Hannah: Well thanks Steven for joining us today.
Steven: Thanks Hannah, I’m excited to be here.
Hannah: Yeah, you are the founder of Next Gen Financial Planning out in San Diego. What inspired you to get into financial planning and to really start your own firm?
Steven: To start financial planning in the first place. Like most people in our industry, I came from somewhere else. I was doing something else and I was a career changer into this. I think very few people start out with the intention of going into career and financial planning and so for me before doing financial planning it was the Marine Corps. I was in for about eight and a half years and I loved being a marine and doing that work. I had a lot of different jobs and different types of units that I was in. I got to travel around a lot. I loved all the guys I was in in my different units but I realized that I didn’t want to do it forever. I wanted more control over the direction of my own life which you don’t really have in the Marine Corps if you’re told to deploy somewhere you go deploy somewhere. If you’re told you’re going to go to this unit and do this type of work then that’s what you’re going to do. I wanted to have more control over what I’m doing in my own life.
I also wanted to, I knew that I wanted to start a family someday and be able to hang out with my wife and future kids so that was important to me. I ultimately decided to get out after about eight and a half years. My last duty station was at Camp Pendleton which is near San Diego and I loved the city, I knew that I probably wanted to stay here forever. My girlfriend at the time Michelle who’s now my wife she also loves San Diego and if I wanted to leave elsewhere she probably wouldn’t have gone with me so staying here was a pretty easy choice.
Ended up going to school at San Diego State University because their business college had a pretty good reputation and because they also had a pretty large veteran population there so I thought that I would fit in a little bit better than some other universities that didn’t have that element. I initially wanted to be a finance major just because I had always been interested in finance and economics and those types of topics and as I was going through their finance program, I was I think less than a year in when I was at a meeting for a student group, they’re called Finance Investment Society and they would bring in speakers that work in all different areas of finance and one time they brought in a guy who was a financial planner for a local firm.
Once I heard him talking about working with individual clients and the impact this his work had on their lives and the types of stuff he could help them with I realized that that was the career choice for me. I didn’t know that that was a thing that existed that you could do with helping individuals with personal finance stuff and I just loved the idea right from the start as soon as I heard him talking about that. I got really, really lucky in that SDAU actually has a really good financial planning program where I was able to switch my major over to that and then take the CFP exam right out of undergrad. They also had a student chapter of the FPA there that I got actively involved with right away. I got involved with our San Diego chapter of the FPA. Met a lot of awesome people there that helped bring me in and it was a pretty easy choice to go to that career field. I was lucky that I found it when I was in a year through of school.
Then as far as starting my own firm, I think the first time that that crossed my mind was probably only a few months after I heard from that guy I mentioned at the FIS meeting. I was at a meeting of the San Diego FPA and we had Bob Veres come in to talk to us about the future of the financial planning profession. I went up to talk to him afterward to ask him a couple questions and he mentioned that I would probably be interested in this new group that had just started up called the XY Funding Network. I went to their website, started reading what they were all about. I think they were only, I don’t know six months old or something at the time and when I was reading about the types of support that they offered and stories of other people that were starting their own firms, I decided again very quickly, very easily that this is something I wanted to do.
I started working at Met Life in their financial planning division to start getting some experience while I was in school but I knew right away that I wanted to start my own firm. I wanted to have the opportunity to work with people that I wanted to, to do things the way that I wanted to and using the tools that I wanted to use. I wanted to be responsible for my own success or failure so I didn’t even have to think about it very much, I just knew that I wanted to start my own firm instead of working for somebody else.
Hannah: There’s so much here that I want to ask you about and I will. Career changers, I especially like career changers because I think they bring such unique skill sets into the business and into financial planning because of what they did in the past. How did your military experience really influence, how does in influence your work as a planner? What did you learn from that experience that makes you a better planner that somebody without that experience maybe wouldn’t have?
Steven: I think the first one that comes to mind is my time in the military exposed me to a lot of people who came from very, very different backgrounds than what I did, had very different personality types and learning to work well with people who are very different from myself I think has been useful when I start dealing with clients who of course are not going to have the same personality or skills or interests that I do. Not that they don’t communicate in the same way. I think that’s the first thing that comes to mind that useful from the military.
The second would be I’ve lost some of it now but I did help develop some sense of personal discipline, of sticking to the things that I say I’m going to do and working hard and staying focused on the mission. There have been sometimes where I’ve definitely failed to do that but overall I think the Marine Corps had a big positive influence on me in that way as well.
Hannah: Yeah, I’m always interested to seeing how people use their first career to leverage their second career in financial planning.
Steven: Yeah, it’s not the kind of thing where I developed, there are no, none of the technical skills of financial planning came from the Marine Corps. I wasn’t when I’m in the field playing with machine guns or something I wasn’t learning about the tax code. That’s not how it worked. It didn’t help me at all in that way. It didn’t help me develop any contacts that have been useful in my career. I didn’t really get any direct experience but it helped develop me as a person. I left the Marine Corps being far more mature and thoughtful than I was when I went in, a lot more focused. I think it helped me in those ways even if they weren’t directly related to financial planning.
Hannah: Are you still involved in the military in any way through financial planning?
Steven: I am not active duty anymore and I’m not a reservist so I am completely out of uniform, have been for about five and a half years now. It was January of 2013 when I left and so officially I’m completely out of the military. The only way that I am involved now is through a non profit organization called Financial Independence Training which is a group that helps to improve this idea called readiness within the military. We have a lot of military bases here in San Diego and one really big problem among military personnel that most people aren’t aware of is the fact that they have tremendous personal financial issues. There’s this concept of readiness in the military which refers to your ability to deploy and do your job. Some of the most important components of readiness are things like do you have the equipment you need to do your job? Do you have the training? Are you physically fit? Do you have medical issues? Are there disciplinary issues? Those are the biggest components that people think of in terms of your readiness to deploy and do your job.
The number one cause for a lack of military readiness and the ability to deploy is actually personal financial issues and a lot of people even inside the military don’t realize that and it’s especially true for young military personnel but really it’s a problem all the way up and down the chain. What we’ve been doing with that organization last few years is doing one on one sessions at local military bases that we call financial readiness clinics or personal financial planning days which is where I’ll just get together, maybe one or two dozen CFP’s from our local FPA chapter and we will have one on one meetings with marines from a local unit at one of our bases here. Usually they’re about 20, 30 minutes and the financial planner will counsel that marine on whatever they have questions about and hopefully help to have an impact with solving their problems so that they have less stress in their life and they’re better able to deploy and do their job or they’re able to exit the military and return to civilian life being better financially prepared to do so.
Besides those one on one sessions, we also teach classes and we do some consulting with leaders of military units who create some educational materials from our website so we’re trying to help solve that problem to the extent that we’re able to have an impact on it, we’re trying to do so.
Hannah: That program existed before you came around or did you help create that program?
Steven: It was initially created by a guy named David Block who is a former army officer who retired and became a financial planner and then retired from that and now he’s the primary driver of everything that we’re doing with FIT here. He started it I think in 2013 or 14. I met him in early 2015 and I’ve been helping him out with it ever since.
Hannah: Well it’s so neat to see even just that giving back element. I know that’s a huge deal for a lot of new planners is how do we give back to where we came from. That’s exciting to hear.
Steven: Yeah, I think that’s one great way to do it. There are a lot of people out there that have needs in this area and military personnel are one example of a group that has a significant need there. We actually have a lot of support resources for our volunteers that we’re starting to try and expand to other FPA chapters and other military bases around the country so we can have a bigger impact in what we’re able to do with the few bases here in San Diego. Some of the things we do are we have handouts that we give. I’ve given classes to our volunteers. A lot of our volunteers are worried that they don’t know enough about military personal finance issues like the blended retirement system or the savings plan or the military benefits when you deploy, things like that. We try and give classes to our volunteers so that they’re able to have a little more confidence providing guidance to these marines during the one on one sessions.
Really most of the things that they have questions about are things that most CFP’s are way more than qualified to be able to talk to them about like basic stuff infesting and credit scores and managing cash flow. It’s generally pretty basic stuff that they need help with. Anything that financial planners think that they can help with, they’re probably able to have a much bigger impact than they think they can.
Hannah: We sometimes forget how much we know.
Steven: Yeah it’s usually very basic stuff they want help with.
Hannah: Your firm is Next Gen Financial Planning and you go on your website and you talk about how you differ from the traditional model of financial planning with how you work with your clients. Its always exciting to me when I hear somebody who discovers financial planning and then has this vision for what they want to do that’s maybe not influenced by people who’ve been in the industry for five or 10 years themselves. Did you initially have that vision for serving younger clients right away?
Steven: Yes, I wanted to do that from the start for sure. That’s a big part of why I started my own firm is because I wanted to work with people I could more closely relate to and I thought most of our industry tended to ignore and there was a significant need there. I thought it was more fun too just to be able to work with clients who have, they tend to have more dynamic lives. For most older clients, there really isn’t a whole lot changing in their life in any given year unless maybe they have some kind of big health issue or maybe in the year that they retire. For the most part from year to year there isn’t a whole lot going on in their life. When you’re dealing with somebody in their 20’s or 30’s, there tends to be a lot more going on. They’re getting married or divorced, they’re having kids, they’re starting businesses, they’re changing jobs, they’re moving across the country. There’s a lot more going on in their life and a lot more opportunity for us to provide guidance that can be meaningful, substantial to them. A lot more opportunities to have an impact. It’s also more fun to work with those people I think.
Hannah: When you started out, did you know how you wanted to serve them? Did you have an idea of how you charge, how you structure your business or was that a process of discovery for you?
Steven: I had an idea and it’s definitely changed along the way. I didn’t get it right from the start for sure. I’m not sure that I have it perfectly right now but I am definitely changing and learning as I go along.
Hannah: That’s a great part of being a business owner right?
Hannah: There’s always an evolution of it. You talk about being different than the traditional model of financial planning. How do you define that for your clients? When you serve them, how is what you do different than the traditional wealth management firm besides answering their phone call or taking them on as a client.
Steven: Yeah, working with them in the first place is one thing but I think really the most important elements are exactly the same it’s not that millennials are some weird alien breed that nobody understands, they’re just people. It’s really mostly the same. It’s still about listening to the client, learning about what they’re trying to accomplish, what they’re excited about, what they’re afraid of, what’s most important to them and then you create and carry out a plan to help them. There’s the most important things are exactly the same regardless of who you’re working with. What is a little bit different about serving younger clients is the topic areas that they typically need help with.
I don’t really have any questions that I get about Social Security or pensions or Medicare or generating retirement income or managing a large portfolio or complex estate planning. That stuff is not really on my radar at all like it is for most financial planners. Instead, I’m helping with areas like managing student loans for medical school or law school or grad school. Getting started with investing, what type of account they should be contributing to. Making employee benefit selections, negotiating salaries or making career decisions. Combining finances with a new spouse, questions about managing cash flow or spending plan, improving credit scores, maybe starting a business. A lot of these areas, most financial planners tend to avoid them because they just haven’t been a major concern for their older and wealthier clients. For the folks that I’m working with who are maybe 30 years old it does matter a lot. These are the things that are absolutely top of their mind.
Hannah: For the older planners and traditional wealth management model it’s AUM is how you get paid. How do you get paid for your services?
Steven: I have a monthly retainer, a simple flat fee. For most folks, it ends up being around 3,000 per year and it’s split up into monthly payments and then we adjust up or down depending on the complexity of a person’s case and how much work I expect to be doing for them. Then for those folks who want it, investment management is also included at no additional charge. I have no minimum account size, no percentage based fees.
Hannah: What does your ideal client look like? What is a normal client for you?
Steven: I think median age is probably mid 30’s or so. They usually have almost no investible assets. They’re just getting started with that. They often times have big student loan debt from medical school or law school or grad school or something. Maybe they’ve recently been married or they’re considering getting married soon, they have no idea how to combine finances with a spouse, they’re scared of that. A lot of them are worried about things like maybe buying a house, starting a business-
Hannah: What’s their income range usually?
Steven: I think median income is probably around 150, 175, something in that range, median household income. Some are as low as zero, someone that’s starting a business right now, they have zero income. Some are as high as I think highest is maybe 400, 450 I think household income. There’s a fairly wide range and that’s one of the factors that I consider when I figure out how much I should charge them is I don’t want to exceed too high of portion of their income that it becomes burdensome to be able to pay me.
Hannah: When you look at the traditional wealth management clients, it very much one client has, you charge 1% AUM and they have $2 million, well you have $20,000 of revenue now. That’s a lot different than $3,000 of revenue a year for a client.
Hannah: It seems that scale is really important and that marketing to try to bring people in is really important. Have you found that true with your business?
Steven: Yeah, the cost of acquiring each client is important to be aware of and to improve where you’re able to and then also having efficient ways of serving each client is important as well.
Hannah: Okay, let’s talk about cost of acquisition for clients because I don’t hear financial planners talk about that very often.
Steven: Right now my average cost of acquisition is around 400 to 450 per client. It’s gone up and down depending on different things I’ve done over different time frames but that’s about what it is.
Hannah: You’re able to measure all of your marketing. Is all of your marketing targeted to where you can measure it I’m assuming then?
Steven: I can’t always measure the difference between channels so the way I come up with that average cost of acquisition is I look at what’s my total marketing spend and the total number of people who end up signing. It’s tough to evaluate each individual channel. For example, one big channel for acquiring clients for me is referrals from other financial planners who I’ve gotten to know through FPA or elsewhere that they serve different target markets and when they come across someone who’s a good fit for me they send them over. I didn’t really spend any dollars to make that happen, it’s just that I spent time. It builds up on its own over time as I’ve developed those relationships.
Then other things are a little bit more able to be measured. For example Yelp advertising. I know I’m spending there each month and about how many prospects I get so it’s a little bit more clear on the cost of acquiring each client. Even then it’s still a little bit challenging because people don’t always know where they find me. I ask that every time someone schedules a meeting. It’s part of the form that they fill out when they schedule a meeting is where did you find us and sometimes people say, they’ll just write I don’t know or they’ll say internet. That’s not really very helpful when you’re trying to evaluate the effectiveness of different marketing channels but to the extent that I’m able to figure it out, I do.
Hannah: I’m fascinated by marketing. I’m just drawn to it. What stood out to me is that if you do marketing well almost everything can be measured. There’s things like you’re saying your time, you can’t but if you spend dollars on marketing you should be able to measure returns on those dollars. It’s really cool to hear you talking about that and in those terms.
Steven: Yeah, I don’t know that I’ve cracked the code and have a handle on it 100% but it’s definitely on my radar and something that I try to be aware of and I am planning on expanding some paid marketing channels including social media advertising and for that type of stuff it should be much easier to directly measure the impact. That’s one of the reasons I’m interested in that channel because I can measure the effectiveness very clearly.
Hannah: Right, and then you can scale it or not or one thing I know we talked at Next Gen gathering and one thing that just stood out to me when we were having this conversation is really how you viewed being a business owner. You’re obviously a planner but you also take a lot of pride in being that business owner. What does that transition look like for you?
Steven: You’re certainly right that I am taking two dual pathways at once right now of being a business owner and being a financial planner and I think there are pathways that have very different acquired skill sets, different mindsets, different daily activities that I should be doing each day and I’ve recognized for a while now that if I want to reach my full potential of being as good as I possibly can be at something, if I’m continuing down those two pathways at the same time I’m never going to reach that full potential. I’m only going to become moderately good at both of those areas at best. I’ve been starting to think more and more about which pathway do I want to focus on and how do I make that transition into focusing on that pathway. I’m realizing more and more that as much as I do enjoy meeting with individual clients and doing the work of financial planning, I think I would prefer to focus on the business management side and so the idea now is that I’m going to stop taking clients that I individually serve once I hit a certain cap and then past that point only send them over to, I’ve already brought on one financial planner to my team and I’m going to be bringing on others over the next couple years.
As future clients come on, send them over to those people to work with and that way I can focus on things like marketing or operations or compliance or recruiting and training employees or other aspects of managing the business because those are very different things than having client meetings every day. It’s totally different skill set and I don’t want to be mediocre at a lot things, I want to be really good at a few things and I think this is one step towards helping me get there.
Hannah: Did this surprise you?
Steven: I kind of knew ahead of time before I started my firm that I would ultimately run into this problem and that I would want to choose one path or the other. I did not know which path it was going to be and that’s what I’ve used the first two years of running my business to help figure out is which side I enjoy more and which one I think I have the higher potential for to be good at.
Hannah: You gave a couple examples in there of the business owner side versus the financial planner side of the business and when you start out on your own business you basically do everything. How is your time split especially in the first year of owning your own business?
Steven: Time is split between whatever feels most urgent that day. I did not do a very good job in the beginning of allocating a set number of hours towards specific areas depending on the importance. I felt like everything was on fire, I had no direction. I was terrible at managing that in the beginning. I’m still not great at it but I’ve come a long way. Yeah, you’re right you’re responsible for everything. I’m compliance, I’m marketing, I’m sales, I’m financial planning analysis, I’m meeting with clients. I’m the IT guy when the printer breaks, I’m the janitor. I have to do everything in the business and I think I’ve done a much better job now of keeping track of what are the most important things that I want to focus on. I have a weekly meeting with myself where I look over what went well or poorly over the last week and what are the key things that I have to accomplish next week.
Each day when I have my to do list, I have a couple things on there that are must dos, the first things that I do during the day and if those initial key things get done then I feel like I’ve had a successful day. Anything that I’m able to do after that is just icing on the cake. As long as I focus first on the things that are most important to my business or to my clients, then I feel like it’s a win. That took me a little while to learn. I would have to do list that was 60, 70, 80 things long. It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and then I look down the list and it gets overwhelming and I would look at, okay well this list is crazy long. I need to get some stuff done so I would just go through the list. That looks easy, boom that one’s done 15 minutes later. Look down the list again, okay that one looks easy. Let’s do that. That would not result in the most important things getting done it would result in more things getting done. That’s not the idea approach. I need to focus on the most important things getting done first.
Hannah: Well gosh, there’s my takeaway from this podcast. That’s a great piece of just productivity advice.
Steven: Yeah. That’s been helpful for me so I feel like even if I’m not chugging along at full speed I’m at least heading in the right direction is how I think of that. Going full speed is important too. You need to be effective and efficient but doing the right things is more important than doing a lot of things.
Hannah: Do you have really clearly defined business goals that you’re shooting for?
Steven: Sometimes. Not always.
Hannah: How have you approached the idea of business goals?
Steven: I’ve tried setting goals in terms of number of client meetings or amount of revenue or trying to set different metrics and I don’t think that’s very effective for me. I try and track activity rather than results and I try and think of success as being in terms of activity rather than what happens as a result of that activity because I can’t always control the outcomes of what I do. I can control what I do and how well I do it but I can’t always control the outcomes. There are a lot of factors that are just not within my control. That’s the way that I think about how well I’m doing or how well I’m not doing and as far as specific business goals, no I don’t really think about it like that anymore. I know what I ultimately want to build and what it looks like but there aren’t really numbers attached to it of, I want to have X numbers of employees with X revenue serving X number of clients. I don’t think about it in terms of that. I think more about what are we actually doing and how are we doing it.
Hannah: Let’s go back to your career story and being a financial planner. You ended up graduating school, working at Met Life. How long were you at Met Life for before you started your own firm?
Steven: It was about a year and seven months. I think it was July of 2014 to December 2015.
Hannah: At what point did you feel confident that you had the skill set to be a great planner and run your own firm?
Steven: You know I’m still not sure that I have supreme confidence in that but-
Hannah: It’s always this catch 22 question.
Steven: Yeah. I think really from the start. I was never the type who was really worried about looking dumb in front of a client or that I didn’t know everything I needed to know. I knew from the beginning I was lucky enough that I worked for a guy who taught me this. I knew that I don’t have to know everything about everything to be able to provide a valuable service to a client. Really, the minimum that you have to know is just more that the client does to be able to provide some kind of value to them. Of course you want to know way more than they do and help as much as you can but you don’t have to be an expert on everything and besides that you can’t be an expert on anything. There’s just way too much to know.
I was never the type who was really nervous to deal with clients in the beginning. I know that’s a problem for a lot of young financial planners but I was just lucky enough that it wasn’t for me. I knew before I even started there that I wanted to start my own firm ultimately and because I knew that going in I tried to expose myself to as many different areas of their business as I could to just get some minimal level exposures that I’m aware that that exists, that that’s a thing you should be doing and looking at and being aware of. I think that was pretty helpful to me.
Hannah: One of the other things a lot of new planners struggle with is the idea of sales and bringing on new clients. Was that a struggle for you?
Steven: Oh yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. That was actually my biggest fear as I was starting my own firm is I had zero experience with sales at all. I know to an extent every conversation you have with everybody is a sales conversation to some degree. I understand that mentality but I had never been in a position where I had to convince somebody to pay me money for my product or service outside of some random online marketing stuff that had done on my own and wasn’t dealing with people one on one. I didn’t get any sales experience in the Marine Corps. When I was at Met Life I was not in a sales position there. I was doing financial planning support work. I didn’t even have a whole lot of opportunity to talk to clients one on one. That was my biggest fear as I was starting my own firm was even if I get technological good at doing financial planning you have to find people to do financial planning for and convince them to pay you for it. That was my biggest fear and probably my biggest limitation over the first year or so of running my business.
I had been hoping that I would grow by an average of maybe 1-1/2, 2 clients per month and let’s see, firm launched in June of 2016. At the end of that year, six months later I think I was at about four or five ongoing clients. There was some hourly work but it was only about four or five ongoing clients. Then at the one year mark, by June of 2017 I think I was at maybe about 10 or so, nine or 10 and then by the end of 2107 at one and a half years I was at 15 people and then in the seven months since then, I’m at like 34 or 35 people or something. It’s been way higher growth this year and at the tail end of last year and what turned it around for me was a couple different things.
One, I hired a sales coach, a local guy here in San Diego who was very good at what he does and helped me to develop a clear system to the way I approach sales conversations. Also changed the way I think about sales a little bit. It doesn’t necessarily need to be, it doesn’t need to feel slimy like you’re manipulating people’s emotions or thoughts. It’s really just having a conversation about what they need and you saying, “Okay, cool. This is what I can do for you and what I can’t do for you,” and letting them make a decision and learning how to address some of the objections they might have going into it and learning to identify different personality types and relate to those people more.
Working with that sales coach helped a lot. I read a few books that really helped a lot on that front and then I also went through a course, an online video course with a small group run by Nancy Bleeke called Genuine Sales. That was really helpful for me too. Going through those things really changed the way that I approached sales and gave me a lot more confidence that it is actually something I can do and now I feel fortunate that that’s not a concern at all for me in my business. I know I can get more clients whenever I need to and the concern has started to become am I taking on the right clients for me for the long run and how do I effectively serve these people and manage growth to not be too fast and create issues because a few months ago that was a big issue for me. I was taking on too many people per month. Four, five, six, seven and it was creating problems and I wasn’t giving the service that everyone deserved because I had too much on my plate at once.
Hannah: You talked about your working with that first sales coach. Do you have a script that you work on? How does that work preparing for sales conversations?
Steven: Yeah, he tried to get me to create a script and I didn’t really want to because I didn’t want the conversation to be about me. One thing that I had to learn is that I need to really just shut up and listen and see what it is that they need and talk about all the things that they want to hear from me. There are a few key things that you have to cover with every new prospect but for the most part I should only be addressing the things that they want to hear about and I need to make sure that I’m listening to, reading between the lines and understanding what it is that they’re really asking and what’s going through their head and what do they need from me. I think that’s been the biggest thing and having a script doesn’t really go along with that. I was never one to take that approach of having a script.
I do have a rough outline of the way I want to guide the conversation and I have a few specific lines that I like to use that tend to get pretty good conversations going with people but I don’t have a line by line script that I recite word for word. I just try to talk to people like they’re people.
Hannah: Right. Do you have an example of one the of the questions that you like to use?
Steven: Questions that I like during prospect meetings, sure. What’s the best decision you’ve ever made about money or what’s the worst financial decision you’ve ever made? That often leads to a pretty good conversation for them. If we’re sitting here together a year from now and you’re saying, “Steven this has been the best thing ever. I’m so happy I hired you. You’re an amazing financial planner,” I ask what has to happen between now and a year from now for you to be telling me that. That opens up some insight into what it is that they actually really need. Also sets the stage for the expectation that I do like to work with people over long periods of time, that it’s not a transactional thing where I give you this 200 page binder full of charts and graphs and that we’re done. It’s financial planning is an ongoing process and it helps reinforce in their mind that them being happy is my most important consideration so I like asking that question.
Hannah: You had mentioned a couple of books that were really helpful for you?
Steven: The single best sales book that I read was The Ultimate Sales Machine and then I’ll plug Nancy Blakey again. Her book, I think it’s called Conversations That Sell. That one was really helpful too especially in understanding the different personality types of people. She groups them into four categories and that was really helpful in helping me understand how to best relate to people and meet them where they are, communicate with them and in the way that they want to be communicated with instead of forcing my way of doing things onto them. Conversations That Sell and The Ultimate Sales Machine are two good ones on that topic.
Hannah: We’ve talked about working with younger clients, are there any stories that you’re comfortable with sharing with about your ideal clients and really the impact that financial planning can have on their lives?
Steven: When I think about the impact that financial planning can have on a client the first person that comes to mind is actually someone I took on who was not in my target market at all but I decided to work with her because she clearly needed a lot of help and I knew that there was a lot I could do to help her. I was willing to take her on even though she wasn’t exactly what I was looking to work with. Also, it was only something like seven months in my business so I needed really any client that I could get as long as I knew I could do what they needed me to do.
I took her on. She was a 65 year old woman who was, her husband died around 15 years prior and since that time she had been having a lot of personal struggles and financial struggles as well and one of the problems that she was having was she had an enormous fear of spending money on anything at all. She was letting bills go unpaid, she was scrimping every single place that she could and had tremendous fear around anything related to money. She was actually a millionaire. She has a net worth of something like 1.2 million but didn’t know that and was completely disorganized around money. Some of the things that we helped her with were finishing the paperwork to finish processing a payment from the state of California that they were holding onto from an insurance policy that her husband had had when he died around 15 years prior. It was several hundred thousand dollars that she didn’t even know she had coming to her she didn’t know how to go through that claims process. We finished that up for her.
We looked at investing some cash that she had just sitting there because she had no idea what to do with it. We looked at whether it made sense for her to get a reverse mortgage. What else? Insurance coverages, paying some past due bills, setting up automated transfers between accounts to make her life easier. Showing her some of the long term projections to realize that yes, even if we spend this much per month which is way more than you’re spending now you absolutely going to be okay unless an asteroid hits the planet or something. You have absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Getting her to talk more about what it was that she wanted to do with her life, the things that she most enjoyed and helping give her confidence that it is feasible to do those things. Taking things off of her hands whether it’s stuff that I can do for her or that we can automate or outsource to some other service provider, that’s been really helpful. She just had a tremendous emotional stress around this, around financial stuff and it’s been really rewarding to help her in that way.
Even though she’s not in my target market at all, I recognize that there was a valuable service I could do for her and she’s probably my most loyal client by now. Shed never leave me because what we’ve been able to do for her up to this point.
Hannah: Wow, that’s a really cool story and even just the power of financial planning.
Steven: Yeah. Because of her and a couple other examples, I don’t want to limit myself strictly to working with people in my target market but my target market absolutely is the predominant focus of who I’m serving and the focus of all marketing efforts. In the mean time especially in the early days, I’ve been taking on some other folks too as long as I know I can actually do what they need me to do.
Hannah: Do you have high turnover with clients?
Steven: Higher than I’d like. I’d like zero. I don’t think so high that it’s a big problem. Let’s see, I’ve lost a total of I think six or so recurring clients over the last couple years.
Hannah: It’s always an interesting, you don’t have the stickiness of the AUM for the assets.
Steven: That’s actually one reason why I do manage assets for people that want me to which is mostly people I work with. Even though I don’t charge for it it’s not additional revenue for me, it does help improve the stickiness of relationship and provide an additional service that they appreciate, that they don’t want to take care of themselves. That’s the primary reason I do it.
Hannah: What have you learned about yourself and our profession since you’ve been a planner?
Steven: I think probably the first one that comes to mind is that I’ve always thought of myself as being absolutely terrible at talking to people, very socially awkward. I’m not good at building connections or demonstrating empathy. I think I have a pretty poor level of emotional intelligence. I guess a few ex girlfriends could probably tell you that. I’ve realized through dealing with clients that this isn’t something you have to be born with, it’s a skill that can be learned and it’s incredibly important and also a lot of fun to do so, to put more focus on this. I’m finding that I really enjoy that aspect of dealing with clients even though I sometimes feel like an unqualified therapist when people are crying in my office. It is an area that I can get good at if I keep working at it, and it’s not something I enjoy a lot so that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t have to be terribly emotionally stupid and unable to deal with people effectively.
Hannah: How do you get better at that?
Steven: By being aware of what I’m doing and how it’s impacting people. Just paying attention to it and actively thinking about it I think has made me a little bit better. Carefully observing other people who I think are very good at it and the body language that they use or the way that they phrase things or how they listen to people, just paying attention to it I think has been the best thing. I’m not sure that that’s something I could learn in a book or by watching videos, I think it’s just a matter of being aware of it. Knowing what you’re doing and how it impacts others and caring about getting better at it.
Hannah: What have you learned about our profession that you didn’t realize when you were in school learning about it?
Steven: I didn’t realize at first how many different ways there are to do financial planning and how many different meanings there are to the term financial planner. I think that’s probably the first thing is not all financial planners are the same. There’s a huge range out there not just in compensation models but in service models and who you serve what you’re doing for people as well.
Hannah: You talked about looking at the financial planning community, has that been an important element for your development as a planner and business owner?
Steven: Oh absolutely, yes. I mentioned that soon after I found out that financial planning was a thing that existed that you could do, I became involved with our SDSU student chapter of the FPA right away. I became the president of it as soon as I could and got involved with the San Diego chapter as well, went to all their meetings. Started bugging every person that would let me talk their ear off for a while about what they’re doing. That’s been tremendously impactful. We have an awesome financial planning community here in San Diego. Actually I noticed you’ve had a lot of San Diego people on your podcast too, at least four. Was it Taylor Schulte and Jon Luskin and Debra Fox and Mary Beth Storjohann. There are so many people here in San Diego that are really awesome financial planners and surrounding myself with people who are a lot smarter than I am has been really helpful to me as I’ve made this transition to this career field. I still try and do that to the extent that I’m able to all the time.
I’m involved with our FPA chapter now. It’s where I’ve made a lot of friends and learned a lot. I’ve been really involved with the chapter as a whole. I’m the president elect of it right now and I don’t plan on stopping that type of involvement anytime soon.
Hannah: It’s helped you build your business but it’s also helped you be a better planner. Is that fair to say?
Steven: Absolutely, yes. Sometimes it’s just hearing stories about what people do with clients like how they helped them or how they couldn’t help them with something. Sometimes it’s sharing specific problems that I have in my business and they say, “Oh dude all you’ve got to do is this,” and that’s problem solved. You’re like, oh yeah you’re right. That probably would work. Why am I overthinking this? It’s going to be fine. Yeah, it’s been very helpful to surround myself with other people. That was something you asked earlier about stuff I had carried forward from the Marine Corps, I think that’s probably another example of that is back then when I was in uniform too I’d always try to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am and try and learn from them. I’ve done the same thing here and in this career field.
Hannah: What do you wish you would’ve known before entering this profession?
Steven: Probably that I can’t do it all. I’m not Superman. I have limits to my capabilities, to my interests, my time and I can’t just charge through like a bull on a rampage and work my butt off and things magically happen. Maybe that mentality was a bit of a holdover from my time in the Marine Corps too of thinking I could just outwork any problem or outwork any person. Instead I’m realizing now that I need to be a lot more focused on the things that I’m better at or that I most enjoy and learn to count on others to fulfill the functions that I can’t do as well. Don’t do everything, don’t kill yourself trying to. That’s probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned or the biggest thing that I had known before entering this profession is focus on the things I’m good at or enjoy and that it’s okay to not be Superman.
Hannah: Well as we wrap up are there any other thoughts or anything else that you want to be sure to point out for our listeners?
Steven: Going back to the Financial Independence Training Organization, I think if people are interested in getting involved with that and helping us accomplish that mission, there are a few things that they could do that would be really helpful for the organization as we’re trying to grow. Right now it’s just us with our San Diego chapter volunteers and we bring in some from Orange County and we’re working with local military bases here but we really want to start expanding it nationwide and dealing with the other FPA chapters and other bases around the country. If folks are interested in learning more about how they can help support that, they can go to the website, we have a volunteer page with a ton of info about what we’re doing. If they have any contacts at local military bases to help us get in, if they have interest in taking charge for their chapter of making this happen in your area, we can help them get it started, we can give them handouts that we’ve used and help share lessons about what we’ve learned and run the first event or two with them but it’d be great if we can have a leader and multiple FPA chapters taking charge and getting it done because I can’t just travel around the country and do everything everywhere. We need to have people that are involved in those local areas.
Hannah: That’s great. All that information is in the show notes for anybody who’s interested in knowing more. I think it’s just so powerful, just one conversation can change your life.
Steven: Yeah, we’ve been excited to see the impact that this work can have. We have limited ability to follow up with the marines that we provide counseling for because we don’t collect contact info. We have very strict rules about you’re not there to solicit business, you’re there to provide guidance and advice during your session together. We don’t even have contact info for the marines that we’ve counseled. We do know that we are having some impact because we look at things like the feedback we get from the unit commanders about some of the metrics that they track like number of people who are losing, I don’t know maybe losing security clearances because of credit debt issues or we hear from the personal financial management specialist on each base that they’re getting more appointments scheduled with them of marines trying to learn more about financial stuff. We know that we are having some impact and I want to do what we can to help increase that.