Welcome back to the 272nd episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Kate Guillen. Kate is the founder of Simplicity Operations Management, a consulting firm based in San Diego, California, that specializes in helping advisory firms get the most out of their CRM systems and streamline their internal operations along the way.
What's unique about Kate, though, is the way she utilizes the advisor’s CRM system – not their broker-dealer or RIA custodial platform – as the central hub of their entire business, and then builds multi-system workflows from that base to ensure that everything gets done and nothing falls through the cracks.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about why Kate views the CRM system and its four core components of Calendaring, Task Management, Sales Pipeline, and Contact Management as the center around which all advisory firms should be built, why the key to building good workflows is about not just articulating the steps of a process but also the follow-up to demonstrate that good service to clients, and how firms can start the process of systematizing the key repeatable steps of the business in new client onboarding and ongoing client service.
We also talk about how working for an advisory firm herself and observing their operational systems (or lack thereof) encouraged Kate to first master Redtail and its intricacies, how Kate was inspired to launch her company after discovering how often advisory firms underestimate and underutilize their CRMs operational potential, and why Kate has found that it can take up to 6 months to really go through the process of overhauling an advisory firm’s operations to be more efficient.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Kate shares how her nervousness at launching a consulting business just as the pandemic first broke out (and how her fear subsided once it became clear that the pandemic was actually amplifying the need for advisory firms to better systematize their suddenly now-remote businesses), how Kate believes achieving goals begins with having confidence in one’s own abilities and not being so hard on yourself, and why Kate feels, while it is great to do what you love, she has had to learn to get better at saying “no” to find her own balance between growing the business and enjoying her time with family.
So whether you’re interested in learning about how Kate leveraged her organizational and CRM expertise to start her business, how Kate utilizes Redtail as her operational hub to build and incorporate systems, or why Kate feels it is more important to appreciate the journey in building a business than worrying about the destination, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Kate Guillen.
Resources Featured In This Episode:
Michael: Welcome, Kate Guillen, to the "Financial Advisor Success Podcast."
Kate: Thank you so much, Michael. I'm pleased to be here.
Michael: I'm really thrilled to have you on the podcast today, and to get to talk a little about operations of advisory firms. Which I feel like for a lot of firms, it really doesn't get the attention, doesn't get the love it deserves. I sort of find there's this phenomenon that, you know, I don't know anybody that ever says, like, "Well, no, I don't want a firm that's streamlined and systematized. Like, I like doing everything hard and time-consuming, one laborious step at a time." Everybody, I think, naturally wants the business to flow smoother, and flow faster, and flow easier, and be more streamlined and systematized, so they can spend their time on more productive things. We all kind of say it, I feel like it's an almost natural want for anybody that's running a business and trying to grow it. Yet the truth at the end of the day is that it doesn't happen usually. Sometimes we're just outright bad at it. Sometimes I think that's maybe just a function of how our brains are wired, that some of us are a little more wired for this than others.
But a lot of the time, I find just, it's hard. We sort of know on paper that the business is supposed to be more efficient and more streamlined, and that we're supposed to systematize things, so this stuff gets faster and easier. And then when you get to the moment you're actually supposed to do, it's like, I don't know what do to make that happen.
Michael: And I know you have now been building a business around, literally, like, helping advisors streamline operations. Like, truly getting in and figuring out how to streamline operations. And so, I'm looking forward to having a discussion today of, like, what does it really mean to say, we're trying to streamline an advisory business? Or we're trying to streamline operations? Like, what does that really mean?
Kate: That's a really great question. And to me, the answer is gonna sound pretty simple, although it's not. There's a lot of work that goes into it, and it's extremely time consuming. So, creating a hub or an operational foundation. You know, in my situation, it's the CRM. And creating a hub, a one stop shop, to see, you know, kind of everything that's going on, client wide, firm wide, and eliminating some of the external systems that we use to manage our processes. And really simplify things so that you're not having to go to 10 different places to see what you're doing for a client, or what is expected of you, or what do you have going on today, and toggling between a bunch of different tabs or calendars, to kind of see what's going on. So, really standardizing operational procedures in a single place to just run as efficiently as possible, in a short answer.
Michael: So I find that an interesting framing, that, like, it's not just about sort of a... For some people, when I hear streamlining, what I essentially hear them talking about is basically automating. Like, let's find any task that you repeat, and just make it happen automagically, so that we don't have to do it. And therefore we're "streamlined." But I'm struck just the way that you're defining it, that it is less about pure automation, although I'm sure there's some pieces that go into that. But that as you're framing, it's much more around, I guess what I would at least frame as centralization, where you're able to run and cue up the actions of the business from one centralized place. Is that a fair characterization?
Kate: Yeah, very. And the reason I phrase it that way is we get so excited about all the, you know, new tech available, and we get kind of carried away with implementing some things that I think kind of, in theory, sound like they're going to be great automators and they're really going to save us time. But in the long run, if you don't have a centralized hub, like your CRM, those kind of fancy add-ons don't really serve much purpose. And so I'm really focused on building that organizational, you know, operational foundation within the CRM, before incorporating kind of all the fun bells and whistles that everybody kind of jumps ahead on.
Utilizing Redtail As A Centralized Operations Hub [07:00]
Michael: So I'm struck now that you're framing this around CRM, because when I look historically at advisory firms and how they've been built, the truth is that, the CRM usually has not actually been the centralized hub point of a firm. It's typically been a broker dealers, like, platform home office interface, or it's been, like, an RIA custodians platform interface. And so, to me, you're kind of indirectly ascribing a shift from where we were, where it was a broker dealer custodians platform that was the centralized hub of how we ran our business. And then maybe a CRM captured some client information, client details, meeting notes, maybe scheduling meetings, contact information, sort of like, the pure data, into a world you're describing, where, no, no, no, the central platform is not actually coming from the broker dealer or the RIA custodian, it's actually coming from the CRM.
Kate: Exactly. And so I'll just clarify here, and what I mean by the CRM being the hub, this is for all things, you know, client action items. And this is all things operational in nature. You know, we talked about that hub there for a second, right? And there's some spokes that come off of the hub, because the CRM can't do it all, right? You can't do the billing, and trading, and reporting, and all that kind of stuff out of the CRM. Those are some of the spokes that come off of the hub. Your custodial platform, your portfolio management software, your financial planning software. Because in my case, I work with firms that use Redtail. And Redtail can't do all of that, although it's a fantastic hub for client management and business operations, you know, management procedures. It's fantastic.
Michael: So how do I start thinking about, like, what goes in my hub? What doesn't go in my hub? Like, when is my hub hubby enough to be a hub versus I'm still kind of mostly living in another system? How do you think about drawing those lines? Is it just literally a features limitations? You do it as much in your CRM as you can, and when you hit the functions that it just literally can't do, then you have to go somewhere else and figure out how to patch it back in?
Kate: When we engage with a firm, there's four core competencies that we cover. So the hub essentially becomes your calendar management tool, your task management tool, your pipeline management tool, your contact management tool, and all notes and activities, and anything related to a client or, you know, firm, operational in nature, not client specific, but things like executing billing, and reporting, and trading, and human resources responsibilities, are all housed within Redtail, all housed within your CRM. If you need to actually process billing, trading, you know, run reporting or account values and things like that, you'll rely on your portfolio management software, your financial planning software, and then your TD, or your Schwab platform, or whatever.
Michael: It's an interesting way to frame the four core systems of the CRM. So if I caught those correctly. So, calendaring, so just all things meetings. Tasks, so, like, what are we doing in the firm for clients, for ourselves? Pipeline, I'm assuming that's essentially sales pipeline, like, business development pipeline. What's going on with our leads?
Kate: Yeah, your prospect pipeline. Exactly. New opportunities, new revenue opportunities, yeah.
Michael: And then contacts, which are just, like, all things...the communication with clients, and the notes and the records of those interactions.
Kate: And constructing a well organized contact hierarchy, if you will, so that contacts are clearly labeled for, you know, reporting purposes and being able to easily identify kind of who's who, and be able to find the information that you're looking for within the database. If you don't have that, you know, basic foundation laid, it's going to be very hard to incorporate all the fun things that advisors are so gung ho on, like, you know, workflows, and automations, and being able to use things like Calendly. You know, unless you have a solid operational foundation built within your CRM first, makes incorporating some of those other things very difficult.
Michael: So when we start talking about... Like, now I'm trying to think back to streamlining of some of the conversation that you had tied to initially. So, I have to admit, at least for me, when I think about calendar tasks, pipeline contacts, I think of those as things that already live in my CRM. Like, wasn't I already there? I mean, I guess it's not always true because maybe someone's using, like, Outlook for calendar, but their CRM for other things. But I would have thought that most of us live, at least most of those areas within the CRM in the first place. Is that just not true in practice, as you see firms were often more splintered than this? And just getting to those four functions of a CRM is actually a big win, a big W?
Kate: Exactly. You'd be surprised. Most of the teams that reach out to me, it's because they have an Outlook calendar, they're using Asana for tasks, they keep an Excel spreadsheet of their pipeline to track revenue. You know, their CRM is being used as basically a glorified Rolodex. They still have post-it notes on their computer with tasks. They're shouting down the hall or texting a team member when something needs to get done. And, we really come in and help teams really optimize their CRM and introduce them to some of these functions, teach them how to be really, you know, confident, efficient Redtail users, and take advantage of all those functions that you just mentioned.
Michael: So I guess the issue in practice is just the CRM may have those functions, we just don't tend to use them. Either we just don't, or for all those legacy reasons... Oh, we were using Asana for tasks because our old CRM wasn't great, and then we change to a new CRM. But we already had all the stuff in Asana, so we didn't really want to, like, move at that point. And now we're living across splintered systems.
Kate: It's funny. You want to know the phrase that I hear most often? Advisors will say, "I don't know what I don't know." So I didn't even know that was possible within the CRM. Literally they know that there is a calendar, but they don't know that it can integrate with Outlook and Calendly, and be linked to clients contact records. And they are not aware of the functionality, or that you have the ability to communicate over the CRM, and set priorities and expectations in terms of, you know, managing tasks. And they just don't know what they don't know.
Michael: And so, to me, that essentially suggests at the end of the day, our whole industry basically has a giant training gap, knowledge gap, of just what CRM systems can actually do. Or at least we get it conceptually. I'm sure there's a calendaring thing in there, but I don't really know how to use it. And it's sort of time consuming to relearn, so I'm just gonna hang out with my current system.
Kate: Or they know and they just don't want to spend the time that it takes to really organize everything and, you know, brainstorm on how they want to see their client experience carried out, and formalize standard operating procedures in a workflow format. And they're like, "Man, I would just rather... You know, rather than my wheel spin here, as I try to figure it out, I would rather talk to someone who's done this before, and have them build it, teach us, and then be available as kind of like an operational sounding board going forward." And that's kind of the gap that we have filled.
Michael: So where do you find are the most common gaps? I mean, are there certain areas where we tend to be pretty good around using our CRM and others where we're just very persistently not doing what we could be doing or what it's capable of doing?
Kate: So, like, the task or activity feature within Redtail, a lot of advisors, you know, are moving towards getting things off of legal pads, or sending a bunch of emails back and forth, and actually putting tasks that are client specific into the CRM. But still sending an external email saying, "Hey, I told Bob Jones, the client, that this is going to get done before the end of the day." Like, we don't really need to send an email about that. Let's just standardize how we prioritize things, give it a numeric value, which sets the expectation to your team of when this needs to be done. You know, it's like thinking forward a little bit, and looking at redundancies, and figuring out how to utilize the tools that you already have available, like your CRM, to solve them. You know, kind of working smarter and not harder, and not sending a follow up email when it's very easily done within Redtail.
How Kate Audits CRMs And Operational Procedures [15:51]
Michael: For firms that want to start changing this, like, where do you start? Because on the one hand, as I said earlier, I feel like all these systems are stored in there, we could be using them, as you noted. In practice, we're often scattered. Like, I'm still using Outlook for calendar, Asana for tasks. I have a spreadsheet that we've made over the past seven years to track our new business development. So, I know how to do that whole pipeline opportunities thing in the CRM. Maybe we're capturing the contact information. But then from the flip side, to say, like, okay, let's start using all the CRMs capabilities. Like, okay, now that's overwhelming, because there's a lot of things to change now. So, where does someone even start if they're thinking, okay, I want to start figuring out this streamline thing? Sounds good. I'm sold. Now what? Where do I actually start?
Kate: So, we start with, you know, just an introductory conversation, right, to make sure that we're going to be a good fit to be able to help the firm that has inquired. And after that conversation, we do a deep dive into kind of their desired client experience. How do you want to serve your clients? What are some of the roadblocks? And what are some of the things that have gotten in the way of you, you know, really being able to execute and deliver on these dreams? And, you know, what are some of the operational issues affecting your firm? How are your team structured? What does your new client onboarding process look like? We have a deep conversation about that kind of stuff. And then we do a CRM assessment, which essentially, I go into the database and do an assessment to identify the level of organization and cleanup that is going to be required to implement things like a task management system, a pipeline management system, you know, workflows for all of the various repeatable processes in our day to day basis, taking advantage of automations where we can, incorporating things like Calendly and Zapier.
And so, essentially, I just get in to dig around a little bit to put together my recommendations, to identify things like you brought up. Like, what are they doing really well that they probably just need a little bit of coaching on, and don't need us to do a full blown, you know, clean up an organization? And then from there, we put together a timeline that always starts with the organizational aspect first. We are going to look at all the contacts in their database and make sure that everybody's clearly labeled, you know, with a status, a category where applicable, that we're utilizing things like keywords and user defined fields, to really organize contacts for...I mean, you know, data continuity sake, and make reporting easy, and make sure that whether you look it up or I look it up, we're able to find the same contacts that we're looking for, because everybody is super well organized.
And once we have done that, we get to get into the fun stuff, like, you know, building out a firm calendar and incorporating Calendly to make scheduling much more efficient. We start brainstorming on workflows to manage everything from your client management type responsibilities. You know, essentially, you want to look at your practice, and anything that is repeatable, is workflowable. In an effort to not reinvent the wheel every single time you go to do something, you need to look at your daily responsibilities and write your firm's standard operating procedures for things like death, divorce, new account for an existing client, contribution, distribution, required minimum distributions. Do you have a birthday procedure? How do you acknowledge client birthdays?
Other, you know, repeatable processes are things like your prospecting process. What do those various meetings look like when you meet a new prospect? You know, the introductory call, a discovery meeting, the financial planning process. Spelling all of that out honestly, on a Word document, bulleting it all out... Redtail calls that whiteboarding. And then taking those processes and procedures, and building them out, you know, in a formal workflow format.
Michael: And what does that mean to build them out in a formal workflow format beyond... Yeah, we have a process. Like, we have a three-meeting process about how we meet with prospects. The first meeting we talk about this, the second meeting we talk about that. Like, often, I find firms have that...just it has become part of their systems. It's become part of their culture. It's how they do what they do.
Kate: And so I'll tell you a funny story before I get into how you actually build that within CRM. When I started at an RIA, the president, his client servicing was top notch. It was, you know, the white glove Ritz Carlton experience. And we were literally managing it with a Word document checklist, stapled on a file folder. And within the file folder, there were all the, you know, financial documents. And on that checklist was, you know, intro call. What do we do on an intro call? Well, we do this first, we do this next, day of we do this. This is what the follow up looks like. And we literally passed that folder around to each different person who had a role within that workflow, essentially. And so when it came time for me to create, you know, like, standard operating procedures within Redtail. You know, he made it pretty easy for us, because he had documented all this on these checklists. But essentially, we took those checklists and put them into Redtail, you know, using their workflow templates, and built out a timeline, and steps, and tasks within the steps, articulating how the various processes were to be executed.
And then we tied them to, you know, settings within the calendar. So if you scheduled an introductory call in the calendar, and categorized it as such, it would automatically launch the introductory call workflow, which would tell you, three days before, to send the agenda, you know, day of, these are the questions that you're going to cover. The follow up looks like this. You know, here's your email template. You know, are they a good fit? Are they not a good fit? What are the steps to follow if they are a good fit? And what are the steps to follow if they're not? And essentially, you know, we took all those checklists and built all of them within the Redtail workflow templates.
Michael: And so, I know that... I guess this will be weird to ask in the context of a podcast. But, like, just for people who have not lived in CRM workflows, and whether it's Redtail or another. Can you help us visualize, like, what does it mean to have a CRM workflow?
Kate: Sure. So, I'll explain it like this. Essentially, there are tasks and there are workflows. A task is, hey, I need you to do something. I need you to open up a new Roth IRA, and we're going to do a Roth conversion. Okay? That's your call to action. I need you to do something. That's a task. I'm tasking you to open a Roth. How you open the account is a workflow. There's a before, there's a during, there's an after. You need to prepare the paperwork. You need to send it via DocuSign. You need to confirm that you get it back. You got to make sure it gets submitted to the custodian. If there's an asset transfer involved, you want to make sure that the assets come over and that they're invested, you know, according to whatever your investment model is or whatnot. And a follow up email to the client, closing the loop and letting them know that the money has been received, it's been invested, that we're moving forward with a Roth conversion. Whatever the subsequent steps are, that correspondence is documented in your CRM, that it's linked now to your portfolio management software and your financial planning software, and that you've used a naming convention, you know, so that all of the accounts are well organized and... You get what I'm getting at.
Michael: And so in the context of a CRM system, because this workflow is a series of repeating steps... If I'm going to do an account opening transfer process, I've always got the same sequence of things, like, prep paperwork set up in DocuSign. Send over for signature. Make sure it's submitted to the custodian, do the transfer, make sure the transfer came in, some of the follow ups. Like, all these steps. And every time someone says, do the account paperwork for new client A, it's always kicking off the same sequence of things that are then going to have to be done. So, the task is, do the new account process. The workflow is, here are the seven steps in the new account process that we're going to do.
Kate: Yeah. And in an effort to not reinvent the wheel, every single time one of those activities is tasked to you, we launch a workflow as, you know, a checklist of items that need to be done to execute it kind of to the firm standard. And, you know, some feedback I get is, you know, that's my job. I know how to do it. You know, it's not going to slip through the crack. I know how to do it. And it's so funny because I have follow up conversations with, you know, veteran on those teams that have been doing it for 20 years. And they're like, "My goodness, I'm glad I had a workflow for that, because I completely forgot to email the client and close the loop. And they emailed me asking if the account had been opened. And my golly, I hate getting beat to the punch like that. If I would have just checked my workflow, it would have reminded me to close the loop."
Michael: So maybe this is just, like, the silliness of little labels. But so if my task is create the accounts, and then I've got a workflow that's, you know, prep paperwork, send paperwork, make sure assets come over, send follow up email to client. Like, when it gets down to that send follow up email to client, like, what do I call that? Because I would have called that a task, which I feel like kind of disrupts the flow of, like, the task is the high level thing. And then the workflow has got all these steps. Like, is that a step? Is that a task? Is there, like, tasks within workflows, but then there's task as a meta thing?
Kate: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, that is a little bit confusing. And so I'm using, like, Redtail specific terminology. So I don't know if it applies to all CRMs. But within Redtail, you can assign a task. Like I said, that's your call to action. And within the workflow, you have steps and task tasks. That's where the confusion lies. So, a step is something that follows a timeline, at least within Redtail. There's a before, there's a during, there's an after. Okay? And so I'll make the analogy to you, you got to run errands this weekend. You're going to go to Target, you're going to go to the pet store, and you need to go to the grocery store. But at the grocery store, you're going to buy ice cream, so you probably want to go there last so it doesn't melt. And target's farthest away. So you're going to go to Target, you're going to go to the pet store, and you're going to go to the market.
Those things need to be done in a specific order. So within Redtail, those are your steps. If something needs to be done first, before you can move on to the second, before you can move on to the third, those warrant being individual steps. The tasks within those steps, you know, like what you need to buy at Target, what you need to buy at the pet store, and what you need to buy at the market, can be done in any order. But you're not going to leave one store and move on to the next until you've got everything that you need from your list, right? Same goes in a workflow. The tasks can be done in any order, but you can't complete the step until all the tasks are done. The workflow manages that for you. So you can't move on to step two until all of the tasks within step one are complete. Kind of on a level of accountability there.
Michael: So, functionally, then my step sequences my workflow in this nomenclature?
Kate: Exactly. So, you know, again, I'm a Redtail expert here, so I'm going to use Redtail terminology. The task just tells you, you need to do something, but it doesn't follow a timeline, which we know a lot of our requests do drag on or follow some sort of timeline. Therefore, we use a workflow that tells us how to execute that task that follows a specific timeline.
Michael: And so, I'm following, so within this context, I guess, a task can actually sit above a workflow or within a work flow, because my task could be a high level thing like open a new account, which is then going to kick off some workflow, some steps about how we do that. Within the steps, there could actually be mini tasks within the step as well, of like, here's the particular things I do within that step, right? Prep paperwork, queue in DocuSign, etc., I've got to do all those things before I actually send it over to the client. So I can have a master level task with workflow steps within it. And then workflow steps themselves can have mini tasks of things I need to check off within that stop.
Kate: You got it. And this is a fabulous recommendation to Redtail to reduce some of the language redundancy in the database, to eliminate some of this confusion.
Michael: Duly noted. So, I'll send this off to Brian McLaughlin and the product team, you might want a slight language change. Okay. So I guess in the context, and I'm envisioning even for advisory firms, as they come to you, I'm going to guess a lot... Like, they might be using some pieces of tasks because it's, like, right there in Redtail. But they may not be using it coherently. They may never have built out multi-step processes in the workflows. They may not be linked together, which is why then you get the, like, well, I made the task but then I also sent Joe an email to let him know that there are things coming and there's gonna be some follow up stuff because we don't really have, like, a whole step workflow for it. But I did the tasky part, but then I still have to do an email for the other parts because I haven't built the whole thing out.
Kate: Well, and on top of that, they're saving client correspondences in inappropriate places, that aren't, you know, compliance approved. Redtail has designed the note section to be compliance okayed. And a lot of times, advisors are putting notes in inappropriate places within tasks, that in the case of, you know, a dispute or arbitration or something, it would never hold up, because it's not time stamped, it's not dated, doesn't have your name linked to it. And so there's some training there to kind of reorganize the way people are using tasks, and just look for additional efficiency. So, yeah, not sending the external email with additional, you know, information as it pertains to that task. Yeah, that's one pickup, that would be very helpful. But in addition to that, being able to link notes specific to that activity, or documents specific to that activity, or the account. If you have your custodian linked with Redtail, being able to link to specific account, so you don't have to put in a bunch of details saying it's a trust account ending in, you know, 2915, at TD Ameritrade. And you know what I mean? So just creating that standard procedure for the various fields within a note, to eliminate the 10 different places you might have to go look up what, you know, is being asked of you to do.
How Kate Organizes And Systematizes Processes And Workflows Using Redtail [31:24]
Michael: So, are there certain processes that are the most common that you see firms trying to streamline and systematize first?
Kate: Yeah, so everybody, the hot topic is workflows. Workflow, workflow, workflow. Let's create workflows to manage all of our repeatable processes. So that's the fun part, to me. I love writing workflows, because everybody kind of operates a little bit differently. So it's really fun to collaborate and create, you know, customized workflows to manage the various repeatable processes. So about month two in one of our standard engagements, we get into, how do they want to manage their... We usually start with new client onboarding. That's kind of a fun one. What are the various meetings that are part of your client onboarding process? And we collaborate together? And I take them through exactly what you and I just walked through. What are the steps? What are the tasks? Do you send Thank You cards to referrers? Do you, you know, Google them on Google and friend them on LinkedIn before you meet with them? Like, what goes into your, you know, preparation process? Where are you doing as part of the follow up? Are you sending gifts or acknowledging birthdays?
Essentially, we do the data gathering over a series of calls, and we build out the workflow templates for firms. Rather than, you know, it took me several years, and hours and hours upon hours of training calls with the Redtail training team to kind of learn how to build all these processes and procedures. So that's the value that we add to firms, is, you know, save you from your wheel spinning, and I'll create them for you. And then I will teach you how to use them and maintain them, so you have a working workflow database going forward.
Michael: So, I'm still just trying to visualize, like, what does a completed high quality new client onboarding workflow look like, relative to advisor standard? Like, what's the, you know, before versus after of, how does this function differently for a firm?
Kate: So everybody's process is a little bit different. You know, most of the firms that we work with are financial planning practices. So they'll have an introductory call, they'll have some sort of data gathering, or, you know, discovery meeting, a financial planning meeting, the implementation process of signing new client paperwork, investing the assets, you know, getting the accounts open at the custodian, so on and so forth. So, essentially, what we do is we write a workflow for each one of those different meetings. That one, you know, kind of flows into the next, flows into the next, flows into the next based on the series of steps and tasks. And then the end, once you've on boarded the client, you know, there's the introduction to the firm portal where they can view their accounts online.
And we then set up, based on the firm's service model, a proactive client review scheduling process, so that, you know, kind of takes the thought out of going forward. How frequently am I supposed to meet with clients? And when do I know who I'm gonna meet with when? We standardize all of that at the contact level in the CRM. So, like, from soup to nuts, if you will, it's the very first conversation that you have with a new prospect, all the way through setting them up with a regular proactive review schedule. We create a workflow for each different one of those steps.
Michael: And so, what does that look like from the firm's end when it's done?
Kate: So, when it's done, it essentially looks like, you know, five or six workflows, depending on how many meetings that they have, that are tied to whether it's their calendar management software, or automations within Redtail. And, you know, there's a lot of training that goes into it too. You know, like a standing weekly call with the team, so that they know when this type of call is scheduled, it fires off an introductory call workflow. And these are the steps within the introductory call workflow. And when you come to the end of the introductory call workflow, there is a question that the adviser answers because he's prompted to, in the workflow, that says, "Are you moving forward with this person, or are they not a good fit?" And if they're a good fit, then the next workflow launches, and kind of trickles down, so on and so forth, until you get to that very end process, which is setting up the regular review schedule, which also has a workflow associated with it, that tells you the firm's expectation for preparing, delivering, and following up after a client review.
Michael: And from the team's perspective, tasks for me just appear when there are things that I'm supposed to do?
Michael: That's the interface at the team level is, once this is built out into workflows, I just get assigned the thing I'm supposed to do. It appears to me when I'm supposed to do it, because the preceding blocking point got cleared. That was the point of the workflow. When I do my thing, and I've checked my box off, then whoever gets the next thing has their task appear for them. And that all just flows, because that's what happens when you've built it out as a workflow.
Kate: Yes. And that's why the team training is so important. So we involve the entire team on several calls, you know, especially those core competencies and the workflow demonstration implementation calls. Because in order for these processes to run as smoothly as you just said, there needs to be mutual adoption by everybody on the team. Because, and I'll tell you from experience, I was the bottleneck at one point. I could never remember to check my stinking workflows. And I'd get tapped on the shoulder constantly, like, "Hey, would you mind, you know, clicking through this so that it proceeds on to the next person?" But once you get everybody trained up, and everybody buys in, and everybody kind of adheres to the new operating procedures, whether it's new client onboarding, or opening up a new account, or, you know, if a client passes away. You know, what do all of those processes look like? And as long as everybody stays on top of their workflows, one task is going to pass hands to the next team member, and it's going to pass hands to the next team member, and each person is going to be notified of their responsibility as it relates to that request.
Michael: So what are the other... I mean, are there typical processes that firms tend to build out in workflows or build out first? I mean, you kind of highlighted new client onboarding process, which can have a couple of different sub-workflows because, like, each meeting step can have workflows.
Kate: Yeah, exactly.
Michael: What else typically gets built out first when firms are trying to get more systematized?
Kate: Sure. So we got really good at using tasks. So I could look at my team's tasks and see what everybody was working on. And I looked for repeated tasks or commonly tasked tasks, if that makes sense, and identified a list of things like address changes, account transfers, check deposits, contributions, distributions, closing an account, a client termination. Any repeatable process is workflowable. How does your team handle a client retiring? How do you handle Roth conversions? How do you handle a bene change?
Michael: So I feel like for a lot of us, we think of these maybe as tasks, do a contribution, change the clients address... But just I'm struggling... You're framing them more as workflows than tasks.
Kate: Only because they follow a several step process. Sure, if you're just, you know, sending somebody 10 grand, and it's already in cash, just send the 10 grand already in cash. But if it's something more complex than that, like, you know, paperwork is required... Like, there's just been so many situations where you send out the paperwork, and there's no accountability to ensure the paperwork comes back. And then the client says, you know, "Did you ever send me that paperwork?" And it's like, "Oh, well, shoot, I did. Why didn't I follow up?" You know, and if there was a system of checks and balances, like, these workflows to say, this is what we do first, second, third, and fourth, you eliminate the opportunity for drop balls. And in my case, I hate being beat to the punch. I don't ever want to be asked, you know, did that money land in the account? And are you investing it? And why can't I see it online.
Michael: So it's interesting framing. So it's the follow up. Like, the task is the task, change address. What changed into a workflow for you is, change address can be a task, but the workflow is change address, verify address and changes in system after 24 to 48 hours, send a quick follow up email to clients to confirm this was taken care of for them. We tend to be good at the first one. We may or may not remember to send the follow up. And we usually have enough systematized process to make sure that we verify the change, and then do the follow up, in that sequence, in a timely manner, without getting caught up on all the other things that are going on. Because once we check the address change check task, it's out of sight out of mind, because this wasn't a multi-step workflow. It was, change the address, I did the thing, and now I've already moved on.
Kate: And you would be shocked at how far that little follow up email, which by the way, is templated, and you can copy and paste it out of the workflow into your email, goes with a client. Hey, thank you so much for following up. I had forgotten that we had done that. Or you get into the custodial website, and there's a digit off. And to be proactive and get ahead of that. Then when the client says, "Why didn't I get my statement this month?" That is excellent client servicing to me.
Michael: So this interesting framing, though. A lot of us, I think, even if we're trying to be diligent, like, we tend to be pretty good about doing the thing. Because if you don't do the thing the client asked you, you tend to get terminated relatively quickly. But make sure it got completed, make sure it got processed properly, send a follow up to a client to confirm that the thing happened. That's where we don't always necessarily really follow through with that level of diligence, if we don't literally have follow up tasks for us, which we typically don't if we didn't build workflows.
Kate: And the feedback that I get from the teams that I work with is, wow, we really wish we had that level of follow up and accountability. But nobody's really taking the time to build that out. We all just kind of assume that everybody's doing that. You know, but if we could have that as a step to check off in the workflow, that would be that level of accountability to ensure that everybody's serving clients to our expectation the same way. And to your point, though, Michael, you could create an activity template that had all those bullets that I just said, send the paperwork, make sure it gets, you know, processed, assets transfer, they get invested, you close a loop. You could have all of those bullets in a task. But it would be very easy to complete that task without working through all of those bullets. There's not that same system of checks and balances, if you will. You know, when it's in a workflow, you actually have to click that you did it.
Michael: Right. And then just there's literally a record in the CRM, right? Did it get done? Yes. Did it not get done? Like, who's got open tasks that aren't getting checked off?
Kate: Exactly. Right. It's a great way to measure bandwidth to be able to delegate to. So, you know, in my experience, I was in an operations position, and we had some very new team members on our team. And this was a great way to create, you know, kind of our firms operating procedures and be able to hand it off to our team members. And they were able to be independently successful and not rely so heavily on me for, where do I find this? What do I do next? Because you could literally embed links within the workflow that says, here's the agenda you use. Here is the introductory call questionnaire that we use. Here's the fact finder for the discovery meeting. Make it very easy for you.
Michael: So, what else typically gets workflowed or workflowed first as firms are trying to systematize? I'm struck, a lot of what you're describing are sort of the just the... I don't mean this in a negative way, the routine operations things that happen on an ongoing basis once you've got a reasonable volume of clients. Like, is that the point? Just, this is where you start, it's right in the middle of all these things that we're all doing. We just maybe haven't systematized and workflowed to the extent that we should? Or are there other areas or other things that typically get workflowed as firms are trying to make this streamlined transitioning process?
Kate: Yeah. So that's always kind of the baseline, right? Those standard repeatable processes as they relate to clients, right? That's usually where we start. And then we, you know... And Redtail hates it when I say this, but I like to create, you know, like, checklists within workflows. So things like, you know, more operational in nature, marketing, sending the newsletter, posting blog posts, new hire. You know, what does that process look like? The unfortunate termination of an employee, marketing, you know, seminars or educational events. You know, what do you do to prep? Do you secure the venue? What do you need to do the week before, two weeks before? But these workflows go further than just client-specific responsibilities. I like to use them for firm wide...any repeatable process, I like to create a workflow for.
So, this is a perfect example. Most of us operate on teams. And, you know, to really serve clients well, it's really nice to be able to pick up where somebody else left off, in the case of an absence or in, you know, in my case, we had workflows for billing and reporting. And, you know, that was not my responsibility. But our portfolio manager went out on paternity leave, and I was able to fill his shoes, because we had documented his role in a workflow. It just allows you to be able to not miss a beat.
Michael: So, I guess I just have to ask then, like, why Redtail? You've kind of framed that you're very focused on Redtail? Why Redtail?
Kate: Yeah, that's a funny question. It's the only one I know. So when I joined the RIA back in 2017, that was the CRM they were using. And we were really only using it as, like, a glorified Rolodex, if you will, saving a note here or there, and we had client contact info. But lucky for me, we got to attend one of those Redtail universities, which, you know, they're fabulous presenters, and completely blew my mind with all that the system was capable of managing, which was a heck of a lot more than being a Rolodex. And so I recognized that, if I took the time to really learn the ins and outs of this system, it could really solve some of the operational issues that were affecting our firm. Like, you know, those checklists that were being stapled to folders to execute our new onboarding process. Right? Like, man, those would make really great workflows. I just need to figure out how to do that.
And, not to mention, during that time, when I joined the firm, we were going through a massive transition. So we'd been working with a TAMP and we decided to move... bring all of the portfolio management responsibilities in house. So we hired a portfolio manager. We were leaving the TAMP. We had a new financial advisor on our team, a new client service person on our team, as I moved into kind of the more operational role. And we decided to consolidate assets from Schwab to TD, which is quite ironic now. But that made for a very good workflow. So, you know, I loved Redtail. I saw that it had, you know, a really great way to solve some of the silly balls that were being dropped, and really, you know, standardize our firm's internal operating procedures. So I really wrapped my arms around it and, you know, spent hours and hours, years really, training with the Redtail training team to learn the ins and outs of the system to build out, like I mentioned, the calendar management, pipeline management, task management, all the workflows to help our firm be as efficient as possible, so that we can spend more time doing what we love and servicing clients.
Michael: And so, I guess, like, what happened as you started building these out or trying to build these out and get everyone on board? Because obviously, they weren't doing it previously, which means, you know, sounds great to say let's be streamlined than in practice. You have to go and tell everyone you're gonna start breaking their existing processes and making them do it differently.
Kate: Yeah, that's funny. So it was a collaborative effort. It wasn't just like, all right, my way or the highway. This is how we're gonna do things now. It was like, you know, the way we're currently running isn't super efficient. Let's standardize some of this stuff. And we got buy-in from everybody. And everybody, we collaborated and said, "So what are you doing at these different processes, you know, at these different stages? Let's document this." And that essentially becomes that, like, brainstorming or whiteboarding process that Redtail talks about, and creating, you know, standard operating procedures that I then took, literally Word documents, and I sat at my desk, and I built workflows, kind of framing out how we managed each one of those different processes. And I mean, I can't take full credit there, I spent so much time on the phone with Redtail, figuring it out. Because otherwise, I sat at my desk and my wheels spun for hours, which is not time well spent.
Kate’s Inspiration To Launch Her Operations Management Company [49:56]
Michael: So, how did you get from this point of living within an advisory firm, doing operations and having immersed yourself into a CRM system, to what you're doing now? Which is running, like, an operations consulting firm for advisors? How did that transition happen?
Kate: So, I really loved the process. I really loved learning about Redtail, and implementing all of these processes that we've been talking about, and seeing them really work, and getting the feedback from my team, that my goodness, this is efficient. And it made me feel good. I loved watching the team just kind of hum away. Nobody was having to come to my desk anymore and ask me where this is or how to do this next. And it was very rewarding. I also really loved working with the Redtail team. And I thought, you know, rather than doing this for just one firm... Actually, let me backtrack there for a second. This is where the real idea came from. I was part of a Redtail forum, where advisors would go to ask Redtail specific questions. How do I do this? How to do that. Where do I find this report? So on and so forth. And I realized that there were not too many advisors that had taken the time that I took to learn all this stuff. It kind of seemed like they were asking, you know, kind of silly questions, if you will.
And I thought, my goodness, they don't have somebody on their team that really sunk their teeth into this beast and has built these systems out and educated everybody. Because otherwise they wouldn't be asking these questions. So I thought, well, wouldn't that be an interesting business idea if I could go build out these processes and systems for these firms, to help them be more efficient. And so I kind of toyed with the idea a little bit. It was obviously very nerve-wracking. And I was good friends with the president and lead advisor of the firm that I was working at. And I kind of just throw out the idea and he was supportive. And, you know, he was an entrepreneur himself. And, you know, he was very encouraging. And he said, you know, "You put a lot of thought into it and talk to your friends, your family, attorneys, figure out what it takes to build a business. And come back to me if you have questions." And he gave me some really good advice, and was super supportive.
And after pitching my pitch to friends, family, my husband, you know, that's part of the deal. He had a very secure job. So it allows me to be a little more risky. And, in a couple of weeks, we had built a website. And lucky for me, my best friend is a graphic designer. So she put together a website for me. My cousin's husband is a corporate attorney. So he helped me put together, you know, filing to be a corporation. I brainstormed a name. And I thought, you know, let's see what happens here. And lucky for me, the president of the firm was, like I said, super supportive. And he said, "Well, why don't you give this a shot? You can work here part time until you get your business off the ground. It's not gonna be a cold turkey thing. And just let us know how it goes." And I went on that Redtail forum and answered a question and said, "If anybody has, you know, any follow up questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I'm happy to help you build out these processes and procedures."
And before I knew it, I had more inquiries than I could keep up with. And there was just such a demand for somebody to build out workflows, and clean up all the data in their database, because they were tired of searching for things that they couldn't find. And so many advisors reached out to me and said, you know, "Thank you for your expertise. How do we work with you?" And before I knew it, I had put in my notice and quit my job, which was in March of 2020, which not great timing, because what happened about March 15th, of 2020? So talk about, you know, self doubt, and oh, my gosh, that was stressful. I thought I had made a terrible decision.
Michael: Yeah. So what was the timing? You gave the announcement at the beginning of March. And then two weeks later, the world begins to end?
Kate: Exactly. So it was like, this idea came to be about December. January, we really put together a website. February, kind of pitched my pitch, and was working part time. And at the beginning of March, at that point, it was just my time was better spent on Simplicity Ops than at the RIA. And, you know, Brad let me go, and was super supportive. And it was March 5th that I quit, you know, the job, came home, thought I was living this high life. I had this flexibility, work from home, I could work anywhere. I finally, you know, had the hours that I wanted. I could run at lunch. And it was about March 15th that the world ended and my husband's work sent him home. And now he and I are working out of a 900 square foot home together in the middle of a global pandemic, which mind you, I was thinking there's no way in the world that financial advisors are going to want to optimize their CRM and work on operational processes right now. This is insane. What did I do? This is not good timing.
Michael: And so is that what happened? Like, suddenly you're in a pandemic with a business helping to support on operations and workflows, and suddenly no advisors want to hire anymore, because there's a pandemic, they're distracted with other things?
Kate: Honestly, it was the opposite. But very pleasantly surprised. It was as if everybody had been sent home, you know, client reviews were kind of put on pause, or now being done virtually, which was a heck of a lot more efficient. And advisors seemed to have more time. And it seemed, in my experience, that they started to look, you know, inside and wanted to improve their internal processes and procedures. And from about, I would say, July on, we were running a waitlist at that point, with advisors that were just dying to get their CRM cleaned up and organized, and get workflows in place. And there was no time like the present to just do it and get it done, because everybody was home and had time to spend on it.
Michael: And I guess even as I'm thinking about that, for any firms that were a little bit more physical, in-person, paper-based, etc. Then it's just even more pressure. Okay, suddenly, we're in a pandemic virtual world, we have to do this from our CRM system. We can't use any of our paper systems. Oh, I guess we really have to figure this Redtail thing out.
Kate: And it better be centralized in, you know, like you said, in the CRM, where anybody on your team, regardless of where you are geographically or physically, can access that information. And you better hope that it's not in 12 different browsers, and in three different places, and, you know, that your server isn't... You get what I'm getting at. But it was honestly perfect timing, to be honest. And it was rewarding to say the least, to be able to help the firms that I was working with at that time really getting through these operational hurdles that were affecting them because of the pandemic.
How Kate Structures Her Client Engagement Process [57:55]
Michael: So help us understand just how this works from your business perspective? Like, just how do firms actually engage you, engage your firm? Like, how does it work? What does your operations, streamlining, efficiency, engagement actually look like?
Kate: So a traditional engagement lasts anywhere between five to six months, because as you can imagine, you know, we go really deep in these conversations, and we go... Everything's very custom. There's not a cookie cutter way of managing an RIA. Right?
Michael: Right. I mean, we've all got workflows, but we've all got different workflows, and we build them slightly different ways. And the point is not, like, how do we cookie cutter ourselves into your workflows, it's how do you make workflows out of what we do?
Kate: Exactly. Everything is completely custom. And so it usually takes us anywhere between five to six months. And again, we start with the framework first. We go through contacts, and we organize, and clean them up, and delete, and create a contact hierarchy, if you will, with, you know, the framework for how contacts are going to be managed. And then we talk about, you know, the different levels of organizing contacts. And we create, you know, reports to efficiently report and flush out that information, if you will. The cleanup process carries on through the duration of the engagement, but that's kind of our starting point.
Michael: And just for a moment, what does clean up mean?
Kate: So you'd be shocked. I'll get into a database... And this is why I do the CRM assessment. And they might have, you know, 1500 contacts. And half of them don't have a status or category, but some of them are clients. Some of them might be a COI, or an attorney, or just, you know, a wholesaler. And nobody is labeled. So unless you know that person's name, you can't look up their contact information. Or if you want to do a bulk email to all of your clients to set up, you know, their monthly review, or whatever the situation might be. If they're not labeled appropriately, it's impossible. And you would be shocked at how many firms roll that way. And so, we go in, and we identify holes within that system. You know, have all the clients been labeled, prospects been labeled? Are they labeled, you know, are they segmented by tier? You know, how do you define your tiers? Is it solely AUM or, you know, advocacy and likability? And then same thing with the prospects. How are you organizing your prospects? We essentially look at all of the contacts in the database and determine how we're going to label all of them.
And this is something that a lot of advisors get overwhelmed thinking about. And they say, "Well, you could be, you know, this, but you could also be this. You could be an attorney, but you could also be a client. How do I manage that overlap?" And so we help, you know, just based on our experience, creating that type of structure, just kind of at ground level.
Michael: Okay. So what comes next in the process, then? So we go through, you get a little bit of overall information about the firm and where they stand. You dig into their Redtail database. You go through a cleanup process, which I guess just is really helping them, like, tag all the records. Is this a client? Is this a COI? Is this a wholesaler? Like, who is this? Let's get all these tagged, and cleaned up, and sorted out, so we know where they stand initially.
Kate: And then we go through the contacts, and we actually label them for the firm. So they'll be clean and tidy by the time we're done with the engagement. So it's nothing they have to do, we actually do the cleanup for them. And then, you know, once we've built that framework, then we get to do some of the fun stuff. Like, you know, involving the team in a handful of trainings, one being contact management. How do we build out a family tree? How do we see, in Redtail, who's related to who? How do we see who are their professional contacts? Where do we show dependence and familial association? So on and so forth. And so we do some training and best practices around that, because it's not uncommon for teams to house that information in different areas. And so if I'm going to look for it versus if you're going to look for it, it never ends up being in the same place. So we standardize that.
And then we get into my favorite topic, which is task management and formalizing, you know, a naming convention down to what is the subject of the activity? This is not where we put in a paragraph about what needs to be done. This is a few select words, you know, articulating the action item. We give it a priority to set the expectation for the team. We store the client correspondence in a specific place, versus, you know, internal team dialogue in another place. And just best practices for managing client, and operational, and personal tasks within Redtail. And then we do, you know, a calendar management training, and we talk about the incorporation of Calendly, or Acuity, or ScheduleOnce, and utilizing some of Redtail's integrations to create an efficient calendaring process. You know, not only for the administrative person who manages the calendar in the office, but also for the client.
And then, we talk about Redtail's ability to store and organize your, you know, prospect pipeline, insert whatever word you want there. But being able to log prospects, and where they're at in the new client onboarding journey, if you will. And being able to filter that to see kind of who's at the initial inquiry stage, and who's kind of at the one yard line, we're just waiting on getting custodial paperwork back. And celebrating those wins together as a team on a weekly basis, by storing all of that within Redtail.
And then, you know, kind of getting into the weeds here, we start talking about setting up a proactive client review process in Redtail, like we talked about a little bit earlier, utilizing some key features to automate as much as we can, the proactive reach out to clients to schedule their quarterly, semi-annually, or annual review. Emailing them in bulk, sending follow up activities in bulk, launching workflows in bulk, to make sure that our desired client experience is executed, client by client, as it relates to that review process. And then, you know, we get into the fun stuff, like I talked about. We start with the workflow development. And that takes a large chunk of time of the engagement to collaborate on, you know, how the team wants to manage various processes and procedures.
And then my team and I take that information and actually get to build out the workflows for the various firms. And then coach everybody and teach everybody on, you know, best practices for using workflows to ensure, you know, as I mentioned earlier, mutual adoption by everybody on the team. In order for all of these systems and processes to hum nicely, everybody on the team needs to use them the same way.
Michael: So I have to admit, for a firm of any particular size, like, I feel like this may take us more than six months to absorb. Like, just there's a lot of stuff to get through or just things to change and things that people need to get retrained on.
Kate: Yeah. And so, the six month mark seems to... I mean, we pretty much get everybody wrapped up within the six months. And we stay kind of on staff, if you will, to be available to amend things. Or, you know, this workflow is going too fast or too slow, or we don't actually do this here. You know, once they implement everything that we've built, there's definitely some follow up about, can we revisit this. Or, we've hired a new team member, can you train them on these processes? Making improvements or doing little touch ups. But for the most part, we wrap everybody up in about six months.
Michael: And what's the cost for engagements to go through this? Like, how do you price and structure this?
Kate: Yeah. So it's billed monthly, and it starts at 66 bucks a month... errr 6600 bucks a month.
Michael: So $6,600 per month. So, I guess, kind of napkin mathing here, like five or six months is kind of a $35- to $40,000 engagements to get all the way through and have all that built out and the team trained and up to speed on it.
Kate: Exactly. And then going forward, I mean, I'm working on kind of a monthly retainer, but right now, it's just hourly, to be your operational sounding board going forward. I'll work with you on an hourly basis to be available to help answer any questions, make any updates, or additions, or what have you.
Michael: Just out of curiosity, from your end, like, how many firms can you even handle, like, doing this just at once? Because you have to be so in there too, the firm, the people, their actual processes and systems, I'm imagining, like, you're fairly limited in how many firms you can even work with at once?
Kate: Yeah. So the answer is not that many. Because we to go very deep into these processes and procedures, and everything is very custom. So, if I could create some sort of, you know, boiler plate deliverable here, I'd sure be able to help a whole heck of a lot more firms. But unfortunately, that's not really the name of the game. Having said that, in the last couple of months, we've added a couple of new team members that are, you know, really allowing us to serve more firms at one time. So that's really exciting. It's no longer, you know, kind of me flying solo. I have an implementation associate who helps kind of bring the dream to life. She's on all the calls with me and helps me implement everything that we talk about on those calls. And then we have a technology specialist who's joined our team to help us with some of the tech integrations and help us bear some of the workload. So there's three of us now that should be able to serve more firms than when it was just me alone.
Kate’s Plans For The Future Of Her Company [1:08:54]
Michael: And so where does it go from here for you? Like, are you envisioning, like, growing a large team? Are you going to move into, like, Wealthbox, and Salesforce, and other CRM systems? What comes next?
Kate: That's a really interesting question. And something that I think about a lot. I love Redtail. I'm a Redtail expert. So the idea of becoming an expert in Salesforce or Wealthbox sounds a little daunting. I'm not not open minded to it, but for now, I want to continue serving Redtail users and sharing my expertise with firms and their teams, you know, again, to hopefully eliminate their wheel spinning and them trying to figure all of this out. And I'll share with them, over six months, some expert advice and help them build out systems and processes so that they can better serve their clients and have more time to be doing what it is they're good at. But I’ll probably keep things mediumly small and not have a gigantic service offering with things like Salesforce and Wealthbox. But I'm not saying that's not possible, just not right now.
Michael: Well, I mean, I still think in the grand scheme, you know, there are literally tens of thousands of advisers using Redtail. So, like, it's not like there's a shortage of firms to work with solely in the Redtail ecosystem for, like, basically forever.
Surprises Kate Encountered On Her Journey To Starting Her Own Firm [1:10:24]
Michael: So what surprised you the most about the entrepreneurial journey of... It's one thing to do operations in an advisory firm, it's another thing to build a business serving advisors doing operations. What's been the biggest surprise as this has turned from a job into a business unto itself?
Kate: Yeah. I have a whole lot more respect for the other entrepreneurs in the world. There's so much that goes on behind the scenes that nobody sees. Not only was it in the middle of a global pandemic that this all happened, I was pregnant with my first child. We bought a home. In addition to, you know, serving clients and really wanting to help people, there's navigating a payroll system for the first time, managing taxes, managing a business, managing questions, comments, concerns. Not getting so wrapped up in work that I don't take time for myself is very easy to do. But I mean, I guess kind of a blessing and a curse that it was in the middle of a pandemic, so I didn't really feel pulled to go do anything social. So it was a little bit more acceptable to stay home and work a lot. But there's just so many things behind the scenes that I feel like even friends and family don't see, that is required of you, now that you're running a business. So that was very eye opening to me.
The Low Point On Kate’s Journey [1:12:06]
Michael: So what was the low point for you across this journey?
Kate: That's a really good question. A low point. I mean, I guess it's good that I'm having a hard time answering that because this has been such a high and such a wonderful journey. Honestly, not being very good at saying no, biting off more than I can chew, and compromising family time. So that's a goal for 2022, is being better at managing time, so that I have time to spend with my friends, my family, and for myself.
Michael: So what was it that led to the squeeze that you couldn't say no to?
Kate: The fear of not having more interest, anymore interest, like, the well drying up, if you will.
Michael: So you had a lot of inquiries coming in, and were afraid to say no to any of them. So you said yes to all of them, and then it was a lot of people to service?
Kate: Exactly, yeah. Spread myself a little bit too thin. And then, you know, you start to water down the product. And that's just not how I want to run business. So I've gotten a lot more clear on who it is that I want to work with. It's a more limited number of people. And I'm getting better at setting boundaries, so that we can deliver an excellent client experience to those select few instead of, you know, a good client experience with being spread too thin. It's not fun for anybody.
Michael: So do you have a target now of, like, how many firms you want to work with? Like, we just want to go really deep with 10 firms this year, or 15 firms this year, or three at a time, but never more than three?
Kate: Exactly. So for me, myself, if I'm doing all of the coaching, and consulting, and work, I don't want to work with more than 10 firms in a year. But now that we have these new team members, I'm hoping that we can kind of divide and conquer, and that number will grow as our team members really get up to speed on, you know, the Simplicity experience, and the services, and get really confident with kind of our process. I'm really hoping to be able to help more people. And I've even toyed with the idea of doing, you know, like a Friday crash course with a one-to-many type approach. Because I really do come from a place of wanting to be able to help people. And, you know, rather than sitting there, late night, with your wheel spinning, trying to figure all this out, I'd love to be able to give you some guidance. It's just, you know, time is limited and I can't work with everybody at once. It just wouldn't be fair.
Michael: How do you try to manage this? I think you'd said part of the transition amongst everything else was that you were pregnant with a first child. So, like, navigating motherhood has been a part of this as well?
Kate: Absolutely. Which is... tt's rewarding, and frustrating, and scary, and all at the same time. But we've made it work. My husband is a saint. And we have kind of just divided and conquered on all of these responsibilities. And I took several weeks off, obviously, after having delivered a baby, and time to bond. And, you know, being a business owner, having that flexibility allowed me to be able to do that. So, took the time that we needed, and I was back at it in about April of last year, took about eight weeks off.
Michael: I guess the one interesting flipside to it is, like, the nature of your engagements, because they are more finite in scope... Like, we do this thing, it goes through a process of a couple of months. And then we're done before you take on the next one, makes it a little bit more feasible to wind down engagements, put a pause before you take new engagements on, to be able to have a break, in a way that ironically, actually is much harder in advisory firms that tend to build towards recurring revenue models, where there's always clients, there's always service, so we can maybe build surge meeting structures to have busier periods and less busy periods. But it's harder to take a pause, because we're never really between client engagements.
Kate: Exactly, exactly. And so that, you know, was a gift. And not to say that I didn't have, you know, as I mentioned, kind of the hourly thing lingering on. We had wrapped them up. And now teams are actually using systems and processes, and coming back with questions and whatnot. And I wasn't good about setting, you know, a boundary during those couple of weeks that I took off. So I was answering emails, and troubleshooting things, and making revisions. And so, you know, I was kind of bad in that sense, but we made it work. I'm alive to talk about it.
Advice Kate Would Give Her Former Self [1:16:57]
Michael: So what do you know now that you wish you could go back and tell you from a couple of years ago, when you were thinking about, like, do I want to actually make this transition and turn what I've been doing within the firm into something that I would do as an independent consultant?
Kate: Have confidence in yourself. You know, give yourself credit. You've worked really hard to learn everything that you know. There's a lot of value in your expertise. And just be confident. You're going to be really good at this. And there's going to be road bumps. And that's, you know, par for the course. Be open to feedback and criticism, learn from it and do better. But yeah, I was really, really hard on myself in the beginning. And didn't allow much wiggle room for, I don't wanna say failure, but for hiccups, for things that come up that I couldn't have expected, you know. I'm very much a perfectionist, and when things didn't go perfectly to plan, it was very stressful. So now just, you know, allow for a little bit more flexibility. If things go awry, figure out a solution. That's why, you know, we've been hired, is to be resourceful, figure it out, come up with a solution, move forward.
Kate’s Advice To Those Considering A Consultant Career Path [1:18:11]
Michael: So what advice would you give for, I guess, anyone else out there that maybe is thinking about a similar journey? You know, a lot of folks that are consultants to advisors started out in advisory firms in some kind of employee role, and had some vision of, I think I could do this for more firms and help more people, and would like to go that route, but it's scary to make the leap for all the challenges noted. So just wondering, like, what advice would you give to someone who's maybe in a firm and thinking about something like this, because they seem to have a skill set, but they're not sure if they could actually turn this into a business.
Kate: Take the leap. You can always go back if you decide it was not the right decision. But chances are it was the right decision, and you're going to surprise yourself with how good you are at it. But you need to give yourself a shot. And the only other thing I'll say about that is if you're thinking about starting your own practice, or consulting company, or whatever it is, because you want to work less, chances are you're going to work two times as hard as you did when you were working for somebody else. What was a 40-hour work week becomes a 65, 70-hour work week. And that's just kind of the name of the game as you get a business off the ground. So, know that going into it. This is not the easy route by any means. But it sure is rewarding.
Michael: Because you own it, just there is a different effect of, I'm working a lot more hours, but it's actually my thing at this point.
Kate: Yeah, exactly. I'm not working for somebody else's dream, I'm working for my own dream.
Michael: And I'm struck, you do make just a really interesting point, particularly for those that go from, I'm working in an advisory firm to I'm thinking about launching some kind of business serving advisors. That whole framework, like, you can always go back, either to that firm or finding another firm. Like, just all of these challenges that we're talking about, that a lot of advisors have, that makes us think, like, hey, maybe there's an opportunity to do this for a lot of advisors and build a business around this. If at worse it doesn't work for you in the consulting world doing that, like, there's still a lot of advisors who need help with this, which means there are jobs, like, there are employee jobs you will be able to get even if you don't necessarily have the business workout in a one-to-many consulting realm. Just I find for a lot of people when they're thinking about this taking the leap or taking the chance, it's a very binary... Like, it'll work or it'll fail. And, like, that's not really how it usually happens. It'll work or you'll simply get another job because there's still a lot of demand for this.
Kate: A hundred percent. And you'd be shocked at how many firms say, "You want to come work for us?" You know, so it's like that was reassuring that there's always going to be an opportunity, and you're going to be better because of it. You're going to learn so much along that journey that if you do decide, man, this is a lot of work, not really what I want to do, I'd love to get back into, you know, an advisory practice, you're going to have so much more knowledge to be able to offer your new team. Like, just take the chance. It's worked out very well for me. And when I get in those moments of self doubt, and I get in my head a little bit, I'm thinking, man, what am I doing? This is crazy. It's in those moments that, like, I get a complimentary email from a client, or I get another inquiry from a prospective client. And, like, you know what, you're in the right place at the right time, you must be doing something right. Just have faith in yourself and enjoy the process. And be open to criticism and feedback. You know, strive to be better. So I just appreciate the journey. And it's been very rewarding thus far.
What Success Means To Kate [1:21:50]
Michael: So as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success. And just one of the themes that always comes up is, the word success means different things to different people. And so, you've taken the successful leap into building a consulting business for firms and quickly built up to a waitlist and being able to hire team members. And so, the business is going very well. But how do you define success for yourself at this point?
Kate: So, for me, it's when you love what you do, you're able to help other people at the same time, while still affording the quality of life you desire. You know, it's very rewarding at the end of the day to genuinely enjoy being in my office all day, talking to all these firms, solving real problems, helping them not spend unnecessary time trying to sort through things that I've already done. While, you know, being able to go to the gym in the morning, and take my daughter on a walk in the afternoon, and work the hours that I want to work, and have that flexibility. You know, being able to work from my sister's house for a week when we were up there for a family wedding. It's really lovely.
Michael: Very cool. Very cool. Well, thank you so much, Kate, for joining us on the "Financial Advisor Success Podcast."
Kate: Thank you so much.