1. You're in charge of your own income.
Some financial planners will take on a commission-based role, where they're paid a percentage for each client they see. Other financial planners work on a flat fee, which earns a flat rate for each client. It's also pretty common for financial planners to start their own businesses—which is what I did. There are more risks associated with running your own business, but it's also incredibly flexible. Depending on how much you want to work, you can make well into the six figures.
2. You'll spend half your time just finding new clients.
Your success in this field depends entirely on your ability to find clients. In the beginning, I took every coffee meeting I could and networked like crazy, trying to get clients who would pay me for my expertise. Now, after about 10 years of doing this, I have relationships with people who refer clients and I use online marketing to get more, but I'm still always looking for new clients to grow my business. Plus, about half of my clients only visit me one time to create a basic money management plan, so I need a constant influx of new people.
3. It's a good idea to specialize in a certain kind of client, like a doctor does.
Otherwise, it can get overwhelming to try to know everything. My clients are all professional women in their 30s and 40s—a demographic I chose for both personal reasons (I'm an entrepreneurial woman in my 30s) and because market research shows women are still underserved by the financial services industry. As more women started to become breadwinners, it seemed like there was a huge need to serve women, so I wanted to become that person. I don't stray from that niche: I don't work with retired women; I don't work with women straight out of college; I don't work with men. Being so particular and becoming an expert in their particular financial concerns has actually helped me to become successful.
4. You'll feel like a therapist sometimes.
Buying a home, investing thousands, deciding to retire—these are huge decisions. And with big decisions come big emotions. Recently, I had a client with her finances in order to buy a home, but she told me she was too scared. We talked about why she was scared, the facts about her finances, and eventually she decided to do it. I try to help them see the numbers in black and white. Often, that soothes their fear that making a big purchase will jeopardize other goals. But if they see that and they still don't feel ready, I have told clients to hold off until they feel more ready.
5. Most people are financially illiterate.
None of us receive personal finance education growing up, and even if you try to learn on your own, it can be incredibly daunting. Part of what I do is sit down with my clients and say, "Look, here are the basics of what you need to know," and I translate those terms into simple English. It's almost like being a finance teacher. I want them to understand as much as possible so they're not just blindly doing what I tell them to do with their money.
6. People are terrible at saving.
I recommend that clients save 20 percent of their net income. As a financial planner, I have to teach people to rein in what seems like normal behavior—[to spend more than their means]. It's like reversing the psychology of "buy this now!" that so many of us have grown up with. This is true especially among Millennials, who tend to have the YOLO mindset about spending their money.
7. Sometimes you have to help people figure out why they want to save their money.
I get two different types of clients: On one hand, people visit me who know they need to save but aren't really clear about their financial goals. I help them outline the reasons they personally need savings, like a healthy retirement fund or the option to go on a nice vacation every year. We also focus on building a cash cushion to prepare for things they haven't thought about yet. On the other hand, people come in and have a laundry list of things they want to save up for—they want to buy a house, they want to open a business, they want kids, they want to go on luxury vacations every year—and by the time you get to the end of the list, you'd need multimillions to make it happen. A big part of my process is getting clients to prioritize their goals and focus on just three things at any given time, because having too many goals can make it hard to save up for any of them.
8. Learn to embrace financial technologies.
Technology is continuing to improve all industries, but especially with investing, there are so many new systems and tools that you can use as a financial planner. I personally use Betterment, an online investing platform, with my clients, and I think it's very innovative. Some financial planners feel threatened by these types of "robo advisers"—like, What if they take all my clients?—but I disagree. Robo advisers can help make investing decisions based on the hard numbers, but that's only one part of what I do. The more I can leverage technology to support my clients, the more time I can spend creating personalized budgets, explaining any financial concepts they don't fully understand, and helping them make complex decisions about their money.
9. Only your client can decide what she does with her money.
I can't make anyone do something with their savings—I can only give my best advice and educate my clients to make them feel confident about their decisions. Sometimes that can feel frustrating, but ultimately, people aren't hiring me to take their money and do what I think is best with it. They're hiring me for advice, and whether they take it or leave it is up to them.