Block Woman with colored squiggles symbolizing incredulity gazes at a lit number 8 birthday candle atop a miniature white birthday cake.

I ended my reflections on my seventh year in business with this:

​​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. 

Ha ha! And then I got punched in the face. Or my plan met the enemy. Or, for the more scatalogically inclined among you, Shit Happened.

In a way, I did slow down. I did focus on what I already have. More so than I could have ever anticipated. And that’s because:

[Note: We celebrate Flow’s birthday on May 9. If you want, read my Year 7, Year 5, Year 4, Year 3 and Year 2 reflections.]

What the F*ck, Middle Age?

In late August 2023, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer. In the world of all things cancer, it’s pretty minor. They used to call it, in fact, “pre-cancer.” (And I really really wish they still did.)

It’s non-life-threatening and non-invasive. But it still came as a complete shock, and I still had to undergo all the treatment that many later-stage cancers would have required: surgeries and radiation. (No chemo.) 0/10. Would not try.

(In a very real way, I’m genuinely lucky to have discovered it while it was Stage 0, and not after it had grown unnoticed for years. Somehow, my emotional brain won’t accept my luck.)

As of the end of January this year, I was more or less done with treatment. As of March I had more or less fully recovered from all the treatments (other than a persistently tanned left boob!). But from August through mid-February, I was pretty hunkered down.

Physically hunkered down at times. I had to cancel a full week of client meetings after one of the surgeries hit me harder than I expected it to. (Reminder: humans are more generous and caring and easy going than you might give them credit for, in times of worry. I learned this in spades from both my clients and my teammates, Yerim and Janice.)

Psychologically and emotionally hunkered down even more so. Just Get Through It, Meg.

In preparing for our Flow team quarterly offsite in mid-April, it hit me all of a sudden that, Hey! I can lift my head now! I can look forward again! It’s not all about Just Getting Through anymore. 

That offsite and this blog post are some of my first post-cancer forays into Looking Forward in my business. It. feels. wonderful.

Things I Wish I’d Done Differently in the Last Year

I’m sure there are many things I could have done differently and better in the last year. (There always are, after all.) But even more so than usual, I’m trying to just give myself a pass for the last year on account of, you know, The Cancer.

I got through it and also continued to be there for my family and for Flow’s clients when they needed us. I’m trying Very Hard (and sometimes even successfully!) to leave it at that.

The Best Things I Did in the Last Year

It’s genuinely surprising to look back over the last year and realize how much I still did, despite hunkering down for so many months. Go me!

Starting Using a TAMP 

What is a TAMP? It stands for Turnkey Asset Management Program. Not super helpful for those of you outside the profession. A TAMP is more or less an investment “back office” that can do the investing for your clients on your behalf.

Why did I start using one? A few reasons:

  1. It allows me to more fully occupy the role of financial planner. That role is the hub at the center of many “spokes” of domain expertise. I use use tax, legal, insurance, and now investment experts to give my clients best-in-class advice, and I ensure all the advice works together in an integrated whole. 
  2. I don’t believe I bring any special Meg goodness to the ongoing maintenance of your portfolio. I believe I bring Meg goodness to the investment strategy; as a financial planner, I know more about my client’s financial situation than hopefully anyone else. But in terms of implementation of the strategy (the actual buying and selling of funds), a third party investment solution can do that just as well as, if not better than, I can.
  3. I don’t enjoy the maintenance of investment management. I enjoy the puzzle of investing. You come to me with 100 holdings in your taxable account and we want to simplify? Or with your wealth in only two buckets: a giant pile of cash and a giant pile of company stock? I’m there. Getting new cash invested in an existing strategy? Not floating my boat.

The transition to a TAMP was way more difficult than I could have imagined. For something that was supposed to automate much more of the investing process, we threw a lot of (wo)manpower at it over the last year. That’s largely due to laughably poor timing on my part. I started working with the TAMP (which “broke” all our existing processes) in May 2023. Then a few months later TD Ameritrade (our custodian) disappeared into the maws of Schwab (which broke all our and the TAMP’s existing processes). Then the TAMP merged into a larger TAMP (which broke all the existing processes…again). It hasn’t been fun. 

I think the transitions are all done now and I can genuinely see how this new-new-new platform and attendant processes are already giving us more flexibility, control, speed, efficiency, and automation over our clients’ investment portfolios.

[I will be even more pleased when I can remember that TAMP stands for “Turnkey Asset Management Program” and not “Third Party Asset Management” platform. It reminds me of how, for years, I couldn’t remember the phrase “optical illusion” and instead could only remember the French “trompe l’oeil,” which resulted in Much Teasing from my husband about his Very Fancy Wife.]

Our First Annual Client Feedback Survey

In November 2023, we sent out our very first official, annual client feedback survey. I wanted to do it, was overwhelmed by the notion of figuring it all out myself, and so a colleague kindly allowed me to basically rip hers off. (Thanks, Natalie!)

It wasn’t easy, ego-wise, working my way through the client feedback, even though most of it was complimentary. (Thank goodness.) We have made a few simple changes, across both the entire client base (for example, formalizing the process by which we schedule intra-year meetings) and specific to a few clients (for example, tracking their progress differently). 

Going forward, I definitely want to continue doing an annual feedback survey. I can also see opportunities for more narrowly focused, “just in time” feedback. For example, after an Annual Renewal Meeting, we could send clients a very short email asking for feedback. Dunno. I’ll have to figure that out!

“Funny” story: The most voluble—and critical!—feedback I got was from a woman who is my longest-tenured client. She and her husband signed up to work with me two weeks after I launched my firm. She’s also a fellow Wellesley alumna, a connection I take seriously. I like these two a lot, and of course, their status as “Flow’s first client” is weighty.

So, receiving this amount and type of feedback triggered all sorts of insecurities and disappointments. “How had I let it get so bad?!”

TLDR = She definitely had legitimate requests for how we could work better with her, but as it turns out, creating feedback surveys is literally a big part of her job, and she told me, “Well I appreciate receiving feedback, so I thought, well, maybe Meg will, too!”  

And also, BTW, Meg, your feedback survey kinda sucks. (She was kinder about it, of course.) I’ll take it! First survey out of the gate sucks = it’s all upside from here. And I still got a lot of value out of it! If you’re curious about the suckage: Primarily, the questions I asked were way too broad. She said I’ll get better, easier feedback with more narrowly targeted questions. (And she even offered to help. Again with the reminder that humans are more generous and caring and easy going than you might give them credit for.)

Finished the RICP® Education

In late 2022, while setting my goals for 2023, I decided to pursue the RICP® (Retirement Income Certified Professional®) designation in 2023. Being the diligent student I am, I started in January and proceeded at a pace that would finish the education within the year. And, then, of course, cancer. So, I got an extension on finishing the third, and final, course, which I then finished (finally! hallelujah!) in February 2024.

I wrote an entire blog post about why I pursued this education. It might seem weird, seeing as how I work primarily with people in their early and mid careers, which is to say not with people needing retirement income.

I have already seen the RICP education helping me help my clients better. It has brought more nuance to my discussions with young but already financially independent clients (thanks, IPOs!). It has helped me better identify when we need to bring in other professionals, like an elder law attorney, when a client is trying to help buy their parents a home closer to their new grandkid.

Starting Meditating Before Client Meetings

Another goal for 2023 was to get better at helping my clients connect more deeply with their “why” and how it is supported by their finances. My coach and I talked about how the more I poured into myself, the more settled and contented I felt, the more self-awareness I had, the better I could show up for my clients. That, in turn, would enable me to help them feel more connected to their why, to this work.

I chose to start meditating.

I have a loooong history of trying to meditate, dating back to being taught Transcendental Meditation as a teenager. (I needn’t tell you, of course, how wildly popular I must have been in high school.) Having a yoga practice during my entire adult life, I have had many opportunities to learn a new approach to meditation and to start a meditation practice. During my life planning training, they taught yet another kind of meditation and encouraged an ongoing practice.

None of this ever stuck. And who knows, maybe what I’m doing now won’t stick, but I have set the bar really low, so I’m hoping it has a better chance.

A few months ago, I simply started meditating for five minutes before each client and prospective client meeting. I make sure I’m fully prepared for the meeting well in advance. At ten minutes before, I meditate for five minutes, then I have a few minutes to get into the Zoom room without stress.

I have no idea if this practice will have any larger effect, but the effect on the client meeting is obvious. It almost tangibly calms my “Monkey Mind.” My mind goes from ping-ponging in every direction to not (as much)

Sometimes the meditation itself isn’t that enjoyable. I am all too aware of how those thoughts are pinging around everywhere. But I’d much rather have that happen and work through it before the client meeting than during. Because it’s gonna happen at some point.

The meditation helps me feel “more grounded” (which feels like a literal weightiness to me) going into the client meeting. It helps me be more present with the client, helps me avoid bringing “my own shit” into the conversation. Help me talk less, listen more. All the good stuff!

(In practice, I do usually enjoy the meditation time itself and look forward to that brief respite from Monkey Mind. I once heard this trick question: “What’s the right kind of thought to have while meditating?” Answer =  “Trick question! They’re all right.” This is the one time of day when I accept, embrace—and then gently let go of—my thoughts. No judgment.) 

Looking Forward

This is where I find myself coming back to the notion that “What got me here won’t get me there.”

I haven’t yet defined “there,” but it does feel like I’m not quite settled “here.” I’m sure going through the cancer scare prompts some of this feeling, and I also think that I’m experiencing something akin to a (much less sexy) “eight-year itch” in my business.

This applies more to my business, and less to my work as a financial planner. I’m really proud of my work as a financial planner and continue to enjoy the hell out of it and love that I can and will never get anywhere close to “knowing most of it.” 

In my work as a financial planner:

Supporting Caregivers

I want to learn how to better support caregivers. This topic has reared its head powerfully in the last year or two. I’ve been getting glimpses into my own caregiving future, and also a surprising number of young clients have had to start supporting their parents (in some capacity).

For now, I’m reading the book Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk and whatever Danielle Miura and Elliott Appel write. (Danielle and Elliott are both planners who specialize in serving caregivers, and they both say that this is a huge and wildly under-discussed and under-planned-for problem.) We’ll see what comes of my conversations with clients and reading this material.

Think more about what it means to be a “helping profession”

This is a bit of a late entrant, inspired by a conference I was attending while writing this blog post. The presenter (who happens to be my business coach) proposed reframing financial planning as a helping profession. All four of these elements are necessary in a helping profession:

  • Technical knowledge
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Process skills
  • Self-awareness of our own challenges

At the end of each calendar year, I think about goals for the next year in my business and work as a financial planner. Can this framework help me set goals more usefully? With this lens on my practice, what might I change about how I show up as a financial planner?

This is such a delicious framework, and it excites me all over again to be a financial planner.

When it comes to my business:

Increase my enjoyment of the job

My income is fine. Great, by my measure. Sure, I would always like to have more. If I had to choose, however, I’d rather keep income stable and increase my happiness in my job. I’ve been doing this for a while, by doing things like outsourcing compliance (for a pretty penny) and outsourcing investment implementation (for another pretty penny). 

Grow the firm, but slowly

We have 56 clients now, pretty much exactly what we had a year ago (which feels a bit stagnant). So we can’t take on a bunch of new clients over a short period of time and still expect to serve the existing clients well. I’m targeting five new, really good-fit clients this year.

Refine our service to clients and show more of the “invisible labor”

Usually when I’m exposed to other firms in the industry, I come away thinking, “Holy crap, we do so. much. for our clients.” I’ve spent the first seven, maybe even eight, years of Flow adding adding adding to the service we provide to our clients.

What I want to do now is stop adding, at least in a willy nilly sort of way. The client feedback surveys will hopefully reveal if there’s a big gap between our service and our clients’ needs and wants, and we can “add” there.

Beyond that, though, I want to put more focus on what we already do and whether it’s truly valuable to our clients. It’s the 80/20 rule: we spend a lot of time working for each client. Are we producing something really valueable to our clients in that time, or is some of it kind of “meh”?

In tandem with this, I want to also work on making sure the “invisible labor” of our work is more obvious. Do the clients know everything we do for them? Do they know everything we can do for them, if only they asked? 

If you’re a financial planner, you know that for every hour of “obvious” value (time in a meeting, analysis you send via email, etc.), there’s 10x the number of hours behind the scenes you did to enable you to have that meeting or do that analysis. I’m still noodling on how to actually do this, but it’s the goal.

It feels nice to look forward again, and man am I looking forward to getting more clarity on the “there” I’m looking forward to.

If you want to work with a thinking partner who can help you to discover and define your goals, and use that to help make your best financial decisions, reach out and schedule a free consultation or send us an email.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Flow Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

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