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Going solo: Rebecca Lucas, Lime Outsourced Paraplanning

29 June 2018

Rebecca Lucas talks to Rob Kingsbury about setting up her firm, Lime Outsourced Paraplanning, and the challenges she has faced over the past five years

Rebecca Lucas has just celebrated the fifth anniversary of her outsourced paraplanning firm Lime Outsourced Paraplanning. Given that half of UK businesses fail within their first five years, reaching that milestone with a firm that is “going from strength to strength” is an achievement.  Lime has had its best year to date and Rebecca hopes to grow the company further this year by possibly taking on another paraplanner.

The first year was hard, she admits. She started from scratch, so had to find her first clients and build the business from the ground up. “It took me about three months to bring on my first client and it was about 6 months before I had a regular stream of work that made being outsourced sustainable.”

Her challenges fell into two camps – the personal and the professional. The personal challenge was balancing the needs of the business in the early days with having a young family –when she started her business her children were not yet at school. “I had to make sure I was there for my family, as well as all that was necessary to run the business. I think most working parents find it difficult to know exactly where the balance should be and there is a measure of guilt involved. As my children have grown up and gone to school I’ve been able to build the business and increase the workload accordingly, which has been great”.

The biggest challenge of running the business was that while she had been an adviser doing her own paraplanning for a number of years, she’d never before run a business. “Running a business for the first time is exciting but there was a lot of trial and error in those early days.”

For anyone considering running their own firm, she advises, “you have to be mindful that you are a business owner, running a business, which can be a full-time job, and you are also the paraplanner working in the business, which also can be a full-time job.”

Again, it’s a matter of balancing the two elements, she adds. “In the past I’ve been guilty of doing the stuff I love, the paraplanning side of things and having to force myself to do some aspects of the business side, the invoicing in particular, and administration necessary in order for the business to thrive,” she admits.

Another thing to bear in mind, she says, is that the financial rewards can take a time to build up as well as there are ongoing and set up costs involved in running your own business.

And you have to recognise that the buck stops with you. “Working for yourself you don’t have a boss, which can be liberating, but it also means that you have to make all of the decisions yourself, which can be hard to get used to in the early days.”

If there is a chief quality needed to go solo, she says, it’s resilience. “There are always going to be hard days but, in my experience, over time those days become fewer and further between. That’s because you are learning as you go along and the more you learn the better equipped you are to deal with the issues.

“In running your own business you’ve got to make the mistakes and learn from the process. And you’ve got to honour that process. While there are small things I would have done differently over the past five years I’m actually glad I made mistakes in the early days and did a few things wrong because I’ve learnt from them. I wouldn’t be where I am today and have grown my business without making those mistakes.”

Catalyst to start Lime

Rebecca is clearly motivated and a self-starter. She began her financial planning career while doing her A-Levels, when she got a part-time job working on the counter in a building society. “As soon as I began dealing with people and their money I fell in love with it. I researched how to become a financial adviser, bought the books from the CII and studied in the evenings for my FPC1. I then got a job in a financial advice firm starting at the bottom, making the tea and doing the filing.”

Over the next few years she studied for FPC 2 and 3, also in her spare time, working for the financial planning arm of an accountancy firm and then as a tied adviser for Barclays Bank. She then went on to be an IFA with financial advice firm Chase De Vere, an Account Manager with Prudential Assurance, and then as a financial planner for the financial planning arm of a local law firm in Cambridge (35 Finance). Here, she held a dual role as an IFA and also did paraplanningfor the main adviser. The firm was sold and she was promoted to associate director and managed a team of trainees, doing less Paraplanning day to day. “I actually missed the Paraplanning side of the role,” Rebecca said.

The catalyst to set up her own business, she says, was one evening in 2012. “As I was putting in the extra hours writing reports for clients I thought, ‘I wonder if lots of other advisers are like me, trying to juggle writing reports with seeing clients’. I had always wondered about working for myself one day, so, I did some research and discovered outsourced paraplanning. By then I had 13 years of experience and I was fully Chartered and Certified.

The research included Richard Allum’s Paraplanners forum (forerunner of the Paraplanners Powwow). “It was gold mine of information for me. There were some really good posts from people who over the years had had the same idea. I spent many an evening reading the posts and writing down ideas.”

She also approached a few other paraplanners who were running their own businesses for their advice. “People were very generous and gave me a lot of good tips,” she says.

And so, Lime Outsourced Paraplanning was born, a name chosen “because I thought it was fresh and new and all my branding could be bright green!”

Running the business

Lime is a limited company and has around 15 adviser firms as clients which vary in size and number of RIs. Key to running the business is slick organisation, Rebecca says, including having good systems and processes in place, “so I can both run the business and do the paraplanning as efficiently as possible.”

Every adviser is different and wants things done in a different way, so for every client, Lime has a data sheet recording their preferences. “We really try to get inside their head and try to write as they write.” She also recommends inviting advisers to give constructive feedback about what they like and don’t like about the work done. “Then you can make a note and take that on board in the future.”

After 10 months of working alone, the workflow had increased sufficiently so that Rebecca brought in another paraplanner, Nicky Fisher, who she knew and trusted (having worked together previously), and Nicky has been working with her ever since. They work virtually, so have to be very disciplined. “We have a worksheet run in Excel, on which we list out every single job, when it came in, what we need to do for it, and where we are in the process. We are very strict about keeping that up to date and reviewing where we are with our work throughout the day.”

For the times when the firm gets super busy, such as at the end of the tax year, Rebecca says, “we work as hard as we can to get things done and we keep clients informed where we anticipate slightly longer turnaround times.”

In outsourced paraplanning, experience and learning on the job counts, she stresses. “Over the past five years I’ve learned a lot and I’ve had to adapt and grow as a person and as a paraplanner. I’m definitely not the same paraplanner I was five years ago.”

One of the things she admits she got wrong at the beginning was her target market and her pricing policy. “When I started out I’d take on any work and tried to be everything to everybody. But that way I found I’d get a load of work from someone and then not hear from them again for six months because that was how their workload was fluctuating. It was all very ad hoc and not a way to run a sustainable business

She now works on a retainer basis, where advisers pay a set amount each month for a minimum amount of work and top it up as needed. This builds in a regular pattern of work and allows us to plan our resources, , she advises. It also ensures they get to work with advisers on a regular basis, which helps build the relationship and keeps the quality of work high. She also recommends not looking for a set number of clients but working out the optimal amount of work that the firm can handle on a monthly basis. That way you can work out how much work you are able to cope with, while keeping the quality high and all of your advisers happy.”

Lime doesn’t have a specific adviser client that it works with, as such, but Rebecca says, “while it’s a bit of a cliché, we do only work with nice advisers. It makes for a much better working environment if you’re working with people you like and can get on with. One thing our advisers have in common is that they are all trying to do the best for their clients and tend to work with their clients’ on a long term basis. The longer we work with an adviser, we find ourselves writing reports and doing research for the same clients over and over again. Nicky and I feel like we get to know the adviser’s clients (even though we never meet them) which is nice.”

“It works better for everyone when advisers are relatively well organised , specifically around factfinds and getting the soft facts down on paper. I always say the more soft facts and meeting notes that the adviser can provide us with, the better and the more personalised reports we can provide.”

Also, most of Lime’s clients have in-house paraplanners, with whom Rebecca and Nicky tend to deal directly in many cases. “We love working with other paraplanners as they know exactly what we need to write a great report and complete our research. We can build up a good rapport as we are all doing the same job with the same aim.”

Would she recommend going solo?

“I would whole heartedly recommend it,” she says. “I’ve loved running an outsourced paraplanning company  And there’s loads of work out there – we are often turning work away. But do your research first – go on to the Powwow website and see what other people running outsourced paraplanning firms are saying. And don’t be afraid to reach out to them, as most paraplanner are really friendly and often they will have good advice they can give you about setting up.

“Another reason I’d recommend it is that you learn so much and acquire so many different skills both with Outsourced Paraplanning and by running your own business. It helps you to improve what you do. But you have to be open to learning because you are literally taking in something new nearly every day.

“I’d say, have a go, because you’re only going to know if it works for you by doing it.”

What’s a typical day for Rebecca      

“I mainly work from home, so if we are busy I’ll tend to get up early and do a couple of hours work before my children get up, when it’s quiet and I can get things done.

After I drop the children off at school, the first thing I do is look at my to-do lists. I have weekly and daily to-do lists.  I’ll then get down to some report writing, I like to work on reports in the mornings, and also, I’ll proof the work that Nicky has done for me, so it has that second set of eyes on it. I tend to my proofing in the afternoon, or when I need a break from a particular report.

Most of our work includes pension transfer reports, setting up new ISAs, IHT planning and so on. I also get involved in one-off technical jobs. For example, for one of my clients at the moment I’m building calculator for the lifetime allowance. I’m doing that in Excel.

During the day, I might get phone calls from advisers with queries on certain issues and we also get quite a few calls from advisers looking to outsource, so I’ll be chatting to them about how we might help.

I’m a keen runner, so I sometimes like to go for a run at lunchtime (with my phone – I’m often checking and replying to emails mid run!!). I find if I’m working on a tricky report, being away from my desk often gives me new ideas and I come back refreshed.

As well as working from home, I use an office which has meeting and hot desk facilities. There are times when it is good to get away from the home environment, for instance during school holidays when the children are at home, which can make it difficult to work there. Also, if you are working on your own from home, it can get lonely, so it’s nice to be able to go to an office environment and work with other people.

The thing about outsourced paraplanning is that it’s so varied that no two days are ever the same, which keeps the role exciting and interesting and you are always learning, which is what I love about being an outsourced paraplanner.”

 

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