Planning for Your First 12 Months after Starting an RIA: Part One

12 min read
February 25, 2019

While the Advisor Education Team is here to help advisors throughout the entire journey of business ownership, we know that an especially critical time is the first 12 months after starting your own RIA.

It can be overwhelming to sort through the many facets of taking this leap, from ensuring all your registration paperwork is properly completed to knowing which software will be most valuable to creating your initial marketing strategy. There is a seemingly endless list of details to consider, and often not a lot of extra time to dwell on each of those details.

XYPN’s Advisor Education Team is focused on developing targeted training programs that walk you through critical considerations and requirements of this critical launch phase.

Read on to learn what you should focus on in your first 12 months after starting an RIA.

The key areas you’ll need to focus on when starting this journey are: 

  • Business essentials
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Compliance
  • Financial plan development, delivery, and implementation

As you develop your business, you’ll find that you’ll be returning to each of these areas to refine your strategy and effectiveness based on experiences with your clients and lessons learned. But you’ll have to start somewhere, and we’re here to walk you through important considerations in each area. We have divided up your first year’s journey into specific phases so you can focus on what’s most critical to moving your business forward, and to help tune out the steps that can be handled a little further down the road.  

The main phases you’ll move through in your first year are: 

  • Phase 1: Pre-Registration

  • Phase 2: Pre-Launch

  • Phase 3: Business Launch

  • Phase 4: Business Growth 

In Part One of this two-part blog series, I’ll cover Phase 1: Pre-Registration and Phase 2: Pre-Launch; in Part Two, I’ll cover Phase 3: Business Launch and Phase 4: Business Growth.

Looking for a roadmap to start your own independent RIA? Check out our  comprehensive guide to starting your firm!

Phase 1: Pre-Registration

Before you can register your firm as an RIA with your state, there are some key considerations you’ll need to work through and decisions you’ll need to make.

Niche Selection

First, you’ll need to decide who your target market will be. While you might be tempted to work with anyone and everyone as you’re just starting out, we recommend that you refine your niche so you stand out for the clients you’d really love to work with.

While it might seem counterintuitive to immediately narrow your audience in order to gain more business, your marketing will resonate much more strongly than if you cast a wide net. You’ll also likely see much better conversion rates in your marketing funnel with this approach because your interactions will be more specifically focused on legitimate prospects . Effective marketing is as much about repelling the wrong clients as it is about attracting the right ones.

A few things to consider as you’re making this decision include:

  • Who you enjoy working with: Consider factors like age, career, marital status, and background

  • Hobbies and passions: This could include a focus on industries such as sports or music, or involvement in charitable organizations or specific causes

  •  What you’re good at: This is the time to highlight your specific expertise that helps you stand out among other advisors

  • Your service model: Consider what services you plan to offer and whether your chosen demographic is prepared to pay for those services  

This approach will help ensure that you enjoy working with your clients, and will also help you streamline your marketing strategy around this demographic. You’ll also increase your chance of getting referrals based on your niche after starting your own RIA.

We also want to recognize that your chosen niche may evolve over time, and that’s okay. Take some time on the front end to think carefully about these factors and craft your business strategy around your target market.

Planning Services and Fee Structure

Once you’re decided who you’ll be serving, it’s time to think about what services those clients will need.

One basic model to consider is offering a flat-fee entry level package for limited scope engagements and a more comprehensive ongoing package for long-term clients. Your entry-level package will be a good way to connect with potential clients and give them a no-risk opportunity to see what it’s like to work with you. This option is also a nice way to provide service to clients who have a one-time need, such as student loan analysis, without having to commit to longer term planning. 

You may want to consider charging an upfront fee for your comprehensive planning package along with your ongoing monthly fees, which can facilitate buy-in from your clients. 

For more information on the benefits of this model, read Alan Moore’s blog post Reasons That a Monthly Retainer Model Works.

We field lots of questions about the elusive “ideal fee structure,” and quite honestly, there are a lot of variables to consider when setting your fees. If you want to dive in a little further into how to effectively price your services, I recommend the article How To Profitably Price Fee-For-Service Financial Planning

A good baseline is 1-2% of your client’s income but take some time to think about what will work for your clients and be sure to match your fee structure to your service offerings and your target market.

Also consider whether you’ll be offering services such as investment management either in-house or through a TAMP. To read more about the TAMP option, read Michael Kitces’s article on Why TAMPs And Outsourced Investment Management Are The Future For Most Advisors.  

Business Structure

At this stage, you’ll also need to consider the best entity choice for your RIA. This will depend on a number of factors, including your location, tax considerations, and your long-term vision for your business. 

Your three most likely options are an LLC (the most common option for most RIAs), an S Corp (less common and often expensive, but can provide tax benefits), or sole proprietorship (easiest option, but often provides less protection). At this stage, we recommend you consult an attorney who is familiar with business entity formation in your state as location can also be a determining factor due to differences in tax rules, fees, liabilities, and protections.

Check out the articles below for more information on selecting a business entity for your firm:

Additional Legal and Accounting Considerations

This is also the time to file for a business license, obtain an Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the state, set up a business bank account, and apply for a business credit card.

Draft Your First-Year Budget

While you may feel like this initial budget is a shot in the dark, you should start out with a budget that outlines your anticipated expenses and income for your first 12 months in business. 

This will include monthly and annual expenses such as rent, software subscriptions, marketing expenses, travel to events such as conferences and other networking opportunities, industry membership fees, and continuing education fees.  

To help get you started, we’ve created a first-year budget template you can use for your firm.

Business Plan

Now you’re ready to organize all the details of your firm in your RIA business plan. This document should include your firm name, mission statement, vision statement, core values, an outline of your business start-up costs, an outline of your services and pricing, and details about your marketing strategy.

You can use this RIA business plan template to get started.

Compliance Requirements

This is an important time to start dialing in your firm’s compliance program and get off on the right foot as the Chief Compliance Officer for your firm. The key items you need to address at this stage are:

  • Establishing your business entity with your state.

  • Meeting the minimum licensing requirement. (You will need to either pass the Series 65 exam or become a certified CFP® Professional.)

  • Ensuring you are confident in the name you have chosen for your firm.

  • Understanding the process for completing your initial registration and the documents you will need to complete.

  • Filing your initial registration. 

At this stage, XYPN’s Compliance Team will work with you to ensure you’ve completed all necessary tasks prior to registering your firm. They will walk you through the Initial Registration Compliance Process (members-only resource) and guide you through the regulatory guidelines you’ll need to be aware of when starting your own RIA.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, we recommend this blog post from Michael Kitces: When Do You Actually Have To Register As A Financial Advisor?

This is also a good time to review XYPN’s Compliance Guides and Templates (members-only).

Phase 2: Pre-Launch

Once you’ve filed your initial firm registration, it’s time to start planning the launch of your firm!

Marketing: Create Launch Marketing Plan

At this point you’ll want to create an initial marketing plan for your firm. As we mentioned previously, it’s critical to first establish your target market so you can intentionally design your marketing plan to resonate with your idea clients. We recommend you do this by creating an initial target client profile. This profile will include: 

  • Demographic information including age, career, location, marital/family status, gender, education, ethnic background, etc.

  • Motivation/Top Need: It’s critical to ask the question “What’s driving this ideal client?” It may be creating their very first budget, saving for education, caring for a family member with special needs, changing careers, starting a business, or any number of other needs. Thinking about this critical need will help you address what motivates your clients not only in hiring you as their financial planner, but also in buying into the financial plan you create for them.

  • Obstacles: Ask yourself whether there are any barriers that would keep your ideal clients from signing on with you. Dig deep and consider interviewing potential prospects to find out how they are thinking about your services and your value proposition (be clear on the front end that this is not a sales pitch but rather an opportunity to learn from them). Some common obstacles include:

    • Clients don’t want to give up certain habits or patterns and see you as a threat to the status quo.

    • You don’t truly understand what your target market needs and are misinterpreting what drives them.

    • Clients don't identify with the way you’ve labeled them.

  • Core message: This message should be a clear and succinct way of conveying your value proposition. You should feel passionate and excited about this message. If you don’t feel that way, you need to take another stab at it. Again, consider running this by someone in your target market and ask for feedback.  


It’s also time to start building out your website, which should include:

  • Your core message

  • A compelling call to action

  • A lead magnet

  • Your bio

  • A description of your services

  • Your pricing structure

  • Engaging images and design that truly reflect your personality

Remember that your site doesn’t have to be perfect when you launch—and you’ll most certainly redesign every few years or so—but be sure you’re getting off the ground with a site you feel accurately reflects who you are, authentically connects with prospects and clients, and includes all the fundamental information visitors might be seeking.

You should NOT go live with your website until your registration has been approved by the state. But feel free to work on it at this stage and consider having someone take a look at your demo site and provide feedback. 

Read our blog 10 Must-Haves for Your RIA Websites and Michael Kitces’s post How The Best Financial Advisor Websites Turn Visitors Into Prospects And Clients. 

At this stage, you may also want to dive into the members-only website section of XYPN Academy’s Marketing School.

Launch Plan

Now you’re ready to create your launch plan, which will include an outline of who you’re targeting, when to launch, and what assets you will need to launch. This is an opportunity to plan how you will build interest in your new firm and specifically what you’re going to say. This stage takes more planning and research than most advisors realize, so take your time, and be strategic about your plan. 

First, describe your target client in writing with as much detail as possible. This will help you operate from a “client first” mindset. Use this an another opportunity to identify individuals in your target market who would be willing to speak with you about problems they are facing and potential solutions you can offer. 

This “Problem Interview” technique is described in the book Running Lean by Ash Maurya. If you want to know more about building a detailed process and framework for developing your marketing strategy, this book is a great starting place.

This is also the time start thinking about which social media platforms your target clients are using and scripting messages to post there. You don’t need to hit every possible channel. Instead think about which channel(s) you truly enjoy engaging with and which your clients are likely to use most frequently.

For more info on this topic from our marketing coach Carolyn Dalle-Molle, watch What To Do In Your First Week Of Marketing (members-only). 

Tech Stack 

At this point, you’ll want to consider what technology you’ll need for your firm to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. Our tech stack is designed to help ease this decision-making process (and also save you money through our group discounts).

We’ve thoroughly vetted all the software we recommend, which we hope will take some of the burden off you and free up some time for you to focus on other aspects of launching your firm.

The chart below outlines the basic software you’ll likely need and our recommendations:

Tech Type

XYPN Tech Stack Recommendation

CRM (Customer/Client Relationship Mgt.)


Financial Planning Software

MoneyGuidePro, Advizr, RightCapital, eMoney

Payment Processor




TAMP (Turnkey Asset Mgt.Platform)



MessageWatcher, MyRepChat

Performance Reporting

Capitect, Orion





Workflows and Processes

Even though you may not be juggling a lot of clients all at once when you first launch, it’s a good idea to begin with processes that will allow you to run your business as efficiently as possible and scale as your business grows.

Systems and processes will also help you improve client service and will be critical when training new employees.

Generally, you’ll want to create and document workflows for every routine task within your business, including tasks like client referrals, new client onboarding, and client meetings.

The white paper The Rise of Automated Workflows in Financial Advisory Practices from Fox Financial Planning Network is a good resource to learn more about starting to create workflows and processes for your firm.

We also recommend this blog post from Michael Kitces: Creating Advisory Firm Processes And Workflows – Tips and Best Practices.

Another issue to think about at this point is your prospect screening process. While it might be difficult at this stage in the game to think about turning business away, you can actually save a lot of time by weeding out those prospects that will never convert. The sooner you can identify prospects who are not (and will never be) your ideal clients, the more you can focus on winning over your target clientele. Here’s a great blog to help with this process: 21 Sales Qualification Questions to Identify Prospects Worth Pursuing. 

Defining Your Financial Planning Service Model

You’ve identified the basic services you’ll provide and your initial fee structure in the previous phase; now it’s time to roll up this aspect of your business model with a detailed strategy for plan creation and delivery.

This will give you an opportunity to make decisions about the number, order, and timing of meetings, and the content of the plan.

Considerations at this stage include:

  • How much detail to include (think about your target client and how they are likely to process information)

  • How you present the plan and the timing of your recommendations

  • Whether you present all the information contained within the plan or whether you use the financial plan more as means of backing up your recommendations

For more on this topic, read Michael Kitces’s post: Should A Financial Plan Really Be Boiled Down To An Index Card Of Advice?

Additional Business Essentials

This is also the time to take care of details like setting up QuickBooks, obtaining insurance, and deciding on file structure and storage. 


In order to assess whether you are meeting your business goals, you’ll want to start out tracking around 10 core KPIs. This will also help you make ongoing strategic business decisions based on the data you gather.

Our 12-month training program will help you focus in on what KPIs you should be measuring and give you some tracking tools you can use to organize your data.

Read more: What Are The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) For Your Financial Planning Firm?

More Resources for Your First Year

In Part Two of this blog series, I’ll cover Phase 3: Business Launch and Phase 4: Business Growth .

Your firm, your terms. It can be done. Show me how.

Kate-Ross.pngAbout the Author
Kate Ross has spent the last ten years of her career developing educational materials for financial professionals and brings a passion for instructional design and curriculum development to the XYPN team.

In her free time, Kate can be found front row at a concert, camping in the woods, floating a river, or hiking in the mountains near her home in Montana.

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