OWEN: My guest today is Kathy Fish and she is a certified financial planner. She’s also the president at President at Fish & Associates. Kathy welcome to the show.
KATHY: Well, thank you. I’m glad to be here today.
OWEN: That is awesome. So this show is all about getting entrepreneurs like yourself who in your case, you’ve been able to systematize your entire business and have it run successfully without you. And our listeners are here to learn how exactly you were able to do that in your business so that we can keep them listening all the way to the end of the interview. I want you to share what are some mind blowing results that you now experience as a result of going through the process of systematizing and automating your business.
KATHY: One of the main things that happened was I was able to eliminate. I had two part-time employees working 30 hours a week at one full-time. And after going through the systemization process I was able to turn that into one 40-hour mission. I actually offer both of these people a full-time job but neither one of them wanted to work more than 30 hours a week, so it gave me the opportunity to bring one full-time client service person and then hire an associate advisor.
OWEN: One thing that actually stood out to me during the pre-interview is that talk about what you guys have been able to achieve like in terms of what you’re able to manage with the small number of employees. Talk about that.
KATHY: My firm manages over a hundred million dollars. And we have been able to do that by creating systems and processes. And we do that with myself as the late adviser. We have an associate adviser and a client service person. And then we also have an admin. So me and three employees are able to effectively manage those relationships because of the systems and processes that we put in place.
OWEN: And I just want to make sure the listeners get that because that just proves to show that when you have systems and processes in place you don’t really need a big team to have a high impact especially when you have the systems and processes in place. How has the company been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
KATHY: Well, the first thing and probably the most important thing is that we give a really good, consistent client experience. [Unintelligible 00:02:45] putting systems in place. I wasn’t sure that each and every step was being done for every client that came through the door. And I wanted to make sure that the little things didn’t fall through the cracks because those are the things that can erode people’s confidence. And I think if you do a great job on the front end it starts the whole relationship out in a much better light.
OWEN: And I can definitely see the need for making sure that the experience is important because now you’re actually managing client’s finances. So you also have to make sure the experience also is good, because if they get a bad experience they start wondering, “Hey, how are they going to manage my money?” and stuff like that.
OWEN: How has your personal life been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
KATHY: Back in 2009 I had an executive assistant that have been with me for 10 years. Every single thing she did was all in-between her two ears and…
OWEN: In her head, right?
KATHY: It’s not written down and I was just really worried and anxious any time I thought about it. Anything happened to her what would I do? I have no idea what she does every day. I know she was affected, and that people liked her, and she was doing good work but there were really no checks and balances in place. So it was really important to me to get that done. And once it was completed and I knew that… You have job descriptions for people but when they actually have to write down what they do every day, a week, a month, quarterly, annually, you get a confidence that not only is this person going to be able to do their job better but if something happens to them the person that steps in will have a track to run on and be able to come up to speed a lot quicker. So it reduced the stress in my life of something happening to one of my main employees. And knowing that I’d be able to train somebody else if she weren’t here for whatever reason.
OWEN: That’s awesome. I get the whole need for peace of mind. And so, now that you have systems in place that actually allows it to run without you I’m curious to know what is has been the longest time you’ve actually been away from the business?
KATHY: I have gone away on several occasions for over three weeks. I’ve gone to India a couple of times. I also teach yoga. I like to go on teacher trainings and workshops, and to be halfway around the world and know that things are running smoothly is just great. And it allows me not only to make sure that my business is run well also to be able to pursue my avocation confidently.
OWEN: I’m sure the listeners are wondering. They want to have some context as to what exactly your business is all about. What exactly does your company do and what big pain or problem do you solve for your customers?
KATHY: We are a financial planning and wealth management firm. So we help people make wise decisions with their money so that they can pursue their goals and dreams with a partner that will give them the confidence to be able to do what they do best and partner with us to make sure that their financial planning needs are covered.
OWEN: Yeah. And so is your company profitable? What was last year’s annual revenue and what probably do you expect to do this year?
KATHY: Our revenue last year was about $1.3 million. We started with about 100 families. We’re more of a boutique style firm and we work with people, really what makes people come to a financial planner is being in transition. When people get married, get divorced, somebody dies, you lose a job, you retire, that’s a cause to look at what’s going on and make sure you have all your ducks in a row. So that’s what we do. And yes, we are very profitable, and I think one of the reasons is because of the systems that we have in place. It doesn’t take as many people if you’ve got technology to help you do your job in the best way that you can.
OWEN: That’s awesome. And so we’ve told the listener where you are right now and the benefits of what you’re experiencing after you’ve been able to systematize your business, but I’m sure it wasn’t always life this. So take us back to when they business was not systematized and automated like it is now. What was wrong with it?
KATHY: The one thing was, what I said earlier, I had a person that knew everything, and nobody else knew what she did. So we just knew that she was getting the job done but there was nothing written down. There were no references to what you do for this service model, or if somebody calls in for a certain… I’m responsible for generating business and bringing new clients in. And I have to rely on my staff to take care of the clients to go through the process and make sure that everything’s done efficiently and as quickly as possible. Because when you’re dealing with people’s money and their life savings you have to make sure that you’re paying attention to the smallest detail.
OWEN: Yeah. And back when the business was not systematized… Do you remember some specific lowest points that you have. Maybe a breaking point even that made you realize that you had to systematize the business besides just having that lady know everything and nobody else.
KATHY: Right. There was one time when a client had asked us to sell the security and for some reason it didn’t get done in a timely manner. And my assistant got an email and forgot to tell me. And because it was during a very volatile time in the market. And it cost me over $7,000.
KATHY: It was [Unintelligible 00:10:10] that if we had checklist, we had a task written down that it had to be followed through until it was finished or someplace that I could go in and see whether or not something had been completed that it might have been caught earlier and certainly wouldn’t have caused me that kind of money. So anytime you have a mistake like that that cost a substantial out of pocket expense that you weren’t planning at and it makes you sit up and think what do I need to do. We had no system in place to make sure that when a client called in and I did something that the follow-up needed to be recorded and couldn’t be checked off as completed until it had been double checked and verified.
OWEN: During the pre-interview you mentioned that at the time you’re also a member of a study group with other financial advisers and wealth managers. How did that play a role in moving towards this direction of systematizing the business? I’m just curious.
KATHY: I had a couple of the guys that are in my study group which is a group of 10 financial advisers that run businesses similar to like…
OWEN: Was it like a mastermind or something?
KATHY: Yes. And their two members had talked to and considered hiring what they called a process coach. And after what happened I decided that I needed to bring this guy in, I needed help and I had no idea how to do it. And this guy really ended up changing my life with the process that he took us through. We have very complicated business with just a very large number of processes that have to be recorded. So he helped us work through that and we’ve been using it ever since.
OWEN: So I’m wondering was that the very first step you took to systematize the business, getting them in to come and help?
KATHY: Yes. I brought my process coach and he came and spent a full day with our employees. He covered the walls with these huge sticky notes. He as a group made us go through what happens from the time a prospect calls into our office and what does it take to take that process full cycle from prospect to client. That wasn’t just one process, they were really four or five phases with multiple steps and then we listed what each person did, each step along the way. And once that was done we were able to make the checklist that went along with each of those processes.
OWEN: And what was the second step you took to systematize the business?
KATHY: We did a major analysis of all of the client services that we provided. And each person that worked in my office had to write down and breakdown the things that they did daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. We used the mind map software called Mindjet to brainstorm and kind of create the big picture of client services. And then after that we went through the admin side of the business and broke each of those pieces down.
OWEN: And real quick before we continue the interview, are you using a headphone that rests on your shirt? Maybe you might want to hold it up so it doesn’t rub on your shirt, because while we’re talking I can hear the sound of it rubbing on the shirt. But it’s okay. If you can hold it up. Is it like an Apple headphone?
KATHY: Yeah, it’s an Apple headphone.
OWEN: Yeah, it happens when it rubs on the shirt. Let’s go ahead. So if you can hold it on your hand so it doesn’t rub. What other steps did you take to systematize the business back then?
KATHY: After we did all those steps, the daily, weekly, monthly each physician had one person being the main person that did it. And then we had a backup for each position. So that if you hear this person would take over, if you got overwhelmed and worn indeed it helped that this person knew how to do those processes and take care of that aspect of the business.
OWEN: And you mentioned that this very step it allowed you to realize something about your organizational chart, what did you realize when you went through this process about the organizational chart.
KATHY: Yeah, it was really interesting because once we went through everything that my two part-time people were doing I realize that what I really needed in my business was one client service associate and one associate advisor. I really didn’t need to be too paying two people the equivalent of 60 hours a week. After systematizing one person would be able to do that job with the backup. And so after offering both of them the opportunity to take a full-time position I’d let them both go and ended up hiring one person to do the client service. And I was able to bring an associate adviser which has really helped to make our firm much more efficient.
OWEN: Yeah. Back then how did you even prioritize the other steps to take when you were deciding what systems to create first, the first one and the next one. What was the thought process?
KATHY: Because we paid for managing our client’s assets and helping them with all their financial planning needs we felt that the client service needed to be systematized first. And I wanted a consistent, repeatable process that would give each client that came through our door the very best experience so that we would make a really good impression on the front end. And we have a core value system that we call BAMA, not the football in Alabama, but Bama stands for, the B is Be excellent not average; A is act with urgency; M is make a connection; and A is anticipate needs. These were values were brought into the process to create all of our client service and admin services.
OWEN: You said something about streamlining the office from the admin site. What is that?
KATHY: I wanted to make sure that we had processes for everything non-client related, opening and closing the office, what are our mailing procedures, how do we pay the expenses, how does our electronic filing system work? So that when somebody is filing a correspondence or paperwork that the client has filled out that’s consistent and that anybody could go in and find anything that they needed because we put a good system and process in place.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Back then, how exactly did you document procedures and processes for the business and what tools did you use?
KATHY: Well, we use Mindjet for the mind mapping piece of it. And then I have a database that a lot of financial advisory firms use called Redtail. Redtail has a checklist feature that allows you to create on step-by-step instructions for any client service that your firm is going to do. It gives a timeline, you can assign who’s responsible for it. If you need to assign something to another person you can change that. It’s got the ability to change the dates in it. So if I was out of town in a meeting and I wanted to see what was going on I can go into a checklist and see the vendor has been contacted, what’s been sent to the client, and it’s all in one place in one concise format. And to be able to do that without having to call and try to go through two or three people, seeing who did what is just a great way for accountability and for follow-up for anybody else in the office that might have to step in and take care of something.
OWEN: So you also mentioned during the pre-interview that there are checklists for creating a new account. And then you also mentioned something about an e-filing system. What was that?
KATHY: We used a cloud filing system called Egnyte. And we keep all the processes for our office on that drive and then our client services are kept in the database. So we are a paperless office as far as… Most of our paperwork can be done by e-signature then it’s sent.
OWEN: So Egnyte allows you to save files that your customers bring in, documents on your customers to, right?
KATHY: Yes. And it’s also where we keep all the information, all of our client meeting now. It’s all of the correspondence between them and us, between the companies that we may place them with, all of the paperwork and applications we keep copies of them in that system. It’s really a great way to stay organized. And it also helps when you systematize to have everything in that format so that… You don’t have a physical filing cabinet to out to so you better be consistent with how you put things in there. Once something is file that anybody that wants to go in there to find something can easily find it.
OWEN: Yeah. And so at the time when you were working on systematizing and automating the business what books and mentors had the most influence on you and why?
KATHY: Well, David T. Lord who is from Michigan was my process coach through doing it. He worked with us for about a year. He came in maybe three times and that was the accountability factor. It seems to be a really overwhelming process especially in financial services. I know so many firms that haven’t taken the time to do this because it just seems like an insurmountable job because of the many, many different things that we have to do for clients. He helped us break it down and have to kind of bite it off one piece at a time and we were able to get it accomplished. The other person there is a gentleman in my industry whose name is Ron Carson. He’s huge on creating processes. He wrote a book maybe 10 years ago called Tested in the Trenches: A 9-Step Plan for Building and Sustaining a Million-Dollar Financial Services Practice. That’s a long title but that’s the title.
OWEN: It’s a very detailed title of what it’s going to be when you read the book, and what the book is about, and who it’s specifically for. I like that.
KATHY: Honestly, when you systematize your business, I can only speak as a financial planning firm but you do become more efficient, more profitable. It’s transformative. And I’ve worked with a woman, her name is [Unknown name 00:24:32]. She also work with people in the financial services industry is a big believer on getting people to put processes in place to help assure your success, and again, create a really great client experience.
OWEN: If we only talk about the things you did and the results you got as a result of systematizing your company we don’t give a full picture. So there had to have been challenges. I’m wondering, what was the biggest challenge you experienced when you initially tried to systematize this, and how did you solve it?
KATHY: My biggest challenge was getting my employees on-board. They were very, very threatened by me asking them to write all these things down. I really didn’t understand it but I felt especially with my assistant that if she wrote everything down that she did it wouldn’t make her as invaluable as she was. But they didn’t have a choice because David came in every 3-4 months. And I stayed on top of them to go through in detail with everything that did. And even though I explained why we’re doing it.
OWEN: David, the process guy, him coming in made deadlines for them to do their part of documenting, right?
KATHY: Yes. When I tell him he was coming you could just see their whole demeanor change. But in the end it did end up eliminating two of the jobs. But I hadn’t gone through the process I think it would’ve taken me a few more years to realize that the positions that I had were not the right ones for what I needed to grow.
OWEN: I guess that was kind of like good cop, bad cop. So you put the blame on him and you were the good cop, right?
KATHY: I don’t know about that. I think they kind of put me on the same page because they did not seem to understand why it was so important for them to document everything. It was threatening in some way.
OWEN: I totally get it. But you got it done and that’s the most important thing. And so what was the second biggest challenge that you experienced when you initially tried to systematize the business and how did you solve it?
KATHY: Well, I guess the other big challenge that I had was I’ve always liked to adapt things early. And when I first went to an electronic filing system it was before Egnyte. I used a system called Laserfiche.
OWEN: Oh yeah, I heard of them.
KATHY: Which is great, and this is nothing against them, it’s that I started using that before I had specific systems in place. People were filing things different ways. And when I realized that it took twice as long to unwind what we had done and fix it that it head if we had created the system first and adapted that to our technology. That was an expensive lesson from a time standpoint. And once we fixed everything and have everything consistent now it’s so simple to find anything and you can find it from anywhere in the world, whether you’re at home, at your office, or India at a yoga retreat.
OWEN: I’m wondering, were there any other challenges that you want to highlight that you experience when you were trying to create systems for the business?
KATHY: I think that initially the client service process was created for a specific person. And if you don’t have every single thing written down then it could be missed. It’s something that we realize we had to adjust on an ongoing basis and let people come in and say we don’t need these steps or we need to streamline this. So making it so specific to one person I don’t think was beneficial. Some people need a lot more guidance or more steps than other people might be a big picture so you have to figure out what are the really important steps to make sure that things don’t fall through the cracks and not make it extremely cumbersome. So there’s a fine line there.
OWEN: What I get from that is kind of like when you’re creating systems for how work should be done the system should also be flexible as well so that it can also bend according to the situation and fit the situation. Is that what you’re kind of saying with this?
KATHY: Yes. And I guess one other challenge that I’ve had is if you’ve got a person that doesn’t like to utilize technology, you have to find someone that’s comfortable. And in this case some of the younger people are just a lot more comfortable with using technology, but you can’t have somebody come in that wants to use a paper calendar when everybody else is using an electronic calendar. It goes back to the same issues of like with the electronic filing. Everybody has to be able to look in one place and be able to figure out what’s going on.
OWEN: Given all the challenges you mentioned earlier I’m wondering why did you even stay committed to the goal of systematizing the business.
KATHY: I guess the main reason is because it enables you to successfully run a business and track results.
OWEN: I like that. Let’s get the listener to a more recent time in the story. I’m wondering at what point in time were you able to systematize the entire business and have it run without you successfully. Do you remember when?
KATHY: It was back around 2010 that we completed that year-long process. And since then it’s been ongoing. I feel a lot better from a succession standpoint that I’ve created value for my business for my employees.
OWEN: When you say succession standpoint what do you mean?
KATHY: If I died… One of the ways that they value a financial service practice is they look at do you have systems in place, are they repeatable, could somebody step in and take over your firm and know how everything was done. So my firm would be more valuable and would sell for a higher price than one where it was just loosey goosey, and there were three employees, and everybody just did what they were supposed to do but nothing’s written down. You get dinged for that on the value.
OWEN: I totally understand. I get it now. Now that we’re talking about more of a recent time one of the things that we were talking about now, one of the things that I always like to do during the interview is always get my guest to picture the business kind of like a conveyor belt. One end, in this case, someone who has some wealth that they’re trying to manage and have a wealth manager work with them. And on the other end of this same conveyor belt is that same person who has gone through working with you guys and is out there raving about how great you guys are. But behind the scenes in your business are a series of different parts in the business making this transformation happen. So feel free to start from what you did to even find this kind of client in the first place. Is it marketing? I’m trying to understand how you even get them in the first place to be interested in the service. I’m wondering if you have a system in place for attracting that client in the first place.
KATHY: Oh yes. We have checklists in place for on-boarding clients on what happens when a perspective client calls in. We have checklists and process for that. And then once we bring them on-board, if they’re going through the financial planning process there are specific steps for everything we do along the way to make sure that we’re covering the ten major areas of financial planning. It’s complicated but we’ve got a way to track it. And we have steps for each piece of it. So that when a new person comes in, if they go through the process and they like what they see, and they refer somebody to us they know that this is a systematic approach and that… they’re going to get that same great experience as they had.
OWEN: So the referral is also kind of how you’re getting people in as well. It’s part of the process.
KATHY: Yeah. And we get a lot of referrals from other professionals like CPA’s. When they know that you have a repeatable process, and you can show them this is how we take a client from the first phone call to the end of the result. That gives them confidence and referring people to know that we’re going to take good care of their own plans that they refer to us. That has been really invaluable. The fact that all of our office procedures have been systematized and just calling simple things like making sure that the client appointment is confirmed by 8:30 in the morning before. All these things that seem small but when you put them all together they all add to what the client sees as their experience with Fish & Associates.
OWEN: That’s awesome. You mentioned some of the systems you have in place so that your employees know what they need to do. Earlier you said Redtail comes with checklists and they know for every client what stage of outstanding task they need to do. So you’ve mentioned that before. And I’m wondering how do you even track the results being delivered to the employees?
KATHY: How do I track the result for the employees?
OWEN: How do you track and verify results being delivered by your employees?
KATHY: Okay. We have a meeting every Monday and that’s where we discuss what’s coming up for the week. They tell me if there’s been any glitches from the prior week. And they can quickly go through the checklist of each client that they haven’t processed and make notes to come in to our meeting to get me filled in. If any business is submitted that is not in good order I get an email and from the people that process our business in our back office which is in Austin and I can address what was missed. Sometimes that gives us the opportunity to update our checklist to make sure that something isn’t missed in the [Unintelligible 00:38:21]. It’s just like if you are a gardener you don’t plant the seeds and just let the weeds grow wild. You have to go in and…
OWEN: …prune and maintain.
KATHY: Prune, and nurture, and fertilize along the way, whatever it takes to get good crop at the end. And our crop in that case is a really excellent service experience, because one of our main mission is to bring joy, inspiration and financial success to the people whose lives we touch. And in order to do that we have to make sure that we are dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.
OWEN: That’s awesome. And so since you now have more free time in the business I’m wondering which areas of the business you focus on now and why.
KATHY: I do like developing and bringing in new business. I like setting up and creating client events that are for educational purposes as well as sometimes for fun. Because I’m also a yoga teacher I’ve been working with another adviser in Portland, Oregon. I’m going to be putting a course together based on her book called Wild Money. And that’s going to be a workshop. I’m going to do workshops for women. So there’s going to be a whole system on how we go through that 4-6 week workshop. So I’m bringing systems and processes into everything I do now.
OWEN: That’s awesome. I’m wondering what’s the next stage of growth for your business? What do you plan to achieve next and why?
KATHY: I just finished building a new building. I have room now to hire at least four more people. My doc works with me and she is a certified financial planner and she’s transitioning from being the director of client services to becoming a full-blown adviser next year. And then we will look at bringing in at least one other financial planner and hopefully another associate adviser which will require us to have another client service. I don’t think I could be able to effectively have that kind of growth and have control over the client experience if we didn’t have all these systems in place. And I’d like to get my revenue up to two million dollars over the five years by expanding. And being able for our office to serve more families. But I want to maintain the small, more boutique style firm that we have. I like providing personalized service knowing our clients. And I’ve never wanted to be a firm that has thousands of clients that we don’t know.
OWEN: I totally get that. As we come to the end of the interview the listeners listening all the way through this point, is there something that you want to let them know to take as the very next step towards getting their business transformed so that it runs without them, the next thing you think they should do?
KATHY: My suggestion would be to hire somebody to help you. Get whatever kind of partner that you need whether it’s a person, a technology system, but get the help. Because a lot of times business owners think they can do it all on their own. They have good intentions, and they’ve never end up having the time to do it. I think you need somebody to help you through the process. I’m a big believer in using coaches just because I like to be accountable to somebody else. It makes me meet my deadlines. I think if you do find resistance to this from employees they have to be accountable to somebody else as well.
OWEN: I totally understand that. We’re live during the interview. If the phone goes off, it’s okay, it’s part of the process. I’m wondering, is there a question that you were wishing I would’ve asked you during this interview that I didn’t get to ask you so far. Feel free to post the question and the answer. It could be anything. Anything you feel that would add more depth to the interview so far that maybe I didn’t cover yet.
KATHY: No. I think you’ve been pretty thorough. One other thing that I did want to say though about doing this systemization is you really have to make a commitment to see the process through. It may be quick and easy for some companies. It may be a much longer process like it was for me just because of the complexity of my business. But I just want the people listening to know that it is definitely worth the effort, and it will reap financial rewards. Mentally you’re just feeling calmer and more confident that your business can run without you at some level.
OWEN: That is awesome. What is the best way for the listeners to connect with you and thank you for doing the interview?
KATHY: They can visit my website which is fishandassociates.com. I’ve got a Facebook page. I write a blog for women called A Man Is Not A Plan. There’s a Facebook page for that.
OWEN: I like that title.
KATHY: We’re on LinkedIn under Kathy Fish or Fish & Associates. They could connect with me in any of those ways. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to answer any questions that somebody would have about going through this process or answering financial planning questions.
OWEN: That is awesome. I’m speaking to you the listener right now who’s listening all the way to this point. If you’ve enjoyed this interview please do us a favor and leave us a positive review on iTunes. And hopefully you’ll leave us a 5-star review. And to do that go to sweetprocess.com/iTunes, and that will redirect you to the iTunes channel and you can actually leave your review on there. If you another entrepreneur who will find value from listening to this call please feel free to share the interview with them. And finally, if you’re at that stage in your business where you’re tired of being the bottleneck and you want your employees to know step by step how you get tasks done, and be able to delegate task and see that they’re getting it done all the way to completion, well, go ahead and sign up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Kathy, thanks for doing the interview.
KATHY: Thank you for having me. I enjoyed talking to you.
OWEN: And we’re done.