Monday, May 17, 2021

Keeping Clients First as You Grow Your Practice

Set expectations up front and continue to show them love.

Julia Carlson

How can you ensure that every client is served and feels loved as you become more successful as a financial advisor? That was my goal as I built Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group. Understanding that the need for what we do is so vast, I wanted to serve as many clients as I could.

However, at least five different business coaches told me the only way I would be able to grow a profitable firm would be to “fire” the clients that did not reach a specific minimum — preferably $500,000 to $1 million dollars. I said, “Let me get this straight you are telling me to sell or fire my clients that helped me build my business into what it is today, so I have capacity to take on clients with more money?”

My answer was a resounding, “No, No, No,” as I was especially interested in working with the mass affluent, a group of Americans often overlooked by traditional wealth management firms.

That “coaching” lit a fire in my soul and made me determined to find a way to scale my practice; serve and love all our clients, including new ones coming in weekly; and still have a profitable business.

I won’t pretend it was easy, but through hard work and a relentless focus, we’ve built a team of 18 employees, serving clients in 37 states and growing at an annualized 28% rate for the past 5 years.

This business growth started with a profound shift in me personally. I was sitting next to my daughter’s ICU bed (she was traveling in a car hit head on by a drunk driver) when I realized that my primary concerns should not be about my business and keeping it afloat when my daughter was in critical care. I had made myself so central to my business that I felt overwhelmed, stuck and trapped. I believed I had to meet with every client, return every phone call and email personally, and that I had to do all the financial planning and trades. I made myself so important to my business that without me it would all come crashing down. That was a position that did not serve me, my staff and, most importantly, our clients at all.

Thankfully, my daughter fully recovered. And rather than following that advice to fire clients, I decided to fire myself from many areas of the business in order to create freedom in my life. Delighting our clients was at the core of every decision we made as a firm, and over the next seven years we transitioned to a true team approach, which I believe is the secret sauce in our recipe for success. It did not happen overnight, but our commitment kept us disciplined. Here are a few tips and strategies for you to consider as you grow your own practice.

Know what you want, at least for now. Deciding to have a lifestyle practice where you limit the number of clients and staff is completely honorable. I had dreams of building an enterprise that would outlast me. Neither approach is better than the other, but it is up to you to decide what you want and go after it. This should be an intentional decision.

Do not compare your business to others. In 2012 as a solo advisor and wanting to build a business, I constantly compared myself to other solo advisors and was left feeling discouraged and less than. At the time, I was investing every dollar back into my business through hiring and marketing and was not profitable. Reading those industry benchmark studies would deflate me. Finally, it dawned on me that I should not be comparing my numbers to a lifestyle practice because I was investing in my dream. It was an epiphany that liberated me.

Set your expectations up front with your clients. Our referrals will typically call wanting me but really needing my team. From the first phone call into our office, clients and referrals feel the presence of the team. We set the expectations up front as we onboard clients that every team member is there to serve them. Although they may have a primary advisor, we ensure they interact with the whole team throughout our process. This is what allows me to delegate almost every aspect of the client interactions without the client feeling abandoned by me.

Only do what you can do. Understand your strengths and stay in your lane. Surround yourself with people that complement you. This might mean hiring someone or outsourcing to a virtual team. After my daughter’s accident I had to decide what I was not going to do anymore and who I needed to find to do it. For me, it was managing the personnel complexities occurring in my business as we hired more staff. I love to inspire and lead the direction of the team. I also still work with clients one-on-one who need complex business exit planning, tax strategy and advanced estate planning. A key hire for me was my president, Chandran Rajaratnam, whose strength was leading and managing the team. This partnership of strengths propelled us into our growth. Do not be afraid to let go; trust yourself and your team.

Serve and Love them. Love is our niche. We expect our clients to be with us for their whole life and often to steward their legacy into the next generation. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. We partner with them on what we call our “guided journey”. We are committed to consistently delighting and caring deeply about them and their financial lives. We prove this by our actions and taking time to help them build a deep and meaningful relationship with Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group, not an individual advisor.

I will close with one of my favorite sayings…I am in charge, not in control.

Julia Carlson is the founder and CEO of Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group, LLC in Newport, Ore. (www.financialfreedomwmg.com). Her email is julia.carlson@lpl.com.

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