Tell us a bit about yourself and your business.
My name is Shannon McLay, and I’m a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start my own company, The Financial Gym. I felt traditional financial services firms did not have the tools or resources to help people who are starting out and trying to build assets while also managing debt. I realized that the key to long-term personal financial success is a commitment to financial fitness and making smart financial choices.
The Financial Gym is a franchised full-service financial planning company where people of all financial sizes can go to get and stay Financially Fit. Through my blog, Financially Blonde, my book, Train Your Way To Financial Fitness, my podcast, Martinis and Your Money, and my companies, I am committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for others.
Why did you want to own your own business?
While I was working as a financial advisor for a large wealth management company, I saw a need for financial planning for people with less than the $250,000 asset minimum my company required. Most financial firms want this population to utilize cheaper online resources or apps. However, most people are not motivated to make financial changes just using an app or a website. The only way I saw the potential to serve this severely under-served population was to start my own company.
When did you start the business?
I officially started NextGen Financial August 2013, two months after I left my prior firm.
What training/experience did you have in your business field before you started?
I worked as a financial advisor for two years before starting my company, and I worked in the greater financial services community for 10 years prior to that. Starting your own financial advisory practice is a small-scale version of entrepreneurship. Most companies do not hand you clients, you have to bring in your own, and your long-term success is based on your ability to continuously grow your client base.
What challenges did you face when starting up your business?
For me, I struggled with not only getting the word out there about who I was and what I was doing, but also to figure out the right pricing model for my clients. It’s great to have an idea or a service that people need, but it’s only great if people are willing to pay you for it. The first few months I spent a great deal of time working on these two issues. Once I had a grasp on them, I began to see immediate growth for my company.
How long did you have to run the business before you saw a profit?
It took me a solid six months before I started to see a profit, and to this day, there are some months where I have great profits and some months that make me question why I started the company. This type of income rollercoaster is typical for small businesses, so you just have to develop a strong stomach for these ups and downs and manage your business budget accordingly. For example, when I have a great month, I don’t immediately add new services and plan to buy new technology. I make sure that I save those funds to cushion me for an inevitable bad month or two. It’s my business emergency fund.
How did the business start-up affect your marriage/family?
The business actually had a huge impact on my marriage before I even started it. When I first told my husband that I wanted to do this, he was very concerned about our family’s finances and if we could make it work. We had a great deal of tense conversations as my husband stood his practical ground and I fought for the opportunity to pursue my passion to help others. My husband eventually gave his full support and is now my biggest cheerleader. He sees firsthand everyday the positive impact I have on the lives of others and knows that this is what I was meant to do.
What’s the best thing entrepreneurship has done for you?
Entrepreneurship has taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to. It’s wonderful to dream; however, turning your dream into a reality requires a great deal of blood, sweat and tears. The great thing about entrepreneurship, though, is that you typically get out of it as much as you put into it. I know that as long as I am willing to work hard to make something happen, I will get results.
What lessons have you learned about entrepreneurship along the way?
I learned that it is a profession that is not for the weak of heart. There are a lot of risks with starting your own company. Even if you have the greatest idea in the world, you still have to find a way to develop it, market it and get other people to notice. It’s not an overnight process and through the process you will experience a lot of ups and downs. It’s easy to throw in the towel when you hit a rough patch, especially if it lasts for a period of time, but if you have the passion and determination to see it through, then you will work through to good times down the road.
What advice do you have for those considering entrepreneurship?
I would say that you shouldn’t pursue it unless you are 110% passionate about what you want to create. As I have mentioned, starting a business is not easy and requires a great deal of fortitude, and if you are not committed to seeing it through, then you will fail early on. However, if you can’t imagine your life without pursuing this business, then I think you are ready for entrepreneurship!