My guest on today's podcast is Bridget Venus Grimes. Bridget is the President of WealthChoice, a virtual independent RIA that oversees nearly $80 million in assets under management for 68 client families, and Co-Founder of Equita Financial Network, an advisor platform that helps advisors plug in and share resources.
What's unique about Bridget, though, is how, as a solo advisor, she found herself overwhelmed with the pressures of having to manage different aspects of her business while also providing great service to her clients as she quickly grew to $77M of AUM in 7 years, and has decided to not to "scale" her firm by hiring more advisors but instead leverage herself personally by delegating more and more of her non-financial-planning tasks to virtual outsourced contractors she doesn't have to manage on a day-to-day basis.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about how Bridget went about outsourcing compliance, operations, trading, investment research, and even her client scheduling to build a trusted team of virtual professionals so that she can focus more on the financial planning work with clients she enjoys most, why Bridget and an advisor friend of hers decided to work together to vet a long list of trusted outsourced service providers in the hopes of purchasing services together to negotiate better rates and then ultimately launched Equita Financial Network to give other advisors a chance to plug-in to their negotiated outsourced rates as well, and why Bridget decided to focus on a niche of female executives because she felt she could relate to them the most (having spent a career as a female executive herself) and that focused on one ideal type of clientele would allow her to streamline her processes better (as they share so many of the same financial issues).
We also talk about why, after working for an RIA as an employee advisor, Bridget became frustrated with how she was compensated and a lack of freedom to serve her niche of female executives in the way she saw fit which inspired to launch her own firm where she could have more control over client service, her own destiny, and her paycheck, how Bridget spent $30,000 to get support in writing a book that focuses on the 4 common financial planning derailers women executives face without any expectation that she'd even generate enough book sales to cover that cost because she thought the credibility of being author itself made it more than worthwhile, and how, even though Bridget has long been adamant about not hiring W-2 employees, she has ultimately decided to bring on her daughter as an advisor because even though she doesn't have any plans to retire or sell her practice anytime soon, she wants to ensure the future of her business by creating a succession plan with another advisor she's confident will maintain her approach to financial planning with her clients.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Bridget shares why she feels one of the best moves she made for her business and herself was engaging with Limitless Coaching because, in the same way she delegates business responsibilities, she was able to leverage the expertise of a professional who could help elevate her and outline better metrics to guide towards the next level of success, how Bridget learned the importance of not second-guessing yourself and only working with clients that are really a good fit after one of her biggest clients became difficult to work with and despite compromising her fee (against her better judgment) to try to retain him the client still left (costing her a lot of money and time anyway), and why Bridget encourages other advisors looking to start their own practice to invest in themselves by engaging in business coaching so that they can get clear on how they want to shape their business and career before launching (just as Bridget has been intentional about what types of clients she wanted to work with, and how she wanted to leverage herself but not have to manage anyone, to live her ideal practice).
So, whether you're interested in learning about the specific vendors (and people) that Bridget delegated portions of her business to, how she navigated decisions about not just what to delegate, but how and to whom, building an infrastructure of trusted vendors along the way, and why she wishes she had 'taken the leap' to start her business years ago, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Bridget Venus Grimes.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Bridget Venus Grimes
- WealthChoice LLC
- Equita Financial Network
- East Bay Investment Solutions
- Box Professional Insurance
- Financial Planners Assistance
- Virtual Partner Group
- Advisor Logistics
- Income Lab
- Scribe Media
- Corner Office Choices by Bridget Venus Grimes
Looking for sample client service calendars, marketing plans, and more? Check out our FAS resource page!
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Michael: Welcome, Bridget Venus Grimes to the "Financial Advisor Success" Podcast.
Bridget: Thanks. I am so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Michael: I really appreciate you joining us today. And the opportunity to get to talk about this thing that at least I've taken to start calling the highly leveraged solo advisor. And just all the fascinating ways that we can build these really business successful, financially very remunerative advisory firm practices without needing to hire up a whole bunch of staff and just take on W-2s and salary obligations and employee benefits and management and all the things that go with that path.
And I even find it's kind of coming into the language of what we use these days. I hear a lot of advisors talking about they wish they could scale more, and they want to scale. And I asked them what do they really mean by scaling, and it comes something in the effect of, "Well, just, I wish I could serve more clients and do a little bit more with the resources that I've got." I'm like, "Well, I don't really think of that as scaling. Look, if you want to scale up, like just hire a whole bunch of people and do more stuff for more people and it'll scale up as it grows." And they're like, "Well, no, no, no, then I got to hire people and manage people and salary. And who wants to do that?"
And so, I've started making this distinction. There's a difference between scaling, like scaling a business and adding people and capacity and the management and everything that goes with that, and simply leveraging yourself and saying, how do I get myself to the point where I'm just doing the work that is the highest, biggest, best impact in the business that drives it forward, that's financially very successful for the business. But it doesn't necessarily mean I have to go hire a whole bunch of people, or at least a whole bunch of full-time people.
And I know you've lived a particularly extremely successful version of this of building a contractor team around yourself to be able to get up to almost $80 million under management as a pure solo advisor. And so, I'm excited today to talk about this journey of how you keep leveraging yourself up to be able to get more out of the practice without necessarily needing to go down the road of hiring more and more and more people.
Bridget: Sure, and it's been an evolution. I know we talked a little bit about that offline, but I never wanted to...I didn't want complexity. I didn't want to have any employees. Just like you said, I didn't want the whole 9 yards, the W-2, the whole... the taxes, the 401k. I didn't want any of that. And I am not a... my gift is not managing people. But as I built this business, the more clients you take, the more overwhelming it gets, right? And then you get to the point where you're like, you know, what am I going to do with this because there's only 1 of me, and I never wanted this to be totally complicated. And then the second you add a W-2 employee, your whole world rocks.
But I do really believe that this is an amazing industry where you can be a solo like me and outsource everything and it allows you to do really good work without adding the crazy complexity of a staff.
Starting From A Small Book Of Business To Build WealthChoice With Outsourced Vendor Support [07:21]
Michael: So, help us understand just the advisory firm as it exists today. Can you paint a little bit of a picture of how that business is situated for you at this point?
Bridget: Sure. So, this is actually my seventh-year anniversary this week, and I have a fee-only planning firm, WealthChoice. And when I launched this in 2016, I had been an employee at a fee-only RIA, super frustrated about a bunch of things. My client base is women execs, and I really wanted to serve these women the way I thought they were best served. And that took time, and time is money, right? So, I felt that to do the work to help these people, I needed to be able to spend time on budgets and cash flow and career planning and coaching. And where I was as an employee, that wasn't really an option. And I also found out that I was paid significantly less than my male peers, which I was not okay with.
So, long story short, I launched my own practice really just to serve women just like me, executive women, the way I thought they were best served, and have control over my destiny and my paycheck.
So, where I am now, 7 years in, I have almost $80 million of assets under management. Like I said, we're fee-only. So, we do ongoing financial planning and investment management for our clients. And we have a super specific niche. It's women attorney partners, women in tech, and women business owners and we stay true to that niche, which means we refer lots of folks away.
And really, we try to be their partner. All of our clients are crazy busy. They're breadwinner women. And so, they delegate to us the financial piece and we hold them accountable. They're super busy. They're raising kids. They're taking care of aging parents now. And they're bringing in the money. And oftentimes, they just don't even know where it goes. And so, if they ever want to have this lifestyle at some point where they're not working, we're helping them figure out how to do that.
So, with my business, I have about 68 client families I serve. They're national. My business is virtual, and it always has been. So COVID was actually even better to reinforce with the few clients who thought they needed to see me in person that they didn't really need to see me in person. So, our women are all over the country. It's 100% referral at this point, which is really awesome. And so, we just...I consider us a super high-touch firm. And the only way that I can truly do that is to delegate away a lot of the work.
So, I have, I call my team. So, everything in my world is outsourced. It's my outsourced compliance team, outsourced trading team. My CIO is outsourced. They created all the models for my portfolios. I have a great executive assistant who lives in Washington State. I have an amazing operations team that's based in L.A., but they're all over the place. And truly, without those folks, there would be no way that I could serve the clients. There's only 1 of me. But that has made it really awesome.
Michael: So, I'm just trying to think through this list. So, they're... I'm envisioning a circle with you in the middle and then all these spokes coming off of it of the different things that have been outsourced and delegated out. So, I want to make sure I follow these. So, there's compliance, there's trading for the execution of portfolios, there's, I think I heard CIO of doing the investment research and building the models. There's an executive assistant and then there's the operations team. Is that the 5 spokes off the hub as it were?
Bridget: Yeah, I think that's accurate. And then, of course, we're using...I use Advyzon for portfolio management performance and they interface with my trading team. And we use eMoney here for financial planning. I use Income Lab. I use Holistiplan. So, you've got all your different resources out there, but I am the only one who's doing the planning. And so yeah, it's kind of like a quarterback deal where you put together this awesome team that's going to support you in all these ways. And so, I'm still running… you're running the business. I have a bookkeeper. You actually have to show up and have the business part that you manage. But by having this team in place, it allows me to spend my time on the planning part for my clients.
Michael: So then tell me a little bit more about who's doing what on the outsourcing end. Can I ask who are you using in all these various categories and how you picked and found them?
Bridget: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. So just a little backstory. When I launched WealthChoice, I was originally attached to a rollup. And I paid 20 basis points to have access to the custodians. And at that time, they used Black Diamond and pretty marginal E&O. And so, I did that. And also, they had a compliance piece, too. So, I was afraid, when I launched the business, to do those things. I thought, for sure, I'm going to mess this up somehow. I'm going to mess up the compliance. I don't know this space. I just know financial planning. And so, I started by...my go-to was, okay, I'm going to delegate these things I know absolutely nothing about. And I realized a year into it, I'm paying a lot of money for very little support. And for support that I didn't really...I wanted to choose different solutions. But that wasn't an option.
So, I actually have a friend who has her own financial planning firm. And we decided that we would band together and put together this suite of resources that we would share. And by sharing it, economies at scale, it's cheaper for the 2 of us. So collectively, the 2 of us, we went out and we just spent a year doing due diligence on every one of the resources that we have. So, it wasn't just me. It was me and this partner. And we wound up launching a platform that kind of encapsulates all these resources.
But it was really, we set out to just find everything you could possibly outsource. So, we used...we settled on Advyzon, who does portfolio performance for us. Great company. I have no complaints. They're awesome. And...
Michael: Are you using them just on the software end or the actual investment management end? Because I know they launched a separate TAMP layer on top of the software.
Bridget: Yeah, true, they have, and we've talked to them about that. But at this point, we use them for CRM and just the portfolio performance part.
Bridget: We brought in a CIO. So outsourced CIO who does our portfolio management because we didn't want a TAMP, Michael. We wanted something that was much more custom. I just struggle with having to blow a client out of investments if I don't really have to do that. So wanted a more custom solution and we got that in place. That's called East Bay. And a couple of guys run East Bay and so they're our outsourced CIO team. I actually really wanted good E&O. I know that sounds ridiculous, but as a solo, I wanted really good insurance. I wanted cyber. I wanted anything that could possibly go wrong to be covered and that's expensive. So, we brought in a company called Box, and Box is really good and they're in our space. Chad Ramberg runs Box Insurance for RIAs.
Bridget: Really good resource. So, they work with us on excellent insurance. Compliance, we have an outsourced compliance team, it's called FPA based in Rhode Island. And again, we wanted a partner, we didn't want to just be a number. We wanted to really have people who you can have a conversation with, who have the time of day for you. So, you'll notice these tend to be smaller. Okay, Advyzon is kind of big. But our solutions tend to be on the smaller side because we actually wanted a partner.
We have an operations team. It's a virtual operations team for our industry called VPG, Virtual Partner Group. And they do all the custodial paperwork. They are interfaced with the custodians and our clients. They're terrific. And my outsourced executive assistant is through a company called Athena. Athena provides really good support to our industry. And she does everything client-related. So, the trading team's called Advisor Logistics. They are based in San Antonio. And really, they were actually brought in. They were introduced to us by our CIO, East Bay. So, Advisor Logistics does all our trading, which I really like because if you think about this, a client needs cash raised for whatever. I don't have to do it. I can just send in a ticket and say, "Hey, could you please nicely raise cash for this client?" And they'll look at what the investments are, and they'll do that for us.
Or if we do tax loss harvesting, they'll say, "Okay, here's exactly what you're looking at." And I don't have to spend any time on that. And that was the last piece I actually gave up. I struggled with giving up control of the trading. I don't know why. Just, I came to the industry actually 30-something years ago as a trader. And just, it was the last part that I gave up and it was the best decision I could have made.
Michael: Because you really didn't like doing the trading or because now it's just nice that when a client asks, you just tell them, and they make it happen?
Bridget: Totally. It's a total time suck. It really is. For you to stop what you're doing and say, okay, yeah, I'm going to pivot over here and I'm going to look at everything you have and I'm going to make the smartest decision on what to sell. It's just really great to have a team who that's all they do. And there's a few people on the team. And if there's a tax consequence, they're going to say, "Hey, Bridget, here's what you need to look at." I mean, it's super conversational. Yeah.
Michael: I was going to ask. How does that work when I mean just, they don't know the client at the end of the day? You know your client. So, trades could have tax consequences in particular. There may be particular client constraints that are specific to a client, and they don't necessarily know the client. So just how does that work or how do you...
Michael: How involved do you have to stay at the right level so that we don't end out with a trade error, or something done that wasn't supposed to get done?
Bridget: Yeah, hence my total stress about delegating it away. But they...
Bridget: Right? Because those are all the questions you have and you're like, well, nobody can do this better than me because I know my people. But...
Michael: Well, and it's on your ADV so you're still the first in line to get sued if something goes wrong.
Bridget: This is true. And so, Advisor Logistics actually built out an amazing platform. So, when you go in and you have a trade that you're going to send, it's through this platform. And there's a bunch of questions you're answering. And then there's text where you're telling them, "Hey, here's some important things for you to know." Because a lot of my clients are women in tech, we've got protected stock positions. So, they'll create equivalence in a model around some of the positions that we might be keeping or working on. So, it really is communicative, Michael.
And it's really great. We have RMDs for clients or QCDs or whatever you're doing. It's just the way that relationship works with us, they are very communicative, and they built out a really good platform. And things... there's a lot... there's overcommunication. I don't think that they want any issues. So, it is super rare to have a trade error.
Michael: And can I ask, what do you pay for this? How do they charge? I mean, is it still TAMP-style basis point pricing, or is there another payment culture to it?
Bridget: Yeah. So, that is a really good question because all of these resources, right, every single person I just mentioned is bundled into this package, if you will. And that's this other company that I have with my partner, Equita Financial Network. And that is... So, the way I pay for it is there's a percent of AUM that you pay, and that covers trading and the CIO, that part. And then there's a quarterly fee for all the operation stuff. So that's how we pay.
Michael: Wait. Break that down again. So, there's a percentage of revenue for which parts? For trading?
Bridget: Trading and portfolio management. So, whatever your AUM is, and so we custody at Schwab right now, apparently, no more TD, but whatever your AUM is...
Michael: Formerly TD Ameritrade. Got it.
Bridget: Yeah. That percent, it covers the trading and portfolio management part. And then in addition to that, there's a separate quarterly fee that you pay that covers all of the rest, all the operations stuff. So, we separated it out that way because it winds up if you have a small firm and you have low AUM, we're not going to hit you with a huge fee.
Michael: So, can I ask what that comes out to or what that comes out to at your size at $80 million under management? What the percentage is on trading or what the flat fee is for other stuff?
Bridget: Yeah, so it's a little different for my firm because I own the company.
Bridget: And because of my $80 million, the total amount of assets under Equita is $230M. And so obviously, 80 is a big chunk of that. And so, I wind up paying a disproportionate amount. But I'm okay with that. So, I'm paying a lot more than some of the smaller firms because I'm helping subsidize the company. If that makes any sense?
Michael: Yep, yep. And so, with the sort of implied cross-subsidy that's there, what does that come out to be? How does this price for a firm?
Bridget: Yeah. So, if you were not me, if you were just paying to be on the platform, it's 20 basis points is the AUM that covers the portfolio management piece and the trading. And then it's $1,500 a month for everything else. So, you pay $4,500 in advance, quarterly, for everything else. So if you're doing a financial plan, there's no...you keep 100% of that. Really, the object is to cover the costs. And this is not a moneymaker. This is how do we do good work where other women can do what I'm doing, right, just build the business whatever you want it to look like.
Because what we haven't talked about yet is when you launch this, when you launch your practice, it is stressful, it is expensive, it's lonely. And it's nerve-wracking because you have people's lives that you have to take care of, but you're also trying to figure out, well, how do I cobble together these good resources and pay for it.
Michael: Right. So functionally, you've kind of routed this through Equita to get a little bit more as economies scale, but then Equita, I guess, has agreements with East Bay, with Box, with financial planner's assistance, with VPG to engage the compliance, the CIO, the various services. And so, they get to buy at proverbial wholesale rates and... They get to buy at wholesale rates, and then advisors kind of pay the retail rate, and Equita can operate on the difference between the 2 and pass some of the cost savings through.
Bridget: Yeah, that's exactly it. That's exactly it. Because otherwise, any one of these solutions would be too expensive. I mean, I know even because WealthChoice has a decent amount of AUM, for me to carve out the money that I would need for just the CIO or just the training team would be a huge chunk. And so, yeah, it's by sharing the economies of scale. It becomes cheaper for all of us. And that has really helped revenue for my firm.
When you think about WealthChoice, just to be able to minimize the costs by sharing these resources, it allows me to take more home.
Michael: And so, is that also kind of the typical profile within Equita is other financial advisors who want to run highly leveraged solo practices, focusing on the planning, letting go of the investments and ops and the rest and that's who plugs in well to the platform?
Bridget: So, it really depends. It's interesting. So, it's whatever you want it to look like. There's 1 firm on the platform that's growing like crazy, and they have 3 W-2 employees. And so, her solution is to just add...the woman who's running that firm, she's adding advisors. Those are her employees. They're all planners. And the rest of the business is all completely outsourced using...leveraging the solutions on Equita. But she is building a big ensemble firm. And a lot of her revenue is now derived from just subscription retainer fees. So, which is fine. I mean, that's how she wants to build her business, which is cool.
And in my case, I'm adding one W-2 employee against my better judgment in January of '24, because I'm at this point where I needed to make a change like that, and I wanted a planner. But there are other women on the platform who have no intention of having any employees. They are, like you said, leveraged solo firms and they love it, and that's what they're going to stick with.
Michael: So, now talk to us about this interesting transition that you've highlighted. So, notwithstanding the run you've had to almost $80 million as a pure solo kind of leveraging yourself with all the outsourcing options available, now you're adding a W-2. So, what's the trigger to say, okay, but now I am adding a W-2? Is it just the leveraging thing only goes so far before you just still run out of room?
Bridget: You know what? It's a combination. So, I had been told years ago that when you as a solo get to 35 million of assets under management, you need to start adding people. You needed to start at... So, 35 million came and went and I was like, you know what? I really don't want to add in a planner. I love this work, I want to do it myself, I can handle it. And I just worked more and more and all the time. And you know what? I was really hesitant to delegate away.
I mean, think about this. I was a couple of years into this business before we did Equita, before I did have all those resources and you're doing all these other things. So, I did not want to delegate it. I didn't want to... I wanted to do it all. And so, as a result, you have no life. So, where I am with the business now, I really have been at capacity for a couple of years and then I would intentionally take on a new client and then somebody might not be a good fit anymore. But it was really a struggle to take on more clients. And I got to a point...
Michael: And that...
Michael: And that number for you, is that I think you said you were at 68 client families, so something like 65 to 70 wobbling up and down was the threshold for you?
Bridget: Pretty much, yes. That was the breaking point if you want to call it that. And just… So, I have a daughter, she's 26. She's actually in tech in a finance role. And we've been talking about this for a few years, and I think she is really well-suited for our industry. She's super empathetic and super smart. And she's actually taken all the CFP courses. And so, she's going to transition over here. And I think my goal is to have somebody who's like a clone of me. I don't plan to leave the industry.
I think we as solos, we have the greatest job. We have the greatest capacity to run a business however you want. We can do this till we can't, right? I mean, I never want to retire, Michael. But I want to be able to step away on occasion and not feel tremendous guilt, which is kind of how you feel as a business owner. You feel like you're supposed to be there for everybody all the time.
And so, we do that because we do really good work for people. But there's this life and at the end of this, we're all dead. So, I want to make sure along the way that I can carve out some personal time, which is very hard as a business owner.
Michael: And I guess that's still part of the constraint in a highly leveraged outsourcing world. They can do a lot of stuff for you, but you still have to direct them. So, the requests still come to you before you can let it go to someone else.
Bridget: They do. And I'm doing the financial planning and, of course, I'm interfacing with the portfolio management team on the investment, so you're still present. You still have a lot of work to do. I mean I come in here every morning at 7:00 in the morning and I've got a list. I have this pad with this list I'm like, okay, so this is today.
So, I want to be able to keep going. I want to not burn out. And I think that where I am right now is to have somebody come in who can be a junior planner, who can be another set of eyes, who can learn the business and be able to step in if I want to step away for a little bit. And by a little bit, I'm talking about go on vacation for 2 weeks and not feel like anyone is in a bad place because I'm not at the office.
Michael: And I'm struck. So, part of this capacity dynamic, you had said you had tensions with the prior firm about being able to serve clients the way you wanted and the depth you wanted. So, am I inferring right that basically you're finding the capacity for how you serve your clients puts you at this 65 to 70 client cap and the prior firm wanted you to be a bigger number but you need to take on more clients?
Bridget: For sure, yeah, yes. When I was an employee of an RIA, their business model... They were publicly held. They became publicly held. And the model was you bring in X amount, I think it was 15% or 20%, year-over-year growth that they were obligated to have. That's really hard to do. And you certainly can't be serving those clients that you're bringing in if your whole purpose is to bring in clients, right? I'm a financial planner. My joy is out of planning. It's fun to bring in new clients, new challenges, right? But that was what we were tasked with doing. It was all about money.
And my clients are busy women. Some of them need budgets. Some of them need a real plan around the business part. And there wasn't that kind of time. And so, yeah, I would say for my 68 families, these are complicated clients. And I try to meet with them several times a year, but I want to be available anytime. I had a client reach out to me about 2 weeks ago and she said, "Okay, Bridget, I'm negotiating this new job offer. Here's what it looks like. What do you think?" And I want to be able to sit down and spend time on that and talk to her about, "Hey, maybe you want to ask more for equity. Or this is what you're leaving behind you."
I want to have those conversations because they're going to make a difference to my clients. And unfortunately, that wasn't really possible as an employee at this other firm, which is fine, but that's not the kind of work I'm going to do.
So really, when I look at my client base, you could even say probably at 60 clients, I probably should have started looking for help and I just worked more. So, where I am now, I definitely need someone who can at least help me with some of this planning work.
Michael: And so, just for what you said earlier of not wanting to manage people and not having the W-2 obligations, how do you think about it now that you are crossing the Rubicon of taking on a W-2 salary commitment?
Bridget: I have to tell you, I am so conflicted. Really, I love the business the way I built it. I don't really want complexity. I'm not very good at managing. I'm just not. I'm very... I feel like I'm really hard on myself, but that's because you're building a business and you want it to be successful and you want to do good work.
So, the W-2 thing, it throws a wrench in your business. So now I can't do a solo 401k. I actually have a real 401k and that requires, you know, redoing everything and bringing in a TPA and it's expensive. And things have to change and because there's an added expense with this, but there will be. I mean, I have to tell you, my plan is this is it, one W-2 employee. But I also feel like it's kind of bringing my business to the next level.
And when I've introduced my daughter to clients, so she sits in on our client meetings and I say, "Hey, here's a new set of eyes that we're going to have, which I think is going to help all of our planning," and it's also great for people to know that, you know, this is the future of WealthChoice. And I'm 60 this year. She's 26. There will be continuity. If anything should happen to me, we've already got something in place here. And I have had such amazing responses from my clients that really, it makes you feel like, okay, this is a really good decision.
Michael: So, clients recognize the continuity benefits.
Bridget: They do, and I think it's helpful to have a woman since our client base is all these women execs. And oftentimes, those clients have chosen to work with us because I have similar challenges as they do as a woman. And I think having that in my daughter kind of assures them, okay, it's going to be the same sort of focus, right, and somebody who can really relate to their issues.
Michael: So as you went this journey, when you left the old firm to launch this, were there clients that were able to come with you in that transition or did you have to start over and reset?
Bridget: So, I had to start over from pretty much almost 0. So, I had signed a contract with them, and basically, you leave, and you just walk out the door. And for some bizarre reason, when I took that job, I had in my contract... I had come from a wirehouse, and I had a very tiny book because I had only been working for a couple of years when I moved to that RIA. And I had in my contract that if I ever left, I could take those clients from that wirehouse. And so, they honored that, and they weren't very many. But I was able to take a couple people with me. It was less than $10 million of AUM. But it was better than nothing.
And then that was it though, Michael. I was not allowed to take anybody else. I couldn't solicit them. It was a broker protocol firm for what that's worth. But essentially, I walked out the door, and I just had to make it work.
Michael: So how do you make it work? What would you do? You're coming to this. I've got many years of experience, some knowledge, and awareness of my community, but I have to start over.
Bridget: Yeah, it is really, really nerve-wracking. So, it's hard because I had 2 kids in college and a mortgage and my husband said, "Man, I hope this works." So, my father runs a company, he still does, he's 86, totally unrelated industry. But he had said, "Okay, you need a business plan, and you need to figure out how much revenue you're going to generate by when and how many clients you need to bring in. Really think it through."
And so, I did that. You're still starting from 0 and it's... But somehow, you have a plan. And so, I had those numbers and I just tried to get out there. Now, I was allowed to link in with my clients before I departed that firm and I was allowed to announce where I was and if clients found you, they could come to you, right? They could come to you if they could find you. So that was pretty neat. And I had clients who found me and that was great. But you really just...
Michael: So, you didn't reach out? You didn't private message them on LinkedIn to ask them?
Michael: But you just, public announcement on LinkedIn, "Hey, I've launched my new business WealthChoice," and if they happen to be connected with me and see it, that's the LinkedIn algorithm.
Bridget: That's how I was advised to do that by my attorney. And, no, I wasn't allowed to contact them. I was not allowed to. But if they saw a message and they knew where I was, that was all good. So yeah, so we did that. And some people found me, which was really good. And I just got out there again. The way I had basically built my practice, if you will, as an employee at that RIA was by speaking at companies, by speaking at women's organizations, by writing a lot. I would offer to speak at any women's professional organization in the book.
Publishing Corner Office Choices As A Marketing Tool For Female Executives [36:22]
Bridget: And I wrote a book actually, 2 years in, which super helped credibility. And also got me invited to speak at a lot of other women's business organizations all over the place. So, I was in full-on business development mode.
Michael: So, what was the book?
Bridget: So, the book is called Corner Office Choices. And it's a book I wrote for planners, like me, who serve women execs, but also for women executives themselves. And it's focused on what I consider the 4 derailers, the 4 financial issues that women executives have between financial success or not. And yeah, so I wrote that book 2 years into WealthChoice.
Michael: So how does that come together? Just are you that writing-oriented? Do you have a background of how to actually make a Word document into a book?
Bridget: So, I needed a little help. So, I actually love to write, and I always wrote my blogs and my newsletters, which was also part of the marketing for WealthChoice. I had a pretty robust marketing campaign. And it was all me, by the way, because there was no money in the beginning. So, I would send out a newsletter. I had curated a list of all these women over the years who I would just reach out to. So, I'm sending blogs. I'm sending my newsletter.
And the deal with the book was I had this vision. I knew the content, but I didn't necessarily know how to organize my thoughts. So, I hired a firm called Scribe. They had another name initially, but Scribe, you can hire them to help you put the words into the book. And so, it starts with they give you a person who helps you outline your thoughts, and then they give you a copywriter who helps you. You know they tape everything, so they get your voice, and they help you. They help write the content in your voice.
It was a great experience. So, I did that and took about a year to write the book. And it's me writing. It's me writing, sending them things, and they're working through it to make it better. And so, that book, when that came out, really helped the business.
Michael: And so, what did it cost to have them do this for you and go through the process?
Bridget: Sure. It was $30,000 and that was 5 years ago. So, I don't know what it costs now, but I figured a way to get the money and I made a financial commitment. And I really felt like it was a great investment in establishing credibility for me and for the firm.
Michael: So, and that was the angle. It wasn't because, "I want to make back more than $30,000 on book sales."
Bridget: No, and I'm here to tell you I have not made $30,000 in book sales. So, I tend to give the book away. If I'm speaking for a company, I will buy the book, and I will give the book away because I feel like it's a great tool for these women, and it's really good marketing for me. So no, it was an investment in the marketing for the company. And I really felt like it helped credibility.
Michael: Interesting. Interesting. And then just giving it away because it's like a hardcover business card.
Bridget: For sure. Yeah. And I would tell everybody, no matter where I've spoken, and Microsoft, you name it, wherever you speak, I would just say, "If you have a question, you reach out to me, and I will help you." I'm not giving financial planning, but I'm giving them direction. Here's where you can go, here's somebody you can find who's a planner by you, or here's the way you can get started.
And in the book, I include every deliverable that I use for a client, right? Whether it's a spreadsheet for cash flow, or my one-page plan, anything that these folks could use to help themselves. I gave it all away because I figured, you know what? There's plenty of business for everybody, but this is 1 way where I can actually help these women help themselves.
Michael: So, then tell us more about just what you were doing to get clients in and flowing in the early years. It sounds like there's a lot of trying to find opportunities for speaking, using the book as credibility to get speaking. But what were you speaking about and who were you speaking for?
Bridget: Sure. Yeah. It was usually about the financial challenges that women executives have. That's really it. So, the book covers... I identified 4 that I think are really important. And one is not knowing what your priorities are. I have this... I meet with these women, they have a list a mile long of, "These are all the things that are important to me." And really getting your head around, well, how much do those each cost and what's really a priority so we can actually have a game plan? Because they're too fractured and busy to really spend time to think about these things.
And the next thing is, where does the money go that you earn? You make great money, but where is it? So going through spending with these folks and having them choose where is it more intentional for them to spend the money. Is it more important for you to save for your child's college or to spend 20 grand at Nordstrom? So, until they knew where the money's going, they couldn't make those choices. So, we spend a lot of time with many of these folks on that.
And then we went into the career piece is huge. So, I work with a number of different business coaches around the country so that I can refer clients to them for help. But just like we as entrepreneurs have a plan around our business, what is the plan that woman has around her career if that is the income-generating source she has? So, we talk about that and options there.
And then the last part is, okay, so you've gone through all this, so what's your plan of action? And having a written plan where you can take incremental steps. Because if you give these women a list of steps, they just shut down. Because it's just too much. It's more work for them. So, let's prioritize what has to happen and chunk off 3 for the next 6 months. Let's focus on these things and really help folks be accountable. So that's what I speak about.
So, to answer your question, when I would go to any of these organizations, I'm sharing this information for them. And invariably, you would have folks want to talk to you about working with you. And so really, it's been super helpful to build the business.
Michael: And so, that's kind of the linking is this is what matters to my target clientele. This is what I speak about. This is what I cover in the book. This is what I do for them in practice. Just it's all the same core focus that carries through.
Bridget: Yes, that's right. It is really focused on the niche. It's really focused on what are their problems, what are the solutions that I see, how do we help them.
Michael: Yeah. Well, and it makes sense to me. There is a level of, yeah, set your goals, know where your money goes, and have a plan that's, well, a lot of us do that in the financial planning context in general. But it strikes me just how you frame this relative to someone who's in an executive position. So much of what you do as an executive at the end of the day is try to make sure everyone's clear about what the priorities are, allocating resources to align to the priorities, and then setting plans of action forward to actually make the things happen where the resources go where the priorities are.
Bridget: Yeah. And now, there's other parts, right? There's nuances to that. So, I have one client who runs a very large PR company, and we almost sold that company. And I was part of that earlier this year where I met with the suitor and I put together the team of the business attorneys and the CPA, everybody running the numbers on this company. So, you have these nuances with that niche, right? These business owners and her exit plan is we're going to sell this business. And so, to help them with that and to back into, okay, you need to net this for your financial future. And if this isn't what you're going to net, you can't sell this company. That kind of stuff really, it's still specific to the niche, but then we have these funky parts that different parts of my client base will have different kind of specialized needs.
Service Model [44:44]
Michael: So, can you talk to us a little bit more then about just what the service model looks like, how you do what you do, and the people you do it for?
Bridget: Sure. So actually, every year I have a theme with my business, and last year was delegate. This year is client service. Last year was delegate. And I say that because I was really at capacity, and I'm crazy busy. And I found that my process was not the same for every client. And so, I had a new assistant, and I said, "Okay, so we are going to come up with workflows for every single thing we do so that it's actually repeatable." Because I have these little spreadsheets, and I would always find a reason why there's a one-off with a client, which is not helpful.
So, the way we work now is when we get a new client on, there's this fabulous new client workflow. And what I do with my clients is every client is required to have a deep-dive financial plan. And we charge $4,500 and it takes several months. We do a slew of meetings. I start from clarity meetings where we're just asking questions to a deep dive meeting of, okay, here's everything I see. Let's really focus on what your priorities are to a risk management meeting, to a tax meeting. So, we chunk it up into bite sizes so these folks can focus.
But we start with the financial plan. And then once that plan is basically delivered... And by that, I mean we've had the risk management meeting, the tax meeting, all these different meetings where we feel like, okay, we totally have clarity around this person, this family. Then for all intents and purposes, that client switches to a percent of AUM fee moving forward. And so, we charge quarterly in advance. And everything that I have, every partner, every expense that I have is covered by that percent of AUM.
So, moving forward, that's how clients will pay me. But like I said, we're super high touch. And so, we're doing things... Every quarter, I have a quarter client focus, and maybe it's estate planning, maybe it's, "I need you to have this incapacity document filled out," because I just went through a thing with another client. So, we'll have some sort of a value add, if you will, every quarter for a client. In addition to the fact that we're meeting with clients, now throughout the year, twice a year, for planning meetings, just to check in, "Hey, how's it going? What are things we should be working on?"
Michael: So, I want to come back to the ongoing process in a moment. But take me back more to just this multi-month initial deep dive planning process with clients. So how many meetings? How does this flow? I mean if I come on board and I say, "Okay, Bridget."…Granted, I don't quite fit the women executive target market, but were I to be one… "Okay, Bridget, this sounds great. I want to hire you and become your client," so what actually happens first?
Bridget: Sure. So, what happens now, because we changed our process: we have a meeting, and it's called a document-gathering meeting. I actually stole this from you from a prior podcast on something that you had years ago. But we have this...
Bridget: Yeah, it was super helpful. We have a meeting where we go over together, over Zoom, here are all the documents I would like to collect and why. Here's how you're going to do it. I walk them through how to upload, and they're tasked with uploading every single thing we need. And then when they finish that, they send an email…
Michael: So, just be clear, you're not gathering the information in the meeting. You're preparing them for the documents they're going to need to gather and why and how to get them to you.
Bridget: So that's right. So, that's different from what you were doing. But yes, so that's what I've done. I've shifted to, instead of emailing the people a document checklist, we have a meeting, we talk about it together. Here's why I need this stuff. Here's how you're going to do it. And then you're going to upload this information. That's the first thing we do.
Michael: And they upload to eMoney vaults or something else?
Bridget: Yes, the eMoney vault, which has really become my go-to place. So, they upload to that. I feel like eMoney is pretty user-friendly, and that's why I'm using that. And then when that is all up and in there, I do analysis of everything that they have given me. I input into eMoney any data, and I start just a worksheet of questions. It's just questions about every single thing these people have shared, whether it's estate planning, insurance, you name it, everything that they've uploaded.
And our next meeting is called a clarity meeting, where I will ask them questions. So, I have clarity around everything they've shared. So, there's no analysis. It's just been a 30,000-foot view of me saying, "Okay, here's what I see. Why is this like that?" And so, I will get... That's usually a 45-minute call. And just cash flow questions, balance sheet, risk management, taxes, everything I've been through. "Tell me about, how did you make those investment decisions?"
So go through all that. And then the next meeting is I take everything. I now have clarity, and I can actually do analysis. And I usually will ask for at least 2 weeks where I will go through everything. And then I do what we call our initial financial plan. And that is balance sheet, cash flow, investment observations, and retirement, and career. So, I focus on all the things that they've shared in those buckets.
The goal of that meeting, which is a pretty deep dive, is to come out of that... It's about an hour and a half meeting. I do this because I'm not going to send them a 55-page document. And I tell them this is the most intense meeting we're going to have, because I want you to understand the background of what I'm going to share with you and why we're going to do what we're going to do over the next few years together, right? Hopefully your life.
But this is the deep dive. It's not really death by data, because I really try to just share what they will understand or need to know. But do all of this analysis. At the end of that call, the end of that meeting, we have some action items, things I need them to think about. And I'll give them a couple weeks to think about these things, and we'll have our next meeting, which is my risk management meeting.
And the reason I do these separate meetings is it's too much to do it all in one meeting. It's overwhelming. So, my risk management meeting, I will have gone through all the insurance, every insurance policy, life insurance, health insurance, whatever, and share my observations and any suggestions we see. I'll also go through all their estate docs. If there are none, that's a really good talking point. But prenup, anything that they have, we'll go through that and just get clarity around that.
And obviously, depending on where their estate is, there may be estate tax issues that we're going to need to have a plan for. Hey, is there anything that you have in place for this now? So, the estate planning, the insurance pieces, and then taxes. And we use Holistaplan, which is great, but not 100%.
So, my biggest partner is my client's CPA. So, I will have conversations with those folks about, "Hey, here's what I see. You know, what do you think we can do? What are some options for these clients to minimize taxes?" Because overwhelmingly, these people have told me that that's a really big goal for them. How do we minimize taxes? And that actually came up more and more, which is why we just brought Holistaplan into our practice last year.
Michael: So, does that end the process?
Michael: Or or the meeting process continues? So, what comes next?
Bridget: No. Yeah. And then the next one I just call a solutions meeting. So okay, these are all the different steps we said we're going to work on. Obviously, we're going to prioritize these things. So now let's get going. And at that meeting, we have a deliverable that's the first time these clients are going to see this, but they're going to see it every single time we meet after that. I called the plan summary. It used to be a one-page plan. It's now 2 and a half pages. But it's...
Michael: So, you don't call it one-page financial plan anymore because it's not actually 1 page. It's a plan summary.
Bridget: No, it totally used to be. I struggle with that because I had this awesome one-page plan that I really liked because I was like, oh, it's all on 1 page. It's super simple. But I needed more meat. And for myself too, because I don't want to forget anything. So, it's kind of evolved. It's totally evolved. And now it's really 2 and a half pages.
Michael: As these things do.
Bridget: But I like it.
Michael: So, what's in the plan summary? What do you cover in your slightly more than one-page financial plan?
Bridget: Yeah. So, my plan summary starts with, these are your financial intentions. These are the things you said, or your financial purpose, were super important to you. This is what's driving everything we're doing. So, a couple bullet points with that. Then we have a little spreadsheet kind of area where we add current net worth versus net worth last time we met. We talk about why is that important.
And then it's the numbers, right? So, I've got their retirement portfolio value, their investment values, how much they're saving, right? Here's what you're putting into your 401k profit-sharing plan, your employer stuff. All the numbers. I do your projection of, okay, so if this is what you're going to do forever and you retired at 65, this is what the portfolio would look like, and let's say we took out 4.5%.
So, I start with these numbers and then we dig into details. And so, I'll have, okay, let's talk about risk management and retirement planning. And each area of financial planning has its own paragraph and bullet points. And every time we meet, we're going to update this. Maybe there's something new. Maybe they just moved, or they bought a new car. Do we need to review liability coverage? Or, what's going on with life insurance? So, whatever it is...
Michael: These are ongoing action items that we're working on?
Bridget: Yes, some are. And some are just like, okay, well, here's the story. You said you wanted to save $50,000 every year in your investment portfolio, but you're not. And here's the implications of that. So, it's really... Which, hence, 2 and a half pages. But I wanted to have a little bit more detail in this. And so, hey, here's what happened to your taxes. You just filed them. This is what I saw. We had a tax loss carry forward and here's what's left. And here's why we did that.
So, each one of these financial planning sections, I will update when we meet so that they see where we are. And it ends with, okay, here's the action items. And so just a handful of things that are priorities that we're going to focus on.
And interestingly enough, Michael, I had listened to some webinar from one of our peers. And he had this really slick, awesome, one-page, very fancy summary like this. And I thought my clients will love this. It's concise. It gets to the meat of it. And it looks good. And I did this. I sent it to my top, my biggest clients. And I said, "Hey, what do you think?" This is a year ago. And they said, "We hate this. And it doesn't have the detail that we really like to see in our plan summary." So, I tried to make it less. And this is what my people like.
Michael: Okay. So, the fifth meeting it sounds like is sort of the wrap-up of the initial process. It culminates in the plan summary, which then becomes the document that you refresh with every meeting on an ongoing basis thereafter. This becomes a touchstone document.
Bridget: That's right. That's correct.
Michael: Let's revisit intentions. Let's look at how net worth is progressing. Let's check in on investment values. Are we still on track for retirement? What are the open planning items we're working on or issues we need to talk about?
Bridget: Absolutely. Yeah, that's exactly it. And then we're off and running.
Michael: So, how long does that whole process take? It just says you're going through essentially 5 planning meetings.
Bridget: So, it should take 2 and a half months. It really depends on the client. It depends on how quick they get the material, how available they are for meetings.
Bridget: But I would say 2 and a half months. It winds up being about a quarter when you think about it, from the time I start working with a new client to now we're just transitioned to... we've already...we delivered all this information and now the fees. It's they move to that percent of AUM fee structure. It's interesting. It seems like it always takes me about a quarter to do all this financial planning. So, I would say it's 2 and a half to 3 months.
Michael: Okay. And so, fee-wise, basically, they don't go to the AUM fee until they've gotten through this process.
Bridget: That's right.
Michael: And is that because are you literally waiting, you won't do any investment changes and implement the portfolio until you get to the end of the process? Or...
Bridget: No, we'll do it.
Bridget: No, we'll do it. I have... This is a long-term relationship with the client. This isn't like, "How fast can I charge them?" It's really not that. And so, no, oftentimes we've already...my team has the opened accounts, they've transitioned in money, we've made changes if we need to, but I won't charge. And I don't prorate. That's just my decision. We're not going to do that.
Michael: Okay. Because in the grand scheme of clients I work with for 10, 20, 30 years, the three-week proration is not really what matters in the grand scheme.
Bridget: I don't think so, right? It's really not about that.
Michael: Okay. And so, what does AUM fee structure look like for you? Are you at the proverbial 1% on a million or are you higher or are you lower?
Bridget: So, I am. So, I don't really have what you call a minimum, but if a client has less than $500,000 of AUM, then they're going to pay me a minimum fee, right? So, I don't need them to have the $500,000, but then they're going to pay me essentially, it's $5,000 a year, just charged quarterly. And so, for the $1.5 million of assets under management, we charge 1%, and then over $1.5 million, we drop it to 0.75%. And then over $2.5 million, it's .5%.
And I'll tell you, I lowered my fee a couple years ago. I increased my financial planning fee, and I lowered my AUM fee. I just feel like the planning work we're doing has just got deeper and takes a lot of time. And the AUM, that's not to say that's not expensive as well, but I just feel like that's a fair price. I'm good with that. I feel totally good with what we charge our clients.
Michael: So, then help me understand what the ongoing client process looks like. So, once I get through my five-meeting process, I've gotten through solutions, I got my plan summary delivered. How does this now start working on an ongoing basis?
Bridget: Sure. So, depending on when we met that client, we're going to trace it out 6 months for when we have our next planning meeting. Now, you know when you have a new client, you're talking to them all the time about other things. But on an ongoing basis, I will meet my A clients twice a year at the minimum. And if they're what I call B clients, so... And this goes back to capacity, right? There's only 1 of you. And initially, I was meeting with every client at least twice a year. And if you look at the plan summary that I just talked about, there is a lot of detail in this. This is not a I'm doing this in an hour thing. And that's intentional.
So, I found that I could not do it twice for my smallest clients. It was killing me. So, I've moved the smaller clients that I've categorized as B. And you're going to ask me, so what is a B client? That's evolving too. So, a B...
Michael: But the crux B clients are one meeting a year clients?
Bridget: Yes. And so, they're getting this, but they're checking in on other things randomly, which is totally fine. But the A clients are going to meet twice a year and they're going to do the plan summary and everything behind it, projections through eMoney, all these different...everything else that we're doing for them is twice a year for an A client.
Michael: Okay. And how do you try to draw the threshold between A and B? I know it's hard for all of us to.
Bridget: So hard. And really, it depends. It's like everything. I have some smaller clients that are amazing firm champions. They send me referrals that are wonderful, that are perfect, and I feel that maybe I should give them some more time. So, they may be small, but we talk more frequently. It has to be a cost thing, right? We're running a business. So, I really do... As my practice has gotten bigger my clients are young and they're all accumulators. So, they just add more and more money to their investments. So, it's shifted. And so, it's about 500,000, 750,000 really makes above that is going to be an A client. But it shifts, it evolves like everything else.
Michael: Right. And so, I guess functionally for you, it sounds like the threshold from B to A is some combination of asset size north of the 500 to 750k range or people who are active referrers and driving growth for the business where it still is a good deal for the business to keep investing into the relationship that way.
Michael: Okay. So, when you're doing these ongoing meetings one time per year for B clients, twice a year for A clients, what happens in those meetings? It sounds like, update the plan summary and bring it in as a big piece of it because you're talking through that. Is there other structure to how you set up the meetings or run the meetings or what you talk about? Or is that simply, "Tell me what's going on in your life and we're going to plan for it"?
Bridget: No. So, we use Calendly to schedule our client meetings, and they're scattered throughout the year. And we will send somebody...every client will get a draft balance sheet that we pull from eMoney, and we say, "Hey, we want this information sent to us," updated balances for everything before we meet. Because I'm going to run projections, and I want a meaningful meeting. So, we reach out to them for some information upfront.
And then my agenda for my clients looks pretty much the same all the time. And so, they know this. And we're going to start with, we call it look back. So, we're going to go back and clarify and confirm their goals. And I break it out into personal, professional, and financial because all my people are working. So, anything we need to know around those 3 things, anything that we need to plan for. We go over tasks. "Hey, these are outstanding tasks. How are we doing?"
Annually, I go over performance not more than once a year. And then we go into some numbers. Okay, where are you right now? We go over the balance sheet. Hey, what's going on there? We go over that plan summary in great detail. And then if I have run other reports for the client, so maybe they're in retirement, so we'll run an Income Lab report. I use Income Lab for my clients who are either in retirement or close to retirement. And it's essentially retirement planning, income planning around guardrails. If you're familiar with guardrails, that's kind of the premise behind what they're doing. But it's dynamic planning.
And I really like it because the challenge as a planner is you don't want people to run out of money, but you don't want them to leave everything on the table. And so, I feel that Income Lab will allow us to say you put in there all of the income sources a client has. So maybe it's pension, social security, portfolio, and the age of a client, and it will run through history and say, "Okay, based on historical performance of the market and the way these folks are invested, a time horizon, we believe they can take X out of this portfolio every year."
And so, it may mean let's say I can take 6% out before this client's going to be taking social security, whatever it is. It allows you to be more nimble. And if the market appreciates, and it will show you, hey, this, historically, this is what we've seen, then you can give that client an income raise. And, conversely, if the market tanks and is there for a specific period of time, you may have to say to that client, "Hey, we're going to need to cut spending." But it's a much more dynamic way of handling retirement income. And I love that.
And so, I incorporated that about a year and a half ago, and my clients, they really like it. I think it's because they feel like, hey, we can be a little bit...we can reward ourselves if the market's up, right? And they also know that we're going to have to make changes if it comes in. And I think as a planner, we become way more valuable for clients, because this is something that they need us to tell them. This is not something that they are capable of doing without us.
Michael: So, I want to make sure I understand this agenda flow. So, we do the lookback, personal, professional, and financial, tasks, what's open, what are we working on, performance once a year, let's check in on how the portfolio is doing, a broader look at numbers.
Bridget: Where you are now.
Michael: Right. Where you are now on the balance sheet. A review of the plan summary because you've got some additional financial details there. And then kind of digging into whatever the special reports are for their circumstances, Income Lab if they're retired, an education projection if they still have kids that are college age, whatever is specific to their circumstances.
Bridget: Right. And then we end with what we call look forward, which is, okay, what are we doing next, are there new goals that we've identified, and what are the steps we need to take around those, are there new tasks and saving and spending. And then we end with, okay, so here's what we just talked about and any questions.
And I always follow up. So that's my agenda. And we go through that with every client. And we start with, okay, is there anything you want to add to this, is there anything I've missed? We send a survey out, Michael, to our clients in advance of this. And we ask a bunch of questions, "Hey, what's really important for you to cover?" So, we know each person's, if there's anything outside of this, but we want to make sure that we're using this time the way they want.
Michael: So, I'm intrigued by this. So, what else is in your pre-meeting survey outreach? What else are you asking them?
Bridget: Well, we're asking them, "Hey, are you reading any of the stuff we're writing?" Because if you're not, I want to know. So, we're on some social media. We send out our newsletter. So, we want to know, are you following us, is this valuable or not. We want to know what are the most important things that you want to cover from a financial planning perspective this year, right? And then we'll give them choices, is it taxes, is it insurance? Try to figure out where those folks are and what the value is that they see us providing.
Anything major that's coming up, anything that they're really concerned about. Just a few basic questions. And that may not come up. And it's interesting because when we sent the survey out, we just started doing this last year, when we sent it out last year, we could not believe how many clients said that they wanted tax advice. And now I know the whole thing. We're not giving tax advice. But they wanted us to be able to provide planning, observations, and suggestions to minimize taxes. And it really was why we decided to focus more on that. They just said they want to know that we're really working on that.
Michael: So, I guess I'm trying to understand. Is this a once-a-year annual survey to clients, like an annual survey feedback thing? Or is this every meeting in advance of the meeting we send you this series of questions?
Bridget: So, every meeting in advance of the meeting, my assistant will send that survey out with a Calendly link. And we actually book the client. We don't let them choose when they're going to meet. So, we book the client, we send them that. Hopefully, they fill it out. Some people do, some don't. And then we send them the balance sheet and we ask for updated information.
Michael: Wait. Help me understand on booking them. So, I'm envisioning you've got some pretty busy hard-to-schedule clients. So, you don't give them choices. You just tell them, "Here's your slot, you're executives, figure out how to manage your calendar"?
Bridget: Seriously, we do that. And I know it sounds crazy.
Michael: That's awesome. I love this.
Bridget: I know. And I want to tell you how it works because for years, we would send them a link and they would not book. And you're chasing people down. And I have a friend who runs a planning firm. She said, "Bridget, no kidding. We just booked them. We booked them and they showed up." And I said, "Okay, so I don't know how that works." So last year, we started, and I know all my people are really busy. We booked them. We just say, "Here's your date." And we confirm it a million times and they show up. And it is so awesome, Michael, because...
Michael: And you don't even ask.
Michael: I got to presume once in a blue moon, someone just says, "Oh, I really can't do that, but..."
Bridget: They do. They do, and for them, there's a link on there. This is a Calendly link, and they can reschedule and then they'll do it. But I kid you not, it works.
Michael: Well, I guess, again, just it makes sense to me in the context of your clientele, folks that are executives, just their calendars are filled with meetings and the meetings are always fluid and being moved around based on whatever's going on in priority. So, you send them the booking meeting and that's apparently not negotiable because you just send a booking meeting. So, they tell an executive assistant, "Oh, Bridget took that slot a week from Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. You got to reschedule the other meeting."
Bridget: And you know what? They actually like it. I know it sounds crazy. But you know what? It is the greatest thing. It has made our life so awesome. Yeah.
Michael: So, you send them, "Your next meeting is coming up, here is your time. P.S., please take this survey to give us some feedback for the upcoming meeting and please look over this balance sheet and let us know if anything else needs to be updated."
Bridget: Exactly right. Yes.
Michael: Very cool.
Bridget: Yeah. So, the way we do our meetings, I've tried to create some boundaries. So, every other week, I block and have no client meetings and those are the weeks I do client meeting prep or other stuff for your business. So, I meet with clients every other week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And then I block out December, block out July, and you're doing other things in those months. But it's worked really well.
Michael: Interesting. I want to make sure I understand that. So generally, you alternate weeks. There's meeting weeks and the non-meeting weeks. Non-meeting weeks is either prep for the upcoming weeks or just time to work on the business. In meeting weeks, your meetings are stacked Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, but no Monday, Friday.
Bridget: That's correct.
Michael: And then you don't take meetings in July or December.
Bridget: That's right.
Michael: Just for personal life, vacation, and all that good stuff.
Bridget: Yeah. Now, I say no meetings in July, but what I had was 4 new clients that all came at the same time. So, I did financial planning for those clients in that month. That's just how it shook out. But if I didn't have that, I'm just not doing annual review kind of meetings. I'm keeping that month to do all the other things we have to do for business.
Michael: And when you do your meeting cycles, this every other Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I'm just curious, how much do you stack your meetings? How intense do you like to make those days when they're meeting days?
Bridget: That's another evolution. So, when I was doing surge, I was doing 4 meetings a day. And I found that I didn't like that. So, you are spent. And so, I do 2 meetings a day. I do 2 client meetings in a given day and I just find that that works really well.
Michael: Okay. So, you're factoring in 2 per day across the 3 days, 6 meetings per week in meeting weeks, and across the client base that you've got and the A client and B client commitments, that maps out for you over the span of the year.
Bridget: It does. And what that means is that you're basically having meetings all the time. Every week that's a meeting week, you're having meetings. They're booked. You're good to go. But I really like the way it's been spaced out, because I just found that I need time to do all this prep. And I want to take the time to do that.
The Surprises Bridget Experienced On Her Journey [1:13:31]
Michael: So, as you reflect back on this journey, what's surprised you the most about the path of building your own advisory business as you went out on your own?
Bridget: I would say there's a couple things. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I launched this company. Like everything else, that's evolved. At first, I thought I wanted to build the very biggest business possible. And just everybody would come to WealthChoice around the world, and I'd be helping every woman executive. And as I got into it, I realized actually, I love the planning piece. I didn't want to give it up, and I didn't really have a need to be this behemoth. That wasn't my purpose. So, when you look at the challenges, if you will, there's been so many. It is the most stressful thing in the world to launch a business and to know that you actually...I had to be successful. It was not an option to fail. I needed this to be financially successful. If it hadn't, I would have to have taken a job somewhere, right? I needed this to work.
So, I think not knowing how to run a business and then having the time to actually take care of your clients is the scary part, right? It's very, very hard to do everything. And I really felt in the beginning, I wanted to do everything, like I said. I was afraid of compliance. I was afraid of not doing something by the book. I do everything by the book. I just don't... We're in a serious industry. And just, I take that very seriously.
So initially, I only delegated a little bit because I was afraid of messing those things up. And then realizing I was paying a premium for next to nothing. And then I felt like, man, I have to take all this on myself. But how am I going to do that? Which is why I partnered with somebody to put together these resources.
I think having a solution around delegating all the stuff that's not my passion has allowed me to build the business the way it is. And I think you have to get out of your own head. I was really, really nervous building this. I was probably a total wreck for a couple of years because I really wanted it to work. And when you have had somebody pay your wages forever, I'd always been an employee, and now it's on you, it's a very different deal. And so, I just threw myself all in. I felt like it was... There's so much to do. But once I had it together where I had delegated stuff and I felt like I had really good solutions there... And even like I said, it's such an evolution and having last year where we created workflows.
I can tell you exactly what my process is for a new client. I couldn't have done that a year ago with conviction. But just spending time on, how do I make this better? How do I actually make the company more efficient? You change that. We did surges for 2 years, 3 years. And I realized that that was totally not what we're going to do anymore.
So, you pivot to things as they work better for you, and you try different things out. And I think as a business owner, that's the deal, right? You're trying different things. I mean, I'll read anything, I'll try anything. And then you have to sort of fit it on and see is this going to work for you or not. I think those are some of the challenges.
There's no 1 way to run a business like ours, right? Everybody I know who's doing what I do does it differently. And I think that's okay, right? You serve different people, you serve them a different way, you run your business differently. So, I think all that's to say there's a lot to run these businesses, but I think if you get efficiencies in place and you delegate it away, it's really rewarding.
Michael: So, I guess I'm just curious, what changed that now over the past year was the, okay, I'm getting this process stuff in place and systematizing it more, but hadn't cemented or you hadn't wanted to cement it, or you hadn't been willing to do that for the years leading up? Was there something that changed that last year was the process year?
Bridget: No. So, in 2020, I took coaching from Limitless. And it was the first time I realized that there were other companies and people were systematizing things and they were super intentional about every single part of the business. And so that is the first time where I was like, am I really true to my niche, right? Do I send people away who are not the right people? Do I actually have a repeatable process? And do I like my fee structure?
I did a review of every single part of the business. And it's a little overwhelming. There's a lot to look at. And some stuff I sacrificed. But it was then in 2020 where I realized that other people running these businesses had ways to make this easier for you. Because otherwise, just, I'm all over the place. Because I didn't know. I mean there's no blueprint to how to do this.
And then I have a friend who also a few years into her business, who was really good at systematizing. And she was doing workflows on Asana. I mean, she was like, "Bridget, this is how I'm solving these problems." And that's when I said, "Okay, I want to do this, but I don't know how to do this, and I need help to do this." So, when I finally brought on the right assistant, she was able to create all those processes as workflows for me and I use Advyzon for that.
But so, it was a combination of things, Michael. It was first learning that there's a better way to do these things. And then actually having a friend who is another planner who's doing this in her practice. And she shared, "Hey, these are the different resources I'm using to help with these things." So, I think sharing among peers is incredibly helpful. And then it just started.
Michael: And I'm struck that part of it at the end of the day was, "And then I got a person who likes making these because I don't like making them." I feel resonance for that as someone who also, I so respect and appreciate a well-designed systematized process. I can't stand making them myself.
Michael: Just, I can't do it. I put our company on Asana, and I don't know how to build anything in it.
Bridget: No, I don't either. And so, I paid for that and I'm like, if you figure that out, that's awesome. And we actually wound up migrating it all to Advyzon because we can build workflows in there too. But no, I do not know how to use Asana. I just knew it was like a way for people to do this. But yeah, that's kind of how it worked.
Michael: And the assistant is from the operation support you get from VPG?
Bridget: No, this is my executive assistant who is just really good at that kind of stuff. So, because I consider that client stuff, right, so that's my workflows that are client-facing and she created those workflows. We did it together. But essentially, she created them and then I reviewed them. But no VPG will do my custodial paperwork, will do anything on that operation side. But really, mostly interfacing with the custodian and the client.
Michael: Okay. So, they're the, "I don't want to have to call my custodian support."
Bridget: That's exactly it.
Michael: Whereas your executive assistant was the, let's systematize the client experience.
Bridget: That's right. Yeah, she's been terrific with that. And she interfaces with my marketing team. So, because that's another thing that takes a lot of time and that's the client experience. So, she spearheads that.
The Low Points Bridget Experienced On Her Journey [1:20:53]
Michael: So, what was the low point for you on this career journey as an advisor? Because you've been through a number of different channels and firm structures and setups now. What was the low point for you?
Bridget: I think probably losing big clients is a very big low point. And what I learned from that, so halfway through 2020 and we're in the middle of the thick of COVID, and I had my largest client question our value. It was... And I have to be honest with myself, they were not an ideal client, right? So, my ideal client is an executive woman, a woman attorney. And so, this woman attorney came to me, I had known her for years. And she finally asked me to work with her, and she said, "Hey, would you work with my husband too?" Which I'll do, but he was challenging for me, and he was not a good fit for our practice.
And I didn't care because it was a very big client, and nothing was right about this. It was not the right client, but he was going to pay the bills, and I was stressed because it was the pandemic, and I didn't know where the market was going to go. And I know for a lot of us, it was nerve-wracking.
Bridget: And so, this guy, I was all in on him, and I was losing him. And I was in the middle of really good coaching with Limitless and I was panicking. And the guy was like, "I'm going to move all the money out." And I couldn't understand why. He wanted all his money in Zoom. And then there's a lot of reasons it was not okay.
Bridget: But so, I did the number 1 thing I was told in coaching you should never do, which is I cut my fee. Because I was truly panicked. And talking to my coach and she's like, "Bridget, you do not cut your fee. You have a value. You don't do that." And so, she was great. And I said, "Okay." And I did it anyway. And I said, "Look, I'm going to work for this guy for free, for a quarter."
And meanwhile, it's costing me a fortune because it's a large client. And at the end of that quarter, we had a conversation and he moved it all anyway. And so, what I learned was never second-guess yourself. You know who your niche is. And but it was, Michael, in a time when it was a financial crisis. I could not afford to have clients leaving me.
And this is when you're like, what I make here in this company is how I'm paid, right? This is it. Every client is like gold to you. But at the same time, there are some clients that are not right. And the biggest lesson of that was as painful as it was at the time because it was pretty awful, was A, diversify your client base, right? Because there should not be one client that's that big for anybody. I don't think. But serve the right people. And that wasn't the right person. And I should never have taken that client in the first place.
So anyway, I learned a lot from that, and I don't make that mistake anymore.
The Advice Bridget Would Give Her Former Self And Younger, Newer Advisors [1:23:57]
Michael: So, what else do you know now you wish you could go back and tell you of 10 years ago?
Bridget: I think there's so many lessons here. I mean, I wish I had launched the business sooner. So, I'm 7 years in this week. I wish I had the guts to do this sooner, seriously, because I love it. I love the freedom to do what you want, to serve who you want, the way you want. I really wish I had had the guts to do it earlier.
I really wish too that I had learned to delegate sooner because I think it stymied the growth. So even though I've had really good growth, I really felt that I held too much myself, right, down to the trading, which was the last thing I gave a couple of years ago away. I think delegate, know where your passion is, spend your time there, and hire people to do the other stuff because it will actually save you money if you do that. And then you're happy, right? And then you're not working all day long in things that you don't necessarily like or are good at.
Michael: So, if you told you from 7 to 10 years ago, know where your passion is and spend your time there, would you have convinced yourself?
Bridget: I don't know.
Michael: Or were you still going to hold onto this until it hurt for a while?
Bridget: I don't know. I mean part of the way we all learn is because it gets painful. But I see the tremendous benefit of that. I resisted coaching. I've never had a mentor in my whole life, right? I've always been in... In our industry, I started on Wall Street in the '80s, I've never had a mentor. And when I signed up for coaching, I was like, where have I...where has this been for my, whatever, 55 years?
Michael: But only because it hurt enough to undo it. Well, I know Steph, herself, likes to say, "Pain is the rapid absorption of learning," which kind of fits a lot of these scenarios. There's, yeah, I totally know now. Still not sure I would have done it differently in the first place because I had to do that to myself in order to learn the lesson.
Bridget: I think that's one of the things of being an entrepreneur, right, this is your baby. So much of your identity is in your business. That's a big deal. That's why I said I could never see selling this company. I love everything about this company. I love what we stand for. I like the work we do. I like my brand. This is an extension of who I am. And I don't know. You think you can do it all, you may be able to do it all. You just can't do it all well. And you certainly can't have any quality of life.
Michael: So, any other advice you would give younger advisors who are newer and coming to the profession today and trying to get off on a good foot for the future?
Bridget: Well, I would say you can totally do it. If you want to have your own practice, you can do this. You just have to think through who's your niche. You need to stay true to the niche. That makes a huge difference. And you need to invest in yourself. By that, I mean get some really good coaching because there are things you don't know that you think you know but you don't know. Delegating was a huge deal for me. Huge. I literally can't tell you how much it's changed my business to have the right people doing things that they're better at them and they get it done and it frees you up to do other stuff.
I would encourage anybody who has a passion for financial planning who thinks they want to run their business, because not everybody wants to do this, I would say if you want to do it, you can do this. And you can do it very successfully. You just need to have a plan and think some of this stuff through.
What Success Means To Bridget [1:27:39]
Michael: So, as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success, and one of the things I've always observed is how the word success means different things to different people, sometimes different things to us as we go through different stages of life for ourselves. And so, you've had this wonderfully successful career track for the business at $77 million after seven years. And so, the business is in a wonderful place. How do you define success for yourself at this point?
Bridget: That is a very good question. So, I don't think for me it's not just about money, right? It's not about how much I make. It's being able to do something I truly love on my terms and that is really hard. And so, I'm really happy with where I am with the business. I don't really know where I want to take it. I just kind of want to continue doing what I'm doing. I already feel very fulfilled with where I am, but I somehow have this feeling like I need to keep going that there's... When you bring on new clients, it's crazy fulfilling. Everybody's got a different story and different challenges and I really like that.
So, I like to work with new situations and new people, and I can't do that without bringing in help. Hence the new person. But I think success is a combination of just... it's doing what you truly love on your terms, however you define that, and I'm still working on the definition.
Michael: Oh, yeah, I think success is doing whatever you truly love on your own terms is a pretty darn good definition you've got already. I like it.
Michael: I like it. Well, thank you so much, Bridget, for joining us on the "Financial Advisor Success" Podcast.
Bridget: Thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun. I really appreciate this. It was great having a conversation with you, Michael.
Michael: Likewise, likewise, thank you.