Listen To The Podcast
We talked with Kristin about:
- Setting stage for future growth by identifying what brings you energy
- The power of simplicity that cuts through the noise and focuses on the niche
- How to bridge the gaps to elevate yourself to the next level
About Kristin Harad:
Kristin Harad, an experienced marketing coach for independent financial advisors and planners, is driven by her passion for empowering clients to achieve self-driven financial freedom. After transitioning from a successful career in financial services marketing to entrepreneurship in 2006, Kristin founded VitaVie Financial Planning, the first fee-only firm dedicated to expectant parents and growing families in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her entrepreneurial spirit and strategic marketing expertise boosted the firm to success in under three years. Recognizing her gift for teaching and training, Kristin shifted gears in 2014 to focus on coaching and guiding independent financial advisors. Today, Kristin is renowned for her practical marketing advice and power to help advisors thrive. Her belief in the symbolic relationship between advisor success and clients flourishing underscores her mission for fostering a life of abundance.
- Kristin Harad’s LinkedIn Profile
- Kristin Harad’s Facebook Profile
- Kristin Harad’s Twitter Profile
- Kristin Luke’s OnNiche Program
- Michael Kitces’s Growth Versus Scaling
- Why Growth Doesn’t Solve Profitability Problems with Michael Kitces
Full Audio Transcript
Kristen, thank you for being here with us.
Oh, thanks Lauren. I'm happy to be here.
Well, I've enjoyed our previous conversations and getting to know you and you have such an incredibly rich experience in the advisor space and also fun. We chatted before, you've lived overseas, lived in different places in the United States, and you just have such a breadth and a wide and vast experience in this industry. So today, before we get started, I'm excited for our focus area, which is really going to be around that kind of solo advisor, smaller teams, and really hearing from your expertise around it, but really as a business and marketing consultant. But I'm going to pass it over to you. Why don't you share a little bit more about your background, how you got here to where you are today?
Oh, great. Thanks, Lauren. Wow. I can't even believe I've been out of college now almost 30 years, which blows my mind. I know it's amazing. But I'm very energized and really excited to be in the industry, and I can foresee being in it for quite a long time, which is really exciting. I started out of school in marketing, doing corporate marketing for the Chase Manhattan Bank; at the time I guess it was Chase Bank. And then I worked in advertising for Grey Advertising doing direct marketing, so kind of doing the dirty work—direct mail for credit cards and brokerage services and things like that. And it was very gritty and awesome, and I loved it. And we learned all of the precursors to what's now used all the time on the internet. So all the direct marketing strategy of calls to action and how do you follow up and how do you track and all of those things. So that was early on. I was in New York City, and then I moved out to California just to get a different perspective on life and slow things down a little bit after a few years in Manhattan. And I did some work in the internet space but then I had the fortune to work at the ad agency that was internal at Charles Schwab. So that was very cool to be able to get under the hood when the internet was really emerging, websites were big coming into play, and we were starting; it happened to be a time when the Roth IRA was coming out, and so we had to launch the IRA analyzer that you compare the traditional and the Roth and it was very exciting and interesting to get in that space.
So my career really started and continued in the personal finance space, in the marketing realm. And then I had the privilege to work for about 14 years covering Chase Schwab Visa. I had a lot of big experiences there but I was starting to feel like I wasn't impacting any humans directly because when you're caught up in those big corporate moves, you're not impacting. So I wanted to become a life coach, and I went and worked in marketing at the Coaches Training Institute in Marin out here in California. And I did that briefly but while I was there the big insight was you really need to focus. It's hard to sell life coaching, so you need to focus. And so I had been concurrently working with a personal financial planner on my own financial plan and I was like, I like this. What is this field?
I want to do this. And so to speed things up, I essentially decided I was going to be a personal financial planner. I went to Berkeley to get the coursework. I pretty much quit my corporate job, hung up a shingle, started an RIA, had no idea what I was doing, and launched. So I ran that for eight years. And I focused very specifically on a niche for new and expectant parents and families with young children. I did carry over my marketing background from that to say, all right, who's my niche? Who am I going to serve? How will I serve them? What will that look like? So a very marketing driven plan. And as I was developing that RIA, I had advisors calling me and asking me, how did you pick your niche? What are you doing? How are you growing so fast? What's working? How are you doing?
So I started having these conversations with advisors and that's why I started getting really, really energized. I loved working with my clients on the personal financial planning side but truth be told I'm probably much better as the coach and my favorite people to work with were those who wanted to be entrepreneurs—to be able to free themselves up to be able to be entrepreneurs. So as advisors were calling me and talking to me about their journeys as entrepreneurs, I got very energized and started transferring my marketing expertise to these conversations with advisors, and it kind of burgeoned from there. And fast forward now many years later, over a decade now that I am now teaching, advising, coaching advisors from primarily the marketing standpoint but it's even broadened out into that business coaching of what do you want to create? Where are you going? How are you as a leader? What does that mean? How can you continue to grow and create what you want?
Amazing. I think what's really powerful about it is that you're at a place today where you're really, you’re boots on ground, you're impacting people's life. You're seeing that transition with what's going on. I mean, having so many of these conversations, I'm sure you're able to provide best practices for all different firms. So that must be very rewarding.
I think Lauren, the fun piece, and I'm sure you've seen this in all the work you're doing, is just seeing now I have hundreds of examples of how advisors work? What do they look like from a single person starting out all the way to a billion dollar firm? What are the players? What are the issues? So when you see that whole gamut of like, wow, there's so much and yet there's so much that's the same, and so we can pull together those best practices from just seeing case after case after case after case.
Which I think is fun because you start to see, well, you can draw, and I think that's one of the exciting parts of being 30 years in a career, is you can draw on the collective experience and say, okay, you're kind of fussing it all together and bringing that out, which is what I think is one of the most fun parts of being at this stage of my career.
Well, to be a guiding light for folks where it can feel, where do you turn? So let's talk a little bit more about that. I’d love to hear more about the roots of it, going back to that kind of solo firm or the smaller firm. What kind of conversations are you having with these advisors? I'm sure they're breaking away potentially or they're getting their own firm up and running, and what kind of challenges are they having? Because it's a lot, right? You're trying to service people, take really good care of your clients, you're doing business development, you've got the whole operations wing, and there's a heck of a lot going on in marketing. We know marketing can be a very shiny object. So tell us more about what kind of things, are there themes in these conversations? How are people finding you?
Okay. I think the biggest consistency I see across every advisor who reaches out to me is what do I prioritize? They have so much coming at them and just really, even if we hone in on the marketing alone to say, what do I prioritize? I hear I'm supposed to be doing X, Y, and Z, and I'm not doing any of it. I don't know where to start. So I like to have advisors take a step back and really take a look. I mean, first and foremost, know who is it that you want to attract? So we've talked about the power of niche. There's some great niche programs. Kristen Luke's program OnNiche is fantastic but identifying who your target audience is can relieve a ton of stress right off the bat—who you're going to be speaking to. I think it's really about taking a step back and saying, what are the 1, 2, 3, max, three things you're going to focus on?
That's the max I really encourage advisors to look at in terms of marketing to say, where am I going to look? What am I going to do? And oftentimes that starts with figuring out what kind of message you want to put out there. What is the content you want to develop and what are the pain points of your audience? So you can reinforce that because I do think first and foremost, advisors get caught up in the, I have so many, like you said, shiny objects, things I could chase after. And it's really about, all right, first figure out who we're attracting. Even if you've been in business a really long time, it's checking back in and saying, who is that high value client I really enjoy working with? Who appreciates my value? If you keep going back to that, it's going to serve in all areas of the business.
So just sum it up here, a common theme is just where do you focus your energy, right? Because there's so many places you focus it. And then kind of high level, at least from that kind of marketing wing, is the first place to start is who are you're going after? And it sounds like, if I'm hearing you right, those are the conversations you're having thematically with firms. Is that fair?
Yes, definitely. And I think, I mean really it's this, I hear over and again, I need clarity. So how do we get clear? How do we crystallize a plan so you actually know how to spend your weeks when you come in on Monday and you're excited and you're ready to go, where is it that you want to direct your efforts? And I do find across advisors who want to grow, and it depends on what stage you're at, but once you've reached a certain level and you're like, okay, now I have a new goal of where I want to go, how do I get there? There's a number of improvements or focus areas you can look at that sometimes advisors don't even consider. And I'd say one of the first ones on that is just pricing. Yes. I'm like, pricing alone can change your world. Have you raised your prices? Have you reevaluated whether or not they're on par with the value you're offering? I find too many advisors are undercharging. The fastest, easiest way to grow is to raise your price. I think people don't want to talk about it. It makes them uncomfortable. But it also is looking at, especially a solo advisor as you're growing and adding and starting to reach that point where you're wondering how many more clients you can take on before you have to hire someone or get support, you need to be a bit more discerning about the people coming in and making sure you're charging what you're worth in that way.
So on that note of that fork in the road, okay, I'm in a place where I need to be able to start hiring, is there a certain number amount of AUM or number of households or what have you that you see where a solo advisor goes, okay, once I get to this trigger point, this is what I need to start doing? Is this what you are seeing?
I do see some general targets of around say clients and/or around 250, $250,000 revenue, $200,000 revenue. I mean, how that might translate back to AUM depends on whether you're charging that way or a different way, but just that you've gotten a good solid, solid traction. You can still juggle everything but you're really starting to be like, oh, I might drop a ball here or there. And you're starting to see that happening and it's probably a little late at that point but I know it's the tension of can I afford to hire someone? I have capacity; I can do it myself. And it's really when can you get that confidence to say, now it's time to slash the profit margin to make sure it works.
Yeah, that makes sense. And then along the way, what kind of conversations are you having or stepping stones are you working with that advisor to put in place so when they are ready to break off they've either got their right hire, they're putting their energy toward marketing or helping to channel their own energy? I'd love to hear about that game plan to get them to the breaking point.
Yeah, so I think this is a fascinating thing to me. I had to do it for myself a while back too. And it's really like once you hit a certain level, it's like, okay, I have to make a choice. I have to decide, am I staying at this line in the sand and being perfectly happy and making good money and doing things on my own? And there's nothing wrong with that but it's making that decision of what is it that I want to be creating? And that answer is unique to everyone. If you're wanting to grow the firm and dare we say scale versus grow—and Michael Kitces does a great presentation on scaling and growing and the difference, and it's pretty fascinating—but just making that decision. So what is that picture of where you want to be in the next, say, three years? Getting really clear on that just so you have that as your guiding light. But then getting back down to brass tacks around how we do this. Who do we hire? What are we looking at? This, I think, requires two things. One, you as the advisor looking and saying, what kind of work do I love doing? Do I love doing the planning? Do I like getting out and networking? Do I like talking with clients? Meeting with clients? What are the things? Yeah, that's what it is. We want to create energy. I mean, if you're going to do this as your life's work, you want to know the activities that give you energy, right? And so we want to have those very clear, and I mean, I know when I did this exercise for myself a while back, you just literally write it down. And I know people think it's kind of corny but it's true. Write down what you love doing. And it doesn't mean that's the only thing you're going to get to do, really. Oh, I could do this all day long and you're going to have to do other things too but those are the ones you're really aiming toward, right? And I think float is a great term for that. We talk about deep work. If you have read Cal Newport’s book on deep work, it's like what is it that you get so excited about doing? And then here's the hard part is you have to go back and go, okay, I'm going to chronicle everything I am doing every single day for a week, for two weeks, for three weeks, as much as you can stand to get the granular detail of this is exactly how I spend my day and spend my time.
And what are those tasks and what does that look like? It's very nitty gritty but it's super revealing. Because then you're also kind of, if you can start to bundle those tasks into job descriptions for things you like, I would mark the ones first that say, yeah, right away, okay, all of these things get in my way. And most likely that answer is a virtual assistant or an executive system or a fractional assistant of some sort to take some of those basic administrative tasks off your plate. Absolutely. That's almost always the first call or someone to give you administrative support. And then you kind of look and say, okay, am I passionate about marketing? Am I passionate about the internal processes? What do I like doing? And where do you need potential consultant help or an outsourced freelancer? There's so many freelance options or outsourced options or agency options and consultants who can fill your gaps in fractional ways that you just have to start bundling those tasks and prioritizing solutions.
I think another big piece people always think about, there's the team aspect but then there's also the technology aspect. What are the technology solutions that can help us? And this is the exciting part now. I mean, this is what I've seen especially over the last few years. It's what I also think will help solo advisors continue to be able to be solo, is that they can grow and add and service more clients because the technology is there to support them, whether it's CRM, as I'm sure you've come up with the chatGPT.
Can't help but mention that but we will see. It's revolutionary.
It is. Even tools like IT, money too, and being able to provide that value add to clients.
That. Oh, absolutely. All of the planning software, any of those things.
Yes. It's so true. So I think this is sort of this idea of delegate or die and bundle those things that aren't the things that get you excited. So tell us, do you have any stories of advisors who have made this breaking point, right? They've maybe perhaps approaching burnout but they've gotten to a place where they have successfully shedded activities and what does that story look like and in what time period has it taken them to be able to go, okay, I've decided I'm going to maybe take a salary cut or I'm going to shift some things or what have you, and then where do they start going up again?
Yeah, those are good questions.
Where does it peak? Where does it start to peak again?
That's a good question. I mean, I think you have to start with the small decisions but I think some of the easier ones are making the technology choices to help you out. One of the smallest shifts I've seen advisors do that have had the biggest impact is to change your Calendly form to be very clear on who is a good prospect.
Qualify, I should say.
Prequalify, right? And so put screener questions in. So if you're already doing that, it seems basic but you would be surprised, as I'm sure you've seen how many people don't do that. And so just knowing that when you're getting on a call, there's an expectation set of you fit or you don't fit, or at least you've done your best to inform them. I've seen that make some of the biggest difference, whether it's a solo advisor all the way up to a multi-advisor firm where their lead advisors are on the calls and they had been wasting tons of money and time on the phone with people who don't qualify, and all the way down, you come back to a solo person. It's such an example of an easy shift that can make a world of difference in freeing up time and then also helping you elevate your price point or elevate your energy and match it to the type of people you want to work with.
But I do think in terms of adding, when you talk about adding, let's say you're adding a part-time VA. If you use service A here, you can go out and find people overseas and whatnot. But if you're going to use one of the services in the U.S., whether it's BELAY or Time etc., or Nifty, or one of them, I think you're going to be paying anywhere from probably $30 to $45 an hour potentially. That's what I've seen to get someone helping you, and maybe it's only seven hours a week or 10 hours a week or something.
But that's seven or 10 hours a week for you, which could be significant.
Yes, it's definitely a big deal but I do think when you have to realize you are, as you said, you're going to drop back down before you can get back up but the goal is to free you up to be able to do either more work with clients who can refer business to you or to give you the freedom or opportunity to engage in more marketing or more sales conversations and business development, things like that. Yeah, and again, I don't know, Michael Kitces has some really good data behind the breaking points of the adding and scaling he's just released recently. And just how you have to have the patience to work yourself back up to leverage the freedom that person or technology has given you to move. So it's a fascinating study. I encourage people to take it slow and take that first leap. Well, take the first leap kind of as quickly as you can afford it because start to see the benefit and then slowly add on from there and start to see what you are freeing up. As soon as you start to be able to hand off tasks you no longer want, you get more energy, and it's kind of a cycle that goes from there.
Well, I think on that caveat too, of being able to putting out cash, identifying the vendor to work with or if you're hiring a role, there's also the time input too of being able to bring that individual, even if there's a VA service, you're going to have unique data to that. So there's that time investment. So it always takes some; it's a cycle. There's no silver bullet but part of it is you've got to kind of make that investment cash and time-wise to get that right.
We're wrapping up here quickly but I'd love to hear if there's any other kind of trends you think would be valuable to share or any other kind of insights you've got in working with this demographic and helping them to scale, grow, whatever specific term you like to use for the business trajectory. But yeah, I'd love to hear any other thoughts.
Right. Well, I think one other thing we haven't touched on that I do think is important for advisors to take a look at, especially solo advisors who are finding themselves kind of extremely busy chasing people around, is to remember to look not just at bringing new people into their funnel, top of the funnel activities, trying to get out, meet new people, bring people in but to also remember to follow up with the prospects you've talked to. I know when people meet with a prospective client and then you don't hear back from them,
You often just drop and be like, well, I sent an email, I left a voicemail. I didn't hear back from them. And I think one of the biggest areas where advisors can kind of make up a lot of revenue growth without a lot of incremental effort is to systematically follow up a minimum of three times in the two weeks after your meeting and realize meeting with you is one of a hundred things on that person's list. So you need to stay in front of them. Because speaking of areas where I see a major shift is when an advisor goes, oh, you know what? I called and I called and I didn't hear from them. Then I called a couple weeks later and they had to deal with something at their kid's school or a family member, so they lost track, and you have to stay on top of it until someone says, no, yes, I'm sorry. I've taken another path where I'm no longer interested, and you have your defined three, four, or five touches, and then you let them be on your list and then mark later to follow up with them. But I find that fortune really can be in the follow-up and it's often overlooked.
Oh, so well said too. I know oftentimes when we will tell folks, when we see potential clients, prospects who will come in, we'll say, follow up within the hour if possible, respond within the hour, respond at minimum within two hours that it comes in. People are in the mode, right? They're doing the reach out, they're taking the time. So you want to capture them why they've got that time to be able to reach out. I know I personally use a tool called Right Inbox. I don't know if you're familiar with that.
No, I don't know it.
Oh, it's awesome. Just as a follow-up tool but it allows you to pre-schedule emails, and so then you can either pre-schedule email or put a reminder in your inbox, such as, okay, I need to follow up with this person in three days. I like to keep a clean inbox. So it allows you to just basically pull out that email back at the top of your inbox so it's ready to go. So that's within Gmail but I know it works in Outlook and there's also built-in. I know Gmail has tools for that too.
Oh, that's fantastic. I think that would be the technology, if I could just get advisors to follow up more than one time with a prospective client, knowing that person needs you to check in with them. They do need it.
Yeah. Yeah, so awesome. We brought that up, and this is such a relationship business, right?
Thank you so much, Kristen. I appreciate you sharing your wealth of knowledge in this space, and especially working with the sole advisor practice and group and just sharing more about that journey from being able to break away and hire to really setting yourself up so you can continue to focus on doing what you love. So thank you again. We'll make sure to also include, I know we talked about a lot of different links and resources, but we'll make sure to include below.
All right. Great. Thanks Lauren. I appreciate it.
Thank you. Thanks.