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On Purpose
May 23, 2024

We talked with Bridget about:

  • The importance of identifying and serving a niche demographic 
  • The strategic move she made to expand her capacity to continue meeting the needs of her growing clientele
  • How she paved the way for a seamless transition to bring her daughter Marnie on board as her future successor

About Bridget Venus Grimes

Bridget Venus Grimes is president and founder of WealthChoice. She launched her family firm in 2016 in response to the financial challenges faced by breadwinner women across the nation. Recognizing the need to expand her capacity to serve her growing clientele of over 65 families, she made the decision to bring her daughter Marnie on board. Through this strategic move, Bridget aims to ensure continuity and quality service for her clients while fostering a legacy of financial empowerment for future generations. With assets under management reaching $90 million, Bridget's dedication to providing comprehensive financial guidance while nurturing a successor reflects her passion for empowering women to make informed financial decisions. In her book, Corner Office Choices, Bridget compassionately guides women through the four financial derailers she has observed over time. With keen insight and unwavering dedication, she continues to support this dynamic group of women, addressing their unique challenges and empowering them to navigate their financial journey with confidence and clarity.

Featured Resources 

Enjoyed This? You’ll love:  

Full Audio Transcript:

Lauren (00:05):

Well, you all are in for a treat today. We have Bridget Venus Grimes joining us, the founder of WealthChoice among a number of other different roles, including she's on the CFP® Board. And well, I'll let her get into all of it but what is going to be really fun for us to be able to dive into today is how she has actually brought her daughter into the firm and what that process has been like to be able to train her and really bring her into the fold. So I'm going to hand it over to you to share a little bit more about your background and then we'll get into the details of bringing on the next gen into your firm.

Bridget (00:42):

Sure. And Lauren, thank you so much for having me. I am really excited to be here. So just a little bit about me. I launched the firm almost eight years ago, September 2016. And really just in response to a whole bunch of issues I'm sure we can get into in a few minutes. So run WealthChoice; our clients are what I call breadwinner women. So they're women who have a ton of stuff on their plates and their career. Their income is really what we need to leverage to drive everything they want to do in life. So those are my people. Basically it's a virtual practice. I'm sitting here in an office in Coronado, California, where I do have a physical office but nobody comes to since my clients are all over the country. I have not met most of them in person and probably never will. Totally.

Lauren (01:36):

Oh my goodness.

Bridget (01:37):

Yeah, that's a unique component.

Lauren (01:39):

Yes. Okay.

Bridget (01:41):

We were ready for COVID because we were already remote.

Lauren (01:43):

Yeah, you were already there.

Bridget (01:46):

So that is how we run. We're super deep financial planning. I also co-run a co-founded firm called Equita Financial Network, which provides the platform for my firm and we'll talk more about that too but we also make it available to other fee-only women-led firms around the country. So I started WealthChoice really because of my experience in financial planning. And I'll tell you, it was either launch a firm or leave the industry. That's kind of where I was. This can be a very difficult industry for women. So I had started in 1986 trading at a hedge fund in Manhattan. And so my entry to the financial industry was I was on the buy side trading for many years and actually wound up absolutely hating it.

It's trading, it's not investing to me and didn't resonate with me but it was kind of an interesting way to get into the industry. Anyway, I left the industry and came back when I got divorced and I really wanted to serve women who looked just like me. So I got into the industry, started at a wirehouse, which is a super easy way to do this. Build your own practice definitely wasn't the model I wanted for myself and my clients. And so I transitioned to a fee-only RIA in San Diego, where I was for a number of years. And I was serving women like me, a lot of women attorneys, but really wound up being very frustrated. I was told I was too ambitious. I had asked our owner, hey, what's it going to take to get into management? And was pretty much shut down. Like, hey, it's not an option. And that was pretty disappointing. I worked really hard and I figured the harder I worked, it would all work out and that's not how it works. Also found out I was paid 50% of my male peers, and that is a truth, just a bunch of frustrations.

I really looked for another role out there and I realized I pretty much wasn't going to find anything different with the lateral move. And one of my mentors, JD Bruce, an awesome guy who was running Abacus at the time, said, Bridget, you're only going to be happy if you launch your own company. And so hence comes WealthChoice.

Lauren (04:14):

That was eight years ago.

Bridget (04:16):

That was eight years ago, and it's been an amazing ride.

Lauren (04:19):

Oh my goodness. Okay. So tell me more about how you got that firm going where you are, and then I'd love to hear about this component of bringing your daughter aboard to the firm.

Bridget (04:29):

Sure. So when I had left that RIA, it was a broker protocol firm, which means you're allowed to take certain information with you, which is great. But I was also only allowed to take the clients I had brought with me from my wirehouse. For some bizarre reason I had put that in my contract even though I never planned on ever leaving. So that was really a good thing and I would say ended up working out.

Do that, do that; you just don't know the future. But when I left, I had zero revenue and I had a very big mortgage and two children in college and I said this had better work out. So no pressure. Good news is my father runs a company, he's an entrepreneur. And he had said to me, okay, you need a business plan. You need to figure out how many clients do I need to get in when, how much revenue do I need to have when? So I was just super heavy in clients who found me, and had a really good strategy my attorney helped me with. And then just a ton of business development. I love to write, I love to speak. So I was really focused on that. And then a year and a half later I wrote a book. So I thought that would super help with credibility and that was really helpful. But really just boots on the ground, I'm going to bring in clients. And I had built this amazing website and I thought it really spoke to my client base, and that's how we started. And it's just been really a lot of work but really rewarding.

Lauren (06:04):

So you really went in with clarity around who you were going to serve. Not dependent on a particular geography but just really that audience. And then it sounds like you were able to leverage, it sounds like centers of influence through an attorney you said you were working with or what have you.

Bridget (06:21):

Yeah, so I think the niche is critical, and I know Kitces speaks on this nonstop and he's right. So I have always had a specific niche. Like I said, when I got into this industry, it was to help women like me. So breadwinner women who have a ton of things on their plate, aging parents, kids, husbands, partners, you name it. And so I have just continued to serve those women and there are very specific needs and challenges this demographic has. So our firm focuses on, hey, here are these challenges and we know the solutions and we look like you because we are you. The niche is really important.

Lauren (07:00):

So it sounds like you built your processes, procedures, your messaging, and it sounds like also where you're spending your time really reaching out and talking to this demographic. Is that all fair to say? And I'm assuming your book is also aligned to this audience as well?

Bridget (07:14):

Absolutely. In fact, the book's called Corner Office Choices, and it speaks to the four, what I say, the four derailers are for these women, financial derailers I've just seen over time. If they only knew to do these four things they would all be in better shape financially. So it's kind of like a how-to book but it also was a book for my peers because I thought we were doing a lousy job of guiding this group of women because they really do have very specific challenges and needs that are unique.

Lauren (07:43):

It's so true. I know you can't kind of talk to everyone or it all kind of washes out. So yes, and I feel like we could go a whole deep dive on that component. Now you're starting to talk my language again into the marketing world, target market and what have you. Also, Kristen Luke's another one who has a great whole process on that and really building out that audience as well. So critical to go deep in and know who you're talking with. Let's shift a little bit to talk about really the shift in your business to be able to bring on your daughter. What was the trigger for that? Why her? Were you at a place where you were looking for talent? I'd love to hear a little bit more about that and then where you are in the process.

Bridget (08:24):

So this is years in the making. My firm has $90 million of assets under management. And so I had heard years ago from some industry resource that when you got to $35 million of AUM, you're going to need to add some help. Well, $85 million came and went, and like I said earlier, I delegate a lot of the work in my practice. So I have an outsourced CI, I have a trading team, I have a bookkeeper, you name it. I have really good people in those seats through that other company that provides this suite of business resources. But I never outsource the planning. I love financial planning. I love the relationship part. I love doing deep dives. I want to be here when a client's like, hey, I want to buy a house. What should I do? Should I lease a car? Should I rent a car? I want to be available to my clients for that because I feel like those financial decisions can really make a difference. 

Lauren (09:32):

They're personal. They're big. So you need a trusted resource when you're going to make those big decisions.

Bridget (09:37):

You so do. And I want to be there for my clients. So I have 65 families I work for, it's like almost 100 people. And I found I was not able to do the deep work I love doing. I was now fully at capacity. Like I said, I never brought anyone on to help me with the planning part. I didn't want to give it up. And I realized I just couldn't do the quality of work I really was proud of. And I mean, I love the work I do but I had moved away from special projects for clients throughout the year, and I wanted to get back to that. So the only way to do that was of course to bring in help. And I talked to my daughter, she's almost 27, and so out of college a few years, and I had talked to her a few years ago about, hey, would you ever be interested in financial planning? And we talked a little bit and we thought maybe, yeah, who knows? Planted the seed. But she was a business major from college, and she worked in a finance role in tech, so she's made great money.

Lauren (10:46):

Oh yeah, she'd already been there.

Bridget (10:49):

The only thing was she was working with numbers. She's super smart, really driven, but there was no people component. It's a lot of numbers but no people, and she's a really great people person. So we kept checking in on that, and then I said, hey, Marnie, is this something you're really serious about? Because if it is, we need a plan. And so she actually, a couple years ago said, so I'm going to study for the CFP®.

And I said, okay, great. So on her dime on her time. And she then said, okay, I'm willing to commit to you. And we did an internship last year. She would sit in toward the latter half of the year on client meetings just for me to make sure, is this really what you want to do because this is going to be a lot of work for me. Long story short, we signed a letter of intent — I'm like, this is a business deal — at the end of year. And she started working for WealthChoice as a W2 employee on January 1.

Lauren (11:48):

Okay.

Bridget (11:49):

Yeah. So this is real.

Lauren (11:53):

This is the real deal.

Bridget (11:55):

And so she's got a hybrid role. I do not plan to retire. I love our industry. My business model for my firm is I do this until I can't because it's very gratifying. I don't have a vision of retirement where I play golf or pickleball. My vision of retirement is I work part time and I can travel but I see my father who is still running a business at 86, who is very viable. The guy's amazing but he's also cognitively aware and he feels fulfilled. That I think is critical. So that's my vision for myself. But that said, I definitely need somebody who's a clone of me. So Marnie's job, my daughter, Marnie Bonner, her job is really to become incredibly good at financial planning, an expert in that space but also a business owner, somebody who will know how to run this company because we solos, we wear two hats, business owner, and we take care of clients. So how do you do both? Well, she's getting a crash course on everything.

Lauren (13:13):

Can you tell me more about that crash course? I feel, I mean, I felt that too, right? Growing a business and then that first hire is a big one. You've got a lot of stuff that's packed in your head that you have to really think about, how am I going to help to transition this, fold them and help them learn along the way? I mean, onboarding, you're in the throes of all of that. What have you done? I mean, I'm sure that's naturally happened just over the years of her seeing you and watching and learning but what kind of systems have you put in place to help her be able to lean in and really see you in action and brain dump, for lack of better words, of all the things, right? 

Bridget (13:52):

Yeah, there's a lot there. So we started with a really tight onboarding plan, and I reached out to some great resources. Dimensional Funds has this amazing practice management arm, and we're a DFA shop. So you know what? They spent a lot of time with me — here's how we would figure out compensation, this is what onboarding should look like, this is what you should do in terms of timelines, in terms of responsibility. They were fabulous. The CFP® Board has amazing resources. And then I reached out to peers. And so by the time she started, we had a very tight onboarding plan from timeline to responsibilities. And so really, I feel like my gift is not managing people. And I was really stressed out about how I do not know how to manage. I do not know how to train. I just know how to do; I know financial planning inside and out but I have never had to train a person. And so it was really partially for myself to make sure if we had this really great outline of what she accomplished, it would help me make sure we stayed on track. So we put together the onboarding and we had really good resources behind us. We use Advyzon for portfolio performance and CRM; it is fabulous. I’m really close to the guys who launched Advyzon; we were early adopters and they keep enhancing that. So one of her goals is to master our tech because I have not had time to dig deep enough.

She spends time on our workflows, putting them in and everything is how do we systematize better than I have done when you're cobbling it together between everything else you're doing. So really getting her to focus on, okay, here are the different resources we have access to; now master them and incorporate those in our client meetings. So she's done a really great job. It's so funny. So many people ask me, hey, how's it going? Friends, family, peers are like, so how is that going? And it's going great. I'm not kidding. It's beyond my expectations. Part of it might be that she drives herself really hard, and I don't think she wants to disappoint me.

Lauren (16:20):

A natural. She's got a natural sort of entrepreneurial spirit about her, which is I think critical as a small business is you need that entrepreneurial kind of energy. So not who knows what do I do but providing those recommendations, doing the research, pulling it together, finding that sort of cut of person is not always an easy,

Bridget (16:44):

No, it's not. And I'll tell you, it's a crapshoot, right? You don't know. Do you really know your child? And their work ethic. So I had made it clear, I am not a micromanager. I'm training her. I meet every single day. And Monday and Friday we have really deep dive meetings. Like Monday is, hey, well, here's what's going on this week. Friday is how did that go? What could we have done better? And then daily, it's like, hey, let's just check in. Did you have questions? So we've got a lot of framework but at the same time my expectation is that she’s doing her thing. She’s in Manhattan. 

Lauren (17:20):

Oh wow, and you're in San Diego. Yeah, you're coast to coast.

Bridget (17:23):

We have tasks we create in our CRM, so we know what our responsibilities are, and she just does it. But you don't know when you hire a child, are they going to show up? Are they just going to take a paycheck? And so it's been really, really rewarding. It's been really successful.

Lauren (17:47):

Yeah. Well, hats off to you too, for taking the time and resources to be able to reach out to connections and then to be able to put together that plan. I feel like so much of, if the front work is done, it makes it just all kind of go downhill from there, assuming you've got the right fit and everything for the role, it almost seems like you've got a great template that then you can adjust. Did you want to hire more folks? 

Bridget (18:11):

Yeah, I don't know if that's the vision, honestly, but who knows, right? I never thought I'd sit here and be talking to you about bringing my daughter on as a mother-daughter team.

Lauren (18:21):

So I had talked with Stevyn, who owns Grow Wellthy™, and she had seen her father grow up in the advisory space, and then she spun off at a business. I interviewed her a few months ago, and it's all about health and well-being specifically for advisors. And so I think one of the things she probably alluded to earlier, she's seen in the space what that's like and to be able to grow up with that and the kind of energy it takes to really go all in. So that training seems like it was sort of built in the ethos. 

Bridget (18:54):

Yeah, it's funny because she does work I was doing before, and she said, I don't know how you did this, because I did both roles, right? I just said, so this is why my children think all I do is work. I'm like, so yeah, that's kind of all I did was work because there's so much to do. And so now it is actually really nice to have someone who's helping me with analysis for client reviews so I can spend some time on business development and marketing.

Lauren (19:22):

Absolutely. You can put your energy toward that. Sounds like she's got an operations component to what she's taking on. Are you already bringing her into client meetings as well?

Bridget (19:30):

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. She's up and running. She's a sponge. So at every client meeting, she's in there, she takes notes. She's actually just starting to contribute. We've got an agenda. Our meeting structure is really good. It's very repetitive. So she's got, man, I think at this point she's probably been in 30-something, maybe 40 meetings at this point because we are very heavy on meetings in the beginning of the year. And then she will follow up with the clients that this is what we heard. These are action items we've identified. She actually is, because she's taken the CFP® coursework and because she's interned and we spend a lot of time in financial planning together, she's helping with analysis for prep work for these.

She's deep in the numbers and the weeds. Yeah, this is a crash course. You will be a financial planner.

Lauren (20:26):

You're jumping into the deep end. And then just, I want to be mindful of time here. There's a few other questions for you too. So I also see you're in a unique situation, right? Solo firm, moving into family business. I also see multi-generational family businesses, not just in this space but in other industries as well. Is there anything, especially since you did so much upfront due diligence and putting together the onboarding and talking with folks, were there any common themes you saw across the board? Was it that onboarding was really critical? Was it that it really needed to be treated like really extra lean into that, more business engagement? Are there any themes you saw that you would like to make sure people here, if they're entertaining bringing on their child, or they're thinking about that succession and bringing them into a leadership role and their active business, are aware of?

Bridget (21:18):

I guess it starts with what's the vision for your firm. If you're building a firm to sell it, I don't even know if it makes sense to bring in a family member. And really, when I made the decision, I had my firm valued a couple of years ago, and the expectation was you build it to grow and sell it, and then you retire somewhere. And when I changed my vision for my firm, I thought it would be terrific to have her here as a successor. Now, like I said, I don't plan on leaving and God willing, I could stay a long time but ultimately Marnie will probably take over this business. I would hope so. I think depending on what your vision is for the firm, I think it could make sense to bring a child on. I think you also have to be really clear on how you separate family from business. And I think that's an advantage for us working remotely because she's got her private life and I have my life but when we're on a call, even at the end of the day and we review, we are business, we don't talk about personal life. We really have limitations, very clear barriers. I think it's something to think about for folks if you bring a child on, and I was advised to be really clear with what's business and what's personal by one of my peers who really helped me with Marnie's onboarding.

Lauren (22:47):

That's fair. And I'm sure as you proceed forward, you sort of continuously draw those lines in the sand for what that looks like, I would assume.

Bridget (22:56):

Yeah.

Lauren (22:57):

Yes. Oh my goodness. Well, any other final thoughts? I know before we originally were chatting, I know there's a Kitces podcast you did where you talk a little bit more about the delegation component and what have you, and some other articles we'll make sure to share in here as well. Are there any other final thoughts you think would be helpful to share for folks who are in a position where they're looking to bring on a family member or any tips?

Bridget (23:19):

Sure. Yeah. I've had a number of people ask me, peers ask me how I did it. And they have children who they think could be a good fit for their firms. I would say I would encourage anyone to do it. I mean, obviously it depends on the child and it depends on the business structure. But I would absolutely encourage folks to think about that. To think about bringing on a child. I think it's a natural successor, and I would be happy to talk to anybody who had any questions about it. There's a mom perspective about bringing your daughter on and a business perspective — they need to align and make sense. But I'll tell you, it has been absolutely rewarding to have her on and to see her grow and to see her really get up to speed and take initiative and get stuff done and do a really good job and actually really help the business get better. So to that end, I wrote an article on Rethinking65 that covers a lot of these details too. When I spoke to Kitces this last fall, we really were talking about how do you scale? And a lot of this that we didn't really cover was by bringing Marnie on, we can bring on clients. I was absolutely at capacity.

Lauren (24:36):

Even though you're outsourcing other components, now you've really got someone who’s deep into it. Someone who can get into the planning side of it or get at least their kind of feet wet with it a little bit.

Bridget (24:49):

Yes, absolutely. So our goal is to bring on 40 awesome clients within five years, and then I think we're probably going to be done. We'll see. I mean, I know I probably should not say, but yeah. So there was no way I could bring any more people on and do really good work myself.

Lauren (25:06):

Yeah, that's fair. And it's honorable too, right? You've had a capacity and you want to be able to lean into, pour as much as you can to your clients. Oh, well, this is great. Thank you so much for sharing a little bit more about your journey, especially since it's so fresh that she's come on relatively recently. And to be able to see the success so quickly I think is also, like I mentioned earlier, a tribute to all the effort you put initially but then also her pouring into it as well. So thank you for sharing your story.

Bridget (25:34):

You're welcome. And thanks for having me.

Lauren (25:36):

Absolutely. We'll make sure to link to your website below and those articles we mentioned too. So thank you.

Bridget (25:42):

You are welcome.

Building a Family Business: How Bridget Venus Grimes Solved Her RIA Capacity Problem With Her Daughter Marnie Bonner

Discover how Bridget Venus Grimes empowers breadwinner women through comprehensive financial guidance with the help of her daughter, Marnie Bonner.
On Purpose
May 16, 2024

We talked with Ellie Alexander, Jimmy Lim and Tiffany Silverberg about:

  • Reasons your company might need a website redesign
  • Why identifying your target audience is important 
  • What we use to organize and plan before designing a website
  • The process of finalizing the design and copy elements  

About Jimmy, Tiffany, and Ellie:

Step into the dynamic world of website redesigns with the directors team at Out & About Communications. Ellie Alexander, our design director; Jimmy Lim, our marketing director; and Tiffany Silverberg, our content director, are experts on the intricacies of website redesigns, and all the elements needed to help breathe new life into your online presence. From crafting the initial wireframe to creating compelling design elements and meaningful copy, our directors take a client-centric approach while guiding businesses through this journey, and also share their insider’s perspective on the evolution of our very own Out & About website redesign. 

Featured Resources 

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Lauren (00:05):

All right, so you are in for a treat today. We have our director's team at Out & About here for our On Purpose interview. I'm going to let each of them introduce themselves but we are really looking forward to chatting about website redesigns today. So we're going to get into the whole process, what it's like, and specifically we're going to talk about our website — Out & About Communications. We just redid our brand. We'll talk to that more in a minute. And now the next big hunky item is a website redo. So before we get into all that and what the process is like, I'm going to go ahead and do a round of intros. So Jimmy, why don't we start with you?

Jimmy (00:40):

Okay, cool. So I'm Jimmy; I'm the marketing director. At Out & About, I help clients come up with strategy, of course working with the rest of the directors team to determine how to get clients to where they want to go. And I'm excited to share more about our website today. On to Tiffany.

Tiffany (01:01):

I'm Tiffany. I'm the content director. I help our clients find their brand voice and make sure all the communications written especially really align with that brand voice and as well as their goals. So making sure everything is pointed to the target market and all of that. All words basically come through me and that's what I do. So on to Ellie.

Ellie (01:30):

Yeah, thanks. So I'm Ellie Alexander. I'm the design director here at Out & About. And so what Tiffany is to words and voice I am to visuals and design, whether that's helping one of our clients build a brand from the ground up and like, oh my gosh, we're starting at zero. What does that then look like? And working with our team of designers to craft that or further on down the line when we've got everything locked and loaded and we're rocking and rolling, just making sure the brands and visuals all stay consistent. So that's my world.

Lauren (01:54):

Awesome. So websites are sometimes put out there in the world quickly. You can literally redo a website overnight, 24 hours, you've got a brand new website and it is exactly what you want. Well, we are here to tell you that while you can make that happen, it's probably not going to be exactly what you want because websites are kind of like mini business plans. It really forces you if you're really doing them end to end to go through a bigger picture exercise and really think about how you want to be positioning yourself, especially in this very digital day and age. Your website is sort of like your office front. It's really that first introduction that a prospect — warm or cold — is going to have to your brand. So we, in another episode we can link to, went through a whole rebranding exercise. Ellie was on that and talked about what our whole brand looks like.

I’m very, very proud to be able to put that out there and shout out, major shout out to you, Ellie, and to the team for the work that was done on that and all the compliments and things we've been receiving. So very proud to be able to put that out there. But that was a lot of whole exercises to go through. So now we're going through the whole website component. So what we're going to do here is we're going to talk through what the stages look like. We're going to go through our wireframing, which is our first stage — really strategy heavy and really thinking through those big picture components. We're going to get to the design side of it and how you show it visually and the copy, how those are married together, and then the build and launch. But really with the team here, we're going to focus on those first two phases, the wireframing and copy and design. We'll get into just a little bit of the build too but before we get into all of that, why don't we start with why in the world would you do a website redesign because it is such a darn hunky project. So, anyone just want to speak to that before we get into the different phases?

Jimmy (03:38):

I can add to that. So I think we would kind of visit the idea of a website refresh or website redesign for a couple of reasons, starting with evolution within the company. You have new service offerings, your team has changed significantly. You're doing something different or new technology, maybe there's a function for those that are selling consumer products, they have the WhatsApp chat function. That could be something that's helpful to customer service. They could just do a web refresh. Sometimes it's like living in the same house but you just want a fresh coat of paint to make it look fresher. People who come to your house just feel like, oh, okay, it's a little bit different.

Lauren (04:24):

Any other thoughts?

Ellie (04:27):

Yeah, I echo everything Jimmy said but especially if you or your audience has changed, I think that's a big one. Maybe your website is technically fine, it works, it's on brand, maybe it's not. But yeah, if you've realized your company has changed enough that your website now appeals to the wrong group of people or you need to hone in more on a specific subset of who it should appeal to, whether that's what it says, the content, or the design or this is going back and I hope nobody is like this, but if it is not mobile friendly, if your website is so old that it is the same on a desktop computer as it is in a mobile device, it’s definitely time. Definitely time. I think most people have caught up to there but there are still a few stragglers out there. 

Lauren (05:09):

Tiffany, any thoughts too?

Tiffany (05:11):

Yeah, I mean I think they've pretty much covered it but I think the only other thing is just, well, I always say your website should work hard for you. It should be an asset. And so I guess just the other layer is if it's not really serving you or doing what you want it to do, I think it's easy to consider a change. To your point earlier, that turnaround, 24 hours thing, it's easy to just slap a logo on and type some copy and I have a website but there's so many things your website could be doing, whether it's SEO or maybe it's a lead generation tool or it's figuring out that passive marketing for you, what you want that to be doing and then building it from there. 

Ellie (05:54):

Yeah, that's a good point, Tiffany. There's a big difference between having a website and having a targeted strategic, accessible, SEO-optimized website. It's night and day.

Tiffany (06:05):

Exactly. And that's where it becomes a whole redesign. So with some clients, we do just pop in and make a few tweaks. We're not looking to make big changes. But the question of why do a redesign is for this: let's just take it all down to the ground and rebuild based on what sort of strategic decisions we want to make.

Lauren (06:22):

Yeah, that house analogy is a really good one, Tiffany, that you were alluding to, and Jimmy as well. So let's talk about the break it all down component, the first phase. So Jimmy, can you talk us through that wireframing phase? What's it about? If you were going into that phase, what should you be prepared for? Tell us a little bit more about what that looks like.

Jimmy (06:41):

Yeah, I think it's really about just thinking about the target audience, who will be using the website, who do we want to attract? And then how they will be using it and then why they would be there, how they would get there. All of these questions usually, why? And then really building that out, putting yourself into the shoes of both the company that's having the website, and also the user, how we want them to navigate it, leaving little breadcrumbs and they're following a certain path you want them to follow. I think that really helps with the wireframing that intention.

Lauren (07:21):

You mind sharing a little bit more about what an information architecture is or kind of navigation and what a wireframe is. You hear these words and they're very jargony, and what would that kind of deliverable look like if you were to receive that once we've started to unpack those big picture questions?

Jimmy (07:38):

Yeah, I think it's always helpful to start with the information architecture, which really is almost like building a web, a food chain and then, oh, this is a homepage, this leads to this. It's just a visual representation of where content sits and how it's organized in an optimal way. And then from there you could take each component, which will be the webpage, and then you take it, build it, another visual around it, and then just, yeah, it looks like a website but it's just a webpage but it's just really a skeletal outline.

Lauren (08:12):

Yeah. It makes me think about if you were to go in and write a piece, you write a blog post or what have you, it's like that outline before you actually get into filling it in and that wireframing. And then I love this kind of skeletal idea of information architecture because it really helps you think about what's the organization. It's like if you've got a file cabinet but nothing's labeled and it's all kind of shoved in there; it really helps to get through that organization. And then Jimmy, how long does that process normally take in that kind of phase one engagement? A lot of meetings? What is that kind of like? What's the responsibility at someone else's end?

Jimmy (08:48):

Yeah, I think it really depends on how intricate all the pages are, how many pages. I think that influences it as well. I would say maybe first we'll have obviously a meeting with the client, kind of understand where they're at, what kind of content, just what the why is and things like that. And then once we have that, really it's building that information architecture. I would say that takes maybe a week or so, and then another maybe another week or two back and forth with the client to just get it ironed out. Then we build web pages themselves, the wireframe, so the individual pages. So yeah, I think that whole stage, depending again on the pages, if we're talking just a simple website, maybe six, eight weeks to be complete, I think.

Lauren (09:39):

Yeah, something around that. It can really ebb and flow depending on the number of templates or versions or things of that sort. It's part of the creative process but that sounds about right. Okay. So wireframe is a big component. Any key players who should be in those conversations too that you would want to make sure are helping to shape that? Just to go back to that initial discovery, who would you want to have in that call?

Jimmy (10:04):

From the client side, I think the sales team for sure. I think that would be helpful because again, the website is very much a part of the sales process nowadays. I mean, it's part of the puzzle. So I think the sales team's input would help. Obviously the marketing person, I think that would help because they would really understand their target audience really, really well and how that whole process of sales just unfolds. So we want to make sure they are involved so the website really just fits nicely and helps to move things along faster instead of causing hindrance.

Lauren (10:48):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And then I know sometimes we've brought in key leadership just depending on the size of the company or what have you to help shape things out. So I love that point about the sales team because that's so true. That's a kind of marriage between sales and marketing, making sure that's brought out as well. So thank you, Jimmy. We'll jump over to Ellie. I want to hear about phase two when we get into the design component of it and the copy and the marriage between those. So once we've got the wireframing in place, I know we have an internal handoff here to make sure we're all on the same page. And Ellie, maybe we'll transition from Jimmy to Ellie here. What does that look like for you? Where do you even start? Sometimes people want to go in a totally different direction. They're like, my website was built in the ‘90s. So tell us about that.

Ellie (11:34):

Yeah, it's a whole can of worms. They can go a couple different ways but I think in an ideal world, I'm going to assume we have, even if the website's really old, I'm going to assume we have some sort of updated brand guidelines. If you do have a website that is 15 years old and you're doing a complete flip, you want to make sure you have something on the horizon set you're working toward. So whether we could use that website as a use case or a proof of concept for what the new brand would look like. And then that kind of becomes its own exercise as saying like, okay, we don't know what this brand is going to look like or we're evolving yours. We'll use the homepage to kind of figure out what feels right. And sometimes we have clients with a print piece, if they just have a print piece on hand, you're like, okay, we need to update our onboarding brochure.

And sometimes then we'll use that as our example piece to kind of drive a new brand. But yet you could absolutely use a website. But then let's say you had the brand all figured out, then I think the next stage would be just asking lots of questions because sometimes designers may or may not have been, and myself may or may not have been in certain conversations but okay, why is this on the wireframe? What functionality do we need it to have? So having that meeting where we probably pepper Jimmy with lots of annoying questions like, okay, what do you mean by this? What kind of stuff is going to be in this dropdown? What do you need? What's the user going to do here to make sure we really holistically just get the brain dump of everything on that website so we understand it frontwards, backwards, inside and out. And then we can kind of start making sure the functionality is there underlying, and then start putting the brand frosting on top.

Lauren (13:05):

Yes, I know, I love that. The brand frosting. That's so fun. Tell me a little bit more about that. That website is so critical to all the other pages, the homepage. So you've got your global elements, your header, your footer, your typography. How do you go about choosing that brand frosting, if you will, like you said, to really spice it up because web design's different from print design. So what's the direction you're giving to our designers to really be able to help bring out that feel for the client?

Ellie (13:43):

Well, I think a big part of it too is I am kind of getting into actually the tactical weeds. Part of it is knowing what platform we're designing for. Are we building this website on Webflow where we have lots of creative freedom and we can, whatever we envision with this brand, whether it's really expressive, big animations or huge type more of sky is the limit type thing. Or let's say we're doing a smaller website that may need to be updated more frequently. So we're using a more user-friendly platform like Squarespace where the client could kind of go in and do their own updates but then our designs are a lot more limited on what we can do, the capabilities. So then it becomes more of an exercise of, okay, how can we bring maximum brand personality into a platform that might already be pretty locked down?

Lauren (14:28):

Okay. So do you mind sharing a little bit more about our website? We're going through that whole design process. I mean, we did the information architecture and Jimmy, we can swing back to that process for us too. But the design was such a critical component because we had just gone through that branding exercise. How did you go about bringing that to life? And is there anything that came out of that that you're like, yeah, that feels totally like us. So I'd love to hear a little bit more about our design process in particular, right?

Ellie (15:03):

Yeah, I think a big part for us too, and I think would be the case for lots of brands, but yeah, as you said, we already had new brand guidelines. We kind of knew what the brand could look like. We had our colors, we had our illustration style, we had the logo but we hadn't yet designed any big full pieces. So sometimes you think you look at brand guidelines and that should tell you exactly what everything should look like and it can but even within that, it's like, okay, we use those fun kind of limey to turquoise gradients. How much of that is on the page? If three chords are on the page, it's full of brightly colored gradients, it gets a totally different vibe than if, okay, we use that very sparingly or how much of the black we were using. We had all the parts and pieces but it was kind of like, okay, what are we maxing up? What are we trimming down to find just that right balance of how all those pieces interact.

Lauren (15:54):

So right. And then just to layer in there for us as we were building out our brand, we had to even start to create social media graphics and different things as a baseline. So we kind of knew how it would play. But Ellie, you did such a great job of leading the team to really say, now how does that translate into digital experience? Can you also talk a little bit more to the animation component, right? Because it’s not just designing flat files. What does that kind of show up as someone who's actually reviewing a design before it's going to be built?

Ellie (16:29):

Yeah. Well, I think we are, in this case, we are really blessed to have a really talented developer working with us. Josefina is just fantastic. And so it's been such an asset to have, because I can visualize, wouldn't it be neat if the animation does this or wouldn't it be neat if the animation does that? So can our designer but we were able to just say, okay, we know we want this to move. This is what we're thinking, Josefina — what can Webflow do? What have you seen out there? Because she’s probably closer to the web industry and where trends are going. So we could kind of seed her with, okay, we're thinking this, we want it to feel this way. And she could almost always take it up a notch, be like, oh, I see what you're saying. What about we do this? Or, okay, this new thing is trending. Oh, this is going away because of X, Y, Z. So in terms of animation, she could really point us in the direction of, okay, and also what's feasible. There might be two options that are equally great. Oh, we could animate it like this. Oh, we could animate it like this. This might take 10 hours, this might take one. And really, we like them the same amount. So then let's go with the more efficient one, all things being equal.

Lauren (17:29):

Totally. I mean, to Jimmy's point earlier about having the marketing sales team in the discovery, there's a marriage, there's a marriage also between design and development. And if you break out the two, I feel like the outcome isn't as strong. Okay, super. I want to make sure we get Tiffany in here. So once we've got our design, we've got our framing and everything in place, we've got our designs, then there's that. Maybe we kind of talk about that handoff again. And how do you make sure it doesn't feel like copy's just like, hey, I'm over here and the design's over here and they're not really like, so Tiffany, do you mind talking about that too? Some people are visual, some people are words people. Do you partner with Ellie too and the client to make sure we get really that right voice and tone that goes, they're talking to me.

Tiffany (18:16):

Yeah. Well, I was just thinking about that. I mean, as far as the actual workflow, copy does come at the end technically but I think part of it is just the three of us work together really closely all the time, and I think it's just a lot of communication. So I'm talking with Jimmy as the wireframe is being built out; do we need this kind of content? What kind of story would we tell here? That kind of thing. And the same thing with Ellie. She'll come to me like, should we do this picture or this? What kind of story are we trying to tell so when it does come to the copy stage, I mean technically we're kind of in a box now, the design is all built out and the Lorem Ipsum is there but really we've been working together all along. So we sort of know what each of those sections or whatever is going to say. So then it's just pulling out the voice and the details of who are we going to talk to and what are we going to say, which words would they use? So yeah, I think that's a big part of it, just staying involved in the process.

Lauren (19:11):

And Tiffany, how do you, even the question to Ellie initially, how do you tee that up with a writer? Because there's so many different styles of writing, technicality, voice tone, and then being able to really get inside the prospect. So when they're reading that, they go, they're talking to me, this feels like me. What's that evolution to be able to get from concept to actually reading it on the page?

Tiffany (19:36):

Yeah, I mean, I think to Ellie's point earlier, if we have a good brand guide in place, that really helps if we sort of know where we're trying to go. I mean, we'll always say this, the three of us, but if we have a brand personality that's super helpful if we know what we're trying to get to. So that does help. But even then, I mean I think this is the unpopular answer but the reality is that there's going to be a lot of give and take and back and forth with the client. Even with ourselves, there was a lot of, that word doesn't feel right, I would actually write this. And I think just being open to that process really helps because websites are very close to us but words are also very close to us. And so I think just being open to, okay, we know that's what we wanted to say generally but we'll make a couple tweaks here and there and make changes and just work through it.

Lauren (20:26):

So well said. I know at that stage in review, we've sometimes had sales folks come in and even take a look at it too.

Tiffany (20:33):

It really helps to have the key players involved because to Jimmy's point, sales is going to be using these pages all the time, or the team is going to be using these all the time. So they really to make sure, we would never use that word, and sometimes nobody would know that until it's actually, honestly, maybe none of us would know that but nobody would notice it either until it's in the design stage or even on the staging site, like, oh, now it's standing out to me. We would never say that. So I think just again, being open to the process and working together is really important.

Lauren (21:13):

Absolutely. And one of the things I really enjoy is that we take the design and we drop the copy in there.

Tiffany (21:18):

Yeah, exactly. It feels way different.

Lauren (21:19):

I feel like reading copy off a document versus in the design — Tiffany, anything you want to share regarding that, and even Jimmy, sometimes you play in there, you're like, okay but this is what we meant for it to go for this, or why did it go this direction? Because fill in the blank. So yeah, anything about that stage, this is pre-built. 

Ellie (21:43):

So yeah, one part of the iterative process is as we've been saying in general, it goes from wireframing, then we go to design and then copy generally kind of right to the design. If we realize, oh, we need much more content here, it might come back to design and we might adjust something to make room for the content or vice versa. But another thing we intentionally did was, especially across the site in the hero components or when there was a really big callout or a big piece of beauty copy, we knew there was going to be some big statement here, and we knew it was going to hit home some message but we didn't know exactly what the words were going to say. We didn't waste our time yet going and finding the perfect image to go with that because in all likelihood, we could kind of steer the design, the image could have steered the copywriter in a direction that might not have been as impactful or just might not have made sense. So we said, okay, we know there's going to be some big beautiful statement here. We're just not going to worry about what imagery goes with that until it's written, and then we'll come back and we'll find the perfect image to correspond with that copy.

Lauren (22:43):

Any other thoughts too? So well said, and I love you. You'll do the for placement only, just like, hey, we could go down a whole rabbit hole finding the perfect one but then it just doesn't match the copy. You're right. They have to speak to each other.

Tiffany (22:56):

So it's just a matter of working closely together. And as I was saying, it's just about telling the right story. So sometimes that comes from the image first and sometimes it comes from the words — because we've built sites too where we've put so much effort into an animation and it doesn't matter what the words say. That's the story, and then we will tell the story with the words later. So sometimes it goes either way.

Jimmy (23:21):

Yeah, I just want to add that this whole process, as much as we described it in almost like a linear way, it's not playing the telephone game where the information goes one way. There's back and forth. So maybe at Tiffany's stage, she may come back and say, hey, when you put this here, what was your intention? Even right down in the design stage or sometimes when everything's laid out, and then it's kind of back my way, kind of like, okay, did this kind of fit with that initial vision? And it's everybody's vision. It's not my vision. It's not just the client's vision. It's like a collaborative vision to make sure it works for everyone because it has to.

Ellie (23:59):

Yeah, the iterative process isn't like this. It's so creative.

Lauren (24:04):

And we didn't even get into SEO or other components like video that could also ebb and flow with the way that it turns out. Well, just for time’s sake, I know we didn't get into the build side of it as much but once we go through phase one, really the wire framing to phase two, the design and copy, then we get into the build, which is a whole technical component onto itself, and then the iterations to make sure it's ready to go for launch. As we alluded to earlier, mobile ready, responsive testing on various devices and actually just feeling it in kind of the real environment. But just, and I think we talk about this for hours honestly but just as we kind of narrow in any kind of final thoughts for folks if they're thinking about redoing a website, maybe they want to just add, as Jim, you alluded to earlier, a new coat of paint, something like that. Just thoughts you might want to kind of close with this process at large.

Ellie (25:11):

Yeah, I am kind going to echo what both of you guys said but I love the idea of thinking about it like a house remodel. It doesn't have to be a gut job. I'm actually in the middle of a house remodel right now. There is nothing on these walls. This house is somewhere in the middle. We're gutting parts of it and keeping other parts. But sometimes you ought to tear it down to the foundation. Sometimes you're moving across the state or sometimes you're just like, yeah, coat a paint, touch things up a little bit and they'll be good to go. So yeah, you don't have to scare yourself by thinking it has to be an all-in down to the ground demo job. It doesn't have to be.

Lauren (25:43):

That reminds me, just like a house, when you're going to recut it, sometimes you get it and you're like, whoa, didn't know this was here. Sometimes when you go through the process and you get further along, you go, oh my gosh, what about blah, blah, blah, or I didn't realize dah, dah. And so that's part of, like you were saying, Ellie, it's just part of the creative process, and that's for everyone, even if you're in a creative seat or not creative seat, we're all in creative seats. Any other thoughts?

Jimmy (26:13):

Yeah, I think since we're going with the house analogy, I think just really listening to your gut. I mean, kind of like the house as well, if you kind of feel, yeah, I wish there were more power sockets here. I wish there was one more room for this third child I'm expecting. Listen to your gut. It's the same thing with websites. If it's not flowing in a certain way, it may not be a whole refresh. Don't be like, oh, I need to tear the whole house down and build it again. Sometimes it's just a fresh coat of paint.

Tiffany (26:48):

And there's still very strategic things we can do to ensure it's aligned with your target, speaking to your target market, aligned with your goals. We can really get it working for you and not just kind of a business card or brochure on the internet. So I agree there's a lot of different starting points and endpoints along the way.

Lauren (27:07):

And I know we've even done just, can someone just look at my website and just give me what a fresh coat of paint looks like? Not even the full end to end, the whole wireframing and this and that, we kind of alluded to earlier, there's various kind of flavors of redesigns or upgrades you could do, and so you just have to decide where you're at, what your appetite is for undertaking a project, and it helps to steer you accordingly. So well, thank you all for being here. This was super fun. Started off with you’re in for a treat, and you guys totally delivered, so it was fun to unpack this a little bit more and hopefully provide some context of what it's like to do a whole website redesign or a component of it. All right. Thanks guys.

Tiffany (27:52):

Thanks. Thanks.

Website Redesigns: The Process Behind Building Websites for Financial Services Companies

Explore the process behind building websites for financial services companies with Out & About Communications’ visionary directors team.
Hiring & Talent
May 9, 2024

We talked with Erica about:

  • How she used her own experience as a military spouse to find her niche
  • How remote work is helping to revolutionize the job market for military spouses
  • Empowering military spouses to leverage their unique transferable skills across diverse industries
  • Improving overall personal wellness and quality of life by addressing the high rates of unemployment and underemployment among the military demographic

About Erica McMannes:

Over the span of 22 years as a military spouse, Erica McMannes has weathered numerous moves, career shifts, and challenges inherent to military life — and discovered her passion for fostering community and enhancing the quality of life for military families. Frequent relocations and the demands of raising a family posed constant challenges to maintaining a traditional career path. Through it all, she emerged as a trailblazer in connecting military spouses with remote work opportunities. Fast-forward 12 years, and Erica's journey led her to found Instant Teams, a company dedicated to bridging the gap between military spouses and employers through remote work opportunities. Leveraging her expertise in customer experience (CX) and talent sourcing, Instant Teams provides a vital service to companies by matching them with skilled remote workers tailored to their needs. Through Erica’s efforts, Instant Teams is addressing the high rates of unemployment and underemployment prevalent among the military demographic while simultaneously improving military spouses’ overall personal wellness and quality of life. Check out the new Instant Teams website.


Featured Resources & Shoutouts


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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):
All right. Well, Erica, thank you for joining us today. We're glad to have you here.

Erica (00:08):
Thank you. I'm excited. Always a good day for a conversation.

Lauren (00:12):
Oh my gosh. And this is going to be a really fun one. We're going to be talking about Instant Teams that you've created, founded, and it's incredible how it's just blown up. So we're going to get into that a little bit more. I was just on your website taking a look, and it was like the Inc 5000 number was 208 overall. And so just the footprint and the mark you're making is tremendous. So we're excited to get a little bit more into that. And I think just before we do, I also want to make sure to introduce Tiffany here who's on our team and has a number of military connections as well, myself included. So we all share that common thread. But let's just go ahead and dive in. Erica, I'll pass it over to you so you can introduce yourself and share a little bit more.

Erica (00:57):
Yeah, I appreciate that. I also enjoy this conversation as you are both unicorns, being military spouses out there in the world, high-level professionals. So just thank you for having me on today and I'm really excited to get into it. But yeah, my career has taken many twists and turns. I have been a military spouse for the past 22 years. My spouse actually just retired in September.

Lauren (01:20):
Congrats.

Erica (01:21):
We are on that fresh, what does this mean as a transitioning family journey now? But over the course of those 22 years, I took a lot of twists and turns as many spouses do, finding their professional identity. I have skill sets, I have education. How do I actually make this work? So I actually started out working for MWR, which I think a lot of spouses do. They're wherever we do, they're on installations. And for anybody listening in who’s not familiar with MWR, it's the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation departments of military installations where they do the family programming, childcare programming, sports programming — anything kind of fun in military life kind of tends to be there in MWR. I had two degrees in human ecology so I was doing child development work, working with military families on installations and was able to do that off and on for the first 10 years, but then three moves in three years, and two kids later, we found ourselves out in Monterey, California.

And it was kind of like, woe is me. I'm 30, I'm done professionally, never going to have a career, just going to be the trailing spouse. And when you kind of hit that moment, something usually comes, right? There's an opportunity that opens, and Monterey is kind of at the end of Silicon Valley. And so we ended up running into some friends of friends as we do in the military as well. And it was a veteran-owned startup, and he was like, listen, I know you don't have a business degree. You're not in the startup space but I really need somebody who knows the military spouse community and can help us get our apps and help us launch things we're creating. And I was like, as many spouses do, sure, I'll give it a try. This is awesome. And that's really kind of where fast-forward now to 12 years later, that's where I was just exposed to this incredible space of building things and having business ideas and learning how to develop them. And the bonus was with impact, I was able to do those things that also helped spouses I knew along the way by building these little teams and building these pods. And that eventually led us to what is now Instant Teams. I did that enough as a consultant. I was like, you know what? There's a whole business model here. Let me find a business partner, and then we'll go from there.

Lauren (03:34):
I love that you started at the hub of inspiration, right? In Northern California. So yeah.

Tiffany (03:45):
So tell us a little bit more about what Instant Teams does and impact sourcing.

Erica (03:51):
So we are a customer experience or CX for short talent marketplace. So early on our business model, our inspiration was really, we knew all of these organizations and at that time, mostly out in Silicon Valley, that were looking for really great talent. We all know it's a very expensive place to live, kind of its own little ecosystem that you feel like you can only tap. And then our neighbors and our peers as spouses were these highly educated, super passionate, super resilient, adaptable potential employees. And so we saw this opportunity to bridge that. So that's evolved over the past almost eight years now. But we build out customer support, customer experience teams for middle market to enterprise-level organizations. And we do all the heavy lifting. So we source the talent, we match it to each customer's needs from a skill set perspective. We are skill-based hiring. So we don't focus on chronological resumes, gaps in resumes. It's really what skill set is needed, what skill set do you have? Awesome. You're going to be able to make this work. And impact sourcing has evolved as a way where that means a lot to organizations. So the easiest way to define that is intentional sourcing or hiring strategies from untapped talent pools. And that takes on many different forms but we're really excited to be able to be in that niche spot of impact sourcing directly to the military community with how our business model works.

Tiffany (05:20):
So I think we all sort of know the background about why military spouses would historically be unemployed or need an opportunity like this but this is a softball question. Why is it needed? What's the gap there?

Erica (05:39):
Yeah, I think people often hear whether it's national news at certain times or in conversations around military spouses that they are highly unemployed or highly underemployed. And I think that just passes through people's minds. They don't actually grasp the problem.

Lauren (05:53):
What does that mean?

Erica (05:54):
Why is that? Yeah, what does that mean? What is the impact of it? And I think it comes down to two things really. Mostly it's the constant moves, which with COVID and remote work continuing to be adopted and accepted, that has started to change a little bit. But historically, moving every two to three years and changing jobs was not looked at as a benefit. And so it was called job hopping, right? I think we're past the job hopping categorization but it's hard to get into a new organization and work your way up when you just have to start over. And then oftentimes, as you probably both know, it's just location. Right out of college, I was with my spouse in Fort Rucker, Alabama. There is not a lot in Fort Rucker, Alabama. I had two options on the job board. It was clean hotels or take children to court-appointed mental health appointments. And that hasn't changed so much. There are still military installations that are kind of geographically isolated. They need land and they need opportunities to practice and do things. So I think that's usually the two reasons why. It's just the constant moving and that geographic isolation that really causes a challenge.

Tiffany (07:16):
And then so just more about the impact, again, I'm asking a leading question here but can you share a little bit about the impact that causes for military families and the service member and the military in general? I mean, there's layers of the problem that can cause.

Erica (07:35):
Yeah, I think once you really understand what the challenges are and why underemployment and unemployment happen, the kind of next is like, well, what does that actually mean for military spouses? And I think the easiest one is financial. If you can't be employed because of all the challenges, then you're a single-income family. And I don't care where you live or what your rank is nowadays, dual income is a necessity. It's not something nice to have. It really is. Quality of life kind of depends on a dual-income opportunity. And that sets military families back very easily when either there's lapse in employment or there's just constant inability to have employment. And then it kind of turns to the personal wellness piece, personal identity, my own individual purpose in the world, which kind of seems like, oh, a soft side of the conversation. But that is the holistic approach to quality of life. And when an individual feels they have a purpose other than the title they're fulfilling, that leads to even retention of military active duty service members. So it's a really interesting trickle effect of, oh, okay, people are unemployed. I think people can just be real with that sometimes. And you're like, well wait, this is actually a social problem. This is an issue for military families. So kind of that financial impact and then that personal identity piece as well.

Lauren (09:07):
So once you identified this business model and the pain point for individuals and families, the military's big, but it's not that big, but it's big enough. What was your story to get it going and just to be able to help let it catch fire so that, I mean, not only can you catch fire within the military communities but then to businesses that are needing these services as well. What did that look like for your team?

Erica (09:33):
Yeah, it was a challenge. Sometimes I'm like, wow, we really created a lot of difficulties for ourselves here as a marketplace. Not like we're just launching one product to one business outcome. We've got this chicken and egg every single day. It's got to build the pipeline, get the word out to customers about our solutions, build those partnerships. We're very partnership sales driven because our products are people. We're not just handing over something off of a product line. These are individuals, these are teams, these are people. So we pay a lot of attention to that relationship side with our customers. But then, yeah, we have to also get talent pipelines, building and vetting people's skills and building a brand. So we actually started with building the brand to the military spouse community, which might seem opposite for most traditional business approaches but we knew the military spouse community is very protective of itself, and we had to build something the community trusted before we could ever start saying, oh, hey, businesses, we have people we can provide you.

Lauren (10:33):
Right?

Erica (10:34):
So the first six months were really around showing we were a part of the community, showing up in different ways to contribute to the community and really building that voice and messaging to like, hey, we're going to do this; if you want to hear about it when we get ready to do a full launch sign up here. So it was just early on marketing strategies to build that. And then once we had enough buy-in and trust and the brand had a little bit of brand integrity, we were able to then start to go after customers.

Lauren (11:06):
I love the piece of it that it is so authentic, just your own stories for how things got going, because it's not like you're sort of trying to force your way in but it is just born out of it, which is really cool. Yeah. Okay. So then you went to the business side of things, and it sounds like that that flourished through just partnerships or what have you, and those relationships once you marketed to the military side. Is that right?

Erica (11:30):
Yeah. And the actual business solution has evolved over the years. We first were working with very, very small companies, solopreneurs, people who were like yes, I heard about so-and-so, or they were personal connections. They were like, yeah, I see what you guys are doing. We'll try you out. But I mean, that's how most businesses start. You have to have a few champions and a few believers. And then about year two, three, we started to invest time in some business accelerators and started to understand the investment space and what it means to be a company that can take on angel investors and venture capital. And so about that timeframe is when your network just naturally starts to open up. And I think that's something, especially as military spouse business founders, that was so beneficial. Like you said, the military community is small and sometimes it's a little insular, kind of in a bubble, and we really needed to break through that to get into the networks and create the relationships and partnerships that would give us those opportunities to continue to prove ourselves and take on a little bit more than we could chew and come through the other end and then repeat that and try it again.

So yeah, over the past eight years, we've gone from working with direct referrals to working with really large enterprise-level organizations and building out teams of anywhere from 10 to our biggest account has 120 people on it.

Lauren (12:54):
Okay. Wow. Yeah. So it's wide and varied, and I'm sure at various stages of businesses, as you alluded to earlier.

Erica (13:01):
Yeah.

Tiffany (13:03):
How was that moment, going outside the bubble, how was it telling the Instant Team story? And we were talking about earlier explaining the problem and how was that received? Did you feel like you were knocking on a lot of doors for a long time?

Erica (13:21):
I mean, both. I think there's always the traditional but trying to do something new and innovative, you're going to have to knock down doors. You're going to have to repeat yourself 5,000 times before people understand it. But this was 2016, so this was pre-COVID, so 100% remote work was not truly a thing yet. Some people got it. Like Silicon Valley, early-stage tech companies, they understood access. And the remote work concept, I'll always remember we were pitching a government entity at one point about remote work, and the poor individual, he just stopped the call. He is like, I don't understand why people want to work on a remote island. He's like, why would we send people? I was like, oh, we're not speaking the same way you would here, right? We say remote, we mean somebody from their home can work for an organization located elsewhere. And from the government perspective, he was thinking of somebody remotely out, stationed somewhere, conducting espionage work. It was just those are the things you had to deal with.

Lauren (14:16):
Totally.

Tiffany (14:18):
Yeah, that's hilarious.

Erica (14:19):
Always solvable. Those were always conversations where we were learning how to communicate better and how to extend the mission and advocacy of that. But so a lot of those opportunities continued to evolve through COVID, where all of a sudden we had this business model we had been building for four years, and when COVID hit all of a sudden organizations like, oh, remote work. This is a lightbulb moment.

This is an opportunity. We see what you're doing now. So that evolution of just where we've had to be able to be successful, and it has changed. And sometimes they've been very fast changes, and other times they've been kind of gradual.

Lauren (14:58):
Okay. So shifting a little bit here. We have a lot of folks who are in the financial services space, and it's challenging to be able to find talent. It's just been a trend, and it depends, honestly, it's across all levels. So I'd love to hear if someone was interested in your services, what is that process like and what's the time horizon? What do they need to know going into it so they can better see if there's a fit for their needs?

Erica (15:30):
One of the benefits of being a talent marketplace specializing in CX, those customer experience teams, is we can kind of cross different industries. So we build out the same type of teams. We know the skill sets we need, but they can specialize in edtech, healthtech, fintech, and insuretech. And so we do work across all those different industry verticals, and there's been some unique things we've been able to bring to, let's say financial services or insurance organizations, in that military spouses who have a certain line of education can be taught a specific tech platform or tech skills pretty quickly to adopt and adapt. Some good examples of that are in an edtech space, teachers or people who have been volunteer presenters, they're really great at communication. They're really great at understanding step-by-step processes and guiding others through step-by-step crisis situations, or even just general problem-solving.

And so those are always neat opportunities to see the specific things customer accounts are needing done in their customer experience processes and operations. And then having the individuals with the skill sets, soft or hard, to be able to plug those two together. One of my favorite accounts is a cybersecurity firm, and it is a team of all military spouses doing crisis response. So if their customer’s software tells them there's been a breach, this is a team of military spouses getting these very panicked individuals, like, my software is flashing. We've had a cybersecurity breach. These are panicked individuals, and we've got very calm, collected, trained military spouses who can walk people through these times of panic. And so it's just really cool. Also, back to the personal identity, these individuals find, oh, this isn't something I knew was of value to somebody but because of these things I've been through, or even some of the training we receive as military spouses around community support, crisis response, those become very valuable to organizations. So yeah, I think military spouses and fintech or financial services, that orientation to supporting people through a process following compliance and protocol, those are all very ingrained in skill sets that really do transfer well.

Lauren (17:52):
That makes so much sense, and I love how you're able to point out those very real examples and then how that translates to just, you're just through that life that you have as a military spouse.

Tiffany (18:04):
So how do you help military spouses see that in themselves? Right? Those things become very ingrained but they probably don't always know how to translate it. So as you're building the talent pool, how do you get that message out there and help them feel empowered?

Erica (18:23):
Yeah. Having military spouses understand where they can connect in is a challenge. I think there's incredible nonprofits out there who are very career coaching and what is your employment future? And those are always great to tap into to just ask those questions. Where do I actually belong in the world? What is my professional contribution? What does that look like? Sometimes it's just people taking a chance on themself and having that bravery to say, I've been a teacher for 20 years, or I've been a bank teller. I don't know how I could support people from a customer experience as a customer success manager at a financial company. I'm like, listen, that core competency is still there, and the intelligence level is there. You just have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and take an opportunity to find a way where the real professional world can use that and you can continue to grow.

So as a company, we've done that in different ways. Some of that's marketing, some of that's webinar series. We participate a lot throughout the community and do different things to support other opportunities and organizations. So we've even done pilots with the Department of Defense around skill development, and I think that's an easy part. Let's put you through a skill development program with an outcome at the end. It kind of takes you through those steps. So different ways but I think really at the end of the day, it's the individual, right? The individual has to either believe it or be willing to take the chance to just see what is out there and what the opportunity is.

Lauren (19:53):
Oh, good. My goodness. Well, we're wrapping up our time here. This has been really eye opening and also inspiring to hear about your story and the direct links to all that work you're doing within the military community and beyond. So any kind of final things you think would be helpful to share? Things you all have coming up or resources or what have you, for either employers looking to hire or folks who are looking to sign up to look for work opportunities?

Erica (20:19):
Yeah, we have a really great site — www.instantteams.com. It has opportunities to engage as a potential customer or as a military spouse. We also have an entirely separate app for military spouses, specifically called Twelve Million Plus. So we are as a business model taking in career seekers and building teams but we also have a really more quality of life-centric app. The military spouses can get that skill development, build, attend events, just as a kind of opportunity to give back but then also just prepare people for opportunities.

Lauren (20:54):
Holy smokes. I feel like we talked about so much. We didn't even get into Twelve Million Plus. That could be a whole other recording. So it's really cool just because I think what's also cool about that is you, it's evident you've had your ear to the ground listening to what people need and being able to create these additional services and then just be able to show up and shine. So thank you for all the work you do, and also for joining us today and sharing your story. We'll make sure to include links as well.

Erica (21:19):
Okay. Yeah, y'all made this really easy. Thank you.

Scale Your Financial Services Team By Hiring Military Spouses With Instant Teams

Explore how Instant Teams founder Erica McMannes is revolutionizing military spouse employment, connecting them with remote job opportunities.
Marketing & Sales
May 2, 2024

We talked with James about:

  • Email marketing that works and why it often won’t if it’s done wrong
  • How you should and shouldn’t measure success with email marketing
  • Building an email list through lead magnets
  • Choosing the right lead generators to improve your conversion and close rates

About James Pollard:

James Pollard is a seasoned marketing professional with a passion for personal finance. With nearly two decades of experience in the marketing world, he found his niche assisting financial advisors with their marketing efforts, particularly focusing on email marketing strategies. His journey into this specialized field began when he helped a financial advisor improve their marketing, leading to tangible results and subsequent referrals. This organic growth spurred him to establish his own company, The Advisor Coach, where he initially offered coaching services but later transitioned into an information and publishing model to reach a wider audience of financial advisors. Today, his website, theadvisorcoach.com, is one of the leading sources for business-building information in the advisory space. His products and services have helped more than 50,000 financial advisors attract more clients since 2015.


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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):

James, thanks for being here.

James (00:07):

Thank you so much. I always love to talk about email marketing. It's one of my favorite topics, so thank you. And I can't wait to get into this.

Lauren (00:14):

Yeah, me too. So for those of you who don't know James, he is The Advisor Coach, as it says on your sweatshirt right there. You rock.

James (00:22):

Oh, it does actually.

Lauren (00:23):

Yeah. You got it going on. And you know this advisor, wealth management world. Not only do you know it but I feel like you’re also living it. You're the one who's in the data, you're doing the advising, you're talking to people, you're having the tough conversations, and specifically know this email component of it, which we're going to get into in a minute. But before we get into the nitty gritty about email, email marketing, workflows, all that fun stuff, tell us a little bit more about you. How did you get to the seat you're in right now and what kind of wakes you up every day to do what you're doing?

James (00:59):

I do have an absurd amount of data. A lot of that comes from talking with financial advisors every single day for the past, almost seven years now, in and out. The newsletter is in the seventh year. People ask me questions every single day. I'm having conversations about everything from content marketing to social, to referrals, to networking, to you name it. So long story short, I've always been interested in personal finance and marketing, and this is a beautiful way to weave the two together. I've actually been involved in the marketing world for almost two decades now. So I have been, let's just say marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing for 10 years and then marketing with financial advisors for another 10. And it's been a wonderful journey and that is pretty much the long and short of it. I transitioned from marketing into marketing for financial advisors because I helped an advisor with his marketing: surprise. It's so simple.

I don’t have this huge backstory that's super sexy or anything like that; I just helped this person. He got results. Then he gave me a referral, then my name started to get spread around because I mean financial advisors know other financial advisors. And I was like, I should probably charge for this and charge more and take the show on the road. Started a company called The Advisor Coach, which I have on my sweatshirt and still have today. Don't do any coaching, have transitioned into an information or a publishing model. That way I can reach far more financial advisors at scale. And it's from a selfish entrepreneur perspective, it's a far better business model. So that is where I am right now.

Lauren (02:32):

Yeah, I can appreciate that, right? You learn along the way and you're tweaking and you're really wanting to make sure you're constantly adding the best value for what the market's demanding. So okay, let's lean into this email marketing side of things, right? Because not only are you helping advisors with this but you've got a pretty awesome email list that you're also managing on a day to day. Tell us more about that and how you got on this bend of email marketing and a little bit more about what you're helping folks to actually do with email marketing?

James (03:06):

There are a lot of reasons why I love email marketing and the reason why I do email marketing is because it's super effective from a business standpoint. For me personally, it is a great conversion mechanism to get financial advisors to be clients and customers of mine. And the same is true in almost every service industry. It is a relationship business and someone will be working with another person, whether that's an advisor or an accountant. But in my world, advisors, it is very important to build trust, credibility, and rapport before that sale takes place. And email is one of the best ways to do that because you can give people a little bit of trust building, a little bit of rapport building, a little bit of credibility building, and then again and again and again every single day.

Lauren (03:55):

Adding that value.

James (03:56):

Totally. And also there have been so many studies — there's a guy named Robert Clay who did one. If you just google Robert Clay follow-up study, the majority of conversions happen after the fifth follow-up attempt. And with email, that's very easy because that's a week of daily emails. So I started to realize you could get the bulk of your conversions as quickly as possible if you just had a way to follow up and email is that way to follow up. And people don't get upset about it because they're the ones joining your email list. So that is the tip of the iceberg but it's a win-win win from that standpoint alone.

Lauren (04:34):

Right. Okay. So can we talk about that first component of it, right? Because you could buy a huge list, dump it in, start blasting people. It's not easy to build an authentic list of people who actually are opting in. And what carrot are you dangling to get them to opt in? Well, you've got one of the biggest lists for this advisor community. Tell us, how did you even go about that? Building your name, actually giving them something they want that would actually add would be worth their time, right? We're all short on time. So how did that happen?

James (05:09):

Well, that's the secret. If I were to go back in time, I would spend a lot more time working on my lead magnets and I have good lead magnets today. But that is the advice I would give someone. If someone's just starting out, in your mind you're thinking, I'm going to tackle this email marketing strategy, your mind immediately goes to how can I write great emails? And that's valid. That's wonderful. That's a part of the equation, right? It is necessary but it is not sufficient. The lead magnet is so important. If you take your lead magnet and you put it in front of your audience or a potential person, a potential client, and you say, hey, I'm thinking about doing this, this, and this. If they say anything to you except where can I get that it is not good enough to be amazing.

And the reason it has to be amazing is because when you put it in front of people, they're going to have to opt into your email list. That's how you build the list. So ask your audience, put it in front of them, shop it around. If someone tells you — so in the book “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar, there's a story where Zig had a prospective client tell him, oh, you're such a good salesperson or you've really got this pitch down. You're nailing this but the person didn't buy. So if someone says, oh, that's really pretty, that's really good for you, that's wonderful — but they don't ask you where to get it — it's not good enough. Get rid of it. I know it's hard to kill your darlings as the writing thing goes but you have to do it. It has to be amazing.

Lauren (06:42):

Yes. Okay. So really listening to your audience, do they actually want it? And they're like, give it to me now, kind of thing. But in what form? Because sometimes we see people who will be like, well, what do you think of as lead funnel? And I'm looking at it, I'm like, okay, the magnet field, it feels off. It could be a great landing page, it can be a great whatever but are you giving away ebooks? What do you even recommend as the league magnet? Is it a webinar? Is it just dependent on the audience?

James (07:09):

So that's actually a really good question. For the longest time I thought PDFs are the way to go, and PDFs are still some of the best performing lead magnets I've seen people put out. But the more I start to interact with advisors and really dig into the data and understand people more, I mean, I thought I understood people years ago but now it's like every day I'm learning something new. I'm starting to realize that perhaps — now I'm not saying this as a sure thing — but perhaps the best lead magnets are the ones that follow the expectations you set. Meaning if you are meeting with your clients over Zoom or you have video chats with them, perhaps delivering a video lead magnet makes more sense. In my case specifically. Now, this may or may not apply to financial advisors. The PDF lead magnets work exceptionally well for me because financial advisors can buy more PDFs from me and I have written content. So I'm attracting readers who will then read more and financial advisors if they have a webinar that's kind of like a meeting, especially a live webinar. So the person who is attracted to a live webinar is likely going to be attracted to meeting with a financial advisor over that same medium. I hope that makes sense.

Lauren (08:24):

Yes, that totally makes sense. So in other words, in basically a nutshell, you have to not only know your audience, know the medium that would make the most sense for them to absorb it but with what they actually want and something that would add value. Okay. So let's say you test it and you can talk a little bit more about the data side once you get it out there. How do you know if your hypothesis was right, if it's a good lead magnet that’s actually working or not? Are there certain KPIs or things you're specifically looking for, they're like, yeah, this is dead on. Is it just people subscribing? What would it be?

James (09:00):

It would be people subscribing. But after that, you basically look at the emails, and the most important thing in my case is appointments set. Open rates are cool, click-through rates. Cool. All of that is nice. But you could have a super high open rate and no appointments. You could have a low open rate and more appointments. One of the things that is really funny, when I see people talk about open rates and high open rates, first of all, to the best of my knowledge, and this may have changed, iPhone counts loads as open.

Yeah, sorry, when someone's loading your email, that doesn't count. It's not real. The second thing is you could have an extremely high open rate with a crazy subject line that doesn't really mean anything and doesn't lead to an appointment. But if I have a subject line that says “Pre-retirees in Georgia, please read this,” it will get a low open rate but the people you want to read it will read that email, highly qualify, and have the opportunity to take action. So I focus on appointments. Now, sometimes I'll get criticism and people say, oh, well, I don't get paid based on appointments. I get paid based on clients. The data answer to that is for most financial advisors, it is hard to gauge statistical significance with clients simply because there is not enough data. So if I can't gauge based on clients, I gauge based on appointments. And in the rare cases where I can't gauge based on appointments, then I try to look at other metrics. But that's rare. That almost never happens.

Lauren (10:32):

So let's assume you got this killer lead magnet. You still have to show up. It takes a lot of effort to be able to figure out the right carrot to dangle. So those, let's just call it five emails, after just a series of emails, I mean, is there a method to the madness? Is it telling a story through the emails? Is it connecting them from one to one? Is it like, what are you talking about? I mean, I'd love to hear a little bit more about that. And then how are you, sorry, a lot of questions but then how are you even validating it? Share a little bit more if you don't mind about that whole, okay, got 'em. They're interested. Let's keep 'em engaged.

James (11:11):

So when someone subscribes to your email list through an opt-in like an ad or through your social or on your website, if you're a financial advisor and you have done your job well, two things for sure they know. You're a financial advisor. So you offer financial advice and financial planning. This is obvious, right? Because they're opting in from a financial advisor's social media or a financial advisor's website. The second thing for sure is they have not set an appointment with you. So now you know they know you're a financial advisor and you have these services and you have a particular niche market or whatever.

But they haven't moved forward. So the goal is to remove those barriers. They're hesitating for some reason. So you are getting them to not hesitate anymore. So many financial advisors think, oh, I'll send more information and more education and more education, and that can help diminish the I don't believe you're knowledgeable objection but it does absolutely nothing to handle the I don't think I have enough money. I don't have enough time. I don't know what your process looks like. I don't know what your initial meeting looks like. I don't know if this is a good fit for me. There are so many other hesitations. If you're a young financial advisor, the hesitation might be you don't have enough experience or you are too young. So in email number two or three or four, you could tell a story about how people think you're too young to help them but it's actually an advantage because you'll be able to work with them for their entire lives, whereas other financial advisors will retire along the way and leave you high and dry.

So that's kind of like the gist of it. I think a lot of financial advisors could be extremely well served if they literally, and I mean this for real, literally sat down with a pen and paper and at the top of the paper wrote reasons why people don't work with me. And reason number one, reason number two, don't have enough time, don't have enough money. I'm intimidated by the financial planning process. That's huge. I mean, I did a whole study on that last year. The number one reason is people are intimidated by the process. So whatever it is. And then the most common reasons make each one of your emails and explain that away because people have those hesitations. People have those objections, and for you to believe they don't, that is naive. And for you to ignore them does nothing to get them closer to an appointment with you.

Lauren (13:31):

So that's an awesome way to think about an outline, right? Things you're addressing, you're addressing fears, concerns or questions they might want to ask and lessons learned you've had. So I'd also be curious, if you're in a sales seat and you're having those initial prospect meetings, would those kinds of questions that may come up, would those also be good to put in there? What is your process like? Things like that? Or are you thinking to hit more of the stuff that's the fear-based stuff, or why they wouldn't work with you to pull them on the other side?

James (14:04):

I'm not sure. And the reason I say that is because when you answer questions people in front of you have asked, so in this case, prospective clients, it could also be clients. One of the most common pieces of content marketing advice is to make content about the questions your clients are asking you. That can be very dangerous. And it's related to the question you're asking because survivorship bias is in it, meaning you are only getting questions from people who have made it to you. So you're kind of jumping over the whole process of what about the people who never sent an appointment in the first place? So I would do it, right? Because I mean, content is content and obviously people are asking questions for a reason but I would never make that all I do simply because of the survivorship bias.

Lauren (14:48):

Super interesting. So I guess in a way, if they're already talking with you, they sort of qualified or hopefully they've qualified if they're somewhat a fit. But then if you're addressing the questions where they could be potentially qualified or they could learn when they would be qualified as you're helping them to sort of navigate them before they even have a conversation with you through these emails. Is that fair?

James (15:09):

Yeah, and I mean studies have been done, I think advisor value propositions by Pershing and BNY. I think that's it. I could be wrong but there was one study that found people search for years of experience, certifications, location, investment philosophy, things like that. The study has already been done. The research has already been done, polls have already been conducted. People say, when I go to an advisor's website or LinkedIn profile, this is what I'm looking for. I want to see these things, so why not put that in your email? Email number one, your welcome email. Hey, I'm John Smith. Hey, I'm Sarah Brown, whatever. I'm a financial advisor. I have this many years of experience. I'm in this location. I serve this niche, and I have this investment philosophy. You're in the very first email checking off each box. And the reason that's so wonderful is because not everybody does it.

And so many advisors say — they don't say this to me explicitly most of the time but they say it implicitly — they say, oh, my clients come directly to me. If there's a referral, they just come directly to me and they don't interact with any other financial advisors. That's a pipe dream. People shop around for financial advisors, they shop around. They're having multiple appointments, they're going to multiple websites. I'm sorry if that burst your bubble but it is reality. It's true. But if you handle all of those things, people will start to think on an unconscious level. You have already fulfilled many of the needs they have, many of the desires they have. And not only is that smart business, it's incredible positioning because now you have people becoming unconsciously attracted to you and they don't know why. That's the evil psychology marketing of it. You have handled everything they want.

Lauren (16:54):

It's honest, and you're helping to address what issues are kind of upfront before perhaps even being asked, which helps you get deeper faster when you actually have a conversation. So super interesting. Okay, so are you delivering these in a written format video? Is it dependent on the list? Maybe I'm answering my own question by talking about your answer you had earlier, which was sort of around the target and how they would absorb the questions. But what's been your learning through the data?

James (17:21):

Plain text, like words.

Lauren (17:23):

Plain text. Okay, that's it. Just plain text. Plain text as if it's coming from an individual or if it's coming from the company?

James (17:30):

Individual.

Lauren (17:32):

And personalized text like, Hi, John, it was great. Thanks for joining our webinar, whatever it was, lead magnet.

James (17:42):

Oh yeah, that's fine. So sometimes personalization is not necessarily; Hi, John, hope you're doing well. John, insert first name here. I've never seen that work for me. I have seen it work for other people. Full disclaimer. It's just I personally only ask for email and my stuff works just fine. Some of the personalization I like doesn't come from the initial email. Now, this is super advanced but here we go. So the personalization comes from the reply, and I'll explain what I mean by that. I purposefully like to talk about books and movies and TV shows and things I know people on my list are watching or listening to. I know this, I read very esoteric stuff and very niche stuff. I don't have an example with me but if I said, I'm reading right now, I'm reading “Evolutionary Psychology” by Dr. David Buss. No one listening to this show is reading that book. Not a single soul. It is literally a Harvard textbook about evolutionary psychology. If I were to write an email about that, it would be dumb. It would be a big mistake. People wouldn't be able to relate to me. But if I write an email about the game last night and I say, wow, the Steelers really had a blowout last night, didn't they? That was awesome. Oh, by the way, and segue into the email, just that one little sentence.

I will get replies from people saying, oh, yeah, I saw that too. And again, they begin to think, this person is just like me. This person reads the same books. This person watches the same shows. It's all intentional. If you're a financial advisor with a geographic area, someone who serves a geographic area, one of the most effective things you can possibly do is to talk about landmarks in that area. If you're in Miami, talk about Joe's Stone Crab. Talk about what you're doing on South Beach, because now you are going to the same places, eating the same meals. You're running in the same circles as the people who are receiving your emails. And if you want to talk about rapport, compared to like, oh, here's what the stock market did last week, it's unreal how much more effective it is.

Lauren (19:56):

Totally get it. It's funny, we see it in the data too. When we look at just websites, bio pages skyrocket. Of course, homepage is going to be number one but people, they care about people, they're shopping but it's a human to human business, and it's a trust business. So that's part of that, cultivating and building those relationships. Okay, so going back to these emails, are these automated emails that are posted? Are these individual emails automated?

James (20:23):

They can be both. Okay. So when a financial advisor comes to me, and if a financial advisor doesn't know anything about email, and the financial advisor says, James, what should I be doing? My answer would be you should create an automated sequence of between five and 12. Again, because of the data. Most conversions happen after five. They drop off after 12. So automated emails five to 12, you put 'em in there. They handle the objections, they tell stories, they entertain, they build trust, credibility, and rapport, all that good stuff. Then you go live your life, do whatever, come back in six months, look at the data, see which emails do horribly, swap those out and then move on with your life. Now, if you want to write weekly emails, so when I say daily, I mean daily emails. The emails in the sequence get sent out every single day.

So if someone joins your email list on a Tuesday, that person will get an email Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and so on and so forth. But once the person has done that sequence, if you want to continue writing an email every week so the person will exit that sequence and go onto your main list, now you just send an email every week to your main list — more power to you if you want to do that. I don't think you need to. I think the sequence does. I'm an 80/20 guy, so 80% of the results are going to come from 20% of that effort, period. But there are some people out there who want to squeeze every last bit of juice out of everything they have, which I admire. So that would be the way to do it.

Lauren (21:49):

Super interesting. Okay, we're running up on time. I do want to talk about your list. What happens with that list? I do have a question though. I want to swing way back to the beginning of, okay, we've got the magnet. How do you build an audience? What are your tips? Do you recommend paid ads to be able to get the magnet in front of people? Do you recommend commenting on forums? Is it part of, I don't know, a workshop? At the end of the workshop, you're like, okay, everybody sign up for my list. What have you seen that works for advisors to be able to help build up your audience to know that the league magnet is actually there?

James (22:31):

All of the above. Let me answer your question with a question. The average sale revenue Nike gets per customer is $110. How much profit do you think Nike makes on $110?

Lauren (22:50):

Probably a decent amount of money is my guess. So I don't know. I have no idea.

James (22:56):

It's $11, shockingly. But let's say, say we quintuple that, right? $55. Okay, we'll just say a new CEO comes on and makes it amazing, the lifetime value, if you start to think, oh, yeah, it could be high or whatever, forget about all that. We're talking about $11 right now. Think about how much money Nike spends on one sponsorship. Millions, right? Then they do millions more in branding. They do millions more in ads. They are spending so much money to get that $110 sale with $11 profit.

Lauren (23:27):

Yeah.

James (23:28):

Okay. Now, let's compare that to a financial advisor's metrics. How much money do you make per client? How much money do you make per financial plan? You have recurring revenue. You have my dear financial advisor metrics that other companies would salivate over. They see financial advisors metrics. They're like, oh, I wish I had high ticket recurring business. Or high retention; the retention rate is 90+%.

Lauren (23:54):

Incredible.

James (23:56):

And I'm in a subscription business and I work my tail off to get churn down, and I have some of the lowest churn ever, which is so hard. It makes me want to pull what little hair I have left out. It's hard but financial advisors have it relatively easy compared to companies like Apple, Nike, and all these other huge companies. So just think about that financial advisor. Maybe it makes sense to put a little money in your marketing, maybe paid ads. Maybe you could hire someone to help you with social media. Maybe you could hire someone to help you with your content to refine your existing strategy. So many advisors are afraid to put money into marketing when it's just, I don't want to give the impression that it's just super easy because it's absolutely not. It's difficult. It is. I mean, compared to other businesses, come on. You can't be serious. It's amazing compared to other businesses; once you've got that client, you take good care of them, and a lot of clients do stay for a long time.

Lauren (24:48):

Yeah. Super. Okay. Any final thoughts?

James (24:58):

I would say don't be afraid of email marketing, just like your website works for you 24/7, making a good first impression. Hopefully it never gets sick, never takes a day off; neither does your email automation sequence. It continues to work for you all the time. Continues to shake hands, metaphorically speaking, it continues to break those barriers down for you that, again, for sure exist. Why wouldn't you do it? So I love that, and I think it's just something that if an advisor can do it, I think an advisor should do it.

Lauren (25:28):

Okay, so I know you've got, also, speaking of lead magnets and an awesome ebook, I think you said it was like 80 tips, 80 pages or something.

James (25:37):

Yeah, it's 80 pages.

Lauren (25:38):

Yeah, go for it.

James (25:40):

I think advisors, even if you're not interested in getting on my email list and you're like, oh, not another email. I know you get hundreds of emails, right? I get it. If you're the average financial advisor, if for no other reason, you opt in to see what a good lead magnet looks like, you should go to theadvisorcoach.com/the number five, the number seven mt. That's 57 mt, and it stands for 57 marketing tips for financial advisors. It is an 80-plus page PDF with 57 marketing tips for financial advisors. That lead magnet works extremely well for me because it is something financial advisors want. Also, it sets the expectation in the very beginning. If someone listens to my podcast, the Financial Advisor Marketing podcast, they say, I'm interested in marketing. I'm going to listen to this. They opt into the email list, which offers more marketing, then they can graduate and move on and get more marketing. So I actually call this the pepperoni pizza rule. If you have pepperoni pizza, you should offer pepperoni pizza. You should talk about pepperoni pizza, and you should have that in your ads. Don't talk about this secret sauce recipe or how your mom came from the old country. All of this other stuff that doesn't really matter. Give people what they want. And in this case, in my case specifically, financial advisors want marketing tips, so I offer that over theadvisorcoach.com/57mt.

Lauren (27:03):

Awesome. Thanks so much, James. We'll make sure to include that link below as well. Thank you. This was so fun, so many insightful tips. I also just really appreciate not only tips but then we got a little bit more into the nitty gritty, and so I think there's some really good takeaways. Thank you again. Appreciate it.

James (27:18):

My pleasure.

Email Marketing Insider Tips for Financial Advisors

James Pollard is a seasoned marketing professional with a passion for personal finance. With nearly two decades of experience in the marketing world, he found his niche assisting financial advisors with their marketing efforts, particularly focusing on email marketing strategies.
Operations & Management
April 25, 2024

We talked with Kevin about:

  • His path to become a consultant and starting his business with his wife
  • Why a lot of firm owners aren’t prepared to be leaders
  • How to reframe your leadership approach to be more effective
  • How to use coaching to help develop your team

About Kevin Poland:

Kevin Poland is the owner, CEO, business consultant, and coach at The Renaissance Group, a pioneering firm specializing in business and leadership coaching in the financial advisory space. Kevin’s journey into entrepreneurship began when he and his business partner, his wife Jody, made the decision to leave the corporate world and embark on their own business venture. They stumbled upon the transformative teachings of Michael Gerber, particularly his renowned work, "The E-Myth," which revolutionized their understanding of business ownership. Inspired by Gerber's philosophy, Kevin and Jody immersed themselves in learning and implementing his principles. Their dedication led them to become among some of the first consultants certified by Gerber's company. Their mission? To revolutionize the financial advisory landscape by empowering business owners to establish systems and processes that mitigate dependency and cultivate sustainable growth. For over 25 years, Kevin’s holistic teachings for organizational development have helped hundreds of business owners solve their most pressing problems, steering them toward prosperity and achievement.


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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:03):
Kevin, welcome. Thank you for being here.

Kevin (00:06):
Well, thank you for having me and I appreciate it.

Lauren (00:09):
Yes, I am excited to hear more about your business. You have so many great years working with, really coaching on the strategic planning side, business training, especially for folks in the RIA space. So we share that parallel there and I'm really looking forward to getting into coaching — what does it mean? — and talking a little bit more about leadership. I mean, this could be a multisession conversation, I know, but at least talking high level about it. So before we get into all of that, let's just hear about you. I want to hear a little bit more about your background and how you got to where you did today, and then we'll get into some of these questions.

Kevin (00:48):
Okay. Yeah. So The Renaissance Group, we've been in business for 25 years and my partner is my wife, Jody. We both left corporate America to start our own business, and that's kind of how the journey started actually. As we were in the process of starting our own business, I accidentally fell into the concepts or learnings of Michael Gerber and the E-Myth.

Lauren (01:17):
Yes, yes, yes.

Kevin (01:18):
Do you remember 25 years ago how people used to get their professional and personal development, especially corporate people? Cassette tapes we podcast, right? And so we were part of that Nightingale-Conant program where they send you tapes and you have them for 30 days and you can listen to them and if you want them, you can keep them. Or if you kept them, you have to pay for them or you could send them back. And I just remember this one conversation with my wife saying, those tapes are due back tomorrow; are you going to listen to them or not? This particular set — and just coincidentally I had about an hour drive to go see a client — they were these tapes called the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Coming from the corporate world, I wasn't really familiar with small business training.

I wasn't familiar with Michael Gerber, and I don't know why I said, all right, I'll just listen to him. And I was just enthralled by this man. He was kind of yelling and screaming on the tapes about how most people who start their own business are not entrepreneurs but technicians suffering from an entrepreneurial seizure. And that what I'm really doing is not building a business but building a job.

Lauren (02:35):
Yes.

Kevin (02:37):
And I was just amazed at his message. And so obviously I kept the tapes and especially the part about building processes and systems to really help grow your business and make it less dependent on you. And I was an industrial engineer. I came from the pharmaceutical industry, so systems and processes were in my wheelhouse and I'm like, wow, this guy's making sense.

Lauren (02:58):
Yes.

Kevin (02:59):
I bought the book, read it, and at the end there was some contact information. So I reached out to Gerber's company and I asked them if they could help me and that kind of thing. And they let me know they were certifying E-Myth consultants; they were just getting started.

And so my wife and I went out to Santa Rosa, California, and we were part of, I think the second class ever to be certified as E-Myth consultants. So that's really how we got started doing the business coaching. And that's the first big problem we solve — we help business owners grow in a way that makes their business less dependent on them using these E-Myth philosophies in terms of financial services or financial owners. Coincidentally, one of the people in our certification class was a financial advisor from Los Angeles who worked with a lot of small business owners and he was looking for a way to help them, and he's the one who said, hey, you should work with financial advisors; they’re technicians really trying to figure out how to grow a business. So that's the main service we offered: the business coaching. And then as our clients grew and added teams and staff, what we noticed was what was missing was some leadership coaching. So the other big service we offer today is what we call Leader as Coach but leadership coaching for not just the owners but for anyone who's got direct reports, a team leader, a division leader, or the business owner. So 25 years later, we're still doing business and leadership coaching and I work with mostly financial advisors.

Lauren (04:36):
The E-Myth is so good. I think it was one of the first books I read as well. I'm just kind of getting into things and I feel like it really, so many other kinds of philosophies, EOS® and others, have kind of stemmed off from there, if you will. But now to swing back with the financial space, are you exclusively working with RIAs, financial advisors, or is it other folks or is that your main core?

Kevin (05:02):
Personally, I primarily work with financial advisory type businesses. However, since a lot of them work with business owners, they give me referrals to their business owners. And then we do target some other segments, women-owned businesses, a couple other segments some of our other coaches work with. So we segment the market, the small business market, primarily with professional service type businesses.

Lauren (05:30):
So I'd love to hear, since you're in that kind of world, talking with business owners, especially those in financial services, are there thematic leadership challenges you're seeing maybe at a specific stage of growth or maybe that technician, sort of how they let go of being able to the delegate or die syndrome kind of thing? Or I'd love to hear more about what thematic changes or leadership challenges you're seeing.

Kevin (05:54):
Sure. Yeah. Well, people are hard. Our team could be our biggest source of joy or our biggest frustration. So what's really missing I think, is there's not a lot of training for leadership and management of direct reports. And you think about any of the certifications, a financial advisor gets a CFP®, a CFA, I mean they don't really teach you how to lead and manage people. So there's that lack of knowledge. And so there's that frustration of I'm not really sure what to do when it's leading my people and that type of thing. What I've seen over the 25 years is business owners, the owners of the business, have gotten better at what I call strategic leadership, putting those visions, values, missions, and strategic plans in place. And maybe I'm biased because in a lot of the business coaching, that's what we do. So I am seeing that. What I'm seeing, what's missing, is kind of what I call everyday leadership. What are those day-to-day things we should be doing when we have direct reports?

Lauren (07:17):
Can you give some examples of those? When you talk about day-to-day leadership, is it a meeting style? Is it complimenting people? Is it spending time? What kind of pieces do you feel are missing?

Kevin (07:29):
Yeah, so a lot of things you said. Just how do I give my people feedback? How do I conduct meetings, especially a one-on-one meeting? That type of thing. How do I know if my people are happy here until they leave? How do I have real conversations with them? How do I develop them and grow and I guess what they call employee engagement. It's a big discussion, especially in larger firms but how do I know if my people are engaged and what can I do as their manager, as their leader, to engage them?

Lauren (08:14):
Right. Let's take one slice of that. So you talked about meetings, those one-on-one meetings. What kind of recommendations would you have with someone? I mean, I've talked with advisors too where they're like, I want to focus on my art. I love doing what I am doing. I love working with clients but then managing a team is hard. What kind of tips would you give in those situations? I think meetings can also impact your day-to-day, your communication style, that kind of thing. How would you go into that and being set up for success that’s a win-win for both sides?

Kevin (08:47):
Yeah, and you're right, that technician from the E-Myth, that craftsman and us got into business, a lot of us, because we like doing the work. Advisors see their clients, and that's where they want to spend their time. So one of the ways to think about it is to have different roles. And so one of your roles, as soon as you add even one person, you're now a leader and a manager. And so when you're in that role, it's a different skill set than giving financial advice.

Lauren (09:19):
It is. And you're just in that role. Doesn't mean you've had experience with it, training, any of that stuff.

Kevin (09:27):
So you're kind of the accidental manager or you didn't choose to do that. So it is a set of behaviors and skills you can learn. And because we don't like it, especially at the beginning and we're not good at it, the technician in us doesn't like to do things we're not good at.

Lauren (09:53):
It's harder to push through. It's like this new way of thinking, adjusting your, I mean the whole thing, your speech, all of it. So share a little bit more about that.

Kevin (10:02):
So what do we do? We just, I don't want to say ignore our people but if they make a mistake or we just cross our fingers and hope they will get it right, we don't confront them. We don't go back and say, well, maybe it's me. Maybe I didn't train them correctly. Maybe I didn't share the vision enough times. Maybe I didn't train them correctly on how to answer the phone or talk to clients. A lot of times we will blame them instead of looking internally. And so you do have to make that switch. And so the reason we call it Leader as Coach is it's taken on a new identity. And so if you think about it, this starts with your mindset. If you change your mindset and take more of a coaching mindset or what we call developmental bias, then your behavior’s going to change to match that. So again, if your current mindset is you are the craftsman, you are the technician, you are the only one who can give great advice, where are you going to spend your time? So I said, well, what if your job when you're in this role of leader is to be the coach? Your job is to develop your people.

And so change is hard but that's the first step in making that behavioral change of just let's change our mindset and start thinking like a coach. Then we can start acting like a coach.

Lauren (11:34):
Now I know you've got this kind of foundation for what it means to be a Leader as Coach. Can you share?

Kevin (11:39):
Yeah, that would be great.

Lauren (11:41):
It might be helpful to kind of talk through what does that actually mean for someone, let me see if I can get this just a little bit bigger here for us but can you kind of talk us through this? We'll get even a little bit bigger here for what this means, right? I know you've been using this terminology Leader as Coach, and I think it would be helpful to kind of break it down just a little bit more to kind of understand those components of it.

Kevin (12:14):
It's right in the middle. So that's kind of your starting point. There's so much to leadership and management. We just try to break it down into a couple of foundational behaviors and foundational skills anyone could start working on this year and see some really great results with your people. So like we said, it starts with that mindset and your job is to develop your people. And when you have that behavior, or let's go back, let me go one step back quickly. If you start to think in terms of that mindset, that every interaction with your people, whether a formal meeting or just a bump in the hallway, you have an opportunity to develop your people and help them make progress. And again, from an identity standpoint, identity drives our behaviors. If we can make this switch to thinking of ourselves, almost like a sports coach. It's not a perfect analogy but when you think about what a sports coach is doing, yes, they're sharing the vision and the plan but then when they're practicing or at game time, they're giving constant feedback and talking to performance with people all the time. They're not waiting for an annual review and especially your talented people. And here's a great visual, if you can picture this, I use it sometimes in presentations. I got a picture of Coach K, the Duke coach, Krzyzewski, when he coached the Olympic teams. And there's a picture of him giving LeBron James, some say maybe the best basketball player, instruction, giving him coaching. So even our talented people, if we can picture ourselves as we're coaching our people, that's what we want to do. And so then these three behaviors — conducting regular scheduled one-on-ones, regular feedback, and delegation — are just some behaviors we can start to help our people develop.

Lauren (14:19):
So can you talk a little bit about feedback, right? Because people receive feedback in all different ways. Sometimes it's very defensive, sometimes people are like, I want all the feedback. Give it to me. I want a 360, I want regular feedback. Some people hide behind curtains to avoid feedback. In that coaching mindset, what kind of recommendations do you have maybe in those one-on-ones to be able to help with the feedback piece of it too?

Kevin (14:55):
Yeah, that's perfect. Yeah. So what you're going to do is you are going to tell your people that one of the things I want to do this year is get better at leading and coaching you. And so I want to give you some more feedback. And so we teach a couple of feedback methods and we focus on what we call positive feedback and neutral feedback. The positive feedback is basically you want to catch people doing things and give them clear and specific feedback, what they did, how they interacted with that client.

You want to not just be general, hey, great job. You want to say, hey, that was perfect the way you responded to the client, answered all their questions, got the forms in a timely manner. That's exactly how we taught you positive feedback. We want to correct behaviors. And again, we're focusing on behaviors. If it was something we want changed, we're going to give what we call neutral feedback. Say you're someone who interrupts other people during a meeting or something like that. You want to give it in terms of neutral, saying, hey, Kevin, listen, when we were at the meeting today, every time Lauren spoke, you kept interrupting her. Could you stop doing that? That's all. People don't want to get feedback afraid. It's going to take too long. It's a discussion of Kevin's mindset during the meeting. Here's the behavior that's acceptable. We don't interrupt other people during the meeting. Could you stop doing that?

Lauren (16:30):
So less is more in this situation, just in a warm way but kind of direct but also not kind of going on for five minutes about talking and interrupting.

Kevin (16:45):
And then your other point of some people don't accept feedback. Well, one of the things you'll do during your one-on-ones is have a discussion about how we give feedback and how you want to receive feedback.

Lauren (17:03):
So actually having a conversation and getting that from the start.

Kevin (17:07):
Yeah, you can talk about feedback. Again, you can put it in a way, like you said, different people accept it in different terms. So you do want to customize it to the best you can. But again, if you're focusing on the behavior, here are the behaviors that make people successful at our firm, and here's what I'm seeing. So again, one of the ways to think about feedback is if you can't see it, it's hard to give good specific information on it. Right?

Lauren (17:40):
It's too abstract. It's hard to latch onto. Yeah.

Kevin (17:44):
You don't ever want to say things like you have a bad attitude. If I say you have a bad attitude, what are you going to say?

Lauren (17:53):
No, I don't. Yeah, tell me more. Yeah, I don't understand. Yeah, right.

Kevin (17:58):
But you can say, hey, I noticed you interrupt. Every time someone speaks, we can see it. So you want to let them know that you are giving feedback to improve future performance. That's the whole point of feedback. And you might have to talk to people about what is the best way to accept feedback.

Lauren (18:20):
Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, so just a piece on delegations, I want to make sure we get to skills. Just being mindful of time, just a quick thought today, actually literally minutes before we chatted, I was going back and forth and I saw something I personally try to reinforce with our group, something that needed to be updated, and I know I could have done it and it probably would've taken me just a few minutes. But the simple act of, I think, asking someone else to do it helps to get into the patterns and habits. Really easy to do it yourself. And I think the delegation of the feedback helps people to learn. Do you have any other examples of folks who are in a leadership role that would help encourage delegation, not just here's 10 tasks kind of thing?

Kevin (19:10):
Yeah, well, yeah. So the obvious thing is we are all stretched for time. If we could delegate work, we would be able to save ourselves some time. Here's what we do with our clients. And again, back to the coaching mindset and taking it to the next level. We think of delegation as a way to develop our people. So we think of it as delegate to develop.

Lauren (19:33):
Oh, I like that. That's a positive bend on it.

Kevin (19:37):
So if we need our people to eventually say maybe be in a client-facing role, maybe they're in a paraplanning-like position now. Or what we want to start doing is delegating some work that challenges them and develops them. Maybe the presentation skills or being able to ask and answer questions and those types of things. And so get back to that technician. And you talked about it a little bit. The challenge is we're craftspeople. We like to keep the challenging work. We like to do the hardest work, which is also the most time-consuming to ourselves and delegate the less than fun work, right?

Lauren (20:22):
Right.

Kevin (20:23):
But again, if our vision is we want to grow this business beyond ourselves, that technician, that craftsman, if we eventually need other people who can do client work, we need to develop them. And so if we can delegate some of the harder work to them, then you start to become the coach. You start to become the teacher. So some of the topics of your one-on-ones are you're going to work with your direct reports. So how are you going to get better at speaking? What are you going to do first? What are you going to do second? And then as you continue the one-on-ones, you have conversations about the work you delegated to them; how are they progressing? So that's how we kind of tie it together to this development mindset. This coaching mindset is in addition to saving us time, one of the reasons we're going to delegate work is to help develop our people, to get us to where we want to go as a company.

Lauren (21:20):
Yeah, I like that paraplanner example you gave too, because it's that — how do you help to bring folks in? I also see models too, where there's more of a senior advisor and a junior advisor too that's in the room to be able to learn from folks and get into it. Let's get into the skills portion of it, that outer ring too, and listening, questioning all of these pieces. I'd love to hear a little bit more about that.

Kevin (21:45):
And again, these are very fundamental and on the surface, they're easy to understand but they're not easy to always implement.

Lauren (21:57):
Yes.

Kevin (22:00):
So really no one's really trained us in listening; we’re just expected to know how to do it. One of the things we want to do is get better at what's called active listening, really paying attention and making eye contact, and even listening with understanding and empathy, listening to learn. And especially during the one-on-ones, when they come to us with a problem, we want to make sure we're listening. And here's the cool thing, especially for a financial advisor who is giving advice to direct advice to a client, is they should be good at listening. They should be listening to what a client is really saying, what the client's real concerns are, what the clients are really trying to accomplish. And so it's a skill set we should already have. We probably already have. We just really don't think about it consciously or potentially apply it to our own people.

Lauren (22:57):
You could do a whole workshop just on listening, I think especially for financial advisors. I mean not just within teams but even just with clients. I'm sure you've done those before.

Kevin (23:06):
You want a quick tip? If you find yourself drifting off and not listening, wiggle your toes. It'll bring you back to the present.

Lauren (23:16):
Oh, that is a very good tip. I like that. That's a great takeaway.

Kevin (23:21):
All right, so questioning.

Lauren (23:23):
Yes.

Kevin (23:25):
If you do just get one thing better this year, asking better questions will help develop your people more than anything. And we have this mantra we teach, ask versus tell. And so what happens when one of your people interrupts you or comes to you with a problem? We get paid a lot of money to be experts. That's our satisfaction. And so we want to solve the problem — solving your people's problems. Don't tell them the answer, don't be the advisor. Ask them questions.

Lauren (24:13):
Help them to collaboratively come to that end solution.

Kevin (24:17):
So one of the ways to develop people, probably one of your needs is you need people who can solve problems. And so we're going to teach them in a sense how to solve problems by turning it back to them saying, well, what's the real challenge here? What is the problem? What have you tried so far?

Lauren (24:38):
Pulling it apart versus just sort of like bam — pack on a solution without actually understanding what's going on there.

Kevin (24:47):
And the challenge is this way, it takes longer short term but like I said, long term then your people stop coming to you with problems. They come to you with solutions. And that's what we're trying to do in this whole idea of developing the one-on-ones; you should be spending most of your time asking questions, not telling, similar with a client. When advisors are working with a client, they should be spending a lot of their time listening and asking questions, not doing a lot of the talking. So again, it's a skill set to pay attention to. And if we can ask more than we tell, we start to really see our people start to grow and develop.

Lauren (25:40):
Okay. And then this last piece of it here, the directing.

Kevin (25:44):
Directing is being very clear about what you expect from people. It turns out we're really not that good at it. We think we're very clear because we're having these conversations in our head all the time, and we think if we tell our people once they understand. And so when we say directing, really think about clarity. Does my person, do my direct reports really understand what is expected from them, expect in terms of timing, quality, quantity. Have we really laid it out? And I mean, this is a really simple problem but we probably hear it a lot, and you'll say to one of your direct reports, hey, I need you to do this right away. Send this client this or get this signature or I need it done right away.

Lauren (26:47):
Right.

Kevin (26:50):
Right away means something to you but it means something different to me. Well, right away it means, well, as soon as I'm done with all my other stuff, I'll get to that, boss.

Lauren (26:58):
Yeah.

Kevin (26:59):
So when we say directing and being clear, say, look, I need this to the client by 9 a.m. tomorrow. Do you understand? Can you make that happen? Versus again, I mean it's an oversimplification but we do it all day long.

Lauren (27:14):
Yep.

Kevin (27:15):
Get this to me first. Can you get this to me first thing in the morning? Well, what's the first thing in the morning for you versus first thing for me?.

Lauren (27:22):
That's right. Yep.

Kevin (27:24):
So if we can be very clear and specific, that's what we're talking about in directing — we really have to be better at our clarity.

Lauren (27:32):
Yep. Oh, this is good. I also enjoy, as you've been talking about this, there's connections you can make between all of the rings. How directing can impact one-on-ones and the feedback and all these things. So you can see how it all is at the center point of the coaching mindset. I appreciate you talking through this and we are about at the end here. I feel like time’s been drifting away because I think, like I said, when we started, I think we could have multiple sessions on these topics but I really appreciate you getting to some of those nuggets and what does it really mean for that coaching mindset at large. Are there any other kinds of final tips you think would be helpful to share or resources for folks who do want to lean into more of that coaching mindset? I mean, maybe it's for an advisor who’s got a small team, or maybe it's for a larger firm that has multiple managers or even managers of managers, any other kind of maybe books or tips or resources even you all have?

Kevin (28:36):
Yeah. So one of the ways to think about this is to think of leadership as this Leader as Coach, as a system or a process you can teach other people in your company. It's almost like a coaching culture. So as your firm does grow and you have other people with direct reports, here's the way we give feedback here. Here's the way we conduct one-on-ones here. Here's the way we ask questions. Here's even maybe a list of some of the best questions that work during one-on-ones. So one of the ways to get it to work for you is to start thinking about this. Back to the E-Myth. As a processor system, leadership at our company is a system. We have it documented and we can teach others how to do it. So I think a great way to think about it is to help your firm grow.

Lauren (29:32):
Yeah, I love that because it's not just about shaping the systems but that shapes the culture. So the systems are helping to shape the culture, which helps to also just shape the scalability of the culture to be able to keep that intact of that leadership first and helping each other. Because I think a lot of the methodologies you shared, they're not the, I'm going to excel by bringing other people down. They're the more we support helps to grow collectively, which also impacts the culture at large too. So fun. Well, we'll make sure to include links to your website and resources as well. I'm sure folks will be interested to learn more. Like I said, I feel like we could talk about this for quite some time but some really great takeaways I really appreciate. That chart was really helpful and I think it really helps to illustrate that coaching mindset. Thank you again.

Kevin
Thank you, Lauren.

Using a Coach Mindset to Unlock Your Full Leadership Potential

Discover how Kevin Poland helps business owners in the financial advisory space use a coach mindset to unlock their full leadership potential.
Company Culture & Values
April 18, 2024

We talked with Bob about:

  • His personal and professional experiences with generosity
  • What generosity and collaboration mean and how they impact your team
  • Real tips that can improve your company culture overnight
  • How to authentically communicate what your culture looks and feels like

About Bob DePasquale

Bob DePasquale, aka “The Generosity Guy,” is a broadcaster turned financial planner and passionate advocate for the power of generosity in building strong company cultures. He advocates for the implementation of programs and systems that empower individuals to use their skills and talents for the collective good. Bob believes fulfillment comes from contributing meaningfully to a shared cause. With his commitment to promoting generosity, he inspires individuals and organizations to unleash their full potential and create a ripple effect that positively impacts the world. 

 

Featured Resources & Shoutouts


Enjoyed this interview? You'll love these:


Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):

Thanks for being here.

Bob (00:07):

Glad to, Lauren. How are you today?

Lauren (00:09):

Yeah, I'm good. It's really fun. I know we chatted before, and of course LinkedIn is this awesome place, so it's been fun to chat with you there. And I think I'm not just here about your passion with this idea of generosity — we'll get into that more — but I really appreciate all the content you put out. You're not just kind of preaching to the choir but you're hoping to educate people about what it actually means to be generous, and how that impacts company culture in your day to day. And we'll get into more of that. But just for folks who aren't familiar, I'll let you do an intro. I mean, you are a keynote speaker. You talk a lot on this topic, give a variety of presentations. I know you've got a rich experience in financial services and it's more of your day to day. But before we get into it, I don't want to steal away your thunder but why don't you share a little bit of background about yourself, and then I’d also love to hear more about how it's taken a bend to be a bit more on the generosity focus. So over to you.

Bob (01:09):

Sure. Thanks for giving me the floor. I'm going to try something new on you and the guests because someone asked me on LinkedIn actually the other day, how we connected, and they said, so what do you do with your life? The way they worded the question was kind of intense. I mean, not insulting by any means, but I was like, oh, I never really heard it proposed that way, if you will. And I said, all right, well, I had a minute to think about it because it wasn't a live conversation. It was on LinkedIn. So how am I going to respond to this? So I came up with this: I'm a broadcaster by education, I'm a financial planner by profession but I am a generosity guy or The Generosity Guy by passion. And so when you talk about the things I do, and I appreciate the compliment, by the way, with the actionable items on the content, because I believe that's really, really important with what I'm doing, and maybe I'm biased but I would argue the most important content producers and people thought leaders in the space these days are the ones who are doing good things and empowering people to use their gifts and skills for good in the world.

And that's what I believe part of my mission is. So I think it's imperative that I give people steps and things they can do to actually implement, because otherwise, if it's just thoughts and ideas and dreams, it'll never get implemented. In fact, I was just writing content about this today. I had a gentleman by the name of Brian Kluth on my podcast, and he calls himself The Generosity Mobilizer.

Lauren (02:35):

Oh my goodness. So you share that parallel. Yes. Tell me more.

Bob (02:39):

Yeah, and he's all about mobilizing. I mean, actually doing it, not just talking about it. So that's what I do on a daily basis. Now, like I said, I am a financial planner by profession. I own an RIA firm but I think the main reason why I do my work is so people can be as generous as possible. And I don't just mean with their money, I mean with their lifestyle and mindset.

Lauren (03:00):

I love that. When you think about generosity, you do sometimes think about what you are giving away from a charity perspective or what have you. But let's talk more about the mindset thing and how did you come into this? Was it just something you kind of saw as a part of your own experience with work? Is it something you kind of started to coach others with? How did you — I don't know if I should even use the word — stumble into it, but yeah, tell me more.

Bob (03:23):

Yeah, stumble is probably the right word. So I'm going to confess here. Live recording with Lauren. Thank you for asking the question. By nature, I'm not an extremely caring and generous person. I'm a spoiled only child who my parents like to say they gave up after having one child. I think my dad wanted five, and my mom said, oh no when I was like, about a year old.

Lauren (03:54):

Maybe. It is a lot.

Bob (03:57):

And I didn't get any easier. Was I a bad kid? No. But I had a lot of opinions and expressions I needed to make. And so I've grown up most of my life really feeling this need to express myself. And I think that's why I studied broadcasting, because I thought that was the way I was going to do that. And so you asked about how I came upon generosity, and it really was a life shift, and I'm not going to be one of these people who says, I went through one specific event and it completely changed my world. I can tell you a story, I will, I'm sure I'll share it here in just a moment about how generosity changed my life but it's really been a lifelong journey. It's not something that a switch just flipped and I said, you know what? I'm going to talk about generosity. It's been a lifelong shift, really. It's been a change over time in my life mindset.

Lauren (04:52):

Okay, so let's talk about how it goes in company culture, right? Because I think sometimes it's easy to check the boxes of like, well, we have this benefit. We've got 401(k) benefits, and we've got these holiday days off. And by the way, we've got a great kitchen stacked with tons of food and coffee and donuts and everything you'd want but it doesn't necessarily impact the heart to heart stuff. And how you helped empower people. And I was alluding earlier about some of the content you're creating — you're giving the real stuff away, it's not just about other on the wall things or even values on the wall, why those are important but how do you live that out, right? You've given examples before your time and helping to coach people and even the language you're using. Can you share a little bit more about that and how do you actually live that out, and how does generosity unfold within the workplace, if you will? So I'd love to hear a little bit more about some of those examples you often share.

Bob (05:49):

Sure. I'm one of those people who's attracted to a good story, and I think a lot of people, in fact, I think storytelling is probably the most powerful form of communication we have in the world but I'm one of those people who I used to do business with organizations or at least consider doing business if I needed their services if I felt they were a giving, generous organization. And when I realized about a decade ago now — it's hard to believe it's been that long — but about a decade ago, my wife and I had an opportunity to do some more traveling and some flexibility in our schedule, maybe some more in the budget to be able to do this. And I started looking into needing to do research on other things like hotels and travel and eating out more and all these different things, luxuries we have in today's world. And I was drawn to organizations that said they were giving back. And then I realized just about all of them said they gave back in one fashion or another. And the example I have is, have you ever flown Delta before? Have you been on a Delta flight?

Lauren (06:57):

Yes, yes.

Bob (06:58):

Okay. Delta happens to be a great airline for my wife and I because we live in South Florida and she's from Michigan, and that's the easiest for us to fly through Detroit and connect to the small town where her mom still lives. And so we fly Delta a lot. I noticed in the jetway to get on the plane for Delta flights they're all the same ads. One of them is a picture of people, presumably, I guess you would consider them to be Delta employees but they're volunteering with an organization called Habitat for Humanity. Some people may be familiar with them. Their mission is essentially to make sure just about everyone on the planet has adequate housing. And although they've made quite a dent in that over the years, it's still quite an issue in many places in the world. In fact, the company I used to work for at one point, I'm not sure if they still are, but they were the world's largest donor and financial partner with that organization. So I actually went on some trips myself. So I knew the experience with Habitat for Humanity and the program called the Global Village, where you travel to another country on a mission and you build a home regardless of your skills; believe me, I have no construction skills. I can barely use a screwdriver.

Lauren (08:10):

So they take you how you are ready to help.

Bob (08:15):

Get people involved. And so this is not my criticism of Delta by any means but I got the feeling just in talking with a couple people and then also looking at the ads that was kind of checking the box. They thought, well, we need to show the consumer like Bob, who's going to be flying us, that we care about the world and that will ultimately be good for business. I don't think they have been doing it for the past decade since I noticed it. I noticed it that day. And it's probably the same picture. Here we are 10 years later.

They're doing it, and I'm sure it's helping business one way or another, otherwise they wouldn't be doing it. But I got the feeling it was just checking a box to use the language you mentioned a little bit earlier. And I don't believe that's actually how you build a culture of generosity in your organization. That may be a marketing tactic or a branding skill but it's not the way that you truly get people involved. Because generosity, in my opinion, Lauren, is not an event. Generosity is a mindset. Generosity is something built over time. I mentioned Brian Kluth a couple minutes ago when I was talking, and he also said generosity must be trained. It's not something you just do. There's a natural inclination for humans, as scientifically proven, to support others but that doesn't mean you'll actually take action.

And so I strongly, strongly believe the best leaders and the best organizations have programs and systems and language — you mentioned that earlier — in place that empower and encourage their employees to do their best work and use our gifts and skills to contribute to the cause of the company, which is a cause that's bigger than just themselves. And this is in stark contrast to many organizations, specifically sales-heavy organizations, that give incentives to their employees to win a contest or take down the person in the cubicle next to them, to come in first for the quarter or the year and do things to get recognized as opposed to doing things to get the company or the mission or the purpose and the cause of what they do recognized, and I always say this, instead of trying to work toward being recognized, what if you work toward making an impact with the gifts and skills you have? And that's the reason why you were hired, right?

Lauren (10:37):

That's right. Yep.

Bob (10:40):

And the parallel in my financial practice and working in that world is that I've counseled thousands of business owners over the years. And without fail, I could probably count on one hand the amount of them who really only cared about the bottom line of their business. The ones who were the most generous and the most caring of their employees were the most successful and the most fulfilled because their culture was enjoyable. They enjoyed their work, they retained the top talent. People didn't want to leave. And it wasn't just because of the donuts in the break room, like you said.

Lauren (11:15):

That's right. That's right. Yes.

Bob (11:16):

And customers are really loyal, and maybe I'm speaking out of both sides of my face. I've been a loyal customer of Delta, regardless of my criticism I just gave. But for the most part, people want to know and want to see that what you're doing is truthful and that there's meaning behind it. And I believe truly and deeply in my heart that the most loyal customers are attracted to generous organizations.

Lauren (11:41):

I love that. I think that's so true. And it's something you can't, I don't know, it's not putting any lipstick on a pig sort of thing, right? It's real. It's the real thing. One model I saw recently was this idea of culture champions. They're the people you can train to this stuff but part of it is also some people just are embodying it, and they help to reinforce either, like you mentioned earlier, the language or the support or the time or what have you, as kind of a methodology, especially for large organizations, to be able to have those culture champions to help keep that culture alive and help it waterfall down. Are there other things you're seeing that really help to hold culture over time? Because over time, there's people who leave and come and you grow, especially businesses that are focused on growth. How do you maintain that culture so it isn't frail, it doesn't kind of unravel over time? I love to hear more on that side of things too.

Bob (12:50):

Well, I'll give you an example from my wife who's actually a kindergarten teacher and kids are geniuses on their own. I think there's something to be said for innocence and connection with other people. And so my wife tells this story — I had written about this in my book — she talked about having a class one year that was terribly misbehaved, and this is a few years into her teaching career. She's in her, I believe it's her 17th year now, so she's got way more experience but this was deep enough into her career where she didn't; it wasn't like an imposter syndrome type of thing. I mean, she was like, there is something wrong with this class. It's not me being a lousy teacher.

And every industry, including the financial industry, and anyone out there who's listening, I'm sure if you have a designation or some kind of professional degree, there's some kind of continuing education you need to do. So my wife tells a story about her and her aide going to one of those professional continuing education types of courses to get the credits they need. And it was one of those things where they're like, well, I don't know if I really want to go here. I'm just going to go to get the credits. I have to.

Lauren (14:00):

But…

Bob (14:01):

Little did they know at that session, they learned a classroom-changing for the rest of the year technique that I believe, and I have seen worked tremendously in organizations, whether it's a Fortune 100 company or a kindergarten classroom. And that is simply this: catch people in the act of doing something good. And so when you talk about language and processes, I can give you a million programs and systems for goal setting, how to run an effective meeting, how to motivate salespeople…

Lauren (14:36):

All of it.

Bob (14:37):

Yes, I can show you all that stuff but the simple act of making it a habit of catching people in the act of doing something effective when they're around other people is such a powerful force. And so what my wife did was she immediately got back to the classroom after that. It was during break. It was actually during the holiday break they went to this continuing education. They came back in January and immediately she told herself, she made a rule. I have to correct children or stop them from doing things that are wrong, whether that's speaking out of turn or doing something wrong or being mean to your classmate, whatever, I have to do that. But no matter how many times I catch them in the act of doing something wrong, I'm going to catch them in the act of doing three times as many good things as wrong things they've done.

Lauren (15:29):

So positive. It's so true. Yeah. I love that, and I think also what you said too is to give them praise in front of others. And so praising in public I think is something really, really key too, to be able to reinforce that.

Bob (15:45):

Yep. Great.

Lauren (15:46):

You'd be surprised what a big difference that makes.

Bob (15:48):

You'd be absolutely surprised. I mean, yeah, sure. Someone asked me this the other day, actually, Lauren, I had to bring this up because this one hit me hard. They asked the other day, she said, what has a boss done? Or what can a boss do that's ineffective and effective for making someone feel valued? And it reminded me that I was put in this situation of, well, more than a handful of times in my previous role as I was given gifts and awards and recognition for specific things I did. And how many times did one of my superiors come up to me and ask me how much I liked the trip or the television or the whatever.

Lauren (16:33):

Yeah, the stock? The thing?

Bob (16:36):

Yeah. I didn't realize it at the time. I was nice. I thought it was a nice question. It wasn't mean or anything, so I don't want to overblow it. But what I realized yesterday, or was it yesterday, a couple of days ago when someone said this to me, I realized it was their own way of validating their own actions. That person wanted to know I like the gift they gave me. And you don't want that of your boss.

Lauren (17:02):

That's not the purpose of it, boss. Yeah.

Bob (17:03):

No, you don't want your employees to think, man, I have to tell them, what was I supposed to say? No, the trip was terrible and don't ever give me another, I mean, come on. You can't do that. No, it's got to be consistent. And you would be absolutely surprised how much more important, simple, subtle, hey, great job. I'm glad you did that. That's it. Do that three times. As many times as you tell them you probably should have done this instead. I bet you within just a couple weeks, the culture of your organization will turn around.

Lauren (17:35):

So powerful. Okay, so I think we could talk for a really long time having really fun with this. I'm going to slide in one more question here if I can. So one of the challenges, arguably the biggest challenge right now in financial services is talent, right? Attracting talent, especially in the wealth management world, finding really good talent that's a company culture fit. We've had clients we've worked with that are like, okay, we've hired executive search firms, we've done this and that. It's not working. And so part of it is how do you showcase that culture outright, externally? But it's a tricky balance as you were alluding to earlier. It's not just a check in the box. It's not just this and that. Any thoughts on this idea of authentic marketing and getting the message out there of being generous, of having that? How do you take that internal company culture that's like, yeah, if it is, yeah, authentically putting it out there to be able to attract, that's going to help to fuel that company culture?

Bob (18:45):

Well, if you're specifically in a recruiting type of role, I think it's a little bit different than maybe the company's branding aspects. And I can speak to both briefly if you are truly in that recruiting role. Surprisingly, I think it's less about the actions you take and more about the questions you ask potential people. So instead of saying, hey, if you do something good at our job, you're going to get a nice pat on the back instead of a bonus. I mean, that's not how to address it. But if you ask questions like, well, what's important to you? Or what's your most valuable thing in a relationship with a colleague you can find? Or how do you accept praise? Those types of things are great questions, and it almost doesn't even matter the answer unless they tell you something off the wall that totally disqualifies them.

But what it does is it gets them thinking and making them realize these are things you actually care about. So that's for the person specifically in a recruiting role or a leader. If you're trying to hire your first VA or you're on your 75th advisor, ask good questions. And then for the company in a branding aspect, I think the number one thing you have to do is talk about it. And what I mean by that is, once again, not specifically, hey, today we celebrated our employee of the month. That's good. Do that. And if you can work that into your marketing and you think that's worth it in the budget, tremendous. Put that stuff in your content. But when I say talk about it, I mean talk about the things you see happening, relationship-wise in your business. For example, one of the big things I learned in my previous role, my employer, is that it made a lot more sense for me to work together with the people, even though a lot of times I was pitted against them in sales contests and leaderboards, and we were kind of all fighting for our own thing.

But the more I collaborated with them, the better. So when you have language on your website or in a social media post for example, that says, let's say you're an investment organization and you have a CFA, or you have a couple of different investment analysts on your staff, instead of having you say, well, we're going to bring on Bill to talk about commodities, or whatever it is, you might say something like this. You might say, well, in our next webinar we're going to highlight an article that was written by Bill and Jenny, who have been collaborating on this project for the past six months. And then when you bring them on the show, when you bring them on or you write about it, wherever it is, you just display that collaboration between the two of them.

Lauren (21:31):

Yes, yes. It's the positioning and the messaging of that too.

Bob (21:35):

Absolutely key.

Lauren (21:36):

Oh my gosh, this is so fun. Like I said, I think we could go on for a long time, and I appreciate the time and also the thought you give to this. Sometimes I think there's some folks who, for lack of better words, generosity might come easy, and for others it might not. But I really appreciate you've taken the time to also think about what that means and break it down for all different audiences to kind of understand how you can be more generous. How can you create that throughout your organization and reinforce it as folks grow? So thank you again for your time.

Bob (22:11):

Oh, absolutely. You're welcome. I wish people a generous day and the simplest things. It's all about simplicity and just making people feel like they're capable of contributing to something great.

Lauren (22:22):

So well said. Thank you.

How To Develop and Infuse Generosity Into Your Company Culture

Explore how Bob DePasquale sparks transformative change through the power of generosity, inspiring people to unleash their full potential to impact the world.
O&A News
April 12, 2024

We are thrilled to share the exciting news of Hannah Hogencamp’s promotion to project manager.

Hannah’s dedication to our clients and team shines through her work every day. Her knack for fostering relationships and implementing effective systems has been instrumental in achieving consistently improved outcomes. In her new role, Hannah will continue to grow in a variety of responsibilities essential for project success, focused on client satisfaction.

Beyond her professional achievements, Hannah carries with her a passion for outdoor adventure, particularly her love for snowboarding. Her spirit of adventure undoubtedly infuses her work with creativity and enthusiasm.

Congratulations, Hannah — the journey ahead looks exhilarating and we’re excited to see your continued success!

Announcing Hannah's New Role

We are thrilled to announce that Hannah Hogencamp is taking on a new role as project manager.
Company Culture & Values
April 11, 2024

We talked with Eric about:

  • The importance of mentorship and surrounding yourself with people who encourage you to grow
  • How and why to build your personal board of directors
  • The power of prioritizing personal growth over technical skills to unlock a world of opportunities

About Eric Negron:

Even as a child, Eric possessed an innate spark that seemed to defy containment. With a passion for uplifting others, particularly fellow advisors, Eric discovered his calling in fostering connections and nurturing potential. His philosophy? The equation to becoming your dream self is Mindset + Heart set + Skill set. Today, Eric is at the helm of a diverse portfolio of ventures, from serving as CEO at Forefront Advisor Network in Austin, Texas, to overseeing a national insurance agency catering to financial advisors, running a tax business, advisor consulting, and more; his scope is expansive. Eric’s coaching methodology mirrors his own journey — a formula carefully crafted to shape and empower advisors to reach their fullest potential. 

 

Featured Resources & Shoutouts


Enjoyed this interview? You'll love these:


Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):

All right, Eric, it's great to have you here.

Eric (00:08):

Lauren, I'm excited to be here with you today.

Lauren (00:10):

Yeah, we're just chatting. I know you got a lot of little ones over there and you're running a business and doing all kinds of things. I'm really excited to hear more about you and your story. Before we do—and we're going to get a board of directors conversation—tell us a little bit about you. I mean, you got the family side, you got the work side but how did this all come to be? What's your background?

Eric (00:35):

Yeah, so I grew up in a household with another sibling, my sister, my best friend, and I was one of those kids that was labeled with A-D-A-D-H, DADD. If it had a D in it, that was me. And I'm super grateful my mother decided not to put me on Ritalin, even though she probably wondered what the heck I was going to do with all of that hyperactivity as a kid. That poor woman. When I came out, I high-fived the doctor and told her to buckle her seatbelt and hold on for dear life. And here I am close to 40 years later with seven different entities and all sorts of stuff going on. And my passion is really around empowering other advisors through our network, Forefront Advisor Network, and really helping advisors become their dream self. We've got a formula for it, which is it's mindset plus heart set plus skill set — that is the equation to help you become your dream self. As I sit today, I run a RIA in Austin, Texas, a national insurance agency for financial advisors and for our work that we do, a tax business, a divorce mediation business, an advisor consulting company, and an exit planning business. So needless to say, between five kids and seven businesses, people want to know when the heck do I sleep? Yes, I do sleep. I sleep very well. By the time my head hits the pillow, I'm tired.

Lauren (02:17):

Yeah, I mean, you must be an amazing delegator too. That's a lot of things to orchestrate.

Eric (02:26):

I've got an amazing team of people who have really helped me. I'm a great collaborator. I'm an amazing leader and a great mentor but a horrible manager. So here I am today.

Lauren (02:38):

Well, you’ve done something right to get to where you're today. So I think that actually leads into this component of building teams also where you got having these conversations. I often hear folks talk about how they got to where they are because of the other people who have helped them get to where they are. And a lot of that is mentorship, surround yourself with the best people. And so I want to hear more about that. You do have this formula for how you coach and shape advisors but what is the side around what we talked a little bit earlier about, board of directors, like a personal board of directors, and what's your thinking around kind of making sure you've got the best folks around you?

Eric (03:18):

Yeah, I think it's advisors who are going to be sitting here listening to it, listening to this discussion we're having. It's super important for them to realize it's really important that you get mentorship and you surround yourself with people who can encourage you to grow. And I think most people understand that, they get it, but I don't think they are strategic about it. And so we developed a process that we go through every single year. I go through this, the advisors in our networks go through this, which is how do you build yourself a personal board of directors of the people you need to have in your life, the people you need to be surrounded by so you can become the dream version of yourself you want to become in life and in business. And so I think when people think about that, they think, well, how do I find these people, right?

Or how do I get this tribe of mentors within my board of directors to really help me become the version of the self I want to become? And I really think there's a couple of things you could do. The first thing you can do as you look behind me on my shelf is you can turn to books. Those people in those books, I always tell people there's no new problems. There is always a book you can read. There is always somebody you can talk to so you can basically solve your problem through that way. So finding mentors through books is one of the first things. You can find it through books, you can find it through conferences and associations, etc. Then the second thing is you have to have a cheerleader. Life is hard, let's be really honest. It will throw you curveballs and in this advisor space and wealth management, if you're not growing and you're having challenges with your business — there's plenty of lows to being an entrepreneur and growing your business and business development.

I think the third person you've got to have on your board is a career coach, somebody to help you figure out what is the path you should go down so you can become your dream version of yourself. And I'm kind of running through this and for folks who are listening to our discussion, we will be giving you a free worksheet for you to be able to work through this yourself. So the other person you need is a wellness coach because to become who you want to become, you have to be healthy. There's all this stuff.

Lauren (06:11):

Go ahead. Now, are you talking wellness like mental strength or are we talking wellness like physical wellness? Can you talk a little bit more about what that means?

Eric (06:24):

For me, wellness involves three systems and then the physical element. The three systems are number one, you have to be right up here. So you have to be right mentally, right? Second, you have to be right in your heart. That's emotionally. The third system is you have to be right in your gut. Everything needs to be in alignment. And then the fourth element is you have to be physically healthy. So all the things we know we should do. For those of you who are listening, don't shit on yourself. Do the best you can and try to make progress. Drink an extra glass of water, try to take some downtime to journal, read, something you like, go out for a walk. So that's wellness. You need to get somebody who is your wellness coach or somebody who's going to support you on that journey. For me, it might be somebody who goes near the refrigerator and slaps things out of my hand when I'm trying to eat it. I need a person like that. I need a nice slapper, just slap it out of my hand.

Lauren (07:27):

I know. Swap that out. Put the Coke back in for the water.

Eric (07:33):

Listen guys, you can't outrun your fork, so get a slapper to slap it out of your hand, okay?

Lauren (07:38):

That’s right. I like it.

Eric (07:42):

The other two important people you need to have on your personal board of directors is you need a connector. You need somebody who is going to take you places in your profession and in the industry that you want to go. Somebody who's going to abdicate for you, somebody who's going to put you at a seat at a table in a room even though when you get there, you feel like you might not be ready, you might not belong. Those are the types of people who are going to help you uplevel. And then the last person you need on a board is you need peers, you need other people to talk shop with, to build comradery and relationships.

Lauren (08:21):

Other folks who own RIAs, that sort of thing?

Eric (08:24):

Correct. So you can talk shop. And so as you guys are all out here listening to this, it's super impactful. It's so easy to build one of these boards. And you know what? You may have people in your life when you start doing this board, you may have three people who occupy three of the seats on your board but you need to ask yourself, who needs to be on this board for me to go where I want to go? And then you need to take it upon yourself to build relationships with those people or study the books of those people who are on your board.

Lauren (09:02):

So cheerleader, career coach, wellness coach, a connector, a peer. There's one other.

Eric (09:08):

So you got a mentor, a cheerleader, a career coach, a wellness coach, a connector, and a peer,

Lauren (09:15):

One of each, or is there more than one of each? One of the challenges I've had, I've done mentoring, going back to my university, Drake, and I continue to mentor students, active students. And sometimes you just click, you're like, hey, we totally click it vibes. And then now in a business seat, you hear that advice, I have to get mentors. But sometimes it's hard to find people you actually click with in all transparency or where there's that kind of trust. What do you recommend to help to go out and sort of solicit that? Is it just literally putting yourself out there? Hey, can I check in with you on a quarterly basis? Can you actually be a part of a formal board? What does that look like to be able to help to cultivate that so it’s a natural click?

Eric (10:08):

So a couple of things, right? In life there are natural clicks or chemistry that happens between two people. You meet people and you're like, oh, it just clicks. And that is 100% natural. So if any of you out there are listening, if you're introverts like I am — and everybody thinks I'm an extrovert but I have to go hide in my turtle shell at the end of the day after doing all this stuff because that's just me. But if you're an introvert, your first mentors may be all people and authors and books and things you study, and you may do self-work, okay? But if you're going to get other people on your board, they're outside of books, which I strongly encourage. You need to have something of value you can offer your potential mentor. And then secondarily, you need to be respectful of that person's time and come prepared with your questions and things you want to get out as the mentee.

So if you're deciding, I'll give you an example and we'll give him a shoutout on this call. One of my favorite people is a guy by the name of Dennis Moseley-Williams, who talks about client experience. I heard Dennis many years ago on a podcast, and I studied all his work and I was just enamored with him as a human being and how he showed up. Well, I built a relationship with Dennis by reaching out to him and having a conversation and offering him some encouragement around things he was doing and how he was trying to grow his business. And as a result of that — and I didn't want anything from him as a result of that — he became one of my friends and we talk shop and he gives me insights and advice, and I have this valuable mentorship relationship with him around client experience and how to craft that better for clients.

And that would've never happened had I not had the courage and not offered something of value. Even if you can't give somebody something, everybody wants to be validated that, hey, I see you. I see the impact you're having. Hey, the work you're doing in our space with advisors is important. I just want you to know, I super appreciate you and it's so valuable. Thank you so much. It's had this amazing impact on me and my life and my family. Having that sort of a heart and emotional intelligence with mentors goes a long way.

Lauren (12:43):

Yes. Oh my gosh, it's so true. And I feel like I see this with, I mean, it may sound cliche but just outreach in general. If it's PR, sales, if it's just relationships with your team, it's about that genuine, hey, I notice, I'm following, and being able to have that dialog. So those are some good tips to be able to build that team. So we're talking about this personal board of directors. Do you feel like there's a distinct line, a clear line between a personal board of directors and more of a business advisory board, a board that could be legally accountable and things of that sort? I’m curious if you have a business advisory board, if you think that is potentially a little different?

Eric (13:30):

I think they're different, and I'm not your normal guy. For those of you listening who believe in work/life balance, I think it's a myth. I think there's work/life integration. You build a life and work just happens to be a component of it, and you figure out how to fit it into your schedule. And so for me, this personal board of directors isn't just about professional development. It's really about developing you as a human being, as a person. I tell people, you're a human being who happens to be an entrepreneur, who happens to be a financial advisor or an RIA owner or whatever type of business you're in. And so you have to develop yourself for you to become the person you want to become and grow into the success you want. A business advisory board is really more strategic. I have these issues. I have these business problems. It's not going to be really pouring into you as the person, the advisor, the leader. It's truly, totally segmented and it's compartmentalized to just the business.

Lauren (14:43):

So that personal advisory board is really for you specifically. So you can be a better leader, a better parent or spouse or whatever it might be, and really drive your personal ambitions too. Okay. So there's also paid advisors, even for the personal side of things. Do you think that's worth it? To what degree? I mean there's coaches or is it just sort of where you are in life? What are your thoughts on the paid side?

Eric (15:12):

I mean, I think this is deeply personal for everybody. You have to know yourself. It's kind of like some people can go online, watch some YouTube videos or find a book and build their own workout plan, and they're going to be disciplined enough to make the plan and sit down on Sundays and do the meal planning and do the stuff, and they're going to go to the gym and they're going to do everything and they're going to be responsible for planning out. And some people are better served showing up and hiring a trainer and telling the trainer their goals and doing the things the trainer tells them to do based on the goals that are crafted. So that's one method. Or other people may be like, you know what? I really love going to classes. So I show up and I go to Pilates, or I go to Zumba, or I go to Total Body Fitness. And so for me, you have to know yourself. You have to know what levels of accountability you need. I think advisor coaches can be phenomenal. I think advisor communities can be phenomenal. I think books can be phenomenal. You have to know who you are and what level of accountability you need. And then what sort of community do you want to create around you with this board of directors and what you're trying to do.

Lauren (16:37):

So we've got time for a few more questions. Once you've got your board of directors in place or maybe components of it, it takes time for it to be able to nurture and for you to find the right people or books or what have you. How do you avoid the whole analysis by paralysis, okay, this person told me that or this is going on, or what's the theme? Are there any tips you have to kind of help? Is it starting with you, first of clarification, and then that will grow? How do you avoid that whole stagnation?

Eric (17:07):

Yeah. I think one of the things that gets with the analysis paralysis piece, one of the things you have to do before you start formulating the board is you have to sit down and have a conversation with yourself or have a thinking session of what is it I'm truly trying to achieve? Who am I truly trying to become so I can be worthy of achieving the thing I want? And as a result of that, which people and all of these disciplines I mentioned do I need to have in my life and on my personal board? And so the thing about the board that's awesome is that by design, everything is segmented. So you're going to get different advice from different people tactically and strategically. And in total, they surround you as the complete person, the complete entrepreneur, the complete advisor. So you won't get analysis paralysis per se but from time to time, there may be some things that are conflicting in values. So if you're focused on wellness but you've got career things going on, you're going to have to figure out which one is more important or which one is more impactful to move the needle of who you want to grow into, hit your goals, and who you want to be as a professional.

Lauren (18:30):

Yeah, we actually did another podcast with Lindsay. We'll make sure to link to it. But the whole conversation was basically around this idea of, it's almost like your own personal mini business plan for a lack of better terms. And being able to get clear on that, which flows into what you're talking about. And it's funny in talking with younger folks too, I always try to encourage it is not just about saying, hey, I'm looking for a job and I'm open to anything but I'm specifically looking for this. I think that same principle can apply when really trying to drive your right team, what you want or what have you. So you kind of narrow the playing field.

Eric (19:07):

Well, here's the thing. I've been involved indirectly in different communities and have subscribed to different authors and mentors. And one of my biggest mentors, one of the books that's behind me is a gentleman by the name of Dan Sullivan who started a coaching organization called The Strategic Coach. And one of the phrases he has that's always stuck with me is this: right mindset attracts right network, attracts right opportunities. And so to me, when we talk about going through this personal board, this personal board of directors and building one out for yourself, you have to start with your mindset first. Then you create this right network or your board, and then as a result of that, the opportunities are going to present itself as you develop as a person. And I think that's the element that's missing. There's so much talk in our industry about technical skills and technical knowledge and technology and AI this and AI that. The reality of it is, if you don't develop yourself, none of these other things matter, and you're not going to be a person or advisor worthy of attracting the type of business you're trying to create for yourself.

Lauren (20:31):

That's shiny object. So well said. Any other thoughts?

Eric (20:36):

I think if anybody's listening and they have questions around this, please reach out to me. Like I said, we will be giving you this personal board of development template for you to build one. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or any other social channels. I'm happy to talk to you about this. I'm happy to troubleshoot with you guys if you have some messages around, I really want to talk to, so-and-so, how would I approach them about this? I would recommend being genuine. It's okay to tell somebody you need help. Everybody wants to help somebody. It makes us feel way better to give than to receive. So as you're reaching out to potential mentors position as having them help you remember what can you do to help them too?

Lauren (21:29):

So well said, Eric. Thank you so much. We'll make sure to include those links below as well to your LinkedIn and website and so on and so forth. But I appreciate your time and your insights, especially on such an important topic. I think sometimes as business owners and what have you, we're so focused on all the parts of growing your business but not always one of the most important, which is just on you and how you can help to make sure you've got the right team. So thank you again.

Eric (21:52):

Thank you so much for having me, Lauren. Take care.

Lauren (21:56):

You as well.

Six People You Need In Your Life To Develop Your Career

Unlock your full potential with Eric Negron’s formula for advisor success.
Hiring & Talent
April 4, 2024

We talked with Yonhee about:

  • Her innovative hiring process and how it helps employees fully grasp roles and feel empowered to thrive from day one
  • How investing in your people creates positive ripple effects in the organization
  • A step-by-step training process that promotes lifelong learning and continued success

About Yonhee Gordon

Yonhee Choi Gordon, a seasoned CFP® professional, has been an integral part of JMG Financial Group’s success story since 1986. Renowned for her unique blend of expertise and empathy, Yonhee has established herself as a trusted mentor and advisor, fostering the financial and professional growth of clients and colleagues alike. Her innovative approach to hiring assessments has significantly reduced turnover rates, enabling the team to focus on executing business strategy and delivering the best service to clients. Yonhee’s dedication to investing in people and cultivating a supportive company culture underscores her commitment to building lasting relationships and fostering growth.

 Featured Resources & Shoutouts


Enjoyed this interview? You'll love these:


Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:05):
Okay. Well, Yonhee, thank you so much for being here. I'm really looking forward to our conversation, especially about mentorship, and you have an incredible story to share. So before I take the stage, I'm going to hand it over to you just so you can share a little bit more about your background and your journey to where you got to today.

Yonhee (00:23):
Great. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for having me on this call. I look forward to the conversation. Having a journey to share is just a way of saying I'm a little seasoned and I've been in the industry a long time.

That was a very gracious introduction. But really quick, I've been with JMG Financial Group pretty much my entire career. The firm started in 1984. I joined the firm in 1986, so almost four decades ago, which I cannot believe. So I was a young naive kid when I started, and now here I am almost 40 years later. And to see the industry evolve the way it has has just been so amazing to me in all the different career opportunities. So I pretty much started as an entry-level clerk. I don't even know what my title was at the time. I think I was employee number 13. We were part of a broker-dealer at the time, and back in the ‘80s, early ‘80s, really a financial planner was associated with insurance sales. And so I actually got sucked into an insurance sales company. I didn't know it. They called it financial planning. I thought, oh, that sounds pretty interesting. My dad was a CPA, and so he kind of guided me in that direction too. But then I realized when I showed up for work, it was a class of people and they said, now we're going to study to take this test, and then you're going to take your licensing test and then we'll make a list of friends and family and we'll go visit them and sell them whole life universal life policies. And I'm like, oh my God, it was awful.

But anyways, that was my beginning and at the time I really didn't know what to do. I was actually thinking about going back to graduate school but just by chance I ran into an old Sunday school teacher of mine who also was Korean. And so he had just started at JMG, and we parted ways when I went to college and he went off to grad school and got his law degree and CPA and things, and then started in public accounting and then joined this firm. And just by chance, we met at a mutual friend's wedding. I was now a Sunday school teacher. I was playing for the children's choir. And so we just met there and he said, what are you doing? And so I told him and he said, why didn't you come work for me at this firm? I just joined and I just was so gun shy.

I was like, I really don't know what I want to do, so let me think about it. And so he did a great thing for me, so impactful for me. He wanted to give me a chance. And so maybe very non-threatening. He said, why don't you come to my home and I'm going to leave you some projects so you can work on them. And kind of like a six- to eight-hour day. He didn't pay me. I didn't expect it. And so I went there and he goes, do that for a couple weeks and see how you like it. Okay, what have I got to lose? So I went there. He left me a tape recorder. He left me a book of financial and investment terminology. He said, read this. Goodness, yes, he left me a Wall Street Journal, which I had never read before either. He left me with all the good stuff.

He left me a suitcase computer, which I don't know if many people on this call will know what that is but I'm really dating myself. It was maybe five inches big and it was green. And so that's what he did. And he said, work on this. So he gave me projects. I kind of had to learn on my own, and then I would come back the next day and he had changes for me. He recorded the changes and what I did wrong, what I did right. And he said, why don't you look at this? And so I learned that way. And so I did that. And so I said, okay, I'll give it a try.

So then I joined the firm. Now what I didn't realize until later is he was really trying to prepare me and give me some confidence because I was only 20 and I was also a minority. All the women in the office were white. None of them had college degrees. And so here I am, a young person, an Asian coming in. And so he didn't want me to be so intimidated and he didn't tell me this of course but that's what I realized later. So at least I came in knowing something. And so that's really my start. And so that has just had a profound impact on the way I have hired people and how I help people develop. And it's really kind of preparing them. And so doing these exercises, so when I started hiring people, I created these assessments at our firm. And so this way people who are interviewing and applying know exactly what they're getting into.

They know what the job is like, and that's why we have such low turnover. So I've had many careers here. I've been very fortunate to have many careers here. And as a financial advisor, I never imagined I would be a financial advisor. So eventually I got my CFP® and was client facing but really as a career, what a privilege to witness clients preparing for retirement and becoming their advisor during their retirement, and then toward the end of their lives, seeing how the estate plan is working and working with their families. Very sad for me when our clients passed away, and actually one of my longest tenured clients just passed away a few months ago and she was 95. But to hear her kids who are older than me say to me, what would my mom and dad have done without you guys in your firm?

Because of family, how everything works and all of that, that to me is truly what our profession is about. It's the relationship building and to just have that privilege to be with them at every stage of their financial life. So I think that's been, just as I look back on my career, that is such a rewarding career. And then in terms of my role now as chief operating officer and chief marketing officer, and throughout my career I've hired personally over 75% of our existing employee counts. So I was employee number 13. Now we have close to 100 employees. It'll be over 100 but the tenure at our firm is very long, and that's just because we spend so much time on developing our people. I think a lot of that has to do with being transparent with them and setting up expectations and guidelines and all those things, and all those things are what I learned from those who mentored me in my career here. I've been very fortunate.

Lauren (08:01):
I love that. Just to go back to that story you had earlier, I think that sometimes people think company culture is the food that's brought into the office or it's the benefit check, and that's part of it. A lot of what you see in those best places to work. That's part of it. But a lot of it is also being generous in your time. And I love how that story was connected with helping to uplift, educate, and be generous with time to be able to help bring you into the fold of things. So it's nice to see that and then how you've carried that through. And I want to hear more about that, because from the outside, I was just hearing earlier before we chatted, I see so many fun cultural posts and things your firm's doing, and you can feel the energy that doesn't happen naturally.

So I'd love to hear more about swinging back to this piece of hiring. Tell me more about that. I mean, how did you come up with this process? Is it through the job description? What's the hiring process and how are you really helping to uplift people so they feel like they can be a part of a firm where they've got support and they can grow along the way? So that's a lot to unpack but I love just to kind of hear the beginning phases of it and that hiring piece, since that sounds like something you're really familiar with.

Yonhee (09:21):
So it started when I had to start hiring staff, and I realized that a lot of them back in, I'm really sounding old but it was newspaper ads, no internet, no websites at all.

Lauren (09:39):
No LinkedIn.

Yonhee (09:42):
Word of mouth, who do you know?

Lauren (09:45):
Which is still a thing today, absolutely.

Yonhee (09:47):
Yes it is. And it was the start of recruiting search firms and things. But I also realized these candidates had no idea what jobs they were applying for. And so it's just more of I think trying to fill seats. And so I realized there's going to be a lot of turnover if people don't understand what they're getting into. And if we're just going to hire somebody because they're nice and they just answered the right questions, I said, I was thinking how I want to be able to convey what it's really like to work here.

This way you spend the time upfront because as people know who are watching this, turnover is expensive. And so you invest a lot of time in the onboarding and the training and the development and what a discouraging thing to happen when somebody leaves after a couple of months. So you really have to evaluate how you can better convey what it's like to work here and what the job entails. So that's why I started creating these assessments. So I took a little piece of the job and what they would be doing, because I always think there has to be two reasons to do something. And part of this for the applicant is yes, they get to see what they would be doing in their job, and they can determine if they like it or not. And then from my perspective, during that process, I get to talk with them.

I get to ask them questions. I want to see how they think. Our profession is about problem solving and communicating. And so I want to see how they process information, how they actually talk about it, how they can explain it. And during this process, there's so many things that can happen. You can see how they accept criticism, how are they going to accept feedback? Are they always going to say they're right? No, this is right. This is the way I did it. And so as an employer, you have to be able to assess that too. So I thought it was a wonderful way to assess all those skills. Two ways, both ways. So because of that, after somebody joins us, I have always asked them after three months, is there anything about the job that is a surprise to you? Because I want to know so for the next person—100%, nope, this is exactly what you told me I would be doing. And I remember this from the assessments.

Lauren (12:22):
It's clear expectation setting upfront.

Yonhee (12:26):
The other thing I do, and I started doing this a few years later too, is I had the candidates actually talk to people at our firm who are doing their position. So that's not like an interview. These folks don't have the authority to make the decision but they're doing the job. And so what better person to have that conversation with, for a young person to really hear what it's really like to work there and what are you doing and do you like it? And all these other things. I will say not everybody's the right fit for every company. So I think it's a great way for candidates to learn what they want to do and what they don't want to do.

Lauren (13:11):
That's right.

Yonhee (13:12):
And so I think it's our responsibility if we're doing the hiring to help them. And if it's not going to be the right fit, then I think it's always good to help them along and kind of give them ideas. And maybe you should be doing this, or maybe you should look at this type of position because of your skill set. I mean, look where our industry is today. We have so many different roles. We have so many different positions that we didn't have before.

Lauren (13:35):
So true. And there's complexity with how teams are built if they're around a target market or advising teams or senior advisor, junior advisory, what have you, so actually tell me a little bit more about that. So once you go, okay, this is the right fit. You put out as a firm, the energy, you're projecting the energy you want to be able to be that magnet for the right candidates to apply, you've got that assessment in place, both yourself and the candidate feel like it's a win-win and an offer is extended. What does that first 90 days look like? Or even to go maybe one step further, the organizational structure to make sure they've got that kind of mentorship in the short and long term to help bring them up. So I'd love to hear more on that side of things.

Yonhee (14:24):
So that process has evolved too, because we have more people now.

Lauren (14:28):
Oh my gosh. I know you said 100, right? Or something around that.

Yonhee (14:31):
I mean, before it was a part of my role, and I had a couple folks who had been here a long time, and they would help me to train the next people. And then as we continued to grow, it just grew exponentially. So then you have more people to help. The other thing I'll say is not everybody necessarily wants to be a client-facing advisor.

Lauren (14:54):
So true. Which is okay, and that's actually a beautiful thing. Not everyone can do the same thing.

Yonhee (14:59):
Exactly. And some of them don't have that skill set because there are different characteristics, attributes that an advisor has to have. And so what a great career path for somebody who really loves what they do and are really good at it but they just don't want to be out there having to work on business development or advising a client. Honestly, they probably don't want to get fired by a client or have to get new business. And that's okay. So we have evolved two positions to create a great infrastructure for our managers who are training. They know the job, so they're training our people. So to answer your question, for a new employee coming in today, they have a set timeframe to learn our tools. They need to learn our tools.

Lauren (15:47):
That's so true. You can't just jump in.

Yonhee (15:51):
So learning the tools first, and then it's a lot of information because we also prepare tax returns. So learning that part of our business but you have to learn all the tools and the technology now, my goodness, look at all the fintech companies that are out there, all the different types of applications and software that are available out there, so competitive. So they need to learn our tools, and it's kind of building that foundation and the building blocks to learn what we use to provide this service to our clients. And then they start working with somebody who's been here a little longer, and they provide that one-on-one support. So we call them coaches internally. So they're coaching and mentoring those folks from an entry-level position. So now they have all the tools, now they just have to learn how to use them.

So that's when they start working with somebody who actually supports an advisor. And so now they're learning how these tools are incorporated and working, creating these materials for meetings with clients makes sense. And so that's the process. Every client at our firm is a case study. You're inputting into the same program but every client is a different situation, and that's how you learn. So it's learning and applying, learning and applying. And so I think that's one of our core values is being a lifelong learner here. I mean, I'm still learning too. Tax law changes occur, estate plan changes occur. And so you have to keep up. And so you have to have that mentality and that approach that we're always learning and sharing with one another. So that's kind of how we do the onboarding. And we're very clear about that upfront that this is the development, this is the process, and this is the progression of what is expected and what you'll be working on. So I think that's probably one of the reasons we've been so successful with our retention of our talent. I mean, we have so many advisors today, and a lot of them, over 75% of them started at an entry-level position.

Lauren (18:09):
And that was what I was going to ask. You mentioned earlier that folks are with you for some time, and so it sounds like it's that model of growth from within, and then they can really learn and you can bring them up with your tools, culture, systems, and really help them provide that career pathway for them. So I know there's a number of CPA firms that have similar models. We've started to apply that model to various things here as well. So super, it's interesting to hear that and kind of how it's evolved over time too. I want to be mindful of time but I think we could actually have multiple series on this conversation but I did want to just hear a little bit more about the JMG culture. And I know we were kind of talking about some of those checks in the box or what have you, the fun things. But maybe if you don't mind sharing a little bit more about that, kind of what is it like to work there and how are you helping to foster that culture, especially with COVID, right? I know that it's kind of remote first is an option for a lot of folks and that changes the dynamics. How has that evolved over time too?

Yonhee (19:21):
Yeah, it has changed the dynamics and it has changed the culture but I think that we've done a really good job to keep everybody engaged. And I think a lot of that really comes from leadership in terms of being an example, also outlining the expectations and ramifications of what happens if you're not here physically, if you're not engaged with your team and if you're not coordinating time together. I think as a business, I've learned that really there are three components you as a leader cannot ignore. One, for us, it's serving our clients and making sure we are providing just the top level of service and outlining what that service is. Every company has a different service model too but everybody provides a service to our clients. So you have to focus on that. The second part is your business strategy. What is your strategy as a business?

And that involves so many things, succession planning and growth planning and all of those things. And then the third component is investing in your people. And I think that's important too, because you need your people. And so if you're spending a lot of time because you have turnover, then you really can't focus on your business strategy because you have the turnover and then the service to your clients is going to start declining. So they're all tied together. And so I think I've learned those three components. You focus on those things and then they all impact one another. So as far as our culture goes, I think way back when we were very siloed because we were part of a broker-dealer at the time in the ‘80s, and then 10 years into, after the firm being founded is when really they switched to let's give up our securities licenses.

And really, we always charged a financial planning fee. And so they said, let's give up our licenses so we can be objective but we can truly be fee only with business strategy components. And then that fee only, we are incorporating the tax return preparation because we do a lot of tax planning, a very integral part of the planning overall, and then the investment management piece. And so because of that, and my mentors, my predecessors, they made that decision to focus the business that way. And because of that, when we've had the market downturns, we haven't had to lay off anybody in the history of our firm. Now we had to tighten our belts a little bit, no bonuses, freeze salaries. I had to cut back on our holiday party but you know what, we had a great time. It was a potluck. Everybody brought in their food. We had games. And it's like when the lights go out, when the electricity goes out, whatcha going to do?

Lauren (22:26):
And it causes you to rally in a different way.

Yonhee (22:30):
Definitely. And I think because of that effort culturally, that was part of employees recognizing they care about us, they were willing to do this versus letting people go because we knew eventually we would need them. Well, we always needed them but also let's plan for the future, not for what's happening today.

And so I think for my mentors who put that plan in place, and really had to sacrifice a lot, restructuring, compensation structure, internal positions, things like that. And so here we are. They were impacted because they retired. They've literally seen me grow up at the firm and they're a partner, and now they're retired and clients of ours and still mentors to me and dear friends of mine. What's really neat, Lauren, is that I see the kids I hired 15, 20, 25 years ago at a college now also developing and now becoming my partners. That's special.

Lauren (23:43):
Yeah. Gives you goosebumps, sort of. That's wonderful.

Yonhee (23:47):
It's neat. So I've seen them grow up now, and so a lot of my partners and I honestly, we've grown up together and that just organically creates this culture of caring for one another. Truly, and I hate to sound so cliche but it is that family because you grow up together. And I always tell people, young people especially, everybody has a different definition of culture. And so I always suggest to young people before they start interviewing, make sure you decide what's important to you first, everything. What would be ideal for you? Because they can be persuaded so easily.

Lauren (24:36):
Yes, I know. A big box, this or that or what have you but what is really important to you. Exactly. Really, honestly, what's important to you.

Yonhee (24:47):
Absolutely. And then when you start interviewing, then you can check the box and see if something doesn't fit. Don't force it, because then it's not going to feel right. Just like when you're looking at colleges as a young person. I'm sure everybody can remember when you go on campus, if this is the right one for me or not sure but there's something about it that is that, right? So that's why I tell young people, because you're not going to like so many personalities. We're not going to like everybody but we need different personalities. But the bottom line is everybody needs to respect one another. And when you have that respect for one another, that's what makes it work, and that's what makes the teamwork come together. You complement one another.

Lauren (25:37):
So well said. And I love that analogy too. Also, I've done some different talks going back to my undergraduate, what have you, and I feel like those nuggets are always good to share, and I'm going to remember that one to share it. So I love that. I love that analogy and story, and it's so good to be able to bring that next generation up and have that guidance as well. So, oh, this is so fun. Well, like I said, I think we could go on for multiple sessions and do deep dives and what have you but thank you for just sharing an overview about your career and firm and those insights for how you've hired, and then also how you've really grown over the years as your firm's grown to be able to bring up talent and have them stay with you. I appreciate it. Thank you again for your time.

Yonhee (26:23):
Oh, thanks so much, Lauren. It was fun.

Lauren (26:25):
Absolutely. Talk soon.

Unlocking The Power Of Innovative Hiring For Employee Retention And Success

Learn how Yonhee Gordon unlocked the power of innovative hiring and training processes to empower employees, foster confidence, and drive success.
Compliance & Technology
March 28, 2024

We talked with Adam about:

  • The history of Asset-Map 
  • The importance of simplicity in delivery and the difficulty of getting there 
  • How to leverage technology to maximize and amplify the humanness in the advisory space

About Adam Holt

While working as a financial planner, Adam Holt found traditional approaches lacking in client engagement and clarity. Recognizing the need to prioritize meaningful financial decisions, he founded Asset-Map as a tool to refocus clients on their goals. Starting as an in-house solution, it propelled Holt’s wealth planning business to remarkable growth. Today, Asset-Map serves thousands of financial advisors worldwide, empowering families to make informed decisions, stay engaged, and achieve their financial aspirations. 


Featured Resources & Shoutouts


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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:02):
Adam, thanks for your time.

Adam (00:04):
Thanks for having me, Lauren. Great to see you.

Lauren (00:06):
Yeah, it's great to see you. I know we've got a common connection through Derek, and I'm glad to have crossed paths with you in this virtual world. I'm really excited. So for those of you that don't know Adam, he is the CEO and founder of Asset-Map and also the co-host for Rethink the Financial Advisor podcast. So definitely we'll include a link to that. Go ahead and check that out. Before we get into it, he has a really interesting background but I’m also excited to hear more about Asset-Map — what it is today and what the platform is and all that stuff. But let's turn it over to you. Tell me a little bit more about your background, especially this idea from geography to now finance. So over to you.

Adam (00:44):
Well, I think what you're referring to is Asset-Map is very well known for its visual mapping of a household's finances and all the people and financial decisions you've made over time to try to build this financial inventory, if you will, visually. It was used by me in my financial planning practice for, gosh, now 25 years, an in-house homegrown technology experience that was really more about the experience of helping clients finally understand all the complexity they were dealing with and their advisor, myself, to try to figure out how to navigate it. And this comes out of a mapping framework or mapping background that I had actually studied in my undergrad school. I had actually studied what's called GI — graphic information — or what you guys all would think about as GIS or GPS. When you look at your phone or your car, you see this map evolving of where you are, and it's the same kind of technology of taking data and showing it visually and overlaying it with other aspects that might help you make decisions. So that was parlayed into financial planning when I got into the business and then it went viral when I showed it in 2012 at a conference. And the rest is history. Now, thousands of advisors and millions of people have experienced this already and it's really quite amazing how far it's come.

Lauren (02:04):
Can you share a little bit more about that, how that took flight? I mean, so you shared it at a conference. What was it? People just sort of started talking about it, wanted to learn more? How can I get a hold of it? How did it kind of go from concept to presentation to then? And where is it now?

Adam (02:18):
Well, it depends how far back you want to go. In 2002, believe it or not, I actually drew this out. I was in business school at night at the time, and I said, I need to find a way to understand the complexity that I'm doing with these households. Because I was a very visual type of person. I was very interested in graphics at the time, so I actually built this and got it compliance approved in 2006.

Lauren (02:39):
Oh, that's a big milestone.

Adam (02:42):
It took me quite a while to get the compliance departments of my broker-dealer to really say I could use this with consumers. But once I did, I tripled my productivity in my first year and then I tripled it again, and then I tripled again. So by the time I got to the third year of using this in the field, I had obviously made a significant increase in revenue generation that was mostly AUM life insurance at the time, estate, corporate stuff, and started getting noticed and I realized I had to build the technology to support. It was just taking over my life, and that's what I did. I founded and started funding without knowing what I was doing, Lauren, basically just blowing money into developers where I had no understanding of what I was doing. And I built the first prototypes. And in 2012, it was a best practice meeting where we were all sharing our success stories, and it was my turn to share at the top of the producer group in my broker-dealer.

And everyone said, hey, I'm doing the same thing on a yellow pad, on a whiteboard, on a napkin. I'm trying to explain what's going on in these trusts relative to the company and the business and the family members. Can I just use your system? And I said, sure, I guess we'll figure it out. You can use it. And that's how it started. It was 90 advisors by the end of the year, and then it was 300, then it was 500, now it's over 6,000. It's kind of interesting. It didn't just happen like that but it happened because I think advisors all recognized they could be more effective having conversations around the inventory.

Lauren (04:13):
So as someone who has done dozens of development projects, wireframed it, I mean, I've seen design, user experience, data, all that stuff. What are you all doing — because you can get a really sweet working backend — but how have you been doing testing, user testing and experiences to make sure people can actually use information smoothly to get it out product, constantly tweaking, testing, all of that, that process so you can not only have intelligence but then you can help it be presented in what you were saying earlier, in that visual way?

Adam (04:48):
It's an interesting question because I think I've had a very strange mashup of skills. I'm a design nutcase, wanted to be an architect a long time ago, and then got into finance and realized I was a communicator. I love people. I don't want to work with computers. And here I built a technology platform with the backbone of a lot of other smart people. So I didn't do it on my own. But I think for me, I'm a big zealot for UX or user experience and customer experience. And I very much think and always put myself in the shoes of the recipient of my communication. I think I apply that to the podcast as well, whether it's tonality, influx, or whether it's visual, it's controlling the entire experience that you can control as much as possible with the goal of making it consumable and not intimidating.

And that is a really important aspect I think a lot of financial advisors never got trained on, which is understanding how to deliver information that's typically complex but something that's digestible so you actually empower the consumer, not intimidate them. And that's an important nuance because I think for most of my career, I kept watching other advisors just say, here's your 80-page financial plan and your 90-page Morningstar. You see what we need to do? And the client's like, I guess I trust you. You look so smart, and that was enough. But that's no longer the case, Lauren. We are seeing consumers have a much different expectation of the value proposition and their attention span is diminished greatly. You need to deliver value. So we came up with this design principle called simple rich, which means everything we generate from our product has to fit on one page regardless of complexity, and it has to be consumable by the least common denominator but also give prominence to the display or the presenter in such a way that they can take it into multiple discussions. That's a really challenging mashup.

Lauren (06:42):
Yes, that's very challenging. Simple's never easy, let alone to be able to put that sort of complexity on really complex problems. So has that one sheet, I'm assuming, changed over time? How is it? Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about

Adam (06:57):
You mean it’s gone into two sheets?

Lauren (06:58):
Yeah, right. Or maybe a smaller font.

Adam (07:01):
Well, that's true. Disclosures wind up at eight point.

Lauren (07:05):
Yeah, that's right. Minimum.

Adam (07:06):
That's the legal limit. You can't go smaller.

It's funny. The answer is no. Everything we generate must fit on a tear sheet one page. It is a requirement, one we force ourselves into but for financial planning that's really challenging. Typical financial planning reports are 10 pages or more. Mostly it's disclosure language. We figured out actually how to do the math in such a way where we could actually eliminate the reasons for the nine pages of disclosure. And we actually had to design a planning calculation and display it where it had enough insight where a technical person could say, okay, this is not, I can't trust this but to the point where they could actually explain it and go deep. I think one of our secret sauces, I think one of the things we've been able to do is, I mean, look, think about most households. Most households are not just one or two people, right?

They’re two kids or three or two and a half kids. It might be a generation above you if you're also taking care of Mom and Dad. You have a business partner. Oh, you have a trust because you had to set up a trust to hold your insurance, and then you have a charity. Oh, and you have a company. And then, so the reality is households are much more complicated than we typically think. The registrant who has a brokerage account with us now, they're making decisions on a whole different scale, and they have on average 25 different financial instruments — everything from income sources to retirement accounts, 401(k) benefits at work, a checking account. When you add it all up, it's really complicated. How do you get that on one page? And the fact we were able to pull it off with millions of iterations is I think one of the things where we still stand out in this space but it certainly wasn't easy to build that architecture.

Lauren (08:53):
And is that a customizable one page or is it pretty kind of default from lessons learned, from I'm assuming what the data's telling you on your side too?

Adam (09:02):
Well, north is north. South is south. You have to have some standards of basis because of what we needed to have it do, and of course my requirement list is just too large but thankfully we had tested it for 10 years in the field to get to a place where we said, okay, this is really bespoke and scalable but standardizable, just like when you look at an X-ray of your body, and I look at a mine, you can still see they're both skeletons. And so the person who's diagnosing potentially any, let's say financial malady, can look at the thing and see instantly where the problems are, right? So the professional had to have some expectation, that framework where insurance is going to be in the north and her assets are going to be in the west and his are going to be in the east, and their joint assets are going to be south, so you know where to look. And that's an important aspect of creating a standardized but fully customizable experience.

Lauren (09:57):
So for advisors, how is it teeing them up then for that further conversation and how is it helping them maybe even get to those deeper conversations faster?

Adam (10:06):
There's something that happens, and I love this analogy, so perhaps you can imagine this in your mind. If I wanted some guidance on my wardrobe, I could invite you to come over to my closet, my wardrobe, and we go through my clothes. Now, if you're an expert, you might know how to go about looking at that. Most people will take all of it out, dump it on the bed, and like Marie Kondo, they would hold it up and say, do you love this? Does it fit? No, I don't want it. Okay, say goodbye.

Lauren (10:37):
Yeah, get rid of it. Yep, goodbye.

Adam (10:39):
And that process can be very cathartic for many people. It could also be maybe revealing or vulnerable because the reality is most of us haven't gotten any guidance on what are the right financial instruments. We collect a bunch of stuff, usually from employers or from multi-generations. If you have wealth in there and you set up a bank account, you still have the same bank account you started when you got out of college. The reality is that we hoard a lot of the stuff —

Lauren (11:06):
— without even realizing.

Adam (11:07):
We don't even think about it. It's all haphazard. So the first process of any level of financial guidance starts with a know your client, KYC typically called technically but also there's a suitability process for all advisors they must go through to prove they're delivering best interest advice. It doesn't matter whether you're selling life insurance or doing a full-fledged fee-based financial plan, you got to know the client. So this process is actually pretty consistent — the fact-gathering process — so dumping everything on the bed and deciding what actually should be there and not be there is really important. The same thing is true with finances. If you think about that massive collection of stuff, there are some obvious holes advisors will see. Hey, I noticed you have three retirement accounts but I noticed you don't have any pension. Is that intentional? No, I didn't even know to ask that question. Okay, let me educate you. I see you have a bunch of insurances. Why do you have them? Well, my cousin sold me all this insurance. Do you know it's not owned correctly, is the wrong beneficiary? No, I didn't realize that because nobody gets to inspect this stuff, Lauren, and when you have somebody who's invited to look at this in a transparent way, high level, no judgment, actually start teeing up the right conversations to do triage, and that's the first step of all financial guidance.

Lauren (12:19):
Yeah, it makes sense. I mean, what you can appreciate too in working with folks who do have complex situations is if you get a 10-page minimum return, that's a lot to go through, and most people are used to just the executive summary. So it sounds like you're really having to provide that piece of it in a thoughtful way. Are you all doing any sort of coaching for the advisor side and more like, okay, advisor, we have literally teach you up, you go and you run with your piece of thing, or is it also, do you have prompt questions for advisors or things like that to help them then get to that next step?

Adam (12:52):
That's a great point. We do have such things, and over the years, advisors said, Adam, how do we take your language and replicate that? It turned out Asset-Map was less of a software as a service but it was more of a process as a service, and we had to teach people how to go and do that California Closet analogy I just gave you, which is how do we figure out what you should be having and how do we structure this thing? And so we started with a bootcamp that was very popular. Now it's all virtual and people come for three days and they learn our language. We also have a digital LMS tool, learning management system, for them to get certified. But I think the most effective thing has been what we call frameworks, where we teach ways to ask and engage new and important questions that feel very human and very empathetic. For example, I see you have X, Y, and Z on your asset map. Why did you choose to buy that? What did you try to meet? Or what was the reasoning behind it? You learned, by the way, that most of the reasoning is nobody remembers, my uncle told me to buy it, I don't know.

Lauren (13:53):
Yes, you're helping us resurface that, right? Somebody asking you the question.

Adam (13:59):
Exactly. No different than in our everyday life. It’s a very behavioral type of, I think, approach but it enables the advisor to run the same play every time and still seem empathetic and inquisitive and not always be trying to let me educate you to death how an IRA works. They're like, why did you do this or not do this? And so we teach these questions and these frameworks.

Lauren (14:22):
Yeah, but I think that thinking, and you're calling it frameworks, if you have that same framework that can be applied but obviously the results are different because each person's different. So then it gives you the sort of map to follow, for lack of better words, so you can pull them through. Okay, so I have to ask. I don't know, because the thing right now is AI, right? I've heard about it. Everyone's talking about AI in different ways, and this is a different way of approaching, I don't even know if I'd call it AI. What are your thoughts, and do you think there's an intersection here with AI? How do you kind of look at it? Are you guys building tools that are kind of leveraging some of these newer technologies? What are your thoughts on that?

Adam (15:05):
Look, there's lots of different ways to look at the AI conversation. Most people these days are talking about it from the GPT standpoint, right? So this natural language processing that has the capacity potentially to consume large portions of data and make some interesting insights. That executive summary you talked about would seem an obvious potential innovation from Asset-Map, right? Can you build an Asset-Map and then boom, it can already tell you what you need to do. That in a sense does start to, I don't want to say compete with an advisor, and advisors are our clients. So we tend to focus more on can I get data into our platform using AI? And that's where we're spending our time and money. I would offer it to you this, Lauren, there's something that's really important that keeps coming up in our industry. You probably have heard it.

And there's this whole aspect of what's the role of the human in advice delivery, especially as tech continues to creep in and will continue to do so we know how does a human advisor provide more and more relevance? And we actually joke that Asset-Map supports the original, the OG AI and that OG is advisor intelligence AI. And what that means is really there's a component of financial decision-making that has really been historically human and we think will continue to be when a decision has to be made that has a high cost of being wrong or is complex — humans tend to want another human for validation. Am I making the right decision? Are we okay? As we go further and further away from, we'll call it a simple low cost of being wrong problem or challenge, we tend to want this human. And so what we're really trying to tee up withAsset-Map is can I facilitate a high-level conversation and get the advisor's intelligence, whether it's legal, tax, insurance, investment, financial planning, banking, whatever that might be, can we apply their logic and their insight and their experience to the client's life in real time using a common framework, which is as demystifying as a map of your finances and who matters?

That is the real key. Once you do that, all of a sudden the advisor's role is elevated to its best use and highest revenue-producing activity.

Lauren (17:12):
It makes sense, right? Because if AI is a tool that can help speed up the process for the clients and the advisors and then they are able to present it with more clarity — they don't have to go through all the paperwork, the piles of paperwork, what have you, I'm sure there's a degree of that but it seems like it keeps them more seamless. 

Adam (17:31):
Can we presume that an advisor's role or professional role is to provide the client one thing, and that's confidence in the business of decision-making? That's it. Because nobody can give you a guarantee that the outcome is better but you want confidence so you can move off the mark and make a call, make a decision, invest, ensure, get rid of, buy, don't buy, get out. So the point is these decisions really are not because there's no certainty in them, we're just really looking for more confidence. And I think going forward, tools like AI and analysis tools and financial planning tools are all really there to help us make decisions. And I think the key is how do you get the human to really connect with another human and show they actually know what's going on and give them perspective? 

Lauren (18:17):
Yep. Well, I mean, part of leadership is being able to make calculated risks. So this is helping to tee up those decisions so you can make decisions for your own life. And then at the end of the day, if you have a life change, you're not going to go, well, let me go back to my AI tool to see where I need to turn to next, right? You're going to want to talk with Jane or Brian or whoever it is you trust, you can have conversations with. And that human piece, I put it out there. I don't think you can replace that. 

Adam (18:46):
It's a great question, though, and I wonder whether we know that answer. Trust is in fact the key for the human financial advisor. I do believe that certainly the X and Y generations specifically are showing they would prefer digital experiences over human ones. The question will be, what's their threshold for when those decisions are too complicated or have such a high cost of being wrong that they really do want a human validation, how they consume it, whether it's from a fee-based advisor or just their trusted uncle who's rich or whatever it is, or who, maybe it's their guru. It's going to be interesting to see who they go to for that trusted guidance on decisions they need to make.

Lauren (19:25):
Yeah, super interesting. Adam, this is so fun. I love hearing more about just the story of what you've been able to build in this tool at a very high level. Any other thoughts, things I haven't asked that you think would be helpful to share?

Adam (19:37):
I think we're all on the precipice of something new. I'm not sure I know what it's going to be like but I think over the next four to five years, what is not going to change as this classic Jeff Bezos quote goes as he was asked, what's going to change, what's investible over the next 10 years? And he says, it's not important to know what's going to change. We can't figure that out. The question is what's not going to change? And that is investible, and that's where you want to put your time and your energy. We know what it is for Amazon. We can probably all recite that. But for us, and I think the industry in general, Lauren, I think it's all going to be how we connect with our clients and prove we're adding value beyond the expectation, right? It's always about how do you over deliver and under promise? And I think the question for us and advice is that is it really about the management of the money? Is it really about the best products we're finding, or is it really about the confidence we're giving our clients proactively when they don't ask? That's right. Being on their team and watching the store without being asked.

Lauren (20:39):
So well said. Oh my goodness. Well, thank you, Adam, again for your time. I'm excited to continue to watch Asset-Map and all the things you all are doing, and yeah, excited to see what comes of it next.

Adam (20:50):
Thank you so much for having me.

Enhancing Advisor Success: How to Add Value Beyond the Numbers Through Human Connection

Discover how Adam Holt is transforming traditional financial planning with Asset-Map, a groundbreaking tool that prioritizes client goals and engagement.