As 2015 comes to a close, I’m taking stock of my first calendar year as a self-employed, fee-only, Certified Financial Planner™ in Washington, DC. For me its been all about establishing a new “rhythm.”
I needed a new rhythm because my daily activities changed. Gone was the structured environment of a government policy maker and Ironman triathlete where events, meetings, and training activities defined my day.
Three essential activities punctuate my new rhythm: (1) developing client financial plans, (2) gathering market information, and (3) writing a personal finance blog. Each activity needs a regular daily, weekly, and monthly pattern to be successful. Although I try not be a slave to the rhythm (thanks Grace Jones), a regular pattern has been the secret of any success I’ve enjoyed.
My clients are crucial in helping me develop these rhythms. Without you, this business would be just an idea rather than a wonderful and exciting endeavor. So I encourage you to take stock of your 2015. But in the meantime, here are the three rhythms to carry me into 2016!
Client Financial Plan Rhythm
The heart of my business is developing client personal financial plans. My aim is to present information in ways that facilitate clients meeting their financial goals.
The financial plan rhythm begins with preparing the client’s basic financial statements. The statements provide a feel for the client’s financial situation. I turn next to their insurance and investments. I need to make sure they aren’t exposed to unnecessary risks.
Many clients this year have faced novel financial situations often with uncertain and/or incomplete information. It has been fun to develop unique ways to address their specific questions. My approach entails providing recommended steps while preserving options in the face of incomplete information. No two clients are alike. Each comes from a different place and has different goals.
The most rewarding part has been to receive feedback from clients on how they implemented their plans. I get a vicarious thrill out of knowing that they are on a path to meet their goals. It is nice to be able to show the way.
My client financial plan rhythm has been nice and smooth.
The Daily Information Rhythm
I found myself over the last year adapting my information gathering to the periodic releases of economic and market data. Economic and market developments can substantially affect a personal financial plan. For example, retirement analyses contain inflation and earnings assumptions. I’ve had to find ways to monitor economic data and to incorporate recent and relevant data into client financial plans.
My information rhythm starts with three daily papers – the Post, Times, and Journal. Yes, I receive them in print because it easier for me to make sure I cover everything. This activity occurs, however, after my daily Sudoku. I need to keep the mind sharp!
The official information economic data releases have their own rhythm as well. I anxiously await the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee’s periodic meetings and their accompanying statements. This is the group that sets interest rates, among other things. They release their statement at 2 pm on the dot on the second day of their meeting. The statement includes their actions and the short- and long-term expectations for the US economy. I wait the three weeks after the meeting to review the minutes to get a deeper dive on their thinking. Fascinating stuff!
Domestic employment figures are released the first Friday of the month at 9 am. I comb through the statement for how wages have changed. The middle of the month brings reads on inflation from the previous months.
The timing and content of these data releases are important. I don’t recommend making investment changes right before or after these releases. Expectations about a release or the immediate reaction to the release often is wrong. Markets soon correct themselves.
The information gathering rhythm is full of short daily notes. Each piece of information can influence a person’s financial plan.
Personal Finance Blog Writing Rhythm
An outgrowth of the financial plan and information gathering rhythms has been my desire to write a personal finance blog. I wanted the blog to focus on two main groups: young professionals and those at or nearing retirement.
I have been intrigued by how Julie Powell (Julie and Julia) wrote a blog that detailed her project to prepare all 524 recipes in Julia Childs’ landmark cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It wasn’t so much the cooking, but that she would articulate her experience and tips in a blog. I decided I could do the same thing.
My social media coach stresses that the best blogs are ones that combine personality, passion, and perspective. Although not every entry can have all three Ps, it is something I try to keep in mind.
After setting my quarterly blog content schedule, I start three to four weeks ahead of time to get an entry ready.
I can’t predict when I am in the mood to write and whether it will be worth reading. Wine helps, but it’s no guarantee!
This rhythm has been the hardest to master. Writing inspiration often comes in fits and spurts. The lead time has been crucial. This rhythm has certainly been an irregular one. But it has helped me articulate my approach and point of view.
In conclusion, I plan to refine and adapt these three rhythms as 2016 unfolds. I hope you can do the same with the rhythms that guide your daily life.