Before Alex Jamieson started his planning firm more than a decade ago, he sat down and had a good think about how he would like to build his business.

So far, so standard.

But the conclusion Jamieson came to ran counter to every business guide, investment manual and success story he read during that time.

“Every book was telling me to grow big and fast, and that was what success looked like,” Jamieson recalls. “But small is beautiful. I came to realise that I didn’t want to grow a big business, as that comes with a huge amount of overheads and other pressures.

“I have never wanted 1000 clients and hundreds of staff.”

Instead, Jamieson and his wife, Suzy, who brings her marketing background to AJ Financial Planning, set a revenue target that would equate to a healthy bottom line, while maintaining a lean team of just the two of them, another adviser and an investment analyst.

“For a lot of planners and small-business owners, there is a problem of scale,” Jamieson explains. “The natural instinct is to grow and keep adding staff. Lots of people will say to me that they want a business that ticks over while they’re sitting on a beach somewhere, but that is tricky to achieve.”

As Jamieson points out, it’s the personality of the planner – their skill, their niche – that allows the business to grow in the first place.

Dilute that and you could be in trouble.

“Every business has a philosophy and a reason that people are attracted to it,” he says. “And as you start to grow, you have to ask yourself whether you are able to maintain that element that brought clients to you in the first place.”

For Jamieson, the answer was a resounding no. He rented a small office in Melbourne’s hip inner-city suburb Prahran, and focused on offering clients value.

He does not charge for the first meeting, nor for the comprehensive investment plan – what is traditionally known as a Statement of Advice – that follows the first meeting.

“I reasoned that at that stage of the relationship, clients don’t know if you’re any good and you need to build that trust,” he says. “It’s about being able to demonstrate to clients that you can add value.”

If a client chooses to proceed, Jamieson charges fixed fees, largely catering to pre-retirees and retirees.

“We do service a small number of younger clients, but that is a more challenging cohort to reach,” he says.

Does this approach work? Has Jamieson been able to reach the revenue target he and Suzy devised, all the while resisting the urge to become a planning behemoth?

“Yes, it has worked, and I would say it has taken about seven years,” says Jamieson, who declined to reveal how much he had in funds under management, other than to acknowledge it was a healthy amount.

“I think seven years is the recipe for success,” he says. “You have survived your first year in business as a planner, you have experienced a bump in year three or four, and by year seven, the referrals are really rolling in and you have a really strong sense by then of your business and what you are trying to do in the world.

“But I think the important thing to realise is that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.”

 

Name of firm: AJ Financial Planning

Licence: AJ Financial Planning

Time in the industry: 15 years, including 10 running own firm

Academic qualifications: Bachelor of business and advanced diploma of financial services

Accreditations: Fellow Chartered Financial Practitioner, Association of Financial Advisers; Responsible Investment Certification, Responsible Investment Association Australasia; Tax (Financial) Adviser, Australian Taxation Office

Professional association memberships: Practitioner member of the Association of Financial Advisers, signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment, signatory to the Banking and Finance Oath and member of the Ethical Advisers’ Co-operative

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Johanna Roberts is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist with more than 15 years' experience in news, features, lifestyle, property, finance, books and arts journalism, across both digital and print platforms. She has worked at both Fairfax and News Corp publications in Australia, as well as in digital roles in London with The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.