My journey as a financial advisor, like many other advisors, lacked a "real" training program; that's what happens when your profession lacks a true career path. Sure, I received sales training which taught me how to position the products my employer wanted to be sold but never was taught how to be a real financial advisor. In these sales trainings, there was little time spent on the soft skills financial advisors need to help clients; most of the time was learning the ins-and-outs of products, role-playing the scripts, and listening to trainers explain how we'd help customers (I use customer and not clients because the training I received was nothing more than transactional sales training—not relationship based, which would lead to clients).
Maybe I'm being a little harsh on the training I received. It's possible I took away more than I realize. I did learn the sales process and as much as I don't want to consider what we do as sales, advisors are selling—we are selling ourselves, our expertise, our client experience, and our service. Through these trainings I also learned an important lesson: I learned how I did not want to position myself with clients—this is no knock on anyone else's relationship with clients. I learned I did not want to be a salesperson only. I learned I wanted to build lasting relationships. I learned I wanted to leave an impact on my clients' lives not just get them into a product that may or may not fit their needs. I learned who I was being trained to be was not who I want to end up being.
For me, the training I received did not prepare me for where I knew I wanted to go and without an outlined path to take me where I wanted to go, I relied on mentors to help me along the way.
Initially, the individuals I looked to as mentors were individuals I happened to personally know—none of them were financial advisors. The first, was my father. I never asked him to be my mentor, but I watched him my entire life and how he interacted with others, exhibited selflessness (to a fault at times), put his family first, made personal sacrifices, and never settled for anything less than his best. Many of these characteristics translate into those of a financial advisor—and as I write this I realize more than ever that I want to work with my dad at some point, even though he is not a financial advisor. Retirement is around the corner for him and I'll have to find a spot for him at RLS Wealth Management to keep him busy.
My other mentor was a gentleman my father introduced me to after graduated college. He had built a very successful property and casualty insurance business and was entrepreneurial in his endeavors—-always looking ahead for the next innovative opportunity in his field. Our relationship consisted of periodic lunches where we'd just talk and I'd soak up as much as I could from him. Over time this relationship slowly fizzled as I became busier with a work schedule that did not allow for much flexibility (thanks corporate America), his children were getting older and more active in their sports, and he began to spend time down in Florida.
My first two mentors set a solid foundation for me to build upon with other mentors in the future.
Being that I did not know any local financial advisors who I looked at and wanted to emulate, I started looking to financial advisors across the country who were in industry magazines, were writing blogs, or sending out newsletters. It was during this time I learned it is possible to find mentorship from afar and without even knowing the "mentor". Obviously a personal relationship is ideal, but I found it possible to learn from the writings of others, to be inspired and motivated by the things I saw them doing, and to soak up every piece of knowledge they shared.
And one day the mentee-from-afar took a chance. I sent an email.
As I prepared to launch RLS Wealth Management, I emailed the advisor I followed most closely and looked up to get some advice. I fully expected no response but thought I'd try. I sent my email around 11:30 at night on a Friday. Saturday morning I woke up to an email suggesting a phone call the following Wednesday. That phone call on Wednesday was a game-changer for me. I already had the confidence I was making the right decision, but after speaking with him, I was inspired—there was no doubt I was making the right decision and was going to be massively successful.
That call was also a game-changer because it showed me there are successful individuals willing to take the time to help others succeed—maybe it's take a phone call, or highlight a blog post, or make additional introductions. All I had to do was ask—be respectful of their time, but just ask.
That call also instilled my willingness to talk to anyone who reaches out to me. If he could find time to talk to a nobody advisor in Fishers, Indiana then I will always find time to talk with anyone who asks.
This advisor did not become a mentor right away, but eventually, he would.
I have five individuals (not including my father) I consider mentors, as you can see from the sketch below. Each mentor provides inspiration, motivation, education, and challenges me in different ways. I would consider myself lucky to be as successful in business and in life as these individuals. The relationship with each started much like I described above (that individual is still one of the five)—I followed each and somehow ended up connecting with them in person, on Zoom, or via phone. After the initial contact, I continued to follow their work, learning from afar, and working in periodic one-on-one time.
Here's how each of my mentors plays a role in my life:
For those of you looking for a mentor, I want to stress that a mentorship does not need to be a relationship where you spend each day with your mentor; I think of traditional mentorship at firms where you are assigned an older advisor who is supposed to show you the ropes. There's no doubt these mentorships can prove to be invaluable, but the likelihood you find the ability to spend each day with your mentor is slim. Especially if you are in a situation like I was in where your mentor is not even in your city.
I also wanted to stress that you don't need a formal "mentorship" process or announcement. I have told each of my mentors how much I appreciate them, what their time means to me, and how they have and continue to help me grow. But I think I've only actually told (didn't even ask) two that they are mentors to me. You can certainly ask someone to be your mentor and I definitely encourage you to do so, but don't get discouraged if they cannot commit because with a phone call or Zoom every once and a while, some emails or texts, and reading the work of your mentor you can get everything you need to learn from your mentor.
My final piece of advice is to be respectful of your mentor's time. You will definitely want more of your mentor's time than you will get, but you have to respect they have businesses to run, clients to work with, employees to help, and a laundry list of responsibilities. So try to limit your asks and maximize the time you get with them and find ways to provide value to them. Providing value to my mentors was something I was afraid I could never do—how can I reciprocate the massive amount of value they provide to me? I've sent books, shirts, a cartoon character toy, and thank you notes as little tokens of appreciation. I've paid for meals and coffees. I've tried to find every opportunity to do something FOR my mentors because of how they have impacted my life. I've also learned that you will provide value to your mentors in ways you'd never expect...you'll be surprised how these relationships can become two-way streets.
My business and my life would look a lot different if it were not for the mentors I have (and have had) in my life. Finding strong mentors is an important component of growth—you cannot know or learn everything on your own.