A leap of faith

Houghton Strategic Solutions' Melinda Houghton tells ifa about the times when she leapt into unfamiliar territories, and the successes – and failures – that followed.

MELINDA HOUGHTON had never launched a campaign before – but that didn't stop her from giving it a go.

The Point Cook, Victoria-based financial planner says she refused to sit back while the media was buzzing with industry scandals and in turn her beloved profession was frequently construed as corrupt.

When the Senate last year reversed changes to FOFA that would have eased the regulation of advisers, Ms Houghton reached her breaking point.

"We all know there are going to be some sharks in the tank, but the way it seems to have been put forward to the general public is that it's a majority of [financial planners] who are doing the wrong thing," she says.

Taking up the challenge, Ms Houghton launched 'Positivity for Planners' – a campaign that aimed to restore advisers' reputation through social media and crowdfunding.

Its committee set out to raise $100,000 in 60 days to create videos, blogs and other professionally-made content as a way to bring financial planning success stories to the wider public.

"[The goal was] to get the message out there – that it's not everybody who's doing the wrong thing," she says.

However, only $25,000 was raised by the crowdfunding deadline – and this would only have been deducted if the target had been met. The campaign also prompted a backlash from those who believed troubles within the industry were beneficial for their businesses.

However, the lack of support from her peers wasn't enough to crush Ms Houghton's spirit.

While the crowdfunding aspect of the campaign was over, the positive message and hashtag #PerceptionCorrection would still be used on social media to highlight positivity within the industry.

"Not everything that you do in life is going to work, but if you don't try, it won't work – for sure," she says.

'Where are all the clients?'

Launching the campaign wasn't the first time that Ms Houghton had dived into an unfamiliar field. She began her advice practice, Houghton Strategic Solutions, in 2011 in a similar courageous fashion.

Prior to becoming a planner, Ms Houghton worked at a bank and witnessed firsthand the benefits of receiving financial advice.

"I saw the differences between the advised clients and the non-advised clients who were coming into the branch," she says.

"The non-advised clients just didn't have that certainty. So when I needed to upscale and get a job that supported my family, I decided to study financial planning."

Ms Houghton got her start as an adviser working for other practices before deciding to branch out on her own – a daunting move for someone who had never been at the helm of a business before, she admits.

Nevertheless, it was a risk she was willing to take. Ms Houghton set up shop in a serviced office, secured an authorised representative status with dealer group Aon Hewitt Financial Advice and waited for her first dollar.
However, there was just one problem.

"Where are all the clients?" Ms Houghton wondered.

"Obviously, when you leave other practices you don't take the clients with you. It was a case of saying, 'Well, no one knows I'm here. How do I make that happen?"

She got the word out by becoming more involved in the local community through volunteer work. Eventually, she built a reputation as someone who cared about the public.

"It took about 6 to 12 months to build that profile up," Ms Houghton says, "and now [the flow of clients] just doesn't stop."

Financial planning for 'real people'

Her achievement may be due to Ms Houghton's selecting "everyday people" as her target market.

This focus was one reason for Ms Houghton starting her own practice, since she believed it was an under-serviced group.

"People in our target market are often struggling to get from a position where they are treading water to where they are moving forward," Ms Houghton says.

The move to tighten her focus was also a way to prove that advice firms don't have to flog product or work only with high net worth clients to be successful, she adds.

"I believe this demographic is currently under-serviced, and has a huge potential in the world of fee-for-service advice, where the client pays fees for a service, rather than needing to be already wealthy so that we can invest their funds," she says.

"This allows us to charge fees for an overall financial service that improves their position without any particular product or strategy being the focus. The service matches the client's needs, regardless of where they currently are in their financial position."

There is now a waiting list for new clients, she says.

"We have a thriving and growing business, with clients that are satisfying to work with and who we have strong relationships with," she says.

"We are happy knowing we add value and get paid for it."

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