Stories of Success: The First Year of Firm Ownership

11 min read
November 14, 2019

It’s no secret that your first year running your own RIA will not be easy. As a firm owner, you will not only be a founder and CEO, but your own chief marketing, compliance, and operations officers too. There’s always so much you need to do, and it will always feel like there’s so much more you could be doing.

How do you not just survive, but thrive? What can you do in the first year that will set you up for long-term success?

Questions like these are why, in my opinion, one of the best benefits you gain upon joining XY Planning Network is the community. Don’t get me wrong—the resources, compliance support, and tech stack you gain access to are invaluable in your first year and beyond. But you’ll be making so many decisions your first year: Is it worth it to get office space, or not? How much money should I spend on my website, or should I do it myself? Should I spend more time blogging or podcasting? Having a community to which you can turn for answers will quickly become invaluable.

When you have access to more than 1,000 advisors who have successfully launched their own firms, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Experiences are shared constantly in XYPN’s Member Forums, in person at our annual national conference, #XYPNLIVE, and even before you join the Network through our free webinars.

Because member perspectives are so valuable, I approached a few XYPN advisors and team members to share what things they did early on that helped them achieve their success today.

Read on for shared stories from XYPN members and insight from the coaches on Team XYPN to learn what’s worth your time and what isn’t during your first year as a firm owner.

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


The most commonly cited advice was simple: get clients. Members stressed the importance of keeping that necessity front and center at all times. Shannon Webb, who founded Webb Financial Group in early 2018, said it succinctly:

“If you don't have any clients nothing else matters. Marketing, marketing, marketing! Marketing and getting clients should be the #1 priority and first block of your time daily.”

 Steven Briggs, Founder of Briggs Financial, echoed Shannon’s advice:

“And in case you're thinking about your technology or compliance or website or social media or infrastructure and saying, "I'll get started after X is done, I want to make sure I am ready," I have a response. Will any of those things matter if you don't have clients?” 

So, how exactly do you get those clients?

Start with Goals

First, start with a plan and goals for growth. Without these things, you won’t know where you’re going or where to direct your energy. Carolyn Dalle-Molle, XYPN’s Marketing Coach, emphasized the importance of taking the time early on to plan your marketing strategy and generate ideas for growth:

“Be sure to start long-term and short-term growth initiatives. Short-term initiatives include exploring client potential in your personal network or running paid ads to drive initial traffic... Long-term ideas include building partnerships with other businesses / COIs, and building an audience for content such as blogging, podcasts, YouTube, and social media.”

 XYPN’s Sales Coach, BB Webb, also cited planning and goal setting as foundational to success in the first year: 

“From a growth perspective, I think starting with end goals in mind is key to creating a trajectory toward success, that is determining a financial or client acquisition goal. With that, defining key processes of how you’ll get there is imperative.”

 Taking the time to identify your ideal client avatar or niche before launching and crafting your initial marketing can be key as well. As BB says, “Defining a niche helps you target your focus, your market and your area of influence and expertise.”

If you’re thinking you have no idea how to even start setting goals for your first year, don’t sweat. We have a sample business and marketing plan, a template to build your marketing funnel, and during your registration process, you’ll be invited to our Pre-Launch Series, where you’ll work with our coaches and other members to draft a marketing plan before you even launch.

Consistency is Key

Marketing can be overwhelming when you begin. There are so many different avenues to grow your firm, and no single method will work for everyone.

You know what can work? Consistency.  

Jeremy Walter, who founded Fident Financial in 2017, didn’t get overwhelmed trying to implement every marketing tactic under the sun his first year. Instead, the only outbound marketing he used—and continues to use today—is a short email letter he sends faithfully every week.

“[I listened] to Carl Richards’ advice on starting a weekly letter to clients, and prospective clients. Each and every Friday I send out a quick (250 words or less) email with a quick thought on the intersection of money and life, along with a few resources I came across that I think the audience might appreciate. It's a fantastic way of giving an extra touch point to clients, and a great way of allowing prospective clients to get to know you a bit before deciding if or when they want to work with you. It's really the only out-bound marketing work I do at all, and it's served the growth of my firm tremendously well.”

 Stephanie Bucko and Cristina Livadary of Mana Financial had a more complex approach to outbound marketing but they, too, stayed consistent. As they explained, “creating a comprehensive marketing strategy and dedicated time each week to do this, including a bi-weekly newsletter, blog, and Instagram” was essential to their success today.

Put Yourself Out There

One of the top three sources of clients for XYPN members is referrals from centers of influence, or COI referrals. Finding an attorney, CPA, or another local advisor who sends you qualified clients is, well, easy money. But what if you’re not connected? How do you form these referral sources?

Arlene Moss, XYPN’s Executive Business Coach, emphasized the importance of creating these COI relationships early on and suggested a way to create them:

“ASK FOR REFERRALS! There’s no shame in contacting every fee-only advisor you know for information on whom you could refer to them and then asking for them to refer people who don’t meet their minimums to you. Their minimum is $7,500? Well, you can make a dandy business on $6,000 retainers. $2MM minimum? Not half bad having a client base with “only” millionaires and $500K folks!”

Get Outside

What’s the top source of clients for XYPN members? The answer may surprise you. It’s not online advertisements, Google searches, or even Find an Advisor sites like XYPN or NAPFA. It’s good, old-fashioned networking.

When you first launch, the thought of going out in public and talking about yourself and your firm can be terrifying. It’s also entirely necessary. XYPN advisor Steven Briggs emphasized the importance of doing so:

“You have to get out there, OUT THERE—not in your office or at your desk but OUT THERE where people are and meet them. Putting up a website or a Facebook page or whatever is not going to suddenly result in people flocking to you, oh wise and powerful and mighty financial advisor! Nor is anyone going to look at just your website or Facebook page and make the decision ‘Well, they have a really nice digital presence, so I am going to trust them with my financial and investment and life decisions without question, without hesitation.’ You have to meet people, and you have to tell them about who you are, what you do, and why you do it. ‘I'm Steven Briggs, the owner of Briggs Financial, and I help people make smarter financial decisions for themselves. I do this by providing financial planning, investment management, and tax preparation services. I work in a fee-only structure as a fiduciary, meaning that my clients’ interests are never conflicted. At Briggs Financial, prudent financial advice is our only business.’"

This isn’t always easy—far from it. But it will pay off, as illustrated beautifully by Steven:

“I'll tell you, the first couple of years as an advisor in this industry I was taking a public train for an hour to go to downtown Chicago, walking a half mile off the line to get to a meetup event, pouring sweat in a room of 200-300 people meeting all sorts of people, just trying to connect with someone, anyone…

And I did connect with people. At first not many, maybe one new client every three or four of those parties, but I did start to meet a couple of people that became clients. My first year was meager, lean, tough, but I did start to make a few connections. And the work I did was good. I coached my ass off and bent over backwards for practically anything—$50 a month, $1,000 in an investment account, sure, no problem. My first year wasn't a living, but it was a start. And as I worked with those clients, that small kernel of success began, referrals started to come into my business, now to the tune of a new client a week. Over time, I went from the hunter to the hunted, people now seeking me out for help not because I suddenly became a genius or that my digital presence electrified the world, no, no. I reached out a lot, got rejected A LOT, but took great care in the few who believed in me, and that small group has grown into a pretty decent sized crowd, and that's pretty sweet.”

Behind networking, client referrals are the second source of clients for XYPN advisors. Steven shows the snowball effect that small, intentional, consistent actions can make years later. In January 2020, he’ll have been in business for three years, and he’s already surpassed $100,000/year in revenue, a success he attributes largely to the power of networking.


So, you have a plan and goals for your growth. You start and…things don’t go as well as expected. Maybe not as many prospects show up to your door as you wanted. Maybe you can’t actually close those prospects into clients. Or maybe you run into obstacles you couldn’t have imagined. How do you stick with it?

The Entrepreneur Mindset

When you start your own firm, you become an entrepreneur, whether this is something you ever wanted or planned to be. Steven Briggs explained the struggle of becoming an entrepreneur:

“A big thing that I see people in business in general struggle with, and I think it very much applies to advisors as well, is fighting the inertia that exists when starting a new business. Unless you start by buying an existing book of business, which is pretty rare for people new to an industry, starting from scratch with zero contracts can feel daunting. That ‘feel’ part is important, because what comes next is tough—convincing people that you can provide something of great value for them, perhaps with little or no standing in the industry, and our industry is even worse because this industry, frankly, is rife with bad actors. That's really tough!”

But how can you overcome that mindset? BB Webb offered some advice:

“Of primary importance is to have a tenacious mindset as an entrepreneur as you WILL make errors, though that is where the key learning comes in if you’re paying attention!

Work to align with others who have done well and at the same time endeavor to create the systems and approaches that work best for you. Stay curious! Ask often, ‘If this could work, what would it look like?’

A favored quote which I learned from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is ‘Everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright yet, it’s not the end.’ Use your processes and structures of accountability while you also throw more ‘spaghetti on the wall’ and see what sticks. Embrace the art and science of entrepreneurship and wake up grateful for the choice you’ve made. And have fun! It’ll make all the difference in the world!”

Overcoming Rejection and Showing Up

When you first start meeting with prospective clients, it can be heartbreaking and hard not to take personally when they say no. As Steven Briggs suggested, know that rejection will happen, and prepare for the emotional toll it may take:

“And then you will get rejected. Over and over and over and over again yes, because even after you pour your heart to someone, and tell them more about why you're fired up to be a planner, and how you want so desperately to help them…they're not interested. They've met insurance agents, fund brokers, all sorts of people with all sorts of pitches in their life. There's a decent chance they've been burned in the past by one of you. You'll doubt yourself, and ask, ‘Why did I get into this? Did I make a big mistake? Why do I even bother?’

This is the big test. Can you pick yourself up off the mat, and do it again? Can you keep going there, keep meeting and talking to people?”

 If you’re in this situation, Steven has some advice:

“First, you have to believe you can, and believe in yourself that you can; otherwise you wouldn't be in business. But here's the catch: It [my success] never would have happened if I never stepped out my door, never took that risk, never reached that escape velocity where rejection could no longer pull me back to the ground. I likely would be working for someone else, doing something I like, but not quite getting to make the difference I WANT to see in the world, not my way or on my terms.”

Arlene affirmed the necessity of perseverance and not being afraid to try new things:

“Do the work! There’s a reason people live Nick Murray’s “Numbers Game”—because it is true. You have to keep showing up. Keep trying different business development efforts and see what works.”


So how do you cultivate and keep the mindset you need to succeed? Lean on others. Specifically, lean on your study group. Jeremy Walter determined his study group was the number one thing linked to his success today:

“The first thing was staying active as part of our study group, which was initially formed during the Launching Groups. Four of us really connected from that initial group and continued to meet after our firms were all up and running. We have a Slack workplace we daily interact within, as well as weekly video calls. The amount of encouragement, insight, and community is invaluable. It's lonely that first year!”

Arlene Moss also cited study groups as essential to success:

“Get support! Get a mastermind group. Don’t be embarrassed if you aren’t the first one to sign a client. Someone has to be first, someone has to be last. Just get that group to be honest and open with so you can fight through the hard times.”


Your first year in business as a firm owner will invariably challenge you. Sometimes, that challenge is finding where and how to best invest your time and energy. It’s very easy to get caught up in having everything perfect before you start. But this is a waste of your valuable time. As Steven Briggs explained:

“You know what you should be doing instead: building your practice by getting out there, connecting with people, being rejected repeatedly, and enjoying those successes you will have in the new client relationships you will make along the way. Those people that trust you, that's your practice, that's your present AND your future.”

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

TaylorDeardorffAbout the Author
As a Member Experience Specialist at XYPN, Taylor Deardorff enables our members to take advantage of XYPN's ever-growing range of benefits. Through consistent communication with our growing Network, Taylor has become intimately familiar with the needs and challenges our advisors face servicing their clients and growing their RIAs. She loves XYPN's members and sharing the XYPN message.

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