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An RIA firm’s last-minute pivot after near collapse

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The past couple of years have been the hardest of my life. My three-year-old solo-RIA almost ground to a halt through client attrition, and only with a complete rebrand with lots of help from fellow advisers and a CPA, is it starting to come back to life. I’ve questioned whether I can effectively run a business and if my emotions, finances and marriage can withstand the struggles of trying to build one.

Over this time, I discovered the ideas of Gary Vaynerchuk. If you are not of aware of Gary, he is a serial entrepreneur who emigrated from Belarus 35 years ago, who, after building his family wine business, is now growing a social media marketing agency in New York. While he has lots of entrepreneurial messages, one has stuck with me as I have battled through my various business challenges: Being self-aware is the greatest trait you can master.

I went through a period of intense anxiety, confusion and stress, which triggered physical symptoms that led me to seek medical advice. In the times of crippling self-doubt, I even applied for jobs, hoping that a solid income would be able to make these problems disappear. But by deliberately slowing myself at various points and taking time to reflect on what’s been happening, I’ve become aware of some things which I hope will make the future look very different.

My main concern was running out of capital. With the small amount of excess income I earned through my RIA and other freelance projects, I managed to build a small business emergency fund. I didn’t expect, however, how discouraging it would be when I had to take money out of this account during down periods. It was worrisome on a balance sheet level, but demoralizing on a self-esteem level.

In realizing that I may run out of money, I sought out some permanent job opportunities. One caught my eye in which I could work at home for much of the time but also travel to large companies to deliver financial workshops. The salary and benefits package were great and it seemed like, on paper, this would solve all of my problems. But during the long interview process, I narrowly failed on a verbal pop quiz relating to CFP material. I could apply again in three months, and the team members strongly encouraged to set up a new interview date as they were excited to have me join.

I got that news in the car after I dropped my son off at school. It was with a mixture of disappointment and relief that I read that email, and I took 15 minutes to try to understand why I was feeling such mixed emotions. I hadn’t realized that by interviewing for a job, I was pushing down an important, entrepreneurial part of myself. When that door closed, I felt the spirit inside of me kick alive again. Being free is much more important to me than I thought. Knowing that my business is 100% in my control makes me happy.

I’ve always held $100,000 as a personal income goal. I know it’s possible to earn that amount by running my own business as my income has no ceiling, but the reverse is true as well — I’m climbing from zero with no salary to act as a floor. In having that amount in my head and being so far away from it, it became overbearing.

I decided to examine why that number seemed so important and soon realized it was based on conversations with peers. So I reverse engineered my income goal to match our personal family goals. In looking at how much we wanted to save for retirement, college and other expenses, earning $75,000 would achieve these comfortably. If I’m able to generate this amount in gross personal income, I can either put more time into my practice, or stop growing and pursue personal goals. When I get to that point, it will be another reflective period as I seek to become more self-aware of what I want to do and what my family needs.

If someone had told me that running a business would have led to as many sleepless nights as raising a newborn, I wouldn’t have believed them. Rather than question why I couldn’t let things run off my back, I had to come to terms in knowing that this is how it is for me – my desire for a quiet, peaceful life will be tested when business gets tough.

One thing I need to exercise is knowing when to ask for help. Whether it’s study group members, family members or mental health professionals, I hope I can more quickly recognize when things get hard and raise that white flag a little quicker next time.

For several years, I’ve been convinced the sole-ownership model is best for me, so I can reap 100% of the revenue. Yet I came to the hard realization that my business wasn’t growing at the speed I would like, and a partnership might be necessary. Almost serendipitously, following my RIA rebrand in summer 2016, my accountant reached out to see if I would be interested in partnering. He had a small AUM-based RIA he wanted to transfer to someone else and also wanted to align himself with an adviser for his current tax practice and future marketing efforts. After analyzing how this partnership would stay on point with my current level of self-awareness, we decided to move forward. I’m happy to share this portion of 100% with someone else.

I have a slightly pessimistic viewpoint on life, and I don’t like it. Part of that relates to being British where it is natural to be cynical and maintain a sarcastic sense of humor, but it also stems from what I watch and read. I found if I stayed away from social media and from listening to/reading the news, my mood lifted. I was less cynical, my conversations with people were more positive, and I started naturally looking for the positive side of things. I’ve now removed all social media and news bookmarks from my computer and phone. I’ve also become a diligent subscriber to the "miracle morning" movement, based on the book and course designed by Hal Elrod, where the first 90 minutes of my day (starting at 5:30 am) are spent in meditation, aspirations, journaling, reading daily devotionals and exercising. When it comes time for my kids to wake up and our routine to begin, my mindset has been cemented for the day. I’ve found I’m a happier dad, a more attentive husband, and a more-focused business owner and planner.

Trying to become more self-aware has caused me to look at parts of my life that made no sense and parts that I didn’t like, both personally and professionally. In looking at these things, I hope I can grow and become a better man and business owner. I’d challenge you to examine yourself to see how you can improve.

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