Kindness Financial Planning Turns 1 – Reflections from the 1st Year

Kindness Financial Planning Turns 1 - Reflections from the 1st Year
Elliott Appel, CFP®, CLU®, RLP®

Elliott Appel, CFP®, CLU®, RLP®

Welcome! I'm the founder of Kindness Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only, fiduciary advisor located in Madison, WI working virtually with widows, caregivers, and people affected by major health events across the United States. When I'm not helping people live their ideal life, I'm often cooking for my wife, playing tennis, or hiking.

Kindness Financial Planning, LLC turned 1 on December 9. 

I have learned many lessons over the past year.

Building a fee-only financial planning firm is rewarding, challenging, frustrating, tedious, educational, soul-crushing, and spirit-lifting. 

People were not lying when they said entrepreneurship is filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows – sometimes in the span of the same hour. 

Let’s go through a few reflections from my first year in business.

What is Kindness Financial Planning?

First, some context is needed. Kindness Financial Planning is a virtual, fee-only financial planning firm that focuses on helping widows, caregivers, and people affected by major health events. 

After about 10 years working for another firm, I decided to launch my own firm when I moved across the country from Seattle to Madison. It was tough to say goodbye to 115 client relationships and close colleagues I had worked with for over a decade, but it was the right decision for me. I wanted to build a business that was more sustainable for the life I wanted and less about continual growth. 

I am doing the following:

  • Serving the clients I want to serve (thankfully, with blog content, newsletters, videos, podcasts, and other public-facing material, people who like my style tend to show up)
  • Working the hours I want to work (some weeks it is 30 and other weeks it may be 50)
  • Creating educational content for people to learn
  • Loving my career and the clients I work with
  • Wearing jeans and a t-shirt everyday instead of a suit and tie
  • Traveling more, which includes working, such as when I went back home to care for my dad
  • Starting to make enough money to pay the business bills and part of my personal bills

I’m thankful I have the opportunity to build the firm I want to build for the people who I want to serve. 

Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall

I called the first year throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks and what I enjoyed. 

It turns out when you throw spaghetti at the wall, surprises happen. There is something to be said for purely being out in the world and in front of other people to see what opportunities appear. 

I started responding to many media requests when my firm first launched. When you have zero clients, you have time to do it. I quickly got quoted in a few different publications. 

One of those publications was in Fortune about what to do with your money during inflation.

A local television director saw my quote and called me out of the blue to see if I wanted to do a segment about inflation. It was my first television appearance! 

I started scrambling to set up my video and figure out how to prepare. A major thank you goes to Katie Braden, who has been my video coach, and the AGC, where another financial planner who had been on camera before walked me through how to prepare.

As time passed, I produced more content. Occasionally, one of my blog posts would get added to a personal finance email newsletter with a major following. The first one who noticed me was Mike Piper, of the Oblivious Investor. I don’t know if people know how impactful a link can be to a business early on. 

I’ve had the opportunity to connect with amazing experts in their fields on my podcast. I’ve had Medicare experts, therapists, widows, caregivers, fellow financial planners, and more. People have been gracious enough to share their widowhood story, caregiving journey, and expertise with my small community of people. 

I could make a solid case that I tried to do too much in year 1, but I don’t have any regrets about throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck. I have a better sense for what might work better in year 2 and which activities I enjoy doing. 

I’m aiming to be a little more targeted with my spaghetti throwing in year 2.

Business Success

It feels strange to put the word success in the title. 

I don’t have a waiting list. I didn’t exceed six figures of income. I don’t have a large newsletter list. 

I know other advisors who have had these things after a year in business. I also know plenty who don’t. 

What were the successes in year 1?

  • I was quoted in 17 articles.
  • I published over 52 articles of original content. Since most articles are over 2,000 words, that’s likely over 104,000 words.  
  • I published a podcast each week and had one guest each month, along with a bonus guest one month. 
  • I sent a weekly newsletter with an average open rate that was around 70% most weeks. 
  • I’m helping six ongoing clients connect their finances to their ideal life with a verbal commitment from a seventh. 
  • I helped 10 people on an hourly basis do retirement planning, tax planning, and restructure their investments for tax-efficiency with two more people in process now. 
  • I started creating videos. Some have a few hundred views, such as “When Does it Make Sense to do a Roth Conversion?
  • I paid myself for the first time. It wasn’t much compared to what I used to make, but it’s something and a place to start. 
  • For my ongoing clients, I got to do life planning. The technical side of financial planning and investments is important, but if you aren’t creating your ideal life, what does the money mean? 

Business is important, but so is my personal life. If I’m not doing well personally, it’s more difficult to show up well for my clients. 

Personal Success

Here are personal successes in year 1:

  • I spent at least three weeks back at home helping care for my dad in some capacity. The benefits of a virtual business is that I could still work. This doesn’t count the weeks I spent remotely trying to help arrange care, talk to Adult Protective Services, or the day I had 10+ calls with social workers, nurses and doctors.
  • I got married! 
  • I’m self-publishing a book about personal finance in 2023, primarily for people in their 20s and 30s. I always struggled with questions from clients about what personal finance book I would recommend for someone young in their life, so I created it. 
  • I am a contributing author to More Than Money: Real Life Stories of Financial Planning, which will be published by Harriman House in 2023. Being a published author has been on my bucket list for a long time. 
  • I’m doing pro bono planning for Savvy Ladies and Wings for Widows. I’ve wanted to do pro bono planning for a long time, but my schedule never allowed it in the past. 
  • I’ve hosted around 30 current or aspiring financial planners in my Community Discussion Hours. They had an opportunity to pick my brain, ask how people would transition into this career, and more. We need more good quality financial planners.
  • I traveled to Israel with a group of young professionals. I traveled to Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts with my mom. After years of not traveling, it was nice to travel again. 
  • I started playing tennis regularly again in a USTA league after 10 years of not playing. 

Community is Important

Going from an office full of colleagues to a home office by myself was an adjustment. I love working virtually from home, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss talking with colleagues about their lives or bouncing ideas off each other.

Thankfully, the advisor community, particularly solo advisors like myself, are wonderful. 

My XYPN Mastermind Group is still going more than a year later, which I hear is a rare thing. It’s a group of advisors who all launched their firms around the same time. We can talk through challenges we are having, planning scenarios, and marketing ideas. 

I know a handful of advisors I could call at a moment’s notice, who I know would help me if I asked. I’ve had more than a handful of similar conversations with advisors calling me. 

A special thank you goes to Danika, Nick, Alicyn, Jamie, and Taylor, who have helped in many different ways.

And to Sue and Matt, who have also helped in many ways and welcomed me to the Madison community.

I’m grateful for the wonderful advisors and tax professionals who make a solo firm life less lonely and more enjoyable.

The Risk of Starting a Firm

Starting a fee-only financial planning firm is risky. I left a stable, high-paying job to open my own firm, where for most of the past year, I paid to work. 

My business expenses for the first half of the year exceeded income from the business. I haven’t made any contributions to my 401(k) this year, the first time in over a decade and the only year since college I haven’t. 

I dipped into savings to start the business without any idea of whether this would work out. I think it’s working out, but like any entrepreneur, there is always at least a little doubt. 

It helps that I had a clear vision of what I wanted to build. 

I wanted to do life planning. I wanted a business that wasn’t geographically rooted. I wanted to focus more on clients and less on firm growth. I wanted to work with kind people facing huge obstacles in their lives. I wanted to continue connecting the emotional and economic side of money through financial planning. 

I get to do all of those things. And, it feels incredible. 

I am grateful I had the savings built up to go potentially for years without income. I’m grateful my wife’s residency ended up in a lower cost of living area. I’m not sure I would have taken the chance to start my business if we hadn’t moved. I’m glad a dollar goes a little farther here than Seattle. I’m happy I’m married to take this risk together and the support she has shown. The cheaper health insurance is also a nice bonus! 

Starting over after having established relationships with 115 clients is challenging, but it was the right decision for my ideal life. 

To the clients who supported me in my first year, you will never know how much I appreciate you. Seriously, each one of you gave me a little more hope that this dream of mine was working. 

You make this business possible. Without you, there is no Kindness Financial Planning. Thank you for making the risk of starting my own firm worthwhile. 

In a world where it is simpler to go get a job at a big brokerage or financial firm, I’m thankful for people who are supporting small, fee-only financial planning firms with different service models and better transparency, and showing other people who want to join the industry that it doesn’t have to be all about selling products or growth. 

Since day one, I’ve looked at my business as having 30-50 ongoing spots available. When they are filled, I decide whether I want to bring someone on and build more spots. I’ve always leaned toward keeping it small. I’m excited to see what the next year brings, who shows up for those spots, and what financial life decisions I can help people navigate. 

Final Thoughts – My Question for You

I’m proud of Kindness Financial Planning turning 1. 

It’s still young and has room to grow. Thankfully, with my decade of experience at a rapidly growing firm, the systems are in place to handle the growth. 

Although I’ve seen business and personal successes in year 1 that I’m proud of, there were plenty of doubts and pain points along the way. They still happen frequently. I think that’s the nature of owning a business. 

I’m glad there is a community of people I can reach out to for help.

I’ll leave you with one question to act on. 

Is your money and financial life working in a way that helps you live your ideal life? If not, let’s chat. You can schedule a free consultation

Disclaimer: This article is for general information and educational purposes only and should not be considered investment, financial, legal, or tax advice. It is not a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security or investment advisory services. Please consult your own legal, financial, and other professionals to determine what may be appropriate for you. Opinions expressed are as of the date of publication, and such opinions are subject to change. Click for full disclaimer.

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