Start a financial planning firm by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your financial planning firm. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a financial planning firm?
Starting a firm requires you to become a registered investment advisor (RIA), registered with your state. You will spend between $10,000 and $20,000 for basic startup costs. Some of these include office rent, your legal documentation (including your form ADV client brochure and fee disclosure), and fees for your vendors. You’ll also need a good contract with a custodian.
What are the ongoing expenses for a financial planning firm?
Ongoing expenses include office upkeep and business liability insurance, rent, errors and omissions insurance, account maintenance fees for a custodian, and labor costs for any staff you retain.
Who is the target market?
The target market for most financial planners is middle-income. However, some advisors find that the upper middle-class or high net worth market is more worthwhile. Bottom line: choose a market that can afford your services and that has money to invest.
How does a financial planning firm make money?
Financial advisory firms make money by charging clients for financial advice, comprehensive plans, and modular plans. Many advisories also charge a fee for managing investments. The fee is usually a percentage of the assets held under management.
How much can you charge customers?
The typical fee for assets under management is between 1% and 2%. A typical comprehensive financial plan will cost between $1,800 and $10,000, depending on the client and his or her needs.
How much profit can a financial planning firm make?
A financial planning firm can be very profitable. Most firms have profit margins exceeding 10%, and the most successful ones have profits margins exceeding 20%.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Make your firm more successful by specializing in a specific type of financial planning. For example, you could choose to specialize in education planning, retirement planning, financial planning for millennials, or even non-investment planning.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. If you don’t have a name in mind already, read our detailed guide on how to name a business or get some help brainstorming a name with our Financial Planning Firm Business Name Generator.
Then, when registering a business name we recommend checking if the business name is available in your state, federally by doing a trademark search, searching the web, and making sure the name you choose is available as a web domain to secure it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your financial planning firm is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Check out the Top Business Formation Services from our friends at StartupSavant.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a financial planning business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
How to promote & market a financial planning firm
Promote your business in your local community using business cards and attend networking events. Let friends, family, and business associates know that you’ve opened a new firm.
How to keep customers coming back
Most clients are reluctant to leave a financial planning firm. However, you can increase the likelihood that they won’t leave by offering clients an immersive experience. Develop a unique culture that fits with your target market.
For example, if your target market is primarily millennials, or younger clients, consider offering perks that they might enjoy.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Start A Financial Planning Firm In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
A financial planner is usually the individual who owns a financial advisory firm. To sit in the CEO’s chair, you must be comfortable working long hours, have a passion for all things financial, and have a special interest in human psychology.
Many financial decisions are not just about the numbers. They are about the client’s behaviors and how he or she views the world. For example, some investors are concerned about the environment and may eschew investments in fossil fuels, regardless of the mutual fund’s or stock’s long-term return to investors.
Other investors may be more concerned with protecting their principal and earning a conservative rate of return. These investors might only be willing to invest in bonds and bond funds, annuities, permanent life insurance, and conservative bank products.
Some clients may not be comfortable investing their money at all or may not be ready to. Others may need help reigning in spending, or they may be so focused on saving money that they’re living an unhappy life and are coming to you for advice on what to do. Understanding the psychology of different types of people and how each of your clients relates to money will enable you to gain their trust and best serve their long-term financial interests.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a financial planning firm?
Financial planners do a lot of different things during the day. One of the most important tasks is prospecting and marketing. Even large financial firms need to constantly bring in new clients and service existing ones.
Many firms focus on “assets under management” or “AUM”. The more assets under management, the more the firm makes. Thus, most marketing efforts are geared toward bringing more assets to the firm.
Whether that’s making phone calls every day to existing clients (or new prospects), sending out direct mailers, or giving talks and lectures or holding seminars, the principal advisor in a firm is busy.
A financial planner also meets with clients or oversees meetings with his or her top advisors (who meet with clients). A financial planner also sends faxes, drafts financial plans for clients, does a multitude of calculations on financial planning software, and spends time keeping tabs on the financial markets.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful financial planning firm?
Financial advisors typically have at least some formal education and training in financial planning. Some colleges, like the American College, are set up specifically for this purpose. The specific skills needed by a financial planner include basic and advanced money management skills, the ability to explain complex financial concepts in simple terms, and a deep understanding of financial math, financial markets, and its relevance to human life.
What is the growth potential for a financial planning firm?
A financial planning firm can be small or large. Many firms are one-person operations. However, some financial advisors grow their firms into multi million-dollar companies. Blue Ocean Global Wealth is one example of a large planning firm. Edelman Financial Services is another example of a firm that grew into a household name.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a financial planning firm?
Jump starting your business is easier if you’ve already owned or operated an RIA. Getting clients from existing business or moving clients over from your old broker-dealer relationships will help. Sometimes, however, this cannot be done. Leverage your relationships in your local community.
How and when to build a team
Build a team as soon as you can afford to do so. It doesn’t have to be immediately, however. Most professional financial planners can manage up to 200 to 250 clients without hiring help.