5 Big Takeaways From My First 5 Years In Business

by Sophia Bera on June 28, 2018

I can’t believe that I launched Gen Y Planning in May of 2013! I just celebrated my five-year anniversary by taking a trip to London to see Hamilton on the West End with my business bestie, Mary Beth from Workable Wealth. Our box seats included our own personal butler and the show was fantastic!

Like lots of businesses, Gen Y Planning started out simply as an idea. I bet many of you have ideas for businesses, but don’t know how to begin turning these ideas into something real.

Five years ago, I was in your shoes. Now that I can look back on those early days knowing what I know now, I wanted to share some lessons I learned along the way.

Let Me Take You Back to February 8, 2013 …

I am an accidental entrepreneur. I didn’t think I had the guts to quit my job and launch my own business, but I never felt like I fit in anywhere in financial planning. I was an actor for the previous decade, so when I got my CFP® I still felt like had to act the part or someone would soon find out that I didn’t take math in college and my career would be over.

I clearly remember making the decision to launch my own firm the day before my 29th birthday while out to dinner with my mentor, Scott Oeth. I was agonizing over quitting my remote job at a FinTech startup while considering putting on a suit and heels to find a job at a traditional financial planning firm in Minnesota. None of this felt right. But I was burnt out so I knew I had to make a change. I started interviewing at local firms and Scott could tell I was NOT excited to get a second interview at a firm that only worked with ultra-high net worth clients.

But here’s how our dinner convo went:

Scott: “You don’t seem excited about this interview. What else are you thinking?”

Me: “I really want to help my generation with their money. I would love to start my own company and call it something like Gen Y Planning, and work with clients on a monthly retainer model.”

Scott: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Me: (Stage direction: Word vomits all internal fears) “That I’ll fail. That I won’t make any money. That no one will want to work with me. That I’m too young. That I don’t have a master’s degree—”

Scott: “No, Sophia. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have to get a job in financial planning, which is exactly what you’re thinking about doing right now. So why don’t you just launch your own firm and in a few years, you can always merge with another company if you don’t like running it yourself?”

That’s when I decided that I had to try, even though I had expected to fail. I knew I could get a job in financial planning (I was a CFP® with five years of experience), but I would be really mad at myself if I didn’t try. But I really didn’t think it was going to work.

Fast Forward to 2018

I’m sitting at the hotel bar of The Bloomsbury drinking English Sparkling wine (which I didn’t know was a thing but now I feel fancy AF) with Mary Beth talking about all the things — life, love, family, business, and babies — but mostly we are really happy to be taking a girls’ trip.

We don’t often take time out of our busy lives to pause and celebrate our accomplishments. Then we checked Twitter to find out we both were named Investopedia’s Top 100 Advisors of 2018. How the hell did we get here?!?

That’s my first big takeaway:

1. Put Your Dream Life in Writing and Celebrate Your Wins Along the Way

Five years ago I was living in my ex-in-laws’ basement, paying half of their mortgage, and questioning everything about my life since I was the breadwinner who just quit her “stable job” and launched Gen Y Planning with zero clients and zero revenue. (Wow, that got dark really fast.)

About six years ago, I wrote down my ideal day: working remotely from coffee shops, working at a job where I’m helping people, and traveling as much as I want. My life now looks very much like that. I’m extremely grateful to be a location-independent entrepreneur who no longer lives for my two weeks of paid vacation, but it has been a bumpy road, to put it lightly.

If your life or career is feeling boring, exhausting, or out of balance, take the time to write down what you’d like your life to look like in the future. Don’t hold back! No idea is too ridiculous. Where do you want to live? How do you want to spend your time? Whom do you want to surround yourself with? Then take the next smallest step, like my friend Carl Richards likes to say.

As you make progress toward your dream life, stop and acknowledge the wins along the way! We live in such a fast-paced world that we often don’t take time to pause and enjoy the moment. Too often we just move on to the next thing on our to do-list. Don’t let this be you! It’s not as much fun and life should be fun! Running a business has its ups and downs, but it’s a lot easier to navigate the lows if you celebrate the highs! (Because there will be lows.)

Also, it’s okay for dreams to change. Revisit your original goals once a year and update them match where your life is going now.

2. Learn to Trust Your Team and Outsource

Too many business owners wait too long to make their first hire. Then they don’t have time to train this person, and things fall apart when their personal life gets hectic (and trust me, it will!).

I hired a few part-time team members to help me keep my business going when I was going through a divorce. I was determined to keep my business going, even if I only had the mental bandwidth to put in a few hours a day.

I recently hired a new Lead Planner, Anthony Badillo, and he is such a rock star that I now have my weekends back and am able to enjoy my life a whole lot more. Plus, we are able to scale and we’re able to create a team approach to financial planning, which is what I always envisioned.

Small business owners tend to try and do everything themselves at first. While it’s exciting to build something from nothing, eventually you’ll need help from others if you want your business to grow. This isn’t failure on your part — this is what allows you to sustain your business no matter what happens in your personal life. And each new hire brings new skills, ideas, and areas of interest that will send your business in unexpected new directions.

3. Keep Your Big Expenses Low and the Rest Is Easy

In 2015, I was still living with my parents in Minnesota rent-free, but I was traveling a lot. I saved $1,000 to $2,000 a month while I built up my client base and was able to spend a lot of time seeing the world since I was landing speaking gigs at industry conferences.

A visit to a friend in Austin made me realize that I wanted to move there for the winter and possibly make it my home. I’ve been here ever since, and moving here allowed me to ditch my car (more savings!).

One of our core values at Gen Y Planning is “simple first, sexy later.” It’s never been easier to start a business with low overhead. You don’t need to rent an office and fill it with furniture. You don’t need to commute. There are so many free and low-cost online tools that can help you run a virtual business. And since you’re not chained to an office, you can live anywhere you want!

4. Make More Money

When I started Gen Y Planning, I did everything: social media, blog posts, email newsletters, media appearances, speaking at conferences … you name it, I bent over backwards to do it just to get the Gen Y Planning name out there.

Publicity is important, but I just didn’t need to do it alone. My goal was to help my generation with their money, and I needed the time to make my clients my main focus. I still have a hand in all the other stuff, but I rely on my team to take the lead. Like this blog post, which I wrote on the plane on the way home from London? My content manager edited the hell out of it. [Editor’s note: you did great, Sophia!]

If Tip #2 was to outsource, this tip is to let outsourcing allow you to put your time and focus toward money-making activities. What is the most valuable way to spend your time that will allow you to generate more money for your business? Do more of that and less of everything else. A lot of small business problems can be solved by generating more revenue.

Look at your calendar. How much time is taken up with “strategy” meetings, phone calls, and other appointments that make it harder to actually do your job? Cut back on time-suckers. Give yourself time to think, work, and actually serve your audience.

5. Set Up Your Life for Options and Flexibility

There’s never a “good” time to start a business because life always gets in the way. You’re getting married or divorced, you’re expecting a child, you’re caring for an older relative, you’re relocating to a new city, you’re starting a new job — there’s always something!

But a good part of being your own boss is you have a little more control over your hours (not a ton, mind you — entrepreneurship is a lot of work!).

So if you need to schedule all your client meetings in the evenings so you can be with your kids during the day, do it. If you need to move your business to be closer to your parents, do it. You’re not just creating a job for yourself, you’re creating your life. Why start a business that chains you to your desk even more than the 9-to-5 cubicle prison you left to start a business in the first place?

What’s Next?

I don’t know what my business or my life is going to look like five years from now, and you probably don’t either. I saw a comedian in her 70s who said, “I’ve been working on my five-year plan for the last 50 years.” That really resonated with me and it’s what I see with my clients. For those of us in our 20s and 30s, life seems to change every six months or so.

It’s important to dream, but it’s also important to be able to pivot as life changes. In the meantime, build up savings, grow your career, pay down debt, and save for the future so that you can say “yes” to the right opportunities and also not be thrown when life doesn’t go the way you planned.

And sometimes, it ends up working better than you ever expected.