Both my wife, Nicki, and I grew up watching our parents run businesses together. So, neither of us is surprised that we now run our financial planning business as a couple.
Life is complicated, but we have found the tradeoffs well worth it, and we encourage other married couples considering the idea. We're far from rare: One in five small businesses is run by a couple. I believe much of our financial success arose from our partnership.
We now have $250 million under management for 600 clients. I am a financial planner, and Nicki manages our two offices and six employees and sells life insurance. We don't like being in the same office-more accurately, Nicki doesn't. I usually work from our office in Albuquerque, N.M., and she'll work from home or our office in rural Belen.
Any small business owner with a young family can tell you how every day is chaotic and unique. This year, for example, our three children are attending three different schools, which makes coming and going unusually challenging.
I've always wanted to be a financial planner. The year I graduated from college with a degree in finance, I joined Financial Network Investment Corp. in Albuquerque, where I met John Brackett, one of the firm's regional directors and later a founder of BAR Financial.
Today, I am one of the largest producers in John's network of nearly 450 advisors. I attribute a good deal of my success to his training and mentoring, especially in those early years of my career.
Early in my career, I read that small-town advisors are more successful than those living in larger metropolitan areas. So I took a map of the state and drew a 30-mile radius around Albuquerque.
I chose Belen for my home and business location because it was right off I-25, an easy drive. It seemed the moment and place to put down roots and establish myself as the hometown choice.
The last thing on Nicki's mind was working in the financial services industry and living in a small town of 6,000 people. A self-proclaimed bookworm and urbanite, she graduated from college with a dual degree in history and mass communications.
She spent her early twenties in Washington, working as a congressional aide and lobbyist, and later moved to Denver. Our chance meeting in Cheyenne, Wyo., not only changed her lifestyle but her occupation as well. When we married in 1996, she packed up her belongings and two pianos and headed to rural Belen.
Before I married Nicki, I found it easier to say "yes" to expenses such as advertising in the local newspaper, rather than looking to see if marketing in this publication was even worthwhile or cost effective. Nicki immediately put an end to my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants business style. She became the "look" to my "leap." She put together a budget, which got us out of the red within two years.
We began to prospect, both as a team and separately. One of the things that drew us to each other was a commitment to community and volunteering. Nicki was able to bring in clients who wouldn't necessarily gravitate toward me. Her involvement in women's groups and historical associations grew our book of business. Her part-time employment at the University of New Mexico's local campus helped us even more in attracting clients.
Fortunately for me, she left the university when our first son was born in 1999. When the children were small, the most I could ask of her was to do the bookkeeping and marketing. We did manage to buy a small office in Belen (I rented the other office), which we completely renovated before the birth of our second son.
MAKING IT WORK
If you're a couple thinking of running a financial planning business together, here are a few pointers:
* Know your partner. Understand what makes your partner happy or angry and what motivates both of you. Take time to realize each other's strengths and weaknesses. Be sensitive to your differences in working style. I have found talking to my wife about the office or clients at 4:00 a.m. is not a good idea. Nor is it wise to talk shop when she is getting the kids on the bus.
* Have concrete roles. Plan on who will be responsible for payroll, scheduling, preparing for client meetings and meeting with clients. For us, this has been simple: I am the salesperson, and she is the keeper of the checkbook.
* Make major decisions together. Your spouse is your best sounding board. Anything that affects revenue or employees needs to be discussed and agreed to by both. In 2007, we decided to acquire a much larger book of business that put us in the big leagues. We were both frightened of the risk and extra work but knew that we would be ahead financially and professionally. When Nicki decided to take her property and casualty insurance test, we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of completely separating this portion of our business from the securities part of our business.
* Present a united front. Agree to a course of action before discussing it with others. This is extremely important when you have employees. We agree to their duties, salaries and benefits before presenting it to them. That way, we can't get played against each other.
Last year, we had to fire an employee who was stealing from us. I did not question Nicki's response, which was to escort the dishonest employee out immediately with the police. She then filed a complaint with the Department of Insurance and pressed charges. This leads me to my next point.
* Don't second-guess each other or point fingers. This is a surefire way to divorce court, and no way to solve problems. After firing our employee, we both repressed the urge to blame each other for the situation. We sat down and decided we were lucky that more damage had not been done to our finances or business reputation.
* Don't believe that you can separate your work from the home front. We thought that we could simply turn off the computer and phones. But most of the time, our TV is turned to a business show. We have taught our children how to pick stocks and dollar cost average. We socialize and vacation with clients, and take the entire family on business trips.
Financial Network's annual conference is how we get to go to Sea World or the New Orleans French Quarter. Everyone also looks forward to when Dad is at meetings, and they can explore cities or hang out at the hotel pool.
* Talk and laugh together. Despite long hours and uncertain income, we have been grateful for being independent advisors for more than 25 years. There's nothing like setting your own schedule, knowing that you only have to account to yourselves. At times, all we can do is laugh about a computer mishap or a client sent to the wrong office.
* Celebrate together. We celebrate our success together-sometimes with a couples' night out, other times with a smile and a hug-knowing that we've helped clients plan for retirement, and send children and grandchildren to college. It is our mission to guide our clients toward sustained financial independence free from worry by planning for and preparing for life's unexpected and expected events both joyful and tragic. In the years of growing our business, we have also grown closer in our marriage. I often quote the John Lennon song when celebrating even small successes with Nicki, "Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be..."
Pavlos Panagopoulos is a registered representative with the BAR Financial network of Financial Network Investment Corp. He has offices in Albuquerque and Belen, N.M.