Welcome back to the 304th episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today’s podcast is Chad Chubb. Chad is the founder of WealthKeel, an independent virtual RIA based in Tampa, Florida, that advises on over $100 million of assets for 110 client households.
What’s unique about Chad, though, is how he has not only implemented a “surge meeting” approach to meet with each of his ongoing clients during a two-month period twice a year, but has gone further to implement a “surge onboarding” approach where he only takes on new clients in two-month intervals twice a year as well… all of which has allowed him to implement a highly systematized and efficient process so that he has more time and capacity throughout the rest of the year to focus on firm strategy, the client experience, and populating his waitlist of new clients for the next surge onboarding cycle.
In this episode, we talk in-depth about how, as Chad focused increasingly on serving a niche of Gen X and Gen Y physicians, he noticed an increasingly large overlap in the types of financial planning issues he was solving client after client that led him to a systematized surge approach to client review meetings, how almost reaching a point of burnout while onboarding 40 to 60 new clients per year in 2020 and 2021 made Chad realize that he needed to implement a surge onboarding approach (and a waitlist) to more easily scale and control the growth of his practice, and how Chad leverages the combination of writing for a finance-focused blog for physicians (as well as his own blog), concentrating on SEO tactics, and speaking at hospitals, to find his ideal prospects where they are and rapidly grow his firm.
We also talk about how Chad has evolved the pricing of his firm to use a retainer model that still approximates the revenue opportunities of an assets-under-advisement approach (which has given him a path to increase his fees over time to scale his firm), why Chad’s next steps are to focus on developing and expanding his team even further so that he can move into a CEO role where he is less-client facing and more focused on the operations of the firm to keep it growing and scaling, and how Chad has gotten comfortable with referring out clients who don’t want to wait for the next surge period and has even been ‘right sizing’ his client base by sending no-longer-good-fit clients out to other advisors who may be a better fit.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Chad shares how despite the fast-growth success he’s had, he’s still dealing with the ever-present feelings of imposter syndrome and what he calls the “entrepreneur dilemma” where, when you hit a goal, the only remaining focus is to hit the next goal, leaving little room to celebrate the smaller wins that comprise a successful business, why Chad wishes he discovered the power of an SEO strategy coupled with a clear niche specialization earlier on in his career after grinding early on with the ‘Project 100’ approach of just calling on friends and family, and why Chad believes creating systematized processes and a structured client communication meeting cadence (like surge meetings) isn’t just about operational efficiency to scale but is also the key to helping him develop a better balance between his professional and personal life.
So, whether you’re interested in learning about how Chad structures his time so he can handle surge meetings and onboarding twice a year, how serving a niche made it easier for Chad to create more efficient processes, or how Chad utilizes a combination of different technology to streamline notetaking and communication, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast, with Chad Chubb.
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Michael: Welcome, Chad Chubb to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Chad: Thank you, Michael. It is an honor. It’s going to be really weird to hear my voice after listening to about 300 of these before me, but I’m excited to have the opportunity, my friend.
Michael: Awesome. Well, I appreciate it. I’m really looking forward to the discussion today and the really cool way that you have built your firm and have a particular focus and a business model really tied into them, but the thing actually that fascinates me the most about how you built the firm is just the way that you’re servicing clients and bringing them on. And I know you’re one of those firms that was earlier down the road to doing what’s now kind of known as surge meetings, clustering meetings in various seasons of the year and you’re doing a big blitz of meetings, then you get a lighter flow for a while.
But you, to me, have kind of taken this to an interesting, logical extreme that you do not only surges for client meetings, but you actually do surges for prospect meetings, which means there are folks that may want to work with you and get told like, “Oh, yeah, I’d be happy to work with you starting in a couple of months because we onboard a whole lot of clients altogether.” And just the first time I had heard that you’re doing that, I was like, “Huh, I don’t hear that very often.” Because for most of us, I feel like the moment we get a prospect that wants to do business with us, it’s like, “Awesome. Did you want to do on Friday or next Monday? How soon can we get going?”
And you break this up into surges. So, I’m excited to just talk about surges and surge meetings and surge onboarding and how you do this. But I think to get started, just share with us a little bit, the overall framework and concept of doing surge meetings. So, I know for some people who are listening, this is still a new concept that they haven’t necessarily heard before.
How Chad Implements Twice-A-Year Surge Meetings [05:21]
Chad: Yes. So, surge meetings, which, shout out to the podcast. I probably never even knew about surge meetings until I just heard other great advisors that were doing these. And it’s one of those things where it just kind of turned on a light, hopefully this will do this for a few other advisors as well today. And it seemed interesting and it made a lot of sense. It also made sense because of how hard that we really niche. At a high level, a surge review meeting season for us is pretty much two months early in the year, two months later in the year.
So, we do two reviews per year with all of our clients. We’re hosting review meetings for all our households, which, again, we’ll hit these details, we’ll just call it around 110 households. So, I’ll run 110 review meetings in March and April and I’ll do it all over again in September, October. So, that’s how we run our surge review meetings. And it’s just a very efficient process for our team. It leads to a better process for…a better experience for our clients as well. And then, we really just took that to the next level, relatively recently too, where we now do a very similar process for client onboarding as well.
So, at a high level, surge is mayhem usually for a few months or a few weeks, depending on how you set it up. But then, it allows you to really focus on other areas of your business, whether that’s social media, whether that’s content, whether that’s prospecting, whatever the case may be. So, that’s why we really like the surge outlines.
Michael: All right. So, help play this out for me, because I’m just doing some rough math in my head. Surges run in two months of the year, I guess two, two. So, March, April in the spring, September, October in the fall. So, that’s, call it roughly 8 or 9 weeks, 110-ish review meetings. So, if I’m doing math right, we’re talking about 12 to 13 meetings a week every week for 2 months.
Chad: Michael, you’re very good at math, my friend. You nailed it. I go really heavy on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and I’m usually hosting about five reviews each one of those days. I’ll block off some Thursday afternoons and every now and then, if we have a client that just has kind of a weird schedule, we’ll also adapt to that. Now, that, in full clarity, that number I think would be unattainable for me to keep doing at that pace. So, there’s a deeper growth story in here. There’s a deeper hiring story in here. But if I keep at that pace, Michael, I would hit my burnout and I’d probably sell the business and become a beet farmer with Dwight Schrute. I wouldn’t be able to contain it at that pace.
Michael: Even in “just two-month cycles,” that’s getting heavy for you.
Chad: Yeah. And when I’m done with a surge, I kid you not, I’m usually taking about a one-week family vacation at some point just to kind of decompress from everything. So, I don’t want to sugarcoat it and say like, “Hey, yeah, this is easy. Anyone can do it.” It definitely takes a toll. I feel good with five or six meetings. I know I have some friends, some other advisors that might do a lower amount but they’ll spread it out a little bit more. I feel comfortable at that pace. I feel like I still get into the weeds, but you can also spread that out. Heck, I don’t know, maybe there’s some that can even do more than that. But for me, that’s been my sweet spot the past few years.
Michael: So, drill down to this a little bit more. When you’re in this surge environment, what does this look like? How long is a review meeting? How tightly do you stack them? What does a typical day or I guess what does a typical week look like for you when you’re in the surge environment?
Chad: Yeah. The other thing to add here is our niche is Gen X, Gen Y physicians. And I add that in there only because the traditional 9 to 5 schedule doesn’t work for everybody. So, we usually, on those Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m usually running meetings till about 7:00 every night. And it’s funny because when we tell our clients the schedule, we essentially send them a link and they know what to do from there. The 5:00 and the 6:00 meeting slots fill up…it’s almost like the new iPhone came out. It just fills up immediately. It’s actually really neat to watch.
So, on those days there, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are very heavy. Like I said, Thursdays, we’ll add in some depending on how we’re looking. But usually, meetings are about an hour long. We use Acuity for our scheduling, and you can put buffers in there. So, I always put in at least 30 minutes and then I always say, there’s another 15-minute block above it. So, most of the time, I’ll get at least a 30-minute break in there, which again, is good for me.
Some meetings might go a little bit longer, some meetings might go a little bit shorter. So, for all intents and purposes, it’s pretty much back to back. I’ll usually add a little calendar block in there to make sure that I can eat food at some point during the day, but it’s heavy there. It’s heavy on that Tuesday and Wednesday.
Michael: Yeah. I’m just envisioning, if you get into five reviews with, essentially call it hour and a half cycles, like hour on 30 break, hour on 30 break, just “back to back,” like you’re at seven and a half hours for the day, put a lunch break in there as well. And yeah, I get it. You get going first thing in the morning and you’re pretty much going until 6 or 7 at night.
Chad: Yeah. Exactly.
Michael: And so, five meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, a few more on Thursday. Now, we’re essentially at our 12, 13, 14 meetings a week so that we can stay on track all the way through the season here. So, what happens on Mondays and Fridays?
Chad: Yeah. It’s meeting prep day and then meeting follow-up day. So, Mondays are where I’m jumping in and finally going through the meetings for the week. Our process, we actually have a pretty well-organized process where my team has already started the review meeting process almost about a full month in advance. So, about four weeks out, we’ll send an email to our client saying, “Hey, we need to get this updated. We need to get this updated.” We’ll get those…
Michael: What are they updating?
Chad: Yeah. Each surge kind of has its own focus points on what we’re looking for, where early in the year, we’re going to be a lot more heavy on tax planning and is everything done? Is everything ready to go? Is there anything we missed? Is there anything we can sneak in? Did you get your backdoor Roth IRA done? So, that’s usually very heavy early in the year. So, we get paystubs at every meeting, we get tax returns every year. If there’s any accounts that we don’t manage directly, we want statements for those. If there’s insurance policies, we want new statements for those.
If anything’s changed in there, later in the year, that usually pivots to, “Hey, it’s open enrollment season. Send us your packet. Even if nothing’s changed, send us your open enrollment packet. Let’s make sure we didn’t miss anything,” right? Maybe we missed the FSA and now, you can take advantage of that, right? We want to make sure we’re kind of going through things of that nature. And then being later in the year, this is also where we’re saying, “Is there any 12/31 deadlines? Have we gotten everything done for what we can for this year?”
With our clients being physicians and higher-income households, we spend a lot of time on tax planning and where can we do our best for them in that ballpark. So, we do spend a lot of time on that. So, we’ll have agendas for each one. Our team knows what to ask for. We’ll get that, we’ll dissect it. Maybe we’ll ask another follow-up information. So, we start that, like I said, about right around a month in advance, usually about three weeks, is when we’re starting to really get in there.
And then I won’t jump in though for my review until that Monday and then that’s where I get into start to review, this was updated, this was updated, and really start my prep on Monday. So, really during surge, that’s all I do on Monday. Maybe I’ll make sure there was no fires over the weekend and emails really early in the day, but for the most part, Monday is that meeting prep day.
Michael: So, walk me through even just a little bit more for that Monday. I’m just trying to visualize, it’s Monday morning, I have 13 meetings on the calendar. If I’m just going to spend 20 or 30 minutes glancing at each client file and thinking about what I’m doing, I have obliterated the entire day, just 30 minutes per client mentally gearing up for the meeting plus taking lunch at some point.
Chad: Yeah. And this is where having a really good team is vital. So, I have a paraplanner on my team. His name is Zack. Actually, he’s passed the CFP. He hasn’t hit his three-year mark yet, but he will this November, so very close to a CFP. But he is a rock star to say the least. So, he’s doing a lot of the heavy lifting earlier. So, if there are any like, “Oh man, Chad, this is a huge change,” if there’s anything vital or, hey, did you know about this or this switch or that switch, I get notice, well before that Monday. Monday is more or less my time to come in and make sure, okay, we’re organized here, we got this, we got this, kind of go through my usual clicks for the plan presentation.
We utilize eMoney for our planning software, kind of looking at the long term and also looking at my agenda, what we have for that. We actually use Notion. So, I know Notion is probably not super popular in the financial planning world but we actually use Notion for our notes system. And I keep very good ongoing notes, and so does our entire team, in Notion, where we almost are building the agenda throughout the year or between the meetings. So, if clients kind of send us something, we’re always tracking.
And so, I’ll usually go through those notes or if I had something in there that we set a follow-up on but maybe they didn’t get it done after the last review. So, really, when I get in there on Monday, it’s the small things, me being prepared to just have a more personal conversation, not me getting in there and updating all their data. My team already took care of that for me. Kind of like, it sounds weird when you work with doctors and say a doctor analogy, but kind of like the doctor analogy, right?
You kind of get in there, you see the chart, you look through it a little bit, we’re looking through it a little bit longer than what your primary care physician probably does. But that’s really what I’m doing there, just preparing for any changes or anything that I want to walk through for that meeting, but it’s not the deep planning part of it. My team’s already walked through that.
Michael: So, help me understand a little bit further on Notion. So, I’m generally familiar, like notetaking app but sort of notetaking app on steroids. I feel like they were trying to replace Evernote and go a little further. So, notetaking and to-dos and sort of lightweight database structures you can link together. But I guess, just help me understand, why Notion and not good, old-fashioned CRM system for advisors to take notes?
Chad: Yeah. And we do use Redtail. So, I actually do a lot through Redtail too. I even do all my notetaking after meetings through Mobile Assistant, and then we throw that into Redtail and we save file. So, I still do the more traditional, compliance, rule-based side of notetaking per se. But for Notion, shout out to The AGC with Justin and Taylor, I would have never known about Notion if it wasn’t for… They hosted Khe Hy once before for just a presentation inside of a group and I was like, “Wow, this is really cool.”
And we used to track similar things in a Word document, but it was always so many clicks, Michael. I always felt like I was updated in one spot, then updated in somewhere else. So, we really just use Notion now to be our upfront notes, like the things that we always want to know that are always right there in front of us. And sometimes, it’s just having the kids’ names, the hobbies. I do a lot of my business tracking in there where I can literally track, and I’ve tracked every prospect call I’ve had over the past two years since I started using Notion.
It’s almost like if Word and Excel had a baby and the baby came out and was just really cool, like this was a cool baby, that’s how I would describe Notion. If anyone that was good at Notion looked at my stuff, they’d probably be like, “Oh my gosh, this guy is a rookie.” But, for me, it does a lot of neat things. It’s easy to reference things. It’s easy to link things. So, Notion was one of our newer additions here, probably about two years ago or so, but we have been very happy with it.
Michael: Does it link to Redtail as well? I’m just envisioning this like, “Oh, I need some information about the client. Was this a Notion note or a Redtail note?” And I got to figure out which place to go, or am I overthinking this?
Chad: Yeah. So, for review meeting notes, like the actual follow-up, this is what we discussed, here’s what we went through, that’s always going to be in Redtail, and not only that, we’ll have a Word document in their file from Mobile Assistant. But for me putting the quick bullet points on did they complete their backdoor Roth IRA, did they update their life insurance like we asked, that’s what I’m tracking in Notion. So, it’s an easier quick snapshot for me and my team and an easier way to just keep little updates.
I feel like we had a baby boom this week. I think four or five of our clients had babies. And just having notes readily available, baby boy, Oliver, baby girl, whatever the case would be, it’s a much easier reference for me. And it’s just not as clunky. It’s a very smooth, flowing system.
Michael: And then, you mentioned Mobile Assistant as well. Just for folks who aren’t familiar, what is that and where is that fitting into the picture here?
Chad: Yeah. Mobile Assistant has been a huge value-add for us because I… It would be very difficult to do surges, I think, without some type of dictation service. So, at its core, Mobile Assistant, for us, it’s a dictation service. So, after my reviews, I can get in there, usually record a two to five-minute note saying, “Hey, here’s what we walked through.” You can even build little templates in there so I know the questions I always want to hit just to make sure compliance is always happy, having notes in there.
And then once you’re done, they usually will translate it pretty quickly. Usually, I’d say I get it back within a day or so. They’ll send me an email, we get the email… Actually, they send it to Zack now, Zack gets it, he throws it in the client folder, and then they also send that same note over to Redtail and then they’ll tag it to the client. It’s very organized. Again, keeps your compliance team very happy, but also, just from our side of it, very easy to use.
Michael: So, I’m still trying to visualize just Mondays and the Monday flow a little more, I guess just what you’re going into the client meeting with. Are you doing financial plan software updates or I guess, is Zack doing financial plan software updates? Are you updating an eMoney projection every time there’s a planning meeting?
Chad: So, we keep a lot of that updated throughout the year. So, whenever clients are sending us updates, we’ll update their plan right away. If they had a pay increase or they added a new mortgage, whatever the case may be, we always try to be in real-time. We do see a lot of our clients literally log in to eMoney on a daily basis. I think that’s part of the generation that we work with. So, they are very active in eMoney. They do like to get on there, they like to see their snapshot. So, we update it either with a review or during the year.
So, we’re always really tracking those times to make sure that the plan is up to date. So, when we go through the review, it just… Most of the time, I save the full plan update for our second review, which we call Surge 2, that’s our later-in-the-year review. And that’s where we’ll really click through, hey, here’s your base plan with all the updates since last year at this time. Here’s the new what-if scenarios you wanted to see. Hey, you wanted to look about cutting back to 0.8 FTE and lower your time and do that or what if we do this?
So, we’re walking through those different scenarios usually only once per year, assuming the client didn’t have questions in the middle of the year. And it’s not uncommon for them to send us something crazy in the middle of the year. We have clients right now looking to buy their first home and they’re contacting us quite a bit. So, in that example where we’re not hosting a meeting, we’ll actually just record a Loom video.
We’ll get in there, we’ll update their financial plan live for them, we’ll send them the video so that they can both watch it on their own time because they’re two busy young professionals with a young family, and then they send us questions as they need them or they’ll even send us a Loom video back. So, just kind of always adapting to our clientele, our niche as well. We’re always trying to be very proactive in their plan build and their plan updates.
Michael: So, what do you walk into a client meeting with when you’re doing these surges?
Chad: Yeah. So, we’re about 99% virtual. So, I walk right into my Zoom and I literally… I’ll have Notion open. I have Notion to the right of me. If the client has active investments with us, we’ll have their most recent investments statement. We usually only try to focus on investments one meeting per year, but I think it’s just the nature of the biz. Usually, a question will come up here or there especially in times like now where there’s more volatility. So, we’ll always have a statement ready. But for the most part, it’s my Notion notes, it’s my eMoney page, and then whatever reports we created for that meeting.
Like I said, we might have… We use Black Diamond for performance reporting. Or if it’s our tax meeting, we could have stuff ready to roll through Holistiplan. So, that’s another software that we really love. So, we’re always trying to have whatever deliverables we have ready to go, but for the most part, Notion is going to guide my conversation on where we’re going to go.
Michael: And what gets shown to the client in this? Does the client see and have access to Notion? Where does it show up for them?
Chad: Yeah. No, they don’t have access to Notion. Every now and then, if we have something neat on there, I’ll pull Notion over and show them a note or something. But for the most part, most of the time, they would never see Notion. It’s more or less an internal communication system for us to track different things. I even track a lot of business things in there as well and personal things as well because you can create different notebooks and things like that.
Michael: And I think you said you’re building agendas as well. I guess you said you were building agendas throughout the year in Notion. What do you do with agendas or how do you serve up agendas to clients?
Chad: Yeah. So, with our agendas, we have a blueprint. It’s more of an internal agenda than it is an agenda for them. So, we don’t send them a formal document that says, “Hey, we’re going to cover this, this, and that.” Now, we do have pre-meeting prep questions. So, we’ll send them over questions ahead of time, literally, when they schedule through Acuity. So, when we schedule through Acuity, they have to answer pre-meeting prep questions right away. And we’ll literally say, “What’s top of mind?”
Because if you have a million things at the top of your mind, the last thing you probably want to hear me walk through is your performance report, right? Let’s talk through what’s important to you. Heck, if we run out of time, I’ll send you a Loom video and I’ll walk through your whole performance report for another 30 minutes. Let’s talk about what’s top of mind for you. So, we try to always lead with that. We really push that. I usually even start most meetings like, “Hey, I notice you didn’t list anything there, but anything top of mind?”
Or just student loans and things of that nature. We’ll have even our top priority of student loans, major changes. So, once they’re done, we’re going to go there next and then we’ll get to the traditional agenda per se or tax updates or whatever the case would be. It’s more or less an internal agenda than an agenda that we’re presenting to them because we want to keep it agile.
Michael: And what else is in the pre-meeting questions that they get when they schedule with you?
Chad: Yeah. So, it’s usually just the, hey, has anything changed? Is there anything that we should know about? Do we need to… Just simple questions like, “Hey, would anything change in your beneficiaries?” Just one of those simple questions that could save a lot of nightmares in the long run. And then, we’ll run through, has there been any major updates? Yes or no? Is there any new scenarios you want to run? And then, just kind of an open form at the bottom of it, what are we missing? Is there anything else you want to tell us headed into this meeting?
We have a very organized process. So, we want our clients to always know, here’s the experience you’re going to get. We know what we’re going to provide to you. You get excited for these meetings. We don’t want you to think that you’re forced at these and we’re just going to click through some Excel spreadsheets and then send you on your way. That’s not fun for anybody.
How Chad Outlines A Typical Week During A Surge Meeting Period [23:46]
Michael: All right. So, Mondays, is it just literally like it’s Monday morning, you and Zack sit down with a list of 13 meetings this week and just spend 20 or 30 minutes per client doing the, I kind of liked how you frame, the doctors equivalent of let’s review the chart together so I can make sure we’ve got the right information and we’re showing the right thing? And if there’s a planning item or a deliverable, let’s look at it really quickly and make sure it’s giving the right answer or recommendation to the client? Just boom, boom, boom, all the way down this list of clients for the better part of a full day?
Chad: Yeah, so, on Mondays, I usually come in, and like I said, make sure no fires from over the weekend. So, I think I have maybe like 30 minutes or an hour blocked off just for email maintenance. And then, I literally hit team meetings. So, I always have my first meeting with Liz and then I have my second meeting with Zack. Zack and I usually aren’t walking through every meeting that week, just anything that needed more attention. And then Zack will walk through like, “Hey for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, don’t forget this,” or, “hey, they had this big update. Just wanted to bring it to your attention before you go through it.”
And then Zack and I usually meet for anywhere for 30 minutes to an hour. And then after that, that’s when I just go disappear. So then, I will literally sit there, walk through every client meeting for that week, get my notes organized. I use an iPad for all my notes. So, I also have templated notes in there in, I think it’s called Notability, I think, is what I use. But I have little templates in there just so that when I am going through the meeting, so I’ll create a new file for every client or a new note page so that way, by the time I hit Tuesday morning, I can click on any client’s note and be ready to go.
And that’s just for my chicken scratch. So, that’s where I’m going to list anything down. And then, I send those back into… We do all of our files through Box. So, neat things through Notability, I can just upload it right to Box when I’m done. So, just trying to always have a very efficient process. But I will literally do that for the rest of the day on Monday, just going through preparing for those meetings the rest of the week.
Michael: And so, I was going to ask, why Notability for these notes and not Notion for these notes?
Chad: So, I’ve realized, this is how I know I’m getting old, when Zack finally told me that I wasn’t tech savvy anymore and he asked me why I use a pen and paper to take notes. So, he told me to use an iPad. And I was like, “I don’t know, Zack. It doesn’t feel like a real pen. This isn’t real. No, I don’t like this.” And I still have to adjust to it, but I do… So, I’m taking actual hard notes. So, I’m using the Apple pen, I’m actually writing on my screen, where I can’t do that with Notion. And that was always my big thing. I didn’t want to be typing during client meetings or anything like that. I just want to be able to jot down something as a little reminder. So, that’s why I use the iPad now. And that’s a newer update for this year. That’s the first time I’ve been called old in a while. So, Zack modernized me there.
But we also have a very thorough follow-up process where we’ll check in and we send a summary of our meeting but then we’ll also request anything else that maybe came up in the meeting if we think we’re missing. And that’s where I’ll also start to already make my agenda internally through Notion. I’ll already start to make our agenda for the next surge meeting as well. So, it’s an organized process. Sometimes when I say it out loud, it sounds like we’re crazy but it is very organized. It sounds like there’s a lot of moving parts but when you get it all lined up nicely, it works. It’s efficient.
Michael: And how are you finding the time to send summaries of the 13 meetings that you run straight in two and a half to 3 days?
Chad: Yeah. So, you asked about Mondays and Fridays, you now have uncovered my Friday. So, it depends. Some Thursdays, some Thursdays, I won’t host any client meetings. So, my Thursday will be my meeting follow-up day. So, I’ll literally walk through all my meetings, I’ll dictate my notes. Now, if there are larger gaps in the day, like let’s just say I had a meeting but I had an hour between it and nothing else needed to really be…I didn’t have to worry about anything else, I might then dictate notes right away or I might even start to work on some of my follow-up notes.
But usually, all day Thursday or all day Friday is for me following up, getting my notes organized, dictating the notes, making sure that they get into Redtail, into their file. And then once again, jumping into Notion, and then I’ll literally put some notes in there for the team. “Hey, Zack, please reach out to get their taxes because we didn’t get their 2021 taxes and I really want to review those before the end of the year. Liz, can you send them a note about this or can you send them over… We got to update their beneficiaries. They just had another child this week. Let’s get their benes updated. So, let’s send over the DocuSign, and can we work on that?” And I’ll just go through that again. Usually, about 30 minutes for me to get my notes organized where I can say, “Zack, you’re on top of this. Liz, if you could do this.” And then like I said, if there’s anything I’m already thinking about for the next meeting, I’ll start to lay that in Notion as well for that next review.
Michael: And so, all these notes are getting dictated on Friday? I guess, how do you remember quite what was discussed in each 13 different meetings to capture the notes? Is your head just pretty well wired to be able to keep track of which things were discussed in which of 13 different meetings over the past 3 days?
Chad: Yeah. And that’s, one, I feel good at that pace. So, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything in there. But this is also why taking notes for me is really important, because that is a lot of meetings. There are little things that could slip through the cracks. So, that’s what I’m usually writing down on my iPad. Like, big thing, big thing, star or highlight, big thing, big thing. And then that way, when I come back through, I feel pretty good about that. And by having that extra time in there, I usually will decompress for a few minutes after that meeting too.
And that’s why I don’t like having them go back-to-back because it feels like my brain doesn’t get a chance to actually digest what just happened in that meeting. So, even those few minutes after, even if it’s only 5, 10 minutes, really helpful for me to write a few more notes down on my iPad or maybe even type something to Notion right away. Or if they’re like, “Hey, I want to get money into the market tomorrow, can you send a note over to Fidelity?” Those are things that I don’t really want them waiting till Friday, so we’re going to do that right away for them. So, there’s enough time in between meetings that I can let everything sink in or get it down on paper somewhere to make sure that it is not being missed.
Michael: So, it feels like in practice, a lot of this is actually rather heavily dependent on Zack bringing exactly all the prep that you need so that you can hit the ground running on Monday with 13 client files queued up, and can spend the limited amount of time that you’ve got just to review each one. And you’ve already got, here’s the analysis, here’s the thing we’re going to provide to the client, here’s the tax analysis or whatever it is, because Zack’s built and prepped all of that.
Chad: One hundred percent. As I noted earlier, there’s no way that I can have 110 clients without my team. I would probably have maybe 50. Even just scheduling, even scheduling 110 meetings, and we use a calendar link, and luckily, our clients are very comfortable with that. I wouldn’t even know how to schedule 110 meetings if we had to call everybody. That gives me anxiety just saying it out loud. So, I can’t speak highly enough about my team. I really think to really do this efficiently with the amount of clients that we have, you have to have rock stars.
That’s the only way that this really works and works in a way that everyone’s happy. Your clients are happy. I want my clients to be bragging more about my team than me. And they do that consistently, which is, that’s probably the biggest smile I can get on a daily or a weekly basis.
Michael: So, I guess I’m just wondering as I’m hearing this, do you worry about what happens if you lose a team member? You’re this dependent on someone in a position like Zack to do just the analysis work and the prep work that’s necessary so that you can hit the ground running on surges when you’re doing your surges?
Chad: Yes. I would be lying to you if I said I sleep good at night knowing that if Zack one day was like, “You know what? Created my own firm, I’m leaving.” I would be in a very difficult spot. I tell Zack that. I’m okay being upfront with my teammates. And we are going to grow again later this year and we’re probably now hitting the phase where I’ll, unfortunately, have to stop being more client-facing. And I say unfortunately on purpose because that’s what draws you to this profession, right? And start to transition more into that CEO role. I don’t like that.
I don’t like titles in general, but into that role where it’s more of, hey, I have very limited clients and I’m building a team now, which will probably allow me to sleep a little bit better if Zack or Liz were to ever leave in the middle of the night. But it’s certainly a concern. I think any business owner would be scared of that.
Michael: Well, help because as you do the transition, you’re going to hire more team members and when you have more team members, there’s just more people in redundancy. So, you’ll be less concerned about what happens if a team member leaves.
Chad: Correct. And this is not to say that this is a fix, but I can tell you that almost all of our processes are documented in Looms already. So, if there is a fire that happens, we probably could get someone up and running pretty quickly. Now in the middle of the surge, that would be terrifying. I’d probably come out of that surge with a full head of gray hair and not just the stragglers I have on the side right now. But, again, I’d be lying to you, Michael, if I said that wouldn’t be terrifying if any team member left. And I think that just speaks volume to how important they are for us as a firm.
How Chad Handles Client Communication Outside Of Surge Meetings [32:51]
Michael: So, what happens if they need help in the other roughly eight months of the year besides the two-month cycles, that four-month stint where you’re doing surges? Is it we meet with our clients in spring and the fall during the surges and that’s the deal or we’ll still meet with you anytime you want, but we also surge? How does this work?
Chad: Yeah. We don’t put any type of limitations on our clients. I always say that I make a joke when we’re doing these prospect calls, until someone abuses it, no one’s abused it in 10 years, but if someone was ever like, “Hey, man, I want to have a daily call with you, we’d probably have to rethink that.” But we’ve never had a client abuse that. So, whenever they contact us, it’s one of those ones where if we look at it and it’s something we can send them a Loom video on, we’ll send them a Loom video.
If it’s something that it is we got to get on a Zoom together, here’s the link for Zack’s calendar, here’s the link for my calendar. Let’s walk through this together. Like I said, right now, we do a lot of that right now. There’s a lot of walk through my open enrollment with me because I’m at a new hospital. Hey, what should I be doing here with this mortgage? Should I be doing this amount down, this amount down, physician mortgage, regular mortgage? We do that quite a bit in the summer and it’s more or less what level do they need.
We’re very good at emails too. So, if it’s something we can easily answer in email, we’ll be there for them. But we don’t limit that for clients. So, I usually give them the line that some years, they’re going to overpay us, some years, they’re going to over or under pay us, we just need it to be a fair value in the long run. And that seems to hold up pretty well.
Michael: And then, what happens if they’re reaching out for something that’s timely in surge? My surge meeting is in mid-April but it’s the second week of March and something’s going on. I reach out, I’m like, “Chad, I know I’m supposed to meet with you in April, but I want to talk to you now,” except you’re in the middle of a surge.
Chad: Yeah. No problem. And that’s when we’ll make sure it’s truly an emergency. Now, even if a client says it’s an emergency and I’m sitting there like, “Well, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, this is not an emergency,” I’m not going to be like, “Hey, it’s not an emergency.” We’ll be there. So, it’s one of those ones where either I’m hosting a call, maybe Zack’s hosting a call, maybe it’s a send an email, or maybe it’s a Loom again. They’re not going to be pushed to the review meeting to say, “Hey, just wait until then.” We’ll be there for them.
So, it’s one that we take in stride. And it doesn’t happen all that often. I know speaking to a lot of great advisors through this medium here, sometimes they’ll think it’s an emergency but it’s not and we just got to talk them back. Sometimes they just want to hear your voice for a few minutes. So, you take it in stride based on what the topic is, what their tone is, what their emotions are. And then, we’re pretty smart creatures. We know what to do there.
Michael: So, because I’m just trying to understand overall, for lack of putting it a better way, so why do you do this to yourself? These are two really intense cycles and then clients may still be calling and asking for meetings over the other eight months as well even as you’re putting yourself into these super intense 2-month cycles with 13 meetings a week for 8 weeks. So, why this structure? Why are you doing this to yourself?
Chad: Sometimes I ask myself that, but it leads to a more efficient process for our clients. Our clients are getting a better review meeting in my humble opinion. It’s a better process for our team. And I know I said earlier, I will not sugarcoat it, those two months take a toll on me, but I know then that I have a summer where I can focus on content. I can just literally take off two, three weeks, and no one would even know it, and I can just take my kids to Disney every other day if I want to. And then, same thing through the holiday season.
And when we’re out of surge, sure, we will get client communications. But when you get, out of 110 households, if you get 2 or 3 client correspondences in a week, between Zack and I, you can get through that relatively quickly. It’s not throwing you off.
Michael: So, it’s that low when you’re out of surge? You may go from 13 meetings a week to just like 2 to 3 anythings, just even client emails about whatever it is? It’s that light when you get out of surge?
Chad: Yeah. Just thinking like towards this week, we’re at Friday, so we went through a whole week, we had a mortgage conversation, we had a student loan conversation based on how the NIH loans could affect the PSLF, we had one communication on PSLF on how it would affect them with the new rules that went out this week. So, this week was we had about four, and that’s a pretty common week outside of surge. Sometimes it’ll pick up, sometimes we won’t have any. Zack always laughs, it’s like the weekends where I’ll go on vacation, I’m over at Disney with my kids, I’ll get 14 emails that weekend.
But the weekend I’m just sitting around with nothing to do, we’ll get no emails. And you’re just like, “It’s like they know. They know where you are sometimes.” But for the most part, it’s relatively calm outside of those surges. And even when it does spike a little bit, we can take that pretty good in stride between just Zack and I.
Michael: So, you also just said our clients get a better review meeting. What makes the review meeting better this way?
Chad: The process that we’re using, we’re now getting… Let’s just say this is a review meeting where we’re going to walk through their tax return and their new employee benefits, right? We now are looking at 108 tax returns, 108 employer benefits. We are literally fine-tuned looking for certain things, looking for this. And remember that we niche very hard. So, most of our clients are between the ages of really 30 and 45. I even say 30 and 40. So, when there’s a change in the tax code, it probably affects all of my clients. When there’s a change in student loans, it probably affects 75% of my clients.
So, that’s why it wasn’t until we started to really niche that I felt surges made a lot of sense for me. And that’s why I think our clients are getting a much better review out of it because we can take a consistent process and run that through, at least at a high level, but then still customize for each client’s unique situation. So, that’s why I think they’re getting a much better process, a much better review out of it. And then, again, on the backend, it’s just during surge, our client knows…our team knows, our team knows that, hey, we’re only doing review meetings. In the next few months, we are heavy in review meetings, and we’re going to really streamline that process.
Michael: And so, I guess the niche focus and having a fairly narrow range of clients makes this a little more doable because, I guess as you said, some rule changes in student loans, as we’ve been going through recently here, and the overwhelming majority of your clients basically need the same analysis and are probably going to get a pretty similar piece of advice. Not to over-genericize them, just if they all have the same problem, then they all end up needing the same solution, because same position, same background, same debt amount, same circumstances, same non…might even literally be the same nonprofit they work for. So, everything lines up relatively well because of the client focus in the first place.
Chad: Yeah. And then we have a ton of academic physicians too. So, a lot of benefits from one academic institution to the other are similar, at least in like a chassis, like the 401(a), 403(b), and 457(b). We have a lot of physicians that are literally at the same hospital. So, if we just reviewed employee benefits package, I know that I can also take that same conversation to four or five other physicians that we work with at that same hospital. So, that’s where just the efficiencies come in, which allow us to focus more on the client and not the data collection or what’s new in the world today. We have a very narrow focus on what we’re looking for because it’s our people.
How And Why Chad Conducts Surge Client Onboarding Meetings [40:00]
Michael: So now, talk to us about surge onboarding. So, you take this whole thing that you do in March and April for clients, existing clients, and then do new clients in May, and you take a surge process in September, October for regular clients, do it in November for new clients. So, talk to us about surge onboarding. Why do you do this and what does surge onboarding look like?
Chad: Yes. I love the craziness so much that we decided, why don’t we do this for new clients too? So, this all started with one, the efficiencies, right? We see this through the surge and how we’ve been doing surge meetings for about two years and we see the efficiencies. It works, it makes sense, we really like it. So, it was one of those ones where why don’t we do this for new client onboarding? Because this is even a…this is actually, I think, even a little bit easier to streamline through a surge because you’re literally asking for the same documents.
Now, every client is going to have a different story obviously, but you’re literally looking for the same documents, you’re putting them into eMoney, you’re doing the same reports. We utilize a one-page financial plan, thanks to Carl and Jeremy there on just their one-page plan. So, after many years of having kind of a…it was shorter, it was like a seven-pager, but now, we got it down to…it’s not truly one, it’s a two-pager, but we’re literally producing the same document for all these clients with their personalized data in it.
So, I actually think surges almost make more sense in the onboarding world than it did for the review meeting world. But that’s kind of how the story started. And it was one of those ones, Michael, where, just to give you context on, I kind of made my Office joke earlier about Dwight Schrute, but the burnout was probably actually going to occur for me from the amount of new clients. So, in 2020, we onboarded 44 new clients, and then in 2021, we onboarded 61 new clients. If I would continue at that pace, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
So, for us, it was a way to, I call it, control growth. It was a way for us to say, “Hey, we’re going to onboard 20 clients per year. We’re going to do 10 in May, we’re going to do 10 in November.” If you fill up May, we push you out to November, if you fill up November, we push out to May.” And that’s really the foundation of how it all started for our surge onboarding as well.
Michael: So, I like kind of the clarity of the framing, just we know where we are, we know we need to grow, we’re taking 20 new clients a year, it’s 10 in the May surge and it’s 10 in the November surge. So, I get it, but I’m just envisioning, new clients, you meet in February, they’re like, “Chad, this sounds great. I so want to work with you. Let’s get started.” And you’re like, “We’d be happy to do that in three months.” Just walk me through how this conversation works. Because, at least from my experience, it’s so hard to get clients going just in the first place, like to decide you want to hire a financial advisor and go down this road and engage one of us.
Then usually by the time clients decide they really want to work with us and have some impetus to get going, it’s because something is happening in their lives that is creating the action motivation, which means they usually want to get going now because now is the time they went to hire an advisor. So, just how does this gap work between someone says, “I want to work with you,” and you tell them, “That would be great, we’ll start with you in May,” and it’s February?
Chad: Yeah. Actually, to even add insult to that, so we’re currently recording here in late August. We actually already filled up November. So, the icebreaker calls we’re hosting right now, that we’re telling them that they’re actually onboarding for May, 2023. So, as I tell everyone, we certainly lose some clients because of this. Without a doubt, I literally have had communications like, “Listen, we loved our call. We thought it’d be a great fit, but we need to get started sooner than that.” And we lose that client. And we’re even happy when clients say, “I need to move sooner.”
We’ll actually give them suggested advisors. We’ll say, “Hey, listen, if you need to get moving faster, here’s three other fantastic advisors that will knock it out of the park for you. I know you’ll be in great hands.” But for our clients too, and I think this is important plugging in our niche, where I think a lot of times, maybe with the baby boomer generation, it is more I’m retiring tomorrow, I want to plan now. Not to say that doesn’t apply too to our generation, Gen X, Gen Y, because usually, it’s something different where, “Hey, I went from a $50,000 resident salary to a $250,000 attending salary, I’m buying a house, I’m having my first kid.”
But usually in that moment, we’re their first advisor. So, they don’t have like, “I need to do this by tomorrow or I’m in trouble.” And we’ll talk through that on the call. If there’s ever something really pressing, we’re okay to refer business out. We’re okay to say, “Well, listen, this isn’t a financial advisor. You need an accountant.” Or, “You just need someone to review your student loans. Contact Travis over at the Student Loan Planner. Let him go through this and then circle back. We’ll do the whole financial plan.” So, we certainly lose clients, Michael. I don’t want to sugarcoat that either, but…
Michael: How many fall away? Is it like…
Chad: It’s very few. I don’t know if that’s going to catch anyone off by surprise. At least based on actual client communication where they’re like, “Hey, listen, we like you but we just can’t wait that long.” It hasn’t happened very often. And we’re at a spot now where it’s the whole way out to May, but usually, they’re waiting two or three months. And we’ll tell them, if they get added to the waitlist but they have a question in the meantime, we’ll be there for them. Especially right now, physician student loans, with things changing, we’ll note that, hey, if you’re on the November waitlist and it’s only August, don’t think that we’re not going to respond to you. Send us a note.
Now I can’t answer when you’re going to be able to retire because I don’t have that level of detail yet, but if it’s little things here or there, send us a note. We’ll make sure that we’re taking care of it and getting those things organized even before you’re our official client.
Michael: Well, and I guess their reality at some level is just if you’re already getting…if your goal is to grow at 20 clients and you don’t want more than that because that’s too crazy growth and you’ve already lived that and you’re already filling the 20 slots that you only need to fill, if someone else leaves, I guess, if a prospect falls through, it doesn’t really matter because you’re filling that seat on the bus anyway. It’s not like you’re going to grow slower because someone else says no if you’re literally already filling the 20 slots anyways.
Chad: Yeah. Exactly. It’s a good balance. It allows me to keep mental clarity. It allows my team in, I’m doing air quotes right now, in our “calmer months” where it’s not a surge, it allows them to have a good pace. So, we really enjoy it now. This is relatively new. We just put this into play earlier…technically late 2021 is when we were like, “Oh, this seems like a good idea.” And so, it’s relatively newer, so we’re still fine-tuning. But November would be our third surge onboarding and we really, really like what’s occurred so far on the first two and we really do plan to continue going this or continue this type of onboarding as we go forward as well.
Michael: So, talk to us about just the surge onboarding process. You’ve said 10 clients. So, I’m presuming we’re not 13 meetings a week anymore. But what does the meeting cadence and flow look like? A lot of advisors do multiple meetings that stretch out over sometimes several months, which would kind of mess with your surge focus here. So, what is your onboarding process? If I’m that February client that said, “Chad, let’s go,” and you said, “Okay, well, we do this in May.” And I’m like, “Cool. I’ll do the thing in May.” So, May comes up, what happens? What is my actual process experience as a client?
Chad: Yeah. Again, very organized process. Plan builds take pretty much two months on average. So, from here’s your plan in agreement, here’s your plan presentation, it’s going to take us about two months. We literally will send out the plan in agreement on the 1st of May, the 1st of November, again, assuming that’s on a business day, we’ll send them that over, we get the DocuSign, we send them their payment through…we use AdvicePay for all of our subscriptions. So, we send AdvicePay over. Once we see the initial plan creation fee come in, we give them access to eMoney.
Once they get to eMoney, there’s a document waiting there for them that says, “Here’s pretty much what we want you to upload. Anything with a dollar sign should be in here. But don’t freak out. We’re not sending you a huge homework assignment because no one likes homework assignments. Not only that, we’re going to check in every single week with you to make sure the plan is moving forward. If you’re uploading documents, are they linked? If you’re linking documents, do we have the PDFs, the statements to go with them? Do we have your taxes? Do we have your open enrollment, your benefits through your employer?”
And we’ll literally check in on a weekly basis. Sometimes it’s just, hey, great job, you crushed it. Sometimes it’s a little bit more hand-holding. Sometimes clients can’t find stuff. But we’ll literally go through that process for call it about a month until we get most of the data. We then host another call, which we call the discovery call. I always call that the soft side of money. So, really trying to get away from data and get into more of the goals and values. We’ll do that for usually about an hour. Finalize the plan, just in case if any new scenarios came up in that deeper conversation, and then we present the plan. And like I said, from start to finish, about two months. So, it really fits in nicely.
Michael: So, I’m trying to make sure I follow from a meeting’s perspective. So, you have some initial meeting when there’s still a prospect where they agree that they’re going to become a client and start with you in May, although you don’t actually do agreements when we talk in February. I just say like, “I’m going to start with you in May.” And then, when we get to May 1st, I get the agreement that says we’re getting going. Once I sign the agreement, I set up my payments in AdvicePay, then I get my eMoney login, then I start entering my information, uploading my documents. So, I guess clients go through the eMoney input your information process.
But there’s no meeting yet. You’re gathering all the data in first and doing weekly check-ins just to see, is it going okay? The first meeting, meeting doesn’t come until a month later. So, it was May, onboarding process, it’s June that we’re actually doing the meeting to have a discovery call meeting for the non-financial data. And then some period of time after that, we meet and have the proverbial plan presentation meeting because you’ve got all the data. We did the discovery call and now you’re ready to present a plan and give some recommendations.
Chad: Yeah. You did it really well. I would say the first… We start with that icebreaker call, which is our prospect call, discovery call would be the next call, plan presentation, and then after the plan presentation, we will literally put a link in our follow-up note that says, “Hey, let’s get a plan implementation call.” And that’s when we’ll help them actually start to implement the plan. If it’s something like we have to do a screenshare, like update their 403(b), that’s a very common thing that we’ll do on that call. So, it’s really, from start to finish, there’s four meetings from, “I think I want to be a client” to “I am a client and let’s get this thing implemented.” There’ll be four meetings in there.
Michael: And so, how do these space out? I get discovery call may not actually occur until like early June because I spend a lot of May getting my stuff inputted. How long from the discovery call until the final…until the plan presentation, how long from plan presentation to implementation?
Chad: Yeah. So, plan presentation is usually about two weeks after the discovery call. Because at that point, I would say we have 95% of the data. It’s just do we have to massage anything, adding different what-if plans or other plans to review with them as opposed to just their base plan. And then, after the plan presentation, we’ll literally include a link for their plan implementation call. Sometimes they’ll schedule that the next week, sometimes we’ll schedule it a few weeks out to see if they can get some things done in the meantime.
And if we’re managing assets for them and they’re like, “Hey, let’s get that backdoor Roth fired up, I want to open up a new joint account,” our team will already start on that too and we’ll actually start to prepare the DocuSign and we’ll send that stuff over to them as well. So, the plan implementation call is usually for things that we can’t control directly for them. And employer plans are probably the most common thing that we’re taking care of, or another good one, open up 529 plans through the direct side of the website on…through a Utah or whatever the example would be.
Michael: Okay. So, to the extent you’re managing a portfolio for them, when does that paperwork get done and money start moving, if that’s not necessarily at the implementation call?
Chad: So, we’ll actually walk through a proposal as part of our plan presentation. So, usually we don’t like them to make a call on that one because we use flat fees. We don’t have to manage a dollar for you. You don’t have to have us manage anything. But if they do want us to manage money, we’ll go through the plan implementation with them, or excuse me, the plan proposal with them, walk through it, what would the allocation look like? Here’s our reasoning behind it. Here’s what we do for the joint account, the Roth, yada yada.
Usually, we’ll put a note in the follow-up that just says, “Hey, take some time. Let this all soak in. Let me know if you have questions. Let me know if I can clarify anything. I know the backdoor Roth IRA sounds goofy but I promise, it’s all normal stuff. This is what we would do for you.” Once they send us that note, our team will work on the DocuSign. You know the paperwork in our industry, so it usually takes a few days to get that ready. But if they have the plan presentation, they get back to us the next day or that week, usually we’re putting accounts in process by the following week.
How Chad Uses A Two-Page Financial Plan And The Wealthkeel Snapshot To Keep Clients On Track [53:15]
Michael: And you mentioned earlier that plan presentation for you is a two-page plan or like a one-page plan but goes on to a second page. So, I guess, what’s the two-page plan for you? What are you producing and delivering in this plan presentation meeting?
Chad: Yeah. So, we’ll walk through, we’ll have a net worth section, we’ll have… So, with a lot of our physicians going for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, we’ll have a student loan tracker on there. On the right side of their plan, we’ll actually have really their action items. Like, “Hey, we just build a financial plan for two months. There’s more things to do than this, but these are the most pressing items.” And even on top of that, usually when I send over my follow-up email, I’ll even try to get that narrower because a list of 10 vital things to do can still feel very overwhelming.
So, usually I’ll try to compress that into like two or three and then continue to peel that onion back until we get everything done. So, we’ll have that on the first page. Again, income analysis, net flow or net worth analysis. To-do list takes up most of the right side. We will have a section for goals and values. So, just trying to always make it deeper than an Excel spreadsheet. And then, we use another thing, which we just call the WealthKeel Snapshot.
It’s essentially just a fancy Excel spreadsheet. Most of those tabs are the ones that are actually feeding into the deliverable then through the one-page plan, but then on there, we’ve also custom-built some other tabs where we like to track insurance, we like to track beneficiaries, show the beneficiaries actual dollar amounts. We stole that one from Matthew Jarvis. So, just trying to always build that up. Pretty detailed student loan analysis is also on there. So, that’s what we currently have in our, again, our “one-page financial plan.”
Michael: And just, how do you build this? Where are you doing it? Is this out of planning software? Does this come from eMoney?
Chad: Most of the data is coming through eMoney. We’ll put a little note on there where it’s coming from. So, if we’re actually getting like the net worth data, we’re actually putting their net worth tracker and then we’re like, “Hey, we’re getting this data from eMoney. So, if eMoney is not correct, just don’t freak out if this number doesn’t look right.” And if we see something weird too, we’re obviously going to bring it up to them. Or if we’re putting something from… We usually like to write down their marginal and effective tax rate.
We’ll put a note in there, “Hey, this is coming from Holistiplan.” So, we’re always giving them notes on where it’s coming from. And then, we’re just taking that and updating the…it’s really just a Word document that we turn into a PDF then, and that’s how we’re transferring the data also through the Excel spreadsheet, what we call the WealthKeel Snapshot.
Michael: I want to make sure I understand this balance between…there’s the two-page plan and then there’s…which is a two-page Word document/PDF, and then you said there’s the WealthKeel Snapshot in Excel. So, what’s what, which is which here?
Chad: Yeah. So, the WealthKeel Snapshot is going to be more of the numbers, right, where it doesn’t translate nicely into words. And this is sometimes when we’ll literally take like their NSLDS text file, that ugly text file for your student loans. And we’ll have it nicely organized in their Excel spreadsheet. And then, we’ll take that and build in our student loan analysis. So, that would never… We would never want to present that to the client. So, we kind of keep it on the backend for us. And then, we’ll have other tabs that they can see, or like the beneficiary tab.
And this is also where we will track their cash flow. So, this is where we update their pay stubs at least once per year, usually, actually, at both reviews. We’ll literally type in every single thing from their paycheck, everything from their paycheck. And then, we’ll have our important ratios on the other side, home costs ratio, total debt ratio, savings ratio. So, each tab kind of has…it’s almost like each tab are the main tabs of the financial plan. You have your financial wellness, per se, you have your student loans, you have your insurance, you have your investment tab.
If they have a taxable account, that’s where we’re going to track to see. And this would be another one where we’ll grab the data from eMoney, but we’ll pull in taxable accounts that we might not be managing directly for them and just look. Is there any goals for tax-loss harvesting? Do we need to rebalance anything? Does anything look out of whack? So, we’re doing all that through the WealthKeel Snapshot. So, more data in that one, not the wording.
Michael: So, what do you use eMoney for? What’s left? Because you said your WealthKeel Snapshot basically covers all the different domains of financial planning because you’ve got insurance and investments and cash flow budgeting and all the rest. What do you do with eMoney?
Chad: Yeah. No, that’s actually funny that you worked it that way. So, eMoney obviously is our aggregator, right? So, we get all of our live data in there. That’s where we’re seeing the live feeds for things. But for the most part, I always say that eMoney is our longer-term outlook. I’m using Excel spreadsheets for the day-to-day short term, longer-term outlook is run through eMoney. Are we on track for financial independence at 55? Are we on track for retirement at 65? That’s, truthfully, the bulk of what I’m doing inside of eMoney, outside of the aggregation tool.
We also use their Vault. When we’re asking for all these documents, we do everything through the Vault. Clients do like to be able to sign in and see everything in one spot. So, there’s a lot more benefits to eMoney than just us using it for the long-term outlook. But from my side of it, that’s probably the biggest thing that I rely on them for.
Michael: So, the short to intermediate-term planning, which I get, like for clients in their 30s and 40s, a lot of their financial lives and financial planning is not what’s happening in 20 to 40 years, it’s what’s happening in like 24 to 48 months or less. So, that short to intermediate-term blocking and tackling planning, it sounds like, is what you’ve built in the Snapshot in Excel and the long-term projectiony stuff still lives in eMoney as well as the account aggregation in the Vault?
Chad: Yeah. Yeah. And even for, again, Gen X, Gen Y, budgeting is still a very popular topic. We don’t really love eMoney’s budgeting tool. So, we’ll say, “Hey, download Tiller.” Or if you like YNAB, YNAB, for whatever reason, my brain could never comprehend YNAB. I can’t fathom paying in advance. But I love Tiller, I love YNAB. I don’t care what our clients are using. As long as they’re doing it, we’re proud of them. But Tiller, they’ll just actually share their spreadsheet with us. And that way, we can jump in there before a review and see like, “Wow, they’re crushing it. They’re hitting all their numbers, they have extra saving, emergency fund looks good.” So, we’re trying to really even make the budgeting part, which is not all that sexy, a little bit more appealing to them.
Michael: So, what does Tiller do that eMoney’s own budgeting tools don’t do?
Chad: Just the simple things, right? When you go to tag transactions, you could literally have Trader Joe’s grocery store, and they’ll say, “Oh, you got gasoline today.” It never seemed to match up very nicely. And I know that’s tough and they’re already doing so many great things inside of the software, but that was always just really one of those ones that was infuriating, to go through and have to do all that manual data. If you ask a client who already hates the word budget to go budget, but when they go to budget, it doesn’t work, they’re not going to budget.
You need it to work. And we always tell our clients like, “You don’t have to go budget daily, weekly, monthly, maybe you do it quarterly. But whatever the frequency would be, if you’re not enjoying it, per se, or it’s not working, this thing doesn’t stand a chance.”
Michael: So, I guess in practice, this surge onboarding process for you, we talk about it in May and November following on the client surges, but in practice, it’s really not May and November, it’s like May, June, November, December, because there’s an almost two-month process to actually get through the discovery meeting and the presentation meeting and the implementation meeting. It’s not as though there’s an immediate onslaught of meetings in May right after the March, April surge. In fact, it actually sounds like May meetings are probably pretty light because they’re just doing all their data inputy stuff that you don’t kick off until May 1st.
Chad: Yeah. The onboarding process now, it’s not overwhelming. Even with 10 clients, it’s a very smooth transition. Most clients are moving at a little bit different pace too. So, very rarely do we get all 10 clients who are like, on May 2nd, “Hey, everything is uploaded. Now, what do I do?” It very rarely works that way.
Michael: Because I was going to ask, when surges are that intensive, wouldn’t you want to break after surging client meetings before you surge onboarding meetings? But I guess the reality is, you actually do get a break stacking your surge onboarding meetings where you do because it is going to have a natural gap from when the client surge is just finished.
Chad: Yeah. Most of the calls now, Zack also runs that discovery call. We just started doing that this year. So, from my perspective, I actually…my May and June are relatively calm, and then I’ll hit… Like this week, I had three plan presentations, then I’ll hit like two or three weeks in a row where I have three or four plan presentations, if they’re all going accordingly. Sometimes, they’re a little bit more spaced out than that. So then, I’ll get kind of bombarded right there towards the end of June and then right there end of December, obviously, holiday season can throw that off a little bit. So, maybe we’re in early January, regardless, somewhere in that timeframe, I’ll have 10 plan presentations usually in a short window.
Michael: And so, for you, through all of this, I guess it’s your… You’re with the surges because as busy as the surges get during surge time, it’s that much lighter the rest of the time?
Chad: Yeah. And as crazy it is too, for me personally, even in the height of the actual surge review meetings, I never really feel overwhelmed. Am I tired? I am tired at the end of the day. I sleep good that night. I sleep good on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But it just never seems too overwhelming for me. And that’s why we continue to do the surges and also why I like to do the surge for client onboarding. But I think every advisor would kind of have to find their rhythm. Like I said, I have friends that are world-class advisors and they’ll straight up tell me, “If I do more than two to three meetings, there’s no way.” And I could still do that. I would just space it out a little bit longer time. So, I think everyone just has to know their rhythm and their limits really.
Using A Niche To Create Efficient Processes And Spur Firm Growth [1:02:49]
Michael: So now, help us understand just where are all these clients coming from? I think you said like 40-something clients in 2020 and then 60-something clients in 2021. That is an immense amount of client volume. So, where are all these clients coming from?
Chad: Yeah. So, now we get to my favorite topic, Michael. This is where we niche, my friend. Your favorite word, my favorite word.
Michael: Glorious. Glorious.
Chad: We niche with the best of them. It wasn’t always like this. It took a while to build this up. This is where, I think it was even literally your Twitter post earlier today where I said, “Niching can take years.” And for us, it certainly took years to get there. But we have built up a name for ourselves. The White Coat Investor Blog, Dr. Dahle, we’ve been a big part of his community since 2016, which has been a huge influence for us. We speak on a lot of hospitals. I try to write…all of our blog posts are catered to the physician community. I really nerd out on SEO and getting into the weeds for that too.
We’re usually hosting. 2021, I hosted 145 prospect calls. So far this year, I’ve had 104 prospect calls as of the start of August. We had to lay seeds for a while but it’s really cool when the seeds start to sprout a little bit. And I feel like we’re starting to see some of that now and, again, kind of on the nerdy side of SEO, I track our organic traffic. I go through blog audits quite a bit to make sure, is the blog post still relevant? Can we do anything to make it look better? So, that is where we’re getting a lot of these calls from. It’s just we really, really bought into our niche and really love the people that we work with and we try to yell it from the rooftops.
Michael: I was going to say, just where are they coming… You mentioned a lot of different channels. What’s working? Just where are clients coming from?
Chad: Yeah. I say we have three big sources. The White Coat Investor network has been huge for us. And that was more or less us getting on his advisor list. And I always…I tell advisors outright that Dr. Dahle does go through and make sure you’re not slinging permanent life insurance to residents or anything like that. So, there is an interview process, but we’ve been a part of that community since we got on that list. And when I would write a new blog post, I would send Dr. Dahle a quick email and say, “Hey, could you include this maybe in your monthly report?”
Some months, he’d say, “No. No.” And then some of the months, we’ve written guest posts for his website. It’s one of those things where I don’t think it’s overly complicated, but where are your people? Wherever your people are, someone already worked their butt off to get this huge community. Just see if you can talk to them, right? And that’s really what I’ve done. And so…
Michael: In the context of the good old-fashioned fine Centers of Influence, Jim Dahle, the big blogger for doctors is your COI when your niche is young doctors.
Chad: Yeah. And he is a blogger but he is so finance-forward that he’s trusted. He is really trusted. His followers are, and it’s actually one of the reasons why we love getting clients from there, they’re usually a little bit more financially literate. We can talk about some neat things that I might not be able to talk to or talk through with the average Joe because they didn’t read all these crazy blog posts on backdoor Roth IRAs or asset protection or physician mortgages. So, it’s also just a more exciting client that comes there.
So, that’s been a huge part for us, the blog post. We write all of our blog posts for physicians now. It took us a while to get to that point. It was terrifying to get to that point. I would say we weren’t always this niche. It took a while. It took literally years to get this point. So, we see a lot of volume come in from just our blog post. And then, when people schedule online, we’ll literally ask them that. We’ll say, “Where did you find us?” Sometimes they’ll obviously list referrals, sometimes they’ll list White Coat Investor, they’ll put your blog.
And then, we do pretty good. We made a little e-book that we just kind of share on socials. Every now and then, another physician might post it in a Facebook group and it wasn’t posted from us. We had that happen once. We got 150 new email subscribers overnight. And it’s just a little e-book, it’s 10 chapters, and it’s just more or less little hot topics for physicians to think about. And now, our email list is, I think we’re right around 900. So, every week, I write something called the WealthKeel Weekly, where we’re just writing little notes on, hey, here’s what’s going on in the world. Also, here’s what’s going on with student loans and this and that.
And usually, I’ll try to do shameless plugs of my cute kids on there too to make sure that they know I’m a human. And we get a good amount of kind of circle back from those. But it’s neat, Michael, because you’re literally watching them, like they read articles for three or four years. But now, all of a sudden, you have become a client. It’s always funny when that happens.
Michael: So, what’s a typical client for you? Just, what is that profile?
Chad: Yeah. So, most of our physicians that come to us are usually within the first 10 years of being an attending. So, it kind of depends on their specialty, on when they could become an attending. But say 35 to 45 is a very hot spot for us. Usually already have a young family going so, and that’s one of the reasons why I love Gen X and Gen Y, I wanted to relate on things outside of just money. And they really have a lot of those accumulation things, right? Their income is starting to skyrocket. They probably have a large amount of student debt still, whether they’re going for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or they’re going for a more aggressive payoff.
They’re possibly buying their first home or their second home. They’re getting ready to grow their family or maybe have their first child. So, it’s that traditional high income, but we just really focus on physicians, and probably low to mid six figures. From an income perspective, net worth can be all over the board. We have households with $1 million dollars of student loan debt, we have clients that will come to us and they have $2 million to $3 million of investable assets already. So, the net worth is the number that can really swing. Literally the same age, but just completely different net worth. But the income number is usually pretty consistent, whether it’s a single-physician household or we have quite a few dual-physician households as well. So, that’s kind of what our avatar would look like.
How Wealthkeel Structures Fees [1:08:39]
Michael: And then what do you charge for this?
Chad: Yeah. So, our base fee is $500 per month, so $6,000 per year, and then kind of a unique thing that we do, we put buffers in there. So, if their income, if their household income is anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, we’ll add another $100 per month, so $600 per month. If their household income is over $1 million, we would add $300 per month. So, in that example, now we’re up to $800. And then, we also do a net worth variable. So, net worth between $500,000 and $1 million, we add $200, $1 million to $3 million, $3 million-plus, $500.
And those are two separate tiers. So, you could literally get a base fee of $500, your income adds $100, and then your net worth adds $200 as well, and then that’s how we get our total fee just kind of preparing for our call. I think our average fee today is right around $600 to kind of give you an idea of a little bit higher than the base fee but sometimes, it’s a little bit because of net worth, sometimes it’s a little bit because of the higher income. So, that’s kind of like our average spot right now, about $600 per household.
Michael: And so, when do you make these determinations of which tier they’re in?
Chad: So, we ask this question when they schedule online. Now, you’re probably thinking, “How the heck do you trust that data?” There is a confirmation that comes in play there. Most clients can nail their income. It’s the net worth number that we’re just like, “Well, we’ll see if they were right or not. We’ll figure it out.” So, we’re usually giving them… We’ll literally send them a follow-up email with a quote. We’ll talk through this on that icebreaker call, “Hey, kind of walk me through what the balance sheet looks like.” And even though I label it as net worth, I actually really monitor that close to assets under advisement. It’s just their primary residence. I’m not worried about the equity in their home. If they’re a partner in a practice, I’m not worried about their business equity.
Michael: I was going to ask, what goes into the net worth calculation to do net worth?
Chad: Yeah. It’s pretty much assets under advisement. What’s in the 401(k)? What’s in the taxable account? Do they have $500,000 sitting in cash and they’re thinking about what to do. So even though we list it as net worth on the website, I really bring that closer to more of an assets under advisement type question.
Michael: Because then, you don’t make a distinction about whether you’re going to manage it directly or not. You may, it sounds like you do have that as an option, but as long as it’s assets we’re advising on in some way and it adds up to X, we’re like, “It’s going to bump you up to the next year.”
Chad: Yeah, exactly. And we review that. We’re actually going to do a pretty large fee increase at the end of this year. And part of that was because I underpriced when we had these two really big boom years the last two years. So, I’ll go through and have to update some things. But we’ll monitor this. I always tell clients, if they go over the income number in the middle of the year, I’m not going to send them, “Hey, congratulations on the pay raise there but you owe us more money too.” We’ll wait till the end of the year, kind of circle up, get things organized. And if they’re kind of teetering around one of the numbers, we’ll give them some flexibility to comfortably above that number.
Michael: Well, I was going to ask along those lines. I get it in the upfront process when you quote them, but just how do you manage this on an ongoing basis to track down the latest income and net worth to do the latest fee calculation for 100-plus different clients?
Chad: Yeah. The beauty of comprehensive planning going forward, right? So, we’re always updating these numbers for the clients, so we can get through there. And we’ll keep an eye on this even when I go through the reviews. If I see their number is $400 per month but yet their income is above $500,000, their net worth is dramatically going up, right there, it’s already going to trigger a flag for me for something to look at. So, it really keeps pace pretty well. And we tell our clients that at the start. Like, “Hey, you’re going to go through these barriers and we’re going to have fee increases.”
We’ll tell them too, we didn’t really have to have any inflation conversations till recently, but there’ll be inflation adjustments where we might come around every household next year and say, “Hey, it’s going up $25 because inflation is going up.” That’s the only downside to flat fees. AUM, you don’t really have to worry about that, right? The market is your hedge. With flat fees, you got to pay attention to that because $500 per month now is not going to be the same as $500 per month 15 years from now.
Michael: So, as you go through the planning process, any particular clients during their Surge 1 or Surge 2, if it turns out they’ve now grown to the point that they’ve crossed the threshold, you may give them a fee adjustment?
Chad: Yeah. Exactly. We’re essentially watching it throughout the year, but if I see for this Surge 2 coming up, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, their income went above $500,000, I’m not going to increase it at that meeting. I’ll make note of it, I’ll say, “Hey, we’re going to have a little bit of a fee increase at the end of the year. Your income went above that one threshold. We talked about those things when we first got started. Do you have any questions, anything I can clarify for you? You don’t have to worry about anything till now. My team will literally send you a new DocuSign at the end of this year. We’ll send you a new link for AdvicePay on January 2nd. You’re good to go.” And it’s just a very smooth conversation.
Michael: Okay. So, it strikes me as you’re describing this, it’s a very not like, “Hey, your income went up, your net worth went up, you’ve crossed the line, here you go.” You’re kind of easing them into it over a couple of months. It sounds like almost no matter when and where it happens, you’re easing them in a little bit.
Chad: Yeah. We don’t have any… If you’re already paying $500 per month and your household income is now on the $500,000 to $1 million range, $500,000 to $1 million range, if I tell you your fee has gone $100 per month, you’re probably not going to be like, “Oh, my goodness. I can’t afford this guy. What’s he doing?”
Michael: Yeah. Your cash flowing a half a million plus dollars a year. It’s not a deal breaker. They can afford it.
Michael: And I guess while you’re not an AUM model, if and when and as their assets grow, your fee will rise in a quasi-AUM manner because they’ll start ticking off the higher net worth tiers which starts lifting them at least to some extent.
Chad: Yeah. Exactly. It works out really well too because eventually, right, their household income is going to slow or stop but by that point, we’re very comfortable that their net worth number has pushed them up quite a bit. And working with physician households, our top is at $3 million. Ideally, hopefully, most of them will go right through that number too. And we also cap our fee. You can never go above $1,300 per month. So, we also put that in there, and which is why we get a good amount of physicians that are a little bit later in their careers, where even though we’ve put Gen X and Gen Y pretty loudly on our website, well, they just sat down and they kind of did the math and, well, heck, if you’re capping your fees, I could do a lot better here for whatever reason. It’s always an interesting thing that we see evolve.
Michael: So, $1,300 a month, a little over $15,000 a year.
Michael: So, why cap the fee?
Chad: That’s a good question, Michael. To me, when I think through professional services, and this is not… I literally say this to clients too. There is not a perfect fee model. Every fee model is going to have some type of conflict, and it’s just, do you know what it is? And, for us, when I sit there and I look at what we do for our clients, if a client is paying me $15,000 to our team for what we do, to me, that sounds like a good number. It feels like our client should be happy with that number, but we should also be happy with that number. So, for me, I feel good there. There’s probably a little bit of impostor syndrome in there too.
Just being completely honest with everybody, there’s probably a little bit in there because I’m sure you would have some other advisors that would say, “Hey, you’re undercharging.” We might have some advisors say, “You’re overcharging.” But, for me, my values and how I built WealthKeel, it feels like a good number. It feels like a good number for our clients, it feels like a good number for our firm. I’ve always used the example of if your net worth goes from $1 million to $2 million, my fee should not have doubled. I’m here to help you. That’s what I want to do. Sure, it can go up a little bit, but I don’t think my fee should have doubled. So, that’s why we put the caps in there, but also, kind of found a pricing structure that we were happy with as well.
I do have to increase fees for next year that came in well before we were at that $500 base and I need to get them up to that number. And I did that last year actually for about the same amount of households, so it kind of just shows you how quickly the growth has occurred. So, we’re going to have another fee adjustment for those clients later this year, well, start of the year, I guess.
Michael: And so, I got to ask, how do you get comfortable with that? Because I know for a lot of advisors, one of the most sensitive issues is going back to the clients that started with me when I was young and I didn’t know as much. They took a risk on me and they’re… For a lot of us, I feel like there’s this sort of implied moral obligation, maybe just that we put on ourselves, that’s like, “They came to me when I was early. They should get to keep the fee that they got at the time.” And you seem pretty comfortable to say like, “No, our current structure is this, so we got to move you there.” You’re taking your time but you’re moving them there. So, how do you think about raising fees on those early clients who started with you way back when?
Chad: Yeah. I guess it’s just, the calluses build up, right? So, the good news is most of these clients joined in somewhat recently. This is literally the bulk of clients from 2020 and 2021. But for most of them, it’s going to be $100 or maybe a $200 increase. And I don’t want to say that’s an insignificant amount of money but for our clientele, that shouldn’t catch them off guard, but they’ve also worked with us for a year or two. So, this is where it’s on me. We either showed you enough value that you’re thinking, “Yeah, easy. I’m surprised you didn’t charge me more the whole time. Fantastic, let’s do it.”
When we did our last one last year, I think we only lost 2 clients on about another 40-household increase. And one of them was already like, “Hey, I think I’m only going to stick with you guys for a few months. I’m going to head out.” So, it was a pretty smooth one last year. Fingers crossed, this one will go just as well. These clients have technically even had a little bit more time with us. But it’s not like we’re going from $100 per month to $800 per month. Most of these clients are going to go about $100 or $200 per month for the most part.
Some of them also then hit like an income increase or net worth increase where they might have a little bit higher number, but they probably knew that already headed into it because they had a big life event. A few of those clients had larger buyouts and things like that, so they know it’s coming.
Michael: Well, I guess it’s mathematically like if you raise $100 or $200 a month on 40 households, that can be anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 just cumulative fee increase. So, if you lose 2 clients in the midst of a $40,000 to $80,000 total fee increase to right-size for the services, you’re still fine. You’ll be up $30,000 to $70,000 net and get paid more and have fewer clients to service. That’s going okay for the business and the ability to get paid your value for the clients you’re serving.
Chad: Yeah. I think actually, when I did the math on those updates, because there are a few that are higher, I think the actual reoccurring number increases like literally $83,000. So, it’s a big update for us but it’s spread out over so many clients that, fingers crossed, it goes pretty smoothly.
Michael: And then, what does this add up to for total size of the firm at this point? I guess, number of clients and I don’t know if you measure by still assets or by total revenue, but just help us understand the overall size of the practice now.
Chad: Yeah. So, we are right at about 110 households. So, we have 110 ongoing households. Another unique thing I’ve done in the past, I’m going to do one more this year, is I actually will… I hate this term. We will actually sell. We will move a few clients over to other advisors who are not a good fit for us. So, that’ll free up a little bit more capacity. The nice thing when I do this, I actually use that capital then to allow us to grow even more. So, we will actually lower our headcount a little bit at the end of the year to give us even more capacity to grow within the physician niche. So, we’ll do that a little bit…
Michael: So, you’re literally going to sell the client bases of like a partial business sale?
Michael: Just referring them out, someone can buy these because then, you get some cash to reinvest into the business.
Chad: Yeah. So, we’re going to move them to essentially another advisor. And these are non-physician clients. So, they’re retiree clients. This is actually where it gets really hard for me because we kind of noted like clients that have been with you from the start, some of these clients have been with me from the start. They literally saw me get married, they’ve seen literally the birth of three of my children. This is where I do get emotional on these calls. And it’s one of those ones where you’re going to be better served though. You’re going to be in a better spot.
And some of these, I’m moving them to an advisor that’s still local to them. I’m from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania originally and I’m finding them an advisor in Harrisburg. These are a little bit older clients. They don’t really love Zoom, right? They might not enjoy me being in Tampa. So, it’s one of those where I think it’s going to be a win-win for everybody, gives us a chance to introduce the new advisor, but then they get to see him in person. So, it’s very bittersweet. It’s neat that we get to grow our firm even more but literally, some of these clients are our extended family. So, that’s one of those emotional points.
So, about 110 clients, team of 3. So, we’ve noted Zack quite a bit, I know I’ve put Liz’s name in there as well. We plan to hire, again, later this year because Zack will officially be able to call himself a CFP. I think it’s early November, maybe mid-November. So, he’ll start to take on more of a lead advisor role, so then we got to backfill for that paraplanner role. And then ideally, we kind of put that on a rinse and repeat process until I completely lose my mind. But I think that’s the game plan going forward right now.
And as you noted, we don’t really track AUM per se. So, just high-level guidance, we finished 2021 just under $600,000, like so close to $600,000 that it probably affected me for a few days into 2022 on how close we were. And then this year, I think we’re on track for right around the mid-600s. There was kind of a unique event to end 2021 that spiked that number a little bit. So right now, we should end 2022 right around the mid-600s and then with those fee increases, that’s where it’ll get exciting because then for early 2023, pretty much from the start or 2023, assuming no new clients, we would be trending towards mid-700s and that doesn’t even include the sale of the book in there too or our portion of the book. So, that’s where we currently have been bouncing around here for since really the end of 2021 and where we’re headed here kind of forward-looking guidance.
The Surprises And Low Points That Chad Encountered On His Journey [1:22:28]
Michael: So, what surprised you the most about building an advisory business?
Chad: It’s hard, Michael. It’s hard. That’s what surprised me. The two things I… Impostor syndrome is real. Even when I say those numbers, I never thought I would say those numbers. And it feels like I shouldn’t be there, I’m not supposed to be there. And then, the other thing that always catches me off, I call it the entrepreneur dilemma, and you hit that goal, but you don’t even celebrate the goal. You hit the goal and soon as you hit that goal, you think about the next goal.
And I actually started reading an audiobook, “The Gap and The Gain.” I know that was on your summer reading list there. I’m really enjoying that book right now because it really hits that topic. So, those are two things that really surprise me on a daily basis, just to be real with everybody. Even earlier on in my career, my wife is my high school sweetheart so she’s literally seen all this, she was actually my first employee. She quit pretty quickly but she was technically my first employee. But there was a period of time early on where…I would label it as depression, I think most doctors would have.
I looked for different career paths. I thought I’m never going to make it. And then it’s just kind of amazing how quickly things can turn. I don’t know who said the quote, but as an entrepreneur, you have the highest highs and the lowest lows and usually within a few hours of each other. And that’s literally the definition of building an advisory business.
Michael: So, talk to us more about where was the low point.
Chad: I had a unique setup where I was able to start to build my practice literally right out of college. So, graduated from Penn State and had a fantastic mentor, Eric Dare, who’s also up there in State College. And we had a unique setup where I was pretty much his paraplanner. So, from 9 to 5, I worked for him. And outside of that time, whether it was late at night or on weekends, I was able to build my book. So, I had this unique opportunity where I could go build my book, and it was truly my book. He didn’t want anything to do with it.
And why that sounds fantastic, you quickly realize as a young whippersnapper out of college that not a lot of people want to trust you with all their money. So quickly, you find out that it’s more difficult than what you thought. And that was probably my lowest low, almost right out of the gate, where you have this freedom, you have this flexibility, but still, no one wants to really work with you. Luckily, I had a base salary. I always joke with Eric, “Thanks for allowing me to eat,” because that’s the only money I had to get for food.
So, I think that was really one of those tough times. My wife will tell you, there was days I didn’t want to get out of bed, I gained a lot of weight. And I consider myself, I’m a pretty active human. I like to get out and work out early. So, that was very uncharacteristic for me. It was tough. And as I noted a few minutes ago, truly looking for other roles like I can’t do this, I can’t build a business, no one’s going to work with me, no one’s going to trust me with their money. What else can I do?
Michael: So, what turned it around?
Chad: I think that’s the crazy part, right? It’s amazing how quickly it can turn around. And having a good mentor who believes in you was vital. I remember when I sat down with Eric, and even back then, this is like 2011, Project 100 was kind of still a thing but I hated that. I tell everyone, the only reason why I created my own business is because I never wanted to do a Project 100 and I never wanted to wear a suit.
Michael: Project 100 being the bring a list of your 100 friends and family to call on?
Chad: Yeah. Pretty much call everyone that loves you and get them not to love you anymore. And that was where we were but he realized I wasn’t comfortable with that and he thought of a good idea where he said, “Well, listen, we’re part of a broker-dealer and there’s all these orphaned accounts. And these people are just dying to talk to somebody.” And it sounds so simple, Michael, but that was a big game changer for me, because I was comfortable getting on the phone with them. Because, one, I had something to talk about. I have social anxiety, which is always funny as you say that as an advisor especially if you ever see me at a conference. I’m usually one of the louder ones in there.
But usually, at the start, I have a level of anxiety that I’m like, “I just don’t feel like talking to anybody today.” But with that, I had a statement. I had something that I could review with them. So, it was a good icebreaker for me. And these clients were dying to talk to somebody. Someone sold them an annuity 15 years ago and no one’s talked to them. They’ve now retired, they have all this extra money, and just even being the young whippersnapper there, they were willing to talk to you. They invited me into their homes, I sat at their dining room tables.
I was logging so many miles that year driving all over Pennsylvania. I got out to New Jersey. I think I got up to Southern New York a few times. I hit Maryland a few times. I was on the Great Chad Chubb Roadshow there. And that was a big turning point for me. That was a chance for me to start working with clients and kind of take that nerve out of it.
The Advice Chad Would Give His Former Self And Newer, Younger Advisors [1:26:58]
Michael: So, what do you know now you wish you could go back and tell you from 10 years ago as you were getting started?
Chad: Niching is important. I wish I would have committed sooner. I wish I would have known the benefits of niching. And I also wish I would have known how vital your website is and how vital SEO is. I think if you have a niche with a good-looking website and you really focus on SEO, you should still have a good emergency fund because I don’t think the clients are just going to come banging on the door for you. But you’re setting yourself up with a really strong foundation. And a few, SEO probably, it’s been around for the 10 years that I’ve been doing this, but I think it’s become a lot more at the forefront for advisors over the past few years.
Even when I was on the Kitces Summit with you talking through some of those SEO factors, and I think I wish I would have known that sooner, which also probably would have given me a little bit of peace of mind because I was talking to Gen X and Gen Y. One of the earlier things that always was tough for me was talking to someone that’s, here I am, literally in my young 20s and they’re in their mid-late ’60s and I’m asking them to trust me with all their money. So, I even think getting started with a younger generation, for at least me, would have taken a little bit of the edge off.
Michael: So, what advice would you give to other younger newer advisors getting started in the business today?
Chad: Yeah. I kind of share some of those tough growing pains there, but I think those growing pains were important. And while I hope every young advisor would be able to just go out there and pick a niche and create a beautiful website and have fantastic SEO, I realized that that’s tough to do. So, understanding that you’re probably going to have to go put in some hours, learn from a great mentor, and learn those things while also building up some cash. It’s the one thing… We say build up that runway because they’re not going to come banging on the door.
We focused on physicians, started focusing on them in about 2017, kind of dabbling in there. And it really wasn’t until late 2019 but really, 2020, we kind of had that hockey stick moment where it finally turned up for us. So, it was a solid three, four years of screaming that, “hey, we work with physicians, we work with physicians!”, and then they finally started to actually show up the door. So, that’s why I think that runway is really important.
Michael: Yeah. I will say, I think we’d written a thing on the site many, many years ago that this… Having built a number of different niche businesses myself over the years, it is disturbing how consistent it is that it takes three years. Just almost nothing is happening in year 1, barely anything more happens in year 2, a little bit of stuff starts flowing in year 3, because your name is getting out there, and then suddenly, the hockey stick kicks in as you get through three years. And it’s like, “Where were you the last two and a half years that I was building up to this moment?”
And I’ve seen very little that materially accelerates it. And to be fair, starting a business without a niche is also really crappy in the first three years. It’s not that different. But after you get through the initial window, in fact, the distinction I find is the non-niche businesses, just every year is a grind and it really never entirely ends until you get a really sizable client base who just start referring you. And niche firms, it’s similarly grindy in the first few years but after you get into the third year, it just starts hockey sticking. There’s this weird, critical mass moment where word starts getting around.
Chad: Yeah. Going into 2020, my goal every year before 2020 was to onboard 12 new clients. That was always my stretch goal. And in 2020, we added 44 new clients. So, even going into that year, I was like, “I don’t know, 12 still sounds crazy. Let’s see if this works.” And then before you know it, you’re at the end of 2020 and you’re like, “What just happened? That was crazy.”
What Success Means To Chad [1:30:34]
Michael: So, as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success. And one of the themes that always comes up is the word success itself means very different things to different people. And so, you’re on this wonderful track of building a successful firm as clients and assets grow and the team grows. And so, the business is fairing very well. How do you define success for yourself at this point?
Chad: Yeah. Success is probably one of those things where you go through a lot of different iterations of it. And when you listen to 300 of these podcasts before, you also get a little prep time in there, Michael. So, when I was thinking through it, to me, the ultimate definition of success now is never missing one of my boys’ events. So, I have a 5-year-old Ryker, almost 3-year-old Xander, and then a newborn, Zaidan. And as I said, earlier, Mari was my high school sweetheart. And crazy enough, we kind of set out on this journey early on where our goal was work your butt off before kids so that you have more flexibility when they get here.
And now we’re at that point. And I drive Ryker to school every morning. I can take off randomly on a Friday to spend time with him. I can take off on a Tuesday for lunch, on a Thursday for lunch for my boys. I can do whatever. And to me, that is a definition of success that I didn’t really think of early on. But now, that is the ultimate level of success and just having that flexibility in there. Because it’s so much deeper than just me spending time with my family, right? It means that I have a good team behind me.
It means that we’ve already built something special where I can take off a day or a few days or a week or two weeks. So, to me, such a simple statement, never missing one of my boys’ events as they continue to grow here and start different events, whether it’s scholastic or sport-based. So, to me, that is the ultimate definition of success, never missing one of my kids’ events.
Michael: Amen. I love it. I love it. Well, thank you so much, Chad, for joining us on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Chad: Michael, thank you so much, my friend. Yeah. This was a bucket list. It’s still going to be a little bit surreal to hear my voice on this, but thank you.
Michael: Thank you.