How Finding My Niche Blew Up My Business

By Hilary Hendershott
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Horsesmouth Essential: What’s Working Now: When this advisor realized that she only needed to appeal to the type of clients she wanted to work with, she suddenly found her voice and saw her business soar, becoming a public speaker, hosting a podcast, and educating thousands while making a great living.

Editor’s note: In this edition of What’s Working Now, an AdvisorRADIO feature in which Horsesmouth members tell us about recent success they have had running and growing their businesses, we hear from advisor Hilary Hendershott, who chose a niche practice and grows her business by hosting a podcast and speaking at women’s conferences. The article below includes edited excerpts of Hilary’s comments. You can hear the full interview by clicking the audio file below.

Quick Overview

Advisor: Hilary Hendershott
San Jose, Calif.

Years in business: 17

Firm: Hilary Hendershott Wealth Management

What’s working now: Choosing a women’s niche and becoming a speaker and podcast host.

I’ve been in the business 17 years; I am a certified financial planner, and I got my start in the business and was mentored through my parents’ RIA, a fee-only fiduciary advisory firm in San Jose, Calif. I started in my mid-20s, and to be honest, I thought financial planning was really boring and did not see a future for myself in it. But as soon as my father allowed me to come to client meetings, I saw that financial planning was less about stocks and dividends and more about people’s lives, making sure that they are on track to achieve what’s important to them.

Then when I realized that I wanted to serve women, things really took off for me. I’ve been on my own since 2014, when I started my own RIA, Hillary Hendershott Wealth Management. I now have a team of three: a full-time associate director, someone in operations, and someone in compliance. In February of 2016, I launched Profit Boss® Radio, my podcast.

Finding my own place

Two realizations dovetailed that made me decide to focus on women. As a 25-year-old woman in the industry, I suffered a lack of confidence as an advisor. Everyone I saw around me looked like my father—20, 30 years older than me and generally male. I looked around and thought, “I’m the wrong age and the wrong gender. Who’s ever going to hire me?” I thought I might have to be under my father’s wing forever.

Then one day I needed a new GP, so as I was searching for a new female doctor, the thought hit me, “I bet there are other women out there who not only want to work with a female doctor, they also want to work with a female advisor. I may not be what people think of as a traditional advisor, but I’m certainly the right person for someone.”

Then I was in conversation with an author who had written a book about the older generation and how many women over the age of 60 know nothing about finances. The husband traditionally just says, “Don’t worry about a thing, dear, I’ll take care of it.” But statistically, the husband dies before the wife, leaving her emotionally bereft and financially completely unempowered. I realized I could make a big difference with those women. I serve widows and divorcees and women with inheritances. It says on my website, “Financial services for the empowered woman.”

Though I specialize in working with women, I don’t reject men, and about 30%–35% of my clients are married couples. If a man shows up in my office, I just think, “Well, he doesn’t mind that my website says financial services for women.” It’s about attracting people I have a good rapport with.

I took about $20 million AUM with me when I left my parents’ business, and started my practice with a good, solid income. I was paying at the time a percentage to the “house” for administrative services to my parents and I chose to continue paying that. We have positive family relations and I thank them for what they gave me.

Women keeping their success quiet?

My experience at speaking engagements is that women don’t want other women to know that they can afford a financial advisor. We’re not empowered enough as a gender for someone to be willing to raise their hand at a speaking event and say, “Yeah, I have enough money that I’d like to hire you.”

At my speaking events, I talk generally about how the stock market is the greatest generator of wealth in human history. I show an actual timeline of returns, but other than that, I don’t talk about risk or volatility or diversification. I don’t even use those words. I talk about the emotional aspects of money.

Then at the end, I generally offer a free marketing gift, like an audio training, if they give me their email address. Finally I say, “Put your business card in the air if you’d like to get scheduled for a complimentary 15-minute chat about how you can begin to grow your wealth and plan for success this year.” Very rarely does anyone actually put their hand up to say “Yes!”

I just stand there and I let there be a little bit of uncomfortable silence—and then I’m telling you, 95% of the time someone comes up to me after the talk, hands me her card, and says, “I didn’t want to say anything in front of my friends but I really want to talk to you.” I’ve probably picked up $20 million that way. It’s pretty consistent because that’s just how women operate right now!

The emotions of money

I talk about the emotions of money. I trademarked a term called The Money Operating System. I even did a Tedx Talk on the subject, “The Surprising Power of Language to Make You Rich.” Essentially it’s about how the core beliefs we have about money come from childhood. I say to women, if you think and feel this or that way about money, think about that as a symptom. It’s not the problem, it’s a symptom.

Money is very conceptual, so as kids we make it tangible by creating beliefs about money. Some people think “There is never enough,” or “You have to work hard for money,” or “If I’m good, the universe will give me what I need.” Whatever your belief is, your financial life will be a manifestation of that, your Money Operating System. This is a conversation that really resonates with women.

We talk about, “OK, if you fast forward your life, here is likely how that’s going to go.” That’s what you are expecting, but then I will tell stories about women who got divorced and didn’t know anything about financials or investments. I say, “OK, raise your hand if you are willing to admit that you don’t actually know where the retirement accounts are.” And then I show what it looks like to take control and what it feels like. People can relate and find themselves in the stories.

In every single talk I do, I always talk about the dramatic returns that are possible in a diversified low-cost stock market portfolio. Everyone is surprised. I share my story: That I used to be an overspender and racked up debt, even losing a condo, but I recovered. I create connections by being vulnerable with the audience. I get a tremendously positive response from that.

Becoming a professional speaker

I speak to Silicon Valley corporations, women’s interest groups, real estate offices, and many others. A female business coach has an annual event and I spoke there in front of 500 business owners—of course the topic is somewhat different when you’re speaking to a business group.

The way to get started as a professional speaker is simply to talk to people you know and ask them if they know groups who would be interested in hearing from you. Take a poll and see what kind of topics people are interested in. I’ve chosen not to present technical workshops like Social Security, because I would prefer to have an expert like Elaine Floyd come in and speak on my behalf.

Program directors expect you to seem professional and attentive to your speaking career. I have a one-sheet with my head shot, bio, credentials, and my usual topics. You can’t hide that you are an advisor/speaker; you really need to make friends with the media.

Learning how the news media works is essential. I paid thousands of dollars for some media training to make myself a qualified speaker and to learn how journalists write headlines. It took me months. Nobody is interested in the headline, “Financial Planning for Women.” But talk about a famous woman’s husband who passed away and ask what they would do in the same situation, that will give you a headline.

Most recently I spoke here in Silicon Valley at Sereno Group, a successful real estate firm. I was invited by an alum of my MBA program. It was 265 agents. You can imagine being at a real estate agent in Silicon Valley, how much money there is in the room.

I designed a talk called, “When Can I Retire?” I again talked about what’s possible in the stock market, and then I introduced them to the currency of diversifications. I know that real estate agents love real estate, so I suggested that their income is a function of the real estate market, and that a lot of their assets are probably a function of the real estate market. They would do well to diversify into the stock market. Sixty-five people requested a conversation with me!

Running follow-up calls after a speaking engagement

I don’t ask for an hour-long meeting after a speaking engagement. People don’t want to get married on the first date. Now, if someone came to me from my website and said, “I’d like to talk about my financial planning,” that’s different. But, after I speak, I say, “Let’s get on a 15-minute phone call.”

To start the call, I tell them how excited I am to provide value for them, and that everything will be totally confidential. I ask what resonated with them in my talk, and just let them speak about what they want to do right now to make a difference in their financial lives. If I hear a place where I might serve them, I start to talk about what I can do. But you don’t give away the firm in a 15-minute call. The purpose of the 15-minute call is to get them to schedule the first appointment.

The initial meetings

I work with Loring Ward, and they gave me a two-meeting process called 360 Client Discovery. Right now they’re at an hour-and-a-half each, but I’m working with an advisory coaching group to get them down to an hour. The first meeting is called Discover, and the second is called Design. I know the prospects’ assets before they come in, because they have uploaded their statements and information to a folder for me to view. So all prospects are qualified before I meet with them.

In the Discovery meeting, I absolutely just build rapport. I share a few stories about my history and my firm, then let the prospects talk. I ask them about their concerns, goals, children, parents, charities. It’s very right-brain and emotional. I also ask what they think about investing, and if they ever think they’ve made a mistake. I test a little bit by saying, “My suggestion would be that you do this.”

If they argue with me, I know they’re not here for advice, and I get paid for advice. If you’re a know-it-all and you already have a plan and just want to know if I’m going to fit your plan, this isn’t the right firm for you. This is where I might cut the meeting short and tell people I’m not the right advisor for them. If I feel like this isn’t a person I want to work with, I don’t. So I’ll give them some suggestions of other places that may be a better fit for them.

The Design conversation is more left-brain, analytical. It’s my opportunity to look at everything that’s been said and documents that have been shared and put together a plan. I tell prospects, “I’m going to share with you what investment solution I would use for you and why I’ve been using that with clients for the past 20 years.” I give them the opportunity to ask any questions they have. At the end, they have all the information they need to make a decision. It’s not like I do a big show and then there is a pitch at the end. I’m getting yeses all along the way. My closing percentage is 80% or 90%, which is as it should be, because advisors should be cutting off the conversation. The most expensive part of the relationship is finding the prospect.

I want long-term relationships. I ask what they are looking for and what would be the ideal situation. If they have a list of four or five advisory dead bodies in the past, that’s a red flag. You need to move on quickly from the people who are not going to work and pay attention to the people who are. I’m very conscious about that, and I require the decision-maker to be present at both meetings. Psychologically, there is a time commitment they’re making to me.

Recently I had a meeting where the wife was in my office and the husband was on speaker phone because he was too busy to come. It was awkward, and in the end they didn’t become clients. I think we could have done good work together, but I wasn’t in control. If you guide the meetings they see you as the advisor, but if they’re dictating, they’re in control, and that’s not what the relationship we offer is about.

Reaching thousands

I started Profit Boss® Radio about 18 months ago. I saw podcasters with fast-growing audiences and it seemed sexy and exciting and something I could do. I have a lot to say; I had paid for all this media training, and I thought, “I can do this.” I called it Profit Boss® because there are lots of shows like Girl Boss and Mom Boss and Entrepreneur Boss. Profit is literally the difference between revenue and cost; it’s why people are in business. The same is true for your personal life. It’s a concept of, “I’m worth it, I’m taking control of my money, creating profit and margin in my personal life, even if I don’t own a business.”

In the beginning, I thought that Profit Boss® Radio was going to be about getting interviews with bigger and bigger names, but I came to realize that actually the show should be about not just me and my voice but also about the people who listen to me. It became less of a way to make me famous and more of a form of self-expression. When something happens in the news, I can put on my headphones, click on my microphone, and create something that 2,000 or 3,000 people ultimately listen to. That’s an honor and it’s made me happier to channel my energy and know people are listening.

I also have a Facebook group that goes with the podcast. People will post messages thanking me and saying, “You’ve changed how I view bad headlines in the financial news media,” or “It’s amazing what you said in this episode about how my money mindset impacts my decisions.” Every podcast becomes a blog post, and I write additional blog posts. All of these platforms can be accessed from my website. I think my media hub looks very complete to most people, which is unusual for a financial advisor.

I’ve started airing episodes where I interview people who have transformed their own finances from things I’ve said on the podcast. I also choose experts to interview, like Horsesmouth’s Elaine Floyd. Recently I’ve been having my director of marketing doing a segment called “Rachel’s Deals and Steals,” because we women love our shoes and clothes and beauty products and massages. We want to know how to get these things at an affordable price, and it’s not a conversation that a financial planning expert usually does. It’s complimentary and attractive and a little more fun.

I also go on other people’s podcasts, especially those with a primarily female audience, and talk about financial topics and how important it is for women to be financially empowered. Then I invite them to come listen to Profit Boss® Radio, and that’s how I build my audience.

I block off Mondays in my schedule for podcast work. If it’s an interview, I get on Skype with the guest. After we’re done I go back and record an intro that takes maybe 10–20 minutes. Then I put both recordings in a Dropbox folder shared with my production team. I let them know what I think was cool about the interview, and then they do all the production stuff and put it in iTunes. I have people who write social media content and prepare show notes for my website. I don’t do any of that, just the audio.

Sometimes I do solo episodes that I script and record. I did one recently that took me 10 hours to finish! I’ll leverage the content by using it to create other trainings and it will probably become the basis for speaking events. You have to record once and promote 100 times, and leverage what you’ve really invested in.

Closing words

To anyone who is thinking of going out on their own, there is nothing to stop you from starting today. You don’t need a website or a brochure to go to a coffee conversation and say, “I’m an advisor who works with women and understands their issues. I want to speak to them and empower women around money.” When I talk about it, someone will say, “My friend needs to talk to you.” I didn’t start having a niche by building a website. I started by talking to women that I knew.


Hilary, this is a terrific article. I'm glad you found your niche AND are specific about which clients you want to work with and knowing which ones are not a 'fit' for your style of practice. Kudos to you!! When we work with clients we really enjoy as people, I can't really call it 'work' because it's such a pleasure. Neil@NeilWoodConsulting

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