Even with 20 years experience in the industry, building a financial planning business from scratch has been an eye-opener for Sandra Wills. Wills tells I&T News how she has overcome the initial challenges of running her own practice and has positioned it carefully for the “inevitable” growth to come.

Sandra Wills went east to seek her fortune. After beginning her career as an admin assistant for the then start-up Perth-based financial advisory practice Terrace Counsellors in 1986, Wills, with young family in tow, moved to Brisbane in 1990. She had already earned her financial planning stripes while at Terrace Counsellors and, after a couple of years out of the game, re-entered the industry in 1993 as an adviser at the high-profile Queensland firm, Whittaker McNaught. While at Whittaker McNaught Wills developed her financial planning skills and knowledge and was also called upon to show some entrepreneurial flair when, along with another adviser at the firm, she opened up the Maroochydore office. But despite all the positive aspects of life as a financial planner at Whittaker McNaught, Wills was itching to end her employee status and launch a business; an ambition she achieved in 2003 after eight years at the Maroochydore coalface for Whittaker McNaught. “I enjoyed my time at Whittaker McNaught and I left with integrity but it’s always been one of my personal goals to run my own business,” Wills says. She had been contemplating for some time the best way to make the leap into self-employment and eventually threw in her lot with WB Financial – a growing boutique dealer group with national representation. Wills’ original intention had been to strike out under her own licence but a meeting with the WB management convinced her that it would be wiser to make the first step into business ownership with the support of a trustworthy dealer group. “I was impressed with the way WB operated and its culture,” Wills says. “It made sense to use them as the supplier of services to my business.” She says another important factor in selecting WB was that the three owners of the licence all run financial planning practices and would therefore have a deeper understanding of her needs than many of the professional managers who head up larger dealer groups. And WB also offered her the opportunity to extend her client base beyond the pre-retiree/retiree market she had focused on at Whittaker McNaught with its proprietary Cashflow Asset Management System. “The Cashflow Asset Management System is fabulous for the accumulator market and I’ve built up a new business around that,” Wills says. “It’s targeted at people in their 30-40s who typically have a good income but not much to live off because they carry a significant mortgage and have kids.” She estimates that today accumulators make up half of her client base. “The Cashflow system changed my business but I took the time to incorporate into the practice,” Wills says. “I’m really running two businesses – the 30-40s market is a lot different from the retiree one.” Two years into her new business Wills is happy with the progress and says it is now poised for growth. She has made a point of not rushing the expansion of the practice but has focused on building the “systems and processes” which will enable growth without diminishing the level of service to existing clients. “When I was an employee I was forced to take on more and more clients without the systems to back them up so the service to existing clients declined,” Wills says. With 80 clients on her books Wills is a long way from filling the capacity of the business – she only wants to look after 150 clients herself but believes the practice can handle “any number” with the right advisers on board. However, she believes growth is “inevitable” as demographics and superannuation drive demand for financial planning services higher. Wills describes herself as a “thorough and methodical” person and worked very hard to avoid the mistakes other financial planning businesses have made in the start-up phase but even so she learnt some things the hard way. “If I have one piece of advice for planners thinking about starting their own businesses it is to make sure of where your income is coming from in the first couple of years – you need to have some kind of client base from the start,” she says. “I could’ve done that a little better. I was a bit naïve.” With the first hurdle cleared, however, Wills is now looking forward to building a sustainable, saleable business without a boss looking over her shoulder. Name: Sandra Wills Business name and location: WB Financial Maroochydore, 4 First Avenue Maroochydore Qld 4558 Dealer name or self-licensed: WB Financial Management Pty Ltd Number and designation of staff: 1 Adviser (myself), 1 Associate Adviser & Client Relations Manager (Michelle Woodgate) Area of speciality, if any: Pre Retirement Planning, Retirement Income Management, Cashflow and Asset Management Systems for accumulators Relevant qualifications: CFP Are you a member of the FPA?: Yes – since 1987 when I joined the IAFP (International Association for Financial Planning), prior to it becoming the FPA in 1992. Chair of the Sunshine Coast Chapter of the FPA for two years 2001-2002. Number of clients: 80 Funds under management (or funds under advice): $23 million Method of fee collection: For written advice and/or investment implementation I quote an up-front fee based on either the work involved and/or the value added. For service packages I charge set percentage-based fees based on a sliding scale of FUM, subject to a minimum annual fee. Investment platforms: Navigator Front-end planning software: nLink, XPlan Office management software: Outlook Investment research: Lonsec Insurance research: Outsourced Technical and legal support available: I find Colonial First Tech an excellent technical service. Have access to technical and legal support via licensee. Ongoing education provider: Tribeca

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