Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Robert Harwood, and I started Harwood Financial Group in 2008. We are a registered investment advisor that has grown rapidly over the last decade.
Today, we manage over $500 million of our clients’ money and serve our clients across four offices in the Tampa Bay area. We help our clients prepare for retirement, estate planning, lower their taxes, and more. We listen to our clients’ needs and help them make well-informed decisions with their finances. We have a lot of experience in the financial field and have a lot of resources. Despite our size, the growth has not slowed, and I recently brought on new partners to help expand the business even further.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have a degree in engineering and computer science. I was an Air Force pilot, and after almost 10 years of serving my country, I went on to fly for a major commercial airline as an international airline pilot. However, I knew I wanted to do more.
My dad was a successful engineer and a good saver. Unfortunately, he never planned for the fact that he might get sick and that he might not win the battle with the disease. Insurance would not cover much of his medical expenses, and as a result, my parents spent through the majority of their savings.
I think any of us would have done the same thing if we were faced with a medical emergency. We deal with it and we worry about the consequences later. My father did not have a pension, and when he passed, my mother was left with Social Security and a little money in the bank. We ended up selling their home.
I learned a lot from this event, and it greatly influenced my decision to become a financial advisor. It is also a reminder to take the time to plan my customers’ accounts and make sure we address things that could potentially derail their retirement. It is hard to have the big picture in mind when all you are worried about is your current situation. So my financial advisors and I get to know our clients and help them be prepared for anything that could happen in their lives.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I was a full-time commercial airplane pilot, but I was almost never home and I decided it was time to change my career. Around that time, my father got sick and all my parents’ life savings were spent on medical bills. That experience made me want to help other people with their finances. I learned the business from the ground up. I already had a lot of knowledge about the financial field from previous job experience but had to learn more along the way. I also knew a financial advisor and he taught me a lot. The learning process took time and mistakes were made, but it was worth it!
I decided to help people with their finances with their retirement in mind. That has not changed over the years. We take on clients that have at least some money to invest and want to prepare for retirement. It doesn’t matter if they are young and have many more years to save money or if they are close to retirement. We help them put the best strategy in place to enjoy their retirement. A lot of our clients come to us although they already have a financial advisor. Getting a second opinion is always smart when it comes to planning your future. We present them with a strategy that makes sense for their future and sometimes that involves pointing things out that their current advisor has missed or didn’t advise them of. We offer complimentary first meetings, so potential clients don’t lose anything by getting a second opinion, but they might gain a lot.
The process is to create a detailed map of finances for a prospect and then a plan to get them to their financial goals. All prospects must meet with us three times, and each meeting has key objectives that must be met. If we cannot meet them or are missing information, we hold the meeting again until it’s done right.
We do this because of the responsibility we are taking on for our clients. Many of our clients are retirees or about to retire. The margin for error here is low. Therefore, we would rather do it right than rushed.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Starting the business was not easy. I didn’t have investors, nor did I raise capital. It was a true bootstrap experience that created several sleepless nights. I’d say the biggest lesson I learned was the importance and timing of cash coming in and out of the company.
Furthermore, who wants to give control of their nest egg to someone who is new to the business? Thankfully, my first few clients trusted not only my process but my commitment to helping them reach their financial goals.
The first few years were all about building a foundation for something bigger. At first, I outsourced as much as I could so I could focus on meeting new prospects, building financial plans, and keeping track of existing clients. I knew my value to clients was architecting a solution, so I used experts to carry out the details.
The goal was to be my clients’ CFO – oversee their needs but task most of the heavy lifting to experts like professional money managers. Over time, the company grew, and I began bringing these functions in house. For example, today we manage almost all of our clients’ assets internally in our own suite of investment models.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Helping everyone pursue their financial goals is our number one priority. We take the time to get to know our clients, what they want to achieve, and their concerns about getting there. That’s our strongest ‘marketing strategy’.
As a privately owned, independent firm, and fiduciary, we act on the client’s behalf. We are not a large brokerage house with alternate goals and profitability commitments, so having a close relationship with our clients has always set us apart and has made us successful.
We do quarterly newsletters and send informative articles to our clients to keep them up to date on major market changes. Our clients also love our quarterly client events. They bring their family members or friends and get to know us outside of the one on one meetings.
I wrote an Amazon 100 Bestseller book as well called Investing for Retirement. We send it to all our prospects and it gives them a good idea of what preparing for retirement is all about. We give all proceeds from the sales to charities, so we give back to the community and help where we can. I am close to publishing an updated version of this book. The financial world is ever-changing, but I never lose sight of why I am in this business.
A lot of people read this book and then came to me. That’s how I got a lot of my early clients. From there I got referrals and expanded my marketing. I had marketing strategies in place early on and I stuck to them. My strategies worked back then and are still working today. I expanded my marketing once I had the money to do so. I started a radio show, which got me a lot of new clients. I always encourage new prospects to listen in on the show. TV commercials help me get my name out there, which is important for growth. I have a lot of people coming to my office telling me that they saw me on TV.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We look after over $500 million of our clients’ assets and have grown to over 20 employees across four offices. Our business grew over 20% in 2019, and it’s been a strong start to 2020 despite financial market volatility.
Our first appointment with clients is complimentary. We want to get to know them and we want them to have the chance to get to know us without any obligation.
We will continue to grow and strive to become even better at what we do and bringing the new partners into the company will help with that. The new partners have a strong background in financial management, insurance products, and business management. They are a great addition to the firm and a great resource for our clients.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Most mistakes I made centered around the lack of planning for future growth. We grew so fast that oftentimes I was reacting rather than planning. This caused servicing issues early on, hiring the wrong people, and way too much stress.
What I felt we have done right is to remain humble and manage risk. We are a very conservative firm, and despite our success, we try to keep things as simple as possible. This business is all about service, and where we have excelled is constantly challenging ourselves to think of ways to up our service. It’s all about the three Cs – comfort, communication, and community.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use proprietary software that was developed in-house called Einstein Financial Intelligence. This has been custom-tailored to work with our firm and for our clients. We are on social media platforms, do email marketing through tools like Constant Contact and use the CFP and FPA as resources.
We sell my book on Amazon and my radio show airs every Saturday. We also run commercials on different TV channels such as Fox News and ABC News.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The best advice I can give is to love what you do and be brave enough to do it or start it. One step at a time will get you really far.
I hear people dream about doing what they love, but years later they are still in the same place in their life. It takes courage to change your life, but anybody can do it.
My passion has always been to help others and to solve problems. Most of us simply
want the ability to enjoy our lives without too many speed bumps along the way. I was a math major and am an engineer first and foremost. Engineers are always looking for new and better ways to solve problems. The mathematician says, “Let’s seek to build in a low-risk manner that will give you the highest probability of success”. The military taught me to lead and not follow the herd, to always do the right thing, and to always strive to be the best you can be. The airline pilot in me is focused on the goal of getting you to your destination in the safest, most efficient way possible. I use what I’ve learned throughout my life and apply it to my business. You can do the same!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always interested in meeting talented individuals who will make our team stronger. If you possess the tenacity and willingness to dedicate yourself to helping people meet their financial goals, we’d love to talk. The culture is demanding, as is the work, but the outcomes make the effort worthwhile.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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