May 2020 marks the fifth anniversary of FIT Advisors. With everything else that’s going on, I almost forgot about this milestone — if you’d asked me in 2015 where I thought I’d be in five years, I would never have predicted this pandemic. Nevertheless, my small practice made it to its fifth birthday.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with many small business owners as clients during the last five years. I’ve seen firsthand that every business faces unique challenges. And yet, at the same time, every business owner faces some of the same challenges as well.
Today, I’ll talk about how I started FIT Advisors and my path to growth. On Friday, I’ll explore how I did all this while learning to take care of my family and myself.
How FIT Advisors Began
I started my career at PwC in the tax group. I joined right out of college as an associate and was promoted to senior and management positions fairly quickly. As I navigated the large company, I learned how to work with all kinds of people and teams; how to understand a wide variety of business financials; and how to leverage technology to make my work easier and more efficient. I also developed an appetite for work that makes a difference for clients and for the world at large.
After more than six years at the “Big 4,” I pivoted to my second career: Financial Planning. I assumed, like my first career, that I would need to start at the bottom and gradually work my way up through the ranks of other large companies. As a result, I joined a large financial planning firm in Chicago.
After about a year, however, I could see the writing on the wall. The firm was a great place to get started, but I didn’t see myself connecting with the client base, who were mainly high net worth retirees. I wanted to help people similar to my husband and I — young professionals building wealth who wanted someone like them they could relate to. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a firm that was serving this generation and offering the services I wanted to provide while matching my values.
In other words, my ideal job wasn’t going to exist unless I created it.
As I was working on launching FIT Advisors, I took a part-time job for a mid-tier accounting firm to help pay the bills. I was really nervous to start my own business, as I tend to be risk averse and was used to the comfort of a job with a set salary and benefits. It was my husband who really encouraged me to start my own firm. He told me that now was a great time — we didn’t have any children yet and relatively low fixed expenses — and the worst case scenario was, if it didn’t work out, I could always get a job.
By the end of my first year, I had five clients. Those first five clients were the hardest clients to get, as any new business owner can attest to.
Growing FIT Advisors Intentionally, Not Rapidly
I’m a planner in every aspect of my life, not just my clients’ finances. My husband encouraged me to start FIT Advisors. But before I took the leap, I insisted that we make a careful plan for our personal finances so we could manage while my business grew.
We knew that growth might be slow, so some of the sacrifices we made were big. We stopped contributing to our retirement plans for a few years and didn’t take a vacation for almost three years — especially hard on two people who love to travel!
I learned early on that, if I didn’t actively resist the urge to work on my business, I would work constantly. Prior to the pandemic, I stopped working at lunchtime on Friday and tried not to return until Monday morning. My clients knew they could text me if there was something pressing. (During the pandemic, of course, I’m just trying to hang on.)
I hired another planner part time to help me while I took maternity leave so FIT Advisors could maintain obligations to its clients without overwhelming me. Since then, I’ve decided to add a client services associate who has been a vital part of my business. My planner left for another opportunity and I felt pressured to keep growing and hiring, but have instead chosen to maintain a small practice, at least for the time being.
Throughout the last five years, I’ve tried to keep one week each month free of client meetings, which is also known as calendar blocking. This allows me to catch up on unfinished tasks and focus on working on my business rather than in my business. I also take some time for myself to practice self-care.
I revisit my business plan every six months. This gives me the opportunity to review where I stand in comparison to my projections and to think about what I want, personally and professionally, in the short and long term. Right now, my focus is on continuing running a small and efficient practice so I have time for my daughter while she’s young. I don’t know yet where my firm will be in the next five, 10, or 15 years, but having scheduled time to think outside the box helps.
Lessons, Regrets, and Recommendations
I learned early in my career to utilize technology to make work more efficient. I use ScheduleOnce to help manage my meetings, eliminating unnecessary emails and funneling client meetings into the part of the day where they fit best. I also use Slack to communicate with my remote team and a variety of other tools to manage client information securely and efficiently.
Technology doesn’t solve every problem, however. I’ve always preferred handwritten to-do lists because I love the pleasure of crossing out tasks as I complete them. I still write my own to-do lists today.
If I could do one thing differently, I’d have focused on marketing earlier. When FIT Advisors was about three years old, business had slowed when I was looking for growth — and I quickly realized I didn’t have the marketing channels I needed to drive that growth. Putting that infrastructure into place takes time.
About a year ago, I began to feel stuck in my business. Do I want to continue to grow?? Do I want to stop growing?? If I stop growing, what else would I do? I decided to hire a business coach to help me work through some of these questions. The experience has been hugely helpful, as it forces me to spend time thinking about what I really want and to articulate it to someone else.
Whatever the next five years hold, if I had to decide whether or not to start my own business all over again, I’d make the same choice. Every stressful day has been balanced by two rewarding ones. I love being my own boss and creating a schedule that is flexible for my needs. I know that growing and nurturing my business will look different in each of the next five years, and I can’t wait to see where FIT Advisors will be at 10.