“You should take the job. Your business model isn’t going to work, and you’re not going to be able to run a successful firm this way.”
That’s what another adviser told me a few months after I officially launched my own RIA. An opportunity to take a director position at a local financial services startup came my way, and I faced a choice: take the position and its six-figure salary, or stick with my fledgling business with less than $20,000 in gross revenue and work to continue to grow and scale on my own terms.
I started Beyond Your Hammock, a fee-only financial planning firm that specializes in working with people in their 30s and 40s, in 2013 after being an adviser in various other firms since 2007. I saw the huge need that people under 50 had for comprehensive financial planning; I also saw that the financial advice industry largely ignored them.
After trying and failing to convince former employers to let me branch out and bring on younger clients with high incomes and a lot of wealth-building potential, I decided to experiment with a new business model on my own.
When I started Beyond Your Hammock, I offered financial planning on a monthly subscription basis. The fee acted as an annual retainer, but I broke the cost down into monthly payments so clients could easily fit it into their cash flow just like any other subscription or membership service they used.
Today, the idea of a monthly subscription model is not so novel. But when it comes to providing planning to younger clients as a NexGen adviser, there are still a lot of naysayers like the one who told me to give it up and go back to a job instead. I’m grateful for that adviser now, because hearing someone else tell me “you can’t” was the motivation I needed to grind it out and prove him wrong.
If you’re in a similar place that I was back in 2013, I want to give you a different kind of motivation: you can create your own firm from scratch and run a financial planning business that allows you to work with your peers. Beyond Your Hammock is proof that it works.
I started with no existing book of business, no AUM, and no firm-within-a-firm model or business acquisitions of any kind. That was five years ago. Today, the business is not just going strong but growing faster than ever.
Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way that may help inspire, motivate, and guide you to your own goals as a NexGen adviser interested in blazing your own trail.
Starting from Scratch
The first step anyone considering making the shift from working within a firm to starting one should be to sit down and do their own financial planning. Determine what you can afford in terms of startup costs and ongoing expenses. Know what your cash flow and savings look like now and what they must look like post-launch for you to afford your life.
Identify any income sources, new or existing, that can help you cover the gap between starting with zero revenue and bringing on a base level of clients to help sustain the business. Keep in mind that income doesn’t have to come from an industry-related endeavor (although that would be ideal).
When I started my business, I also got a part-time job as a waiter, despite having no previous experience. It allowed me the flexibility I needed to work on the business during my off hours, and enough income to (barely) survive while I launched. Eventually, I shifted into speaking and freelance writing for industry publications and other firms, which helped generate income and was more aligned with my overall work.
Although both side gigs provided an income, the financial planning-related work allowed me to increase my knowledge of various topics and network with others in the profession while also marketing my firm as one that was talking about cutting-edge topics.
Innovate Without Ignoring the Past
When I started my firm in 2013, I put a lot of emphasis on the importance of in-person networking and getting heavily involved with professional organizations like FPA. I wanted to build solid personal connections and an extensive network.
As valuable and powerful as online social networking can be, I don’t think it’s a complete replacement for showing up in person and forging relationships the old-fashioned way. You can want to innovate and push for change in the profession—we need to do this—but that doesn’t mean we need to shun the “old school” firms along the way.
More experienced advisers running traditional firms can serve as excellent partners, mentors, and guides. It would be a mistake to write them off as people who don’t understand you or what you’re trying to build. While some don’t get it, plenty of others see the value and potential of new business models designed to serve a younger, more diverse client base.
Be the Signal, Not the Noise
Inbound and content marketing has been a huge part of how Beyond Your Hammock grew and continues to expand. In fact, all of our prospects today come through inbound marketing channels, including Google search, various content we publish online, our podcast and blog, and being interviewed by and quoted in major publications.
If you’re a NexGen adviser, you’re probably digitally native to some degree. That’s a huge advantage, because using content on the internet, in some form, is likely relatively intuitive. I recommend leveraging inbound and content marketing to attract attention and prospects to your startup firm—just make sure you know how to produce meaningful content so you can stand out as a signal, instead of just adding to the noise.
Don’t shy away from sharing who you authentically are. We saw a massive shift in our marketing when we took the time to develop a strong voice and tone that was uniquely ours. We got clear on precisely who we wanted to reach (and who we didn’t) so we could speak to those people directly and not worry about what anyone else might think.
The businesses that are best at effective marketing are the ones who aren’t afraid to tell a story with their content. That’s because humans navigate the world through stories; people make decisions (like who to hire for their financial adviser) based off emotions and anecdotes, not straight facts and data and information.
Make sure you take the time to develop a strong story and a clear voice for your brand so you can stand out from the crowd.
Share, Don’t Sell (Then Outwork Everyone Else)
Don’t try to sell to everyone you cross paths with. But don’t hesitate to share what you do and why you’re passionate about it.
So many people get caught up in trying to pitch their services when they launch. And I get that: you absolutely need the revenue for the business. The problem is that constantly trying to sell anyone and everyone comes off as desperate at worst, or it makes you sound just like any other sales-oriented person in the industry at best. You don’t want to slip into the image that many forward-thinking planners are trying to shake out of the industry—the pushy, selfish adviser who is only out for their own interests.
Sharing is a different story than selling. Many people miss the opportunity to do that. If someone were to say to you, “What have you been up to?” don’t just say, “not much” and start talking about the weather. That’s your opening to say that you’ve been working on your business.
Explain why you’re motivated to do it and why you think it’s important. Let people see your passion for your work.
And speaking of work, prepare to do a lot of it. There is no getting around the fact that building a business from scratch on your own takes a lot of dedication, effort, and downright hustle. The first three years will be a grind, but if you make it through those years, the odds are in your favor to succeed.
That’s where most people run into trouble: they stop. People who survive and thrive five-plus years into their own business aren’t necessarily smarter, more talented, or more connected, but I guarantee the one thing they had that other people lacked was drive to keep pushing and a determination to outwork everyone else. Bring that same commitment to your firm when you launch, and you’ll still be here in five-plus years, too.