Welcome back to the 237th episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Brittany Anderson. Brittany is the President and Partner at Sweet Financial, a hybrid RIA in Fairmont, Minnesota that manages $860m in assets for 1,100 households.
What's unique about Brittany, though, is that she joined Sweet Financial directly out of college as a client service associate, and in the 15 years since, has moved progressively through the ranks, ultimately taking on the role of COO and now becoming the firm’s president and one of its owners.
In this episode, we talk in depth about how Sweet Financial has been able to steadily grow towards the $1 billion milestone despite being located in a rural Minnesota town with a population of just around 10,000, how Brittany’s firm hires new team members into salaried support roles so they can develop and learn within the firm’s culture (staying in those positions for as many as five years before becoming advisors and only then starting to gradually assume lead roles on client relationships), and how Brittany is able to recruit talent to work in a small town by treating job ads as marketing pieces and seeking to attract good cultural fits first and foremost (and then working later on teaching the technical skills).
We also talk about how Brittany and Sweet Financial concentrate on four main business development channels, including creating dedicated platforms to help women who are navigating major life transitions and to advise business owners on building culture and growing their businesses, how Brittany has implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System as a means to set a three-year vision in order to keep the firm systematically and deliberately moving forward, and how it’s that EOS-driven three-year vision that acts as a filter through which Brittany examines various business opportunities and initiatives, to ensure the firm is only pursuing those which move the firm towards the vision that’s been set.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Brittany shares how she’s eschewed trendier marketing channels and instead has found continued success with longer-term drip email campaigns (noting that the key to staying at the top of prospects’ minds is wholly reliant on consistency), the challenges that Brittany faced as she transitioned out of the boots-on-the-ground operations role to become the leader of the firm with a responsibility to direct, inspire, and lead her team into action, and why Brittany feels that, with women controlling more wealth in the country than ever before, there’s never been a better time for women, in particular, to come into the financial advice industry and serve women of wealth from a female perspective.
So whether you’re interested in learning how Brittany and Sweet Financial have generated such impressive growth in a small rural town, about her journey from intern to President of her company, or how she leverages email drip campaigns, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Brittany Anderson.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Brittany Anderson
- Sweet Financial
- Sweet Smarter Business for Business Owners
- Sweet Women Forward for Widows and Divorcees
- Ultimate Advisor Coaching Program
- Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS)
- Traction by Gino Wickman
- Who Not How by Hardy and Sullivan
- Vivid Vision by Cameron Herald
Michael: Welcome Brittany Anderson, to the "Financial Advisor Success" podcast.
Brittany: Thank you, Michael, I am so excited to be here.
Michael: I'm really looking forward to the discussion today and just getting to talk a bit about your advisory firm and your journey through it. You, I think, bring a lot of really interesting, unique pathways to the conversation, both as someone that started out in the firm directly out of college, grew all the way to be president of the firm, an advisory firm that's now I know closing in on $1 billion of assets under management and is not in a dense metropolitan area. I think the standard rule it seems for advisory firms is like, "Well, you really have to be in a dense metropolitan area where there's a lot of people and dollars or you can't really grow a firm that's very sizable." And I know you guys have just broken a lot of different parts of that mold over the past one in several decades. And so, just really excited to talk about what it's like when you're just building a firm in your small town and saying, "We're going to grow this thing and we can make it big and we're going to grow and develop the people internally that it takes to get there."
Brittany: Yeah, Michael, I think there's such a misconception about having to be in some heavily populated metropolitan area. So, I've always said that if we can do it in a town of 10,000 people, I think that any dedicated driven advisor can absolutely accomplish whatever they set their minds to.
Michael: So, maybe just to start right there and paint the picture for everyone a little, can you share with us just the advisory firm itself of just the size of the firm, who you are, what you do, and certainly apropos to the conversation, and where you are?
What Sweet Financial Looks Like Today [04:40]
Brittany: Absolutely. So, we are, like I said, located in southern rural Minnesota, a town of 10,000, so in Fairmont, Minnesota. We have a satellite location in Jackson, which is actually even smaller than Fairmont is. So, we are, as you said, moving fast towards $1 billion in assets under management, we're just shy of $900 million right now. We sit around T12 of about $5.4 or $5.5 million in revenue. We're definitely focused on taking care of the client and I know that if you talk to any advisor out there, that's kind of the general theme. But really, when you look at our growth and you look at how we've been able to accomplish what we've been able to accomplish in our area, it's by solely focusing on the needs of the client and kind of staying away from falling in love with our own process, but rather falling in love with what the client or the end-user loves. So, that's really been a huge contribution to our success. And then, obviously, our team, we take great care in finding absolute diamonds in the rough and finding the gems that are able to serve our clients at that high capacity and really show up for each other, be that team, be that really tight-knit unit, and then, therefore, be able to deliver an incredible experience to our wonderful clients.
Michael: So, how many clients are there with the firm? And when you're talking about almost $900 million of AUM currently, $5.5 million of revenue, just how many clients are there that you're actually serving in the practice?
Brittany: Yeah, we've got about 1,100 households, so we definitely monopolized...when you think about a town of 10,000 people, we definitely monopolize a lot of the wealth here and that's been kind of a wonderful thing being able to serve in our community and be able to grow in that regard. So, right around 1,100.
Michael: And then how many team members are there? How big is the team for all the work that you're doing for clients?
Brittany: Yeah, right now we've got 16 people. And while we're recording, we've got a couple of interns too in our marketing department, being able to tackle some projects. And our big focus is definitely not necessarily on growing a massive team but being able to increase efficiencies and scalability within the people that we have. So, 16 is where it sits right now and I think that's probably where we'll sit for a while.
Michael: And so, then talk to us a little bit more about just clients and where clients come from. You'd make the point here like 1,100 client households, a town of 10,000, have you really just taken out the top 10% of the entire town into the firm? Is it broader across southern Minnesota? Have you actually built, like, a national reach and you just happen to be based in southern Minnesota? Where are these clients and how does the clientele tie to the location of the firm?
Brittany: Yeah, so we actually...you might wish it was as easy as just being able to monopolize 10% of the population here currently. So, actually, we serve clients in over 30 states but it's interesting, and we're talking about this recently in a leadership meeting, that the majority of the people that we serve, even if they're across the country or in a different country because we have clients in a couple of different countries, they all have ties to our area or near our area. So, typically, people at one point inhabited about within a 60-mile radius of our office, but, again, they have tie-backs. So, it's been fun, it allows for us to grow and expand and actually meet people in other areas of the country to be able to foster more business. But really, our core has been kind of the heart of southern Minnesota, a little bit into Northern Iowa, and really the surrounding area with people having ties and roots here where we are.
Michael: So, clients are spread out now but only from that sort of natural function of, "We get clients when they're in our geographic area but they don't always stay forever in our geographic area." And so, as they move, relocate, jobs, retirements...I know you're in southern Minnesota, so I'm going to presume there was some small subset that said, "I think I'm ready to retire where it's warmer," so, maybe a little bit of that. So, the clientele are spread out but from a growth and business development perspective, your focus really has been you are growing in southern Minnesota. That's where you're drawing your clientele from, it's not a, "We do a giant virtual online campaign of attracting clients all over the place and we could have been anywhere in the world, we just happens to be in this area of Minnesota."
Brittany: Yeah, that's really been our growth up to this point and we do have some strategies that we're working on going into the rest of the year and really over the next probably 18 to 24 months where we are going to expand our national reach.
Michael: So, talk to us now about how growth works? How have you found and developed and brought on 1,100-plus client households in a not dense metropolitan area? How do you market at the firm? How do you get clients? Where does new business come from?
Brittany: Yeah. I wish that I could come on and say that there's some fancy marketing strategy that's going to triple your business in six months but really, the core of how we've grown is through referrals and through just great care. The way our office is set up is having our advisors solely focused on being in front of clients. So, their whole job is really on building relationships and going deeper with people, getting to know them, being able to be involved in their life and not just be that financial advisor on the back end. So, the way that we're structured and set up, it allows for the advisors to truly deepen relationships to show that they care, and in turn, you increase your referability that way because if you're being taken care of, you're going to want your friends, your family member, and all of the people in your life that you care about to be able to be served in that same capacity. So, that's really been our core focus up to this point.
Michael: So then, talk to us more about how this works. I think a lot of firms say like, "We try to have our advisors manage as many clients as they can and stay in front of their clients." Is there something unique or different about how you're structuring advisors or the team or the rest that you think makes this distinct from other firms that nominally say they're trying to do the same thing?
Brittany: Yeah, I think one thing that helps us to really lean into that whole notion of having the advisor being completely freed up, we actually have four of our...I guess you could call mature advisors, we have somebody sitting in on all of their appointments. So, that person is taking the notes, they're documenting to-dos after, they're making sure that the follow-up is put into our system, this and that. So, the advisor literally walks into the meeting...they have usually about a once-a-week prep for the upcoming week, so, obviously, they're prepared going into the appointment, but other than that they're in there, they're completely solely focused on the conversation.
Michael: And so, what do you call that position? How do you position it? Is this meant to be sort of an administrative note-taking role? Is this more of a...I'll frame this as like a paraplanner or associated advisor role? How do you characterize that role?
Brittany: Yeah, that's a great question. We actually have a couple of different paths that we utilize in the office. So, for advisors that we've got...or I should say almost like a junior advisor role, and I'm going to go back a little bit to give context to this. Typically, the way that we hire and/or train advisors, we're not necessarily looking for somebody who has some wonderful book of business out there, who's already got a ton of clients that can basically come in, tuck in, and do their magic. What we really want is for a person to come in and learn the inner workings and the culture of the office. So, you might have somebody that comes in through our client or concierge service department, and so they understand the processing and the servicing aspect of the client. You might have somebody that comes in through the wealth services department, where they're learning more of the plan aspect and kind of the behind the scenes there.
So, as time goes on, if we're looking at, "All right, our founder, he's looking to maybe transition a couple of clients over to these junior advisors to help them get a start and build their book," they might sit in if they're the person who's going to take the relationship over in the next, say, 18 to 24 months. The other aspect of that is we do have a little bit of a silo creation going on at the same time, where we've got a team where we have an advisor who is basically at capacity, he has his support service person, and they work collaboratively, so she's sitting in the appointments, she's doing all the service work. She's never going to take over the relationship, but for this particular advisor, he's also not at the point of transitioning any clients away from him either. So, those are really the two different, I guess, ways that we have people sitting in and the intent and purpose behind those individual scenarios.
Michael: And so, how do you handle these situations where you've got a...if they're working in teams and you've got a younger person who's coming on who's at some point supposed to take over a portion of those clients and split them off, does that create revenue compensation issues for the advisors? Like, "Hey, I like the help but I don't necessarily want to let clients and revenue go?"
Brittany: Yeah, that's an interesting question. And honestly, I attribute this to just our overall culture in the firm for a couple of different reasons. So, number one, when we have an advisor...you know, somebody sitting in that is going to potentially take over clients at some point in time, they're salaried at that given time, so there's no revenue share going on. The way that we position this is that this is an amazing opportunity to learn. It's like being in the heart of the action, you're actually seeing that conversation, you're learning so much about the client, you're learning different styles of presentation based on the advisor that you're sitting in with. So, in that particular situation, they're salaried. But when you look at that transition happening at some point where, yeah, you are going to have a little bit of compensation removed from your book, it's looking at opportunity cost.
So, when we're doing that, we're not saying, "Okay, well, let's go ahead and skim off a bunch of your income, and you only have to see these clients but you're also losing a bunch of money." What we're saying is, "All right, so if we're moving and transitioning some of these clients, what else can you do with your time to help you generate even more opportunities within your book?" So, I think it's a mentality shift and I think that when you go from, "Oh, that's mine and I'm losing," to a mentality of growth and opportunity, that becomes an obsolete non-issue, honestly.
Michael: And so, advisors who are established are on some kind of revenue sharing variable-based compensation, so they transition from salaries to variable compensation as they move from support roles into roles where they're actually responsible for clients and leading their own clients?
Brittany: Yeah, yeah, I think compensation in our world, in our industry is so interesting, because I think if you talk to 50 different practices or 500 different practices, they're all going to have a different way of compensating their advisors. So, yeah, the way that we do it is basically $0 to $500,000 in production, they get paid 17%, $500,000 to $1 million is 21%, and $1 million and plus is 25%. And that obviously resets each year, but that's really how we've decided works best for our advisors and our practice.
Michael: Okay. And so, that's just straight percentage compensation to them is the model, it's not a salary plus base or other pieces? Like once you're at that level, you're getting a percentage of the clients that you're servicing and tiers as you move up?
Brittany: Exactly. And for the advisors that are, I should say, more of that kind of junior advisor or associate advisor role, as they're kind of moving up through to that full-time advisor position, they would have a base salary and then it would scale back as that production-based income increased. So, that's something that we've done in the past too that seems to work well and I think maybe just by chance, it's very rare that anybody ever has to go backwards, per se. It's important to us across the board, culturally, for people to really have skin in the game and be hungry and want to work for it but that's been something that's worked well internally here.
How Sweet Financial Recruits And Develops Advisors Who Are A Strong Cultural Fit [16:45]
Michael: So, I know the fear for a lot of firms as well is if they grow up on this system, at some point, they say like, "Hey, if I go open up my own shop across the street, I'm not getting a 17% to 25% payout, I get the whole dollars. I'm going to get the whole dollars minus business expenses, it's not free, but I can take a swing in a much larger percentage.” Do you worry about those kinds of transitions? Have you had struggles with those kinds of transitions where advisors say, "Hey, I think I can do this on my own now, so I'm just going to kind of take my clients and hang my own shingle over here?"
Brittany: Yeah, that's something that we've definitely talked about as a leadership team, so we're not naive to the notion of it. As far as being concerned or having worry around it, I really don't. I'm of the mindset that if somebody really wants to run their own business, if they want to be that advisor that kind of starts their practice from the ground up, they probably would have done it before even coming to us or maybe chosen a different path and/or pay structure too because there's plenty of offices out there that you can go and be kind of a contract advisor per se, get paid on more of a 1099 basis, you can own your own book, you don't really have to be, I guess, managed, per se. So, there's many different structures out there and internally here, I honestly can't think of anybody that has ever really had a desire to go and do the build, they'd rather have the team and the infrastructure that we've spent years and years and years building and be able to lean on that because they're able to serve and see more clients and still have the time to enjoy their lives versus the 16-18 hour days that it takes to sometimes build a business and get it off the ground.
Michael: So, in other words, it's part of the hiring process that you're...you know, you're not necessarily getting people who are hard...and I don't mean this in a negative way but maybe some people think that, but you're not going to try to find hardcore, entrepreneurial, like "Build my own giant book of clients" folks because those are the people who are actually maybe most likely to hang their own shingle. You're looking for and hiring people who say, "I don't want to build all this myself, I want to be in a team environment, I feel like I need to be supported, I want to be in an established firm that already has this stuff figured out so I can just do my thing." And when those are the people that you're hiring in the first place, they don't tend to go breakaway because that's not the mentality that they had when they were coming and getting hired in the first place.
Brittany: You know, that's exactly it. And it's interesting because we've actually had advisors approach us who were looking to possibly tuck in in some capacity to our team, which, honestly, would have been pretty lucrative opportunities for us because essentially, they've got their own book, they're managing it, they want maybe a little bit of the infrastructure that we've got and we've said, "No."
We really try hard and fast to stay true to our vision of the future and that doesn't really entail somebody who we have that fear of, "Oh, my gosh, are they going to break away? And all of that work of onboarding and kind of integrating them into our company and our firm and our processes, and then what does it turn out to be? All for nothing?" That's really not something that we're interested in. So, yeah, I think that it's great for those people to kind of go spearhead and build their own thing but for us, being able to shape them and have them understand our internal processes and go into more of a relationship management type role, that's just seemed to work really well for us and for our clients.
Michael: Interesting. So, I'm really feeling just a very substantive difference in your sort of hiring philosophy and approach of, "We want people who want to be employees and are part of a team, we'd rather not even take entrepreneurial tuck-in advisors who come saying they want to bundle in because hey, at the end of the day, they may still be a little too independent-minded and they're not necessarily going to follow our systems and if they're willing to come in like that, they may leave like that." You've got a very particular focus of the types of advisors that you do want to hire and have involved in the firm.
Brittany: Absolutely. And our internal process, our trademark process, it's the “Dream Architect”. And the reason that I bring that up is that that's really how...when we look at training advisors, when we look at training any team members, it's all centered around delivering this amazing experience. And you have to be indoctrinated into how we do business and the language and the feel and everything from the moment that we interact with a prospect till they're engaged and having that long term relationship with us, you really have to eat, sleep, and breathe what we do and if it's not a cultural alignment or cultural fit, it'll fail every time.
Michael: So then, help me understand, who do you hire? You talk about sort of like cultural alignment and advisors that have this certain mentality, but I'm just wondering like how do you describe the ideal advisor you're trying to hire and where do you find them and how do you screen them just to make sure you're getting these people that fit the way that you want to do the business?
Brittany: Yeah, so a lot of the success that we've had...and this is actually kind of interesting. So, we talked about our clients a little bit ago about people that have ties to the area and then they move on and maybe go to some different part of the country and a new stage of life. There's a little bit of that, that happens with our hires. So, a lot of the people in our firm, this is advisors and just support team as well, they may have moved away for a portion of time, gone to school, got their degrees, and kind of lived some aspect of their life elsewhere but then they have roots and they have tie-backs to our community. So, the way that we like to bring advisors in, per se, is rather than hiring somebody straight into an advisor position, we will bring them in through either our client or concierge service department or we'll bring them in through our wealth services department. And what we're able to do then is we're able to say, "Okay, well, you're going to understand not just what it takes to serve as an advisor and be in front of the client, but also how the inner workings happen, what's going on behind the scenes."
So, what happens is, as they come in and they spend maybe...you know, about five years is kind of proven to be, I guess, the golden figure. They'll spend about five years in the department that they're hired into and get exposure and start that whole process of sitting in on some of the appointments, getting to know some of the clients that they may see in the future. That has proven to work really well because, by the time they're an advisor, they are not just speaking from the mindset of a financial advisor or of a wealth planner, but they're actually speaking with conviction on what we do and how we serve because they've been part of it and they understand what's going on behind the scenes. So, what we've found for us is it makes for a much more well-rounded advisor when you are able to really speak from the heart of the company and you've been there and you've been in the weeds, per se, and been able to be part of that behind the scenes and not just the front end or the front-facing.
Michael: So, I'm struck by what you just sort of kind of mentioned there briefly, like, they might hang out in that department for five years before they transition to an advisor role. So, as I'm sort of viewing and hearing it, effectively, you're not hiring advisors, you're simply hiring team members in various service support roles across the organization and finding some of them that are ready and willing and able and interested to move into advisor roles, who then eventually move into advisor roles. Is that a fair characterization? Because to me, there's a difference between like, "I'm going to hire an advisor and put them into a training and development program," versus, "I'm just going to hire good people who are interested in the business, and hey, if in five-plus years, some of them want to move into advisor roles, we'll have those opportunities."
Brittany: Yeah, that's an extremely fair analysis. One thing that I would say is we live by the mantra of “slow to hire, quick to fire”. Fortunately, the whole firing end of things hasn't been something we've really had to do much because I think when you hire well, you're able to avoid that a little bit. But it's much more important for us when we're going through the hiring process...and I know I keep saying this word, but that cultural fit is more important. And my whole attitude towards hiring, in general, is you can absolutely train somebody to do just about anything, but you can't always train them to just be a down-home, good person, somebody who truly cares and truly values relationships. So, that's something that has been a major value to us and a major factor in how we hire and how we train. Now, I would say that your comment about you kind of hope that they want to go into the advisor position, that's definitely maybe not the case.
When we're going through the hiring process and talking about really where they want to be, where they see themselves, we are definitely having conversations with people that have an interest in that advisory role, that want to be client-facing at some point, but they understand they may be fresh out of college. Actually, a couple of our really good, probably most recent hires, they're fresh out of school, and they are hungry, they want to learn, and they want to serve and that's just worked really, really well for us in being able to, again, bring them in, train them in the way that we need them to serve and need them to show up for our clients. Yeah, so being able to avoid having to, especially in a town of 10,000, find an advisor that fits that exact magic role that's willing to kind of meld into our processes, that's tough, right? And even if we're bringing somebody from, say, a metropolitan area or we have somebody that we scout from, say, Minneapolis or de Moines or Milwaukee or whatever, the chances of those people staying in an area that's this small is not super high and we don't want to go through that cycle again and again.
Michael: So, you don't even necessarily try to hire and recruit people to come to the area, per se, you're looking for people that have an attachment or have a come back to home attachment maybe to the area and say, "Hey, if you're looking for opportunities in the area, we've actually got a really nice opportunity and over the span of five years, you can become a financial advisor with the firm and you're going to start out in our client services or wealth services departments and grow and develop that over time. So, would you like to come on board and work with us?"
Brittany: Exactly. And I'll tell you a funny story, Michael. The only time that...at least in the history that I am familiar with here, the only time that we ever did a full recruitment where they were trying to bring a person into the firm was actually when they were looking for a COO, so looking for essentially a role that I ended up taking over. So, at the time, I was actually in the Client Services Department, and our operations gal, she was moving away from the area to be closer to her grown children. So, they hired this recruiter and they had on the table, I think, a brand new Mercedes, and they're doing everything in their power to get some high-level COO to come and run the business. So, I had come from a management background, I had gone to school for management, I actually during college was managing a jewelry store, it's a nationwide chain but I was managing a location, and I always knew I wanted to get back into a leadership-type role. So, I actually asked if I could interview with this recruiter, so said recruiter interviews me, goes back to Bryan Sweet, the founder, and says, "What are you doing? Hire Brittany." So, actually, all of that effort and time and energy, I ended up getting put into that position, and to this day, I'm still waiting for my Mercedes. It's like all of those efforts and what they needed was sitting right there and that's not tooting my own horn by any stretch of the imagination. But it's interesting, sometimes we can't see what's right in front of our nose and that effort of trying to find talent outside the area can be a long, long journey and may not always be worth it.
Where Brittany Is Finding Talent To Recruit [28:40]
Michael: So, how are you finding the people that you're finding? I know a lot of firms that live in dense metropolitan areas that have trouble finding good people from just voluminous pools of talent or presumably talent. Again, you're living in a much more rural area with just a lot fewer people, to begin with, that creates some challenges on the client growth side, which we've talked about and we'll probably come back to. But just how does that work for you from the talent end? And is this one of these, like, when you decide you're going to be hiring that next advisor role, you could be looking for 6 to 12 months to find the next person, so you do it really slowly and far in advance? Are there particular places that you found to advertise? If you found a system for it? Just how are you getting the people to be able to do this when you're not in an area that has tons and tons of people to choose from and pursue in the first place?
Brittany: Yeah, we are huge believers in hiring before you need it. I think that some of the biggest hiring mistakes, in general, are when people wait until they're in a state of desperation to try to put a butt in a seat. And what ends up happening is you end up making mistakes, you end up putting the wrong person there or you're rushing and you're kind of trying to fit somebody into a mold that they're just not inherently fit to be into. So, we definitely decide when we look at the long-term vision of our company and we're always really measuring within about a three-year time period, measuring the needs, what's going to come up, what's happening in the business, do we have anybody that's getting close to retirement, what are the roles that are going to need to be filled.
So, that's really how we kind of start the process of looking at who we might need to hire. The other thing too is our hiring...like our job ads, I would never ever, ever put out into the world just some basic job at of like, "Client service associate, your duties and responsibilities, processing paperwork, getting signatures, serving clients, answering the phone." There's so much opportunity I think that's lost in the job ad itself. I think you need to treat it like a marketing piece. So, typically, when we're putting out ads and especially in a smaller area, we want to stand out and we want to stand out to top talent. So, we're using more powerful language like, "You are a bulldog when it comes to follow-through," or a pit bull, sorry, a bulldog is slow and floppy. "A pit bull when it comes to..."
Michael: No offense to any pitbull fans, okay. But go bulldogs, all right.
Brittany: Go bulldogs. So, "You're a pit bull when it comes to follow-through," "You understand that if you're not getting the right answer, you're probably asking the wrong person." We're making sure that we're using powerful language so that when we're basically putting this message out there of who we need, that person that it resonates with, they're going to be like, "This is me." And then you're going to get other people that look at it and go, "They are nuts," and we know that that's probably not the right position...or they're not the right person for this position. The other thing that we do too, which I think is a little kind of golden nugget that I think more and more advisors should take advantage of, is requiring any applicant to give a video with it. It doesn't have to be professionally produced, like the language we put in there is that, "This does not have to be anything fancy but simply shoot a video of yourself saying why you think that you would be the best fit for this job."
So, those tiny little, I guess, innuendos that we put into the job ads is really what ends up attracting amazing talent to our company. The whole thought process around the video is not that we want somebody to show us how brilliant they are with technology and how professional they are and how wonderful they look on camera, it's just to show that, number one, they're willing to go the extra mile, and number two, it ends up vetting out so many applicants. So, you can imagine in a small area, you have a position open for what's perceived as a successful company, you're going to get a decent amount of applicants and a decent amount that probably aren't qualified that maybe are just applying because it seems like kind of a sexy opportunity. But the people that are actually willing to take the time to get on camera, to submit that, to have that customized cover letter and all of those things that we require, it really slims down your pool and allows us to focus on just a few core people that we know really, really want this job. So, those are a couple of things that we've done to really help that top talent.
Michael: And when you ask them to submit videos, is there a time expectation? How long or how much of a video do you ask for?
Brittany: You know, I don't ever put a length expectation on it. The language that we put is that it doesn't have to be fancy, there are no expectations. I think actually the last time we stated that, that there's no expectation around this, we just want to hear from you, we want to hear why are you a great fit. So, that's something that, yeah, we leave really wide open. And part of that, part of the reason behind that is I want to see how people decide to show up and I want to see a little bit of their creativity. So, you really get to see kind of how a person's brain works to just do that tiny little request.
Michael: Yeah, I guess, as you said, we've done some similar exercises for our hiring process over the years as well for some of our businesses. I'm also a big fan of work samples, asking people to produce a sample of the kind of work they would do in the job, like, literally give them one of the tasks that they would do in the job and ask them to take an hour and do a version of that for people later in the interview process where you can ask them for an hour of their time to do that. But we deliberately leave them a little bit vague about how to go about it because it's fascinating the range of how people come back with it. One of the exercises I used to do when I was running the financial planning team for my former firm and we were hiring financial planners is I'll give them an exercise of something effective, like your client just called, their mother passed away, they're inheriting about $300,000. They've got a mortgage that's actually about $300,000 and they're wondering like, "Should I use the money to pay off the mortgage, or should I invest it?" Right? Very classic financial planning needs sort of question. And just the assignment we would give them is write the letter that you would write to your clients in response to this and just see can they format it as a letter? Does it have paragraphs? Does it have sentences? Do they actually explain sort of investing versus debt? Can they talk about the trade-off? Is it understandable?
And bonus points if you realize that the proper way to start this letter is, "I'm so sorry your mom died." Right? Do they remember that part, or are we so focused on the debt versus investing trade-off that we kind of forget this client started out the email with, "My mom just passed away?" And just seeing the range of responses, you get a whole other perspective on how this person is going to communicate with the clients of the firm, and if you don't like how they draft that letter in an interview time, you're really not going to like how they communicate with the clients once they're on board with the firm or at best, you're going to have a lot of training to do to get them up to where you want them to be in communicating with clients.
Brittany: Absolutely. And I think that brings up an interesting point. I think when you're looking to hire advisors especially, but really any team member, I think this spans across the board and is not just important but essential to any sort of leadership position, you just made me think of the term emotional intelligence. When you're looking at that, I think sometimes if you've got an advisory practice that's hiring...let's say your model is hiring an advisor, like you actually want somebody who has some sort of an established book, or some sort of experience behind and you want to get them into that role faster. I think that we can sometimes get caught up in the fancy designations, in more of the analytical mind, but that emotional intelligence is so incredibly important because they're able to then intuitively understand their clients a little bit better and be able to meet those emotional needs as well as the financial. So, I don't mean to completely digress but I think that's something that sticks out today when you're looking at hiring, you've got to have some sort of measure for that.
How Brittany Makes Sure Her Firm Keeps Looking Ahead [36:58]
Michael: And so, as you're going through this hiring process, you had said, "We're big believers in hiring before you need it," which I find for a lot of firms, it's like, yeah, we all get that sort of intuitively, it's easy to say, and then almost all of us still don't do it, like we hire too late. So, I guess I'm just wondering like what do you guys do that just gets you there, gets you comfortable, gets to the point that you're ready to do that? How do you go about this to make sure you're actually at the right place on the hiring curve?
Brittany: Yeah, that's a great question. And I think you're right that we all have great intentions in our business of being ultra proactive and never running into a pinch but when reality hits, we're in the whirlwind every day and sometimes these things get put to the wayside. So, something that's worked really well for us and in recent years, especially, we follow the Entrepreneurial Operating System or the EOS system, Gino Wickman created it. Great book, "Traction," I have no affiliation with them whatsoever but it's a great book. So, if you want to understand how to set up structure and process within your business to be able to help you make even better decisions, that's a great roadmap. So, one thing that we do, as I mentioned earlier, we're constantly looking at our three-year vision for the company. So, we kind of use the adage or the joke of, "Who do we want to be when we grow up in three years?" And then that three years hits and we're like, "Well, now who do we want to be when we grow up in three years?"
So, what we do is we tend to kind of back into that vision. So, if we're looking at expanded capabilities, we're looking at added enhancements to our service offerings for our clients, we're really identifying in that rolling three-year period saying, "Okay, well, there's a couple of ways to solve this, you can either get more efficient, you can either add some sort of technology or software or whatever it might need to meet that need, or you have an individual that you need to get into that seat." So, for us being able to stay kind of in that future mentality that kind of lean forward into the future, it allows us to be a little bit more proactive with our hiring needs because we can really start measuring what is going to fill that gap? It makes me think of the book "Who Not How" by Dr. Ben Hardy and Dan Sullivan, really looking at measuring constantly who are the whos that we might need in the future. So, when we go through and create that three-year vision, we then back it into a one-year plan and then dissect it down into 90-day increments for us to be able to actually make tangible strides.
So, one thing that we've done in the recent past, actually, as recent as just about a year ago, is we've said, "Okay, well, one of our 90-day initiatives, because we're going to need this by next year, is we're going to get this job ad up and running, we're going to start vetting candidates," and that gives us a nine-month lead time to when we actually need that position to be filled. So, really, I wish there was some fancy magic behind it but it's really as simple as just being intentional towards that three-year vision and just setting the time. If it's not on your calendar and it's just a good idea that you know needs to happen, it's probably not going to happen. So, if you make it like the objective for your firm to actually get somebody hired or at least start that vetting process, you're going to put your time and attention to it in a much different capacity than if it's just, "Yeah, we're going to need it at some point in the future," kind of thought process.
Michael: And so, how do you set your three-year picture if that's what all this builds up to?
Brittany: Yeah, I love this topic in general. We actually use a couple of different tools. So, obviously, I already mentioned the EOS system but then we also have...Cameron Herold wrote a book called "Vivid Vision," and that's another great one. So, if you're in this spot, if you're sitting here as an advisor listening and you're going, "Okay, great, three-year vision, where the heck do I start?" In my personal opinion, I think starting with the vivid vision process allows you to at least get your thoughts flowing before you put it into a more formal structure, which is the EOS system. So, from our perspective, we'll sit down as a leadership team once a year...we actually meet quarterly, but we have one meeting dedicated. Typically, it's our June meeting.
What we do is we go off-site out of the office, no distractions, no cell phones, no email, and we do this deep dive to say, "Okay, if we're looking at the vision of the company, what does this look like? What does this look like in three years?" And we'll have it broken down by category, so it might be who we serve or our avatar, it might be the internal structure of the team broken down into departments, it might be new marketing offerings or ideas. We also look at how we want to be spending our time as individuals. If the goal is not to eat, sleep, and breathe in the office seven days a week, well, you got to structure things a little differently.
So, it's really doing this kind of brain dump into these different categories of your business and your life, and then from there, we take it and say, "Okay, if we were to pull it out and say, "What are the characteristics of our office or what do we want to look like in that three-year period?" It then goes into that EOS or what they call the Vision Traction Organizer. Not to get too deep into it, but the Vision Traction Organizer is is essentially the EOS tool for gaining clarity on that three-year picture, kind of your big, hairy, audacious future goal that you have no idea how the heck you're going to do it but you know it's what you want, and then you get a little bit more granular down into the one-year and then the 90-day increments. So, those two tools combined and having that dedicated time off-site as a leadership team to be able to focus on that is really what's been able to help keep us accountable to the vision and to the constant focus on what it's going to take to get us there.
How Business Development Works At Brittany’s Firm [42:36]
Michael: So, talk to us now about just how this growth works. I'm curious to come back to this, you sort of painted this picture of...I'll just say, kind of not necessarily the quintessential advisor that a lot of other firms hire, right?
I feel like there's this mentality out there, maybe right or maybe wrong, that it's just you need a certain kind of entrepreneurial type A style advisor if they're going to actually go and grow the business, otherwise, you get people who may be great at service and wonderful at client retention, but just don't bring in new clients and don’t make the business grow. So, help us understand a little bit more how does growth work? Where do new clients come from? Help us understand this intersection of not necessarily the quintessential Type A hardcore entrepreneurial, eat-what-you-kill advisor, but you're still growing?
Brittany: Yeah, it's really a combination of things, I would say. So, I will be clear that when we're looking at the advisors that we're grooming in the office, part of it is teaching them the skills that are needed along the way to be able to foster and generate more business. Now, I'd be pretty hard-pressed too to believe or to say that anybody in our office is really that high Type A salesperson. Definitely, I would say, we don't really have that amongst our advisors but what we do have is people who are great at relationships. So, there's a couple of different things that we do. So, for our advisors, we do a lot of the more like intimate, smaller group type events. So, that may be just kind of the quintessential or what a lot of us are used to, you have your best clients and a lot of times your best clients are associated with other people that are maybe similar to them and you're able to get in front of them.
And maybe it's a dinner, maybe it's some sort of an event, maybe it's based on mutual interests where you're able to take them to a baseball game or something local here. Like we have five lakes in our small community, so I know one of our advisors spends a lot of time on the lakes and that's where he's been able to foster some business is boat rides. I know it sounds so simple but legitimately, that's where some of the business comes into play is just being able to get in front of the people in an intentional way but with the focus on building that relationship long term. The other thing that I would say that has helped is we do have a couple of different niche focuses. So, one of them is that we have a platform that we've actually built for business owners. As many advisors know, there's a lot of wealth and a lot of kind of fun complexities for our industry when it comes to business owners. So, we created a platform called Smarter Business, where we actually have a couple of different ways of how we can serve business owners.
So, we might have an initial engagement with somebody because they're looking for more of like an operational mastery type thing. So, I'm able to help them build the culture, I'm able to help them build a situation where they can attract top talent within their business, where they're able to grow their business and set up the right processes internally and serve them in a totally different capacity so that when the time comes for a business succession or a business change of hands or some liquidity event, we're also here as their financial advisor to help them in that capacity.
So, that's one niche that's been an interesting one that we are continuing to build out as the years go on. Another one that's really helped to foster lead opportunities especially is through a platform that's focused on helping women navigate some of the biggest transitions in life, so things like widowhood or divorce, sudden inheritance from deceased family members. We're in a rural farming community, so you get parent or grandparent that passes away, there's land involved, and sometimes the family wants to keep that land, sometimes they don't, and there's a sale that happens. So, again, another liquid event. So, we have a lot of time and energy built into these platforms where we have events a handful of times a year, we have different marketing strategies built around that to help bring new faces to get in front of us so that we can continue to build kind of our pipeline.
So, again, when those triggering needs arise from all aspects of the business, one thing that we say is that I want you to be able to say, "Gosh, I'm so glad I have you," versus, "I wish I would have known." So, those are different ways that in our rural community that we're able to continue to get introduced to new people, new relationships, to use the talents and the capabilities of the advisors we have without going out into the world with that hard press sale-sale-sale mentality or that entrepreneurial kind of thought process, but more so focus on those relationships and just straight value add. Value add in a capacity that maybe isn't happening as much in our industry as it should when you look at serving in a multitude of ways versus just strictly wealth management. So, that's something that we've found that at least works for us in our area and in our business.
How Brittany’s Four Business Development Channels Work And Perform [47:35]
Michael: Interesting. So, I guess marketing and growth, it sounds like there's sort of three/four different channels, there's your women's program for trying to connect with widows and divorcees and women in transition. There's the Smarter Business platform for trying to connect with business owners. There's sort of this events-driven relationship marketing that happens at the advisor level, so take prospects out to a baseball game, take them out on the lake on a boat ride. And then there's a fourth piece that you mentioned earlier of just serving our clients well and trying to generate referrals from clients. Is that a fair characterization of the different pokers in the fire on this?
Brittany: Absolutely, I think that's absolutely a fair quick depiction.
Michael: Okay. So, where do you find growth comes from across those? Is it pretty even, or do some of these in practice drive a lot more results and outcomes than others?
Brittany: Yeah, I would say that the more direct relationship...so I mentioned like the boat rides or having some mutual interests where maybe there's some sort of class we hold and/or facilitate or partner with somebody in that capacity of something that somebody is interested in. I would say those types of introductions definitely facilitate the most opportunity, being able to get in front of and in more of like a one on one or one on two, I guess, if you have a great client and then they bring somebody, that absolutely, I would say, generates the most opportunity for us.
When you look at the long game, especially with the women's platform, a lot of times what happens is that there’s some triggering event in the future that they're going to go, "Oh, Sweet Financial is the expert in this so that's who we're going to lean on." So, a lot of what we do in the women's platform and business too, Smarter Business is a great example of this as well, we're constantly playing the long game, and over time, that pays off. So, it's this continual, really business continuity situation where we're looking at the sustainability of the future saying, "Let's build these platforms and these pipelines so that they're constantly and forever feeding back into the business and not something that's just so short term focused." So, that's definitely some things that, again, have worked for us.
Michael: And so, how do you figure out just the events and the things to do that drive some results? I know a lot of firms are like, "Yeah, I do all sorts of social events with clients and prospects but it feels very hit-or-miss about whether I get business or I'm not getting much or I can't figure out the right events that actually turn things into business and the clients." What are you doing that's making this work? Or I guess, how do you even set for advisors which things they're going to be pursuing?
Brittany: Yeah, I think that one thing that, as advisors, we can get in our own way a little bit when it comes to marketing in general and event planning, so I'm going to use these kind of synonymously. We can fall in love with kind of our own product offerings or our own service offerings, we may fall in love or believe that because we love something, somebody else is going to love the same thing. So, really going into the core of your...like, look at your best clients and start having conversations with them. It's different, you might have...we have a survey that we have people fill out when they come on board with us that we get updated every few years on their preferences and their interests. So, we ask if they like wine, which sport do they like, what do they like to do for hobbies, those kinds of things. So, just because somebody says that they like football doesn't necessarily mean they want to go to the game that's playing on the date that you choose.
So, it's really going into the core of your business, have a client advisory council, pick some of your best clients and some prospects in the area and actually run these ideas through them and ask them what they want. If you're asking for somebody's advice on something, it tends to generate a lot more opportunity for you than just kind of vetting, I guess you could say, or trying to get some answer that you're kind of steering in a certain direction anyway. So, not falling into the trap of falling in love with your own service or your own message is absolutely the best way to set a really good marketing game and do things that people actually enjoy and will come to and will attend and will actually have takeaways from it. So, I think that's something that's really important for us to remember is that just because you like something or you think it's going to hit, it doesn't necessarily mean your client or your prospect is going to believe the same thing.
Michael: So, can you maybe just give us an example of what one of these look like that you do? And what's the takeaway thing at the end that they get and how do you actually ask them for business as you go through it?
Brittany: Yeah, that's a great question. So, I will use...let's use Women Forward as an example. So, a lot of times, the way that we structure these events is we absolutely position in our marketing and to get people there, it's really building a community. So, again, we've done a lot of work to try to understand what will get women and particularly women of wealth in front of us, why would they want to come and listen to us speak? Why would they want to come and spend their Thursday evening or Saturday morning or whatever it turns out to be with a bunch of strangers? So, we're really heavily positioned on community and on empowering women when it comes to, "You don't have to understand the ins and outs, you don't have to be a genius when it comes to your wealth plan or investments or making decisions in that capacity, but what we do want is for you to feel confident that you can at least handle it, you at least understand the foundations."
So, the way that we'll structure it is we'll typically do some sort of presentation where it's, again, focused on value add, it is not salesy in any capacity, so we'll do some sort of education portion. I will come in as kind of the inspiration portion to it, so I do speaking across the country, coaching primarily advisors at this point but all different industries, and a lot of that is that inspiration and that empowerment so we'll have that component that's solely focused on their personal growth. So, when you look, again, at positioning and standing out in our marketplace, it's not just come and listen how to manage your finances better or how to be a savvier investor, it's how do you become an even more well-rounded human being.
So, we'll do exercises for some personal growth and personal development and then a lot of times we'll either do like a wine tasting associated with it, we've done like succulent plants because we found that there's this whole little niche of people who kind of love the whole succulent garden thing. So, who knew? So, that's something that we've done in conjunction with those events too. From there, what we'll do is because they've registered and they've done it through a series of like an RSVP landing page per se on the computer, they've gone into then our automated long-term nurture sequence where they're getting an email every week. There's different strategic times where our advisors would follow up with those individuals and essentially talking about, "Hey, this is what we talked about in the presentation." We always offer a free consultation as part of the offer or the soft tie in, so we'll follow up and we'll talk about that.
And again, it seems like a very soft process but it's very methodical and it's very planned out. So, again, having that long-term nurture sequence, they're automatically put into an email sequence for an entire year with different calls to action, different reminders where they can get on to an advisor's calendar, no strings attached and no commitments needed, just having the conversation of where you're at, what your needs might be, what your goals are for the future, and how we might be able to help. Some of those people that have come through have not necessarily been the best fit but we're always able to add value, so we might direct them to another area advisor, to a local bank, whatever that situation might look like because obviously, like every advisor, we can't serve everybody. But then for the people that are that ideal fit, that becomes part of, again, that onboarding process and that nurture sequence. So, that's really kind of the chain or the process that happens when we engage in these events and in that capacity.
Michael: And how would you promote one of these events? How do you get people to the event in the first place?
Brittany: Yeah, so we've done a few different ways. Obviously, we have and have built, like I talked about, our pipeline or our prospects, so we do a lot of email invitations and those kinds of things. We have done some social media kind of paid or sponsored invites in the past. We've looked very strongly again at direct mail, that's something that we've done in the past as well, you send out how many different pieces, and it's bound based on statistics to at least generate some interest or opportunity there. So, we really use a combination of methods to get people in these events, but I will tell you, there's one particular method that has worked really well and I think it's so insanely simple that it's an important one to at least try. So, we actually did...we create the invites but we did have a local printer do this little perforation on the side where they had a physical ticket that they could give to a friend who's never met the Sweet Financial and/or Women Forward team. And that tiny little thing, a tiny little tweak that we did, has generated more prospects and more leads for us than almost anything else that we've tried doing. So, it's something about that tiny little tangible piece of paper that has actually worked and I think it's interesting and...go ahead.
Michael: So, don't just invite a friend and say something to them, give them this, this little perfect piece of paper, gives them this.
Brittany: This is their golden ticket to get into this super-secret event. So, that's something that has worked really well at least to get in front of new faces and new prospects, so that's something that we're absolutely going to be doing more of because, obviously, in marketing and anything in general, if something's working, don't stop because it works so well, keep doing it. So, that's something that we'll definitely be doing more of in the future.
Michael: Really cool. And so, I guess just the system overall, “we'll promote an event, invite people to bring friends to the event, run the event, primarily educational, everybody goes into an email nurturing sequence after that,” and you're just dripping on them and repeated over long periods of time, that is added up.
Brittany: Yeah, it sounds so simple but it's consistency. And I think that's something that as advisors too, and I can be guilty of this as well, immediate gratification is a good thing. You want something where...as advisors, our brains tend to be wired...or in our industry, we're wired to say, "If you do this, what is the general result?" You know, ROI, that term comes up all the time, "What is the immediate return on my investment?" But I think that something, again, to focus on is that long game and going back to the basics. When you look at marketing in general, if you...set aside all the fancy tactics, there's a million things and a million different roads we could go down with how do you utilize YouTube? How could advisors use YouTube in the future? Or what about opportunities on LinkedIn or what about on Facebook? There are some that have been winning on TikTok and Instagram, which blows my mind in some capacities.
But anyways, there are a million different fancy things that tend to be sexy that tend to catch your attention at a conference, but if there was really one thing that you worked on, that would be putting that long term email sequence in place, something that can do the work for you and make sure that you have a task management system, it could be as simple as in your Outlook, to make sure that you're consistently following up with these people and staying in front of mind. Those little tiny things, it's going to take a little bit of work on the front end, but in the long game, it's going to pay off. Rory Vaden is the founder of Brand Builders Group and he has this whole, I guess, thought process or program built around how do you create more time, and part of that is giving yourself permission today to do the things that will generate more time for you in the future.
So, something like that is this long-term email sequence. So sit down with a copywriter... there are a million people out there you can hire to do this, you don't have to do it yourself. Hire a copywriter to sit down and create valuable emails, not just market updates because that's something that we hear too, is advisors will be like, "Oh, yeah, I have a weekly email, it's the market updates," it's like okay, ”Well, blah, that's not going to necessarily generate people to take action. So, sit down, have that long term sequence created, get 52 weeks of content put out there, and then be able to set it and forget it, that's going to free up your brain to know that if nothing else, if nothing else, if you get caught in the whirlwind, they're getting touched by that and you know there's value in it and it's built and customized for your ideal avatar. I think that's something really important that advisors should take advantage of.
Brittany’s Journey Through Her Firm [59:59]
Michael: So, help us understand now your journey through the firm. I know you started there essentially straight out of college, you are now president of the firm. That's quite a journey unto itself. So, just talk us through how this is evolved for you within the firm, where did you start and how did you get in the firm just to get going in the industry?
Brittany: Yeah. So, actually, as I was in college...I mentioned this just briefly before, but as I was in college, I was actually working for a nationwide jewelry chain. So, I had been going to school in California and decided to transfer schools over back to Minnesota, my mom lived here and still does to this day so I wanted to be closer to her. And so, I started school out there and worked for this jewelry chain and was able to transfer, so that was wonderful, that was great. I went through their management and leadership training right as I was going through my management degree at the same time in college, so I quickly realized that the corporate world was just not for me, having how many people to report to and this is how you do things and don't you dare think outside the box. And there was just something in me that said, "I just don't think I can do this forever." So, a job ad...
Michael: It's a good thing to realize when we're still in our 20s, some people get a lot further along before they realize like, "Oh, I got to do something different."
Brittany: Yeah, so, yeah, in that corporate world, it just wasn't something that really resonated, it wasn't something that I felt compelled and connected to anymore. So, this job ad pops up for a client service associate in the town that I was living. Actually, where I was working and going to school was about an hour away, so between the commute and retail hours, this job popped up, and it was in this super nice building, tucked in this corner of the town, it was like the mystery building. So, I got the gumption to apply for a job and long story short, ended up getting hired into the client service associate role, actually ended up taking a massive pay cut to come into the company.
And there was just something...and I don't just say this, this is the God honest truth, there was something in me that was like, "I have to work there, I need to learn about this industry and everything from the website to the people I interacted with." Everything was just so compelling to me because it was so client-centric. There was nothing promoting them necessarily, it was all client-centric and I just loved that. So, come into the business, knew I always wanted to get back into leadership or management, ended up getting moved into the director of operations role, and moved into then the COO role as time evolved, and then finally promoted to president and then one of the owners now at Sweet Financial.
And I would say that a lot of the journey and just the evolvement and coming kind of up through the ranks, I guess you could say, I would honestly say a lot of it is I spent a heck of a lot of time with the founder. When you're in operations and you're managing the business as a whole, you kind of have to stay connected to the founder and the CEO, and we found that we shared a lot of the same processes...or same thought processes when it came to vision, when it came to the future of the company, when it came to actually coaching and growth and being lifelong learners, and really looking at and expanding upon not just our own capabilities, but the capabilities of the team as a whole. So, that's a little bit of the journey kind of in a nutshell there, Michael.
Michael: So, what was the...so the original job that you applied for and took was a client service associate role?
Brittany: Yes, it was client service, and it was actually servicing one of...he's a partner now but he was fairly newly taking over quite a few clients and they needed somebody quickly to be able to come in and help service those clients, it just grew beyond the single client service associate that they had at the time. So, I really came in to support one primary advisor.
Michael: Aside from the, "It seemed like a good firm, I wanted to be there," just what was it that led you to apply for the role and pursue this for, as you noted, like a massive pay cut at the time? Just what were you seeing or what was compelling you to say, "I'm going to take this leap?"
Brittany: I think a big part of it was I knew at least a couple of their clients just from being in a smaller, close-knit community, and they had nothing but absolutely...just reading things to say about the client service level, the advisors in the office, about the founder, and I just looked at it going, "I want to learn more about the business, I want to understand how they actually help people."
And this is just a little bit of backstory, but I grew up with a single mom and I remember at different times in my life, I actually opened the door to her bedroom and saw her crying over her checkbook and not knowing how she was going to pay the bills from month to month and keep a roof over our heads, plus the utilities on, plus the food in the fridge and everything else that comes with raising two kids on your own. So, I knew deep down that I didn't want that for her anytime in the future, I didn't want it for myself and my future potential family. And that was something that really sparked interest in me in understanding more of what it takes to build wealth, to accumulate wealth, and to help serve people and help them reach their goals and their dreams and all that's possible because I think indirectly when you're serving people in that way and in that capacity, you end up learning a lot along the way about yourself. So, that's maybe a little bit deeper layer as to what drew me into this industry.
Michael: And so, then, how did the process work of climbing the ladder? I think you said, like, client service associate to director of operations to COO to president, how does that mobility come about, or how do those role changes happen?
Brittany: One thing that happened was our director of operations, as I mentioned, she moved to be closer to her adult children. So, knowing that I wanted to get back into leadership and back into...I guess, management is such an icky word, I think, but in that capacity, so that position opened up and they ended up really wanting to scout for, like we talked about, like that high-level COO. And what happened was, is I said, "You know, I really want to apply for this role, I believe I can do it, and I believe that it's aligned with my strengths and I talked to this recruiter that they had hired and it's kind of all history from there.
Michael: Sorry, I just want to clarify, at the end of the day, it came about because they were hiring someone...they were running a hiring process externally and you just said like, "No, I want to apply for it too."
Brittany: Yeah. I said, "I just want a shot, I want to apply." I was young, I wasn't that far out of college at that point when that role opened and I think it can be...I understand from their perspective, you're looking at this young gal and she's hungry, she's on fire for life, and you're going, “All right, well, can you handle this operation?" So, yeah, so that recruiter actually looked at Bryan the founder and was like, "You need to just hire Brittany, this is so easy." So, yeah, so I ended up taking that role and as time evolved, as I kind of mentioned, Bryan and I started working closer and closer together. And I really found that...kind of looking at inherent abilities or what drives you and what really gets you excited and happy to get out of bed in the morning and helps your feet bounce off the ground, it was really looking at the vision and the future of the company and paving the way to be a leader for the team and to be a leader for our clients really.
So, as time has evolved on, Bryan, looking at making sure we have solid succession within the business, he had at the time a couple of partners, both of them are absolutely brilliant at what they do. One is an advisor, he's an amazing advisor, the other is our director of wealth services and works very closely with our high net worth clients, they are both amazing individuals. And I think the one piece that Bryan felt was missing was kind of that visionary, like who's going to be that person that continues to drive and foster ideas for the future of the company, and that was something that I was very aligned with. So, when we were talking about my career path and that involvement and everything, that's really how the president role came about was, Bryan, he's going to be active in this until he physically can't anymore because he loves this industry and he loves his career and loves the clients, but wants to make sure that every aspect of the business is covered for the longevity of the company. So, that's really where my path came into play there.
How Sweet Financial Is Structured At The Executive Level [01:08:30]
Michael: So, help us understand just some of the roles and responsibilities. You guys clearly have some very intentional sort of separations and differences between what it means to be a COO, what it means to be a president because that was a role change for you, and Bryan, the founder, is still out there as well with whatever title he carries on, I don't know if he just carries the founder title or he's got like a CEO title as well. So, just how do you carve up in practice the duties, the roles, the responsibilities between a founder and a president and a COO? Who does what? What's the difference between these labels?
Brittany: Well, once we figure it out, I'll let you know. No, I'm just kidding.
Brittany: One thing that...I'll just give some context around this. So, Bryan as the founder is consistently...he's very entrepreneurial in nature. We actually have, outside of Sweet Financial, a couple of different businesses that we own together, he has another one that he has another partner on, so he's very much that entrepreneurial person. So, his whole focus at this point is in creating opportunities for the company and really continuing to look forward into the future and acting as that bigger visionary. So, when you look at my role as the president, I really am the leader of the firm. So, one thing that I like to say is if I am not creating, leading, inspiring, or moving people into action, then I'm probably doing something that's outside of what I should be spending my time on. So, a lot of what I do, it revolves around...I mentioned earlier our internal process or the way we do business is through the Dream Architect, so constantly looking at how can we use that to guide us towards our vision, not only for our clients but for our team as well.
So, I'm behind a lot of the different marketing initiatives, making sure...I'm not necessarily the one that's doing them, but making sure that the vision is clear, that the expectations are set, and that the company is always driving towards that future. And then you have our COO, which is like, if you, again, are familiar with the EOS system, she is like the boots on the ground, making sure the i's are dotted, the t's are crossed, that deadlines are met, that things are moving into action. She's in essentially the whirlwind of the business. So, she is that person that's constantly interacting with the different departments, she's managing kind of the finances of the operation, she's really doing kind of the day-to-day to make sure that the wheels don't fall off and that everything is moving towards that vision that Bryan and I have set.
Michael: And so, what was it like for you then making the shift from having that role, because it sounds like you wore the COO hat to kind of Bryan's president leader hat? Then Bryan moved even further into focusing on creating opportunities for the business, you moved into the present role, someone else moved into the COO role that you previously had. So, I guess I'm just wondering like what's it like and where are the challenges in moving from that COO role to that president leadership role?
Brittany: Yeah, it's interesting because thinking back, we actually hired our COO in February of 2020. So, if you think about the timing on that, about a few weeks later, pandemic hit. So, I wish I could just say that it was all easy and fabulous and everything just wonderfully fit into place, there were some challenges along the way. The COO that we hired, she's amazing, and honestly, the way that we look at this is when you're hiring, you got to let your ego and your pride go away. So, when I was looking at hiring this position, I'm like, "I want somebody that's going to be an even better COO than I was, I want somebody who's even more organized, who is even better at follow-through and deadlines," and that's essentially what we found in her and part of the struggle is actually getting out of some of the things you're normally involved with.
So, for me, I had a very close relationship...I should say, I still have a close relationship, I'm very hands-on in the day-to-day kind of assignments, tasks, things that were going on in the firm. And being able to step back from that and know that, "Hey, I have a COO that I can actually run things through and actually be the filter," and kind of separate myself a little bit from that day to day management, per se, that was something that was hard. And it's still something that I have to kind of put myself in check on and say, "Brittany, this isn't your role anymore, pass this over to our COO." So, it's just making sure that your mindset stays in the right place and that you remember kind of where you should be spending time. And again, it goes back to that handful of activities. I know if I'm working outside of that, then I'm probably doing something that I shouldn't be doing. So, that's something that I would say it's been a challenge but it's been a huge blessing in return.
What Surprised Brittany The Most About Building An Advisory Business [01:13:13]
Michael: So, what surprised you the most about the process of building an advisory business?
Brittany: I would say that the biggest surprise was in the ways or the breadth of opportunities and how you can actually serve people. When I came into this not knowing...I'll be completely transparent and honest, I really had no clue what this industry entails. I was coming into this completely green thinking, "Okay, I'm going to learn what it takes to manage investments," and that was absolutely not the case, it's so much more holistic than that. And when I look at within suite financial in particular, we ended up being wearing so many different hats.
You're an advisor, you're a planner, you're sometimes a psychologist, you're a friend, sometimes you're a punching bag, there are so many different facets to our industry. And I think as time evolves, this is something that...it still surprises me to this day at how many opportunities we have to serve people on whole new levels. So, I think our industry is such a great one to be in because there are just so many things that we can do for people and ways that we can serve at a more holistic level. So, I think that's something that continues to surprise me to this day.
Michael: And in practice then, just how do you navigate and figure out the opportunity set when there are so many opportunities and it's pretty easy to get spun up on too many at once and not necessarily get momentum on many or any of them in the process?
Brittany: Yeah, shiny object syndrome is a real thing.
Michael: Oh, yes.
Brittany: Yes, and I personally have that entrepreneurial brain and I don't know if it gets better or worse with awareness. So, one thing I would say, and I know this sounds maybe a little redundant, but when you look at opportunities...because I'm involved in a couple of different masterminds, we run a mastermind for advisors. So, imagine you're in a room with a bunch of really smart advisors, how many ideas do you think you're going to get? So, it's those things that...you know, I fully believe in constantly putting myself in a room with people that are even smarter than me. So, I think one thing to do, and this is where the redundancy comes into place, it's measure everything against your vision.
That is literally the only thing that has helped to keep myself and our company as a whole accountable is when you're looking at, "All right, if this is who we've committed to being as a company in three years, does this actually fit or is this a total sideline? Is this something that's going to be a distraction or is it an enhancement or a way to create opportunity towards this vision?" So, if you use that as a measure, that's something for us at least that has worked tremendously. When you've got myself and Bryan together, we are squirrel chasing shiny object people and it can be tough, so that's something that's really worked well for us is just staying true to that vision and holding each other accountable to it as well.
Michael: And setting that vision comes from places like Traction and the EOS system or Cameron Herold's Vivid Vision, just to try to figure out if you're not actually really sure what your vision is, that's how you figure out and set what your vision is.
Brittany: Yeah. And one thing I would say too is those are just two tools, the internet's a wonderful place, you could Google visioning exercises. So, those are just things that have worked for us internally here, there are a million different ways you can do it. And the thing that I think is so important is that we as humans, really, this isn't just advisors, this is humans, in general, need to embrace is that we all plan and think about things differently. So, for me, for example, I love to sit down and write in detail, I love to write, that's something I'm passionate about. So, for me to do a visioning exercise like Cameron Herold's Vivid Vision process is right up my alley because it's detailed, it allows you to get kind of colorful with it, and you actually bring this picture to life through your writing. Now, if you're somebody that's like, "I just want the facts, I want to bullet point it out," then do that. If that's what works for you, there is no right or wrong way to create a vision for your future. So, I think sometimes that's where we get hung up where we think we have to do it a certain way and it's just not true. Just find the way that works for you and just put it down to paper. That's at least the first step towards that creation.
Michael: So, what is a typical week then look like for you at this point? How does this role live day-to-day?
Brittany: Yes, so we are in the height of a few projects during the time of this recording, so, really, day-to-day, a lot of, again, my time and energy is spent on creation. So, what that might mean is fostering or vetting out what does our next big marketing initiative looks like. Bryan and I together have written multiple books, so making sure that what's that message look like, we're in the process of actually launching another one right now. So, really looking at the creation, the future opportunity, and when you look at kind of that quiet blocked out time, it's creating additional opportunities for the firm.
Also, my time is spent in meetings. I kind of joke it's like the death by meeting but we have...and I will say, this is another testament to the EOS system, every week, we have a leadership meeting where basically our leadership team gets together, it's for a set amount of time, the same agenda every week, and we talk about what's the status of the company, what are the issues that are arising right now, and what are things we need to solve for? So, having that dedicated time on the calendar has been absolutely monumental for the success of our business and for keeping us focused. And also along those lines, obviously, I have time where I spend with our COO and with Bryan as the founder because we are involved in multiple different businesses, not only focusing on the growth here but also on some of our other ventures as well. So, really looking at the build-out of opportunities and executing on that vision.
Michael: And I guess part of the distinction here of why and the importance of the COO overall is like that's the person making sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed of the things that happen day-to-day in the business so that you can stay focused on the creation and opportunity stuff.
Brittany: Absolutely. And one thing that I will tell you is to find a great COO that can help circumvent this, I am the quintessential drive-by delegator and it's an awareness that I've had for a while now that like if I've got an idea, it's like, "Yes, let's go hammer this out really quickly," and the team is like shell shocked by some of it. So, a great COO was able to take that and I can do that drive-by delegation to her, and then she takes it and puts it into a format that's actually executable and able to follow with the deadlines associated and all of that. So, that's been something that has been absolutely wonderful, it kind of offset may be one of my weaknesses, per se, and that COO role really helps, like you said, i's dotted, t's crossed, and making sure that things actually are moving through in a very systematized process-driven way.
The Low Point On Brittany’s Journey [01:20:03]
Michael: So, what was the low point for you on this journey?
Brittany: Gosh, I think that there are peaks and valleys. And I think that if anybody were to tell you...if you're listening to this podcast too, it's like, "Wow, growth and opportunity and moving from being fresh out of college and now you're president 13 years later," and whatever. That sounds like a really exciting journey but there have been definitely struggles along the way. And I think this is interesting because I think that people should spend a little bit more time with themselves, so I'm going to frame this by saying that. By really understanding where your strengths lie, I think that that's where opportunity becomes abundant. So, for me, there was actually a point in the business before I got more so into the operations type role where I was thinking long and hard about the future in the career, and it wasn't necessarily because of anything with the company but it was because I was working and trying to fit a mold that wasn't me. And the people that are in our concierge or our client service team at this point in time are wonderful and they're excellent at what they do and they love it, I was beat up.
For me to follow through like with the paperwork and the processing and all of it that comes with that, it was outside of my skillset, so there was a time where I thought strongly about just leaving and kind of throwing in the towel for everything. So, I would say that that's one point. The other I would say kind of biggest roadblock was a little bit of when we were navigating between that COO and that presidency role. And, literally, Bryan and I sat in conversations and he's like, "Brittany, you have to craft this job description, I can't do this for you, you have to decide what is it that you're going to get off your plate to be able to free up to essentially generate the growth and opportunity for the business." So, I sat there and for a moment in time, as I'm crafting this job description, I'm thinking, "Oh, my gosh, I feel like I've been failing, if I'm saying that all of these things are things that I'm not wonderful at, it's like my entire job."
So, that was another point that was really hard and I would say that Bryan pushed kind of hard for a while saying, "You know what, Brittany, you've got to craft this and you understand your strengths, I can sit here and give you guidance and my opinion, but you've got to craft this and you're the one that has to say kind of what this looks like in the future. That's why you're being moved into the president role is to be able to make these decisions." So, again, you have to remain humble along the way and ego aside and strengths, weaknesses, all of that combined, that's sometimes tough making that jump into something that's totally foreign that's never been done before because the founder himself was the president the whole entire time so there's been nobody else in that role and it's big shoes to fill and it's scary. So, that was something that I would say definitely was a struggle or a roadblock.
What Brittany Knows Now That She Wishes She Knew Earlier And The Advice That She Would Give To Women Looking To Enter The Financial Services Industry [01:22:54]
Michael: So, what do you know now you wish you could go back and tell you 13 years ago when you were applying for the job and trying to get your foot in the door at the firm?
Brittany: If I would have...from that beginning moment, the first day that I walked through the doors at Sweet Financial is to completely move through fear, that is something that I think really would have moved me even faster into where I wanted and needed to be. That's something for myself now as a little bit more of a mature, I guess, adult, depending upon who you ask, as time has gone on, as experience has gone on, that's something that I focus a lot on now is that if I'm scared and if I have that pit in my stomach, it probably means I'm doing something right, whereas I think maybe before, fear held me back a little bit. So, I think that's one thing that I would definitely change or give myself a little advice on if I could go back 13 years.
Michael: So, I'm also curious for your perspective or I guess your advice for women looking to come into the financial services industry. Because as I'm sure you know, we don't have a lot of women in the industry, we have even fewer in any kind of president leadership role the way that you have. So, what advice would you give to young women or I guess even career-changing women looking to come into the financial services industry today?
Brittany: Yeah, I think that there's so much wonderful opportunity there. Actually, I pulled a couple of statistics recently around women just in general when it comes to wealth control and I think this is important for advisors to pay attention to. So, I have gone through training, it's with Darren Hardy who was the creator of "SUCCESS" magazine. He went through this whole lineup of statistics that said that actually two-thirds of the wealth in the world is controlled by women. That's an insane statistic. And actually, I think this is an interesting thing too, is that when you think about services and/or products that are actually marketed to men, women actually purchase 50% of those. So, think about that, so all these things that are marketed to men, services that are positioned towards men, industries geared towards men, women are making decisions more and more.
There's never been a more active time where women are in the workforce and men are actually kind of that role reversal where they may be stepping back to be like the homemaker or taking care of the kids and all of those things that traditionally, women have done. So, all of that being said, I think that there's going to be a massive transfer of wealth to women in coming years and I think that if you're looking as a woman to come into this industry, I personally don't think there's ever been a better time. When you look at being able to foster those connections and those opportunities and just being able to serve women of wealth coming from that female perspective, I think that there's a lot to be had on the table. And I think that being in this game as a woman, you just have to definitely stay strong and just know that this industry is absolutely made for you, it's just making the conscious decision to put forth the effort and decide that this is the direction that you want to go. But I think with the wealth transfer and with more and more women stepping into these higher-level positions, there's never been a better time than ever to get into the advisory role as a female.
What Comes Next For Brittany And What Success Means To Her [01:26:14]
Michael: So, what comes next for you at this point?
Brittany: There's always so much opportunity and my husband gives me a hard time, he's like, "Brittany, do you ever think about like right now because you're always in the future?" I'm like, "Yes, that is something I'm working on." So, what's next for me is really looking at we have some really big exciting projects going on at Sweet Financial, so I see our company moving fast beyond the actual $1 billion assets under management mark. So, that's something that I definitely am going to have a big part of coming into the near future. Also, we continue to build out our Ultimate...we have a platform called Ultimate Advisor Coaching, and being able to kind of take all of the things that we've learned along the way and teach other advisors, I see us enhancing the way that we do that in such a high capacity and there's so many exciting things that we are excited to teach other advisors about so they don't have to necessarily reinvent the wheel.
So, those are a couple of things that I'm personally excited about for the future and really leaning into and looking forward to. And, obviously, all the milestones that come with being a mom at the same time as my kids grow and we have those experiences. My speaking coach, actually, he softly reminds us once in a while that when you have children, you only have 18 summers, and that's something that I keep in the back of my head all the time is that success is wonderful and accomplishment is great, but there's nothing better and more fulfilling than raising great humans. So, that's something that I definitely embrace and lean into going into the future here.
Michael: So, as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success and one of the themes that come up is just the word success means very different things to different people sometimes. And so, you're on this wonderful path for success and 13 years from entry-level to the president of the firm and coming up on $1 billion, so the business and career are going very well on the success track, but how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Brittany: That's such a great question. I actually have a little post-it note that stuck to my computer monitor, it's a quote from Tony Robbins and it says, "Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure." So, for me, when I look at success and the definition of it, I think of it synonymously with fulfillment. And this maybe sounds a little bit corny or a little bit cheesy, but again, there's another quote out there and I'm drawing a blank on who says this, but when you help other people reach their definition of success, it, in turn, comes back to you tenfold. So, for me being able to help people whether it's through our clients, through our advisors, through our business, whatever, being able to truly reach and achieve their goals and their dreams, that is massively fulfilling to me. So, I think that, in turn, allows me to focus again on my own goals and wants and desires for my future and for the future of my family and all of that. So, fulfillment is really synonymous with that.
Michael: I love it, I love it. Thank you so much, Brittany, for joining us on the "Financial Advisor Success" podcast.
Brittany: Thank you, Michael. It's been my pleasure.