Hannah: Thanks for joining us today, Chloé.
Chloé: Thank you for having me.
Hannah: Can you tell the listeners a little bit about how you spend your time these days with your businesses and consulting work?
Chloé: Sure. I have two businesses. The first one is C-Level Consultants. I work with other financial advisors and financial advisory firms as an outsourced financial planner or operations consultant. I do that I’d say probably about 30 to 40% of my time right now. Then I also have my RA which is Financial Staples. I work primarily with young professionals anywhere from their late 20s to late 40s, and so that’s my second business.
Hannah: We’ll talk a little bit more about how you’re running your practice right now and the services that you’re providing to your clients. But, I’d like to talk a little bit about how you got into financial planning. How did you get into this industry or profession?
Chloé: I went to University of Alabama Roll Tide.
Hannah: Congratulations, by the way.
Chloé: Thank you. I majored in financial planning there. I started originally as an athletic training major, and I quickly realized that I was much better with numbers, and logic, and reasoning than I was with memorizing anatomy and biology and all those things. I switched to financial planning because one of my counselors was actually a financial planner, and I never even knew that career existed. I learned about it through her and so as soon as I got into my first class, I was immediately intrigued and I knew that this was what I was meant to do. Once I graduate from there, I started working with the firm in Baton Rouge and started financial planning there as an associate advisor. I was there for a couple of years. Then I moved to Birmingham and worked for another small firm. Then I moved to Atlanta and I’ve been here for the last 10 years.
Hannah: First of all, how did you find those jobs?
Chloé: I found the job in Baton Rouge through my counselor. She had connections with a lot of different firms locally like in Alabama and then just in the Southeastern area. They encouraged us to go and do research and look for firms of just in whatever areas we wanted to live. I contacted a lot of firms and just went in and ask them if they had open positions. I sent them my resume, some samples of my work. I was very much proactive in finding firms and just trying to get myself out there. I did some interviews in Nashville, in Baton Rouge and Birmingham, all over. I landed my job in Baton Rouge.
Hannah: With your firms, did you find that they weren’t really doing financial planning or was it more of an investment centric company?
Chloé: I’ve been very lucky in the sense that every firm I’ve worked for, they’ve always done financial planning and that was the center of what we did for our clients. Investment management was secondary. For every firm I’ve worked with, we also charged separately for financial planning services. That’s probably something that’s a little bit unique about my experience.
Hannah: When you are in Atlanta, what were … See, now I’m stumbling over my words. When you moved to Atlanta, what was your job there?
Chloé: I worked with a trust company. They were a Southeastern-based trust company. Their headquarters were in Memphis, Tennessee. Then they also have offices in Nashville and Atlanta. Yeah, I was a financial planner there. We’ve provided financial planning services and then investment management services and also trustee services so we could service trustee, or co-trustee, or executor.
Hannah: I think the trustee path is such an interesting way for people to get into the business. For people listening who don’t really understand what a trust company is, what is a trust company and what’s unique about that role versus where you were at other firms?
Chloé: With the trust company, I got to learn a lot more about trust administration and trust accounting, which is something that typically you don’t learn a lot about, especially with the CFP program. It was definitely a different experience. Overall, we also worked with larger clients. A lot of our clients had taxable estates. That was just another level of planning that a lot of people just don’t typically get experience in working with tax planning and estate planning for 10 million plus clients. That was definitely a different aspect of it. Then even on the investment side, there’s a lot more opportunities once you have at least a million plus in investment assets. There’s different opportunities that you can tap into there. We did some private equity. We actually had our own private equity funds at the trust company. There’s opportunities to do private real estate, private debt and some other investments that the traditional advisor just doesn’t typically delve into.
Hannah: How long were you there at the trust company?
Chloé: I was there for seven years.
Hannah: Did you go from your trust company or to the consulting work and starting your own firm?
Chloé: Yes. Yes, I left there in 2014. I started doing consulting work immediately after that. I was consulting for two years before I started my RA.
Hannah: When you’re at the trust company, what prompted you to want to leave?
Chloé: There are a few things. The major reason is just that I was really burned out on working with clients who were in the ultra high net worth space. I just really wanted to work with clients who are more like myself. I think one of the things about our industry is that we tell people, “Go figure it out yourself. Get rich and come back to me when you have a million dollars.” That’s not something that everybody is able to do on their own. Then people make a lot of mistakes along the way. I see that just with our generation we have a lot of bright people who are doing great things in their careers. They’re making good money and they just really need guidance. That’s where I wanted to have an impact on the front end and at the beginning of people’s careers instead of on the backend.
Hannah: As you’re thinking through this and you’re working at the trust company, what were people’s response to that idea of serving your peers?
Chloé: I didn’t really talk about it. It wasn’t something that we did there. We did work with clients or children of the clients, and so that was something that we did. But typically they were inheriting millions of dollars and so it was a situation where it was just easy to take over that relationship. We dealt with a lot of people who were beneficiaries and trust. It was a different type of situation as far as working with my next gen clients.
Hannah: You left the trust company and started consulting. When you left the trust company, did you know that you wanted to start your own firm?
Chloé: I didn’t. I actually didn’t think it was possible at the time. It was just 2014 so it wasn’t that long ago. I knew I didn’t want to manage investments. I’ve always been a planner at heart. I truly love planning and investments has never been something that I was interested in or it’s never been a strong suit of mine. I really thought that I couldn’t start a firm unless I was managing assets. It took a little while for me to see other people who are out there being successful without managing assets for me to realize that I could start my own firm and be successful as well.
Hannah: You left and then was your goal after you left the trust company just to start a consulting firm for other financial planners?
Chloé: Yeah, I thought I was just going to do that for the rest of my career is to be able to help other advisors whether it’s helping them with actually doing the financial planning work or figuring out other financial planning services that they should offer, looking at technology, figuring out efficient leads in their business. I really thought that was what I was going to focus on, but I was still in that high net worth space working with the advisors that I was working with. I just really wanted to get away from that space. Then I saw that, like I said, having a financial planning firm and not managing assets was possible. That really led me down the path of starting my own firm.
Hannah: What’s so exciting to me about your story is how quickly things can change.
Chloé: Yeah, definitely.
Hannah: And how important those years of just being like, “If only this was possible.” How important that is to really know what your final direction.
Chloé: Yeah. I’ve realized, too, just being on my own even the first year, I did so many networking events and I got so much more involved in FPA. We have a local estate planning council and just some of the local groups here. I really got out there a lot more. You just realize that you’re in a bubble when you work with a company. Again, you don’t know what else is out there. That was something that just opened my eyes just being on my own and being able to speak with other people and just see what the possibilities were.
Hannah: You decide to start your own firm. What does that process look like?
Chloé: Well, operations is a strength of mine and processes as well. I’m very organized when it comes to anything. When I started my firm, the first thing I did was I made my checklist of all the things I needed to do. I really wanted to hone in on my target audience, what types of services I wanted to provide and how I was going to charge for those services. Just coming from the high net worth space, we’re very much comprehensive in what we did. We’re very much involved with our clients. They’re CPAs. They’re attorneys. We did a lot of handholding. I knew that I wanted to have that level of service and bring it to younger clients, but also had to account for the fact that on the revenue side I wouldn’t make as much per client. I really had to think through that and just think about my structure for my business. That was the foundation of it. Then from there, just all the pieces came together.
Hannah: Who is your ideal client?
Chloé: My ideal client, I don’t have a specific profession that I work with, but my ideal client is typically in their late 20s to late 30s. They’re at the point in their career where they’re just now getting a good paying job or they’ve just gotten their first significant raise. They might be single or just getting married and starting their life together. I’ve really want to help them at that point before lifestyle creep gets out of control and just before they started making any huge mistakes. I want to help them set the foundation and get their budget together and figure out where should I save and how should I save and what things do I need in place to set me on a path for long-term success?
Hannah: Do most of your clients, are they at six figure incomes or are they … What’s the general income level of your clients?
Chloé: Most of my clients are at six figure income level. I’d say they make at least a hundred, 250,000 a year at a minimum. A lot of them fall into this space where … There’s really two categories. They fall into the space where they have some complex benefits so they might have stock options or restricted stock. I have some people who work at tech companies or corporations where they’re at a level where they’re receiving some of those types of benefits in addition to having high income and they’re fairly young and they don’t know what to do with those things.
Then I also have clients who are small business owners. They’re making pretty good revenue in their business and they need to get a better understanding of how to run their business and how to just manage their tax liabilities and those types of things.
Hannah: Do you help them with running their business as well like business coaching or …
Chloé: To a certain extent I do. Yeah. Because their businesses are all over the place, I guess I don’t have a specific profession that I work in. Within any business, there’s some fundamental things that you need to have in place. Because I am strong on the operations and the process side and just the organization structure of the business. I can help clients with that and I also have people that I refer clients to whether they need help with marketing or just different aspects of their business. I have good relationships with all types of what I call allied professionals that I help clients with. I help them develop a team of advisors that we can all kind of work together to help that client get to where they want to be.
Hannah: Oh, that’s great. Well, it’s so much … You’re adding value at multiple levels.
Chloé: That’s the goal.
Hannah: How do you charge your clients if you’re not charging AUM?
Chloé: I have two services. The first one is the comprehensive service. For that service, it’s a long-term relationship. I try to stress that it is a long-term relationship and it’s an ongoing thing. Financial planning is more of a process. It’s not a product or a one-time thing. For those relationships, I charge an annual fee and it’s based on income, net worth and complexity. For individuals, it starts at 4,200 a year. Then for couples and business owners, it starts at 6,600 a year and that’s billed either monthly or quarterly just depending on their preference. Then the other service that I provide is hourly and so for those clients, it’s more of just a project. If they have just a couple of things that they need, questions they need answered or they want to do just a neat project that’s centered around a couple of topics, then we’ll just do an hourly rate, which is my hourly rate is 250. Then I’ll just estimate the time that it’ll take to work on that project.
Hannah: With the comprehensive services, well, obviously, people have been willing to pay that price. Have you had any pushback like that it’s too high, or too low, or what’s been your feedback about that?
Chloé: Yeah. Actually I just increased my prices this year.
Hannah: Good for you. That’s awesome.
Chloé: I’m just starting out at this higher price level. Before, my minimum was 3,000. I went up by $1,200 a year. I have had a little bit of pushback from some clients. I truly just don’t feel like those are the clients for me. I’m looking for clients who really value a long-term relationship with an advisor, and I also value the idea of outsourcing and having someone else, relying on someone else’s expertise. If a client is more of a do-it-yourselfer or they just want a second opinion, then I’m typically not the advisor for them. My clients, they’re busy with whatever they’re doing, whatever their positions or they’re executives. They really want to focus on their job and what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about and they want to rely on me to help them with the financial decisions.
Hannah: When you start your own firm and you put it out into the world, did you get traction right away?
Chloé: It took a couple of months I’d say. I officially launched in November of 2016. I’d say by that January I started to receive a lot of prospect calls and prospect meeting. It took a little while to get myself out there. I’d say a year, a good year into it now, it’s definitely more steady. I feel like I’ve set a good foundation to where I’m receiving a lot of steady prospects.
Hannah: Is it just you or do you have a team behind you?
Chloé: No, right now it’s just me. I do plan to … This year, one of my goals is to get some consistent help. I’ve had people help me along the way, just pieces here and there. I just hired someone to help me with my content marketing, and so my goal is to definitely get someone to help me with administrative things and also get someone to help me with some of the planning aspects.
Hannah: How many clients do you have now?
Chloé: I have 18 clients right now.
Hannah: That’s really impressive in a year, just a little over a year.
Chloé: Thank you.
Hannah: That’s great. Where do you see your firm growing? Do you want to cap it or do you want to have it go as many clients as you can serve?
Chloé: Yeah, I definitely want to cap it. That’s something else that I thought about in the very beginning. I feel like when you’re starting a business, you need to have in mind how you want it to end because it can get away from you and you’ll find yourself 10 years down the road doing something that you don’t want to do or you’re not happy in your business and your business is running your life. I’ve seen that happen so many times. I knew going into it that I needed to have a good vision of where I wanted to be long term.
For me, I wanted to make sure that I had time to spend with family and friends and to travel and most importantly to volunteer. I’m going to help other people. In order to do that and to live the life that I wanted to live, I knew that I needed to keep my business small. My plan is to cap it and probably I’m hoping 35 to 40 clients. If I can get 35 to 40 comprehensive clients that are long-term relationships and recurring revenue, then that’s the plan is to cap it there. That will give me the income that I would like to have and it would also give me the opportunity to take more time to do more pro bono work and even some discounted work for lower income people and just find a way to serve that market as well.
Hannah: Oh, I love that so much. One of the questions I think all advisors have to ask is how much is enough.
Hannah: I love that you’re answering that. This is what’s enough.
Chloé: I know people who they just want to make as much money as possible or they have some crazy goal for making the certain amount of money at least one time in their career or just at some point. I’ve never had a goal of making some astronomical amount of money. I know what is comfortable for me and what will allow me to live what I feel is a good life and allow me to help others. That’s really what’s important to me. I feel like even when I hear people say that they want to make a certain amount of money or they want to grow their business to some level, my question is always why? There has to be a why behind it. A lot of people just don’t think about that. They don’t think about why do I want this. Is it really something that I want? I think if people would dig into that a little bit more, the answer might be a little different. They might be on a different path.
Hannah: When you run a business, you have so many different hats and you’re the financial planner and then you’re the business owner and the marketer and everything like that. How have you found balancing all of those roles?
Chloé: That’s something that I still struggle with a little bit, especially in the beginning you have so many clients who are the onboarding part of the process and onboarding is definitely the most time-consuming than it is when you’re three or five years or 10 years into the relationship when things are a little smoother. Yes, I still struggle with that a little bit. I think the best thing there is having good processes in place, having good technology that you can leverage. Those things are definitely helpful and I try as much as I can to document what I’m doing to track my progress with my clients and with my business. I think that helps me to stay on track as much as possible.
Hannah: One of the things I hear, especially from new planners, is that they don’t want to be in just a sales role. As a business owner, there is an element of sales in the marketing to what you’re doing. Have you found it to work well with what you’re doing?
Chloé: I don’t think of it as sales in this sleazy sense. Most people coming out of school, they’re probably … The opportunities that are available or that they’re considering might be where they’re selling a product and not necessarily selling a service. For me, I think of it more as selling myself and selling my service. I enjoy it. I enjoy speaking with prospects and just hearing people’s stories, learning about their lives and just seeing how I can help people.
Hannah: On your marketing, have you been doing mostly online marketing? Are you doing it in person?
Chloé: I’d say a large percentage of my referrals have come online. I have profiles on NAPFA’s website, XY Planning Network. I’m a member of FPA and then the CFP where I have a profile in there. People go to those sites when they’re searching for financial advisors, specifically NAPFA because they’re looking for fee-only advisors and fiduciaries. I get a lot of traffic through NAPFA and XYPN. Then I’d say the second tier is probably referrals from other professionals. Because I don’t manage assets, I’ve aligned myself with advisors who only do investment management and they’re not planners and they have no interest in planning. That’s been very helpful for me because there’s no conflict there. I can refer business to them. They can refer business to me. That’s been very helpful and then the traditional CPAs, attorneys, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, just people like that.
Hannah: Other investment professionals are referring you clients for financial planning.
Hannah: That’s really interesting but it makes a lot of sense.
Chloé: It works well because, like I said, I never wanted to manage investments so I can partner up with an advisor who that’s all they do is manage investments and they don’t want to do planning. It works out really well. We can both do it what we enjoy doing and help the client.
Hannah: One of the things when you go to your website, Financial Staples, which everybody should go to, hey, first of all, the name. Can we talk about how did you get Financial Staples?
Chloé: I love to cook. I am passionate about cooking. I love food. I love to eat. When I’m cooking in my kitchen, I always try to make sure I have what I call my staples. That way, I can pretty much make any meal and I can whip up a meal pretty quickly if I have my staples. I was thinking about the concept of how can I merge my love of food and my love of cooking with finance. I think if you have your staples, which are your good financial habits and then if you have a recipe, which is a financial plan, then you can really make anything happen.
Hannah: What I love is how you integrated, like you were saying, your passion for cooking with your passion for financial planning. Let’s talk about how you service your clients. What does a client experience look like?
Chloé: The first year is a little bit different from the years to follow. For the first year, we’re really just setting the foundation and getting the plan in place. We have a series of meetings. I always start out with what I call a discovery meeting. With that meeting, we don’t talk about any money, anything financial. I typically don’t even ask for documents ahead of time. We really just sit and have a conversation. I learned about their family history, just how they grew up, their memories of money, how they define success, just what they’re passionate about, how they want to live their life. I really just dig in to who they are. Then also what they want to accomplish long term. That sets the foundation and it really just helps us to get to know each other. It builds the relationship. That’s the first step.
Then after that, then that’s when I start to gather all of the information. I’ll set them up. I use eMoney and so I’ll set them up with a client website. Then I’ll give them the documents, the list of documents that I’ll need. We’ll start gathering all of the information. Then from there, once I have that information, I’ll pull together a basic network statement and cashflow and make sure that we have those things, I would have everything accounted for and that I have a good understanding of where they are right now. We’ll have another meeting just for data validation and just making sure that we’ve captured everything. We’ve captured all of their goals. Then from there, I’ll build a plan out. We’ll have a plan delivery meeting. We’ll talk about all the aspects of their financial planning whether it’s taxes, insurance, investments, budgeting, cash flow, retirement planning, estate planning. We’ll just look at everything.
From there, what I’ll do is I’ll start prioritizing all of their action items. We’ll try to work on maybe two or three at a time so it’s a lot easier to swallow. Once we’ve completed the plan, we’ve confirmed that everything is accurate and then we’ll just go from there as far as knocking out the action items. On the implementation side, I’m definitely hands on, like I said, before. Let’s say they need a will. I’ll introduce them to an estate planning attorney if they need an introduction. I’ll actually help them with the process of helping provide any documents that they need or helping them think through some of those things ahead of time. As far as what their wishes are, I’ll review the drafts with them. In some cases, I’ll summarize or diagram how everything looks. I’ll make sure that everything really matches with what they want and using my knowledge of their overall picture. I’ll just work with them on that and work with the attorney as a team.
I’m very hands on with what I do and same thing with tax claiming and CPAs and insurance planning. I don’t just send them off and say, “Hey, go talk to this person and get this done and come back to me when you’re finished.” I’ve seen that happen. In some cases, that doesn’t work out very well. I definitely try to make sure I’m very much involved in the process.
Hannah: In that first year, how many times are you meeting with the client do you think?
Chloé: It could be anywhere from four to six times of that first year. We’re definitely meeting more frequently. Like I said, it’s really just setting the foundation for the future years.
Hannah: After that first year, what does a client experience look like?
Chloé: After the first year, then I just have things throughout the year that I do for clients. It’s just based on a calendar year but we’ll pick up wherever they are in the process. The beginning of the year, I try to focus on … At the beginning of the year and mid year, we typically look at their net worth statement and their cash flow and compare last year to this year and see what progress they made and really set some goals for the next year as far as what they want to accomplish with their savings or with paying down debt or even if they have some other action items that they need to complete, we’ll just set goals there, some things like planning for a house or a new baby or anything like that.
We’ll establish that at the beginning of the year and then we’ll have a mid year check in to check on their progress. At the beginning of the year, we focus on tax planning and in the spring we’ll look at their investments, see if there’s any rebalancing that needs to be done there. The summertime I try to focus on estate planning and insurance planning and just reviewing what they have in place. Making sure they’re still on track there. In the fall, we look at their investments again and rebalance. I call it cybersecurity check. Check their credit and make sure that there’s nothing out of line there. We’ll look at employee benefits. I just have things that I do for them throughout the year and then of course if they have any concerns or any changes that happen in their life, they can contact me and we’ll plan around those things as well.
Hannah: Are you contacting them every time? Are they having to do work every time for every one of these items every year?
Chloé: In some cases, I will contact them. I might give them little homework assignments here and there or it could just be simple as, hey, I want to review your insurance. Can you upload your new statements? It could just be something as simple as them providing me with information or there could be some homework assignments there.
Hannah: Do you find that people are really good about staying on top of that?
Chloé: I try to meet clients where they are and make sure that … I know some clients they want a comprehensive list and they can knock it out and they’re very much proactive with those things and I have some clients who we have to give them step by step and maybe one or two things to work on at a time. It really just depends on the personality of the client and how they work best. That’s something else that I try to establish, too, in our discovery meeting just how they best receive information, how they want to work together and then at the one year mark, I’ll definitely check in and see what worked in the past year and what can we do to improve our relationship going forward.
Hannah: I think that’s so important. What’s so exciting about boutique firms is you really can customize them per client.
Chloé: Yeah, definitely.
Hannah: Do you have those things noted in your CRM or is it you just know the client?
Chloé: I try to know as much as I can. It is a little funny because I do … It is just me. It’s a little silly sometimes or I feel a little silly over documenting things on CRM. I even have clients who … The best days to meet with them are Wednesday mornings and Thursday mornings. I have that noted in my CRM. If I ever need to call them, I make sure it’s on one of those days or just different things about their schedules or what they’re doing or their preferences. I try to note that as much as possible and even though I’m small and I plan estate small it’s all about setting yourself up to build a scale. I want to know that once I bring on someone to help me, there’s not a huge learning curve. I have so many things documented and in place so they can easily pick up and everything is just not in my head.
Hannah: I know that you’re really passionate about financial planning and this may sound like maybe a trite question but why financial planning?
Chloé: I feel like financial planning is one of the few professions where you can truly have a drastic impact on someone’s life. I just think what we do is so important. Some people think of it as a luxury, but I think of it as an expensive necessity. I think everyone needs financial guidance. Everyone needs someone to run things by and just someone to help, be in their corner and help prevent them from making huge mistakes that could be costly or set them back for years. I feel like with what we do, we’re really, really able to help someone really change the path of their life. I’ve seen clients who are in a job that they hate and they’re just not happy. The idea of helping them figure out what they want to do and what they’re passionate about and seeing them change careers and move to a job that makes them so happy, that has a huge impact. Even just simple things just like making sure that they’re taking care of their families and their kids and just having peace around that.
Hannah: Talking to the new planners who are listening to this, what would be your advice for them?
Chloé: The biggest piece of advice is just don’t give up. This is not the easiest industry to get into at times. It takes a little bit of time to find your path whether it’s working for a company or working on your own. I’ve seen so many people who are extremely passionate about this industry and extremely good at what they do leave the industry because they just can’t find the right company or the right opportunity. That really breaks my heart. I’d say just don’t give up and really, really continue to push until you’re able to find a happy place.