When Sheryl Clark's nine-year-old daughter, Katie, died in an automobile accident, everything changed. "I understood the importance of balance in life-it's not just about working." She adopted an infant daughter, Galina, from Russia and a year later, in 2000, opened her own planning practice, Sunrise Financial, in Tucson, Ariz. As a self-employed planner, she could cut back her hours. Now 52, she works three days a week from home as a member of the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors.
The Alliance provides its members with a quarterly newsletter, a directed portfolio and software, leaving Clark free for comprehensive planning, including taxes and insurance. Clark has 50 middle-class clients-teachers, psychologists and small business owners-who pay her an average yearly retainer fee of $3,800, and another 50 clients for whom she prepares only tax returns. And she's happy. "The key to financial independence is knowing how much is enough," she says. "I'm just working with people I enjoy.
"I have a very low overhead and am efficient. My biggest challenge is how to control the growth of my practice. I love taking on new clients, figuring out how to make the most of what they have. It's a puzzle and I love working through it. But I'm committed to working three days a week. I've increased my fees and that creates some natural attrition.
"Today I graduated a couple after four years. I didn't enjoy working with them, so I suggested they didn't need my services any longer. They were spending way more than they were making and not following my recommendations to cut spending. I've had a number of clients who are like rabbits running as fast as they can. They're always looking for the big deal, instead of buying some well-diversified funds.
"Clients are so stressed by financial issues. We work together at a round desk, and I like to say we're 'knights at the round table.' My clients love that my cat comes and climbs up in my lap. I like to tease my clients. I'm not all business; it's a personal relationship.
"On my days off, I do Pilates with my mom, work out with my trainer, read, walk and have lunch with friends. Sometimes I run errands-it's nice not to drag Galina around."