Welcome back to the 207th episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today’s podcast is Lindsay Elwood-Goetz. Lindsay is the founder of Elwood & Goetz, an independent RIA based in Athens, Georgia that oversees nearly $365 million in assets under management for 375 affluent clients. What’s unique about Lindsay, though, is the way she launched her advisory firm within a year of graduating from the Texas Tech Financial Planning Program as an undergrad, and has been able to steadily build over the past 15 years to a successful multi-advisor firm.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about how Lindsay first launched her advisory firm. The pain of only getting two or three new clients in her entire first year of launching in a new city where she had no prior connections while relying on a spouse’s stable income to make ends meet. How the firm generated early opportunities by building a relationship with an estate planning attorney as a center of influence, who was ultimately able to refer some initial clients. And the way Lindsay was able to leverage being fee-only into not only a value proposition for clients but also as a niche to differentiate herself from other advisory firms in her local market.
We also talk about the way Elwood & Goetz has been able to build over the years with a heavy reliance on referrals, the proactive gift-giving that Lindsay has built into the culture of the firm to truly distinguish its depth of connection with clients, the client reference program that Lindsay developed to help support word-of-mouth discussion of her services among clients and prospects, and how Lindsay is focused on the details of the experience of coming to their office as a way to show their attention to detail. Because as Lindsay puts it, when clients can see how much you’re focused on the details of even how their drinks are presented or the office space is conducted, they’ll be more confident in your taking care of the details in their financial plan too.
And be certain to listen till the end, where Lindsay shares how the firm evolved from an individual advisor to a team structure, accelerated after Lindsay became a mother and experienced firsthand the squeeze of trying to be a lead advisor and a new parent at the same time, how the firm is built with a heavy focus on hiring young talent that grows from interns to full-time advisors, and why, even as someone who launched her own firm as a twenty-something, Lindsay still emphasizes the importance of “paying your dues and taking the time to get some experience in your early years.”
So whether you’re interested in learning about how Lindsay creates an “experience” for clients who visit their office, how she differentiates her firm’s service with her attention to detail, or how she shows her appreciation to her clients through personalized gifts, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- The Path That Led To Lindsay Pursuing Financial Planning [05:58]
- How Lindsay Found Her Internship With Evensky & Katz [16:42]
- Where Lindsay Went After Leaving Evensky & Katz [20:30]
- How Lindsay Built Relationships With Centers Of Influence To Find Clients For Her Firm And Why She Decided To Separate From Amicus [29:28]
- How Lindsay Marketed Her Firm [37:28]
- How Lindsay’s Firm Differentiated Their Services Through Their Client Experience And Attention To Detail [43:57]
- How Lindsay Builds Relationships With Her Clients Through Gifting [55:19]
- Elwood & Goetz’s First Hire And The Internship Program That They Use To Hire And Train New Financial Planners [01:00:43]
- What The Firm Looks Like Today And How Their Financial Planner Teams Are Structured [01:14:45]
- Lindsay’s Current Role And The Firm’s Transition From Morningstar To Orion [01:26:17]
- What Surprised Lindsay The Most About Building Her Advisory Business And The Low Point In Her Journey [01:31:42]
- The Advice That Lindsay Would Give Her Past Self And How She Defines Success For Herself [01:37:07]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Lindsay Elwood
- Elwood & Goetz
- Texas Tech Personal Financial Planning
- University Georgia Financial Planning
- Evensky Katz / Foldes Financial
- Amicus Financial Advisors
- Joseph Tombs
- Blueair HEPA Air Purifier
- Olive & Cocoa
- New Planner Recruiting
- Redtail CRM
- Orion Advisor Services
Michael: Welcome, Lindsay Elwood-Goetz to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Lindsay: Thanks, Michael, it’s great to be here.
Michael: I’m really excited about today’s conversation and sharing some of the journey that you’ve had as an advisor. I know you came through one of the early financial planning undergraduate programs, and within a year or two later, were out on your own, had hung your own shingle, building your own firm, and now almost 15 years later, are still going with that firm. And I just kind of find a fascinating story unto itself, because I have to admit the irony actually is, when I talk to younger students coming out of financial planning programs and what to do, I basically tell them not to do what you did.
Which is to go and hang your own shingle as an early mid-twenty-something straight out of school to get going, because it is so hard and so brutal for most trying to do that. But you did it, you are a survivor of it, so with, I guess, a small asterisk about survivor bias, I’m just really excited to hear and share the story of what you did and how you did this and how you made this work. Starting your own firm almost directly out of school.
I know you did a…I think a brief stint somewhere else, and then you went and hung your own shingle. So, would love to just talk about what that journey looks like as you’re coming out of school and thinking about starting your own firm.
Lindsay: Yeah, no. I mean, it wasn’t easy, and I think probably all of my friends and family thought the same thing that you thought in terms of, “You shouldn’t be doing this now, this is kind of crazy.” Although most of them didn’t say it, but you could kind of sense that underlying sentiment.
Michael: “Oh, Lindsay, good for you.”
Lindsay: “Oh, that’s so good. Good for you. If you’re going to try it, this is the time. You have time to recover from a failure.” What most people probably don’t know about me is that I’m super competitive, the type of competitive where I pretend I’m not competitive. Because I’m so competitive, I don’t want other people to know because that gives them an edge. So actually, every time somebody said that, it just kind of made me more sure that that’s what I wanted to do.
Michael: Oh, because now it wasn’t about starting your firm, it was about proving them wrong.
Lindsay: Yeah, and it was doubling down and proving people wrong. Yeah, that was absolutely what it was about. Yeah, and so my partner, Joe Goetz, we did it together. So I have to say that it wasn’t just me by myself, but I…you know, it’s much easier when you have one other person who’s kind of in it with you. Yeah, so I don’t know, but I’m excited to talk about it as well and we’ll probably have some fun conversations ahead of us.
Michael: So take us back to the beginning. I guess like, where did you go to school? What led you to financial planning in the first place? Was this like, “Growing up, I always wanted to be a financial planner, went and found a financial planning program and launched my firm”? Or was it a little bit more serendipitous in the path that led you to financial planning?
The Path That Led To Lindsay Pursuing Financial Planning [05:58]
Lindsay: No, it was serendipitous, for sure. So I grew up in Wyoming and ended up at Texas Tech, who you know…of course you know has a great financial planning program. I ended up there because my grandparents lived in New Mexico, and so it was far away from home, but also I could still drive to see my grandparents if I needed somebody. And also, I could go to Texas Tech for the cheapest amount, basically, because I got scholarships to be able to go there. I changed my major, I’m sure, about three or four times.
I think I was pre-optometry at one point, and then I think my dad thought pharmacy might be a good fit, and so then I changed it to that, and I can’t remember…there was another one in there somewhere. And so I guess the reason I changed from all of that, I took an honors chemistry class, and it was awful. Just awful, you know? Some things come easy to you, right? Just different people have different skill sets and whatever.
Lindsay: Chemistry is not one of mine.
Michael: Which, I guess if you’re going to be in pharmacology, that’s sort of a problem if you really don’t like chemistry, yeah.
Lindsay: Yeah, any sort of premed, whatever, you probably need to like chemistry. Otherwise, it’s just kind of a long road ahead of you. So anyway, I took that college class; I think I ended up getting…I don’t know, I might’ve gotten a C in that class. I hardly ever got a B, so that’s a big deal for me, to get a C, you know, trying hard. And so I went to the Texas Tech Career Center, and I took a Scantron, essentially, a test where they match your personality with a career, and the counselor who – looking back on it, he was probably a graduate student. I don’t know who this person was. But he looks at my test and he looks at me, and he says, “You know, I think you should think about financial planning. They have a really good major here.”
Michael: Okay. Was there a particular reason? Like you’re good with numbers or you seem to want to work with people, or…?
Lindsay: Probably so. I don’t remember all of those details. I think probably all of that was true. And he listed maybe, I don’t know…he might have said “a teacher” or something, but I was like, “I don’t want to be a teacher.” And so he mentioned financial planning, and I have always liked business, math, that’s always been my thing. So I left there, and I went straight to wherever you go to change your major, and I ended up in the financial planning program. So, that’s kind of how that worked. Yeah, he probably had no idea how much he was dictating this person’s life who just showed up in his office.
Michael: Yeah, the funny way our entire career trajectory gets changed because a graduate student who was doing volunteer career counseling hours read your Scantron and gave you some feedback.
Lindsay: And they had just heard of this program earlier that morning, or whatever, I don’t know. But it makes you think about things. It’s like, “Wow, I don’t know. I mean, my life kind of could have gone in so many different directions, and it went this one.” I don’t know, but it was good.
Michael: So you transitioned into the financial planning program. What was it like when you got there and started getting into this education and seeing what this financial planning thing was?
Lindsay: Gosh, okay, let me try to remember some of my early classes. I don’t know; it was a really good fit for me. It’s just kind of like I said earlier. Chemistry didn’t come easy at all, but business and economics and those types of things just do. And so that makes you feel like you’re in the place you need to be, you know? Where you can study things you’re interested in, and they also come easy to you. It was a dramatic difference from my chemistry class to the financial planning program.
And even now thinking back on it, because Joe, my partner, is faculty at UGA, and so they have a financial planning program there that’s also very good, but it’s just different. When we went to Texas Tech, it was just…it felt like a family. Which was really nice, you know? And there were expectations and all the students went to events, and I think the student FPA thing that they had, everybody was expected to go to that, and you knew everybody and you were expected to be involved, and it was just…it was really a special place. So, and of course, I met Joe there as well, so that was nice.
Michael: So as you’re going through the financial planning program, were you, at the time, immersing yourself into, “I’m going to be a financial planner, I’m excited to be a financial planner”? Or was this mostly just the, “These classes are neat. I’m kind of having fun with these classes, and then we’ll see afterward what we want to do”? Did you already know at that point, “I’m going to go hang my shingle and be an advisor”?
Lindsay: Well, no, I don’t think I ever thought that I would hang my own shingle. That was never a thought. I think I thought I would go work for a bigger company like a Vanguard or a Fidelity. And then later on in the program, it was like, I’d go work for an Evensky & Katz, which I did for a year. Or a firm like that. A fee-only… I really wanted to go to. So, yeah, so I don’t think I was just thinking, “Well, these are fun classes, and it’ll be fine for now,” I’ve always been very goal-oriented, so when I got into it, it was like, I was in it.
Michael: So as you were then approaching graduation it’s like, okay, your school days are coming to an end. It’s like, we’re getting to that next stage of life where you have to go find a job and then actually go do this, go do something – earn a living, be productive members of society. What was going on as you were approaching graduation and trying to figure out, okay, what is my first career step going to be?
Lindsay: Well, I remember interviewing at a few different places, but ultimately I ended up just kind of making a list of a few women financial planners that I thought would be good mentors. And so Deena Katz was one of those, and so that’s why I ended up kind of going and applying with them. And I can’t remember, I think maybe they were my…they must have been maybe my first choice for an internship, because of the way…
Okay, so how did this work? So I was supposed to do my internship the summer before my senior year, but then…and I don’t know why I did this, but I ended up taking the CFP exam that summer instead, and then I swapped it. So I remember having to talk to Deena Katz and say, “Hey, would it be okay if instead of doing an internship this summer, could I come in the spring to do it?” And she was supportive and fine with that. I think she probably laughed, thinking, “You’re not going to be able to pass your CFP exam, but…”
Michael: So you were during the CFP exam summer between junior and senior years.
Lindsay: Yeah, yeah. Again, I don’t remember why I did that because that seems a little weird, right? Why would I do that? But I remember Dr. Hampton had to write a letter saying that I’d had the courses, but I hadn’t had Capstone yet. So I had sat…you know, I had taken all the courses that you have to take to sit for the CFP, so I was eligible to do it, but she had to write a letter, I guess, to say that I would be taking the Capstone class, so it would be okay to excuse me somehow.
So for whatever reason, I did that. Yeah, and so then I had an internship kind of lined up for after my coursework, so I finished up my coursework in December, and then I started my internship at Evensky & Katz in January. And so, I didn’t really have a job, you know? I’d finished my coursework, but I had a few-month internship that I hoped, I guess, would turn into a job. And it did. But I didn’t know that it would, you know?
Michael: M’kay, so interesting sequencing. So you were, I guess, almost done after junior year, so CFP exam the summer after junior year, Capstone course sort of spring of senior year, but then you were a December grad, done in December, got an internship in January into the spring semester, and then that kind of morphed into a job from there?
Lindsay: Well, I graduated in May because you had to have an internship to graduate, I think, at the time. So my graduation wasn’t until May, but my…all my classes were done for the most part, except for the internship in December.
Michael: So you got the internship at Evensky & Katz, had to do it in order to graduate, anyway. And then what happened by the time you got through the internship end and graduated?
Lindsay: Well, so let’s see… Well, this is kind of funny. So, I ended up going to the Evensky & Katz because I really wanted to work with Deena Katz, but my timing was not great because when I was leaving to go to Miami, she was transitioning to Texas Tech to kind of teach for them. I guess.
Michael: Oh, right. Because after Evensky & Katz did all their building in Miami, Harold and Deena went to Lubbock and started teaching at Texas Tech. So you were going east just as they were coming west.
Lindsay: I don’t know how it worked exactly. They must’ve kind of done it a little bit gradually because Harold was there most of the time that I was there, and Deena was there some, but she wasn’t there a lot. So anyway, so that whole experience was a little bit different than I expected it to be, but it ended up being really great. I worked really closely with a woman named Deana Kelly, actually, and she just really taught me a lot of stuff about follow-through and this is logistically how you help service a client.
And so, I was only at Evensky & Katz a year, including the internship and everything, but I learned so much being there, just like anybody does probably their first job out of school, but especially just the people that work there. And Dave Moran was another person, I don’t know if you know him or not, that was there at the same time as me, and so they were just… And Harold was great as well, you know? Just all really good mentors.
It’s kind of funny, Joe and I joke every once in a while if we’re not sure what to do about something – and this has been the case over the past 15 years – if we’re ever not sure what to do about, especially an investment kind of situation or financial planning situation, be like, “Okay, what would Harold do in this situation?” So it’s kind of neat to have that to fall back on.
Michael: I am fascinated, though, that the way you found your path to the Evensky & Katz originally was, you made a list of female financial planners who you were hoping to have a chance to mentor under, and that was how you made your hit list of firms to then, I guess, reach out to them and find out, are they hiring? Do they have internships? How do I get in the door?
How Lindsay Found Her Internship With Evensky & Katz [16:42]
Michael: Were Evensky & Katz actually openly hiring for interns, or did you have to contact them and say, “Hey, I’m Lindsay and I’m at Texas Tech and I’d love to be an intern for your firm. Will you make this opportunity for me”?
Lindsay: I know. That seems kind of funny now. Well, I think Evensky & Katz…they were known for having Texas Tech student interns. So Aubrey Moore, I know, interned there before I did. So I think I knew that they had a history of hiring Texas Tech students, but at the same time, there wasn’t an opening per se. So I think what I did is I…I’m pretty sure I emailed Deena directly, and then I think Deena knew the Hamptons really well, Gordon and Vickie, and I’m pretty sure she probably called them and was like, “Who is this person? And should I talk to them or not?” kind of knowing how it works now that I’m past all of that. That’s probably what happened.
And so, I remember Gordon Hampton just kind of…he called me to his office and asked me about sending the email and stuff, and just kind of gave me a little pep talk, I guess, about it. So then Deena scheduled a call with me, and so I remember being in my apartment and I had…I was so nervous for this call, Michael. So nervous. I had these index cards all spread out with possible questions she could ask me.
Lindsay: It’s like, I spent probably…I spent so much time…
Michael: That is some real prep.
Lindsay: Yes. No, I legit did a lot of prep for this, because I really wanted it, you know? So anyway, she calls…or I call her, I think, and maybe she had gone to the bathroom. So then I called back for our time…
Michael: Because there’s nothing better than building up in your head, getting ready to do this big interview, and when you call, and no one answers. Like, “I’m just leaving a message because I thought I was supposed to have an interview with Deena now.”
Lindsay: I know, it was awful. I was like, “Okay, I’ll just call back in a couple of minutes.” So I called back, and then I think she asked me maybe one question, and then she just said, “Okay, well, when can you start?” I was like, “But wait, wait, don’t you want me…to ask me just a couple more things?”
Michael: Yeah, like, “No, I have a lot of answers prepared. You need to ask me these questions because I spent a lot of time preparing these answers.”
Lindsay: Ah, no, but at the same time I was equally relieved that she didn’t ask me any of them, you know? So it was like, “Okay, fine,” and kind of, “that’s good, we’re…we’ll just move on.” So that’s kind of how that worked, and then later on… So that was before I sat for the CFP exam, I guess, that I did all of that, so… And then I had to call back and say, “Would it be okay if I did my internship at a different time period?”
Which, hopefully, they weren’t too frustrated about that and they probably didn’t care too much, but… So, anyway, so that’s kind of how all of that worked leading up to Evensky & Katz. But, yeah, once I was there, I was kind of…they had…let’s see, I guess they had three-person teams at the time? I’m not sure how they do things now, but I was the third person on the team. So I worked with Deana Kelly and Dave Moran the most, but I also got the opportunity to sit in investment proposal meetings with Harold, and that was just an amazing experience, to just see how all of that works that soon out of school. I don’t think I even realized at the time how neat of an opportunity that was.
Michael: Very cool. So, you…like, you’re in Evensky & Katz getting all this exposure to planning work and sitting in on some client meetings and investment proposals and going through it. But you were only there for a year, I think you said. So what happened that your journey ended after a year there?
Where Lindsay Went After Leaving Evensky & Katz [20:30]
Lindsay: Well, so this is something I struggle with too, but as a, now, employer, right? But I followed a boy all the way to Georgia, and I left. I left Miami. And so, you know, Joe was finishing up his Ph.D. at Texas Tech, I guess the year that I was there, and then he accepted a position in Georgia in Athens, to kind of start their financial planning program. And so, so we moved here together, is how that worked.
Michael: Okay, so you made the transition following the boy, who you met in the financial planning program at Texas Tech.
Lindsay: Right, right.
Michael: M’kay, so I guess branched out for a year because you went to Miami for school…or you went for Miami for Evensky & Katz, he stayed in Lubbock, Texas for another year to finish up the Ph.D. Then he finished his Ph.D., got the job to start building the University of Georgia Financial Planning Program, and then once he went to Athens, Georgia to build the program, you left Evensky & Katz to go there and reunite as a couple.
Lindsay: Right, yep.
Michael: So play this out for me. So you’re at a well-known, successful advisory firm, but you’re leaving to follow the boy. These are the decisions we make in life sometimes.
Lindsay: Yeah, mm-hmm.
Michael: You’re going to Athens, Georgia, which is maybe not quite the hotbed of financial planning firm opportunities. Particularly since there was no financial planning program there yet. So, well, was this the point of just saying, “Well, I guess we’re going to launch a firm,” or, “I want to launch a firm,” or, “I’ve interviewed at every firm I can find in Athens and I don’t want to work in any of these, so I guess I have to launch a firm”? How did this work during the Athens transition?
Lindsay: Yeah, no, I mean, it’s kind of that, right? So we moved here, and of course, I kind of looked before we moved. But, yeah, getting here and then seeing the firms that were available, there were no fee-only firms. So, my choice was, I could drive to Atlanta, which is an hour and 15 minutes away, probably, depending on where you go in Atlanta, or we could kind of start our own thing.
But I knew that…I mean, I didn’t want to go…I didn’t want to do the commission thing and the salesman kind of thing, I just…that wasn’t the route that I wanted to take. Just because I like the cleanness of fee-only. I like just not having to kind of worry about that. And that’s what Evensky & Katz was, right?
Lindsay: So that’s kind of what I was used to. And so here, there were a few kind of RIA firms, but…and I didn’t even go interview with them. I guess because they weren’t fee-only. I don’t know why I didn’t. It kind of seems like we would have at least checked it out, you know? But I think Joe was kind of excited about starting our own thing. I didn’t really think too much about driving to Atlanta. That’s just too far. I didn’t want to be driving that much.
Michael: On a daily basis, back and forth.
Lindsay: On a daily basis, yeah. I just couldn’t. So anyway, so we just made the decision to do that.
Michael: And so you did, and so…
Lindsay: And so we did. Yeah.
Michael: Left E&K, moved to Athens, and said, “Okay, and Joe and I, we’re starting this firm.”
Lindsay: Right. And so, so at first…the first few years we actually kind of worked with one of our former professors. Joe Tombs had a firm called…or, and still does, it’s called Amicus Financial Advisors. So when we first started an office, we kind of affiliated with them, in that we opened an Amicus office in Athens. So it was like, we were getting the clients and kind of opening an office that way, but we had their kind of support to some extent.
Michael: Oh, interesting. So is the basic idea, like, you didn’t actually start your own standalone RIA entity, you essentially became like IARs, representatives under Amicus as RIAs?
Lindsay: Yeah. So the way they work, each advisor…it’s kind of like we were IARs, you’re right, is how that worked. But the offices were very independent, and so I still had my clients that I worked on, but they would do the compliance filings. But what’s interesting is, so he was kind of starting that at the same time as we were starting ours. I don’t know how the dates kind of work; they didn’t have very many clients when we decided to open up an office here.
Michael: From their time, then, it was probably appealing for you to come under the umbrella because if you brought and contributed any revenue, it would help cover their overhead and compliance costs for getting the firm going.
Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. And then the other piece was, I was doing all of the plan writing for…if anybody in Amicus brought in any clients, I would write the financial plan for the advisor. So that kind of gave me some hourly revenue, right? Because at first, you have zero clients, so you have to wait until you get the first client to be able to write the plan for them. So this was 2006, and so we were…we just kind of gradually built up clients. We probably got maybe 2 or 3 clients the first year in 2006. This is not a fast process when you kind of start trying to get your own clients and build up a firm.
Michael: As I kind of become fond of saying, the first year is really sucky for everyone. We all try to find the shortcuts, but it’s awful for everyone. Yeah, the first year is horrible, the second year is basically a repeat of the first year. Usually, by the third year, there is a little bit of momentum. One of those clients from the first year actually sends you a referral by the third year.
Lindsay: Oh, right.
Michael: I was like, “Oh, okay. Now I see how this growth with referrals thing goes.” Because it doesn’t work when you’re getting started because you have no clients to refer you.
Lindsay: Oh, it doesn’t. And especially moving to a new town. I mean, we didn’t know anybody. And so Joe ended up making some…just some friends and things at UGA, people that he worked with, so we had some kind of acquaintances that way. And that’s actually what led us to finding kind of our first office. Because at first, we didn’t even have an office space, right? And of course, you’re coming out of pocket for that because you have no clients and you have no revenue, but at the same time, you need an office to be able to get clients to have revenue.
Because this was 2006, not 2020, so you couldn’t just set up something online and work from home. So, anyway, so one of the…they had found an adjunct faculty member locally, an attorney, that was going to teach the estate planning class for UGA. And so we ended up going by his office and kind of meeting with him, and we had a really good conversation about kind of what we were planning to do, and he ended up…by the end of the conversation he was like, “Well, you know, I have an office that you could rent.” And so, I rented this one office from him, and we stayed there until 2018.
Lindsay: We shared the offices with this attorney. So the way it worked, there were kind of two sides of the building, and so it…the first couple of years I just rented the first office, that was just enough room for me, and there was a shared conference room. So, if I had clients coming in, which wasn’t very often, I would just kind of coordinate that with the receptionist and I’d use the conference room. But I was able to put a sign up and kind of do all that kind of stuff. And then over the years, we just started kind of adding offices, so by 2018 we’d kind of taken over half of the building and using the offices.
And this was actually the attorney that referred us, our very first client, and probably is responsible for, gosh, I don’t know, 15% of our business, right now? So he just ended up being…he is a really good friend now, but also just… I mean, it takes a lot of faith to refer a client to somebody that you know is just starting and has no clients. That was kind of a big thing that he did for us. So anyway, we’re really thankful that that kind of ended up working out.
Michael: But it does, I think, reinforce the interesting approach from a business development perspective that one of the ways that advisors get clients, and including both early on and on an ongoing basis, is building relationships with so-called “centers of influence.” People, who themselves have opportunities to meet clients or potentially refer clients, and one of the big ones has always been other accountants, CPAs, or attorneys, particularly estate planning attorneys, because they often have kind of a transactional business, so they need lots of people. Which means they may occasionally meet people who might be good people for you to meet. So, it sounds like that actually ended up being a big piece of the early growth.
How Lindsay Built Relationships With Centers Of Influence To Find Clients For Her Firm And Why She Decided To Separate From Amicus [29:28]
Lindsay: I think it’s a hard thing for advisors, especially starting out. It’s like, it just feels like, how do you go introduce yourself to an estate planning attorney? That’s intimidating to have to go do. Even right now, if I had to go do that, I’d be kind of not looking forward to it. But I think if you can make it just kind of more personal, right? I mean, I didn’t ask him for clients, I just did a good job of checking in with him and being pleasant around the office. And we’d have good conversations and things, and it’s just kind of like you develop an organic relationship.
It doesn’t have to be anything that’s forced like, “I’ll send you a client if you send me one.” That’s what I’ve always thought about when people are like, “Well, go create some centers of influence and make some connections.” It just feels so kind of artificial a little bit? And it might just be the way that I’m doing it. I’ve just found, for me, I just…I have to go into relationships like that thinking that I’m not going to get anything out of it, and that’s actually when they’re successful, when you’re just sincere about, “Oh, this person has a really neat perspective, and maybe I can help them out.” It’s just kind of a different framework, I guess.
Michael: Interesting. So piece together this first year or two for me. You tucked in under Amicus so that you wouldn’t have to quite do all the grinding of all the compliance work and everything from scratch, you could layer into them.
Lindsay: So, with Amicus, they were actually not the only…which is interesting, because I said that I didn’t work with any of the other RIAs in town because they weren’t fee-only. But, they were fee-only on the investment side. So, I actually had my insurance license for the time that I was with Amicus to be able to sell term life insurance. I think I had a couple of clients that bought long-term care policies because that was when they had the unlimited benefit period and that type of thing.
So, yeah, so I mean, it was a great…it was a really good learning experience, and it was nice to kind of have their backup, right? Because if I have a client come in, I don’t quite know how to handle the situation. I had Joe Tombs to call, I had…Jesse Longoria was just really a great mentor too, and so I was able to just kind of build up my expertise that way. When my confidence probably wasn’t quite where it should be, I could fall back on these people if I needed to.
And so that was really great, and so over time the clients just kind of built up. And so I guess it was in 2000…the end of 2010 is when we decided to part ways, and that was all very amicable. Yeah, no pun intended there, amicable and Amicus, but…
Michael: Yeah, amicably parted from Amicus. Because would there be any other way to part from Amicus?
Lindsay: Right, exactly. But, no, they wanted to focus…they were focused on structured settlements, and that’s why they couldn’t be fee-only. And we felt pretty strongly, and it probably took us a couple of years actually kind of get there, so probably around 2008 we started thinking, “Really, we need to be fee-only here,” not just because that’s what we wanted, but also because there were no other fee-only firms in Athens, and so it just felt like the right business thing to do.
And so we kind of started talking about it, and I don’t know when we actually kind of made that decision. It was probably earlier, I guess, in 2010 that we just kind of decided to kind of part ways. And so we did, and Amicus continued, and that’s when we officially filed as Elwood & Goetz, was in 2010, made that transition. And that’s when we hired our first employee, also, is 2010.
Michael: So, I want to make sure I kind of got this progression right. So you launch in 2006 under the Amicus umbrella. Year one is sucky, as it is for pretty much anyone, it’s two or three clients, but getting to do some hourly work for other advisors in Amicus by helping them do their plans. And it sounds like they had some internal thing where you actually got paid for your time doing the plans for the other advisors in the firm?
Lindsay: Yeah. I think it was probably $20 an hour or something. I don’t remember what it was, but just an hourly rate.
Michael: When you have a lot of time and not a lot of clients, anything that’s paid feels really good, yeah.
Lindsay: It’s fine. Yeah. It helped because the office we were paying for here was $500 a month, so it kind of helped probably offset that…some of those expenses. And I was 24 at the time. So, no, you’ve got that right so far.
Michael: And then around the same time you meet the attorney who you end up renting the office space with and start building a relationship there that eventually turns into some opportunity for referrals. And I guess paralleling at the same time, Joe is now Professor Goetz at the University of Georgia, so the household now gets an academic salary to balance out start-up entrepreneur advisory firm?
Lindsay: Right, yeah. So I think his salary was…well, when we moved here, so yeah, 2006 it was…I think it was $55,000?
Michael: It got you by well enough in Georgia as a mid-20s couple?
Lindsay: It got us by, yeah. I mean, it was tight, for sure, but it was enough. That makes a big difference, right? To have just even some income coming in makes a big difference when you’re trying to start something like this.
Michael: Yep, yep. Particularly, I guess the real – that barbell balance of extremely unstable starting-a-business-income and relatively stable academia income, like, granted, not at tenure yet so we don’t quite get the same stability when you’re getting started, but at least UGA salary is a lot more stable than trying to get clients going in the first year or two.
Lindsay: No, absolutely. And then we also got married in 2006, and my dad ended up…he gave a…kind of said, “Well, you can have a wedding or you can just have the money and kind of do what you want to do.” So, I think was either $15…I think it’s maybe $15,000 that he gave us, and so we used $5,000 to go to Jamaica and get married, and the other $10,000 we used in the business as well. So we had a little bit of kind of start-up funds from that.
Michael: Very cool. I guess the good news of the destination wedding to Jamaica is it keeps it kind of small because not a lot of people travel with you to the destination wedding in Jamaica.
Lindsay: Yeah, no, we didn’t invite anybody, we… That’s kind of awful, right? They give you money for a wedding, then you’re like, “I’m sorry, you’re not invited. We’re just going on our own.” But yeah, no, I just…I have never been a person that likes attention, and so the idea of walking down the aisle was kind of a nightmare scenario for me. And so, anyway, I don’t think my parents were all that upset that they didn’t get to come.
Michael: Well, I guess after a lifetime of raising you I would imagine they were not terribly surprised by the decision.
Lindsay: Probably not.
Michael: “What do you know, Lindsay doesn’t want a big, giant wedding with a whole bunch of people watching them walk down the aisle.”
Lindsay: Yeah, it’s interesting. I don’t think I ever…I guess a lot of people think that women want big weddings, you know? And they might have thought that. It was just was never a topic of conversation at our house, it was never… I remember my dad just being like, “How old are you going to be when you get married?” And I’d say, “Thirty.” That was kind of the expectation for weddings and marriages – that you wait a little while to do it, so… I didn’t wait a while, but I didn’t have the big wedding, so I don’t know.
Michael: So then, what happens in kind of year two of this? I know by three or four years out you said you were getting to the traction point where you split off from Amicus. But where were clients coming from by year two or three? Was this mostly from the attorney at this point, or what were you doing to market yourself?
How Lindsay Marketed Her Firm [37:28]
Lindsay: A lot of it was from the attorney. Yeah, for sure. I’m trying to think, early on our clients… Joe had done a seminar at the veterinarian school in town, and that actually led to…and that’s maybe the only seminar he’s done. He’s maybe done a few, but they were all at the vet school. And so that kind of started a little bit of a stream of incoming clients, and so those were a lot of our early clients – veterinarians from the vet school – and then referrals from this attorney that we met. And I think we had one person find us just looking us up in the phone book. And he’s still a client, I just met with him the other day.
Michael: Back when The Yellow Pages were actually still around.
Lindsay: Back in The Yellow…yeah, where you had to be in the phone book. So, I think that was pretty much it, and then by then, probably some referrals had started. And then a few of Joe’s colleagues from the university would come over, and that was always kind of interesting because he was working full time at UGA, and still is. But at that time he was working towards tenure, and so he really wasn’t as involved in the business at that point, so…
Michael: But in the university, he’s the guy running and building the financial planning program, so if you work for the university and you’ve got some financial planning problems, that’s probably a good person to talk to.
Lindsay: To talk to, and then he would send them to me. And sometimes it’s interesting how the university works, sometimes people who know him want to work with him specifically. And other times if they know him really well, they’ll be like, “You know, could just somebody else from your team be on my case?” because they have a different kind of relationship with him. And so it would go both ways.
The department head who hired him ended up becoming a client, and they are still great clients and good friends of ours, so it was just kind of a very slow kind of incoming of clients. But you know what? I wouldn’t have been able to handle a lot at once, so looking back on it, although it seemed really slow at the time, it was probably kind of the way it needed to be, just to kind of let us get caught up and kind of get our footing and figure out how we were going to kind of make it work.
And so by the time we broke off – I was able to kind of just look up some numbers – we had about $16 million. So between 2006 and 2010, October of 2010, we’d worked up to $16 million. Which seems like a really long time to build up to $16 million in assets, but that’s how long it took.
Michael: But, you know, per proverbial 1% fee, give or take a little, you were up to $160,000 of revenue. So there is some positive cash flow coming in and things are getting going. As I think you said, not only did you break off, but that was the point of hiring the first team member.
Lindsay: Well, but of course, there wasn’t really…I mean, yeah, there was cash flow coming in but it was going back out just as quickly, because you have all of those kinds of break-off expenses, and now to buy the portfolio reporting system, and hire an employee and do all of these things. So, it was still kind of a break-even year for us, I think, that year, but then we started to kind of catch up from all of those expenses, so, yeah.
Michael: So you made the transition in 2010 to officially hang your own shingle, and I think you had noted then, one of the…sounds like one of the material issues for you was really wanted to not just be a fee-only firm per se, but that that essentially was, that would be your differentiator in your market in Athens, Georgia because there were no other fee-only financial planning firms in town.
Lindsay: Right. Yeah.
Michael: Did that work? Is that the point you hung your own shingle and started going to market more directly that we’re a fee-only firm in Athens? Did that actually help to get the growth going?
Lindsay: You know, I think it did. We didn’t really do any other marketing, which we could have done other marketing. But really, our marketing strategy was just, when you have a client come in, just do such a great job for them that they’ll feel guilty not referring their friends and family. You know? Just do such a great job that it’s just…it’s going to be hard for them to not refer people. And when we’d have the clients come in, that was a big value proposition for us, right?
We’re saying, “We’re fee-only; there are no commissions,” and I think that resonated with people, because that’s what people think about when they think about financial services, is just, “Can I trust you? Are you getting compensated from this? I don’t know how much I’m paying.” And so we would just have those conversations about, “Look, it might look like…you might know the fee that you’re paying us and it might feel like now you’re actually paying, but you’re actually paying less than you were.”
And we’d kind of do a fee-analysis to kind of show them that, and we’d show that the fees are going to be less and the service is going to be tenfold. And we’ve just been able to do that and keep that up over the years, which is really important. And I think just as I know from just life, right? It’s hard to get people to follow up and give you good service. I met with the landscaping people yesterday, and I’m probably going to have to follow up with them a few times to kind of get the things done that I wanted to get done. So if you can just be a business that follows through, is proactive, offers good customer service, and makes…you know, makes things easy for people, that’s kind of a big deal.
Michael: So do you have any sense, though, of, why does this seem to work so well for you? Because I do know a lot of other advisors out there who will also at least make the case, like, “We give great service to our clients, we do good work for them.” I think FPA put a study out a few years ago of serving advisors, of how they differentiate, and I think it was 72% of advisors who said they gave above-average service.
Which, of course, is actually a problem because you can’t have 72% of advisors be above average, but… I mean, we all take pride in our service and how we service clients, but a lot of firms don’t seem to quite get the referrals flowing. Like, “I feel like I’m doing all this stuff for my clients, but I don’t feel like I’m getting many referrals and business from them.” Do you have any sense as to why did this seem to gain traction for you? Is there a difference in how you do the service, or how you asked, or something else?
How Lindsay’s Firm Differentiated Their Services Through Their Client Experience And Attention To Detail [43:57]
Lindsay: Well, maybe. I don’t know that, Michael, because I haven’t really done it any other way. When I worked at Evensky & Katz, they weren’t very focused on the planning aspects, it was more investment-focused, which a lot of firms are. And we’re very much focused on the financial planning and the investment. So it takes kind of three meetings, really, to get a financial plan in place for clients. I don’t want to say I’d question the advisor’s, kind of, service level, but it is relative, right? I mean, depending on what you’re comparing your service to, maybe it’s good, but I don’t know.
Michael: And do you otherwise have a process of asking for referrals or nudging clients for referrals?
Lindsay: We’re in the South, you don’t do that. We can’t do that.
Lindsay: Okay, this might be helpful. Okay, this is kind of something interesting that we do, and this has been my focus from the beginning. So when we kind of started Elwood & Goetz in 2010 – kind of broke off from Amicus, started Elwood & Goetz – I remember telling Joe, I was like, “Look, we are not pinching pennies. I want to do things the right way. If I want to send a client gift, we’re going to send a client gift. It’s going to be a good one, and it’s going to be a personal one.”
And so, that’s actually something that we do a really good job at, I think, is just our client gifting. If a client gets a new house, they have a baby, if they retire, if they’re sick, if they have had surgery, and if there’s any occasion for us to send a gift, we try to send a gift. And we try to make it a really personal gift, you know? Like a cutting board with their initials on it, or…I don’t know what else we send. Like these little candles that a local candle maker made when somebody becomes a client, with a thank you note.
We try to make it very, kind of, focused on the client that way, and that might’ve actually helped over time because I think clients appreciate kind of that little attention to detail and just…and makes them feel like we care about their lives. Which we do. But sometimes that doesn’t come through when you’re super busy, trying to get stuff done. So I think it’s kind of those little touchpoints that it doesn’t feel like it’s necessarily business, that it feels more like a friend sending you something.
We send casseroles to clients that have had surgery, we’ve gone to the local bookstore and picked out books and taken them to their house because, I don’t know, they needed something to do after they recovered, and then we also have…so we have a client reference program. So I said before that we don’t ask for referrals, that’s…I mean, we don’t directly, but we do have a list of about 20 people that we’ve asked to serve as client references.
And so, what that means is, we just say, “Sometimes when somebody comes in, they weren’t referred from another client, they’re not sure what to expect from our process. Would you be willing to serve, or to take a call, or answer an email just kind of telling them what your experience was?”
Michael: So they’re not getting proactive testimonials – because, of course, we’re not allowed to do that – but, when client is, say, like, “Is there another client I could talk to and understand how this works?” “Yes, we actually…we have a list of people that you can talk to.”
Lindsay: Yeah. Or just about the process, not even about… I don’t think they ever even ask if…well, I actually don’t know what they ask about. But I think it’s more about just, “Can I trust these people? How long have you worked with them? Are they people that I can trust?” kind of a thing. So then we’ll send the clients on our client reference list, we send them a holiday gift every year that’s a really nice one and just say, “Look, thank you. We know you took time out of your year to respond to some of these requests, and we really appreciate you sharing that with them.” We don’t ask what it is, we don’t ask if it’s going to be a good kind of reference. Hopefully, it is.
Lindsay: You know?
Michael: Usually if they just really want to trash you, though. They’d just trash you online and move on, not hang around those clients just to sabotage your business development efforts.
Lindsay: Yeah, hopefully. Hopefully not. But it’s kind of those little things that I think make a big difference. Like when they come into our office, we want it to be an experience, so I’ve set it up where we have kind of spa music playing in the background, they come into the conference room; we have…we can make them cappuccinos, we have bottled water. And right now we have this little kind of card…and because of the whole mask thing – you know, that’s been such a mess – about kind of…about the precautions that we’re taking and kind of our policy on wearing masks and that kind of stuff, so they don’t have to worry about that.
Michael: Interesting. So just a written card in the office like, “How our firm is handling the pandemic so you could feel safe in our space.”
Lindsay: Right. It says “Our COVID Policy” at the top, and we just put it at their place setting so that they can see it and kind of read it before we come in. And we talk about how we’ve implemented these HEPA filter things in the conference room, and we’re sanitizing before and after, and wearing gloves while we’re preparing drinks if they would like something, and…
Michael: Wait, wait, what’s the…? Oh, well, I get sanitizing before and after and wearing masks. What’s the filter thing?
Lindsay: Oh, so just some of those HEPA filters that you can run. HEPA filtration system, what are they called? It’s like, Blueair or something like that? If you go to Consumer Reports and you just type in “air filter,” you can run them, and it essentially circulates the air, and it does catch the COVID kind of germs. I guess. So we leave those running in the meeting rooms. And then a big thing has been the masks. How do we do it?
So luckily, our conference room is very long, and so…and we have a very long table, and so we’ve just kind of positioned the chairs so that the two people in the meeting with the clients will be at one long end, and that the clients will be at the other end. And we just say, “Because we are more than 6 feet apart, if you’re comfortable taking off your mask, you’re welcome to do it, and we’ll take the lead. We’ll take your lead from that.” And so that makes it less uncomfortable, because at first, with COVID, people would come in, they’d be wearing a mask, we’d be wearing masks, but you can’t hear, you can’t breathe, you don’t know if the client wants to be wearing a mask or not.
And so it was just very uncomfortable because we couldn’t…and it would just be a whole conversation about, “Okay, well, do you want to leave your mask? Or you can take your mask off if you want to,” but then you don’t really feel comfortable either, and it kind of goes both ways, and it’s just a mess and awful. So that’s why we developed these little note cards that essentially say, “Because we’re socially distanced, we’re comfortable with you taking off your mask if you’d like to, and we’ll follow your lead, whatever you choose,” because people are so divisive on the issue about whether they should or shouldn’t be.
And so that was just a decision we made as a firm, to handle it that way. So anyway, we’re trying to make an experience, I don’t know… You haven’t been to our office, I guess, but it’s…in Athens, Georgia there is an avenue called Milledge Avenue and it’s where all of the fraternities, sororities, a lot of the businesses are on this street, and it’s these old houses, that a lot of them have been redone. And so I guess it was about 2013. We bought this house that needed to be renovated with the intention of converting it to an office, and that took a number of years.
But we finally did it, and so we’ve been here for a couple of years now and it’s…we did it on purpose because it’s…it doesn’t feel like a financial planning office. It feels like you’re coming into somebody’s home, because it was somebody’s home, and we’ve kind of decorated it that way. The kitchen, or the break area, looks like a kitchen in your home. And so I think that goes a long way to help clients feel comfortable in the space and just feel at ease, you know? And I’m very particular about how things are and are done, so we’ll have little training sessions on the cappuccino machine.
And, “These are the napkins and the cups that you use, and this is how it should be presented, and that’s where the thing…” So I think all of those image things go a long way with clients. If they feel like you’re taking care of the details of your space, or how the drinks are served, or of the COVID situation, they’re going to feel confident that you’re taking care of the details in your plan. Or in their plan. And if some of the details are not there for the obvious things, then why would they have any confidence that the details are going to be there when you’re planning for their future?
Michael: Yeah, I guess sort of the…think it reminds me of kind of the broken windows policy. If you address the small stuff and you make it clear that the small stuff won’t be…small problems won’t be tolerated, people get more comfortable that the large problems aren’t being tolerated, either. That’s sort of the negative spin, you’ve got whatever the good version equivalent of the broken window policy is of, “If we’re this focused on how your cappuccino is presented to you, wait until you see what we do with your financial planning.”
Lindsay: Exactly, yeah. And that’s why I get…you know, I get kind of frustrated sometimes when the details aren’t the way that I want them, and I’m sure… I try to be nice about it, though. I’m not mean. But it is important to me that things are a particular way.
Michael: But, again, I think that that’s what starts to make the distinction of, hey, maybe advisors who feel they give good service and sort of the…maybe the distinguishing factor of what you’re doing of… I think what you are describing is a level of attention to some of those details that either some of us just don’t focus on as much, or don’t have the time and capacity to focus on as much, or just isn’t quite our thing but has become part of your differentiator in how you connect with clients, that you do go to that level of depth and detail in how the whole experience is framed up for them.
Lindsay: Yeah, and not that the other advisors… I know how hard it is to get clients, so it could be very well that somebody is doing everything right and it’s just not working out for them in a certain year. They’re not getting client referrals. So I don’t mean at all to say that there is something wrong with their business or how they are doing things. I know how that is, because sometimes that’s just the case, especially early on. But it’s just trying different things, and that’s just kind of…
That’s what’s worked for us, I guess. Or what I think has worked for us. I don’t really know what’s attributed to it. It’s probably a combination of all of the above, right? But I like to think it’s some of my attention to detail that has helped a little bit over the years.
Michael: So when you talk about these items, like sending out all of these very detailed, personalized client gifts, is this literally you shopping and picking out gifts? Is this one of your natural gifts, that you’re a…one of those people that’s a really good gift-giver, or is this a firm-wide thing, or do you have greatgifts.com website? How did this actually come together?
How Lindsay Builds Relationships With Her Clients Through Gifting [55:19]
Lindsay: Well, so, in the early years, yeah, I would do it, or…and I would have maybe one of the employees help or whatever. But now I have an assistant, Carol, who really helps me with a lot of those things, and so we’ll kind of work together and she’ll…I’ll kind of say, “This is what I’m thinking. Could you help me kind of figure some of this out?” Or, “Yeah, I really like this, but it’s not presented in the right way. Can you find a different way to package it?” kind of a thing. And so we’ve really kind of narrowed it down to where we have a few different gifts, we’re not completely customizing anymore.
Probably the years of going to the bookstore and choosing a few books for this particular client, that that’s probably not going to happen a whole lot going forward, unless it’s just a good friend client. But we do have a series of a few different things. Like if somebody’s retiring, we’ll, “Should we do this, this, or that?” And then we’ll kind of take care of that. And we’ve identified some vendors over time that have been good and present things in a nice way, I think. Because presentation makes a big difference, you know?
The gift can be great, but if the presentation isn’t there, it’s not going to be received as well, so I kind of make a big deal about that. So this year for our client reference thank you gifts we’re sending out cutting boards that were locally made in Athens by a family, and so they are just these beautiful cutting boards and can be used kind of as serving platters for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other holiday, really. And so those are going to be hand-delivered, or mailed if the client doesn’t live in Athens, and they’re packaged very nicely and we have kind of this little write-up about who did it and how it was…we’re supporting a local business, and just kind of the story of those.
Last year I think we did blankets, and we put all of the…their initials on it, so like a monogram for each client, and that that’s gotten to be a little tedious. So we’re probably not going to make them quite that personalized going forward because I’m so paranoid that the person that I have mailing them is going to screw it up, and the wrong thing is going to go to the wrong person. So we’re going to have to not do the monograms as much, or for these types of gifts anymore, just because I’m too nervous about that. I don’t know. That would be pretty awful, though, right?
Michael: Yeah, like how to take great gift-giving and then completely crash it, and personalize the monogram, and then send the wrong monogram.
Lindsay: The wrong person. Oh, man, that’d be…oh, that’d be awful. Have nightmares about it. But, yeah, we still do that for those state cutting boards, and sometimes if a client moves, we’ll give them a little Georgia state cutout cutting board that kind of has their initials on it and stuff, just to kind of…so they can remember Georgia. Things like that that I think they really appreciate.
Michael: So, out of curiosity, is there a particular one or two gift vendors that are go-tos for you that do this with sort of nice quality and nice delivery? Because I think for a lot of us advisors, just finding who actually does, quote, “good client gifts” is tough. So you have a…I don’t know, a suggestion or two of who you use that you’ve actually been happy with?
Lindsay: Well, it’s really hard, Michael, because I think the closest one I found is Olive & Cocoa, and they can kind of do a mono…they’ll send your gift in a little wooden box, and you can monogram it with your logo or your name on it of the firm, and… But it’s kind of more foodie kind of gifts, which I don’t…I’m not a huge fan of those, but sometimes we will use them for clients that are out-of-state or just for different things that we need.
So we do use them a good amount, but… I mean, the best gifts, the gifts I’m most proud of are kind of the ones I put together myself. And that’s just so time-consuming. And Carol probably spends…I mean, half of her time is probably spent on gift-giving.
Michael: But, again, when you talk about, “What are the service differentiators that are really, really differentiated service?” at the end of the day, not a lot of firms have a team member who spends half of their time just doing personalized gifts for clients. And that when you start getting into, “How is this actually different from everyone else?” that’s the part that’s actually different.
Lindsay: Okay, well, thank you. That’s nice to hear that there is something there, yeah. Yeah, I think so, and it’s, you just…I’m at the point where I just want to be proud of whatever we do, you know? And I just want clients to feel good about it and to be…feel good that we took the time to do it, and I think it does make a difference over time.
Michael: So talk to us about how the firm, then, has evolved over the past 10 years from $16 million in 2010, we’re now hanging our own shingle, we’ve survived the financial crisis – which, of course, was wonderfully timed in the first few years of your being out on your own – you hired the first employee. So I guess, who was the first hire? I mean, just what did you hire for? And how did the firm start growing and evolving from there as you came out of 2010 as Elwood & Goetz?
Elwood & Goetz’s First Hire And The Internship Program That They Use To Hire And Train New Financial Planners [01:00:43]
Lindsay: Right. So, yeah, our first employee was Alden Mergenthal – who’s married now – so it’s Shmerling, is her last name. She is now a partner, so that obviously worked out really well, thank goodness. She was probably completely overwhelmed in the first year. I’m sure she went home crying probably 25% of the time, so I don’t know.
Michael: What was going on that was so overwhelming?
Lindsay: Oh my gosh, Michael. Okay, I’m very particular. You probably gathered that from this call a little bit. And she was my right-hand person, you know? I was going from doing everything. Right? From putting the postage on the stamp, the paperwork, the planning, the follow-up, the scheduling – I was doing everything for everybody – to having one employee.
And I had never trained somebody before, so it was like, I would just kind of gradually give her things, and we were having to…we were transitioning from Amicus to Elwood & Goetz. So Amicus used Schwab’s PortfolioCenter, and we were moving to MorningStar, and that whole conversion process is…you probably know, it’s a bit of a nightmare. And so I had her running reports to reconcile to make sure that accounts were the same, and we’re getting the same return in both of the software systems.
The only positive thing about that was that we didn’t have very many clients, so it’s not like…so it couldn’t be that bad, I guess. But for the clients we had, it was very tedious, and so… And it was her…she interned somewhere else in Atlanta, but it was essentially her first job out of school too. And so I was just kind of having her do everything that I was doing and just kind of trying to gradually give it to her. But I’m sure to her, it didn’t feel very gradual, you know?
She was just kind of…she was in it, and she was in pretty much every meeting that we did, she would kind of do the notes and help us with the follow-up, and just gradually she just kind of really developed into this amazing financial planner, and so we made her a partner a couple of years ago. Now she owns 8% of the business.
Michael: So when she started, was she coming onto the firm in a path of becoming a financial advisor and came into an associate advisor role? Or was it just like, “I just need a person to do things, so you’re just going to do things and we’ll figure this out later”?
Lindsay: She was out of the program. So Joe was one of her professors at UGA, and so he knew her from that…from school, and could kind of say, “She was a good student, and I think she’ll be really good.” So, yeah, no, she intended to be a financial planner, and she was within a couple of years. I don’t know when she started handling clients on her own, really. Gosh, I’m trying to think, but I mean, for sure, by 2014, she was kind of…had taken the lead on a lot of client leads or cases by then. So it was a big progression for her too, and she was with us from the very beginning.
Well, not the very beginning, but the very beginning of Elwood & Goetz. We’d made it to the $16 million AUM mark, she was with us from that mark, until now we have about $365 million. So that’s a lot of change that’s happened in the last 10 years. So since then, we’ve had…we have one other person who helped a lot, she’s no longer with us, and then this year we’ve hired a bunch of people, but between this year and probably when she started, the people that are still with us are Ben and Aysha. They’re great.
They are just all super talented and just hard workers, you know? And it’s so hard to find the right people, and we’ve had a number of people that haven’t worked out. And let’s just talk for a minute about how awful that can be when you have to fire somebody. I mean, that’s terrible.
Michael: So, where have you gone that you’ve been able to find good talent?
Lindsay: Our UGA connection is great, right? Because we have Joe, who’s essentially interviewing them, and we have more… I mean, we have Lance and Swarn, too, at the university who are interviewing them for a few years, but they don’t really know that they’re being interviewed. So they can kind of see, okay, who are the students that have…that are obviously talented as a student? My most important criteria is attitude. I don’t care if they’re a great student, if they don’t have a good attitude, I don’t want them.
I have to have good attitudes in the office. So that’s kind of where we start, it’s usually just kind of, are these…”Do you guys have any star students that you think we should consider for internships?” And usually it’s an internship first, and then it turns into a position. And then Caleb with NPR, of course. Right? He’s part of our team too, which is kind of on a consulting basis, but he’s been amazing. Just, we’ll be able to send candidates through his process. And of course, he hasn’t been here since 2010, I don’t know… You might remember what year he moved here.
Michael: Yeah, it was not long after that. It was not long after that.
Lindsay: Maybe 2012 or ’13 or something?
Lindsay: Anyway, so since then he’s been a big help.
Michael: He does the New Planner Recruiting screening process to try to help figure out who’s…which students are likely to actually be a good fit in the planning firm?
Lindsay: Exactly, yeah. And that’s valuable and that…It’s probably even more valuable for firms that don’t have access to the professors at a financial planning program. And it can be so costly when you hire…I mean, oh, I don’t know, it’s probably…I don’t know if it’s as bad for everybody as it was for me. Just, if somebody doesn’t work out, it just is kind of awful, you know?
Michael: So talk to us a little more about what you do with perspective. Hopefully, star students will see, because as noted, not all of them work out. You said you tend to start them out as interns? So what is that rule? How does that work?
Lindsay: Yeah, so I mean, it’s kind of progressed over the years. So at first, I wasn’t that far out of school, so I kind of…I probably even gave them a lot of responsibility. And I’ve kind of always just said, “Look, you can have as much responsibility as you want, but you just… You have to let me know kind of…” That was the advantage of working with our firm, really, because a lot of times either out of…directly out of school or as an intern, you get to answer the phone, and that’s kind of about it, right?
Whereas with our firm, it’s always been very hands-on and kind of really getting in there and doing some stuff. Of course, it’s going to be checked, but yeah, that we really just kind of let them take on as much responsibility as they want. And so the people that really have worked out well, Ben and Aysha and…well, Alden wasn’t an intern, she just came in full-time, so she didn’t start out as an intern. Alden and Aysha are probably the ones that have the most tenure so far. And then we just hired another intern who we’ve had for a little while full-time, Emily.
But they’re hard workers, right? They have good, positive attitudes. They’re willing to kind of do what needs to be done. They’re not too good to take out the trash if that’s what needs to happen. They pay attention to the details; they ask questions when they need to.
Michael: And what kind of tasks and stuff do you give them in practice, then?
Lindsay: Well, so, they would do the first drafts of plans sometimes. The interns we have now aren’t doing that, they’re doing…they’re kind of more focused on helping with some of the paperwork, and helping…putting together the draft or the paperwork that clients need to sign during the transition meeting. You know, the investment proposal meeting? So that’s kind of what they’re working on for the most part now just as we’ve gotten bigger, but back closer to 2012 to 2014 they were doing…they were doing the paperwork, but then they would also kind of do drafts of plans or drafts of investment proposals.
And then Alden would look at it or I would look at it, and then we’d just kind of red ink the thing, and then give it back to them and have them make the changes. Which I’m sure doesn’t feel very good, that you’re getting this document back that has all of these things that are in red and wrong, but it’s also a really great way to kind of learn how to write a financial plan.
Michael: And so are these typically full-time internships, part-time internships because they’re still in school? Are you waiting till they’re out, or…?
Lindsay: Yeah, they’re usually part-time. It just kind of depends. Honestly, if we just find the right person, we kind of figure out a place for them, right? So, the interns we’ve had this past year started out just as kind of a one semester internship situation. But then that’s been extended because they’ve done a great job, you know? So, they have just stayed around and they essentially work part-time. I always tell the students that they need to be able to commit to 15 hours a week, because I feel like if it’s less than that, they’re not going to get as much out of it.
And also, it’s kind of needs to be worth our time in training them right to do it, so they need to be able to commit to the 15 hours a week. And as long as they can do that, if it works out, then they can kind of stay on as part-time help while they’re going to school. And then depending on what’s happening with the firm that might convert to a permanent position once they graduate. It just kind of depends on where we’re at. So that’s what happened with our most recent transition. She’s actually just transitioning from the internship kind of part-time situation, and Monday she starts full-time.
Michael: And then you said this as well, that they have to have a good attitude. That you hire for attitude. How do you actually determine attitude?
Lindsay: Well, that’s probably why we do an internship first. For the most part, we do an internship before we hire for a permanent position because you can kind of see how people handle stress a little bit, right? And just how they work with other people, and I mean, it just kind of becomes obvious in the office if it’s going to be a good fit or not.
Michael: Interesting. And I guess one of the virtues that you do a lot of hiring of students and younger candidates is, if they’re getting started, “do an internship with us for a period of time that may have an opportunity to become permanent” is a compelling path and opportunity for them. Right? Because I’m imagining 30-something-year-old career-changer, hard to find someone who’s willing to take an internship, and the possibility this’ll turn into a job in X months down the road, which is like, “Got kids, got a mortgage, need to figure out something a little more directly.” But when you hire a younger you, you get that opportunity, because for a twenty-something coming into the industry, that’s a good path.
Lindsay: I think it’s a great path, you know? You just have to be able to prove yourself and just kind of show your value and that you’re willing to work hard and put in the time and be a good team player. And so that’s really the trajectory. That’s how we found…and most of our financial planners at this point came up that way. We do have two recent hires that are working out great as well. They didn’t start out as interns; they were transitioned over from other investment companies, and so we didn’t…
We just kind of had to take a leap of faith on them, right? We couldn’t say, “Well, we can do a two-month trial period.” Obviously, they’re leaving their jobs and have kids to support, so that’s not going to work. So it’s a little bit more of a leap of faith, but for both of those candidates, we really felt like it was worth the risk. And so far it’s just worked out really well because they’ve been great.
Michael: And so, how did you find them?
Lindsay: Well, they actually found us, which is interesting, because we didn’t have really a position opening out there. But one person, Jordan, moved from…or relocated from Jacksonville. His wife has family in the area, and I don’t know how he found us exactly. I think maybe they were thinking about moving back to the area because of her family, and then maybe he did his research and found us, if I remember correctly. That was a long process because when he first contacted us they weren’t quite ready to move, and so it was just kind of like…
Michael: And you basically just got a cold email like…
Michael: “Hi, my name is so and so, I’m thinking about coming to the area. Any chance that you’re hiring”?
Lindsay: Right, “Would you be willing to kind of talk about stuff or whatever?” But he’s been great, and he’s…he has a great attitude. It’s a great attitude and a very, yeah, strong work ethic and he gets things done, and he just started in February. And then Melissa is the other one, and she transitioned from TIAA-CREF recently because they had that… I don’t know how much you know about that. About the buyout kind of opportunity and they’re kind of restructuring how TIA-CREF works. And so, she was local, and she contacted Joe, I think, through LinkedIn and just kind of…you know, for a conversation, and we just really loved her, and she just fits in really well with the team. And so she’s a little bit more recent, but she’s going to be great too.
Michael: Very cool. So, paint us a picture of what the firm looks like today. How big is the firm, I guess in terms…? I don’t know if you measure by assets under management or clients or something else. What’s the size of the firm at this point?
What The Firm Looks Like Today And How Their Financial Planner Teams Are Structured [01:14:45]
Lindsay: So we have probably about 375 households or so, then we have about $365 million.
Michael: M’kay, so typical client, almost exactly a million under management.
Lindsay: Yeah. Probably pretty close. And we have about 11 full-time team members, I think? And we recently kind of made the decision… So, up until probably about a year ago, we were all kind of servicing the clients together, and that got to be a little bit chaotic, and so we’ve…we, at that point, made the decision that we needed to break into teams. And so we broke the financial planners into teams, and so each team is made up of two people, a senior financial planner and a financial planner.
They all have CFPs, and some of them have other designations too, but that’s kind of a minimum requirement is that they have something equal to, or the CFP. And so each of those teams is managing a little over 100 clients at this point. The idea is that the financial planners, which are kind of the number two on each team, they’ll eventually come up and become number…the lead of a team, and then we’ll hire another number two to kind of be trained in the same way. And so we can just kind of keep creating teams that way as we need to.
And then Joe and I are essentially doing all of the consultation meetings right now, and so we’ll kind of meet with the clients and figure out whose team they would be good to work on, and then we assign them to a team. And Joe’s usually in the investment and planning meetings with the team to kind of transition that, and then he’ll stay on in certain client cases or just as needed in different meetings as they’re scheduled. If one of the teams wants one of us in the meetings, if it’s an older client – not older as in age, but they’ve been a client a long time – then one of us will probably be in the meeting with them. But they’ve really just kind of taken the lead on those clients, and it seems to be working really well, so…
Michael: Interesting. And so, are you and Joe the senior financial planners on these teams, or is your role separate in the company and…
Lindsay: Yeah, in our role, we’re separate.
Michael: …there are other teams? Okay.
Lindsay: Right, so Alden, Ben, and Aysha are the lead financial planners on the teams right now, and they each have kind of a number two financial planner underneath them. They’re managing the client relationship, and then Joe or I could be pulled in in addition to those two people on the team for certain clients if we need to… If it’s a complicated meeting, or if it’s just depending on personality or whatever, we’re sometimes pulled into those meetings. But for the most part, the teams are handling those separately, and we’ll just advise on the cases as we need to.
Michael: Interesting, interesting. So you have essentially worked yourselves out of being the lead advisors that are at the center of those client relationships now you’re supporting across all the advisors and firms.
Lindsay: I even delegated my parents to a team…
Lindsay: …so I don’t have to be their financial planner, either.
Michael: So talk to us just about that transition. And not necessarily your parents, but going from being the one doing everything, because it’s how it starts when you get started from scratch, to, “We’re going to have teams and more teams, and I’m going to move myself entirely out of the client-facing roles into handing all my clients off to the teams.” I guess, what was the vision of making that shift and not having or keeping yourself in a role where you keep a client base? And then, how did that transition go?
Lindsay: Five years ago I don’t think I was thinking, “I’m not going to be on one of the teams,” it was just kind of…it just kind of happened that way, you know? There have been other responsibilities as the firm grows, right? That have to be managed, and so it just made more sense for me to kind of focus on those things, and so just little by little… And especially as I’ve gained more confidence in the planners, right? Alden’s been with us for 10 years, she knows exactly…she probably handles the situation exactly as I would handle it because she’s…we just have that life experience together.
Ben and Aysha, similar. I didn’t have as much hands-on training with them, but they’ve still gotten a lot of training from myself and from Joe too, so they know the way we would want things done. And Alden trained them as well. So I think you have to have a lot of confidence in your team to even kind of conceptualize the idea that maybe you don’t have to be in all of the meetings, and so it’s probably just the past couple of years where that’s really happened for me.
You know, life kind of changes and you realize that you kind of need to leave the office probably between 5 and 6 to be able to see your kid at night. There’s more work than you can do, so you just have to be able, as you grow, to learn to delegate that, those responsibilities, even if it’s really hard to do it. Because it’s kind of hard, you know? Especially when you first do it, just kind of letting go of kind of how things are handled and just checking in periodically to make sure that things are handled the way you want them to be handled. I guess that’s kind of the other thing, is just monitoring things to make sure that they’re working the way you want them to.
Michael: And how do you actually do that? Do you spot-check call some clients and just say like, “Hey, just want to see how”…
Lindsay: “Just how are things going?”
Michael: …”Ben’s doing”?
Lindsay: Yeah, no, I haven’t done that. But, I mean, I do…some of my other clients, as in being…have been clients for a long time, I’ve transitioned them to some of the teams, and so when I see them, they’ll tell me. I don’t necessarily have to ask, but they’ll let me know they’re doing a great job. And so that’s always helpful to hear. You know, we use Redtail Technology as our CRM, and so there’s kind of a function where you can go and look at the notes from each day regardless of who kind of put the notes in, and so you can kind of see what was done, and what was happening, and can kind of monitor things that way.
We’re really, I think, good at utilizing that Redtail Technology software because I don’t know how people don’t, but we make a big deal about, okay, anytime you talk to a client, whatever, it has to be in there, just because we have to know if somebody’s sick one day and a client called, we need to know what’s happening. And so we try to make that a big kind of training opportunity with people coming in, just that everything has to be in there and you have to document it because… And it has to be clear what’s happening, just so that somebody else can follow the direction if they need to.
And so that’s another way that I think I can do it. And then also just in our office, and we’re growing a little bit now so we have more than one office, but until last year we only had the one office. And so people keep their doors open. You can kind of hear what’s going on. Even though I’m not in the meeting, I could still walk by the meeting and I kind of hear if it sounds like it’s going okay, you know? So I guess that’s kind of how you monitor that in transition. But, yeah, first it was just a lot of, I was the primary person emailing clients, and so then we made a transition and kind of a shift from, “Okay, Alden, you send the email, but just copy me on it.”
And so then the email started coming from Alden, and then a lot of times clients then would just start directing their questions to Alden instead of to me, because those emails were coming from her, not from me. So it’s just kind of little shifts that way, and that’s kind of how the teams do it now as well, you know?
Michael: So you don’t necessarily have a big, grand like, “This is our last meeting together, but you’re going to be in wonderful hands.”
Lindsay: No. That would be awful. Don’t you think that would be awful to do that? I don’t know. As a client, I would feel… Maybe that’s the Southern feeling…
Michael: Feel a little…
Lindsay: I’ve been in the South…
Michael: … broken up with, yeah.
Lindsay: …for a while… Yeah, that’s such a confrontational situation. I’m still on their team, it’s not like I’m never going to see them again, I’m still reviewing things. But, yeah, no, I would never want to do that. That’d be so awkward.
Michael: So it was more of just like, Alden sat second chair with you on the meetings, then she started sending the emails, then clients started emailing their own stuff, then they started interacting with her more, then I’m presuming at some point, just like, “Oh, darn, Lindsay can’t make the meeting. But you know what? Alden will be here, and Alden will do the meeting with you.”
Lindsay: Mm-Hmm, yeah. Or they just show up and it’s Alden and somebody else, and they’re fine with it because they’ve been communicating with her, you know? I don’t think we’ve ever had…there may have been maybe one or two clients that pushed back on it a little bit, but for the most part, people have been…they just want to know that they’re being taken care of and that they’re not being forgotten, you know.
And so, as long they’re getting good service and they feel confident in who’s offering that service, and that they do have a team that’s kind of putting their heads together and coming up with the best options for them, I don’t… I mean, I’d like to think that the clients miss me in the meetings, but honestly, Michael, I don’t know that they do. I think they feel okay about it, you know?
Michael: But I’m presuming, then, that means this is… This is a multi-year transition process for you when you shift some of these because you’re doing it so incrementally.
Lindsay: Yeah, it…well, at first, right? Because I was in all of the meetings and I was the lead person in all of the meetings, so it probably took Alden a few years, yeah, to transition from those clients…to transition to take those clients over. And then now we kind of structure it in the consultation meeting where we say, “You know, we operate in teams, and so, you’ll get to know three or four people really well, and that’s intentional because we don’t want it to be that you have one advisor, and that one advisor happens to be on vacation when something significant happens in your life. And so, you’ll get to know these few people really well. Joe or I will be in the first kind of investment planning meeting, and we’ll introduce you to the new teams.”
And that’s kind of how it works, and people have been happy about it. I think. The people that have moved forward, anyway. I guess the people that didn’t move forward, I don’t know, but we explain it as “treatment teams.” So kind of like in medicine, right? You feel better kind of having a few doctors on your team rather than just one.
Lindsay: And so, I think that makes sense to clients when we explain it that way, that it’s not…we’re not like your Edward Jones advisor that’s going to just be your…that one advisor. It’s a team, you can call the office, we know what’s going on; you don’t have to be relying on just one person.
Michael: And then what did your role become? What do you do…?
Lindsay: Oh, that’s really funny.
Lindsay’s Current Role Is Now And The Firm’s Transition From Morningstar To Orion [01:26:17]
Lindsay: Well, consultation meetings, we’ve just had a lot of them, and I don’t know… I mean, we probably had five in the last week? I don’t know.
Michael: And consultation meetings for you are…are those prospect meetings, or are those new onboarding client meetings?
Lindsay: Yeah, no, those are prospect meetings. So Joe and I will do those, and those are usually, you know, an hour or two long, and just kind of explaining the service and getting to know somebody a little bit, and explaining the fees, and the treatment teams, and that kind of thing. And so that takes up a big chunk because it’s that, but it’s also the follow-up, right? The notes from the consultation meeting, the follow-up, sending them the questionnaires, getting them engaged in the process, that’s kind of all me still.
Michael: Okay, which essentially means you’re still wearing a big hat for the business development and of getting new business closed.
Lindsay: Yeah, and you know, Joe and I, we’re a really good team, and it’s kind of nice to have…and I feel really just grateful that I don’t usually have to do those on my own. I feel very strongly that it really…nobody should be in a meeting by themselves ever; I think it should be teams of people, because number one, it’s just like, you have someone to hold you accountable that can help you kind of grow as a planner.
You can talk about what worked, what didn’t work. You can take breaks from talking, and especially in consultation meetings that can just kind of feel like very…just kind of a lot information all at once, and you can just kinda take a moment while the other person’s talking. And also like, Joe and I have kind of…because we’ve done…I mean, we’ve done them together for a long time now, we kind of have our roles down. He gets to kind of be the academic, which he is, of course, and he sounds very intelligent and can kind of…he talks a lot about the investments and things like that.
I’d like to think that I bring a little bit of the warmth and personal touch to the meetings, so I’ll kind of ask about the goals, I talk about the process, and we kind of have our different talking points. And so, we can kind of get breaks while we’re having one of those meetings, and it doesn’t feel so exhausting by the time you get out. And I should say, I’m a very strong introvert, so I feel exhausted after a meeting, whereas some people are energized by that, so that might not be as much of a thing for them. But for me, that’s a big deal. Just kind of having somebody else there that can kind of take part in that meeting.
Michael: It’s so kind of the business development end of things is still a heavy load for you with all the consultation meetings.
Lindsay: So that’s a heavy load. Compliance? I’m working right now on kind of revamping our compliance program because we are transitioning over to Orion from MorningStar, which has been a big, big process for the firm this year.
Michael: And why the transition from Morningstar to Orion?
Michael: You know, I think, Morningstar served us really well for a long time, they were the first one… You know, 2010, that’s a software that we use, so it’s been a decade that we’ve used them. But, I think we have just gotten a little bit too big for them, and we need a little bit more…we just need a little bit more service. And, really, ultimately, it started because we started looking at different rebalancing programs, and Orion offers a really good rebalancing solution, but it’s kind of an…I think it’s an all-in-one kind of solution.
So we were like, “Wow, if we use them for the rebalancing, we really just kind of need to transition everything.” And so we just decided that now was the time to do that. But we just needed a little bit more kind of outsourced kind of help with that. With kind of all of that.
Michael: Because you feel like Orion just has more depth of service and support themes?
Lindsay: I think they do. I think their client service – meaning, like us being the client – I think is just a higher level. The price point’s higher, so I think you’re paying for that, and 10 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. But now I think we’re at a place where it makes sense to just free up as much time for our advisors, and also for myself, as we can, and so that’s why we’re making that transition. So, anyway, so yeah, so compliance is a big piece of what I do, so I’m kind of trying to revamp that program right now.
And what else do I do…? I don’t know, the client gifting and all of those little things, I’m just kind of making sure the office is running the way it needs to run and the way I want it to run. You know, we just opened an office in Atlanta. And so that’s been a big thing too, just kind of getting that. And we purchased a building there and have been renovating it and decorating it, and so that’s taken a big piece of my time as well.
Yeah, and I’m sure there are a million little things that I’m not thinking about right now, but the time just goes by somehow. And then client cases. A lot of times, even though we’re not in client meetings, advisors come by, right? To talk about cases and find solutions, or make sure that they’re thinking about things. That they’re not missing anything. And so that does take up some time as well, just consulting on those different client cases.
What Surprised Lindsay The Most About Building Her Advisory Business And The Low Point In Her Journey [01:31:42]
Lindsay: What surprised me? Well, that’s a good question. What do people usually say when you ask that?
Michael: It’s all over the place. Lots of different stuff that doesn’t turn out the way we expected.
Lindsay: What surprised me? I think I knew it was going to be hard, and honestly, I… I mean, I never would have thought that we would have $365 million of assets. I just never would have thought… We have this joke where it was when we hit $50 million in assets that Joe was going to start working in the firm full-time, and he was going to leave the university when we had $50 million, and so every… We hit the benchmark, and then it’s like, “Well, okay, maybe when we have $100 million, I’ll leave. Okay, maybe when we have this much.” So, it just keeps getting pushed out, which is…it’s a way…
Michael: Because he so appreciates being a professor or because you just end up hiring more people, and then you’d let him off the hook?
Lindsay: I don’t know. I’m not sure how that’s happening. But, yeah, I think it’s just…I don’t know, I don’t know. I think he must enjoy part of it, though, right? He must enjoy maybe some of the mentoring. My point to him is, there are lots of people you can mentor in the firm, you don’t have to give that up. There are lots of mentoring opportunities.” But, yeah, I don’t know, he’ll kind of decide what’s best for him, I guess, along those lines.
Michael: What was the low point for you?
Lindsay: Probably when I had my son, that was a rough year, because that was really stressful. And we had a couple of employees by then, but I just…and being a first-time mom… And you probably know this, right, Michael, from…? You’re a parent of three babies.
Michael: Not being a first-time mom, but…being a new parent.
Lindsay: Well, being a first-time parent. First-time parent. Yes, you don’t have the “mother” piece, but being a first-time parent, you don’t know what to expect, you think you can do everything. I thought, “Oh yeah, I can just continue my life as is, and also just add a baby to it.” Well, that doesn’t really work. Right?
Lindsay: So, that year was kind of rough, because it was like, all of a sudden, your priorities are shifted. Honestly, up until 2014…and I was at the office at 8, probably left at 7 or 8, went home, ate dinner, and that worked another couple of hours. And then we did it on the weekends too. And Joe may…or he was working on tenure, so part of his time was really working on university stuff and I was working on the business, and I didn’t mind it, you know? It was hard, but it was also kind of like, I would get excited about stuff, and I’d be…get excited about a spreadsheet or a new technology or something, and be excited about integrating it in, and that was great.
But when I had G.K., I came home from the hospital, and I had a client meeting. The same day. Who does that? Why did I think that I could do that? And I didn’t really take maternity leave, I brought him with me to the office, and so I think if I were to do it over again, I would probably take a couple of months off. But at the time, that wasn’t necessarily an option, right? Because I was still at the point on a lot of the…well, on all of the client cases, probably.
And so that’s when, I think, for the most part, Alden started really taking on kind of more of a senior kind of planner lead, was that year, and it was… I mean, I don’t know what I would have done without her, because that was just…it was a lot. So not that having my son was the low point, because obviously, he’s the high point in my life, but just that transition, and not being very… I mean, I’m pretty smart about most things, but I don’t know how you could be so unrealistic about what that looks like. But I think that’s probably most people, or you just can’t prepare for this baby taking over your life.
Michael: So in retrospect, you wish Alden had gotten moved into those client relationships before the baby came so you didn’t have to do the client meeting the day you came home from the hospital?
Lindsay: I wish I would have probably transitioned her earlier on. Yeah. And then also just prioritized myself. And that sounds a little bit selfish, but I would have just said, “You know what? To the client that wants to meet a week after the baby was born…” And I’m kind of framing a different… Joe actually did cover a lot of the meetings with Alden for me for those first few weeks, so it wasn’t at all like external pressure, it was only pressure I put on myself.
“But this client wants to meet and I need to be there, and these are the reasons why I need to be there.” It’s like, no. Life goes on without you. Nobody is irreplaceable. They’re fine. Or if they need to wait a week, they can wait, or if we just need to talk on the phone, we can talk on the phone. I think I would have just had my priorities shifted a little bit to make that transition easier.
Michael: So, what do you know now that you wish you could go back and tell you from 15 years ago, getting…following a boy to Athens, Georgia and getting started on a firm? What do you know now that you wish you’d known back then?
The Advice That Lindsay Would Give Her Past Self And How She Defines Success For Herself [01:37:07]
Lindsay: Oh, gosh, I don’t know, that’s kind of tough. My younger self as a young twenty-something, I think I was a little bit…I don’t know if “entitled” is the right word, but I think I just…I think I didn’t value the experience that I have now as much, back then. I kind of thought I could do anything a 40-year-old planner could do. And to some extent, I did do a lot of the things that they could do. And it was harder for me, but I still was able to pull it off, I guess.
But I guess thinking about our interns or the younger students that come into the firm now, I see in them kind of almost a little bit of just disappointment if I’m going to have them work on paperwork or something. Right? Just a little bit of entitlement where it’s like, “No, I’m studying financial planning, I want to write a financial plan.” Well, it’s all valuable experience. It’s something that’s going to serve you well in kind of knowing how to do these kinds of foundational things, and sometimes I think that’s hard as a younger person, to really see kind of the bigger picture.
And you have a couple of years, you don’t have to hit the…let’s just take a moment and make sure you have a really good foundation, it’s going to make the transition so much easier when you do become an advisor. And there are things that people with experience know that you just haven’t had the chance to know yet, and there just has to be a little bit of like it…life experience that happens before you can start just doing things immediately. So, I don’t know, I think that might be something to think about. I guess. I think when I was at Evensky & Katz I was very much that way.
I was like, “Well, why am I not a financial planner? I’m number three on a team, but I have my CFP. Why can’t I be doing…?” It was just a little bit of…just a little bit of entitlement, Michael, I think, that I feel a little bit embarrassed about now. And that’s probably because I see that in other younger people a little bit. And I understand that, which is why we kind of had, over the years, given so much responsibility to people so quickly, because I think they do have the ability, if you have kind of the right work ethic, to be able to pull it off.
But it’s also like, just take a moment to acknowledge that there are a few things that it’s okay if you can’t do right away, and just kind of learn where you’re at, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn, even in the paperwork. Which people don’t like to do for some reason, I don’t know. I always found a lot of just kind of comfort in the paperwork because it’s the one thing that’s kind of black-and-white in financial planning, right? It’s like, it’s either right or it’s wrong.
You either signed in the right spot or you didn’t. I really enjoyed the sticky notes and all of that, but yeah, you want to… And I understand that people don’t want to be in that position forever, but there is a lot of value in knowing the logistics of how that comes together.
Michael: So, as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success, and one of the things that always comes up is just the word “success” means different things to different people. And so, as you have what anyone objectively can call very successful firm – starting from scratch, growing $365 million under management. As you look forward, though, how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Lindsay: That’s a tough question. It’s probably not really the assets at this point, you know? I think it’s just learning to kind of live a more balanced life and do good work for clients, but also make sure that you’re kind of following your own advice. Yeah, so the asset piece, and this is kind of funny, actually, because until leading up to this call, I was like, “Gosh, I guess I should know how we’ve grown over the years.”
I kind of knew we started at around 16, but just kind of looking at the trajectory of how the assets have grown, we’re past the point of where I thought we would ever be, so I’m not as concerned about that. I think I’m really just concerned about building something to be proud of, and representing ourselves well, and doing a really good job for clients. That makes a big difference in their lives, I think. So, being able to help more people and structure your firm in a way where you can manage that growth and in a good way, and in a responsible way, so you can help more people.
Michael: Well, I love it. I can’t wait to see where it continues to grow and compound for you from here, and you’ve still got a long time horizon yet, having unexpectedly grown to $365 million already.
Lindsay: Aww, thanks, Michael. Yeah. No, it’ll be fun to kind of stay in touch and see how our careers progress, for sure.
Michael: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Lindsay, for joining us on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Lindsay: Thanks, Michael, I appreciate it.