If I only knew then what I know now …

As advisors and business owners, we all think about this from time to time. But how often do you actually put what you’ve learned into action?

Right now, you’re probably sitting on a lesson or idea you could use to transform your business. In fact, you might have enough “A-ha!” moments stored up to do something really exciting, like starting your dream RIA from scratch.

My guests today did just that. Dennis Morton and Katie Brown are the co-founders of Morton Brown Family Wealth in Allentown, PA. They used lessons learned during their previous 10-year working relationship at another firm to grow Morton Brown from $0 to over $100 million in AUM in just 12 months.

In today’s show, we discuss the specific ways they designed their firm from Day 1 to be an enduring business with no regrets and no more “if onlys.”

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1. Live by your “creed.”

“Our very first exercise when we started talking about launching a new firm was to ask ourselves, ‘what would we want it to look like and how would we want it to feel?’” remembers Katie. “So we sat down and developed our Morton Brown creed. It really helped to lay the foundation for everything that has taken place since then.”

As part of their Creed, Dennis and Katie created a vision statement and some key descriptor words.

“Our vision is to be a community of clients and professionals leading purposeful lives through the stewardship of wealth,” Katie says.

They decided on Confidence as another important value for the firm, because they want clients to have clarity about the decisions they’re making and whom they should contact for help.

Another value is Authenticity. “We wanted everything from the way we’re running the business to the experience that our clients have to be an authentic representation of our highest aspirations. And if we do that, this is going to be rewarding for the families we serve, and it’ll also be fun to experience along the way,” says Dennis.

2. “Declare a major.”

After a decade of working together in financial services, Dennis and Katie knew what they did best, and what kind of clients they could bring the most value to.

“It was really important from the start for us to recognize what we are and what we aren’t,” Dennis says, “and to really ‘declare a major’ and say, ‘We want to do this thing very well.’ We don’t do 401(k) plans or institutional money. It really is a focus on the dynamics of family wealth.”

More and more advisors are fine-tuning their discovery process so that the “getting to know you” phase is more revealing, and they’re really zeroing in on clients that fit with their missions and their unique skill set. Dennis and Katie even give prospects a list of 15 questions (and Morton Brown’s answers) they should ask OTHER financial advisors they’re meeting with to determine who’s the best fit for their needs.

3. Write your “playbook.”

Once Dennis and Katie had settled on their ideal clients, they started thinking about how they could serve more families and scale the business.

Their solution was “playbooks” that detail how Morton Brown handles every aspect of their business. First, they created a Business Development Playbook that explains every step that’s necessary to turn a prospect into a client. They’re currently working on a First-Year Experience Playbook that covers everything that happens after a new client signs their paperwork, from integrating that client on their tech platforms to establishing a regular communication rhythm.

Dennis says the playbooks “let Katie and I keep our hands off the granular details and really empower our staff to create workflows and to create a system that’s going to allow us to serve more families as we grow.”

I know some advisors resist this kind of systemization, because they worry about sounding canned or inauthentic. But as the “service as hospitality” model becomes more critical to our industry, playbooks, light scripting, and storytelling can help RIA CEOs create a consistent, replicable client experience while still growing at a healthy clip.

4. Create a community.

“This registered investment advisory space is a very collaborative community,” Katie says. “We’ve reached out to other firms out of the blue or we’ve asked for introductions from other people that we know, and we have yet to have somebody not take a phone call. And likewise, we’ve had a number of people reach out to us too and ask us, ‘How did you do it? Who did you use?’ We started making a list of our resources available to us.”

Today, Morton Brown’s list has grown to include outside service providers for things like marketing, tech, and CFO duties. But Dennis and Katie’s network has also expanded into their community in Allentown.

Dennis explains, “Katie and I are in a unique set of circumstances where neither one of us are from this area. Becoming involved in community endeavors has actually been one of the ways that we’ve gotten to know the community, the people, the causes, the history of our particular area of Pennsylvania. Before we knew it, it was a tap on the shoulder and someone saying, ‘I have an understanding of what you do. I think I need some help.’ Those taps on the shoulder have just become more and more frequent and we’re really so gratified by the caliber of people who have said, ‘I would like advice.’”


Morton Brown Family Wealth Visit Dennis and Katie online.

My 3 Words for 2019 I was happy to hear Dennis and Katie used this annual exercise (which I picked up from Chris Brogan) as a way to set goals for the year and keep you on track to hit them.

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