Reducing the Lifestyle Practice Stigma: What Would Arlene Say?

12 min read
May 17, 2018

As an XY Planning Network coach, I love all financial planners equally. I love rooting for everyone and seeing you all grow into yourselves as business owners and individuals. But if there’s one thing that drives me crazy about this industry, it’s the lack of respect that exists for people working to build a lifestyle practice. 

There’s often a stigma around running a lifestyle-oriented financial planning practice. I’ve heard several negative things about this idea, including:

Lifestyle practice owners aren’t running a “real” business.

A lifestyle practice is a great option for people who don’t want to hustle.

Building a business takes a lot of time and effort, and if you’re not willing to give it everything, then you won’t be successful.

Wow. None of this is accurate. As an industry, we tend to glorify “busyness” (and stress, for that matter) and disrespect people who have chosen to build their business around the lifestyle they want. Consequently, we miss the point of being a business owner. If we aren’t growing businesses that serve us, we aren’t creating an environment where we can be our best selves and provide the best service to our clients.

Still, I’m finding that across social media communities, in conversations and conferences, and in talking to my clients, the negative stigma surrounding lifestyle practices is still (unfortunately) alive and well. Why is this oh-so-backwards mentality so prevalent? And how can you reduce this stigma, take ownership of building the business you want, and define success for your own life?

Let’s Talk About Success

Success is individual. There is no universal definition—and that’s the way it should be! When you started your business, you probably hopefully had a clear idea of what you wanted. That vision of “success” has been driving you as you’ve grown your practice. But we often get caught up in molding our business based on someone else’s definition of success instead of our own.

When you let others define how you measure your own success, you give them permission to define how you live your life. Instead, you should focus on the many ways success can manifest in your life and your business and then build your strategy around those end-goals. 

Here’s how success might look to you:

  • Running a financially successful financial planning practice
  • Spending time with your family
  • Staying healthy
  • Hiring a full-time employee
  • Spending time exploring new places
  • Networking with other financial planners and supporting one another
  • Adopting and caring for a rescue dog who has touched your heart
  • Getting to take time off to accompany your kids on a school field trip
  • Hitting a specific revenue goal

All of these things represent different versions of success. And they’re all equally valid. Just as success is individually defined, your lifestyle and the way you run your business are also unique to you.

Defining The Lifestyle You Want, and Building a Practice Around That

There are countless ways to build a financial planning practice. To grow a practice that you feel successful running, you have to define the way you want it to fit into your life. This can essentially be viewed in two different, very broad ways: work-life balance and work-life integration.

Work Life Balance

Some people prefer to run their practice in a way that balances with their life. They need a clear separation between where work ends and life begins—one shouldn’t overun the other. To achieve this balance, you can try a few things:

#1: Define Your Work Hours

I’m a big fan of this, and for people who enjoy having a balance in their life, it can really help. Being an entrepreneur opens the door for you to work whenever you want. While at face value this seems like a luxury, this often translates to working all the time. Instead, try setting your work hours, whether that’s 9-to-5, 10-to-6, or 7-to-3. Set hours that work for you and stick to them. Let your clients know that you don’t work outside of those hours.

Remember to think about not only your needs when setting your hours, but the needs of your clients too. What does your typical client’s schedule look like? If your niche client is only available on the weekends, you may take Monday through Wednesday off every week and work over the weekend instead. Whatever hours you set, stick to them! Communicating your work hours and expected response time will help your clients know what to expect from you. 

#2: Unplug

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of limiting your media intake. That’s because it works! If you’re looking to balance work and life, take steps to unplug from work outside of your set work hours (again, this is why setting hours and sticking to them is so important!). Delete work apps (yes, even email) from your phone if possible, or be vigilant of the types of notifcations you recieve and the timing of those notifications. I can’t live without Slack on my phone but I only receive notifications relevant to me, not every notification from every channel we have. I also mute my phone from the time I go to bed to the time I wake up. Leave your laptop in your office. Turn off your phone. Stay away from social media. Force yourself to be present and engage in the moment.

#3: Set Boundaries

If you want to achieve a distinct work-life separation to create more balance in your life, you’ll need to set both professional and personal boundaries. Your family and friends will need to know when you’re focused on work tasks, and your clients and colleagues will need to know when you’re unreachable so you can focus on your non-work life. I work out of a home office, so all manner of people come by selling solar panels or home delivery milk (Yep! Colorado Springs still has milk delivery!). I started long ago reminding myself that if I was at “the office” no one would answer the door, so I don’t answer the door when I’m working from home. It’s that simple.

Work-Life Integration

For many people, integrating work and life so that the two function as a unified whole works best. This might mean you keep a flexible schedule and focus fully on whatever activity you’re doing at the moment. Work-life integration promotes the idea that there will be days of your week that are unevenly distributed between work and life. To integrate work and life seamlessly, you might think about the following:

#1: Prioritize

If you’re going to try and roll your work and personal life together into one functioning unit, you’ll need to prioritize tasks. Focus on getting the most important tasks done first. This might mean knocking out the biggest tasks on your work to-do list before grabbing coffee with a friend. Schedule your most important, pressing tasks first and work around them to fill your day.

#2: Accept That There Will Be Busy Seasons

I don’t believe in glorifying busyness. There are no medals for not getting enough sleep or for working 15 hour days. While busyness shouldn’t be glorified, it needs to be recognized. When you feel like you’re trapped in your office, just remember: this will pass. Look at your calendar and make sure you’re booking yourself time to do non-work things after your busy season is over. This can help you avoid the work-life integration trap of working all the time.

#3: Set Boundaries

Yep, this is the same whether you’re pushing towards balance or integration. However, your boundaries will be different in each of these situations. With work-life integration, you need to set boundaries to protect your priorities, not necessarily your time. For example, if you’ve prioritized a work meeting that’s going to take place after traditional business hours, your family and friends need to be aware of that priority. Alternatively, if you’re taking an afternoon off to go on an extra long bike ride with friends, let your clients know. Set your out-of-office responder and don’t check your email. Decide what you value and how you want to prioritize your days—then set your boundaries accordingly. In short, be intentional with your time.

A Cyclical Practice is Okay, and Might Be Better For Serving Your Clients

Many people are confused by the lifestyle practice because they believe every season needs to be business-focused. This simply isn’t true. I know plenty of financial planners who run their practices knowing they will have a slow season based on their current clients’ annual schedules. A typical “slow” season might be summertime or the holidays. During those periods, embrace the slower, more relaxed pace. Fill your time with self improvement, rest, and fun.

On the other side of the coin, busy seasons happen too. Pre-tax and back-to-school seasons are common busy periods for advisors. Your “seasons” will largely depend on who your clients are. Retirees will have a different financially “busy” season than medical students completing their residency. Get to know your niche and build your practice around their needs and schedules—this helps you best serve your clients and also helps you build the business you want. When you’re in the middle of a busy season, communicate your schedule to loved ones; then get lost in the excitement of helping clients and doing what you love.

Whatever cycles your business goes through, know that it’s okay to have a slow period of time. Like everything else, your level of busyness will ebb and flow. Don’t feel as though every month of the year needs to be scheduled full of client and prospect meetings or business development strategy. You’ll be your best self if you embrace the time off and focus on “catching up” in both your personal and professional life.

Set Your Goals

If you want to be successful, you have to define what success means to you. After you’ve done that, you can set your goals accordingly.

This is what the lifestyle practice accomplishes beautifully. Your two primary goals may be to have a full client roster and to travel the world. Maybe it’s to pick your kids up from school every day and be able to serve an exclusive list of clients you adore while making the money you need to retire early.

The thing about goals is that they get to be uniquely yours! You don’t need to seek anyone else’s permission to chase after them. Whether you’re an established advisor or you just founded a brand-new RIA, it’s easy to see other advisors in your community and feel envious of their achievements. But their goals are likely different than yours. I encourage everyone to look around them for inspiration, but don’t ever feel like you’re somehow less than because you’re working towards a different set of goals than your peers.

To set goals in your practice, I suggest you look at a handful of different goal categories:

  • Client-focused
  • Revenue
  • Education
  • Community involvement
  • Self improvement
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Hobbies
  • Personal

I’m a firm believer that it’s okay to have multiple goals from each of these categories. You are not a one-dimensional person. Your goal list shouldn’t be either! You’ve earned the right to set revenue goals while also setting a goal to train for a marathon (if that floats your boat). Achieving both of these things will require some creative thinking; you often have to get creative to balance your goals. And it might force you to break out of your comfort zone. If you want to make more money but spend less time working, for example, you may need to raise your rates.

Sometimes it’s helpful to write down a list. This is also a good exercise to help you see your goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In most cases, building a financial planning practice around your lifestyle is absolutely possible and has the potential to improve both your work and your personal life.

Build a Culture That Supports Your Goals

Once your goals are set, it’s up to you to build a culture that supports your goals. I have a client— we’ll call her Sarah—who is incredibly passionate about multi-day backpacking. It’s something she loves to do and she has made it a goal this year to go on at least two multi-day backpacking trips. She started her practice two years ago and hasn’t been on a multi-day trip since her launch. It’s amazing how those years slip away from you. Once she got honest with herself, she acknowledged she hadn’t been prioritizing this specific activity in her life.

This year, she blocked out two full weeks of vacation during separate months. She knew that she’d probably need to work ahead to successfully accomplish these two big trips and still have a bit of time off for the holidays.

Sarah also knew that she wanted to increase her revenue and spend more time with her kids after they got home from school. At first glance, more money, more travel, and more time with family felt like a tall order, maybe even impossible. But it wasn’t. Together, we came up with a few options.

In the end, Sarah hired a virtual assistant to work for a few hours each week organizing her CRM, sending her biweekly newsletter, and following up on unpaid invoices. Even though it didn’t seem like a ton of work being taken off her plate, it freed Sarah up enough to take on a new client, have a “hard” stop to her work day when the school bus pulls up each afternoon, and work ahead to take time off. 

By being intentional with how she spent her time and taking charge of her practice’s culture, Sarah achieved all of her goals. Being intentional with your time is the biggest favor you can do yourself when working to build a culture that supports your business and personal goals.

Know How to Grow

There are a lot of different ways to run a financial planning practice. There’s no reason a booming practice and a lifestyle practice have to be mutually exclusive. When you work to build a practice that reflects your personal and professional goals, you have to get strategic about growth. Luckily, you have a few options for growing your practice efficiently.

The Ensemble

If you want to expand your practice but are tiring of the frustrations that come with running a practice alone, an ensemble practice might be the answer you’re looking for. Partnering up with other advisors can be a phenomenal way to access different niches, expand marketing ideas, and take some of the pressure of being a business owner off your shoulders.

Hiring Contractors

Do you want to grow your practice but are still looking to free up some time? Not sure you want to work with business partners but don’t like juggling all of your daily tasks while still trying to grow? You don’t have to do everything yourself to find success! In fact, outsourcing to contractors for marketing, accounting, and administrative tasks can help free up your schedule, allowing you to focus more on the tasks you love both in and out of the office.

Work Backward from Your Goals

Before you start chasing arbitrary growth, it can be helpful to understand where you want your business to grow to. I often tell clients to figure out their goals—financial and otherwise—and decide how your financial planning practice needs to support those goals. From there, decide how many clients you need to fill your ideal roster and what business decisions you need to make to reach that point.

Don’t Let Anyone “Should” You

You are enough. Repeat that to yourself as many times as it takes to sink in.

Your business is enough and your goals are perfect as long as they fulfill you. Many people will push you to grow at a faster pace, use an aggressive marketing strategy, or take on more clients, business partners, or contract workers than you ever wanted in the name of “success.” Don’t do it. This extreme definition of “success” doesn’t represent everyone’s journey. Anyone who pushes you to grow in a way that doesn’t represent what you want out of your business and your life doesn’t have your best interests at heart, and you don’t need to listen to them. In fact, I give you permission to politely (or not so politely) shut down anyone who tries to tell you how you should be running your practice. They aren’t you, and they have no right to judge the decisions you make. Always remember that you’re working towards your own unique definition of success, not someone else’s.

The lifestyle practice stigma in financial planning needs to be kicked to the curb. Let’s pull together to support each other in building businesses that support the lives we want to lead.


About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach

Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.

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