Bernie Madoff didn't do much for advisors except sow seeds of mistrust. But for Frisco, Texas-based sole proprietor John Gay, giving up discretion over clients' accounts grew his practice.

Gay supervises 25 million in assets in portfolios he designed and which are available on the retail platform provided by Folio Investing, a low-cost online brokerage in McLean, Va. The result? A comfortable six-figure income with a 30- to 40-hour workweek. Here, an enlightening discussion about why his collaborative system attracts and keeps more clients.

"It used to be that investors' biggest fear was running out of money. Post-Bernie Madoff, people became afraid of being ripped off. So I began bringing clients in without asking for trading authority or automatic deductions from their accounts. Clients really like it because they don't have to sign their life away to me. They push the buttons.

"I don't have the compliance burden of trading authority, discretion or custody. I charge a flat fee, typically between $2,000 and $8,000 for the year, depending on the complexity of their needs. I'll design a portfolio of ETFs accessible only to the client based on risk tolerance. I use FinaMetrica's risk profiling system, with spouses answering separately.

"We can implement the portfolio together in the office or with a split screen over the telephone. I usually view it several times during the year and alert them if I see a need for changes. I send them reminders and we rebalance every year. I can make allocation changes via Folio's platform and then clients easily adapt the changes (with my help). It only takes a few minutes on the Folio platform; it's much easier than the client executing it on an ordinary brokerage platform site like Vanguard or Fidelity.

"Clients can call me during the year without additional charge. I now have 75 clients who return to me each year, along with a fair number who operate on their own but call me when their situation warrants. They might be getting divorced or changing jobs. Those people pay me when they need me to do a new plan.

"Between 2009 and 2010, my revenue increased 30%. In the past, when I had clients who didn't want to hand over discretion, only half would come back for help. Now 80% of my new clients come back to me annually."