Julia Carlson, founder and CEO of Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group LLC, has been practicing financial planning for more than 20 years. At the age of 23, she married her entrepreneurial spirit and desire for helping others and started her own business. Julia’s passion has always been about helping people win with money by leading with education. She loves to help others by inspiring them to follow a plan for growth and pursue financial freedom. In 2017, Julia wrote a book titled, Fit Money, 7 Steps to get your Financial Life in Shape. In the book, she shares her personal experience of losing weight and getting in the best shape of her life and teaches how those same strategies can be used to become financially strong.
Today, her dream to serve her community and become a financial advisor has turned into so much more. Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group has grown to a staff of 12 and has 5 locations throughout Oregon and SW Washington. Julia is recognized as being especially knowledgeable on topics relating to tax strategies for retirement and distribution planning and is also qualified to provide comprehensive exit planning services to business owners. Julia works from the beautiful coastal town of Newport, Oregon where she resides with her husband and their three children.
Shantel: Hey Julia, welcome to the show!
Julia: Thanks for having me.
Shantel: Yeah, of course. We're excited to learn all about your company, how you got started, and what makes you think big and imagine more. To kick things off, will you tell everyone a little bit about your company, Financial Freedom?
Julia: Yeah. So, I started out in business when I was 23. At that point, it was not called Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group. That evolved over time. But, what we do is help a lot of smaller business owners, as well as people getting close to retirement, and helping them create a strong financial future. Whether that be a successful retire, or for business, how to think about exiting your business years before you're actually read to exit. So, a lot of times, we have business plans going into business, but we don't have a plan to get out of business, and I think that's just as important as the upfront plan.
Shantel: That's great. So, I'm imaging, age 23, fresh out of school. Is this a first endeavor, first job? Can you talk to us a little? Like, rewind a little bit?
| A UNIQUE COMMITMENT |
Shantel: Did you always want to start a company?
Julia: Yeah. So, after I graduated high school, actually. I was 18. That summer, I met my future husband and moved from the greater Seattle area to a very small town on the Oregon coast, and though, oh, goodness, what am I going to do here? We got married when I was 19. I went to work for a local bank, and in that bank, they had an investment department. The investment advisor would go around to all the branches, and whenever he was in my branch, I would be so intrigued with what he did, and I would ask questions. He became a mentor to me, and helped me get into the investment department. That was probably when I was 20. I was licensed before 21, and then by the age of 23, I was ready to start working with clients one-on-one. And because we did live in a small community, I wasn't able ... They said, okay, are soon as the current financial advisor retires, you can have that position. Well, that could have been 20 years. So, I was kind of recruited out into starting my own business at that point. There's been some CPAs in the area that just really encouraged me, and I was like, all right, let's go for it! And, I did.
Shantel: That's amazing. I have to ask a personal question before we dive into some of the business stuff. I'm getting married in a couple of months. So, you got married at 19. Any tips for being an entrepreneur and also happily married?
Julia: Oh, gosh. Lots of ups and downs. No, at that point, what we had going for us was my husband is eight years older than me. So, he, at that point, was not an entrepreneur, but he did take over his dad's business. So, now we are both entrepreneurs. So, we get that life. It is a very unique commitment that we take as entrepreneurs. But, I would say, when ... In the beginning, when I was just building my business, he had a little bit more stability, which offered us ... You know, it was helpful in the beginning. Because, a lot of times now, if you're not married and maybe you don't have someone else to count on for income, then a lot of times we do side hustles to then where we can make the jump over to doing your business full-time.
Shantel: That's very true. Well, thank you for sharing.
Julia: Yeah. Is your fiancé an entrepreneur?
Shantel: He's not. He is in industrial real estate. So, it's been fun to continue to learn and evolve, too, on how to have a spouse that doesn't carry some of the work stress, or the feelings, home with them.
Julia: Yeah, because ... Yeah.
Shantel: I can't turn it off.
Julia: Exactly, and that's one thing I've learned. My husband has always been very good at leaving work at work. When he comes home at four o'clock, it's never business after that. Where, me, a lot of times I'm checking email at night and doing things, getting ready for the next day. So, he's way more committed to that balance than I am.
Shantel: Wow, I would love to learn a couple of things from him. But, it's also nice to know there's other people out there that it's like ... I can't turn it off! You know? This person's emailing. So, switching gears a little bit. So, you're starting your new company. Did you initially bootstrap that? Can you talk us through some of those steps?
| A HUGE ROLLER COASTER |
Julia: Yeah, I've actually built my business totally debt-free. So, in the beginning ... Back in the day ... Well, I'm almost 42 now. So, it was almost 20 years go, but at that point, I was commission only. So, it was like ... You had to be hungry at that point, because every month was a new month. So, in the beginning, you'd have ups and downs, where you'd have really good months, and then really down months. You're crying. Why did I do this? Then, you have something good that happens. So, in the beginning, it's a huge roller coaster, but over time, we have done things in the business to where, now, it is a reoccurring revenue, and we did have other rentals that are creating income. So, it's a lot more even, that we've built over the last 20 years, where we don't have those ups and downs. But, in the beginning, I think that's the true test of an entrepreneur, and why a lot of us don't make it 5 years is because there's that diligence and persistence, and that drive to make it work. And if you don't have those real, clear underlying desires and faith, then it's easy to get side tracked.
Shantel: Certainly. I'm glad you touched on the revenue model. This is something that we haven't talked much about on any of the past shows, but it is something to consider when you're starting a business, and then as you evolve in the company. Of finding different ways to feed that, so that it does create some stability. Which, I think is an important point.
Julia: Yeah, and I can speak to that. I think, a lot of times- What happens with entrepreneurs is in the beginning, it does start out, maybe, as a hobby. To where, they don't have a clearly defined line, to where their personal finances end and their business finances start. And I feel into that trap too, where it's like you're constantly shuffling things, or maybe putting things on a credit card and trying to pay them off. It's like, you can get caught up in that rat race if you don't set up your intentions from the beginning. So, number one, I always recommend setting up a separate ... At least a separate bank account, if you're going to be a sole-proprietor. But, most of the time I would recommend setting up an LLC for your business, because it's just a different entity than your personal life, and the risk of getting audited is a lot lower in an LLC, when you have a separate entity. So, I can talk more if you want to talk about that.
Shantel: Yeah. No, that's certainly great. I think it's been fun. This past year, we've been continuing to add components as we learn. To our contract, or the way we bill, and iterating on that process. In the beginning, I had decided, okay, well, we'll just collect before we do services. We'll just have a credit card on file. There wasn't a ton of thought, other than it was just, I thought about it, and then we did it. It's been nice to look back and say, okay, well, that helped us, or this hurt us, or we need to add this to our contract now. So, I think it's important to remember those things can always change too. So, you can set a plan, and then continue to revise.
Julia: Be flexible, yes. But, having a budget for the business, and not really planning on taking a lot of revenue personally is kind of key in the beginning, because you want that business to run successfully. Essentially, what I did was set up a paycheck to myself. So, in the beginning, it may of only been $100 a month, and then the rest of the money stayed in the business. Then, over time, you can raise it to $500, and raise it to a $1,000. That way, you're not spending everything that's coming in, trying to live. Does that make sense?
Shantel: Yeah. No, definitely. I can relate to that. When we first started, for the first two years ... I liked the idea of the paycheck. That's something we did not do. I just continued to reinvest and had a bunch of other side hustles that could pay the bills. Having to work nights and weekends to start this. But, I think that's just neat. At the beginning, whatever the threshold is, something to get into the habit of paying yourself. That is really impactful.
Julia: Exactly. Yeah.
Shantel: So, you have grown to over 10 people and five locations. Was that always the vision for the company? Growing in multiple cities?
Julia: Well, I would say, in the very beginning, probably not. But, I am very entrepreneur-spirited. So, in the beginning, one thing I have always done is reinvested in myself. So, going to conferences, hiring coaches. You know, I have never been afraid of spending money on myself for personal development. Over time, as I got inspired, and saw the impact that we were making, it was very quickly that those dreams started to spark in me, and thought about, I don't want it to be just what I can do. I want it to be based on my impact in the world, and how we can grow, and how I can help others to carry that mission out there. So, probably five years in, I remember thinking, wow, this can be a lot bigger than I originally thought.
Shantel: That's amazing. So, what was that first step for you? Maybe it was the first teammate, and employee, or first extra location?
Shantel: How did you process some of that decision making?
| HOW DO I DELEGATE? |
Julia: It's hard, right? Because, sometimes we need to hire and let go. So, there's two components there. It's hiring someone. So, now you have payroll and things that you're not used to doing, and the expense of that. Then, also, you have the mindset around how do I delegate? How do I trust someone else, if they're going to do what I think I should be doing? Because, that's what I think I should be doing, because that's what I was doing. I was doing everything in the beginning. Over time, I now have learned a lot about delegation, and a lot about helping others. They may not do it the same way, but as long as they're aligned with the end result, then I have learned to let go of that. That was, at the beginning, very hard. But, over time, that's been essential to success. Growing the company is only staying and doing what I am best at.
Shantel: Yeah. I think there's so much. It's always fun, when we bring on new teammates, and they're like, I have trouble delegating. Then, it's like, I can't wait to teach you how great it is when you can find people that can do a better job than you know how to do, and you can build out the process and trust them to do it. But, yeah. It's difficult to pass off some of those things that maybe you enjoy doing, but you recognize aren't the highest and best use of your time.
Julia: Right, right. Yeah, a really good exercise I did was, just for a couple of days, writing down everything that I do, and I still do this occasionally. I'll say, if I'm feeling extra super busy and overwhelmed, I'll just write down everything I'm doing, and it just kind of brings awareness to, oh, gosh, I'm doing a lot of things I should be delegating out. Then, shifting that onto my staff that can help. That they feel joy to help and do those things. So ...
Shantel: I love that. We did a similar exercise, and couples that with time tracking. So, we've all been time tracking for a couple of years now, but it was very eye opening after the first few months to pull some of that data. Then, we kind of took it one step further and did a love and loathe list.
Shantel: We cross-referenced them with other teammates, and one person, it just sucked the energy out of them to do blog posts, but the other person loved writing and the research piece. So, it was neat to then be able to cross-delegate and really leverage strengths there.
Shantel: I would love to dive into the exit plans. So, this is something you said at the beginning. Of helping companies and businesses start to think about that, prior to even starting. And I do certainly relate. I don't think it's something we hear about often, or that people talk about much. Can you dive into some of the thought process behind creating your exit before you even get started?
Julia: Yeah. So, I would say, number one, we didn't go into business to not build wealth for ourselves. Right? We went into business to become successful. So, you want to learn along the way how to build wealth outside of your company. Pretty much using the wealth inside your company. What I mean by that is setting up a saving's goal, and setting up things you want to do to build that nest egg while you're building up the company. A lot of times, when I go into these business and they're ready to retire, they haven't done all these things to retire. Their business is their largest asset, and a lot of times, everything is inside the owner, the doer of the company. That they can't even ... They don't even have a system to sell. So, when you're thinking about an exit plan, number one is setting up plans that help you save money along the way. But then also, inside your business, thinking about how do you make yourself less relevant? Right? What I mean by that is do you have systems in place where if you left the country, could your business run on its own? And processes for how do you prospect, and how do you retain your clients, and what is your client experience? Depends on ... Obviously, there's a lot of different types of business out there. But, we should have a lot of those businesses, and the systems, and the processes documented.
Shantel: That's really powerful. What would be ... So, I'm starting a company. Would you say, from the beginning, right out the process from day one, so it doesn't become so overwhelming a couple years in? In trying to write them all down?
Julia: I would say, probably not in the very beginning. I would day, the moment that it is becoming an asset. Which means that it is becoming larger than you. In a sense of you have reoccurring revenue. This is something that is not dependent on you ... I would say, for example, a real estate agent. Right? So, they may not ... Unless they're building a firm, one person, it would be hard to sell, because there's not anything reoccurring. They have to go out and sell new real estate every day. Right? Whereas, maybe if they opened up a real estate office and they hired 10 agents working for them, okay, now they have to have a process. Those agents need to know, if the boss isn't there, what's the process for prospecting, and what is the process for running a real estate transaction? So, I would say, maybe not right in the beginning, but the moment it becomes bigger than you, or you have other people depending on you, employees. Then, that's kind of the appropriate time to start.
Shantel: That's certainly fair. So, I'm thinking, from service business standpoint, it's not a product we're selling that can be automated. I'm just playing devil's advocate a little bit here and kind of picking at ... I think a lot of ... So, I'm like, if I were to exit ... I'm going to retract that statement, because I'm trying to think through. What are the plans for service-based companies to exit? What are some of those things you talk through with your clients? On, what are the options?
Julia: Meaning, if they were going to sell, or wanted to exit?
Shantel: Yeah, and I think that's something, as business owners, we get into something, and then it's like, well, I suppose I could sell. But, then, thinking through, who? Or, do I hire a CEO, or do I fold?
Shantel: I think there's a lot of options. How do you kind of help map some of that out? Or, how do you suggest mapping some of those options out and pro/conning, or talking through those scenarios?
| START WITH PERSONAL GOALS |
Julia: Yeah. So, first, it starts with personal goals. You have to say, okay, personally, where do you want to be? Do you want to sell your business to move onto another venture? Do you want to sell your business to retire? If that's the case, how much money do you need to retire? So, you have to figure out, okay, what's your personal goals first. Then, number two, for the business, some want to keep that legacy going. So, maybe it's what we call an internal succession, where, let's say you're doing this for 20 years. You have millions of people following you on your podcast, and now you're ready to take some time off. Now, you're going to groom someone to take over your podcast. It wouldn't just happen overnight, or you're going to lose all your audience. They would have to know your work and work with you. This is a transition that would at least take a couple of years. You're introducing them to your audience, to where, over time, now it's a smoother transition. Just like me in my business. If I'm bringing on another advisor to work with our clients, it doesn't work if they just say, hey, Julia is out of town, here's your new advisor. It's like, that has to be groomed, and worked, and massaged along the way, so that trust and rapport you initially created moves onto this next generation. So, a lot of times, internal succession ... Or, maybe it's a family business and they want to keep that legacy alive. That takes a lot of work and time, as opposed to a third-party sell, where you could say, hey, I want to sell my business to an outside party, and that's typically done in a quicker transaction.
Shantel: Yeah, definitely. Well, would love to talk a little bit. So, what's maybe still on your plate that you're excited one day ... If you'd like to exit, that's still on your plate, that you're thrilled to pass off and delegate to someone else.
Julia: Yeah. So, right now, I'm kinda going through a passage, if you will, or a transition, where, I, up until this point, have been a lot in the day-to-day. But, it's getting more and more ... I don't know, I don't want to say overwhelming, but challenging to be the CEO of the company and looking towards a horizon, and saying where are we going, and making things happen out there, but then getting pulled back into the day-to-day and still having to do that work as well. So, that's what I've been working on in the last year. Trying to surround myself and kind of grooming that next generation, so that our clients feel comfortable with more of a team approach, as opposed to calling and always wanting to talk to Julia. So, we have more work to do, but we've had some success with that, to where that's then freed me up to go look at new things and new opportunities. I would say, probably the biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to delegate email.
Shantel: Oh, yeah. That's tricky. Have you tried a virtual assistant?
Julia: I haven't, only because we're very regulated. So, the person that reads the email, obviously, have to be ... Pretty much, they have to be an employee. In a different industry it would probably work better, but in ours it's hard, because you're dealing with people's money, and relationships, and intimate details.
Shantel: That is tricky. I don't have the answer to that one, but we had a wonderful guest, Shannon Miles, with Belay Solutions, and they have an amazing array of U.S. assistants, and we've started with them, and they are amazing. She just goes in everyday and drafts the emails I read and send. But, she may be a good resource, and I'm happy to connect you if you come diving into that, and maybe picking her brain on what the best process may be, or if there are solutions out there.
Shantel: But, she was a great guest to have on the show, and may just be a great resource for that.
Julia: I'll go back and listen to the show.
Shantel: Yeah. But, yeah. Emails, that's one thing. Are there any tools or extensions that you have in your inbox to help organize some of that? Kind of hack away?
Julia: I do. So, we do get a lot of external things that go into a subscription or information box. Then, prioritizing the ones coming in. But, it's all within Outlook. I haven't added an external app to it.
Shantel: Gotcha. Well, speaking of emails and that balance, outside of emails, how do you optimize your day?
| A TRICKY BALANCE |
Julia: So, for me, my day goes best if I start my morning right. So, for me, that means getting up at 5:00 or 5:30, because I have kids. But, that first hour, even sometimes an hour-and-a-half, I always start with meditation. So, I've built up ... It only used to be five minutes, but now it's like 20 minutes, and I actually crave more. So, I've been really trying to be still and working on that, because the rest of my life is so fast paced. So, taking that time for me, setting the intentions, being quiet is really helpful. Then, I have a Peloton bike that I absolutely love. So, the first hour-and-a-half of my day is typically all focused on self-care. Then, I have three kiddos. So, it's getting them off to school. The way that I structure my weeks are typically Mondays are my ... I call it CEO day. So, they are meetings with staff. They're getting things prepared for the week. It's maybe doing conference calls that are all about moving the company forward. Then, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are what I call revenue days. In the sense of, those are money making activities. So, it's mostly either meeting with clients or meeting with prospects, and those are pretty almost on the hour, every hour. So, they're pretty crazy days. Then, Friday is kind of my catch-up and take care of things, and maybe take the afternoon off. Definitely in the summertime, I take Fridays off.
Shantel: That's great. Do you ever have a client reach out and say, okay, I really need to meet on Monday or Friday, are you pretty ... You set those boundaries and hold to them?
Julia: Yes, and what I have discovered is when I have my assistant do that, it works better. Because, if someone comes to me and asks, I always break my own rules. But, when I have someone else hold those boundaries for me, then it works better. That, they come and say, hey, this person can only meet this day. If they are a current client, then I will make an exception, but not very often. Now in my life, I do not make that exception for prospects, because I'm at the point where I don't want to set that expectation. So, we push back and be like ... If you were scheduling an appointment with the doctor, you're going to get in when the doctor's available. Right? Not only best on your time-frame. So, it kind of tells the prospects the importance of if they're serious, then they're going to make it work with my schedule.
Shantel: Yeah, I love that. I think there's a lot of power in that, and it's really easy to forget sometimes and want to be that yes, yes person. I need to continue to remind myself that I break all of those boundaries every time I email past 6PM, and I'm not setting good expectations if I will email people back. But, I find sometimes, at the end of the day, that's the only time to respond to things.
Shantel: So, it's kind of a tricky balance.
Julia: So, the trick I use, because I'm in the same boat. I will set it up to send tomorrow at eight.
Shantel: Oh, that's good. Just scheduling.
Julia: So, that way, they are not thinking that you're going to get back to them on a Sunday, or eight o'clock at night.
Shantel: I like that. That's good. Well, Julia, how can people get in touch with you and learn more about your company and your journey, and if they're interested in working together?
Julia: Yeah. So, I have two different pages. I have my business page, which is FinancialFreedomWMG.com. On that is all about the company. Actually, I wrote a book in 2017 called Fit Money, Seven Steps to Get Your Financial Life in Shape. If you go to that page and look on the drop down money to Fit Money, you'll be able to download that book for free. So, that's a great resource that I'd love for the listeners to take advantage of. Then, if you want to hear more about me personally, I started JuliaMCarlson.com. That's just me as an entrepreneur, and I've been doing some keynote speaking. I want to develop more of that. So, that's where you'll find more information there.
Shantel: Great. Well, thank you so much for being on the show. We really appreciate your time.