Big Plans for Small Firms

A new coaching program aims to help advisors create more efficient lifestyle practices.

Chances are, everything you read from industry consultants is now to grow a multi-partner ensemble firm that will eventually be managed by a full-time CEO.  But industry consultant/coach Stephanie Bogan, of Educe, Inc., thinks that the traditional lifestyle practice has been overlooked.

“Not everybody wants to build a major enterprise,” she says.  “A lot of planners want to earn a great living, do the work that they love and have a lot of fun and freedom and flexibility, and have time to enjoy it all.”

But… doesn’t that model come with significant limitations?  Isn’t there a reason why consultants promote the larger firm approach?

“There’s nothing that says we are limiting growth in a lifestyle practice,” Bogan argues.   “That’s a misconception.  The underlying assumption, that I think is a flawed assumption, is that in order to have a lifestyle practice, you can only make a certain amount or help a certain number of people.  But if you read the studies, the best lifestyle advisors do as well or better than the best ensemble firm owners.  They earn $500,000 a year or more,” she adds.  “And so at a pure performance level, you can make a business case that the lifestyle firm is a really viable model that deserves time and attention.”

Majority business model

Bogan is in the process of launching what may be the profession’s only coaching program designed to help the profession’s underserved majority business model: committed lifestyle practice owners who want to create more effective, efficient, profitable businesses without taking on the overhead and management hassles of a large enterprise.  In order to build credibility for the concept, and add real-world nitty-gritty been-there-done-that expertise to the program, she decided to partner with the most successful lifestyle practitioner she could find.

“Matthew Jarvis is actually a client of mine,” Bogan explains.  “He has a $1.1 million [revenues] practice, and right now he’s taking home about 55% out of that.  This year he will take off more than 100 days,” she adds—“and he’s 35 years old.”

Bogan says that the program—called Mastering Mindset & Methods of a Limitless Practice—will, as the title suggests, address the two components of success: the mindset and the method.  “Matt will share his model, and if you like his model, you’ll have all the tools and solutions and support you need to do that,” she says.  “If you want to take parts of it, there will be everything from HR to operations to marketing, like a smorgasbord buffet.”

This is not designed to be complicated.  “Matt has a clean, simple model,” says Bogan.  “He has two people who run the place without him.  He doesn’t overcomplicate it.  He is not in a proving match with anyone.  If he is there or not there, if he takes on a client or doesn’t take on a client, he is operating from what I call inspired action, instead of just action.  Not: go, get more, grow because everywhere I read it says I need to.  But: fit my life and my business together the way I want to without the sacrifices that the founders of smaller practices often find themselves making.”

Meanwhile, Bogan has already done quite a bit of mindset coaching in her career, including with Jarvis.  “We’ve done a lot of work in terms of, what were the shifts, what did he believe, how did that lead to where he is, what changes and choices did he make?” she says.

But she’s also a business coach, which means this will be a rare hands-on coaching experience.  “Coaching programs tend to talk and walk,” says Bogan, meaning that somebody tells you what to do and then walks away.  “I work hand-in-hand with my clients.  Let’s write the email.  Let’s draft the plan.  Let’s do the analysis.  This is a blend of a success model for a lifestyle practice that we know with certainty produces a fantastic result, plus the best of all the best practices I’ve picked up over my career,—and then you have mindsets and methods.”

The stress of success

We know that the program is designed for lifestyle practices, but what are the usual presenting symptoms it is intended to address?  “I think most people know from experience the challenges you face trying to balance everything so the business works for you rather than the other way around,” says Bogan.  “We have people who are stuck under $500,000 gross revenues who just can’t quite get beyond it.  Or if they start to, they are immediately overwhelmed by what I call the stress of success, where you have more clients, more to manage, you have to hire another person or two, and the next thing you know, whatever you’ve saved, you’ve added in complexity and complication and cost, and now you’ve got to manage all that.”

The point is to go define your ideal practice, which will be different from the ideal practice of the person sitting next to you.  “Instead of $1 million in revenues, you can aspire to get from $250,000 to $500,000,” Bogan says.  “Or you can set boundaries around how much time you spend at the office.  I have a client who literally works four months a year.  Some people will hear 100 days of free time a year and say, oh, my god, I don’t want to be gone that often.  So…  Don’t take off that many days.  There are no boundaries.  We’re really focused on this idea of really saying, there is a better way and we really want to teach it to you.”

When you contemplate these possibilities, it becomes interesting that so few professional conversations revolve around personal goals.  “You go to a conference, you ask about practices, and somebody immediately spouts off AUM and revenues,” says Bogan.  “Why aren’t they talking about their work/life balance, or if they’re satisfied or fulfilled, or how much they’re bringing home or enjoying the experience?”

Group retreats

So what, procedurally, will be provided by the two coaches?  Bogan and Jarvis will host monthly two-hour “strategic learning” calls to address nuts and bolts issues of moving a practice forward.  Each will have a theme.  January will be devoted to examining your current business and life experience, determining what’s working and what’s not, and developing a vision and goals.  What kind of clients do you want to work with?  How much do you want to work? 

February will explore how to prepare yourself for significant changes.  March will be about branding, sales and marketing issues.  In other months, Bogan and Jarvis will delve into organizational and HR issues, systematized processes and getting the most out of your software.

  A second 2-hour monthly call will be addressed to your firm’s team members, to help them support the goals and mindshifts that the company founder wants to make happen.  “For everything we cover, there will be solution samples, scripts, spreadsheets, whatever the right deliverables are,” Bogan adds.  “We aren’t going to say: go build a sales process.  We’re going to say: here is the template. So they can go back and implement it.” 

The website will also provide Jarvis’s routine client communications, and Bogan is creating a series of training videos.

In addition, there will be two 2-day group retreats, one in May in Dallas, the other in September in Las Vegas.  “We will not be just talking at them for eight hours,” says Bogan.  “The way the agenda is set up, we teach for an hour on strategies and concepts, and then we break into study groups.  You’ll be in a group with four or five other advisors for 30-45 minutes, and then work on it on your own while it’s fresh on your mind, between 15 and 30 minutes, and then we pull it all together.  That happens for every single subject over the course of the two days,” she adds, “which will maximize the absorption and the actionability.  I’ve done groups before, and they’ve been really successful, but the struggle is always going back, translating that, you get busy, you set it aside, you may never look at it again.  What was that again?  If you map out the plan before you get back, you’re more likely to get it done.”

The final three monthly calls will be about assessing your progress, looking at how your business benchmarks have changed, and what Bogan calls “managing to milestones.” 

Free webinar

Bogan and Jarvis are offering a webinar that will delve into more details about creating a limitless practice; it will take place on December 6, and you can register here:  The webinar is free; the coaching program is priced at $12,000, but Bogan is offering Inside Information (and also Kitces) subscribers discounted pricing of $10,000. 

The big takeaway, says Bogan (and this takeaway is free) is that advisors have a lot more control over their business and financial success, and work/life balance, than they realize.  “You can have the business you want; you just have to make up your mind,” she says.  “It’s a matter of thinking in a different way, and seeing that it can be done and how it’s done, and realizing that you don’t have to make these huge compromises to get what you want.”