Julia Carlson, founder and CEO of Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group in Newport, Ore., shared the key secret to her success during a recent InvestmentNews Women Adviser Summit in San Francisco: Learn to delegate.
"When I started my company, it was all about me," said Ms. Carlson, who was named one of Forbes Top Women Wealth Advisors in 2019 and a top Wealth Advisor Mom by Working Women in 2018. She was also a member of InvestmentNews' inaugural class of 40 Under 40 honorees in 2014.
"I hired people like me, served people like me and was out to prove to the world I could do it on my own and I did," she told the Women Advisers Summit attendees during her presentation, entitled, "Scaling your practice to create freedom in your life."
"I was successful, but I was also working 60-plus hours a week, a slave to my business," she said.
'something had to change'
"I had a big wake-up call seven years ago when my daughter was involved in a horrific car accident, and I found myself in the intensive care unit at her bedside worrying about getting my computer so I could work," she recalled. "Something had to change."
At that point, Ms. Carlson said, she shifted her mindset from being self-employed to becoming a business owner.
"I wanted to build a true business, something that would outlast me," she said in a follow-up telephone interview. "I had to get out of my own way to accomplish it." Ms. Carlson explained how she invested in her personal and professional development, hiring a coach to help her define and meet strategic goals for her business.
"I began to understand my strengths and learned to surround myself with a team that complemented me," she said. "I started to hire people that were different than me and that is when the magic happened."
Ms. Carlson said the transition was challenging at first because her new team members brought different viewpoints. But she credits that inclusive culture with spawning a 33% annual growth rate over the past five years.
Her new mantra: "I'm in charge, but I'm not in control."
Since launching her independent advice firm in 2009, Ms. Carlson has grown it into a diverse 13-member team that manages about $285 million in assets and serves more than 800 households and small businesses in 26 states.
Although her firm works primarily with retirees and near retirees, she has been focusing her personal efforts on working with entrepreneurs.
"Many business owners have never learned the art of delegation," she said. "I work with them on succession plans and how to take the intellectual property out of the business owner's head and put it into a system and scale it."
Ms. Carlson credits much of her success to Lisa Dion, founder of Strategic Advisor Solutions, who helped her define and execute her business goals. Now they have teamed up to offer a new online master class to help other financial advisers learn how to take their business to the next level without having to work harder and longer hours. It's the ultimate course in work/life balance.
"As women, we often try to be all things to all people," Ms. Carlson told the Women Adviser Summit attendees. "It's because we're good listeners. It's a natural female skill."
But one of the keys to success, particularly for female financial advisers, is "to figure out who they want to be heroes to and go after that niche," Ms. Carlson said in a subsequent telephone interview. "As soon as you get niched, you will become more authentic and can build a business around that."
In Ms. Carlson's case, her passion for health and fitness spawned a Facebook group that attracted many like-minded women.
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"For me, it was never about trying to attract new clients, but just showing up and being relatable," she said. That authenticity paid off. She said one woman in the Facebook group reached out to her with a financial question and has since referred numerous colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry to Ms. Carlson's wealth management firm.
"I believe the art of fulfillment is the ability to feel happiness and joy along the journey," she said, recalling lessons she learned from working with motivational guru Tony Robbins.
"We must have passion for the work we do and think first about how we can add value to others," she said. "If we focus on these two higher spiritual needs of growth and contribution, the gift is found in who we become along the way."
Mary Beth Franklin, a certified financial planner, is a contributing editor for InvestmentNews.
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