Truth Telling From The Trenches With Financial Advisor Emily McDonald
Someone told me once that I could never be a mechanical engineer because "women don't survive in that field."
Then, after I became a very successful mechanical engineering executive, someone else told me that I couldn't work with a financial professional because "I was too young and therefore obviously not wealthy enough."
Today I run a successful financial advisory practice in Portland catering to young professionals and families. I help them get the most of their opportunities, their time wealth, and figure-it-out-ive-ness to achieve their best financial life.
You can find me hustling around town with my two kiddos, teaching college level Personal Finance classes, volunteering for local organizations that promote equity through financial capability, and always always always rooting for the underdog.
Where is your business located?
Just south of the Nike campus in Beaverton, OR.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
When I was a young professional I was making more money than anyone I had graduated from college with. At the same time, I was really interested in personal finance, and slightly terrified that I was going to mess it all up. After all, I hadn't had any formal personal finance training, even in my Finance MBA coursework (have you?). After calling about 15 different advisory offices, I had learned a shocking reality: the financial services industry didn't have the ability to cater to a person like me. I had white skin, money, and the belief that I was adulting decently well.
What about my friends with brown skin? My childhood friend who dropped out of high school to have a baby? People I knew that struggle with confidence? My friends with legitimate "money baggage?"
Who deserves to have support in developing financial capabilities? Call me crazy, but I felt that if my neighbor can't feed her kids, it makes my life harder. Now I know that research has proven what causes food instability and the butterfly effect it can have on a community in terms of crime, commerce, and quality of life.
Eventually, it dawned on me that I was in a position of great influence in that my friends constantly asked me for financial advice. If I wasn't getting a look at how the sausage was made because no one was willing to work with me, how many other people like me are out there that could be otherwise changing the course of their family's financial life and thus touching their neighborhoods, communities, and beyond? What if I just taught one person what I know?
Now I have held hands with people through so much thick and messy life that I can't go back. Ugly crying, cancer, funerals, babies, the unbelievable highs of finally landing that dream job, the incredibly hard struggles with addiction. My heart has been stretched wide open and overwhelmed with the human spirit. Now I believe more than ever that people truly can do anything.
What is the first thing you do in the morning?
The second thing I do in the morning is a guided meditation on my couch with my eyes closed for 15 minutes. I learned that I nearly fall back asleep after slightly late nights and it really messes up my day.
So in order to move a little bit to wake myself up, the first thing I do in the morning is throw a load of laundry in the washer.
What does your work day look like and how do you maximize your productivity?
Part of why I do what I do is so that I can be with my kids the majority of the time. This means that I work about 40 hours, but they are not your typical office hours. I start my day at 5 so that I can get my day started alone before the kids wake up at 630. The night before I need to block my time and have everything specifically laid out on my calendar. I generally get interrupted all day long, and this really messes with my short term memory. I give myself the grace of having had a "dry run" of my day the night before. I've noticed that I'm either productive or I'm messing around all day. There's not much in between.
Real talk - I map out my monthly menstrual cycle and I block a week each month to "take it easy." If I give myself a bit of rest, then I can sprint pretty well the rest of the month. During my regular week workdays I use a Google Chrome extension called Marinara, which is basically a tomato timer that is set for 25 minute work sprints and 5-10 minute breaks in between. The more I can function in short focused bursts, the more successful I am with young kids, even on my non work days.
I work from 5-630 am, then 8-4, from 4-530 I button up my workspace and sort my to-do list for the next day. From 530-8 I spend time with my family. At 8 I look at my planner for the next week or so, and make sure all of my personal tasks and appointments are layered in there as well. I'm a big believer in having all lists and all calendars in one place - I can't function with a personal calendar that is separate from my work calendar. I was able to do this a bit more, but now with the complication of kids, family, and running a business, I find it's best to remind myself that I only have 24 hours in one day. I'm the type that would jam pack 3 calendars if I had them!
How do you bring your great business ideas to the world to serve your clients?
Usually my ideas come from my clients. Before they are fully baked, I talk about it with other clients, and decide based on demand whether I'll run with it.
What is one trend in business that excites you?
I'm really excited about how easy it is getting to put out video content. I'm working on this for the first time, and it honestly feels like walking around with no pants on! The best part about video is that each subsequent video gets much better than the last.
What is one strategy that helped you grow your business?
Packaging of my services has helped me grow my business a ton. In my industry, it is incredibly difficult to hit the buy button as a customer. We have gobs of forms, and the pricing structure can be a big math problem. Going with fixed pricing and experimenting with monthly installments for an annual contract has completely differentiated my practice.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it? I started my business with the expectation that working capital isn't needed in my industry. I say this sheepishly, but I know some of you reading this know exactly what I mean! I had to suck it up and take on crappy bridge work in order to get working capital together to move forward. You can't be in business expecting someone to trade for your services if you turn around and aren't willing to trade for someone else's.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to this community?
I really find the most referrals come to me when I help someone else in a related field get a client. If they struggle with something I am good at, I give them all I've got. I even offer, "feel free to plagiarize everything I send you, and let me know what feedback you get." This gives me reason to keep following up with them, and when they get clients out of the process, they associate this abundance and high vibes with me.
This is the same thing I do in financial planning. When I have a new client, I try to go for a pretty emotional early win for them. As an example, I do a search in states where they have lived for unclaimed money, and draft forms for them to claim it. This costs me 5 minutes, but for about 90% of people, I can help the client actually find and get money in a way they would have never done on their own. If nothing turns up, I find another way to help them to have this feeling.
You know that feeling? Get used to it! There's always more where that came from.
What is the best $100 you have recently spent? on What? Why?
I pay a CPA to manage my taxes and help me with strategy for the next year. It was more like $390, but it is my favorite bill to pay. I am a numbers person, but he thinks about things that never occur to me. He's worth triple.
What is one piece of software or app that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
What is the best business book you have read? Why?
I love the The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins. It made me bulletproof.
What is your favorite quote?
"Never forget who you are and what you stand for." - Mom
Who inspires you in business and why?
I'm really inspired by Seth Godin and prolific speakers and writers. I love the idea that the more practice I have with speaking and thinking the better I will get at sharing it.
What are your thoughts on work-life balance?
I'm no oracle here, but imbalance motivates me. I think there are healthy boundaries that are non-negotiables, nice-to-haves, and then pipe dreams. We all choose our own...and I don't think I choose perfect balance. Ask me again later :)
What are the 3 business lessons you’ve learned so far?
1) It's harder than being an employee.
2) It doesn't matter what your ideas are unless you act on them.
3) There are lots of opportunities to be like everyone else.
What is your workspace like?
I have a roll top desk with a desktop computer at home, and I have a physical office suite in Beaverton. We have a new giant print of the Defiant Girl statue from Wall Street in our waiting room. It's everything.
I also spend an inordinate amount of time on the wifi at the food truck pod down the street in Beaverton (The BG Cartel).
Last thing you do at the end of your work day?
I blow out the candle.
What is the one thing you can't leave home without?
My sunglasses. I can't stand not having them when I need them!
What superpower would you love to have to use for good?
I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and make amazing food on demand. I feel like this would fix a lot of the world's problems.
Number of unread emails right now?
Anything else you want to add?
I love learning about business from people outside of my industry - the diversity and perspectives are enriching my practice, big time. Thank you!
How can other entrepreneurs connect with you?
If you are reading this and are interested in being featured in the Truth Telling from the Trenches series - apply here.