A Year in the Life of an Independent Financial Advisor

12 min read
December 24, 2018

“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” —John Dewey

As a business owner, you have dozens hundreds of things on your mind and a huge to-do list you’re constantly struggling to get done.

You're always up against the clock, and yet it's so easy to lose track of time. You get so caught up in the day-to-day that when you finally look up and take a breath, you realize another year has come and gone.

Finding time for reflection—no matter how busy your schedule—is important. It can help you get clear on your goals, learn from past successes and failures, and refocus when needed.

Studies have shown that finding time to reflect boosts performance and happiness. And although many business owners have a bias towards action that can make taking the time to stop and reflect seem frivolous, reflecting doesn't interrupt action—it actually helps you achieve effective action.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.” —Peter Drucker

Below, five independent financial advisors—and XYPN co-founders Alan Moore and Michael Kitces—reflect on 2018 and share their goals for the new year.

Morgen Rochard of Origin Wealth Advisers LLC

Morgen Rochard Headshot

I had a baby in February of 2018 and my business is now about 4.5 years old.

When 2018 started, my goal was just to keep my head above water and not worry about growing my business.

I didn't do any marketing.

I had a hard stop on when I would no longer accept prospects.

I started to put new prospects on a wait list.

I had a plan for managing current client work, without getting any help or hiring.

Then the rubber hit the road—the baby arrived. I was manic and drowning. My schedule was out of control. My brain was not operating at the level I was used to (baby brain is REAL!). I wanted to spend time with my son and also get things done in my business.

Things needed to change.

As a result, I got very good at saying no to things. I stopped pretending what was and was not work. I started viewing my calendar as something that I had to honor. My time was precious. I choose what goes on my calendar and when. I no longer view myself as a victim of my schedule. I am no longer busy without intention and choice.

Despite not "wanting" to grow, I still had 50% revenue growth this year.

Here's how: I learned to prioritize. I learned to do more with less time. I finally learned my true value and I raised prices.

Finally, I let go of parts of my business that I said I would NEVER outsource. I now have two part-time employees that do great work. I am learning to lead, rather than being a team of one. It's a great skill to have and one that I find myself constantly learning to do.

Here's the thing—my true value is spending time with clients, helping them sort out their issues, helping them find the right answers that make sense for their life. I spend my time being the planner they need me to be, not the planner I want to be or think I should be.

My biggest aspiration in 2019 is to have 50% revenue growth (again!) and get my business operations in order.

My practice is a business. It's not a hobby. It's no longer an accidental business. The business itself is something that deserves quality time and attention from me and I intend to do that!

Ian Bloom of Open World Financial Life Planning

Ian Bloom Headshot

Two Failures and Two Big Wins in 2018: My First Six Months

It's important at the end of any major period in time to reflect back on how things went. Making reflection a practice helps you learn from mistakes and celebrate your successes.

As a new business owner in 2018, there's plenty to write about. As you can imagine, owning a practice for the first time lead to a huge amount of learning from mistakes, but there were also some pretty big wins.

My biggest mistake going into the opening of my new business was simple: thinking that people would just find me.

As it turns out, without my CFP completed just yet, I wasn't listed in very many places on the internet.

While I started cranking out content, I didn't have much of a marketing budget set aside to advertise it. I was basically shouting a message into the void: "I'm here! Look at how different I am!" and no one was listening.

The most helpful thing I'm doing to remedy this going into 2019 is working alongside a marketing consultant to optimize my content production, turn it into a system that will actually lead to people visiting my website, and spending a little bit on ads to get it in front of a new audience.

Another mistake that I made was thinking that the transition process was going to be painless because of all the pre-work I did. I assumed because I'd already chosen my technology partners and gotten my ADV drafted that things would be easy.

They were certainly not.

The state that I operate in took two months to approve my firm (frankly, they're understaffed and overworked.) The delay in approval pushed back my onboarding with my new custodian (TD!), the launch of my website, and the announcement of my presence to the world.

While none of this seems like that big of a deal, it put me in a position where I'm still finalizing some aspects of my practice as we wrap up 2018.

If I could make one suggestion to any new firm owner in light of this, it would be simple: Just assume you're not going to have it all figured out for six months. It'll keep you from stressing out.

Now, not everything was painful in taking on the responsibilities of the new business.

To switch over to the brighter side of things, let's talk about the biggest win of 2018: community.

I knew coming into this that I would feel lonely. Humans are ultimately social creatures, even if I am good at being an introvert. XYPN's community of other financial planners, my two study groups, the local community of business owners here in the "Triangle", and the sense of warmth at Industrious (my office space of choice) made an enormous difference in my affect.

I think without any of those things in place, I would have fallen short. Creating this awesome network of other entrepreneurs and fun people to interact with during my work day took a lot of the mental pressure off of me.

We live in an age where everyone projects a perfect image on social media, so not having the real people in real communities to talk about problems with makes you feel extra isolated as a business owner.

The other big win from this year was finding out that I love content production. Making creative projects come to life and getting a message out there, even if only a few people are listening, is very fun for me.

Anyone who has watched my YouTube channel knows I'm already over 30 videos as we close out this year, and that's just the beginning.

I like talking about nerdy stuff, finance, and the intersection between the two more than I ever thought I would. I mean, heck, I'm even writing a book. Knowing this about myself enables me to move forward with that as my primary means of advertising.

As another wise business owner told me this year (paraphrased): "Business will not always go your way, but find the things that invigorate you and make sure to do them on the hard days."

As you know if you read XYPN's 2018 benchmarking survey, most of the 'game' is just being here throughout the years when your hard work really pays off.

Arielle Minicozzi of Sphynx Financial Planning

Arielle Minicozzi Headshot

2018 has been a year of significant personal and professional growth. While I waited for my state registration, which I received in late April, I worked on building my systems and processes.

This unexpectedly lead to a side venture helping other advisors do the same.

In turn, my new project gave me a reason to be more outgoing.

At #XYPNLIVE in September, this lifelong introvert discovered that speaking to others who share the same vision and values is both easy and fun.

In October, I did a Member Spotlight Call through XYPN, which was attended by around 75 members, and shortly thereafter joined a local Toastmasters group, something I never would have considered otherwise.

Since then I’ve had countless meetings with other advisors, both XYPN members and non-XYPN members. Each conversation has taught me something new.

Now it appears that may become my main venture.

Some might consider this a “failure” of my original goal to build a thriving financial planning firm.

However, I consider it a “win”; I can help exponentially more people achieve financial success indirectly than I can directly.

My goal for 2019 is to continue learning and evolving. I will be merging my financial planning practice with another XYPN advisor in order to devote more time and attention to my consulting work, and I look forward to the new adventures next year will bring.

Galen Herbst de Cortina of Buff Your Finances

Galen Herbst de Cortina Headshot

Biggest takeaway from 2018: Making great professional and personal connections by being friendly and helpful ends up being the best marketing strategy. I brought on 18 ongoing planning clients this year and 13 of them were sent by someone I had previously helped.

Those referrals came from clients, a good friend who is a CPA, and attorneys. The people who referred clients to me almost all started out as someone I sent a client to without asking for a solicitation agreement or I answered questions for them or a friend without being bent out of shape about being paid.

That’s not to say I advocate doing work for free while expecting it to pay back. But if you find opportunities to contribute your expertise, payment shouldn't necessarily be your litmus test for whether or not you take those opportunities. Networking and word of mouth can pay off big in the long run.

A lesson learned in 2018 that inspired me to make a change: I expected more people to want to manage their own money or at least not want to pay for money management.

Instead, most of the people I talked with were more interested in doing their own thing and not spending the time to manage their investments.

Because of that I added XY Investment Solutions to my service offerings so I could time and cost effectively manage all sizes of accounts.

Biggest win from 2018: Establishing strong professional relationships that help me both sign more clients and provide useful services for my current clients.

Biggest failure from 2018: I think I was a bit too scared to spend when I didn’t have much in revenue. My first six months (basically though the end of 2017) were pretty lean and I let that mentality carry over to this year. There were likely some opportunities I missed because I wasn’t spending on other opportunities like conferences.

Biggest career hope/goal/aspiration for 2019: To reach the point where I’m earning enough that work is optional for my wife.

Alternatively, since these could be mutually exclusive, to have a part-time paraplanner and a part-time admin on staff.

Brandon Renfro of Brandon Renfro, PhD Retirement Planning and Wealth Management

Brandon Renfro Headshot

My firm was registered in 2018 so I spent the first part of the year working through that. It wasn’t too bad, but I did have to resubmit some documents after making changes required by the state.

I don’t know how all states do it but in Texas you are given a very detailed item-by-item list of what needs to be addressed after your first submission. It is a pretty simple matter of going through the documents and making sure they fit what the state regulators want.

My biggest win for 2018 was completing the Retirement Income Certified Professional designation.

I enjoyed going through the program and learned quite a bit. The program is well put together and I would recommend it to anyone who works with retirees. The courses are a combination of academic and practical with readings, lectures, and recorded discussion panels with topical experts. Each of the three course requires the completion of a 100-question exam.

I’m very thankful to The American College for providing me with a Veterans Scholarship to complete the program.

I also did a few podcast interviews, which was a push beyond my comfort zone.

Despite being a professor who lectures regularly, and who isn’t shy, I initially found it incredibly awkward to be recorded. I really don’t know why that feels so much different than being live in front of an audience, but it does.

However, it is getting better after only a few interviews. I’ll be pursuing more guest podcast opportunities in the future. I think it is a really good way to connect with people.

I took advantage of the summer to get some content written for my website. I pre-scheduled my blog posts because I knew that once the semester started, blog writing would be an easy thing to drop.

Going into 2019, I am planning to do some academic research on retirement income planning, namely withdrawal research.

We have come so far since the original Bengen 4% rule study, but there is still a long way to go. I think it will be enjoyable since it is so interesting to me and will help build authority in my niche as well.

Michael Kitces & Alan Moore, Co-Founders of XY Planning Network


XYPN as a company really found its home in Bozeman in 2018. We just opened up the office at the beginning of 2018, and we're already transitioning to a new location almost three times the space by 2019! And the team has been really excited to work together with each other in person.

With 2019 just around the corner, we're approaching both our five-year anniversary and the 1,000 member mark (which at our current trajectory, might even hit in the same month!).

It's an incredibly humbling milestone. Especially since our "original" business projection would have only had us at about 150 advisors after five years.

We were thrilled to have such a record turnout at #XYPNLIVE, and record positive feedback...and a keynote that totally bombed.

This was a lesson learned for us that even with high-visibility expert speakers, we still need to do a better job vetting them in the future.

The XYPN Benchmarking Study continues to show tremendous success for our advisors who stick with it—nearly $180,000 of average revenue for our members who started from scratch four years ago is just amazing. We're excited to see where they go from here!

The 2018 XYPN Xcelerate experienced member retreat was our first experiment in creating a special conference exclusively for our most experienced advisors and their unique needs. We were happy with how it turned out, but also learned a lot, and are even more psyched for the next iteration, XYPN PAUSE, in 2019.

It's Your Turn

Has this post inspired you to do a little reflecting of your own? Here are three simple questions you can ask yourself to get started:

  1. What were my biggest successes from last year?
  2. What were my biggest challenges, disappointments, or failures?
  3. What lessons did I learn that I need to carry forward into the new year?

Happy reflecting!

Kelly Moorman_300x300

About the Author

As XYPN’s Content Manager, Kelly is tasked with communicating the Network's value proposition to the world. For years, Kelly has helped organizations tell their stories in ways that inspire others to listen, and to care. Her penchant for a well-crafted sentence, good grammar, and clever wordplay has earned her the moniker “Word Whiz” around the XYPN office. She’s thrilled to share XYPN’s story with you and the rest of the world.

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