A Peek Behind the Scenes at GYP: How I Built the Kind of Business I Want to See in the World

by Sophia Bera on April 12, 2017

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on a “Behind the Scenes Look at Gen Y Planning.” If you’re a financial planner who is interested in finding out about the next mentorship program that I’m launching, you can sign up for the wait list here.

I just spent a few months coaching other financial planners who are striking out on their own, and it made me think back to May of 2013, when I launched Gen Y Planning with a $10,000 investment of my own money and a not-insignificant amount of fear in my heart.

Why did I want to create my own business? Why take on the risk, when I could have a stable job at a financial planning firm?

I Saw a Gap in the Financial Planning Industry

I knew the kind of work I really wanted to do, and no firm was doing it yet. I wanted to work with younger clients, and many financial planners still think people don’t need financial help until they’re much older. Or worse, they don’t want to work with anyone who isn’t already wealthy. I wanted to help people in their 20s and 30s lay the foundation for future wealth.

I never thought that just a few years after I wrote that blog post about starting my company, Gen Y wouldn’t be a niche anymore. I love that there are hundreds of other planners serving this demographic now.

Most of my clients are in their 30s (young Gen Xers and older Gen Yers). All of my clients are within 10 years of my age. I understand the life changes they’re going through, and I love being on their team to help them figure out how to navigate through the financial implications of these changes.

I have a really diverse client base and a really diverse team. We are the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants and a lot of our clients are first-generation Americans or immigrants. This profoundly impacts people’s value systems when it comes to money.

I’ve been working for myself longer than I held down any other job (4 years!). I won’t lie — starting a business is a lot of work. But it’s rewarding as hell. Many of you might be considering striking out on your own, so I wanted to share some of my experiences with you.

It’s Not All Rainbows and Butterflies

Listen, starting a business is not for the faint of heart. You will experience a lot of self-doubt and go through a roller coaster ride of emotions (often all in the same day!). I’ve been there, and I’m still there once in awhile!

Sometimes people think I live this magical life because they only see bits and pieces of it on Twitter. But keep in mind that we only see a small fraction of each other’s lives on social media.

(Remember that the next time yet another friend announces their picture-perfect engagement on Instagram right as you get home from the worst date you’ve ever been on. It gets better.)

When I started GYP in 2013, I lived in my in-laws’ basement. By 2014, I was separated and moved in with my parents in Minnesota while I finalized my divorce by year-end. After traveling on and off for a year, I moved to Austin by the end of 2015 for a fresh start.

So while I paint a rosy picture on social media, I have kept my personal life private and only recently spoke about some of the struggles that were happening behind the scenes in this podcast with Michael Kitces.

For example, if I was really honest during the week of Feb. 13 this year, my Tweets would have looked something like this:

“Vegas for my birthday!!!”

“Dumped by a dude right before my birthday brunch…and he was my ride to the restaurant. I canceled brunch on account of too many tears. #FML”

“I just gave two presentations at Google! Seriously, is this real life?”

“Sad family news. My uncle died yesterday and I found out today that my godmother’s cancer is back.”

“Getting quoted in Cosmo is almost enough to make up for the shitty haircut I got while reading said issue of Cosmo.”

Yes, all of that happened in a week: the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

And through it all, I still have a business to run. That’s something I’ve learned in this process: while it’s WAY easier to launch your firm when you have a stable home life, life is messy and rarely is there a perfect time to start a business. Sometimes you just have to do it despite all the chaos that surrounds you. (And go to therapy. Every entrepreneur needs therapy.)

What I Value in Running My Business

Because I dealt with a lot of personal stuff while launching Gen Y Planning, I learned a lot about the kind of business I wanted to create and the way I wanted to treat my clients. I’m big on sticking to your values — not your friends’ values, not your parents’, and not the social norms you feel pressured to adhere to.

So when other planners told me that running a virtual business for young clients was a direct path to failure, I doubled down on my own value system. I created a company that offers:

Autonomy and flexibility for my clients, my team, and myself. My clients don’t have to take off of work and drive to my office to meet me. My team can live anywhere they want, take time off when they want, and I trust their instincts completely when it comes to their work.

A shame-free environment, where I never judge my clients for spending money on things like dinners out, travel, or other “frivolous” purchases. (I spend my money on these things!) Money is for saving, but it’s also for buying the things that enhance your life. I want my clients to decide what matters to them, and then I’ll work with them to create a financial plan that will allow them to afford everything they need and much of what they want.

And as for my team, they know they can be honest with me if they’re feeling stressed or swamped. We’ve all cried on the phone to each other and we take work off of each other’s plates when needed. Building a company that’s respectful of my team and clients is extremely important to me.

A culture of information-sharing. There isn’t a finite number of potential financial planning clients in the world, so I don’t understand when planners hoard information like it’s a “secret sauce.” We serve clients better when we share the secrets of our success! I have learned so much from financial planners like Michael Kitces, Mary Beth Storjohann, and my very first mentor in financial planning, Scott Oeth.

I want to share my best practices with others. So I started coaching other financial planners who are launching their own firms. I really feel a duty and obligation to help train other planners to do amazing work in the world. This is one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done. I did a beta-launch of a mentorship program in Q1 of 2017, offering a mix of group and one-on-one coaching and four amazing planners signed up!

It’s been incredible to see them land their first few clients, get quoted in the press, take on side hustles, and build their blogs. It went so well that I’m going to launch another group soon. If you want to be the first to know about it, you can get on the waitlist!

There Will Still be Naysayers

There are many other advisors who’ve said that I could never build a profitable business working with millennials. I’ve had a lot of people talk down to me and criticise my work and my business. When you are being creative and trying something new or different, you’re going to be met with criticism. Your work isn’t going to resonate with everyone, and that’s actually a good thing!

There will always be trolls on the internet that feel the need to be assholes. This has more to do with them than you. If you’re ready to launch your own company, I give you permission to ignore shitty advice and not to let it hurt your feelings.

I want to push you to keep creating. Keep building the business you want to see in the world. Your work is important and needs to be shared. There is no one way to be an entrepreneur.

This is just the way my story has unfolded. Take what you like and leave the rest.