Whether you're acquiring another firm or just hiring a single new employee, a mistake can be costly – particularly for small firms, RIA owners say.

"The smaller your firm, the bigger the impact," says Matt Cooper, President of Beacon Pointe Wealth Advisors.

Cooper and other experts, speaking on Thursday during a Financial Planning webinar, say that having the right strategies in place can not only help a firm grow, but also protect what's already been built.

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast," says Brent Brodeski, CEO of Savant Capital Management. "So I think very early, you got to say, are these the right people? Do we have the same vision for the future?"


Cooper's firm, founded in 2002, has grown to 97 employees and $9.2 billion in AUM. But he admits to some hiring misfires in the firm's first years.

"We had hired three people and guaranteed them six-figure base salaries, with some variable comp on top of that. What we discovered is that we were overpaying them… and they weren't incentivized to go out and be hungry," he says.

Cooper says that one of the most important lessons he's learned is that it's more important to hire people for growth potential, and not necessarily pay top dollar for the perfect resume.

"We never hire for a job. We hire for a career," he says.

Five years ago, when the firm wanted to expand its online presence, they offered the full-time job to their 23-year-old college intern rather than a more experienced candidate.

"We basically said this is our vision of where we want to go and we want you to build it," Cooper says.

She's still with the firm today, proving a simple yet important lesson, Cooper says: "Don't chase the perfect employee on paper."


Similarly, the path to success M&A – which is effectively hiring a whole number of new employees at once – requires the buyer to accept that this is a long-term growth plan, Brodeski says.

"You can have two great firms with great people, but if there is not alignment, then it might not be a good fit," he says.

Brodeski, who has done five acquisitions in the past four years, suggests that potential buyers think not just in terms of the value that they will get in acquiring another firm but how they can also create value for their new employees. That will ultimately make the new additions accretive in long-term.

Brodeski and others also urge those thinking about growing through acquisitions or new hires to take their time in doing so. Growth strategies take time to develop and think through.

Ron Carson, CEO and founder of Carson Wealth Management Group, says when considering adding new employees, he is always careful to make sure he is guarding and protecting his firm's existing culture.

"Our onboarding and hiring process was, a decade ago, so-so. But now we go through a rigorous process that eliminates maybe half the people… We interview them 3, 4, maybe half a dozen times."

The results have paid off, he says. "We have very, very low turnover."