Our guest today is joining us all the way from Kansas City in the US. She has been in the financial services industry for nearly three decades and has her own venture in the financial advisory space (https://www.myfinancialavenues.com/) for almost 10 years now. Tracy St John, is also a member of the Garret Planning Network (https://www.garrettplanningnetwork.com/) in the United States of America, founded by Sheryl Garret.
Sheryl Garret is a mentor and advisor to WFAN (https://www.wfan.in/). The Garett Planning Network has extended its financial planning platform and resources in an exclusive tie-up with WFAN.
Q. Tracy thank you for joining us at an early hour. Let’s begin by talking a bit about your professional journey. You started out wanting to join the dance industry and somehow landed up in financial services. How did that come about and what made you then shift to owning a venture?
A. After college and a few other experiences, I really just needed to get a job and took one with a mutual fund company, answering the telephones. People who bought mutual funds, would call and ask questions and I would answer about 100 phones calls a day! From having no background, I learned a lot very fast. What I learned in the six and a half years of working there, was that financial advisors will sell someone an investment, but the person who bought it did not know anything about it, did not know the name of the product and even the financial advisors would ask me what they sold. I thought that was strange, I am a telephone service representative educating the financial advisor that sold the mutual fund. That was my first hint that ‘I don’t think that’s right.’ I did every kind of job in that department and ended up helping company retirement plans, behind the scenes with the money. I switched jobs and moved to a regional bank and surprisingly, got a job I had no experience in. I had to stand up in front of employees and explain a company retirement plan to them. With my telephone service background and knowledge, my new boss felt that I would have the information and just needed the experience. I travelled around the middle of the United States, going to different companies, explaining investments and a company retirement plan to the employees. In that employees would come and say to me that I was the first person whom they understood. I think if we use the terminology in our industry with a regular person who doesn’t have the relevant education, you are not going to connect with them.
In that position, I learnt that so many people just wanted good advice and didn’t want to be sold anything and they couldn’t find someone they trusted. I was able to fulfil that, but they would start asking me questions outside of the company retirement plan and I was not equipped to answer that. I did go back to college and received a degree in family financial planning just because of that.
Q. I sense a lot of perseverance in your journey. It’s difficult at times to make such a switch in careers or to start one’s own venture, if you were to identify a quality within yourself that has helped you do this, what would it be?
A. You said it, perseverance is a quality I have always had. My mother would say that don’t give up just keep pushing forward, even if you face setbacks, keep at it.
Q. It is a great quality to have. How has that helped you? Have you faced any hurdles in your journey of managing your venture? If you can please share some examples of hard times and how you have overcome those.
A. It’s always very hard to start, especially if you did not do financial planning with a company. I viewed it as starting from scratch with no clients, very little money and I was scared of course. My husband having a job was a help for me starting with such a small dollar amount for a business. The scariest part was leaving a paycheck and then not knowing when you are going to get paid.
I worked out of my house. In this part of the country, people look at your credibility differently. They want to see you in person, they want to go to an office and meet with you. But if you live and work on the east or the west coast of the US, a lot of people will just meet virtually. I had a few times where they didn’t want to come to my house because that’s where my business was and they did not want me to come to their house and I felt a coffee shop is not private. That was a big challenge. I had to step out and find office space separate from my home, which then is a big expense.
Another big hurdle was typical to Kansas City. I live on the north side of the area, all of the connections for my business were on the south side. I ended up setting up two offices on opposite sides. That was a challenge, am I paying too much. But people from the south side will not drive to the other side and the other way.
Another big hurdle for me has been overcapacity. When you start this business and people hear about the type of business model, where we are charging by the hour as fee-only, there is a big demand. I did not know that until I started making connections. I still struggle with blocking my time and getting the work done. So, the struggle of not having the work done when I am meeting with the client and asking them to reschedule. It’s very humbling and I do not like doing that. It still sometimes happens, its work in progress.
Many advisors in the network I am part of just stop taking new clients and I do not want to do that. Another hurdle is that I don’t like to say no!
Q. We are talking about the hurdles and overcoming them now, but did you ever have a Plan B if this did not work out?
A. I did not, other than to go back and get a job with a paycheck!
Q. Along the way, I’m sure there were many people who supported you. Did you need to lean on others to ensure your venture was moving in the right direction?
A. My personality is such that I don’t have confidence. There are some mental struggles where I don’t feel I am smart enough. We are really good at critiquing ourselves and I fight that all the time. I am part of the Garrett Planning Network and I felt that I have a group. But when you join you still don’t know anyone and for me the intimidation of who do I want to connect with given my personality. Once you find that and you put yourself out there, the other members of your network will come to you and they are there for you.
I found I have to stop being scared and just put the question out there or email one of the other advisors in the network if there is an issue I am struggling with.
Q. How far along in your journey with your venture did you become a part of the Garret Planning Network?
A. I actually joined the network before I started my venture. I was in the network for a year, before I quit my last job and started my business.
Q. Did it help you to interact with like-minded people in deciding to take the final step?
A. The network is large and there are small groups within the network that do their own thing. I was fortunate to be asked to be a part of a group of six women. We would have monthly phone calls and during those calls we would ask each other questions on issues or a client situation we wanted another opinion on. That has also been helpful along the way.
I am also a member of the Financial Planning Association, that’s another separate group of financial advisors in the Kansas City area. The more people you can connect with in your industry and find those you are comfortable talking to, the more you are going to have mentors and people to help you along the way.
Q. Often when you start your venture it can get a bit lonely without too many colleagues around. What kind of self-motivation techniques do you use to get through the lonely parts?
A. Finding people to meet with and reaching out in your community is important. I was able to find a business network that didn’t have a cost, I didn’t have to pay to join, they were just other people in the community that I didn’t know. Finding ways to leave your house or business, it could be volunteering too, it builds your connections and relationships along the way.
Because I am a people person, I had to stop going out so much, I needed to stay in and get work done!
Q. Tracy you are a fee-based advisor and charge by the hour, in India this concept is still picking up. We are still far from an hourly model but in your early days did you face any trouble convincing people of this value?
A. It’s funny because the hourly fee model even where I live is still fairly new and there are still so many people who don’t know about it. Those who do come to us, have already done their research. They already knew the type of financial advisor they were looking for. For those who did not know that process, the hardest part is being confident about paying out of their bank account and that’s scary for them. It is then about trust and showing the value you are going to bring to the table and the guidance you are going to give to them.
Q. At what stage in your venture did you gain the confidence that you are indeed helping people with their finances and you have the confidence to be able to continue doing this?
A. It took probably three or four years into my business. I have hardly done any marketing, maybe 10% or less of my time is spent on marketing. There are potential clients who end up finding me without me finding them. It was surprising.
Four or five years into my venture, there were enough people who continued to reach out and I never had a slowdown. I started realising that the money will be there, it could be the same or higher depending on how much I wanted to push myself. It took four to five years for me because I did not do any marketing.