Kindness Financial Planning Turns 2 – Reflections from the 2nd Year

Elliott Appel, CFP®, CLU®, RLP®

Elliott Appel, CFP®, CLU®, RLP®

Welcome! I'm Elliott, the founder of Kindness Financial Planning, LLC, a fee-only, fiduciary advisor located in Madison, WI working virtually with widows and caregivers 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.

Last Updated on December 20, 2023

Kindness Financial Planning, LLC turns 2 on December 9. 

*Cue the happy birthday song!*

I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year and thank you for following along on my journey.

Building a fee-only financial planning firm has been rewarding and challenging. Everything seems to come in waves when building a business — successes, finding things that don’t work (they aren’t failures, right?), clients, and more.

Entrepreneurship is still filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows, but thankfully the highs and lows are less far apart than in year one.

Highs and lows of year 1 vs. year 2 of building a fee-only financial planning ifrm

What is Kindness Financial Planning?

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the past year, let me tell you more about Kindness Financial Planning. Kindness Financial Planning is a virtual, fee-only financial planning firm that focuses on helping widows and caregivers (and those who like the messaging and what I offer) make better financial decisions that are connected to their ideal lives.

After about 10 years working for a firm that managed about $4 billion in assets, I decided to launch my own firm when I moved across the country from Seattle to Madison. I had a difficult time saying 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 sales targets and always growing.

I am doing the following:

  • Serving the clients I want to serve
  • Creating regular blog content, newsletters, and videos to help educate people
  • Working flexible hours (some days that means 10 hours, other days it means playing tennis in the late afternoon)
  • Wearing jeans and a t-shirt everyday instead of a suit and tie
  • Starting to feel more financially secure again (I’m no longer paying to work as I did in the first year!)
  • Loving what I do and feeling that work is sustainable for a long time again
  • Working with amazing clients and not feeling like I need to work with everybody (there were many times this past year where I told people I was not the best fit for them.)

I’m incredibly thankful I have the opportunity to build a financial firm that helps people and is more conducive to the life I want to live.

Getting More Focused

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

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 purposefully did less of that in my second year.

I stopped producing podcasts. I enjoyed them, but they didn’t give me energy, and I had few listeners.

I went from producing one blog post per week to one per month. I had a great library of content, but I needed to scale back to make it more sustainable.

I wanted to take a more focused approach on a few ideas and do them better.

Below are projects I worked on this past year:

What were the results?


The webinars were a giant failure. I mean, I found something that didn’t work.

I know advisors who have been successful with webinars, but I found it to be time consuming with little results. I did automated webinars. I did live webinars. I spent thousands of dollars for Facebook ads to try to get people to webinars.

The attendance rate was low. I reached about 25 people through webinars. There was little follow up after the webinar. Perhaps it’s the type of marketing where you need to stick with it for longer to see success, but I wasn’t willing to invest the money any longer, so I stopped after about 7 months.

Widow Resources

I enjoyed this project!

I interviewed 10 widows asking them about their experience as a widow:

  • What’s it like navigating grief?
  • What did you find helpful?
  • How did you decide what to do with your home?
  • What would you tell a widow today knowing what you know now?
  • What was your experience like with the financial industry?

Through those conversations and my experience working with widows, I built a guide How to Manage Your Resources as a Widow.

It was a privilege hearing from a widows about their experiences and how they navigated the death of their spouse.

If you know a widow, please share it with them.

Video Content

There is something special about video.

I haven’t fully figured out what it is yet, but I’ve had a few people mention that they watched a video and it got them thinking about a particular financial strategy.

Most of my videos have under 100 views, so by no means are these reaching lots of people, but they are enjoyable to make. Now that I have a video editor, the process is much faster!

Like my blog content, I should have a good library of material after a couple of years.

Growing My Newsletter

I don’t have a newsletter with thousands of people, but every week, I get to talk to over 500 people through it.

Given that the open rate is usually about 60%, that means about 300 people read my newsletter each year.

That may not sound like many, but I once heard someone frame it this way:

What would it feel like getting on a stage and talking to 300 people?

When you put it that way, I’d be stunned if I had the opportunity to talk to 300 people on a stage.

I’m most excited about the newsletter going forward because it’s an opportunity to sprinkle a little bit of everything going on in the world each week.

I have the opportunity to share my content, what I’ve been reading, financial planning strategies, personal experiences, and more.

If you aren’t subscribed, I encourage you to subscribe.

Next Year

My plan is to get more targeted next year and do fewer things. As I’ve told other colleagues in the industry, it feels like most of the marketing activities I’ve done have taken time, energy, and money and led to almost no new conversations with folks.

Simply existing and being alive has led to more new clients than any of the marketing activities. The third year may be a “less is more” type of experience.

Business Growth

The business grew in year two.

I’m about a third of the way of where I want to be long-term, which means if growth continues, I should have a full practice in the next few years. At least, I hope I’ll have a full practice in the next few years!

When people ask how it’s going, I often say, “I’m ahead of where I thought I would be, but not where I want to be — yet.”

What were the successes in year 2?

  • I was quoted in the NY Times — A Retirement Puzzle: Turning Over Control of Your Money.
    • I was particularly proud of this piece, and it felt like a full circle moment. The day I started talking to Tammy, the journalist, we were meeting with hospice to get my dad signed up. The piece came out a month later — shortly after he died.
  • I published 12 articles of original content. Combined with last year, I have 71 blog articles. Since most articles are over 2,000 words, that’s likely over 142,000 words.  
  • Matt, a friend, and I were interviewed on a local Wisconsin television station.
  • I sent a weekly newsletter with an average open rate that was around 60% to 65% most weeks. 
  • I’m helping 15 ongoing clients connect their finances to their ideal life.
  • I helped 19 people on an hourly basis do comprehensive financial planning, where we discussed investments, tax planning, insurance, estate planning, and more.
  • I continued creating videos and hired a video editor. Some are 20 minutes, such as “Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?” while most are 5 to 10 minutes.
  • I hired Nancy, a coach, to help keep me accountable to the things I wanted to try this past year.
  • I paid myself each quarter. It’s not anything close to what I was making at my prior job, but it is growing and becoming more sustainable. I don’t feel like I’m in the rat race of corporate life anymore. Plus, I’m not paying to work like I did in year 1!
  • 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? 

Most of the data points to rapid growth in year 3 and beyond. I’m not sure what exactly happens in year 3 that causes seemingly magical growth, but it’s been well documented by studies and anecdotally from friends in the industry.

I’m excited to hopefully see that growth in year 3!

Personal Success

Here are personal successes in year 2:

  • I continued to help coordinate care and take care of my dad’s finances until he died. I was able to go home when he died for a few weeks to wrap everything up.
    • This was a nourishing trip. It’s the most “full” I’ve felt in a long time. I was lucky enough to go on three hikes, spend entire days with friends and family, and spend a lot of time with my mom and extended family.
  • I did most of the cooking and shopping for my wife and me as she works long hours during residency (which she wanted to interject that she really appreciates it, as I am the Chief Meal Planner) Working from home helps.
  • I played tennis regularly during the winter and multiple times per week during the summer. Last year was my first year back after about 10 years of not playing, and it’s been amazing to have tennis back in my life.
  • I self-published my first book! It’s called Money Lessons for Change: What They Should Have Taught You in School. 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. 
  • More Than Money: Real Life Stories of Financial Planning was published by Harriman House. I’m a contributing author on page 205. I tell the story of Sara and Leo and what it was like when they came to me when Leo was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer.
  • I’m still doing pro bono planning for Savvy Ladies and Wings for Widows.
  • 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 across the U.S. and internationally. My wife and I went to Bayfield, WI to explore around the Great Lakes. We escaped the Wisconsin winter to see family in Arizona. I went to Australia and New Zealand to visit friends who moved there.
  • I started contributing to a 401(k) again. It had been about two years since I last contributed.

Community Looked Different

As the business grows, my needs and community change.

I joined a NAPFA community group last year, but I decided to drop it this year. I wasn’t getting much out of it, and it was an important reminder that people serve different needs throughout life. If something isn’t serving you, you can always put it down and pick something else up.

Our XYPN Mastermind Group that launched together is still meeting, although most meetings are a smaller group as it is less of a priority among new clients, vacation, and other life stuff for all of us. When we do meet, it’s good to catch up.

I’ve made it a point to do more one-on-one meet ups with folks. As an introvert, I’ve never been great in larger groups.

I try to meet with Sue and Matt, who welcomed me to Madison over two years ago, once a quarter. We can chat about the struggles of business, personal successes, and anything else on our minds.

During a marketing conference earlier this year in Las Vegas, I got to room with Nick, have dinner together, and gamble $40. After the conference, I had the opportunity to stick around Las Vegas and spend time with Danika and Katie. Good conversation tends to happen over shared spaces, hiking, and meals.

Jamie regularly checks in with me through text, and I’m thankful for them. I’m amazed at how quickly their business is growing.

Val connected me with Tammy, the NY Times reporter. For that, I’ll always be grateful. We sporadically talk, and it’s often about the financial industry and how awful it can be.

I am continually in awe of Alicyn, and the community she builds in the tax world. Plus, she lets me join tax meet ups and see the inside world of accounting.

Working from home can be lonely, but I still wouldn’t trade it for an office.

I know that for certain because my wife and I rented office space for the first time on a temporary basis for a few months earlier this year, and I shuddered at the thought.

She was applying for a fellowship and had interviews that lasted half a day. Since our home office is where I work during the day and she uses at night after work, we knew we needed a temporary space during interview season.

Let’s just say I have no desire to go back to an office!

I’m thankful I have the opportunity to connect with giving financial planners and tax professionals who make working as a solo firm more enjoyable.

Starting to Feel like a Real Firm

The risk of starting a firm that I felt in year one is still there, but diminishing. From what I hear from other people farther along in the journey, the worries don’t go away. They simply change.

There are days I miss the income of my last role, but as revenue in the business has grown, those days rarely happen. I wouldn’t trade it for what I have now.

The business is starting to feel more real.

Clients are starting to refer more people. I get the opportunity to talk to over 400 people each week in my newsletter. I’ve seen the impact life planning has had in my clients’ lives.

I get to see the excitement in people’s eyes when they get to experience real financial planning — not the nonsense big banks or brokerage firms claim is financial planning.

I find that one most meaningful.

I’m optimistic for the future.

I’m optimistic that:

  • I’ll get to 30 to 50 clients over the next few years and stop taking on new clients. I’m about a third of the way there, and given the industry stats, year three tends to be a big growth year.
  • I get to earn money doing what I love while living a more relaxed, sustainable life. No more sales targets, continued growth, and worrying about service slipping.
  • I’ll continue to make time for pro-bono financial planning for widows through Wings for Widows and women through Savvy Ladies.
  • The business will grow around my family’s life (My wife starts fellowship next year), which likely means a relocation in the future (I still really miss the PNW) and going home more to connect with friends and family.
  • I’ll continue to make meaningful connections in the industry whether it be at conferences, online, or during Community Discussion Hours. I’ve had an idea of doing a retreat with 4 to 6 other financial planners floating around in my head, and that may become a reality in the next year or two.

I find it hard to put into words how grateful and lucky I feel for where I am at in year two.

To the clients who supported me in the first two years — you’ll never know how much I appreciate you. My business exists because of you.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me, referring people to join this adventure, and making it enjoyable and life changing.

Thank you for making it so that I don’t have to go find a soul-crushing, sales-oriented, cram-as-many-clients-into-a-financial-planners-practice-as-possible, misogynistic, unethical firm job.

As I enter year three, I’m looking to grow, continue figuring out how to serve my existing clients better, and enjoy my personal life more. When my dad died earlier this year, it freed up significant mental space and energy to make room for more living.

Final Thoughts – My Question for You

I wish the nervous, gut-wrenching, worried-beyond-belief human I was over two years ago as I weighed quitting my job could have seen the future.

I don’t think he would have believed it.

Kindness Financial Planning is still young, but it’s growing and has the capacity for many new clients this next year.

I’m looking forward to see what comes in year three. Whether it’s challenges, achievements, struggles, community, growing, or something else, I’m excited for it.

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

Is your money working in a way that helps you live your ideal life? If not, let’s talk about how to build your ideal life: 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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