Diana Bacon is one of the co-founders of Financial Strategies Group, a boutique financial planning firm located in Dallas, Texas. Shortly after having her first baby, she determined that “big firm life” just wasn’t the right fit. She wanted to have more control over what she could offer her clients. So with a new baby and an awesome “can do” attitude, she founded her own boutique financial planning firm. We talk about everything from starting your own firm to the importance of financial self care and what that means for women of today (and their families)! It was a great conversation and I learned a ton!
Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.
Susan: Hi Friends, my guest today is Diana Bacon. Diana is one of the co-founders of Financial Strategies Group, (Financial Strategies Group on Facebook ) a boutique financial planning firm located in Dallas, Texas. I am so excited to share our conversation today because we discussed two very important topics; one, leaving a large service firm to go out on your own; and two, the importance of financial self-care. Even if you aren’t thinking about owning your own business, make sure to stick around for the financial self-care piece; I’m positive you’ll learn something.
Hey, Diana, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?
Diana Bacon: I’m great. I’m really excited to be on this call today.
Susan: I am very excited that we are finally doing this. I know when I first started talking about even launching this podcast you were one of the first people I called and talked to, not even to come on the show but just to, you know, tell “Hey, I’ve got this idea, what do you think?” You’ve always been an inspiring woman to me that, you know, you’re one of the women that I look to who I think have already accomplished the world. So for you to come on and talk with us this morning, it means so much to me. I know when we first started talking about you coming on the show all I was thinking about was how fantastic you are and in your business and how you do all of that but you quickly brought up the fact that women really don’t talk a lot about financial self-care so that’s something that we’re definitely going to get into today while you are talking with us. But first, I just want to start off—and tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do you and how you got started and how you got to where you are now.
Diana Bacon: Okay, well, that’s a big one.
Diana Bacon: Well, I started in the financial planning field a little over 20 years ago now. So, I was in my mid 20’s trying to figure out what to do with a math degree, I decided I didn’t want to go into academia and be a professor so what to do with my life. So, I got in to fee only financial planning at the recommendation of a friend. I loved the idea that I didn’t have to sell anything—that I got to work with people. And I started working for a company that had a great training program. The company was not a good fit for me but they put me on definitely the right foot. They also moved me to Dallas, Texas, which I’ve been living in upstate New York and I’m from Southern California so that was quite a change for me.
So I’ve been in Dallas doing financial planning since the beginning of 1999. And I met my husband here. I went through several firms kind of looking for the right fit, you know, I was at one of the big four accounting firms and they didn’t really know what to do with financial planners. And then in 2004 and 2005 I left the big firms, tried a smaller firm; that wasn’t a good fit either just because of the differences in client bases. And so in 2006 I actually founded my own firm in my living room with a newborn baby next to me—well, she was at daycare so not technically next to me, but I just knew that I wanted to do things the way I wanted to do them, I didn’t want someone else telling me what’s best for my client. I wanted to work with nice people who were living their lives and doing the things they wanted to do and help them and not try to create this boxed product that I just ran everyone through.
Three years ago now I merged with another small firm—so two teeny tiny firms became a slightly larger small firm. And my partner, he’s in his late 70’s. He’s been doing this for 45 years, he loves it but he’s obviously at the end of his career, and merging with me gives him the chance to work with clients he loves but really let go of smaller clients or people who don’t need as much help, and you know he gets all the resources of my firm.
Susan: Wow! That’s really cool. Let’s step back just a second. So, in 2006 you’re telling me you had a brand new baby that you had just birthed and you were birthing a new company in your living room?
Diana Bacon: You know, I really wouldn’t recommend it, but during my maternity leave it became really apparent that the firm I was at was just a mismatch. We had, you know, I was working with a woman that I really respect and admired and she’s brilliant but it wasn’t a great fit and you know, it’s really important in life that we embrace those things that you’re like, “Wow, I tried this! This is a terrible idea and it’s not working, I need to cut my losses.” So I did that. Now, quite honestly, trying to go on job interviews while you’re carrying around a breast pump, it’s a little different—and not so surprisingly I had fewer job offers. I could have went into commission financial planning where you’re selling products.
Diana Bacon: I have no issue with commission planners; it’s just not what I do and what I wanted to do. So instead I took that very naive approach which was, “How hard can this be? I just delivered this baby.” So I mean, simple things like getting registered with the Texas State Board of Security, I just called them up and got this great man who sat on the phone with me for, like, an hour, I took four pages of notes and that’s how I started doing my own compliance. I just did it and didn’t think too much about it because I wanted to keep working, I love what I do and to me it made sense so now I look back on it and just, “I can’t believe I did that,” but I made it work.
Susan: It’s amazing and I don’t know what it is about that period in life where—and I don’t know if it’s age, I don’t know if it’s because, you know, by the time you get your career going or where you think it should go, you know, you’re having children, or how that happens, I don’t understand it but it seems like so many women I talk to—be it friends or people on the podcast, whoever, there’s something about that time in life when you are six, eight months pregnant or you’ve just had a baby and all of a sudden here is this opportunity that’s in front of you and you’re doing them both at the same time and you are literally in the weeds, and it’s like you just have to go and there’s not a perfect answer and there’s not a perfect solution, you just do it, and it sounds like that’s what you did and I admire that, I really admire that.
Diana Bacon: I think it’s something about that period of time because your life, your sleep schedule, everything has been totally upended…
Susan: Your hormones.
Diana Bacon: Yeah, I think there is this thing or you’re like, “Everything is so different now anyway, I’m in a new body, I’m in a new life, like, what could possibly go wrong? And if it does, I already know that I can make it up because I am adapting,” that’s all I’ve been doing.
Susan: That’s a good point; you’re right, you have been adapting so you just keep adapting and just going with the flow. That’s a really good point. Tell me what success looked like at that time. Tell me how you were able to prioritize stuff. I know you said—you mentioned you had childcare at the time which is huge. That is of the utmost importance. I could do a whole podcast on how women need to have that available no matter what line of work they’re in, no matter what they’re doing. That’s a whole other issue. But tell me about how you did that time, how you prioritize that, how you how you had time for yourself, time for your family, built your business. I know it’s a lot of questions at once but kind of just give us an overview of how that worked.
Diana Bacon: I mean first—and I do want to touch on that point you just made about childcare.
Diana Bacon: I mean I want to make this very transparent. I was only able to do this because I had a spouse—well, I still have that spouse—but I had a spouse at the time that could support us and we could pay for child care. We had some financial help from his parents. Without any of that—if it was just me, if we were just struggling through I do not think that my firm would be where it is today, I think I would be in a very different spot. I had great childcare that I could trust my baby with, and that made all the difference. And then in terms of what that looked like in terms of taking care of me and everyone else, there were periods of time where I wasn’t great at self care, there were periods of time where I probably wasn’t the best spouse, there were periods of time where probably even my parenting…. My business maybe I wasn’t on top of things as I could have been but everything ebbs and flows and kind of just keeping in step with life and allowing things to happen and not beating myself up too much let me keep going.
You also asked about success at that point in time, and I believe in attainable goals and continually measuring against them. My undergrad is in math. I’m in personal finance, I mean I love measuring things, looking at numbers, to me it’s just how my brain works, but the first thing I wanted to do was get in the black. That was my number one goal because I did have to pay for like filing fees with the state and setting up my business and buying a lot of software and all of those things. So the first thing was I wanted to be in the black, I wanted to be making money and making a profit. And then it was the next, you know, I wanted to be covering child-care with my income. And then I was able to look at, “Okay, I am getting clients, I’m not spending a ton of time marketing my business because I can’t take in a ton of new clients,” I mean it was just me for the first three years so I couldn’t do everything so I was slowly adding clients I started thinking about, “Okay, what sort of revenue do I need for each client? How do I want these clients to grow so that my business is growing with them?” And just I kept setting these smaller goals, and as I got closer to each goal then I would look at, “Okay, what else should I be looking towards so that I can quantify that and set in my measurable targets.
Susan: I love how methodical you are, and I know that’s your math background, and I love how you clearly had a method and I just find that so…I am a creative so I’m way on the other end of the spectrum and I need somebody in my brain like that to, say, pull it back and say. “Okay, this is how you need to proceed.” I like the planning aspect of that. So let’s switch gears just a little bit. We’ve talked a little bit about self-care. One of the things we really want to get to that you want to get to that you want to talk about, and this is what you do on a daily basis, is helping people with self care, with the financial aspect of self care. Tell me as a woman now you know me, I’m married, I have one kid, but what do women maybe…Is there a general thing women need to be thinking about? And I know one of the things that I’ve heard you talk about before and I want to get to is women finding themselves on their own. Whether they found it, whether they started out that way or they ended up that way, and I definitely want to touch on that and I don’t know how you want to frame this conversation of this piece but let’s think about that, let’s talk a little bit about that.
Diana Bacon: Okay, so I do work with a lot of women. My industry has very few women. It’s about one in five women and, you know, it’s what you’d expect, it’s white men, older white men. And it’s tough for women. A lot of my clients will say, “I really want to work with you because I know you’re not going to speak down to me. I can ask you any question.” And if you don’t understand your finances you’re just going to keep living your life like your money isn’t yours. And that’s the first thing I do with a woman is make sure that she really gets her head around that her finances, her money is hers. It seems so simple and it’s something that I just see women struggling with time and time again but we do this with our time as well you know we give all of our time and attention to our children, our spouses, our friends, we just give and give, and I see the same thing with people’s money.
So, you know, the typical client I feel like I’m seeing right now is a woman, you know, married or single but definitely in that she’s in her 50’s and she’s like, “Wow, I don’t want to work for ever,” and it’s just dawning on her that she’s been caring for everyone else and can she retire? Is she going to be able to stop working? And I’m seeing so many people, not just women, who are in their 50’s and have raised kids and poured everything into these kids: time, energy, and money. So it’s not uncommon that I’ll sit down with someone and they’re telling me about the college possibilities for their kid and the great private school they’re and how their kid is excelling, and all of these extra curricular activities and then when we look at, “Okay, what assets do you have that you could retire with? What does your savings plan look like? How do you go about investing?” And there’s just this blank stare because no, no, no, all the resources are going to the kid. Well, a lot of times the kid’s in high school, they still have to put the kids through school, they’re like, “No, I don’t want them to deal with the stress of student loans.” I mean the student loan issue in the country is really horrendous…
Susan: No kidding.
Diana Bacon: …And holding us back, our country, but you know they don’t want to saddle their kids with that so they’re looking at even more expenditures which means they’re going to hit their late 50’s and really not have much. So I really talk to women, men and everyone about, “You know what? This is really like we’re on that plane together and you got to put your oxygen mask on first and then put it on your kid. If you’re not taking care of yourself…And it’s just that thing, I mean you’ve mentioned a multiple times, like, you and I have a conversation but if you’re not going financial self care, how are you going to help your family? You know if you’re putting some accountability on your kid, whether it’s the student loan, whether it’s them working during a gap year or you know them pursuing scholarships, whatever that is but if you’re putting some of this on your kids and taking off your plate you can do so much more for yourself. So maybe your kid is going to spend a while in college and getting a grad degree and you can support for a longer period of time in different ways, that’s generally what I recommend to clients. Now, obviously, they’re living their life, I’m not living it so if they’re adamant in saying, “No, that’s not what we want,” I help them in advice but I just see so much giving and giving and giving. Even, you know, new parent in their 30’s and I’m saying, “Well, we’re not saving for retirement we have all this money in a 529 plan.” “Okay, well, look at that toddler…You’re going to have braces come up first but gosh, at least you already have money saved for college which they may or may not go to,” like, there’s just this disconnect. And then you know what? I’m broadening this to men and women but I do want to hold this back a little bit women and typically, you know, we’re not that involved you’re seeing a lot of times that if someone is staying home with the kids or scaling back their career it is the woman. And what that means is—especially if she’s going to wind up alone, whether widowed, divorce because she has taken that time out of the work force because she’s focused on her family, her earning potential is so diminished.
So, you know, men after a divorce, they get back to their previous standard of living pretty quickly because they haven’t had the hit to their earning potential. But women, because we’re either out of the workforce or we slowed down our career, worked part time for a while, we take something with maybe less responsibility, or as I also see, sometimes those opportunities just kind of go away when you have an infant or a toddler and elementary school kid so because we don’t have the earnings potential that means that post-divorce, women take a substantial hit to standard of living and most of the time will not get back to the previous standard of living, they just won’t. Women are more likely in their retirement years, A, not to be retired, and even if they are there, they’re living in poverty. Women are much more likely than men to be living in poverty in our elderly years, and it’s really because we have given our whole life and we didn’t take care of ourselves, we didn’t stop, look at what’s going on, look at our income and start saving because you have to start saving before you start investing. And investing really is this magical thing because it allows your money to make money for you so it’s not just what you’re earning through your effort, your blood sweat and tears, but your money works for you so all of your efforts are exponential but that’s really if you don’t start with the savings you can’t invest and then you don’t have a good plan.
Susan: Well, you can just drop the mic and walk away. And I say that because…
Diana Bacon: [Laughs]
Susan: I’m not kidding because I have been very involved within the past couple of years in the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and the research that has been done that I have seen talking about women growing older. And one of the other things is women often—even if you stay married your whole life—women tend to outlive their husbands, statistically. And so when he passes for one reason or another—and I don’t know if this is a generational thing because so many things are still in their husband’s names or whatever but you know, there’s a lack of like basic things like they didn’t have credit in their name. I mean it’s small stuff like that. And I mean obviously there are things like you know your house you can go back and through probate you can fix and things like that, but if you don’t have a lot of the savings and stuff on the front end, or if he had a pension and for some reason you know I don’t know how that works if that goes away or VA benefits or whatever… I mean you know my grandmother is a great example. My grandfather passed a few years ago and I think a huge…Now, obviously, she doesn’t have a house payment anymore and things like that but one of the things that her—a large chunk of her income is social security. And our generation is not going to be able to—that’s not even going to be…You should even be thinking about that so it’s you’re absolutely right, it’s one of those things women find themselves in this spot and it’s something we need to think about. Tell me if you—this is something we haven’t discussed but tell me if you see this; I have seen women, Diana, my age who’s husbands handle the entire financial everything and they have no idea how much money they have, no idea what investments they have if they have any, they have no understanding of their financial situation. Do you see that?
Diana Bacon: I do see it, and I have seen it as I worked with baby boomers, I don’t see it as much with Gen X, and then I’m seeing it again with millennials where they don’t pay the bills or if they do you it’s out of a household account that’s really separate from savings, from the investment. I’m really seeing that shift back to, “Well, he makes the money so he takes care of it,” and then something comes up where, you know, they’re splitting up, they’re divorced, or tragedy and the women are really unprepared, and not only does that set them up for financial missteps, you know, if you don’t know who holds your mortgage, how are you going to make sure that the mortgage payment is still being paid.
Diana Bacon: But it also opens up women to what I call a “financial predator.” So for an elderly woman, this could be that salesperson at the bank who now sells her an annuity, which I’ve seen too many times and it shouldn’t be allowed, or for younger women I’m seeing them take loans that they don’t need—just making decisions that if they had more comfort and confidence in managing their own financial affairs, they’d take a step back and not go that direction. So by the time I see these women a lot of time their personal balance sheet is a mess because they weren’t working with a degree of confidence.
Susan: It just breaks my heart. It’s just something we don’t think about and we need to.
Diana Bacon: You know I get that when you’re part of a couple you’re a team and one spouse takes this and one spouse take thats but I have a very difficult time with new clients when they say, “Oh no, he’ll be at the meeting, if there’s anything I need to know he’ll tell me.” No, especially when sitting down with your tax preparer, your financial planner, any additional investment advisers, your family attorney both spouses should always be there, always.
Susan: Yeah, if for nothing else that basic understanding.You don’t have to understand all the ins and outs; people can walk you through that but you just need to have the basic understanding for sure. Let’s switch gears just a little bit and go back and talk a little bit more about your business and how you have developed your client base and where you’re finding your ideal clients and how you’ve managed to grow that because I know that’s something that you’re really passionate about.
Diana Bacon: My client base has really changed over the years. When I first started I was working entirely with corporate executives. As they started in the early 2000, as those huge reduction enforced programs were going through with huge layoff, I start working with some small business owners because honestly, if you were laid off and you were 56 you’re not finding a job, you’re just not, no one’s going to hire you. So I started working with small business owners and really seeing some of them have an entrepreneurial spirit, which is really fun. I hesitate with entrepreneurs because the people who just start one thing after another never really become financially secure. I mean it’s very rare that it does, and that that’s one thing I want to see for my client right for them to reach financial independence you know I typically say I don’t really do retirement planning, I don’t care when you retire, I care when you’re financially independent because your decision process is going to change greatly once I tell you, “Hey, you know what? Your assets can now sustain your standard of living for the rest of your life so go to work tomorrow… don’t… I don’t care this is what you can spend, and so go live your life and make any changes you want,” and people do, they will start a business or start a foundation, or it’s probably one of the best things about my job.
But as I started my own firm, I really thought about who I wanted to work with and who I wanted to help.You know one of the things I do tell people and they’re like, “What do you do?” If I have just one sentence, I’m like, “I help people,” because I do, that’s all I do. I don’t make anything, I don’t build anything, I don’t sell anything; I just help people. Now, it is much more specific than that; I help people with their personal finances, I give them investment advice, you know all of that. But initially, when I started my practice I, you know, because I told you, I wanted to be in the black and so if someone wanted to sit down and talk to me and they wanted to sign my engagement letter and contract with me and as long as they weren’t doing anything illegal or unethical I was happy to take them. Now over the years as I’ve had clients leave because it wasn’t a good fit, either they decided that or I decided that, I’ve had more time to really cultivate good clients. So to me, a good client is A, someone that I can help and B, someone who sees the value in my help.
You know, when I do talk to people new to feeling financial planning, the first thing I tell them is don’t ever work with a client who doesn’t see the value in what you do because when you send them an invoice they’re not going to want to pay it. I don’t have clients push back on fees because they see the value I’m providing them and quite honestly, I don’t have a problem with reminding them of the value I’m providing them, but I really like working with people. And I don’t have a typical “I work with a woman who is this far in her career and she makes this…” my client base is a little diverse. And looking at the current division in America, I mean my clients are all over the board. I work with some very conservative families, I work with very liberal single women, I do work with every everyone, but the one thing that I keep coming back to is, you know, are they doing good in their little corner of the world? Am I providing value? Am I helping them, and do they do they see that value?
Susan: That’s awesome. That is just a cool way to think about building a business is really—you really seem to put your clients first, and I love that. I think that that’s not always an easy thing to do because in the day you’re trying to provide for your family as well. I find that very admirable; you don’t hear that a lot in big business, and maybe that’s why big firms weren’t the best fit. I really…I just love that. That just kind of warms the heart a little bit.
Diana Bacon: Yeah, I do think that that is a big part of the reason why I’m currently running the small boutique firm; I just don’t know that I would ever be back at a big firm because I just want to keep living my life, including what I do professionally but the way I want to do it which, you know, probably wouldn’t be in line with most of the bigger firms.
Susan: Yeah, one or two more questions because I want to be respectful of your time today. Tell us…You work a lot. I know you probably have a lot of hours you put in on the regular and I’m sure you have times of the year that are more busy than others. I think when we first started talking about this you were coming out of a busy time, so tell us how you, when you have the ability to, how do you recharge your batteries.
Diana Bacon: I really focus on the things that I know you know reinvigorate me, get me excited about life again. For me, I do need some quiet moments, but what really recharges me is people, being part of a community, feeling like I’m changing the world in some small way. I really love working out, being physical, you know, keeping a strong body but I actually also do that in a way that I’m part of a community. And being part of a community just speaks to my soul. I’m very involved in my church and that—yes, the church part of it you know I find very comforting and I do think it helped me be a better person, all of those things, but it’s that community, it’s having the people, it’s walking through the church playground on a Sunday and talking to several friends and the hugs and all the things that go along with it.
And then also I do, you know, I’m pretty busy, I work out, I have two kids, I have a husband who I adore, I have a business but I also make sure that I do give of my time. The best conversation I had with my mom was right when I was finishing my MBA and I had been working 50 to 70 hours a week and doing my MBA at the same time, I was exhausted. So mom’s like, “So, what are you going to do now?” And I was like, “I want to buy a television.” And she laughed a bit but then she said, “You need to figure out pretty quickly where you’re going to go volunteer.” She’s like, “You have this extra time…” she’s like, “You need to keep investing in yourself but invest in the world that you’re in,” and I constantly replay that conversation in my mind is investing in my community, investing in people around me. And especially now that I have kids, like, if I’m not investing in the world, I’m kind of dropping the ball because I’m not investing in them.
Susan: And I’ve seen you doing some of your some of the stuff that you volunteer with and one, it’s amazing, it is just amazing things that you that you found to get involved in; but two, you are investing in your kids but your kids are also seeing you do this, and I didn’t grow up—I don’t know, it sounds like you did—I didn’t grow up in a family that was very philanthropic, they were with church but that was pretty much the extent of it, and so somehow that became a really important thing to me after graduating college is getting involved in giving back time, talent, finances. And I think one of the other things you’re doing is you’re instilling that into your own children so that they will have that to go forward with as well, and I think that’s really important, and I think that’s really cool.
Diana Bacon: Thanks.
Susan: Yes, one more question before we go, and that is the feedback that I’m getting on this podcast and the types of listeners who are finding us, they’re inspired, they’re empowered but sometimes they don’t know which next steps to take so I always like to ask the guest that I have on for an action step, what is it that if a woman is, for today, if a woman is seriously thinking about her financial situation and taking that next step towards financial independence, where should she start? What is one action step she can take today to move that ball forward?
Diana Bacon: I mean, honestly, the most important part of this is don’t be afraid by your finances. Get to know your finances, get to know your spending, make sure you understand everything that’s on your paycheck, really take a look, make sure you understand at least most of what’s on your tax return but don’t be afraid of that. And then, you know, what I would hope every person listening to this would really focus on starting to save so that they can invest and have a bigger plan because that’s what really going to take someone so that ten years from now hopefully they are in a much more solid financial place.
Susan: Awesome, that is great advice. Thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it. I appreciate you taking the time and I appreciate you sharing with us, your thoughts.
Diana Bacon: Oh, I appreciate the opportunity. This was really fun.
Susan: Thank you so much.
Outro: Hey, y’all, thanks so much for joining today; that was such a fun conversation Diana. If you head on over to howshegothere.com, you’ll be able to find the full transcript of this episode. The transcript page is a great resource because it is not only the interview written out in its entirety, it has links to some of the things we discussed. Y’all, this podcast is truly one of my favorite things to do and bring to so thank you for listening and for sharing it with your friends. And, if you haven’t yet, you can go on over to Apple Podcasts and subscribe. I’d also really appreciate it if you would rate and review it. You can also follow “How She Got Here” on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Thanks again, friends. I’ll see you soon.