Brad Johnson: Welcome to another episode of Do Business Do Life. We’re joined today with Sten Morgan. Welcome to the show, Sten.
Sten Morgan: And good to be here. Good to see you again.
Brad Johnson: Yeah. Good to reconnect. We kind of did a little swap here. You know, you lob some questions at me. We hopped onto Zoom and just kind of hashed it out, and I was like, “Man, we got to do this the other way.” I knew you were doing some really cool things very differently than I think the standard advisor is out there. And that’s one of the things I love about this podcast is just being curious, exploring all the different ways to be successful in this business. So, I wanted to have you come on the show. So, with that, let’s just dive in. We were talking wine and I actually did learn how to say your backyard that you were growing up when I was out in Oregon last time. It’s Willamette, right? Everybody else. That’s right. So, somehow we got on the topic of wine. You’re like, “That was actually my backyard I grew up in.” And, you know, I kind of took the wine experience for granted back in the day but give us a little bit of the journey. What’s always kind of fun about this business is all of the different ways people find their way into being a financial advisor. So, obviously, started in Oregon. You tell us whatever version you want to tell us to catch us up to today.
Sten Morgan: Yeah. I have no intention of owning a business. Hated sales. Nobody in my family ever owned a business like that just wasn’t on my radar. My whole pursuit through high school and college was like how do you get into a company and then outperform others to get to some higher rung of that ladder? And so, junior year, going into junior year of college that summer, I was like, “I need an internship. I need to do something.” I think I was going to get some credit for it, too, and I looked around and all of them were unpaid. And I stumbled upon this one insurance internship that would pay you $100 a week to show up to a meeting. And in college, I knew that I needed the $100 so I showed up. Yeah. It turns out they were going to teach me to sell life insurance. And I didn’t know anybody that had money but I said, “Well, why not?” And they put a couple of incentives and trips out there for people that got a certain amount of lives and different things. So, it spoke to the competitive nature inside of me to say, “I think I can try this thing and $400 a month is nice.” So, that was my first experience with what it meant to be a financial advisor. Love the sales training, but with who I was, just it wasn’t quite sinking in yet that my initial introduction to this business was like, “Oh, I have to learn enough about products to go sell to people that I kind of know or really know. And I’m going to learn as I go and hope I don’t make mistakes while selling this stuff.” Obviously, the business is so much more than that but that was my initial exposure and I had to struggle with that. So, it wasn’t love at first sight. It was like I don’t know if I want to do this.
Brad Johnson: Yeah. That’s very common. It’s really interesting. I’ve asked a lot of top-performing advisors over the years and it’s funny, a lot of them share your path towards like answered some ad but they weren’t really sure what it was and then they showed up and then the next thing I was doing, I was knocking on doors selling policies to people. So, it’s going back to how people get recruited into this business. It’s always an interesting journey. So, where were you at? Because I knew you grew up in Oregon, but where were you in the country when you were in college? Like, where did this happen?
Sten Morgan: Portland, kind of right outside of Portland, Oregon, and I was with an agency in Portland. And thankful the managing director there became a friend and a mentor. He ended up leaving, which I think freed me up. My personality then was kind of super loyal. You know, probably if he would have stayed, I would have stayed and just kept cranking it out. But when he transitioned, I stepped back and just said, “Okay. What do I want to do?” So, insurance was one option and it was an either-or in my mind at that time. It was like you either sell insurance or you manage money. So, I said, “Well, I’m going to go manage money.” So, I went to A share mutual funds managing money. If I met with a client, all I really cared about was the assets and liabilities section to figure out do they had money to invest with me. Still very kind of sales-heavy incentive-focused. All along I knew I was adding that. The core of me was still, “I’m not going to do something wrong. I’m going to make sure that I sell the right thing to the right person,” but it was still very find the problem, find the product to fix the problem and then move on and eventually are going to accumulate enough of these people that there’ll be recurring sales. And if you do this hard enough and long enough for 10 to 15 years, someday you’re going to arrive. And that was kind of the vision, even though nobody sat me down and kind of presented that to me, the industry in general kind of gave me that impression.
Brad Johnson: For sure. Yeah, grind it, fake it until you make it sort of mentality. And you hit something there that’s interesting. That was the world when I got into it, too. So, give me a timeline. You’re a little younger than me. We’re not too far off, but so it sounds like this, what was an internship in college turned into your job out of college. It’s kind of what I’m putting together there, the insurance sales position.
Sten Morgan: For about six months. Yeah, it was like, internship.
Brad Johnson: Six months?
Sten Morgan: 2008 to 2010. And then 2010 to 2012 was when I was kind of all investments all the time.
Brad Johnson: Flipped over to the AUM side. Got it. So, that’s fun because a lot of people don’t have that perspective. And when I got into this business, when I was 26 years old in 2007 and I was in a very insurance-based business, fixed annuities, indexed annuities, that distribution model. And the same thing, if I called up somebody that was a 365 guy and said the word annuity, it was like, “Dial his house,” right? And what’s crazy is how the financial world has evolved so much because most of it was born out of product distribution channels, right? It’s whether it was AUM or A shares or insurance products, most of it was the company that manufactured the product was teaching you how to sell the product. And I think what’s interesting because a lot of times you get this, “Oh, I’m fee-based,” that’s still a product, right? If you’re selling it as a product versus we talked a little bit before we hit record. It’s like, “I made a switch,” and I think it was about this stage or getting to in your career trajectory where you’re like, “I decided I didn’t want to sell anything anymore, whether it be AUM or insurance or anything in between.” So, let’s go to that stage of your story because I think there’s a really cool shift that kind of unlocked this untapped potential that you had at the time.
Sten Morgan: Yeah. And there was this undercurrent all along from going from heavy insurance to all investments and not realizing there’s kind of a happy medium in there as an advisor that I didn’t know. I didn’t like to be told what to do. Part of my personal work is realizing like, “Oh yeah, if I feel confined or taken advantage of or manipulated like that triggered something in me. And so, when I was in insurance, it was like, “I don’t know if I’m getting the whole story here. Like, what’s really going on? I feel like I’m being pressured to do something. I’m out of here, I’m going to go to Investments.” And I was part of a firm that had a really intense non-compete and then I realized about a year and a half in that they technically own the clients forever. And if I ever leave, I’m really just a servicing rep. And so, through this whole time, I’m also trying to learn about the industry and realizing like, where am I going to fit someday? And as a young, probably cocky advisor, my answer was like, “I’m out of here. Like, there’s something better. There’s something better.” And every time it wasn’t ever perfect, whether it’s compliance, whether it’s some type of leadership, like what does it look like to find a spot that fit me? And eventually, I kind of worked my way to RIA. But as I look back and I coach and mentor other advisors, I try to encourage them that’s not always the answer. Like, you could be a stellar advisor in any environment. You have to learn to handle whether it’s a compliance burden, leadership you’re not super excited about.
Like, there’s always something because you are a business owner that is an external influence that you may not be excited about. So, in hindsight, I wish my solution wasn’t always to kind of jump ship and find something and restart and build it that way. It’s worked out thankfully, but in hindsight, there are so many ways in this business and so many places to park where you can be really successful. My story just feels a little more bouncy just because that was kind of my dream.
Brad Johnson: Sounds like you just had this entrepreneurial spirit inside of you the whole time. That’s kind of what I’m hearing. Is that fair?
Sten Morgan: I think I can call it that now. In hindsight, nobody in my family did business stuff, so it’s not like I was like, “I’m going to follow the path.” I think there was an edge in me. I’m thankful for that edge. I think there are some people in my past that if you interviewed, they’d be like, “Man, that guy was a pain,” like always pushing the limits, asking too many questions, not really trusting our leadership. I was hard to coach in college and basketball. I’d be hard to lead. And I think there are people that are hard to lead that are still great assets. They just take a certain kind of leader to lead them. And I didn’t get that so it led me to a path of saying, “Hey, I’m going to be in an environment, obviously, with teams.” Anything worth doing that’s important needs a team like Buddy Hyatt says. But mine wasn’t that intentional. So, as I look back, I realized like, there’s really no path in our business. When I started, I didn’t see a clear like, “Hey, if you want to be this type of advisor, you go this way. If you want to be this type…” It was really just this wandering path that at times, it took me longer than it had to, burn some bridges where I didn’t need to. All of that leads to I think I’m in a position now where I coach other advisors, and I love doing that. But I had to learn some lessons the hard way about what does it look like to just stay where you are and maximize that moment before you more strategically make your next decision because I didn’t have the patience back then.
Brad Johnson: Yeah. But I’m hearing a lot of wisdom in that because a lot of people do that but they never realize they did it, right, the self-awareness aspect of it. It sounds like you left a, you know, one of my coaches said, “You’re a top performer, Brad,” and this was back in the day, kind of my younger version and kind of probably more ego-driven version of a younger self. He’s like, “That’s cool, but you’re leaving like some bodies along the way,” and it’s kind of by sheer brute force. And I think as you grow as a leader, you realize the best leaders are the ones that when they walk in the room, the team comes together. Not like I’m just going to hard charge through this brick wall no matter what. And that’s kind of what I’m hearing a little bit in your story too, Sten.
Sten Morgan: Oh, yeah. And I have, as you speak right now, I get taken back to a scenario where I was in a room with the managing director of a firm who was trying to recruit me to come over. And at this point, I had done some stuff, but I was still, I don’t know, somewhat of an imposter to where I really had to make my presence known. And I was in this room with this guy pretty much telling him like, “Hey, anybody would be lucky to have us. I have a great team. Look at what we’re doing. And he didn’t say it in the meeting, which I appreciate. He sat there and later on he told me he was like, “Sten, I’m glad I know you now but in that meeting, I didn’t want anything to do with you.” I had to realize at a certain point, they don’t need me. Like, they’re successful enough. Like, the people I really want to be around, they already researched me. They knew that stuff like they didn’t need me to run a commercial and push that hard, like they needed me to come in, be curious, and I could feel what I was feeling in that meeting still. Like, I got to prove myself. Am I enough? And then part of that’s just my younger story but I look back and it’s just like I try to lead with curiosity now. You know, it’s not always perfect wherever you could move. Like, in this moment where I am, what can I pull out of it? So, when you say that body thing, I look back now it’s like the industry told me to be successful. You just do the average thing really hard and really long.
And I think based on that, I was less focused on where can I carve out something different. How can I be strategic? How can I be creative to attract clients’ attention? It was like brute force is probably the best word. And there’s a reason 80% to 90% of advisors don’t make it in this business. And I hate that we’ve accepted that. Obviously, at some level of our industry at the very top, they’re okay with it because we’re still profitable and there’s great money being made. But me and you operate on like the advisor level of this business and there’s carnage. You know, there’s amazing advisors that would serve people really well but they just don’t prospect very well so they don’t get to be in this business or they have to go get a salaried job and they’ll never experience kind of the entrepreneurial grow a business side because that’s not in their natural wiring to be competitive, hard-charging. And so, part of our mission is to kind of open up a different path in this business and say, “Hey, there’s a way to just sell and make good money and learn as you go. But there’s also a way to deliver advice and experience that more people, in my opinion, will qualify for and do well at.
Brad Johnson: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. The truth is I look at the distribution model that kind of and it’s on all fronts. Like, I grew up on the insurance side but insurance companies would create insurance products, and then insurance products needed to be sold. Same thing on the mutual fund world. It’s like mutual funds are created. Mutual funds need to be distributed, sold. And even on the asset management, “Hey, I’ve got this special money manager or philosophy around it,” and they do this thing special and it’s like the sales pitch, right? But if you really break it down, the truth is a lot of our industry and I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to anyway, a lot of our industry was built on like a pyramid scheme sort of model where it was… And what I mean by that is recruit the fresh young guy to college with some ad, right? You came in and you remember how many people were in that class. Did you come in with like a class of other people at that same time, about the same age?
Sten Morgan: Fifty.
Brad Johnson: Were there 50? Oh, wow. In my region, maybe 25. This is kind of in the Northwest. And you were there. You said like six months.
Sten Morgan: A year for the internship and then six months after. So, about a year and a half run.
Brad Johnson: Okay. So, I’m curious if you remember, maybe you don’t, but a year and a half later, how many in that original class of 50 were still around?
Sten Morgan: Two. I vividly remember it. Yeah. Two of us.
Brad Johnson: Two, right there. Case in point. So, here was the distribution model is get all these young just fresh out of college, not used to make anything. They’re willing to grind. They’re willing to knock doors, cold calls, whatever the model was. And now we went from 50 to 2. And here’s what happens. It’s survival of the fittest. Throw you all in the deep end. See who doesn’t drown. And then it’s this aggregation model because what’s everybody doing right out of the gates, what are they trying to do? Go to your warm market. Mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandma, and grandpa, of course, they’re going to help you out because they’re like you’re their son or grandson or whatever. And then the ones that wash out, the two survivors aggregate up and it’s this like pyramid scheme again, right?
Sten Morgan: And that’s a long time. Isn’t it?
Brad Johnson: Yeah. So, like a lot of honestly very successful financial models, financial company models were built on this recruit in these big classes, survival of the fittest, to your point, like do this average thing harder than everybody else, like athletics. That’s why a lot of athletes find their way into this business because they’re just willing to grind harder. And then, oh, like by sheer survival mode, now I’m successful, but literally I hate my life because I just grind it away every day. I mean, is that fair? Like, kind of the young model…
Sten Morgan: It makes me sad to hear it because at some level they’re okay with it. I remember hearing the term once of crashing Ferraris because it was like to bring somebody on and recruit them and train them like the cost of that, you could have bought a Ferrari. And so, you’re just crashing Ferraris but the business model income level works. But I think where me and you get to live that I love is like we’re in the day-to-day advisors. And I would say if there’s 25 of us that started in my specific class, there’s two of us left, I don’t think it’s a 25 out of 25. I don’t think that’s the reason. This is a hard job. But it probably could have been ten. Like, if there was a different path, some training, I bet there’s a group in there that was really disappointed that struggled with that for a while, that they weren’t good enough, they didn’t make it. And that’s where me and you get to hang out. And our mission is like, how do we get people to enjoy the benefits of this business, have balance in their life, but still succeed almost in spite of what the industry half has become? Good. Yeah. As you say, all that stuff. I’m just like, “Dude, I was right there. I saw that first.” My journey bounced around. A benefit was I got to see a lot of different angles of this business and eventually decide, okay, here’s who I want to be in relationship to all of that because we need products. Products are great. They are the tools we need to implement and get results but I know a lot of the work you do is there’s so much more that comes before that to where then the product is almost an afterthought to a client versus the thing.
Brad Johnson: 100%. Day one for me, read an annuity brochure. Day two, make 100 dials. That was my training and it was survival of the fittest. But to your point, one of the things that I love about this business, it is a very – if it wasn’t for this business and learning how to sell over the phone, it’s what awakened my mind to personal growth. Like, hey, read this book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. And I know you’re very much a student down the same path and once you unlock this, “Wait, if I become more, I can do more.” And by the way, that also means I can start to control my own destiny had it not for been getting into the grind and sales and trying to figure that game out, I don’t know that I would have ever chosen that path on my own. So, it kind of unlocked this need that those that are willing to seek it out and I’ve talked to a lot of advisors over the years, they followed a very similar path to you and I. So, let’s flip the switch here a bit. One of the things that’s kind of cool, I know InvestmentNews does a really cool thing, 40 Under 40. You actually got it at 30. I don’t know if they have like a 30 Under 30, but you overqualified and hit it at 30 as opposed to in your thirties. But you start to unlock and one thing you said before we went live that I want to have you expand on because I’m guessing that was part of that journey of where you’re like, “Okay. Wait. Here’s a different way to have a successful financial services firm and help people.” You said you switched to a thought process of advice and ideas over products. And I’m going to also, by the way, put securities and AUM as a product. It’s obviously a different type than an insurance product but I see all of those as different types of products and finance. So, let’s talk about how that came to be and then the before and after of what that looked like for Sten.
Sten Morgan: The InvestmentNews thing, that was great. I felt like when I had that award and there’s other awards like things you can pay to be part of a list or something like that was pure, what’s your business look like? Are you going to make it? So, for little 16-year-old Sten inside that was about to prove the world something, that meant a lot like that was, “Okay. I finally did it. I’m not pretending.” You know, I hung it on my wall, maybe less so for the clients and even more so to remind me of like “Sten, you’re doing a good job.” But I’d accomplish that through the sheer will of help people, be creative about it, deliver products while along only sell something that’s necessary. Don’t go to a market that doesn’t need insurance and try to get them to buy it. Just find the people that actually need it. So, I learned a lot in that of how do I stay true to myself, even just morally in a very sales-driven, incentive-based, want-to-win culture. And so, I was finding that but then I was able to kind of step back there and be like, “Okay. Am I going to keep doing the same thing for the next 30 years? And does that get me excited?” And when I moved to Nashville and I was in a cold market, the idea of going toe to toe with senior advisors that have lived here and have these clients for 30 years and my whole business is going to be to try to take clients from them. Because those are the A clients. They have assets being managed by somebody, they have complex estates, they need some bigger insurance policies.
And so, I was in my late twenties trying to go out there and somehow convince these people to come to me because I can do what they’re already doing better. And I said, “That sounds exhausting.” And it sounds still like more of a gradual growth, like what’s a hockey stick-type growth path for me? And I said, “What if all those clients I could still work with even if I didn’t get them to fire their other person?” That’s what we usually do. I sit with you and it’s like, “Man, if I want Brad’s insurance and invested business, I have to convince him I’m better than someone else.” And that could be his cousin. That could be his sister. Like, that’s the message I’m trying to get across is like you’re better off with me than that other person. My products are better than theirs. And I said in this half, when I went to a conference in Washington, D.C., I heard this advisor in a breakout session, and this wasn’t even the point of his talk. He said, “Every time a client works with us, they pay us a $5,000 planning fee.” And for the first time I was like, “Wait, people will pay us for our time and ideas?” And that was so contrary to what the industry taught me. The insurance side, the investment side is like, “No, it’s about the products. You give away the planning and you give away your time for free in the hope of selling something.” And so, that just shook me up and that’s crazy, he’s double-charging, all the head trash kind of flooded in. And so, I went back and I said, “I bet there are people out there that maybe don’t have AUM, they don’t need to buy insurance, but they still need what we have to offer, which is accountability, guidance, advice.”
So, it was at that point I started saying, “I want to build out an advice model,” that if I meet with the client, even if they don’t need to buy something, I can still add value to them that I cannot have to wait to get to the AUM or the assets and liabilities and as soon as I realize they don’t have money to invest, I check out of the meeting because there’s no money to be made. What if every client that came to my office there was a way for them to work with me and I would never say no to anybody again? They would actually say no to me because if they’re not willing to pay me, that’s their choice. I’m not turning them away because they don’t have money because I grew up with no money, single mom, three sisters. Nobody in the old model we’d been talking about would have ever worked with us or ever helped us. And so, then we spent, you know, it was five going on six years now, building this model that we do a very large number of consulting and planning fees every year. And oh, by the way, we get to manage money and do insurance but we get to that a couple of months down the road. Our initial interaction is how can we overwhelm you with value and share some of our best ideas? And the experience is totally different. People leave there saying like, “That was the best meeting I ever had. I didn’t know I could work with a financial advisor that way,” because I’m taking the product off of the, you know, it’s not the main focus anymore.
Brad Johnson: Cool. So, let’s talk about this. I’ll just paint a perspective of like what I would say is like kind of a common appointment process. And then I’d love to hear you kind of say, “Well, here’s how our approach is a little different. The standard typically a 2 to 3-appointment process first being a fact find or whatever sexier version, somebody calls that, where they’re going through a fact finder form, understanding the client, their needs, their wants, their gaps, their problems, their concerns. The end of that, now we’re going to set a second where we’re going to have some sort of assessment based on those problems, maybe a high-level recommendation. I know some people literally deliver a full plan in the second. That’s not what we recommend but call it the second where it’s kind of like, “Here’s your problems. Here’s how we think we can solve them,” some sort of engagement at the end of the second, some people charge fees, some people ACAT, move funds over. And then the third being more of what I would call an asset allocation meeting where here’s the million dollars in our account. Okay. Now, let’s deploy that into the tools or products needed to deliver the solutions needed to solve the problem. So, let’s just call that standard. I know everybody’s a little different but let’s say that’s the standard. Give me as you switched to the advice-driven model, how did that model change for you and compare it to the one that I just gave out there?
Sten Morgan: There’s a great book called Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni that kind of speaks to the internal change that me and my team had. And the kind of the crux of that book is small consulting firm outside of the big city. And the big city is big consulting firm. They have the big office, they have the nice furniture, all the stuff, and you go and meet with them. They spend probably half their meeting in talking about themselves, “This is our firm. This is how long we’ve been around. Here’s the type of clients we work with,” and it’s kind of this presentation of products and reputation. And for some reason, the small firm keeps taking all their clients. So, the big firm ends up buying the small firm, sends one of their people out there and says, “Hey, go figure out what they’re doing better than us.” And at the core of it, the small firm treated the person as a client immediately, which means they started giving value away right away. And they started coaching, they started teaching that like, why is in the first meeting, why are you consulting right away to some degree giving them value upfront? And so, in our business, this takes a little more intention but we’ve studied concepts to teach. We’re big on whiteboard. Every advisor should never sit in a meeting ever again for the whole meeting. Who wants to sit across and just like they’re already not looking forward to this meeting, most likely. It’s not something that fills people up or they’re excited, maybe a little embarrassed. They don’t think they’re where they should be. But 5 minutes into most of my meetings, I’m on the whiteboard teaching them something. One of them is the investment decision filter. I’m like, “Okay. Have you ever heard of this? And I know the answer is no because I made it up.”
And I said, “From this day forward, Brad, you just met me. I don’t know what you’re thinking this meeting is going to be about but what I’m going to give you right away is forever for the rest of your life, whenever you make an investment decision, you’re going to think about four things. You’re going to think about risk, fees, performance, and taxes. And I’m going to teach you right now these four things that you’ll take away, even if we don’t do business together, that whenever you decide to invest money and you need to think about the fees but not just the fees, would you be willing to pay a higher fee if the performance was five times something else?” “Well, of course.” “If you could get great performance but the risk was so high it made you uncomfortable, is performance the only thing we care about?” So, right in front of a meeting, I just taught you how to think about investments in the context of a filter as opposed to like low fees or just great past performance. And if I can do that two or three times in that initial meeting, giving you this information, I’m gathering facts as I go. I’m trying to figure out, are you a good client for me? Am I a good advisor for you? But the whole experience changes. It’s not like I’m going to… And we call it a value-first prospect. I’m going to give you value first. I’m not going to talk about myself because really all you care about is you and your family and what you’re going to get. I’m going to get to the point as quick as I can and ask great questions.
And so, for us, and we just had 25 advisors leave our office for one of our day-and-a-half live events where we teach them, “How do you talk about what you do? How do you get a client in your office? When they come into your office, how do you give them an experience that they’re like, “I never had a meeting like this.” And we’re still going to accomplish the same stuff. As advisors, we’re still seeing the problems and where the products can go but if I study enough and I know great ideas and I can illustrate to you on a whiteboard in a meeting or two, I can give you enough free ideas to pay for myself, I have no problem sliding a proposal across the table for you to pay me $5,000, $10,000 because I just paid for myself in one or two meetings. You remove what I call the trust gap where it’s like, “Hey, Brad, great to meet you. I know Jim referred us to each other. I don’t know you. You’ve never met me. But, hey, let’s do business together and I think it’ll work out.” And you’re like, “How do I know? I am supposed to hope? Like, you’ve given me nothing.” Like, he wasn’t sure. There’s a trust gap. So, our whole process that we teach and lead advisor network is to that. Like, how do you bring somebody in and create connection or much faster? So, by the time you talk about investments or insurance to them, they’re like, “Yeah, whatever you say.” We really got to take the product out of the initial sale because that’s not our value. Like, our value, it’s our ability to communicate ideas and ask great questions and the product gets in the way of that.
Brad Johnson: I love that. We coach a lot on whiteboarding, and the part of it is the value, 100%, where you’re just showing like, “Hey, we kind of know our stuff around here. We have philosophies we believe can help you.” Part of it is the psychology. I mean, most people or do you go back to when you were a student, you’re in the classroom, teacher is on the board, and so you automatically put yourself in teacher-student role, which is another helpful thing, obviously, any time you’re hopping up on a whiteboard. I’m curious because the other thing I see get in the way a lot because you just talked about we decided not to sell product or lead with product but rather advice. But guess what? Many of your prospects come in with the baggage of the distribution that we just talked about, that distributed product that said, “This is good. That is bad. This has high fees. This has low fees. You should only do this. Not that.” So, I’m curious in that opening conversation around the filter, you call it the investment filter, right?
Sten Morgan: The investment decision filter. Yeah.
Brad Johnson: Investment decision filter. What sort of baggage comes out of that as you start to process that of like, “Oh, well, I heard this product was always bad,” or, “My advisor said only do fees and commissions are bad,” like everything that kind of comes into that sort of conversation. Give me some of your ahas or takeaways that have come out of those sort of conversations.
Sten Morgan: Yeah. The lead-up to me getting up to the whiteboard is something usually along the lines of, “How do you feel about your financial plan? You feel that your plan is creative and proactive?” And I’ll say, “Do you even feel like you have a financial plan?” And surprisingly, people you think they have a plan, they’re like, “I don’t really feel like I have a plan.” And I say, “You know, I see that a lot. Unfortunately, most financial plans,” and I say this verbatim, “are a collection of products people have bought over time.” Meaning I bought a 529 once so I put some money in this insurance once. But to them, it’s like it’s just random products purchased and that’s a financial plan. And I say, you know, and this is something we’re toying around with now but it’s like I’m not angry with average financial plans. I’m just disappointed.
Brad Johnson: It’s like a parent.
Sten Morgan: One of our parents just says, “I’m not mad at you. I’m just disappointed,” because it’s like that’s just part of the course but it is doing good. Most people are better off with something like that than without. So, I’m there but I’m also like, “Hey, fellow advisors, let’s not stop there.” Like, can we take ourselves seriously enough to say, “Are we thought amongst professions like doctors or do people compare us to car salesmen?” And whatever it is, is our doing. And so, we’re trying to bring this different experience that the chances of my team being referred after our first meeting are much higher now than they ever were before. Because if somebody met with me and just took a bunch of facts down and mentioned insurance and mutual funds, and then I saw Brad at the sideline of my kid’s soccer game, I’m probably not telling you about that, “Brad, I spot this super cool term policy,” like that just doesn’t come up. But if I had a meeting where somebody like shared great ideas and told me like, “Hey, you own a business. Did you know you can pay your kids a certain amount and not pay tax on it?” and I’m just giving value right away. There’s a chance I see you and I’m like, “Yeah, I just had a really cool meeting. Did you know about this? I know you own a business too.” Like, your referability skyrockets under those circumstances compared to, “Yeah, I’m buying stuff, but why would I talk about it? And why would I be excited about it as much?” And so, for us, that’s the shift.
Brad Johnson: What are some of your favorite? Because I know there’s advisors out there listening in right now. They’re like, “But I don’t want to give away all my good stuff for free in the first meeting,” right? Now, I know you get into charging a fee for the advice and everything but if you said, here’s two or three pieces of value or hooks that I have found to be very beneficial in the first, what sort of things would you be talking about there?
Sten Morgan: So, just to that previous point, give away all your best stuff right away. Do not hold it back. The lie that the client is going to take it and do it on their own, none of us have time for that. Or that they’re going to go and find another advisor and teach them to do it for them because that advisor didn’t bring that idea to them, never happens. And if somebody wants to take it in themselves, it’s probably saving you because you didn’t want them as a client anyways. So, first thing I would say, bring your A-game right away. Don’t hold back because you’re just hurting yourself. We break up meeting ideas into concepts and strategies. Concepts are like the investment decision filter or the three-bucket approach or a Roth versus IRA. These are teachable moments that you can just weave in whenever you want and they’re really excuses to get up to the whiteboard and create that coach relationship and give yourself authority, because I don’t know Brad in a first meeting is going to share enough data with me for me to actually show him a strategy that’s relevant. Most likely you will but if we’re in a first meeting, you tell me you own a business, I might ask you, “Hey, Brad. You know what QBI is?” “I don’t think so.” “Well, that’s qualified business income deduction. That was changed in the past tax code. Did you know that if you pay yourself the right way, you can take 20% off?” I’m on the whiteboard illustrating this concept to them, and they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of it explained that way. That’s great.”
“Cost segregation, I’m not the CPA that’s going to file the tax return on that but if I can teach you what cost segregation is because you mentioned you own a commercial building and I show you how you can accelerate your depreciation and get $150,000 back this year. Okay. Now, what would you do with $150,000?” “Well, I’d probably buy another building.” “Okay, great. Let’s talk about that.” It’s this free-flowing experience which the 25 advisors that just left our office that showed up on Monday morning selling investments and insurance and left Tuesday afternoon saying, “Wait, I can actually charge a fee for this because my ideas and time have value.” It’s a transformative kind of way of approaching our business to say, “Hey, you’ll keep managing money. You’re going to keep doing insurance.” But maybe don’t try to calculate this, but imagine calculating how much time and ideas you give away for free in the past because you didn’t value it, therefore you weren’t able to communicate the value of it. And so, for us, that’s all of our teachings are teaching advisors how to think differently and communicate their value and even understand it so that they’re confident saying, “Even if you don’t pay me for it, I’m going to give you this experience that makes the close on the next thing so much higher.” But I would also challenge every advisor and say, “Your time and ideas are valuable and there’s a lot of clients out there that would prefer to pay you upfront for that as opposed to buy something too quickly.”
Brad Johnson: That is something. Let’s just hit on that concept for a second because I think sometimes, unfortunately, in the world of financial advising world, we have the curse of knowledge and we think like, “Oh, I’ve got to do something.” Now, I’m halfway through Elon Musk’s new biography that Walter Isaacson just wrote, and it’s stellar. A lot of learnings there. But Elon has this concept of first principles thinking that he’d use to build SpaceX, Tesla, all the other stuff he’s doing, but it’s like break things down to the core basics and then rebuild them from scratch the right way versus just iterating on old builds that were probably built in the wrong way in the first place. And I think, unfortunately, we do that a lot in finance of like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this appointment process because here’s why. This is how we’re supposed to do it.” But let’s go to the paying for advice because what I’ve seen often like the lowest moments for a lot of financial advisors, they go do that first appointment. They’re like, “Wow. There’s like three big gaps that I’ve helped lots of my other clients solve. I can absolutely crush these things. It’s a no-brainer.” They go back and they build this masterful plan that they pour their heart and soul and hours into and maybe their team’s pouring hours into it. And then they go and they present it in the second. And it actually is like a really good plan that solves all three of the problems they didn’t cover in the first. And then they get the dreaded, “I want to think about it.” The dreaded, right?
Sten Morgan: Then you call them every other week.
Brad Johnson: Yes. And then you chase them down. And one of the things that we coach against is the concept of you get what you pay for, right? It’s wired into human psychology. It’s like free stuff is not valuable, paid stuff is valuable. You get what you pay for, all of the things that have been hardwired into our brains from the early days. And when you sit there and plop down this full-blown plan that they have not paid for, they have not committed to, they have not accounted money for, it’s like, oh, they must just do this for free for everybody so it’s not that valuable.
What I hear you saying is the opposite, overdeliver, but let’s make sure there is an agreed upon process to where we are willing to do the work. But our time is very valuable, our advice is very valuable, so we do need to be compensated for that. So, give me the switch. Maybe it’s going through the first, you uncover the problems, you add some value, you could share some cool frameworks that kind of open their mind to what’s possible. But how does that transition differ between first, second, and how money is exchanged, how fee is presented, all of that.
Sten Morgan: Great question. So, as I create that rapport and my hope is within that first meeting, they’re saying something like, “I’ve never heard of it that way before, or why? I didn’t even know you could do that,” because I’m awakening them to the idea of like, okay, this is valuable. It’s also our job to create appropriate urgency, meaning people don’t solve small problems, they solve big problems. And so, if I’m in there talking about how they should fund a 529 with 500 bucks a month to fund their kids’ college and someday it might save them 20 grand, is that problem big enough for them to really prioritize? Or is it our job to reframe that to say the cost of inaction is really high? If you don’t fund this account and college goes up by this amount, there’s a chance this is a $200,000 issue some day down the road. Is this worthwhile to you to try to solve today?
I work with a coach two years ago from Red Flag Coaching. He had like the ex-Admiral SEALs would help him do some stuff. He had a really cool vibe, but one of his things were what he called the compass, and it was like on the top of the compass, we meet a client, we move around the compass, and we find a problem they have, but we jump to solving it. And the step we all skip is asking, is this something they actually want to solve?
And so, someone paying a fee answers that question like they’re buying. But we also have at Legacy, an investment-only service model. I have a client refer somebody to me and they’re like, “Sten, here’s my statement. Will you take my money?” And they’re 62 years old without a lot of complexity. We’ll transfer that asset over, but we’re not going to give them the same experience with all the analysis as somebody that’s 40-year-old with two businesses, has tax issues. So, I’m not telling you, the people that are listening, tomorrow, you have to start charging everybody you meet with. And our way is the only way.
What I am saying is it’s really nice as a business owner that Legacy now has high six-figure revenue off of our time and ideas that we gave away for free, which allow us to have great office space to hire new people, to overserve our clients, to get more experts on the team, like just the business side of monetizing that, super valuable. But there’s also the benefit of clients take action a lot more when they pay for something. And it helps me now. I don’t chase anybody anymore. That file that I can even just close my eyes and see when I was 25 years old with all these yellow pad papers and I was like, “Man, I’ve been calling this person for two years.”
They’ve come to three of my dinners, had a great steak, called and asked me a bunch of questions for free, and I’ve yet to have any business from them, I reject that now. I want to add value up front, but we have a saying that have three and set them free. If you have three meaningful contacts with a client and they don’t take action, you need to move on as there’s plenty of opportunity out there and you need to reflect to say, “Did I miss? Did I not communicate well? Where there’s a chance they’re just not a good fit or the timing’s not right.” So, put them on a long-term drip list and they maybe get a newsletter, but you have to move on to the next person.
And so, for us, it’s helped us in so many ways and it led with me just trying. My mindset hadn’t adopted it first. It was like, okay, there’s maybe something here. I’m meeting these clients who don’t have money, but they have income and they can afford to pay me. So, I’m just going to start asking. My first plan was 1,500 bucks to a couple that made 400 grand a year, and I swore they were going to say no. My head trash was so significant that I was like, “I’ll be your advisor for 12 months and I don’t think it’s worth 1,500 bucks.”
And I laugh now, and advisor’s like, that’s actually the number. We’ve done a lot of studies and work with a lot of big companies. The average fee for the person that tries financial planning that’s super unsure and your fee is really set on like, what do I think somebody’s going to say yes to? It’s like 1,200 to 1,500 bucks. And in exchange for that, we’re going to mow their grass, drive to their house on the weekends for meetings, like we give them hope because we don’t understand our value. And so, part of this meeting process we teach is one is to teach the clients how much value you can bring, but while doing it, the advisor is also convincing themselves that they’re worth the fee.
Brad Johnson: Love that thought process because it all does start up here. Over the years, that’s what I’ve really learned is it all starts with your own mindset and your curiosity to grow and continue leveling up and learning. Let’s go, can you give me a range, your current, your firm right now? Because I know you’ve got Legacy, which is the financial services firm. You’ve got a lead advisor network which is kind of a coaching platform. Let’s go to the Legacy side. What’s your fee range? I’m assuming this, here’s the minimum. And then as problems get more complex, the fee goes up. Is that fair?
Sten Morgan: Yeah. We’ve wandered around. And I’ll say this to your last question, I think I did a little bit. From first to second meeting, our goal is we created enough rapport to ask them for some additional information. That could be a tax return. It could be an investment statement. They’re more likely to give it to us because of the experience we gave them. By meeting two, I’m coming back with specific ideas and I’m actually sharing with them how much this idea could save them. And my goal is by the end of the second meeting, if I’m giving them a proposal, the ideas I’ve put on the whiteboard and shown them more than pay for the fee I’m about to put in front of them because then why would anybody say yes to that?
Brad Johnson: Got it. That makes sense. So, first, fact find, obviously, gathering some intel, some data, which kind of sounds like woven into some of your frameworks. You’re going up on the board and talking through, and then those are pulling more stuff out of it. You’re going different directions. And then in the second, we coach on this a lot. So, I just want to see how similar it is. I call it the before and after. It’s like how every Bowflex in the world was ever sold. Here’s the before, fat, unhappy guy. Buy our Bowflex. Now, you’re Jack six months later, right?
It sounds like you’re kind of doing the before and after based on the problems uncovered in the first. But also, here’s what we project, rough estimate of your cost savings, your tax savings, your fee savings, whatever. And then you’re kind of adding the value you feel very confident you can provide. And the fee is substantially less than the value that can be provided. Is that fair?
Sten Morgan: And at times, I’ve said this in a meeting before, like, “I did that in two meetings. Imagine what I can do in the next two months, five months,” whatever your engagement length is because people want somebody to constantly say, “You need this. This is what you should do.” Not, well, you could if you wanted to. And maybe they’re going to sniff out the uncertainty, your lack of confidence. So, by meeting two, if I’m giving them a proposal, it’s because I’m really confident we’re going to do a great job for them. And removing that trust gap I mentioned earlier because I’m like, I just paid for us. And we use what we call responsible forecasting. We’re not promising anything. There’s no guarantees.
But I’m saying based off the information you’re sharing and this other assumption of current tax law or based on this assumption, based on the information I have, here’s a potential future picture if we work together. The catch is, is for my team’s behalf, I don’t overcommit then between meeting one and meeting two. We’re getting just enough information to be generous with the prospect, but part of what they’re paying for is all the hard work we’re going to do.
So, for all your listeners, if you’re in here and you feel like you’re doing a lot of work for this huge proposal and this like value your time a little bit more, don’t do nothing. Come prepared to be professional, but don’t give them the whole meal deal without them paying because you’re hoping they transfer the annuity or transfer the assets. You think that’s the right way to do it, but it’s not. I’ve seen enough. We see a lot of advisors like that. You may make enough money to be okay. Sometimes the worst thing that happens to people is they do something and it just works well enough.
And what we teach on is like, there’s a whole better way, like 10x whatever you think you’re capable of. And that’s a great book, 2x, you can double something just by doing more of what you’re doing a little bit harder, just tweaking things. You want to 10x something, you got to be able to say, “Hey, it worked that way, but now I’ve got to rebuild it.” And what we challenge advisors to do is, hey, what the industry teaches is kind of true and it kind of works. Let’s deconstruct it, keep what’s good, and rebuild it in a whole different way. And now, for me and you, it’s like, how do we just touch as many people that as possible?
Brad Johnson: Yeah. So, couple of questions along the way. Let’s just say a very high-level version of a financial plan that you all build is a pretty similar kind of CFP standard, income, investments, taxes, health care, legacy estate. Are there any other big tweaks outside of that?
Sten Morgan: No. We kind of have our nuance on what we call the categories, but it’s a lot of those same categories. And our goal is to help create the right urgency, meaning sometimes them transferring their investment account is not always the most important thing based on their plan. If they don’t have a will, we might say, “Hey, in your estate planning category, please, within the next month, accomplish this.” And so, the way we present it is unique to us. We like to kind of put our flavor and use some branding. I know you’re big on, like as an advisor, what’s my process? What do I call it? There’s a marketability to that.
And I encourage advisors. I’m not telling you to stop doing what you’re doing. You’re probably doing 80% of it right already. We just need to come in and shift some of the way you’re talking about your value, the way you’re presenting it, and probably the way you’re charging it. But the fundamentals of what we do are still the same.
In earlier years, there’s kind of fee range that started anywhere from 1,500. One time, we had somebody who pays 25,000 and we’re like, “Okay, what do we deliver?” So, it’s been this moving things we’ve tried to figure out from a compliance standpoint. What’s the path of least resistance? We had a client once pays eight grand a month. This was like five years ago. I hated it.
The compliance burden was so heavy, the client thought they owned us. So, I was like, “Okay, more is not always better.” What’s our sweet spot range that we can deliver really great value really efficiently? So, it’s actually a good business decision and my team is not upset at me every time I get somebody to say yes to us.
And so, our fee range now, depending on complexity, is anywhere from 7,500 to maybe 25,000. And we’ve just gotten really clear about what we deliver and what the expectation and time commitment is. So, we’re really profitable in that range. And then other opportunities come out of that.
Brad Johnson: Cool. Appreciate that. Let’s get a little bit, I don’t want to go too deep of a dive into the technical side, but if you said kind of here’s how we deliver the technology or the financial planning software that kind of helps us do this before and after that we show on the second. Is it the standard, like eMoney’s, MoneyGuidePro? What’s kind of your tech stack on delivering some of those proposals?
Sten Morgan: Yeah. Or Money Pro. I realize from a client standpoint, they don’t really care about that. It’s important to have a really complete good file from a compliance perspective. We need to substantiate everything, but we take that and we turn it into a five to six-page executive summary that really calls out the most meaningful data. We’re in the process now of building a software to help us scale this internally.
But yeah, I think people would look at maybe the fees we charge and how happy our clients are, and the analytical side of us might say, “Wow, I can’t imagine what they deliver.” And it’s like, “No. Simplicity is a gift. Brevity is a gift.” I think there was a quote once that said, “I would have written a shorter book, but I ran out of time.” And I have some people in my team, like this that if left to their own devices, they’re going to overcomplicate it. I mean, like you just spent two weeks. Nobody cares about that. How do we take everything you just learned and bring it down to something that the client takes action on so we can communicate in such a way that shows why it’s important for them to take action?
Brad Johnson: Yeah, I think…
Sten Morgan: That’s it. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Brad Johnson: Yeah. A lot of our firms use eMoney, too, and just not geeking out too much on the software. Because to your point, simplicity is the key on this stuff, like back to simplicity, what’s simpler than a fat, unhappy guy? Buy a Bowflex, you’re Jack, like that’s simplicity. That’s why they sold so many. And so, there’s a lot of lessons in human psychology of like, you want people to take action, simplify it. Tony Robbins built a whole business on it, simplify the complex.
So, on that front, is it the eMoney scenarios where it’s almost like, here’s where you are today? Here’s this concept we talked about in the first visit. And by the way, we don’t have this all dialed in because my team doesn’t have all the data we need. We haven’t put the hours and hours of planning in, but here’s a range of reality that we feel highly confident we can deliver on. And it’s kind of the after based on the scenarios. Is that fair, like just to really simplify it?
Sten Morgan: Yeah, that’s one example, if that was kind of their priority of retirement was what came out is kind of one of our biggest objectives. We maybe use that to compel them to work with us. Sometimes, it’s tax planning. Which account should I be funding? Do I need to use a 401(k) or set based on some employees? And so, depending on the client, we’re going to go and pick out two or three of the most meaningful ones. And I’m not presenting them via report. I have those, but typically, I’m back up on the whiteboard.
Brad Johnson: Interesting.
Sten Morgan: And I’m communicating a cash balance pension plan on a whiteboard. Even though I have the projections and all the things, but at the end of the day, I want to write a number that’s on the spreadsheet. I want to circle that and say, “This is why we’re going to do this thing,” because that’s really what you’re good enough.
Brad Johnson: So, your presentation style, that’s interesting, because I know a lot of people have evolved. It went from when I got this business yellow pad to then it was a marker board. And now, it’s big LCD TV right over the conference room table where you’re just pulling up the software, kind of show and tell, but you’re going back to dramatic demonstration and saying, “Hey, here’s kind of my notes.” It might be the eMoney proposal that’s maybe in front of you, but you’re pulling the concept off of the paper and sketching it out in front of them so they can see it.
Sten Morgan: That’s right. Yeah, the energy in the room goes up when I stand up. I spent plenty of time clicking through, “Hey, here’s the slide deck. Look what we can do.” Good. The information is important to us and we like that slide deck. And if you’re listening and you have an awesome slide deck, you may, like, awesome, I love it. The client does not care.
There is a certain level, if somebody coming in as they’re transferring 10, 20 million to me and they have a certain level of sophistication, like you need to read the room and say, “Okay, now, they need to know a little bit more.” But I’ve worked some really complex clients, and at the end of the day, they’re like, “Okay, that’s great, Sten, but what does that mean for me? How much time is it going to take and what’s the potential outcome of that decision?” And they’re like, “Sounds good, where do we sign up?”
And so, I’ve converted businesses in the past. I was like, man, this has to be a two-hour meeting. I have to have a 20-page slide deck because I want to impress them with what I know. And my close right now is 95% if I want, maybe even 100 if they’re a good fit for us because, one, I know where the industry bar is, and if they’ve met with anybody else, just our style and vibe and confidence is outperforming everybody else, if somebody is up in your office, they already think you know what you’re doing. They think you have integrity. You don’t need to tell them, or else they wouldn’t even be there.
There are these table stakes things that we spend too much time reinforcing when that’s not the best use of your time yet. How can you help them? What money are you going to say to them? Why are they and their family will be better off because of you? And you need to get to that point, it’s because you can.
Brad Johnson: All right. I want to get to the book stuff here in a little bit because I know you’ve written a couple of books. And as my buddy Michael Hyatt says, “There’s life before the book and life after the book.” I know that’s always been a game changer for many of the clients we’ve worked with over the years. But before we end, kind of close the chapter on the different approach you take in the appointment process and the client engagement process. Anything we haven’t hit so far that’s like, hey, when I share this with advisors out there, like light bulb moment, aha goes off?
Sten Morgan: I would say it’s more of the fears that are triggered in advisors when we start talking this way. It’s one thing to teach an advisor to get somebody to say yes more often and to pay for their advice or make faster decisions. It’s another to deliver on what you just promised in a really scalable way. And so, we help advisors understand, more is not always better, is that you can charge somebody a great fee, deliver some great ideas, deliver a financial plan in three months, and then call them one time and check in. And you’ve done a great job and they’re happy.
Where the disconnect happens is if you don’t set good expectations and they think they can call you every day and then they’re like, “Hey, why didn’t you call me in a while?” It’s typically the advisor that leads the lack of communication or expectations leads to issues. And so, any advisors listening, if they’re like, “I started charging for advice or I’m doing it and revenue is nice, but it’s kind of a headache, I’m kind of thinking of going back to the way I used to do it,” it’s probably based in the fact that there’s not a good system and you’re not setting good expectations because we do a lot of it and our clients are really happy and we keep iterating it. But most of our headaches come from us trying to overdo it or too many meetings.
At some point, the client is like, “Hey, if I can do all this in two meetings, I’m happy to do it.” So, anybody listening, I would say, “We can help people convert a lot of people. We’ll help you have more prospects than you ever had. We’ll help people pay you for your advice you’ve been giving away for free.” But that’s just part of it. The other part of it is you have a scalable business which usually requires some type of team so you can actually deliver on those promises really well.
Brad Johnson: I didn’t ask you this before, but I am curious what percentage– whatever data you have is great, but let’s say somebody pays me a fee. We don’t require them to move assets over, buy any sort of a product, and it is very much this advice-driven model where you’re getting paid for your time. What percentage typically become clients, let’s say, within 6 to 12 months that are just like, “Hey, I’ll pay you for some great advice”?
Sten Morgan: Eighty-plus percent.
Brad Johnson: Cool.
Sten Morgan: I’d say some, it’s less than six months at times. There’s a key, though, and I’ve worked with some really big firms, the biggest. They’ve called us and said, “Hey, we’re trying to figure this out. What do we do?” If your fee is ever a loss leader, meaning if the client never buy something from you, you’re not okay with what you were paid, it’s not profitable, that’s a problem. You’re still trying to jump to the product. You have to find a good fee range within your practice that says even if they never buy anything, I’m happy. Because if we propose something to a client and they say yes to us but we’re mad at them, that’s our fault.
And so, we coach a lot of advisors on like, what should your minimum fee be? And why is it that way? And so, my hope is if anybody charges, they deliver a great experience to clients no matter what, but peek behind the curtain since we’re talking to advisors, if you want the other business, it’s yours for the taking if you do this well.
Brad Johnson: Cool. I guess just to tie a bow on this, is it the end of the second where you’re proposing a fee if they want to move forward, typically?
Sten Morgan: Yeah, maybe the third if there’s some complexity, I would say don’t rush it. I’ve rushed a couple before because maybe I got a little overconfident or that person was referred to us by a really happy client. At times, I’m like, I need to clarify this because I really want the proposal to be dialed in as far as what they need, what we’re going to deliver, and then say, “If we do these things, are you going to be really happy with it?” So, at times, it goes into a third, but we would never go beyond third.
Brad Johnson: And is there any fork in the road where like, okay, I’m at the end of my second, I’ve got a million dollars, “Hey, Sten, can you guys just do all this for me? Can I just move my money to you?” Is there a fork in the road where you’re like, “Okay, well, you’re just moving the assets over. We don’t charge a fee anymore”? Or are you always charging a fee regardless of whether or not they move assets over?
Sten Morgan: At times, I’ve had a large enough account where I’m like, “Hey, team, we’re going to deliver.” They don’t have a lot of complexity, so we’re going to deliver a financial plan lite version to this client. We’re going to transfer their 3 or 4 million bucks. I do think the general principle, if we see these things as two separate valuable things, we should be able to say, “Hey, great, we’re happy to manage your money. We’re really good at that.”
But here’s something you have to have also. So, if you want to move it now, great. But we’re in the world now, like it costs money for us to have our advice and time and research and we’re going to deliver great value. And then we’ll also transfer your assets, but we’re really clear that’s a separate thing.
Brad Johnson: Interesting.
Sten Morgan: But it took us some time to get our confidence to actually present it that way, because my fear was in the past, what if I lose the assets? If I part with something, what if I don’t get the rollover? One, have an investment-only model where if somebody comes to you with 3 million bucks and they truly have no other needs, onboard them and serve them really well but do that in a really efficient way. Don’t give away a bunch of financial plans that should be really valuable because if you’re giving it away, you’re not going to be as aware of the value of it. You’re going to slowly slip back into where you’re just sprinkling some financial planning on and just trying to get AUM. As much as possible, see those as two distinct, really valuable things.
And I had Bill Williams, one of the head guys over at Ameriprise, on my podcast a little bit ago, and they track this stuff and he says, “I think it was 70% of people now surveyed see financial planning and asset management as two separate products, and they’re willing to pay for both,” which is encouraging to say consumer set is catching up with the idea that those don’t have to be bundled, that they can be separate.
Brad Johnson: And just for context, because you shared earlier your planning fees, so going back to the two different worlds, two different things there. Your financial planning fees as a firm are now high six figures. What’s ballpark annual assets coming in on the Legacy side from, obviously, all of these planning conversations that you’re having?
Sten Morgan: Maybe 30, 35 million, I think. And we just recently discovered this. We shifted so much to financial planning that we stopped thinking about assets, which is not good for us. And so, we’re now trying to solve, okay, how do we continue to focus on planning and let that be our differentiator while not forgetting about a really great vertical of how are we getting investment only clients to still know about us because we do that well? And so, by me saying, “Hey, this is what I used to do,” and then in Raymond, I was trained well to gather AUM and did that really well. I kind of just said, “That’s not as exciting. I’m going to go over here and just do all financial planning.” So, that grew for us and exploded and we get great assets from it. But as I sit back and look now, I was like, “I wish I wouldn’t have fully taken my eye off the ball there because that should probably be 50-plus, 60 million if we’re doing it well.” It’s now, we’re trying to revamp this side of things.
Brad Johnson: Yeah, cool. Well, I appreciate you being super open to sharing that. And by the way, congratulations, you’re normal. That’s every advisor in the world, where it’s like, “Oh, shoot, we went heavy this way. Oh, now, we need to kind of find that middle ground.” So, well, cool. I know we’ve got a limited amount of time here together. So, you have written a couple of books. One was really more advisor-focused. The other one was kind of advisor and kind of retail-focused, obviously, for your end prospects and clients.
And then it sounds like you have a new one coming out too. So, give me just like for an advisor out there, many of the Triad members out there have written books. It’s a game changer. Before and after, it’s obviously a huge credibility piece. But what have been your biggest learnings from either writing books or putting that into some sort of a marketing funnel or credibility funnel for your business? Just, I’d love to hear your thoughts around that.
Sten Morgan: Yeah, with 7 Mindsets of Success, I wrote that probably when I was about 28. I’d done some cool stuff. People around the country were like, “Hey, Sten, how are you doing? It’s so fast in a cold market.” And so, that was my attempt at saying, “Activity is important, but there’s the mindset side of it.” What are you internalizing? What are your activities? And so, it was my younger self attempt at saying, “Hey, here’s what I found to be true and what’s helping me.” And so, that was a fun project.
During that book, I realized, don’t try to be on a bestseller list. I didn’t have a list of followers at the time, and the list doesn’t really help. I wish I would’ve been more intentional about how am I using this as a sexy business card and a value-add, a shotgun more kind of sniper rifle. I didn’t know about funnels back then, so there’s a big missed opportunity in my first book from a marketing standpoint, that it was not used to its potential. So, I learned a lot. And at times, I would tell people like, “Just start something. Don’t sit there and overanalyze it because you’re going to learn while just doing it.” So, I learned a lot during the first book.
The second book, I was more intentional about the content, took my time a little bit more. We use that a little more intentionally, but we’re now trying to put it into a funnel. But now, fortunately, our practice is to a place to where as opposed to me, is that Who Not How book as opposed to Sten trying to be the marketing expert while being the top financial advisor in his firm while being the leader of the firm. I’m saying, “Hey, who’s the marketing expert that’s going to come help me do this stuff and implement it?” I want them to teach me as we go, but my businesses are to a place now to where I can delegate that more effectively. So, I’m going to hopefully take those lessons that I learned and actually apply them now.
Brad Johnson: Cool. Well, one other conversation we had before we went live here, and I just double-check, I’m like, “You’re cool talking about that.” You’re like, “Yeah, I’m cool with talking about that.” You said, growing up bounced around the country a little bit. Your mom was married five times. Myself, I’m a child that grew up in a divorce family. And I know that’s tough. There’s nothing more I want as a parent than to give my kids a solid foundation. And it’s like that safety net.
And I know when you come out of a divorce as a kid, it’s like that safety net and that cocoon of family is just it’s sometimes not there and that impacts you. And you said, “Hey, I’ve talked to some therapists about this over the years to better understand myself.” Same. I highly encourage that. Michael Hyatt was a great mentor to me. Most dudes are like, rub some dirt on it and move on to the next thing. And I’ll tell you, everybody needs to work on themselves because that’s where it all starts.
Sten Morgan: It was partly the realization of how much time and money I was spending on physical health and business health, completely ignoring my mental health. Yeah, that is the filter that affected everything I was doing. It was the little 16-year-old voice in my head saying, “Hey, Sten, do more, do it harder because that’s what people care about and that’s how you get attention.” And so, the effects on me as a leader, people, I think, in the past wanted to be around me because I got stuff done and they benefited from that. I don’t know if they quite said, I want to follow him, like I trust him.
And so, the last few years of my work has been like, how do I become that leader? Which is partly just being more transparent when you mess up, it’s being more vulnerable. And so, for me, every other week for two hours, I’ll be in counseling the rest of my life because it is that mental health check. It really helps me be aware of like what’s the trauma that I’m carrying around that was my baseline? My baseline was hold yourself to a high bar or everybody else to a high bar and hide all the stuff you’re struggling with along the way. So, that was normal to me.
So, I don’t even know it was a problem until I started kind of being aware of the effects of it. And now, sometimes healthier activity, it makes me uncomfortable because it’s not what I’m used to. Healthy relationships, hiring more healthy team members, all of that is actually uncomfortable because it’s not normal, but it’s the right thing. And most of the time, as I get better at asking questions and getting to people’s stories, we all have these stories. It’s just how do we get through the first few layers to realize, like, why do you do what you do? What are you really scared of? Why are you working that way? Why aren’t you open to new ideas?
So, if somebody questions what you’re doing, you feel challenged, and therefore, they’re questioning your value as a person. Why aren’t you open to grow? Like, these kind of conversations are what we need to tap into. And the more successful people I get around, they’ve done that word. So, I’m like, “All right, Sten, buckle up. You got to venture into that.”
Brad Johnson: Yeah, 100%. Man, society has done us guys specifically an injustice. Emotions are bad and weak. And I mean, I grew up as a farm boy. It was always like, seriously, rub some dirt on it, toughen up, and I’m taking nothing away from how I was brought up. It’s just that’s the mentality that my mom and dad were brought up with, right?
And one of the things I know Brene Brown kind of put vulnerability on the map and those that haven’t, she’s got a great Netflix special. You should go check it out. But let’s just talk about how this plays out in real time. So, before we go live, I don’t even remember how we got on. And it was something around wine or something like, “Oh, I grew up in Oregon wine country.” And somehow, we’re piecing together your journey and you’re like, “Yeah, my mom was married five times, and so, I bounced around to a lot of different locations growing up.”
Because you are vulnerable enough to share that piece of your journey, because some people would hide that, right? They’d be like, “I don’t want to tell people that.” I connected with you because I’m like, man, my parents also got divorced. So, there’s a little bit of shared suffering there as children for us, right? And that’s what I have found is transparency and vulnerability as a leader. They bring people in because everybody’s got those things. All of us, we’re humans.
And the more willing you are to let your guard down as a leader, show a little emotion, show, “Hey, I’m not perfect. I mess things up too,” man, people want to follow people like that. And they sure don’t– the leader that has no flaws, that’s like hard charger. And so, that’s really cool to hear your journey and the self-awareness that it’s like, “Man, I was that guy and I wasn’t really proud of it,” when I started to examine that.
Sten Morgan: Yeah, there’s definitely, whether it’s guilt, shame, and then you realize, like, I’m thankful for that. You want to have compassion on your younger self, realizing, like, at the time, I was doing the best I could with what I had. And so, you get to drop the shame and guilt and just kind of accept that the story like I do with my advisor during, I mean, there’s parts of that where I’m like, “Man, I’m embarrassed.” I want people to perceive me as like, man, he made all these strategic moves and he left right when he shouldn’t, built this. It’s like, no, it was messy. There was pride involved. All those things were true.
And to your point, I think the connection you create that we’re all less lonely when we have those shared experiences and stories, in leadership, there then is a line where you’re probably not oversharing. You want to be too buddy-buddy with your team members. So, it was one thing for me to become aware and be willing to share. It was another to develop the language on how to share appropriately. And I’m in that journey now. I’m part of a great group called Tinman. Every Wednesday, we meet and we practice this stuff.
For you, in the future, as a leader, open conversations about being like, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I’m frustrated.” But really, that frustration is based in fear that if I don’t lead well and you guys aren’t finishing your job each week like you should, then we’re going to fall short, not reach our potential. You open that way. You could probably, I want to say anything, those people in that room, and they’re going to receive it totally differently than coming and being like, “Hey, why didn’t you finish this this week? What’s going on? I pay you good money,” which is out of fear. And if it’s kind of a cop-out to lead based on the fear you’re going to lose your job versus why aren’t you finishing this, and a great book, Necessary Endings, you still may have to have hard conversations, but you’re going to give your team members and yourself and your company a much better probability of success if you venture into that.
So far, my experience is a lot of business owners, they’re very resistant to that. They’ll spend money on development. They’ll bring in consultants for venturing into that, like wait, you’re telling me, I need to do a lot of growth, I need to lead better, that’s scary.
Brad Johnson: Yeah. One of our core principles here or core values at Triad is extreme ownership, inspired by Jocko and his book. We had him come out to our– we have bad words here too. So, we don’t do events, we do experiences. So, events is a bad word. We do experiences because experiences are life changing, events are forgettable. And Jocko came out and spoke to our members in January.
And to your point, I don’t know how many coaching calls I’ve been on where the blame for whatever problem in the business is external focused. This person doesn’t do that, this person dropped the ball, all of that. And the truth is, as a leader, Jocko’s words, “There are no bad teams, there are only bad leaders.”
Sten Morgan: Ouch.
Brad Johnson: Yeah. And it’s like, who hired all those people that suck at their jobs?
Sten Morgan: Who coach them?
Brad Johnson: Exactly.
Sten Morgan: If they’re chasing, that’s right. Yeah, that’s a tough one to do.
Brad Johnson: And sometimes, the hardest part is to look in the mirror and say, “Hey, I guess the problem’s identified, it’s right there in front of me.” And so…
Sten Morgan: In fact, it’s easier if your identity is not tied up in this. I am not that less than great decision. I made that decision, but that’s not me and that’s that Carol Dweck teaching mindset. I did a lot of reading on before I wrote my book and the parallels there of fixed is if somebody gives me feedback, they’re saying I’m a bad person. I wrote this, I want to try and if I get feedback, that’s an opportunity to get better.
And we teach them what we call the three stages of growth, which is awareness, understanding, belief. You have to be aware first. You have to just know what’s possible, whether that’s of your potential or whether that’s kind of something in yourself, then you need to understand how to fix it or solve it. Finally, you have to believe you can do it.
So, I talked to advisors and I got into the business and I felt like $100,000 was a lot of money. I had to become aware that advisors made millions. I was like, “Oh, I didn’t even know they could do that.” I didn’t have to realize and try to understand, well, how do you can do that? It sounds crazy.
And the hardest part usually is the last one, which is like, “Do I believe I can do it? Do I believe I even deserve that.” And all of that is kind of that mental health stuff that you can unlock, just become aware of that. We’re never going to get rid of all those voices in our head. If it’s the little voice and sound, it’s like, do more, do more because that’s the only thing people care about. I want to learn to quiet it and parent it, but it’s probably never going to go away completely. I just have to learn to live in that tension.
Brad Johnson: The awareness is the biggest thing. We just had Ian Cron come in and spoke to our members. We do a Scale Summit. That’s a team-based experience because to your point earlier, as you scale a business, it’s actually so much less about you and it’s more about pouring into others in the team and leading, and it’s a very different skill set. Back to the early days, we’ve kind of covered your journey. It’s like the grind-it-out phase that was all Sten based and you had the two remaining from that first class to now, it’s about how do I lead and empower? And honestly, hire great people, set clear expectations, and get the hell out of the way.
And Ian Cron shared a study, I know it was an Ivy League school, but anyway, the number one principle for success in leaders was self-awareness. And if you don’t have that, you’re roaming around like a bull in a china shop telling this guy in the conference room like, “You kind of need us because we’re amazing,” right? And that’s not very self-aware and that’s what all of us were, I think, in our younger selves when we had less reps under our belt.
Sten Morgan: Man, so I’ll end with this. If you would ask Sten at 26 if I was self-aware, I would be like, “Oh yeah.” At 20, I would have said, “Oh, yeah.” And so, for all your listeners now, if you’re hearing what Brad’s saying and you’re like, “Oh, I got that,” you probably don’t get that. He’s leaning into it still because there’s just these blind spots we have that there’s something you have yet to unlock that once you do, you will never be the same. And it just has to be a habit of being kind of continuously finding those.
Brad Johnson: You actually nailed it. I think they did a study that said 17% of those that said they were self-aware were actually self-aware by a third party. And the other variable was the more self-aware people thought they were, actually, the less self-aware they were.
Sten Morgan: That was me. I relate to that a lot, yeah.
Brad Johnson: Yeah, me too, man. We’re all in this journey trying to figure it out and grow along the way. So, Sten, this has been fun, man. I’ve got one final question as we wrap the conversation today. You know this is the Do Business, Do Life podcast. We’ve talked a lot about doing business. We’ve talked some about doing life and your journey, self-awareness, personal growth. I would love to hear what is your definition of Do Business, Do Life? What’s that mean to you?
Sten Morgan: The answer to that has changed over time. Early on, it was be super efficient and effective with your working hours so you can be home with your family and still be successful. Very simplified for my mind when I was young because my experience growing up was like, you weren’t around. Dads aren’t around. Just work hard, provide money.
For me, it’s come to full color more so as I’ve done a lot of the work we’ve talked about. To me, it’s being fully present in every moment that my business and my team is part of my life. They’re not separate things, that my family could be part of my business. And I love the work you guys do, and when families are coming like this, it really can’t be separate, and so, that I can achieve in both.
And part of me is that is I’m bringing my full self to work and home, and all those people get to experience the full me versus Sten’s on doing business, cranking out, and then it turns that off and turns on something else because that was exhausting, like trying to be two different people. So, for me, it’s really just bringing that together so that when I walk in any room or do anything, you’re getting Sten. And I think that just radiates through everything.
Brad Johnson: Love that, man. That speaks true to my approach as well, so. Well, hey, man, next time, I’m down in the Nashville area, which tends to be a couple of times a year. Let’s make sure to come back, do this in person. And thanks for carving out the time. Thanks for the great conversation. And until next time.
Sten Morgan: That was good. Thanks, bro.
Brad Johnson: All right. See you, Sten.