In 1992, I talked with three friends about a weird idea I had about counseling people about  money. Not about how to invest it or insure it, but rather how to manage it in a way that took the stress and anxiety away.

I was inspired by the transformation that had happened in my own financial life when I made some significant changes. The world seemed friendlier, and I felt like I was capable of handling whatever happened.

These three friends, from very different areas of my life, all gave me the same name to call. When I called this woman, she took me on as an intern, which I did for a year, and then I started on my own.

In the meanwhile, I studied for the AFC exams, and was awarded the AFC certification in 1994. Since then, I’ve had my own practice doing financial counseling and money coaching as my sole income. After I checked out what the legal restrictions were in the state in which I started (California), I spoke with an attorney about liability. She said that since I was basically telling people to save more and spend less that the liability I’d face was if I were to stray into tax, legal or investment/insurance advice. This was a guideline that I’ve been careful about ever since, particularly because I never found errors and omissions insurance for this field.

I determined that I’d see clients face-to-face, and created an office in my home with a separate entrance and bathroom. This worked very well, and looked professional and organized, reflecting the same qualities I would want to model for my clients.

Client success stories are better sales tools than detailed explanations about your process. As someone once told me, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Since I intended this to be my income, I needed to come up with a dollar amount that could sustain me and find the clients that could afford me. As a benchmark, I used the rates that successful therapists were charging in my area, and like them, I charged by the hour. Since those early days, I’ve added other methods of payment: retainer fee, project fee, and objective-based pricing.

My clients are the middle class and upper class. Given that the majority of my clients were in the greater San Francisco Bay area, this meant clients whose household income was $150,000–500,000/year. The language that I used and the value that I presented in my sessions and afterwards were all geared to this client level.

Word-of-mouth was my number one marketing tool, followed closely by referrals from therapists, financial planners, estate and family law attorneys, and other professionals. Once a prospective client hears about you, they are most likely going to then look you up on the internet for validation.

Minimum marketing needs are: (1) a terrific website that speaks to your clients’ pain points and talks about benefits of financial counseling. No one wants to hear about spending plans and debt reduction, but they’ll listen to “stress-free money life” and “financial confidence and peace of mind,”  (2) a business Facebook page, (3) a LinkedIn listing, (4) some form of consistent contact (like a blog or newsletter); and (5) a business card that has your primary message on it.

Your marketing doesn’t have to be dramatic, but does need to be consistent. Networking becomes a major part of that, but not just going to functions but also making coffee dates with those people you meet who are likely referral sources. Client success stories are better sales tools than detailed explanations about your process.

As someone once told me, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Ask them first about their ideal clients, and it will segue nicely into your ideal clients.You also need to have a sense of how client interactions progress through the sales process:

  • Initial phone call/email.
  • First interaction—I provide a free consultation to find out more about their situation so that I can let them know how I might be able to accelerate their progress toward their goals.
  • Discussion of your costs and agreement on expectations.
  • The clients’ next steps for working with you.

Secondly, there are the client meetings themselves, forms you need to develop, your agenda for the first meeting and subsequent meetings, and providing closure when a client “graduates.”

There are also housekeeping items: your method for keeping client files and the security you will have for them, other types of resources that you are going to provide (handouts, links, etc.), a list of professionals you’ve vetted, if your client needs services that you don’t provide, and your payment acceptance method (checks, debit/credit card, electronic payment).

In the keynote talk that I’ll be giving at the AFCPE Symposium in November, I will give you more detail on the above and the benefit of the years of trial and error that I’ve undergone to create a prosperous private practice. I’d love to see you there.

Susan Bross, AFC®, (Accredited Financial Counselor®) and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, 15 years experience in marketing and finance, and four years as an addictions counselor. She established her own business in 1993 and is located in Eugene, Oregon and San Rafael, California. You can contact Susan by phone at 415-479-1290 or email susanbross@

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