The lure of owning your own company can conjure up images of afternoons on the golf course and evenings around the dinner table – with some work in between, of course. Vanity aside, starting a financial planning business is a serious undertaking, and you may in fact find that you will tally up more time with your own company (especially in the beginning) than all your previous working hours combined. There’s a lot that goes into opening your own practice – from evaluating your risks to building a large enough book of business. The question is: Are you ready?
Book of business
After 12 years, James Twining, president of Financial Plan Inc. in Bellingham, Wash., left the security of his job at a major wirehouse and started his own financial planning practice. His reason is one that is echoed throughout the industry: He didn’t feel the wirehouse was serving the best interest of the client. He knew he could do more, and he knew his clients deserved more. Despite the obvious risks involved, Twining started his own business, armed with 12 years of experience in the field and a committed client base.
“I think that in any major life decision there is always doubt. But you weigh the odds, and if they look good enough you take the plunge,” he says.
The key to making it work, Twining attests, is a solid book of business. For younger advisors in the field, this is often lacking. And although some advisors started their businesses from scratch, Twining doesn’t recommend it.
“An independent advisor who is completely starting from scratch will almost certainly fail unless he does business on a commission basis,” he says. And commission-based selling, Twining says, is “fraught with big challenges and conflicts.”
Rather, his advice is: wait. Gain experience at an investment firm, build a solid book of business and then think about going independent.
For the fee-based advisor, Twining advises having $10 million under management. Because the majority of fee-based advisors are working on a percentage of assets under management, they average about 1 percent, he explains. This works out to be minimum gross revenue of $100,000.
Other advisors might have different numbers in mind, but one thing is for certain: If you’re taking clients with you from a major wirehouse, prepare to lose a few. It’s the nature of the beast.
Risks and worries
Losing clients and a chunk of your book of business is always a worry when you’re starting your own practice, but it’s a practical reality that you need to plan for. Stephanie Guerin and her partner, Kelly Voitenko, owners of The Planned Approach in Prairie Village, Kan., started their own business to structure their jobs around their families. They suggest keeping it simple when evaluating if your book of business is suitable for starting your own company.
“The simple version is really this,” Voitenko says, “gross income minus expenses, including salary and benefits for you, equals net profits.” Then, Voitenko says, reduce that amount by a fair percentage because you would be surprised to see how many clients won’t follow you.
It’s only natural when you take a risk as big as starting your own business to have worries and fears. The “what ifs” that run through your mind can drive you to think you’re making the wrong decision. The best thing you can do is plan ahead. Think about what your fears are, write them down and plan ways to prevent them from occurring.
Bill Spiropoulos, founder and CEO of CoreStates Capital Advisors in Newton, Pa., who worked at wirehouses for 30 years, says his greatest concern when he started his own business was that the wirehouse would issue a TRO, or trade restraining order, against him. However, he protected himself and his business by seeking legal advice ahead of time. In the end, his wirehouse sought a TRO against him, but because he was prepared with solid legal counsel the TRO eventually was denied.
Talk to almost any entrepreneur in any field and he will tell you that his biggest worry is whether he will earn enough money to make his business work. Good planning and budgeting in advance can help. The advisors we interviewed reminded us of the many costs you should consider when building a budget.
Here are a few:
- Equipment, including the purchase of computers, fax machines, printers, telephones, postage meters, furniture, etc.
- Office supplies, including stationery and business cards
- Insurance, including Errors and Omissions insurance, medical, worker’s compensation, and general liability insurance
- Marketing * Continuing education
- Lunches and drinks with clients
- Payroll * Compliance
- Ticket charges, SEC fees, licensing and registration
What you’re leaving behind
For many reasons, owning a business isn’t for everyone. The security of a corporation may be something you can’t give up – not to mention the benefits, the salary and the camaraderie. Sheila Jamison, founder of Jamison Financial Group in New York, who left her wirehouse after 18 years, just two years before qualifying for lifetime medical coverage, admits to having a lot of hesitations about leaving.
“I had a good history with them,” she says. “There were a number of people working there that I liked and would regret leaving behind.”
But because she felt that her values were being compromised for the greater good of the company, she decided it was worth the sacrifice. “I got the point that I was very unhappy with how I would have to do business in order to keep my company happy,” she says. “Many of my clients have been with me more than 20 years. I value caring for them more than I valued the organization’s benefits.”
When you’re evaluating whether leaving the safety and security of a wirehouse is the right thing for you, Jamison has a few suggestions:
- Assess your own skills and talents.
- Ask yourself if you can handle not having someone telling you what to do and when to do it.
- Evaluate your business skills and your financial skills.
Finally, she says, “Recognize exactly what you are leaving behind. This includes the structure that the organization may provide (e.g., administrative help and other advisors who can cover you when you’re out of the office) as well as the benefit package. Then weigh what you will be getting from the independent environment.”
If you’re ready to leave behind all of these comforts, then take the plunge. But remember: Deciding to start your own financial planning practice is a big move. Safeguard yourself and your company by doing your homework – plan ahead.
Perhaps Don Schreiber, president and CEO of WBI Investments in Little Silver, N.J., says it best: “Decide what you want your life to look like and then build your business to facilitate the life that you envision.”