This small business owner bet on herself — and now she’s reaping the benefits.
Financial planner Helen Ngo left a successful career only to have a series of doors slammed in her face as a new small business owner. But she persevered and kept faith in her vision.
The result? She built a business her way, refusing to give into the doubts that can sink entrepreneurial journeys before they even begin.
Having doubts about your small business? Or questioning whether you can start one of your own? Read Helen’s story:
Longitudes: Why did you leave corporate America to start your own business?
Helen: After growing tired of selling stocks and bonds to mostly men, I fired myself from the nine-to-five corporate life 6 years ago to start my own business and help more career women build their own wealth and achieve financial security. In 2013, I launched my financial planning practice, Capital Benchmark Partners.
In the first year and half of my business, I set a daily goal of dialing 250 to 300 people a day to schedule at least three in-person appointments. I also knocked door to door two times a week to get appointments.
My goal was to get in front of as many people as possible who would allow me to tell my story of why I can help them with their personal finances. Obviously, I got rejected over and over again by people slamming their phones or doors on me — literally.
But, this raw, daily rejection taught me resilience. From those hundreds of dials and doors, I landed my first 20 clients the first year, and 80 percent of those clients are still with me today.
“In small business, it’s important to build a trusted tribe.”
The business grew from $30,000 in year one to nearly a quarter million in revenue today. This is due to a combination of developing and executing targeted online marketing strategies and focusing primarily on servicing female breadwinners.
Longitudes: How do you invest in yourself and your business?
Helen: The toughest part of running my own business so far is determining whether I should spend the money on hiring more staff or keeping it in the business or paying myself more for my own personal savings.
Do I give up income to myself? Do I reinvest it into the business so it can grow faster?
For four years, I operated completely on my own — wearing the hat of financial planner, CEO, COO, CMO, CFO. In my fifth year, I hired my first full-time employee. Looking back, I should have hired staff sooner. Now I own my weekends again, but I’m still learning to prioritize time and money.
Longitudes: What lesson did you have to learn fast?
Helen: No one ever told me how lonely entrepreneurship can be. I talk to people all day — clients, my staff, my business acquaintances — so you would think that I am never alone.
But the type of loneliness I have is in my head. When a deal doesn’t close or I make a mistake with a client’s case or have my ideas rejected, the self-doubt can become very dark. If I don’t keep it in check, I feel as though I have no one to commiserate with.
I understand how important it is to build a trusted tribe. From the very beginning of my business, I built a relationship with an attorney and CPA. We were the “corporate dropouts,” trying to build a business from scratch.
They’re the two closest friends I have to this day and watching them build their businesses and raise a family simultaneously reminds me I am not alone in my journey.
“The best part of being a business owner is the ability to unleash your creativity.”
Longitudes: What do you love about owning a business?
Helen: The best part of being a business owner is the ability to unleash your creativity. Financial services is a very stuffy industry; everything has to be marched in a straight line.
How I run my business and what services I offer is where I get most creative. I make all the decisions on how to market myself, what technology to use, and it extends to launching my own podcast — coming up with fun financial topics to discuss and meet complete strangers on social media and giving them a platform to be heard.
The financial services industry is known to have canned answers and personalities. Everyone looks and speaks the same. To reshape how our industry is perceived, we approach clients and serve them differently.
We host events so our clients meet each other and even feature some of them on our blogs and podcast. We allow our clients to be heard and participate in sharing their own stories; it helps reshape how the financial adviser-client relationship is traditionally managed.
We give more than advice to clients; we provide a platform for them to vocalize and share their own financial philosophies to educate the public. Only 15 percent of financial advisers are women; now I have the power to change that.
Longitudes: How do you set your prices?
Helen: In my personal experience of hiring and vetting creative consultants, I’ve found that they have a hard time conveying their value, thinking that the price they set reflects their personal worth. So, I developed a training program to teach them how to package, price and present their services to build their business with more confidence and conviction.
When you are the one selling your product or services to a client, don’t ever be the first one to discount your prices. State your price and let the potential client ask if you can lower your prices.
You never know if they are willing to pay a premium or a discount for a product or service; so let them do the talking because you can always go lower. It’s much more difficult to ask for more.
Realize that people don’t usually buy something based on cheapness. People buy when they feel they’re heard; so listen more than you talk, and always repeat what they said to make sure you understand correctly.
Always know the lowest number you will take and stick with it. If someone offers you lower than that, then move on. There’s plenty of business out there, so don’t get hung up on losing one deal.
Never forget that rejection is part of being an entrepreneur. If it was easy to close deals, everyone would be doing it.
“Never forget that rejection is part of being an entrepreneur.”
Longitudes: What is the secret sauce for your business?
Helen: My business works because I am extremely direct with my clients, staff and vendors. I see too many business owners who want something and never ask for it. Then their businesses fail because they never set clear expectations.
I have no problem with that. I just lay it out like it is — always asking specific details about what I am going to pay or deliver and saying clearly what I expect from a relationship — whether it’s with a client, contractor or partner.
I believe you should trust that your ideas are good and execute on at least one of them a year. Most people will never even step out of their old ways. Also, speak your mind. That will set you apart from the competition.
Editor’s note: In celebration of National Small Business Week (May 5-11), we invited UPS customers and suppliers to share their entrepreneurial journeys and lessons learned along the way. You can find our most recent small business stories here.
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