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Finding Your Niche: It’s Not Just for Californians Anymore

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In response to my July Investment Advisor column Endorphinomics: Working on Happiness, about advisory consultant Steve Moeller’s new book “Endorphinomics: The Science of Human Flourishing,” an advisor in Nebraska wrote:

I just read your article: I feel like it is my life. I get the point of your article/book overview: It isn’t all about the money. My wife and kids keep me grounded as does my really great staff and a very eclectic group of friends from all walks of life.

I’ve been through [another advisor business] course and now read that Steve Moeller is a “life coach who specializes in money” with what sounds like a similar system. However, when I go to [my guy’s] annual events as a “graduate,” I feel it is just getting weird. Maybe these systems work in California or other parts of the world, but I’m in Nebraska where introverts stare at their own shoes on the elevator and the extroverts stare at your shoes.

I’m all for getting to know my clients and having solid relationships with my clients that are based on more than just their account size. But it seems like the industry wants me to become a “hugger who watches Oprah’ and not a financial advisor. Becoming that person would mean I’m not my authentic self, which then ties into being happy or not happy in this business. You have to be yourself and no one seems to ever talk about that. Can’t I build a successful business by being myself?”

My response? I know just where you’re coming from.  

As I wrote in my column, at first sight I was ready to toss Steve Moeller’s book as another touchy-feely self-help tome. But I think both his point, and your point, is that to be an effective, helpful advisor, you need to be yourself. What I took away from Steve’s book is that a lot of people spend their lives trying to live up to what they think other people expect them to be, Way more often than not, that formula doesn’t lead to happiness. Only you know what will make you happy. But you have to listen to it.  

There are many business coaches for independent advisors out there, and it seems to me that many of them are offering one-size-fits-all business solutions, rather than helping advisors find the business model that’s right for them. As far as I can tell, the independent advisory industry is all about starting your own business, so you can take care of clients you like and offer advice in a way that feels right for you. 

Many of the most successful advisory firms I know were built around what the advisor liked to do and the kind of clients he/she wanted to be around. One that sticks out is a dentist in Montana who retired to fly-fish, and launched an advisory firm for other dentists who like to fly fish. They all take fishing trips together and have regular meetings where they talk about fly-fishing and personal finance. That’s got to be as far from Beverly Hills as you can get. 

I know another advisor who focused on advising vineyard owners (in California). Apparently, her Christmases are unbelievable. I’ve also heard that most engineers are so detail-oriented and data-oriented that they drive most financial advisors bananas: except other engineers. I can think of at least two engineers (both women) who focus on advising other engineers. Apparently both sides think their relationships are made in heaven.

So, no, I don’t think you have to watch Oprah (unless you really, really want to). My advice is: just pick a target group of clients whom you like and understand, and just have fun with them. My dad was a doctor and many of his friends were doctors, so if I became an advisor, I’d probably focus on doctors: I know them, I understand them, and I know how their businesses work. Plus, I love to play golf and so do many of them.

I think this is Steve Moeller’s message, too: Listen to what makes you happy, and do it. If you do what’s right for you, and for your clients, who cares what anyone else says? Good luck. Gotta go: I’m late for my yoga class…


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