My seventh year in business was probably my hardest year, save for my first. My first was characterized by “Will this even work?” Last year was characterized by “It worked. But I’m not happy…and good lord am I tired.”
I had something approaching an anxiety attack (self-diagnosed; I don’t actually know if it was one) in both years, so maybe that’ll be my measure of A Hard Year going forward. #lolsob
As is the tradition, let us look back upon the last year of Flow.
(We celebrate Flow’s birthday on May 9. If you want, read my Year 6, Year 5, Year 4, Year 3 and Year 2 reflections).
Year 7 Was Hard.
Year 7 was hard in part due to macro factors that affected everyone and were outside of my control:
- The stock market fell.
- The bond market fell.
- The tech market (where our target clientele live) fell.
- The IPO market (our planning specialty) evaporated.
As a result, current clients needed more work (some clients lost jobs, their portfolios lost value, and the general environment was one of uncertainty and anxiety) and the funnel of prospective new clients shrank dramatically for much of the year.
Then there were several challenges specific to me and Flow.
We Finally Gave Up on the Surge Meeting Model.
As a team, we had been trying to implement a new client-service model—Surge Meetings—since Spring 2021.
It had taken a lot (a lot) of work but was supposed to provide, in return, spaciousness in our business and efficiency in our client relationships.
It, in fact, seemed to suck up so much spaciousness inside our team as to be suffocating. In order to ensure that we were still showing up for our clients when they needed us, we worked really hard, all the time.
If you’re interested in more details, I wrote allllll about it in this post on one of the industry’s most highly regarded blogs.
We abandoned Surge Meetings in Fall 2022 and replaced it with a different service model/meeting cadence (a more typical “one comprehensive Annual Renewal Meeting each year” + whatever additional meetings are necessary given the client’s circumstances). I hope this will help us better balance our ability to provide value to clients while maintaining spaciousness for ourselves.
There Were Alarmingly Few New Clients for a While.
Our attempts to make Surge Meetings work meant that we had avoided taking on many new clients for several months. I wanted to be sure to have the time to serve our existing clients, and just doing that was using up all our time.
Abandoning Surge freed us up to start taking on new clients again. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, right when we went looking, the prospective new clients weren’t there as they had been, reliably, for the previous five years.
As the person who is in charge of the Profit & Loss statement for this business, I can tell you that this was…not good.
Growing the Team Increased Expenses and Work.
In 2022, I also decided to grow the team, from three people to four, so we would have two Lead Planners (not just me anymore).
This required a lot of focus, energy, and time to help everyone grow into their roles.
It also brought with it a lot more expenses.
So, workload? Way up.
Expenses? Way up.
Prospective clients to grow income? Way down.
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I Realized Some Important Things in Year 7.
I knew I was stressed out and unhappy last year. And, perhaps because, as my business coach says, I have a “low tolerance for suffering,” I spent a lot of time thinking about “why am I so stressed out and unhappy?”
I ended up hiring a personal therapist at the end of the year because I couldn’t work through it on my own. Between my work with her, my business coach, and my husband, I made progress.
I actually had to “tune out” well-meaning and otherwise valuable input from colleagues or other industry/professional sources for the most part. Stopped listening to professional podcasts. Consumed less on social media. Read fewer articles. I cannot help but compare myself to others when I interact with them or consume their content, and I couldn’t focus effectively enough on me in those circumstances.
Here’s what last year helped me realize:
I am a financial planner who runs a business.
During much of the past year, I felt like I was in a pressure cooker. Not really enjoying things, and getting paid less for the honor.
As I was struggling to figure out where to go from here, there was one event that, though it took me a while to realize it, really gave me clarity:
In December 2022, I went back down the Bay Area to visit clients, for the first time since before the pandemic. It had been three years since I’d visited, and I hadn’t really stopped to think about the fact that we had a lot more clients in the Bay Area than we had the last time I arranged such a trip.
As a result of that inattention, I ended up with conversations with 15 clients over 2.5 days. Looking at that schedule ahead of time, I stressed out. Good lord, that’s a lot of talking, a lot of people, a lot of getting from one place in the city (or East Bay) to another.
And by the end of the trip I was, yes, tired. But I realized more and more over the ensuing weeks, I was also So Gratified. I felt full, as if after eating a healthy, satisfying meal.
Those conversations were so interesting, so fun, and I felt that much closer to each of the clients I’d spoken with. We had an hour or more to just talk. About life.
I was reminded (again, and not for the last time, I’m sure) that this is what I enjoy most about this work: having real conversations with clients.
It is not building a team (as much as I enjoy the people on my team), making business projections, looking at the P&L, or deciding where I want the business to be in a year or three.
I am a financial planner who runs a business, not a business owner who sells financial planning services. And I have now spent a long time growing my role as Business Owner and shrinking the space I had to be a Financial Planner.
Sometimes, I am just dumb.
It’s Time for the Business to Serve Me.
My business is officially seven years old. And I’ve been grinding for every one of them.
During this time, my children have grown from 2 and 6 years old to 9 and 13 years old. I have been present-ish; I haven’t been one of those stereotypes that just doesn’t see their kids or spouses as they grow their business. But I definitely could be more present.
A couple months ago I was talking with a couple, who are clients, and their kids are slightly older than mine. Their older child is of the age where parents start thinking, “Oh my goodness, I only have them with me for a few more years.”
For some reason, even though I’ve been presented with that notion many times before, this time it resonated: I have only a little over five more years with my older child and eight with my younger. They’re not heading off to college next year, but I know the years will go quickly.
That’s when it struck me:
I have been serving this business so much, since the beginning. Now it’s time for this business to serve me.
I want to be able to fully live into at least these remaining years with my children still at home with me…and also the other parts of my life that have taken too much of a backseat to my business up until now.
I don’t know exactly what “it’s time for the business to serve me” means in great detail, but it is a lens I will use to make decisions about what I do in this business going forward.
“For Now” Is the Healthy—and Realistic—Perspective to Have.
I have tried so. many. things. since starting this business.
And one lesson I learn time and time again (surely some day it will stick) is that “for now” is the only realistic attitude to have about making any decisions in this business.
How many clients do we want to serve?
How big do I want the business to be?
What should our process be for reviewing client tax returns or advising them when they announce they’re pregnant?
How much should I charge?
What should our written financial plan look like?
What questions should we ask in our first meeting with a prospective new client?
I have answered all of those questions multiple times in this business, and each time feels like an improvement on the last answer. It usually is. And, at least intellectually, I know this isn’t the last time I’ll answer it, and the next answer will be different from the current one.
I find that the only thing I’ve been able to truly stick to is the mantra of:
My role is to be here when my clients need me.
That mantra survives changes in process or deliverable or fee model or org chart, and in fact is a lens through which I can and do evaluate so many choices: “Does this change better enable me to be here for my clients when they need me?”
As much as I want to be able to map out everything over the next several years (just as our clients do!), experience—mine and others’—tells me that it’s simply not the way things work.
You can simply look at my annual retrospectives on this blog to see how many changes have already become a thing of the past.
Where To From Here?
I figure I have responsibilities to these people in my life:
- My family (husband and children, especially)
How do I honor my responsibilities to all of those people?
Responsibilities to My Employees
I continually check in with my employees about what they need in their jobs to feel fulfilled, and to evaluate whether or not Flow can provide those things. It’s my business, so I have a right to manage it as I see fit, and at the same time I have a responsibility to be honest with my employees about what they can expect—or not—from the business.
Is it working? I think so. Sure hope so. Time will tell. Being a boss is freaking hard, and it’s clear that I often learn how to do it better by doing it wrong the first time through (which is really hard to accept).
Responsibilities to My Family, Myself, and My Clients
Thankfully, the things that allow me to honor my relationship with my clients are largely the same as the things that allow me to honor my relationships with myself and with my family.
For now, I’ve decided to stop growing Flow. We will take on new clients on occasion in order to replace clients who leave, or if an existing client refers to us a friend who is a really great fit for our abilities, values, and personality.
We currently serve 58 clients. I figure we could add another 5-10-ish and still have a reasonable workload, but I’m in no hurry.
In fact, after the anxious spate of “where are all the prospective clients?!” in late 2022, our list of interested prospective clients has recovered and now once again far exceeds our ability or desire to take on new clients. And it feels So Good, just a giant relief, to know that I don’t have to work with any of them. The business is fine as it is Right Now.
Not growing the business will allow me to have more time and, more importantly, mental space and focus, to give to myself and my family, especially my kids.
For now, I’ve decided that I do not want to grow the team at Flow. My attempts to do that over the last year-plus have created stress for me and taken my time and focus away from what I love most about this work.
Not growing our client base and not growing our team will allow me to re-ground myself in the parts of this job that “fill my cup,” as it were.
For now, I’ve decided to scale way back on industry activities, like conferences or interviews or study groups. It’s fun and gratifying to do those things, but at this point, it’s not as important to me as spaciousness and presence with my family. Things really have to be a “Hell yes!” for me to say Yes to them now <she reminds herself as she writes down those very words>.
I’m also hoping to finally incorporate a TAMP, which will take the mundane parts of client-portfolio maintenance off my plate. It’s a necessary part of the value we provide to clients, but it sure doesn’t fill my cup and I don’t personally have any special sauce when it comes to executing trades. (I would argue that basically no one does.) Of course, I haven’t done it yet so I won’t count that chicken yet.
Again, this will allow me more time and energy to focus on the parts of the job I love and think I am really good at doing. All in all, it’d be one more step in building myself a job that I love.
I am entering Year 8 with perhaps as much excitement as I entered Year 7 (and a bit more fatigue). Just for very different reasons.
I am excited to slow down. I am excited to not grind. I am excited to focus on what I already have (relationships, money, etc.), not what I could have more of.
Onwards to Year 8.
Do you ever go down one path, only to realize it wasn’t the right choice for you, for now? And it’d sure be nice if you had someone who could help you use your finances to figure out where to go from here? Reach out and schedule a free consultation or send us an email.
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