What do succession plans, student loans, and craft beer have in common? These are the threads that tie together the story of Ryan Galiotto, CFP®. From his unconventional start in financial planning to his current “title” as the Student Loan & Craft Beer Nerd of Pittsburgh, Ryan’s story is a testament to the value of following your interests and being yourself.

In this episode of YAFPNW, Ryan and I talk about Ryan’s career progression, how student loans became a part of his personal brand, and how his personal brand has played a huge role in his growth. They also talk about the technical side of niching and branding, including compliance, content, and even combining personal and professional interests for even greater growth.

 

An Unconventional Start

Ryan got his start in financial planning working at a restaurant of all places. There, he was taken under the wing of the restaurant’s dishwasher, who had invested well and was able to retire in his mid-20s. This busted all of Ryan’s beliefs about wealth and financial security and, from there, his interest in the profession only grew. He graduated from high school in 2002 and went to college, receiving his degree in finance from Liberty University. But like most of us in the next generation of financial planning, he graduated at the peak of the financial crisis. 

His initial intention was to work for the “big names,” like Merrill Lynch and others. Of course, finding a job at any of these firms in the early 2000s was difficult to say the least. So, to keep the lights on while he job-searched, Ryan worked as a bartender in Pittsburgh. This job — believe it or not — would lead to a chance encounter with an independent financial planner. They hit it off from the start and, in a short time, Ryan became part of that planner’s succession plan. 

 

Ensuring a Successful Succession

Since receiving his CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® designation in 2011, Ryan has worked with Fields Financial Planning firm outside of Pittsburgh, where they support “blue collar” clients, most of whom are nearing retirement age. After about 5 years working in the Fields practice, however, Ryan took a good hard look at his succession plan and realized that many of his clients would be well into retirement by the time he stepped into an ownership role. This meant, of course, fewer clients (and money) on the books. So Ryan and the owner had a chat: How would Ryan attract new and younger clients to solidify the firm’s future? The answer came as Ryan began working more and more with their current clients’ families. 

Rather than focusing on asset-gathering like the firm’s older clients, their children were focused on pretty much one thing: student loans. As a result, Ryan started offering student loan planning to his clients, a value-add that was covered by his advising fee. He soon realized that not many people in the profession were offering this service and, as a result, began to grow a “practice within a practice.” Over the past 5 years, Ryan has focused on student loans, learning all that he can and offering insights to clients (and other planners) who need it. This organically led to his reputation as the “Student Loan Guy,” and a personal brand was born.

But Ryan’s story doesn’t end there. Make sure to listen to this episode of YAFPNW to see how his student loan expertise has led to a larger network, a stronger client base, and a passion for creating content his audience loves. You’ll even see how his love of craft beer has begun to play a role in his professional life — something that Ryan never saw coming. 

If you’re part of a succession plan, want to attract more of your ideal client, and/or want to really embrace personal branding, this interview is for you.

 

 

 

 

What You’ll Learn From Ryan:

  • The ways that personal branding lead to new clients
  • The importance of meeting your ideal clients and audience where they are
  • How to work with compliance to make sure your goals are achieved, while also staying compliant
  • How to connect with clients by focusing on being yourself
  • Why you shouldn’t pursue a niche that doesn’t feel like “you”
  • Why relationships are more important than knowledge

 

In this episode with Ryan Galiotto, CFP®, we reference:

 

Show Transcript

Episode Transcript


Matt: All right, Ryan. Thank you so much for joining us today to share a little bit more about how you’ve used personal branding.

Ryan: I’m excited to be here, Matt. Anytime you call, I’m willing to answer.

Matt: Awesome. Well, let’s just jump in here, and before we get started on the personal branding story that you have to share with us, can you give us a brief background of how you came to be a financial planner and where you’re currently working?

Ryan: Yeah, sure. My story isn’t as exciting as everybody else’s, but it’s actually kind of unique. I’ll try to give you the reader’s digest version of it just for the sake of time, but I’m actually getting ready to cross 10 years in the business. I’ll actually be there in August, which is really, really exciting, so we’re just a few weeks away from that, but I’ve always had a interest in finance since I was a kid. I’ve always been a numbers guy.

Ryan: I’ve loved baseball, stats, all that good stuff, and just always was fascinated by the stock market. I don’t know what it was, but being a kid, I just always thought the stock market was just the coolest thing in the world, and checking it every day and watching the numbers go up and down. I don’t know, I just … Something about it just really fascinated me when I was a kid, but that was really kind of where my interest got piqued, and then somewhere around the age of 16 was when everything really took off for me. I tell the story pretty briefly, but when I was 16 years old, I started working at a little restaurant.

Ryan: I think it was my second or my third day on the job. I looked over, and the dishwasher was reading a Wall Street Journal. He was probably in his mid-30’s at the time, and remember thinking to myself like, “Hey, why is the dishwasher reading The Wall Street Journal?” I just kind of had that sort of perception in my head like, “This guy can’t have any money,” but come to find out that this guy many, many moons prior to that day, he inherited some money or had some money, and he invested in the little company called Berkshire Hathaway back in like the early ’80s. I don’t even remember what his basis is on the shares, but it’s pretty low, but it was enough to where he basically retired in his mid-20’s.

Ryan: From that point on, he started really kind of taking me under his wing and teaching me a little bit more about the markets and giving me Wall Street Journals, and giving me Warren Buffett biographies. I was just like a sponge, man. I couldn’t get enough of it, and I knew right there at that moment, I was like, “Hey, this guy, it’s amazing how this guy’s life changed because of finance, just making good investments and being smart and frugal and all that good stuff.” I was like, “This is the business I want to be in.” Problem was, at that time, it was 2001, 2002, I was just getting out of high school, and Enron was happening, and 9/11 was happening, and the world was kind of falling apart if you will, so went off to college for finance, got out of college, and it was just right for the middle of the financial crisis.

Ryan: When I thought I was going to start my journey in 2001, 2002, the world was a little bit crazy, and then fast-forward to when I got out of college and I’m all ready to jump in the financial services and be a financial planner, and the world’s falling apart once again. It was just like some bad timing, but after I got out of school and I figured I’ll take some time and figure a pathway into being a financial planner, and I thought at that time, I had to go work for Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley or Wells Fargo, one of those big names, and was throwing some applications around, and did some bartending actually just to kind of keep the lights on at that point in time and keep the student loan bills paid. Got into bartending, and really, really enjoyed that. Made a lot of connections, and just so happened to meet an independent financial planner along the way, who was in his mid-50’s at the time or early 50’s at the time. Met him and he said, “Hey, you seem like you have a real interest in my business, and I’m not going to be around forever. I’m looking for a younger person to bring into my independent practice, and to one day, hopefully succeed me.”

Ryan: He asked me if I’d come talk to him a little bit more about it, and I did, and we clicked from day one, and that’s how it all got started. I’ve been with the same firm since I jumped onboard. I was independent from day one, and it’s just kind of how it happened. It was just kind of a stoke of good luck, I guess. I walked right into a succession plan.

Matt: Wow. I think that’s really fascinating given the historically bad track record of succession plans.

Ryan: Yeah.

Matt: It sounds like you guys clicked day one, and you’ve been there for almost 10 years, which is certainly an accomplishment itself.

Ryan: Yeah.

Matt: Within that firm, who are your primary clients and who are you currently serving?

Ryan: Yeah. Primarily, so Randy built a practice, really working with what I like to call … It’s not so much the manual labor, but it’s the blue collar industry, so we deal with a lot of steelworkers, obviously being in Pittsburgh, a lot of steelworkers, a lot of coal miners, and a lot of pipeliners. We actually have a ton of pipeliners on our books. Most of these guys are sort of kind of in that preretirement phase, but of course, they’re getting a little bit older, so they’re starting to kind of move into the retirement phase, but for the most part, our target audience or our target client right now is kind of that sort of blue collar industry around the age of about 62 is about the average age of our client.

Matt: Very cool, and I would assume that most of the book was built by Randy before you got there.

Ryan: Yes. Yes, for the most part. Yes, it was built before I got there.

Matt: When you were joining up with Randy, was there any discussion about, were those the clients that you wanted to serve? Are those the clients you were the most interested in, or how did you go about finding those clients that you ultimately want to serve going forward if you do succeed the business?

Ryan: Yeah. It was kind of interesting. One day, I … Well, I guess like, probably my first five years in the practice, started noticing our clients were getting a little bit older. The average age of our client was, I think when I first came onboard, I think it was around 57, and today, it’s at 62, so that math would work out. I remember looking at Randy and I said, “You know, I hate to kind of think this way, but our clients are getting older, and me buying the business, I don’t want to buy a business where our clients are eventually going to either die or hit the age of 70, and start actually taking money out of the actual book.”

Ryan: I saw right then at that moment that there’s a real need for us to bring in some younger clients, and I really had a passion, if you will. I really wanted to connect with younger people my age and really start helping them, so that was when we made a decision a few years back to kind of build sort of a, say like a practice within a practice. We have our, kind of our core practice where we’re hitting these blue collar kind of … I don’t want to use the term middle age, but we’re using these blue collar pre-retirees as kind of the core of the practice, and now we’re trying to connect with the younger individuals who are out there like their children, if you will.

Matt: I’ve been following your personal branding as you’ve been building this out over the past year and a half, so the need for the personal branding in your eyes really came from the standpoint of, “Hey, someday, I’m going to take over this business, and I need to make sure that there’s new clients coming in.”

Ryan: Yeah.

Matt: Am I understanding that correctly?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly the way it is.

Matt: When you first started having this conversation with Randy, was there any pushback from him like, “Hey, this is my firm. This is who we are, and we don’t want to do it that way, this new way that you’re trying to do”?

Ryan: No. Actually, he was 100% behind me the minute I started to explain to him what I was looking to do, and it makes sense when you think about it. This industry, especially being on the BD side of the industry, it’s all about the generational shift of wealth, right? Like you go to any conference or really actually any event, everybody talks about this generational shift of wealth, like eventually, mom and dad are going to pass away, and they’re going to shift the wealth down to the children, if you will. The children are going to inherit this wealth.

Ryan: From our perspective, it was an easy sell to him because I said, “Hey, if there’s going to be this massive generational shift of wealth that everybody keeps talking about, we need to start building relationships with the kids so that whenever the assets do shift, we don’t lose them, right? We need to have something in place where when mom and dad do pass away and the kids do inherit the assets, that we are already the kids’ financial planners, so we’re not going to lose that to some other firm that they are working with.” Thinking of it from that perspective really made it a extremely easy sell to him.

Matt: You are in the broker-dealer world, so how did you go about … You’re talking about working with younger people, student loan planning. How did you get buy-in from the broker-dealer to allow you to provide some of those services to your client in a model that traditionally doesn’t support that, not necessarily that they don’t allow it, but they don’t usually support that?

Ryan: Really didn’t have to do a whole lot of work to get the broker-dealer behind me. Fortunately for me, I really feel like our broker-dealer is really great, especially at offering, they refer to it as just pure financial planning services. When we started with the student loan planning, it really was more of a bolt on that we were providing to our advisory clients, so we just kind of threw it in as, “Hey, you’re paying us this advisory fee, and we will offer this student loan planning service to your children or somebody else in your household that might be affected by it.” It was kind of more of a value add, if you will to our clients that were already on the book. From that perspective, we didn’t really need to get a whole lot from the BD because it was just like another added financial planning service that we were providing already.

Ryan: Once we started doing the flat fee student loan planning, that was when we really had to work with the BD, and believe it or not, they actually already had the billing system already in place. We just kind of explained to them what we are looking to do, and they showed us all the paperwork we needed in order to do it in the documentation system just to make sure that we’re showing them exactly what we’re doing. We’re not just out billing people for nothing, so just kind of working with them. It was actually a really, really simple process. I really didn’t have any kickback from anybody.

Matt: This is really where your story gets interesting. Just in our conversations, you’ve really developed yourself from a personal branding standpoint, not just you to the client, but also you within the advisor space of your broker-dealer as a student loan expert. How has that opened doors for you with other advisors in the broker-dealer that you’re underneath?

Ryan: Yeah. This is actually probably the piece that I’m really most excited about. It’s the fact that I feel kind of like a lone wolf out there, if you will within my broker-dealer, talking about these student loans. What I’ve done is just explain to people, trying to explain to other advisors the need for student loan planning, right? Again, I don’t want to talk negatively or anything like that about any advisors that are kind of in my broker-dealer world, but it’s more asset gathering-focused, right?

Ryan: Like that’s historically how it goes, so really showing them like, “Hey, we have this whole new crop of clients coming up, clients that are in their late 20’s, early 30’s.” The biggest financial concern in their world right now isn’t saving into their Roth IRA. It isn’t how their 401(k) is being managed. The thing that’s keeping them up at night right now are their student loans. That’s the thing that is most affecting these guys financially and emotionally.

Ryan: If you want to connect with them, you need to really understand the number one financial issue in their world. It’s been exciting kind of showing other advisors, “Hey, this is what I’m working on, and it’s helping me connect with these younger clients who I feel are going to be the future of my practice.” From that point, a lot of … Student loan planning, there’s a lot that goes into it. There’s all the different repayment programs and all that good stuff, so it’s a lot to learn.

Ryan: It’s taking me quite a while to learn all this stuff, and because of it, a lot of advisors within my broker-dealer and kind of within my network, if you will, have kind of looked at me like, “Hey, this guy knows a ton about student loans.” I build a lot of great relationships, and I actually have other advisors who are actually reaching out to me and saying, “Hey, I’m working on this case. I have a client who is having this issue. Can you take a look at this for me and maybe give me a hand with this?” It’s really helped me connect with some new advisors from there. On top of all that, my broker-dealer is actually allowing me in the fall to do at our annual conference actually, do a 50-minute presentation on student loan planning to all of the advisors within our BD, which is actually really, really exciting because it’s never been done before, so I’m excited to be the one that kind of cross the threshold, if you will and expose all these guys to something that I’m really passionate about.

Matt: Yeah. I don’t think it’s to the fault of the advisors that they are asset gatherers. That really is just the way that the industry was built, and as we become more of a profession, focusing on some of these other issues of the next generation, it’s just going to take time to get that adoption.

Ryan: No. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Matt: I am curious as you started doing the student loan planning and you started to work with other advisors to help service their clients, how long did that take to really come to fruition, and did you have any pushback or how did you get the word out about student loan planning to these advisors?

Ryan: Yes. There wasn’t a whole lot of pushback at all from anybody. It was really just about networking within my advisor community. Just when I go to broker-dealer events, just really saying, sitting down with clients, because when you go to these events, the best thing about going to events with other advisors is talking to other advisors and learning how things are doing within their practice, right? I always enjoy that.

Ryan: Anytime we have a conference, anytime there’s some type of annuity company or something like that, doing some type of event, I love sitting down and talking with other advisors and hearing things that they’re doing within their practice that I might be able to implement mine, so I’m really, really good … I really, really enjoy, I guess I should say that networking piece of talking with other advisors, so it really was just kind of reaching out to the network and saying, “Hey, what are you working on? Let me tell you about what I’m working on right now. I got started in the student loan planning. It’s really helped me connect with a lot of new, younger people. I would love to tell you some more about it,” and just kind of grew from that point.

Ryan: Then, other advisors started telling other advisors, who started telling other advisors, and the word just sort of spread that, “Hey, there’s this guy in Hopwood, Pennsylvania just outside of Pittsburgh that knows a lot about student loans, so if you have any questions, reach out to this guy.”

Matt: I guess just like with any branding exercise or marketing exercise, it just takes time, right?

Ryan: Yeah. Absolutely.

Matt: How many advisors are you actively helping with student loan planning, and are you receiving compensation for that? How does that work?

Ryan: Yeah. I have one advisor right now that I’m pretty much his student loan guy. He is compensating me for it, compensating me directly. I have a couple other advisors who I’m just sort of like helping out with, so like one advisor where I’m doing basically in-depth analysis with the deliverable and all that good stuff, and he is paying me for my time. Then, I have some other advisors that I’m just kind of helping out.

Ryan: They’ll have a question or something like that. I’m more of a, I guess a resource that they’re leaning on. Then, obviously, within my firm, the two other advisors in my firm, I’m working exclusively with them, and they’re just more or less sending me the referral when I’m charging the client directly for that. In all, it’s probably around, I would say six or seven advisors that I’m kind of working with as either a resource or directly helping their clients.

Matt: What’s really interesting about your story is you’ve done such a great job of branding yourself within your broker-dealer, branding yourself within your firm, and you started to produce content on a blog, on a podcast to help bring those new, next generation clients into the practice.

Ryan: Yup.

Matt: Tell me a little bit more about that. I want to shift gears more to your personal client marketing. What are you doing on that front?

Ryan: Yeah. I’m doing the blog and the podcast, and the social media too. I feel like we have all these younger people out there who are staying up late at night and worried about their student loans, and if you want to connect with them, you need to be where they are. Younger people are on social media. Younger millennials are on the blogs and the podcasts, so I had to go where they are at, and I just so happen to really enjoy creating content in those arenas, so it really worked out well.

Ryan: About a year ago, I launched a blog. Actually, a little bit over a year ago, I launched a blog, Ryangaliotto.com, and quickly came to find out that nobody could spell my last name, so we had to shift the branding a little bit, and we came up with the term yourbestfinanciallife.com. That blog was released August fourth of 2018, so we’re actually just about to hit the one-year mark on that one as well, and really just started creating content around student loans and really content around other financial matters that millennials are facing, the life insurance, and even things like, “Hey, we just got married. How should we split up our finances?”

Ryan: I’m really trying to think about, “What are some issues that my millennial clients or my millennial target client, if you will is facing?”, and started creating blog posts around that. That eventually morphed into a podcast called Financial Life Radio that we just released recently. Then, along the way, it’s just been social media posts with the same idea.

Matt: Nowadays, there’s so much content out there. A lot of it isn’t actually useful advice like, “Oh, this is how I paid $100,000 of debt off in 12 months.” How have you set the expectation of what these branding methods are and are not to your audience?

Ryan: There’s a lot of bad advice out there. I mean, you’re right, there’s so much content floating around out there. Google unfortunately can either be a gift or a curse, one of the two, just because there’s so much stuff out there. I think really, what I’m good at with my content is really kind of busting that stuff down in a professional way, I guess is probably the easy way to think about it. If you listen to my podcast, one of the things I like to do is really explain to people that, “Hey, traditional financial planning wisdom doesn’t always work for everybody.” Right?

Ryan: Like if you read this article, it’s going to say, “Hey, you need $1 million to retire,” but the truth is, I work with people every single day who retire with less than $1 million, and I work with people every single day who retire who need a lot more than $1 million, right? It all depends on your financial goals and where you want to be in your life financially. I’m really trying to kind of put that theme, if you will into my content like everybody’s journey is different. There’s a lot of canned content out there that can really … It can really set you up for, not so much failure, but just it can really set up your expectations to be off, because everybody’s journey is different and your financial goals and your financial journey should be tailored to how you want to live and where you see yourself be financially, right?

Ryan: I guess that’s kind of a complex way of answering that question, but really, just kind of explaining to clients like, “Hey, there’s a lot of canned stuff out there. Just don’t listen to it. Your journey is your journey, and that’s just all it is. Everything you do should be tailored to your journey, and not some cookie-cutter, canned article that you found on Google or something like that.” Does that make sense?

Matt: You’re just being real and you’re not trying to be everything to everyone, which is very non-traditional for the broker-dealer world when you see a lot of the canned posts.

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Matt: On that topic, the broker-dealer world has a stigma of very strict and very tedious compliance relationships with their advisors. How have you established a relationship with your compliance department to allow some of these newer, more personalized and customized marketing methods?

Ryan: Yeah. I think one of the mistakes that advisors make is they view compliance as the bad guys. I don’t think that you should do that, because really, the compliance guys aren’t there to “Stop us from doing what we want to do.” I mean, they’re really there to help us stay compliant. That’s really what they’re there for, and so many advisors look at compliance the wrong way.

Ryan: I think it’s really about changing the way you view compliance, and instead of thinking like, “Hey, these guys won’t let me do what I want to do,” instead say, “Hey, how can I work with compliance to get accomplished what I want to get accomplished?” Right? I think the key is, and the key that’s worked for me is to build a relationship with your compliance team, so fortunately for me, my broker-dealer gives us like one specific compliance person that we work with kind of exclusively, instead of working with an entire team of people, which really, really helps. That one person that I work with, it’s really been about educating him on what I want to get done, and then he kind of goes back to his table and says, “Okay, here’s a compliant way to get done what you want to do.” I really educated him of all the different things I want to do with the podcast saying, “Hey, I’m going to put up a podcast, and then I’m going to put up a blog post later.”

Ryan: “We’re going to call it the Show Notes, and it’s going to contain all this stuff, and that’s what you’re seeing here.” He really kind of kicks back and says, “Yeah, that’s fine. I just need a script of everything that you’re doing,” blah, blah, blah. We kind of build a relationship. I’ve educated him on everything that I want to do to kind of show him this is the end result that I want, and then he goes back to the table and says, “Okay. Here’s a compliant way to get to that end result.”

Ryan: It’s really about working together as opposed to saying, “Hey, these guys are just stopping me from doing what I want to do, and they’re just here to break me down.” You can’t think of it that way.

Matt: Just looking at … Again, your messaging, it’s genuine. It’s wholesome content. It’s not promising this, that and the other if you do these things this way, and I’m sure that helps the compliance standpoint some as well, correct?

Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, early on, he really gave me a lot of like guidelines to … When I said like, “Hey, I want to start a blog,” it was, “Yeah. That’s fine. A blog is fine, but listen, if you talk about investments for instance, we like to see this disclosure in the blog post, or don’t use the G word,” which is kind of goes without saying don’t use the guarantee word, so things like that.

Ryan: He gave me some kind of like general guidelines at first, and I just follow those, and like I said, along the way, we just kind of educate each other on kind of building this compliant way of doing it, and now, we have kind of a nice little system going between the two of us.

Matt: As you started to release some of this content via the podcast and the blog, what have you found … As your personal brand, what has engaged your audience the most? What type of posts? What’s getting them to click, read and respond?

Ryan: Yeah. Right now, I think my most popular posts are anything that’s associated with PSLF. I mean, that Public Service Loan Forgiveness for whatever reason just is a really, really hot topic, so those are the ones that people are really hitting the most. Anything wrapped around student loans, like I said, hits the biggest financial concern in the lives of my target client, and it just so happens to be the post or the content that gets the most engagement, so I’ve really been kind of honing my content creation in that direction.

Matt: You’ve become the student loan guy. In your broker-dealer, you’ve become the Pittsburgh student loan guy, and I also understand that you’re the guy who talks Craft Beer and knows a lot about student loans.

Ryan: Yeah.

Matt: Tell me more about that because I think it’s really interesting that, again, you’ve marketed yourself and branded yourself within your broker-dealer, within your firm, within your city, and now you’re targeting this other audience that just happens to be another passion of yours.

Ryan: First and foremost, the Craft Beer thing was, I didn’t set out to do that, like that wasn’t … That kind of, I fell into that, if you will. I tell everybody, “This is kind of like my life coming full circle,” if you will, going back to my days bartending when I was trying to kind of break into this business. I worked at a Craft Beer bar, and this was 10 years ago. Craft Beer wasn’t really that big back then, not what it is today. I mean, it’s exploded at this point, but I kind of was building a reputation back in those days as being the Craft Beer guy locally in my area, and we were probably one of the only bars that was really, really focused on Craft Beer, and I just kind of fell in love with it, and loved all the different labels and all the different styles of beer, so I started learning as much as I can about each one of those beers, and I started growing this reputation as being the Craft Beer guy, and eventually kind of gotten to the business of finance, and I sort of kept those two worlds separate, if you will.

Ryan: I kind of had my Craft Beer friends over here, and then I had my financial planning clients over here. I tried to keep them all separate, and eventually, I said, “Why not just let the two worlds collide?” Right? Like, “This is who I am. I’m a Craft Beer nerd, and I’m also a financial planning nerd.”

Ryan: “This is who Ryan is. People want Ryan, right? That’s my brand. My brand is I’m a financial planning nerd who you can find at all the breweries on the weekend.” That’s just who I am and people want to connect with that.

Ryan: It was crazy to be scared to tell my clients about it, because living in a Craft Beer city like Pittsburgh, I’d run into my clients anyway at the breweries. Like I’d be there hanging out on a Saturday with my wife, and I’d see two or three of my clients. It was crazy. My clients already knew, but I try to keep it separate, so now, I’ve kind of just let those two world collide, if you will, and now I’m kind of building this brand as, “Hey, this is the student loan guy you can catch at the breweries, if you will.”

Matt: Again, while it has nothing to do with financial planning, I think the lesson here is really important in the fact that you formed a community of nearly 400 members, these beer nerds as you put it, just in a matter of months. How did that all get started?

Ryan: The idea for this community, if you will kind of came about really back in my bartending days. I just never really acted on it, and really, I was trying to connect with other Craft Beer nerds. I started a little Facebook community with like me and my local Craft Beer buddies. I think we started with like maybe 15 or 20 people, and we started a little group called Fueled By Hops, and we really just posted every night, or not every night, but every time we drink a good beer, if you will, we post it up in the group, and everybody would comment like, “Oh, man, how is that? Yeah.”

Ryan: “I’m trying to get my hands on some of that. You want to trade of … I have this. I’ll trade you this for this.” It was really just a lot of like just Craft Beer nerd interaction.

Ryan: Eventually, something happened a few months back, and it just kind of blew up, and more members started coming into the group, and more members started coming into the group. It got to a point where I was like, “Hey, we have like 100 members now, so why don’t I make a cool glass and a cool T-shirt for our group and we’ll get a logo and all that?” Everybody was like, “Yeah. Hey, I would love that. I want that glass. I need that glass,” blah, blah, blah.

Ryan: Then, it just kind of exploded at that point. We’re up to like 400 members now. People want different glasses and different T-shirts and all that good stuff, so this community is growing, and it’s actually kind of growing a business around it, and to be honest with you, I’m starting to have more and more conversations with members of the group regarding financial planning, which isn’t something I set out to do, but because they connect with me on that “Craft Beer nerd level”, they feel comfortable enough to ask me like, “Hey, I hear you also do financial planning. I got this question for you. Can we talk about it sometime?” It’s really made that kind of prospecting piece of it just a lot easier because they already connected with me on that level.

Matt: What I think when we look at personal branding, all we’re trying to do is create points for other people who we may not know as well. We’re trying to create something they can connect with.

Ryan: Yes. Absolutely.

Matt: I think you’ve done a really great job of the student loans, and now this Craft Beer. Is there, at some point, do you hope to merge those two, like literally let the worlds collide and use that beer platform as a way to legitimately prospect for clients?

Ryan: You know, I actually have a good friend of mine who is in the podcast marketing business, and he keeps telling me every time I see him that I need to do that. He’s like, “You need to …” He has all these names. I won’t say them because they’re actually really, really good, but he’s like, “You need to be the Craft Beer financial planner, and you need to hone all your content in that direction. You need to let those two worlds collide.”

Ryan: “Nobody else is doing it. You would be perfect for it.” Eventually, that might happen, but I think I’m just going to kind of let it kind of organically play out, as opposed to really just doing it, like I think over time, maybe adding in a little bit more Craft Beer content alongside of my financial planning content and just kind of see how it goes, see how the clients react to it and all that, but eventually, that might happen down the road, but I’m just going to let that kind of organically play out.

Matt: Yeah, and to bring it full circle, I guess and another question that maybe answered down the road, but maybe your niche is Craft Beer connoisseurs going forward after you take over that business.

Ryan: Yeah. It absolutely could. Just from a business perspective, Craft Beer is not a poor man’s hobby. It’s an expensive hobby. You’re paying five, $6 for a can.

Ryan: You’re buying four of them at a time, and you’re buying three or four of those four packs. I mean, it’s not necessarily a business for somebody who’s financially struggling. I’ve met a lot of really great professionals along the way, a lot of CPAs and a lot of just really professional people that I would want to work with anyway I’ve met in this business. Yeah, I guess you could say potentially that that could be.

Matt: It’s so cool how you’ve taken two of your passions, student loans, Craft Beer and found a way to really market and brand yourself as an expert on both of those things. What tips would you give to listeners who maybe are struggling to find their personal brand or how to market themselves as these experts? Was there any type of exercise that you did to help get those thoughts and ideas on paper?

Ryan: Right now, I am working with a branding coach, who’s helping me kind of boil my brand down into one word, which is really, really interesting. If anybody want to reach out to me, I’d be happy to give his contact information, but I think it’s really about not trying to fit yourself into a box, right? Just give people who you are. What you’re passionate about, give that to people as opposed to trying … I see so many advisors like try, and I did that.

Ryan: I’m guilty of this. I’m not even trying to be innocent. Like my personal branding journey really hasn’t been as smooth as like maybe I make it sound to be. I mean, early on, I thought like since I had this passion for student loans, I thought I was going to be like the medical professional’s financial planner, so I started gearing content towards medical professionals, and I quickly come to find out like, “That’s not me. That’s really not …”

Ryan: Like writing … I don’t know anything about being a medical resident, right? That’s not who I am. There’s financial planners out there that do, and they’re doing a great job of it, but that wasn’t me. I was trying to fit myself into that niche, and quickly found out like, “Hey, I don’t enjoy this content. I’m not passionate about it.” It was like torture to sit down and try to write an article about it, right?

Ryan: I think it’s really about finding that piece that excites you, and if you’re trying to create content and it feels painful, it’s the wrong content, but if you’re creating the content and it’s coming to you naturally and you’re excited to put it out there like you hit the right piece of content, that’s the best advice I can give anybody, because if you’re trying too hard, it’s not going to be fun. It’s not going to be enjoyable for you first and foremost, which certainly isn’t going to be enjoyable for your clients, and it’s just not going to work out. Your clients are going to see like, “Hey, this guy isn’t passionate about this,” but if you kind of find your passion, if you will, and you just let it kind of play out, and it’s going to take some trial and error, if you will to kind of find that piece, but once you do, it’s just going to come to you naturally, and that passion’s going to flow through your content and all the way down to your target client.

Matt: I bet that makes it a lot easier to sit down at the computer and write that article.

Ryan: If you’re trying to put a piece of content out every single week and you’re trying to put it out, let’s say like every Wednesday, if you’re sitting at your computer Tuesday night and you have nothing on your screen, you’re writing about the wrong topic, but if you’re four or five articles ahead, you found that thing that really, really excites you, so it’s just about trial and error. Create, create, create. That’s the best thing I can tell people. Just create content, create all different types of content. Eventually, you’re going to find that piece that just really feels right, and once you find that, just run with it.

Matt: Ryan, many advisors are always trying to be the smartest or best financial advisor when differentiating themselves from other advisors. Why did you choose to go this route with student loans?

Ryan: Yeah. One of the mistakes I think a lot of financial advisors make is they forget that we’re in a relationship business, right? They think that they need to know everything there is to know about financial planning, and be the smartest financial planner, be the best financial planner. We’re not all going to be Michael Kitces, right? It’s just not going to work out that way, so you need to be the best financial planner for your actual client.

Ryan: In a relationship business, this business is just different than any other business, right? If you need to have heart surgery, then you want to have the best heart surgeon there is out there, or if you’re getting sued for instance, you want to make sure you have the absolute best lawyer that money could buy, but in a relationship business, it’s not about having the best financial planner, it’s about having the … The client wants the one that they can relate to the most, right? Like they want the one that understands them, that they enjoy working with, and that they want to work with for the long term, so it’s really about, to me, not about being the smartest or being the best, it’s about being the best fit for your client, and finding those clients that you want to work with and that want to work with you, probably the easy way to put it.

Matt: That would mean that when you’re looking through this lens of best fit, that is exactly what you’re looking to create with your blog or your podcast.

Ryan: Yeah. Absolutely, and the people who are consuming my content, if you will, I’m targeting my content towards a specific client and with the hope that that client picks up that content, and then reaches back out to me. In a way, it’s also kind of a way of qualifying them as a prospect as well, so when people do reach out to me through my blog, it’s probably that specific client that I’ve been trying to reach, so I’m not really wasting my time qualifying them and they’re not wasting their time qualifying me. Like they see me, they see what I’m all about, they want to work with me, so they reach out to me, and because of the content that I created, more than likely, they’re a client that I’m trying to reach, so it’s kind of a win-win for both of us.

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