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Say yes! – My journey from employee to owner 

Would you love to own your own business? Put your hand up! Let me see you! I can’t see you but I’m guessing that you are there! Of course you would!

Statistics tell us that most people have the ambition to get there but only 10% of you will actually do it. So that makes the rest of you delusional! But hey we’ve all thought about things that haven’t actually happened. What I am going to share with you is my journey to MBO and what it takes and you can decide if this journey is for you. I’m from Northern Ireland, stunning and amazing because of its great sense of community. However, it struggles with small country mentality and I knew from an early age that I wanted to broaden my horizons. So I went off to study financial services at university in Glasgow.

Did you spend 3 years at uni partying? Me too, and I also turned up for all my lectures. 

Even back then I understood the value of education and discipline and I knew that it would provide me with a bigger life than where I came from. I worked back in Belfast in paraplanning for a great firm with lovely people. Then in 2010 everything changed. I had been seeing a guy from Glasgow and wanted to see if this relationship was going anywhere. So I took him off on a road test – a round the world trip for twelve months to see if he would drive me up the wall. I say him but it was more likely me being road tested as I am the crazy one. We are now married with 2 kids.

We finished up travelling in April 2011 and I went back into financial planning because that is what I was passionate about. What happened next was to define the rest of my career and the rest of my life.

We were in Argentina on the last week of our travels when I applied to VWM, run by Ken Welsh as a paraplanner. He offered me the job on the spot. I feel really fortunate to have met a mentor like Ken, somebody of his calibre. I also realise that I had turned myself into someone who was able to attract that kind of opportunity. If you become the right person, the opportunity will come along. I had finished my chartered exams in 2009 and I always believe that in order to be highly successful in this business you need to up skill before someone asks you to.

Being technically strong means that you can answer questions that others cannot. That built confidence in me, it demonstrated that I was an asset to the business and I was keen to learn the relationship element of the things that Ken did so well and I could not. There is no choice between the professional qualifications and the skills; you need to do it all.

Ken & I had a fantastic partnership a win-win situation. If VWM hadn’t been right for me I would have gone elsewhere. Don’t be slow to walk away from a mistake because you spent a long time making it. 

In 2012 I became a financial planner and Ken passed the firm’s clients onto me. That took practice, time and a great mentor who saw in me things that I didn’t see in myself. But I was also willing, I was hungry to be better.

Then I got a golden little ball for the Christmas tree – Chartered Financial Planner of the year 2014. You can be great at what you do but no one has ever heard about you. If you are thinking about running your own business, think about standing out.

Ken asked about me owning the business someday. Say yes, and then work out how to do it later is some of the best advice I was ever given and I apply it to everything. It is these little decisions that life is full of, that each push us a little further. None of this stuff happens overnight.

In 2015 Ken dropped a bit of a hand grenade to the relationship. He asked me to invest, to have some skin in the game as part of the succession plan. I was just back from mat leave, thinking where the hell am I going to get this from. Some of you may see risk and financial pressure. I saw an opportunity to change my life! So I said yes, and I borrowed £20,000 from the bank which was a lot of money to me especially as a new parent. I was now nostril deep in the firm and going nowhere – and that was the point of it. 

I moved more into the business along with the team and Ken moved out. It didn’t happen in a week. We signed the deal with the new management team in January 2019.  The MD role is unique in any company – there is only one. It’s more rollercoaster than learning curve and the great thing is you can shape things as your own which is wonderful. You need to pass on a lot of stuff and having a good team in place is key to this. I work with a great and fun team. You also need to make peace with the fact that not everyone who starts this journey will finish it with you.

We work hard as a team to continually add to our service. Asking, “What else can we give to make a difference to people’s lives?” For us that has been cashflow modelling, in house discretionary investment management, behavioural coaching, business coaching, retirement coaching, the awards, Strategic Coach, Standards International, technology, Brett Davidson, Paul Armson, Michelle Hoskin, Dan Sullivan, Personal Finance Society, NextGen Planners.

If you invest in these things as a business and a person and keep learning and improving they are the things that will help your business to walk through the fires of everything that is thrown at us.

When I was at school I waitressed and Hilton had an incentive based on customers mentioning your name on a little comment card that came with the bill. I cleaned up at this and the others I worked with all wanted to know how. The others just placed the card with the bill. I gave customers the bill and said I’d really appreciate your feedback and if you could mention I served you tonight. What I did differently was position myself. When the MBO opportunity came along I was the right person and it was no accident. I positioned myself there by saying yes to every learning opportunity that has ever come my way especially the uncomfortable ones.

Lisa Johnstone, VWM Wealth

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