticipating a maternity leave? How did that impact your business?

Anna: Good question. I think in preparation … First of all, I didn’t know what I was facing. That’s, I think, fair statement. Unless you have a child, you can kinda know what to expect. So I didn’t. How everything would change. But what I knew I had to get done, right? It’s almost like I can … A good analogy for expecting to have a baby is you’re going on vacation tomorrow and the day before that vacation starts, you want to get so much done. You’re so efficient with your time. All the projects are coming to close. So I think a couple months before my son arrived, it was getting a lot of stuff done. It was making sure that … And again, emphasizing the fact that I could take time off and the company’s still running, the clients are still being serviced, all the functions, right, of the business is still being … Everything is ongoing and I don’t have to show up. Although I do and I want to, but it’s not dependent on me. So making sure all of that was in place.

Anna: And one of the other things that was interesting too, we at the end of the year, we ran a promotion for all of our clients. So in December, so just happens just to be the timing of all of this. But that was a big project that we usually push out in December in terms of getting all the old clients to come back and making sure that everybody is set up for the following year. So if anything, I think what I’ve learned through this process up until now is that being very efficient with the time and being laser focused on what my responsibilities are as an advisor, right? With the clients that I already have. And I had to transition fair amount of clients for the time being, right, to other advisors. To Liz and to Cynthia just because I’m not available, right, for some time. And then being also laser focused with what business functions need to happen. What marketing efforts. And how do we make sure that just because I’m not here every day, what has to happen.

Anna: And now that I have … We’ve had our son six weeks into this, and learning, and figuring out what the new routines will be, I think the time aspect will become even more important. And how do I … The question that I keep asking myself is how do be a mom? How do I be a good financial planner, right? And still service the clients. Because that’s the piece that I love the most. And then how do I still run this business, right? And keep on with the vision and the goals that we’ve set up for it. So I haven’t figured it all out yet, but certainly, I’m open for suggestions and advice.

Hannah: Well and I think such an important message is for women who are listening to this who want to have a family some day is that it is possible. And that we actually work in a great field for it to happen.

Anna: Oh, yes. I think one of the things that I’m … Aside from having a family and just having a business, I have been focusing on … Yes and showing other women, right? Especially in our profession is that you could have a career, right? You could have a satisfying business. And you can also have other things that you want. Maybe not necessarily a family because it’s not for … Not everybody does it. But if you do, it’s very doable. And I think this profession is by far the one that has a lot of opportunities. And so I’m passionate about helping a lot of women to understand that. Because when I started, I had no idea. I just loved the aspect of financial planning. I loved helping people. But I didn’t understand all the pieces that went into it. Just years later. Didn’t have the right resources of connections, right? I think everybody can relate when you’re new into something, you don’t know. And looking back now, almost 15 years, I wish I had those resources. But I’ve created them myself.

Hannah: So you mentioned that you’re passionate with helping other women in the financial planning profession. So on top of everything else that you’re doing in your practice and really leading our profession in this hourly based planning that you’re doing, can you share more about what you’re doing to help other professional women?

Anna: Yeah, thank you for asking. That’s kind of a passion project that’s been in the works for a little bit. But last year, I officially have launched a group, a community. I call it a group. A community called Kolective. And really the idea behind it and why I sort of wanted to go out there. I mentioned this earlier. But based on just what I had to go through and grow professionally as a planner, right? And being a woman in the male dominated industry, I wish … Looking back, I wish I had resources, right? I wish I had a mentor to help me go through the process. And so I figured that okay, I am at this point in my career. And I have other women on my team. Right? Other advisors. So what can I share from my own experiences and what things I’m working on right now, and what have I done, and how can there be a community? So I’m all about learning from other people, right? So it’s not just, “Okay, here. Look at me. This is what I’ve done.” But it’s about this collective. And so that’s one of the reasons I called this group is Kolective is learning from others and kinda sharing their ideas.

Anna: And the basis of the Kolective Group is personal growth because I believe that if you can work on yourself, right? And personal growth is a topic that it’s very broad, but there’s a lot of different skills that we all can develop. And how that translates into becoming a better financial planner? How does that translate into becoming a better business owner, if that’s what you want to do? How does that translate to become a better mother, right? Because that’s the track I’m on. And so all of those pieces are interconnected. And again, I didn’t see those resources in our community. A lot of what’s available in the financial planning space today is about how to become better professionally and that’s great. But because there’s not enough women, right, in this profession, I think the personal growth aspect of it is really much needed. That’s at least what I wanted all along as I was starting out very new right out of college in this profession.

Anna: And so the Kolective Community, it’s an online community. We have local events. We’ve done a fair amount of last year. I’m planning to do more this year. We’re just about to launch our podcast so stay tuned for that. But you can certainly find us. We have our own website. It’s KolectiveNetwork.com. But that’s kind of what we stand for.

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