By Erin Scannell, an EO Seattle Member and Founder of Heritage Wealth Advisors
The way in which I founded my company was an incredibly humbling experience and is something that, other than my wife, even the very closest people in my life aren’t aware of. I started it straight out of college in 1998, after having interviewed at 27 banks and wealth management firms without receiving a job offer.
I had nothing to offer potential customers; limited life experience, no capital, and no investment experience—I didn’t even know what a mutual fund was! When I was down to my last $400, I used $65 to buy three used Goodwill suits and talked one of the big firms into letting me run my business from a room they weren’t using in downtown Seattle. Then I spent another $25 on a phone, stole an extra phone book from the seedy apartment I was living in and started dialing.
Mistakes of ambition
There I was, asking people if they’d let a kid, six months out of the fraternity binge-drinking life, manage their life savings—that was my business plan, and in retrospect, it was ridiculous. But a lesson from an instructor stuck: Execution beats analysis 90% of the time. Marginal strategies executed passionately almost always outperform brilliant strategies executed marginally.
To me, this was a simple numbers game: if I called 725 people per week, on average, I could get 90 people to pick up the phone, which led to 12 of them agreeing to see me, with half actually showing up.
Nine months and 30,615 calls later, I had a grand total of zero clients. Those were dark days, and they were lonely. I didn’t dare tell a soul that the impressive business I was working so hard to build was a complete and utter failure—not even my wife knew. But, I kept at it, and in the tenth month, I got my first client (who is still my client today), and in the subsequent year got 54 new clients. In the following year, another 62, which is when it really started to snowball. Now, in the fifteenth year, I have a firm with over 1,000 clients and $1,000,000,000 in assets, with a national ranking on the Barron’s Top 100 Financial Advisors list.
I’ve come to live by the “action cures fear” axiom, as it has encouraged me to make mistakes of ambition versus mistakes of idleness. It guides me and helps me get beyond the complacency that is the inherent result of first successes.
Process, not results
In the beginning, I didn’t have the skills, so I learned to focus on execution and process, rather than results. That really helped me get off the ground. I learned quickly to get a stranglehold on my time and to say “no” to distractions, time suckers, minutiae and generally unproductive tasks. Even today, I work the day down. It isn’t perfect, but I am pretty good at ranking my daily tasks from hard to easy. I still find it easier that way, and I rarely put things off to another day.
While it is kind of fun now to look back on how I started, I fully realize there were smarter, more efficient ways to start a business. Today, I am wrestling with far bigger competitors, and although I have still have self-doubt—how can a firm I started from scratch compete with the big banks?—I realized early on that people want trust and objectivity; they don’t want to be pushed into something that isn’t in their best interest, just because it makes the bank’s bottom line better. So, despite the self-doubt, I “just go” and continue to win competitive bids from the big banks.