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Building the Business 101: An Advisor Turns Coach

Diane MacPhee's career change has been positive for both her and her clients.

Veena A. Kutler and Annette F. Simon, 01/24/2008

This monthly series of articles describes the many steps and occasional missteps we have taken in building our financial advisory business, Garnet Group LLC. Currently, Garnet has eight staff members, more than 90 clients, more than $300 million in client net worth under advisement, and offices in Bethesda, Md., and Boston. Veena Kutler, CFA, and Annette Simon, CFP, are the managing principals in the Garnet office in Bethesda.

As our regular readers know, we are true believers in work and life balance, and while running our business we have sought efficient ways to fulfill both life and work ambitions. Over the years we have met people who are particularly good at achieving this goal. On occasion throughout 2008, we will devote our monthly column to colleagues who are standouts in our industry and offer unique viewpoints.

Diane MacPhee is a colorful and energetic planner we have known for years through our involvement with the National Association of Personal Financial Planners. After 16 years as a solo practitioner, Diane decided to make a transition from the advisory business to launch a new career as coaching other advisors. Coaching has been gaining popularity in the financial services field in recent years--there seems to be a coaching presentation at almost every conference we attend. But few of the entrants in the field have MacPhee's strong combination of coaching expertise and in-the-trenches advisory experience. Intrigued by this combination of skills, we caught up with her to learn how her new business was going.

Diane, tell us about your journey from financial advisor to coach and consultant.
I began my planning practice in 1989 as a solo practitioner and from the beginning loved my work and my clients. However, in 2005 I knew I needed a change. I felt I was bursting at the seams. I was very busy with my existing clients and new clients were coming in the door, and it was stressful to handle it all on my own, even with the help of my excellent office manager. An additional challenge was my decision to live near the New Jersey shore and so now my residence was two hours away from my office. I decided to take some time, examine what my passions truly were and see what I wanted to do with my life. If I stayed in planning, I knew I had to either merge with another planner or hire more employees and ramp up my practice. Neither option was that attractive to me.

As I thought about what really made me happy, I realized it was the work I had been doing as a volunteer for NAPFA. From 1999 on, I had been traveling around the country on NAPFA's behalf running full-day workshops to help people (primarily brokers) make the transition to fee-only planning. I loved talking to the attendees, and helping planners to work on the business development aspect of planning practices. I decided then and there to refocus my career and work with advisors to help them optimize their practices.

Was that transition a quick one?
It took well over a year. I approached my transition methodically. My first step was to learn how best to sell my planning practice. After doing research and speaking to many colleagues I decided to list my practice on FPtransitions.com--David Grau's Web site that  matches buyers and sellers of planning practices. Within 24 hours of my initial listing I had received 52 inquiries for my practice! After some time winnowing down the offers and evaluating the buyers I found the best fit for my clients and me, and sold my practice to a fee-only NAPFA planner. I then stayed on for a year to help my clients make the transition to the buyer. I also spent time improving my coaching skills by training through the CoachU program.

By mid-2007, I was devoting my energies full-time to my coaching practice. Because of the many people I knew and because I had been working with transitioning planners for years I never felt like a beginner, and was able to hit the ground running with clients.

Give us a feel for how you work with your advisor clients. What is your fee-structure, and length and scope of engagement? Do you typically work by phone or in-person?
I have a standard coaching engagement that runs for six months and costs $3,000. This involves a 45-minute session by phone every two weeks. Prior to starting I request that my clients fill out a questionnaire that helps me pinpoint their goals and objectives. I also send out agendas, to-do lists and other information to my clients during the engagement. I've found that six months is not enough for many planners and most of my clients have chosen to renew at the end of our engagement. I do offer some in-person sessions at an extra charge.

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