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Podcast Transcript

Episode 50, Season 1

How to turn grief into your dream business, with Donna Lea Powell


Donna Lee Powell: 00:00 I had a massive fear of public speaking. It was something that I avoided anything before, and I’d had a situation, year 12 I was head girl, running assembly, and I introduced somebody to come to the stage, I think we had like 600 students, 700 students at our school, and they didn’t come. I had to hold school and I said something really stupid and probably inappropriate and the whole school just laughed at me. From that point, I swore I would never do any public speaking.

Fraser Jack: 00:27 Hello and welcome to The Goals Based Advice Podcast where I have conversations with pioneers of the new world of financial advice. I’m your host, Fraser Jack, I want to thank you so much for joining [inaudible 00:00:36]. If you enjoy this podcast, then please help me spread the word and share it with your friends and colleagues, and I’d also like to thank our supporting partner, Advice Intelligence, for powering this podcast.

Fraser Jack: 00:46 In this episode, the amazing Donna Lee Powelll opens up and shares her story of how she turned grief and the lack of what she needed at the time into her perfect business, a passion and purpose that led her to winning the AFA Female Excellence in Advice Award, in 2018. We uncover everything from overcoming her fear of public speaking, to designing her business around the personal needs of her niche clients. Donna is a true inspiration and I’m very proud to be able to share her story, so let’s cut to our chat with Donna now.

Fraser Jack: 01:22 Welcome to the show, Donna.

Donna Lee Powell: 01:24 Thanks. Thanks Fraser. Thanks for having me.

Fraser Jack: 01:26 You’re very welcome. Now, do you want to give the listeners a very quick overview of you at the moment?

Donna Lee Powell: 01:33 Yeah. I’ve just finished touring Australia for the Female Excellence in Advice Award winner for 2018, which was an amazing experience. I’m two years into my current business, DLP Life Design, where we service a fairly niche market with predominately women and women potentially going through life changing events or something significant in their lives. Although, we do also service couples and men, as well, but women make up the majority of our client base.

Fraser Jack: 02:04 So you’ve got a business in Perth in Western Australia, and you say you’re two years in, but you’ve been an advisor for a while?

Donna Lee Powell: 02:15 Yeah, I have. I started my career many years ago, in the early 2000s as an advisor, with ANZ Bank, which was a great foundation to start advising. And then I went out on my own with another colleague, my business partner for another business that I had, would have been maybe 2005-2006. We started out on our own, and grew our business organically, which was great. Yeah, so this is my, it’s actually my third business and my most enjoyable and most rewarding one, actually.

Fraser Jack: 02:55 Fantastic. You’ve worked out a bit of a niche in the clientele, but tell us, take us back to the beginning. Tell us what made you want to become a financial planner.

Donna Lee Powell: 03:05 So my childhood probably shaped my desire to help people with money, because very early on I realized that money is fundamental to give you choice and stability and freedom, I guess. My family or my dad in particular had an amazing ability to make money, but he never really mastered the ability to manage it, so I found that quite fascinating as a child. I guess through that experience, we went from being quite wealthy, traveling overseas and wining and dining, to watching what we had to spend and that rollercoaster sort of childhood provided me with, just was quite unsettling as a child.

Donna Lee Powell: 03:51 Through that, I was always obsessed with money and creating wealth, that yeah, I wanted to help people be able to do that as well.

Fraser Jack: 04:01 So is that what you did straight out of school, or?

Donna Lee Powell: 04:03 Yeah, pretty much. I went and studied banking and finance at TAFE, and then that landed me a job as a teller, actually, at ANZ in about 1995. And then through that, I worked my way through ANZ, through management roles, lending roles, and found myself as an advisor. Quite young.

Fraser Jack: 04:21 Fantastic. Yeah, it seems like it was always your destiny to land there.

Donna Lee Powell: 04:26 Yeah, I love it. I’ve always loved it, as challenging as it can be at times. It’s something that I get a lot of reward from.

Fraser Jack: 04:33 Yeah, fantastic. So, 18 odd years later, and into your new practice, how did you decide I guess to set up this new practice and work with the niche that you work with?

Donna Lee Powell: 04:47 Yeah. It’s interesting. I’d almost semi-retired from advice if you like, so we got to a stage in our life where we’d met all our financial goals, we’d paid off our house and were on track for our retirement. I’d sold my last practice and we were living a very, just a great life actually. We’d mastered everything in every aspect of our lives, emotionally, with relationships, health, wellbeing, and money. And then tragically, my husband passed away. I was 38, and he was 39 at the time.

Donna Lee Powell: 05:25 It was very sudden, unexpected. I still don’t know why he died. I guess it was just his time. But going through that with our kids and they were 10 and 12 at the time, it made me realize the importance of financial advice, and how fortunate I was in so many ways that we had a will and we had life insurance in place, and I was financially sound. I knew the process of what to do and what happened. I guess going through that tragedy probably realigned my passion to financial advice, and made me appreciate it a whole lot more than I ever had, although I had always valued it.

Donna Lee Powell: 06:07 I really truly felt the value of it going through that. I remember regularly while I was going through everything that we had to go through, realizing that and looking around at my girlfriends and family members and friends, and women in particular thinking, “I’m struggling through this and I’m financially sound, I’m well supported, I know the process” and I just remember thinking, “I don’t know how my girlfriends or family members, if they had been dealt what I was dealt, how they would cope with it.” I guess I started yeah, DLP Life Design with that in mind.

Fraser Jack: 06:47 That’s really interesting, that as you mentioned, thinking about your friends in that situation, even though you were the one that was going through it.

Donna Lee Powell: 06:55 Yeah. Grief’s a really interesting thing, actually. When you’re going through it, you quite often find that you end up supporting this ... I know we’re going off track here. You quite often, when you’re heavily grieving, other people are also grieving at that time. They come to you for support. Yeah, it’s quite, like I’m writing a book at the moment and the deeper I dig with it, it’s very fascinating. The journey’s very fascinating. I wouldn’t actually wish it upon anybody, but you learn and you realize and yeah, it’s a big learning curve and then to add in the financial, like I think about, to add in financial burdens when you are grieving and grief comes in all different forms, it’s a tough gig actually.

Fraser Jack: 07:47 Yeah. That carved out then the market that you want to work with, and obviously you can then work within a way that well, that no one else can, I guess.

Donna Lee Powell: 07:57 Yeah, that’s right. I think when you go through such a traumatic event, people want to help and support you which is beautiful, and it all comes from a great place, but what I find with my women clients and this actually happened to me as well, everybody wants to help you so much that they actually give you advice and tell you what you should be doing. You lose your control and I find with my clients that have lost a partner that everybody’s coming and telling them what they should do with their money, what they should do with their superannuation, and what they should do with their life, but the reality is they’re not qualified to give that advice. They quite have a bias between their emotional connection with them.

Donna Lee Powell: 08:41 I remember very, very clearly one of Brett, or a couple of Brett’s mates actually, beautiful, beautiful men, had my best intentions at heart, but they were coming and telling me what I should be doing about my house and money and decisions I should be making. I remember reflecting thinking, I’m actually, even though I’ve lost this control, I am heavily grieving and in a very vulnerable state, I’m still more qualified and in a better position than they were to make those decisions about me. I think it’s really important, particularly vulnerable women, that they seek the appropriate advice from the appropriate people, to get them back on track, to get that empowerment back I guess.

Fraser Jack: 09:22 Yeah, that’s a really interesting concept. Like you mentioned, people are definitely coming from the right place, but that telling mentality or the idea of trying to jump straight to the solution, are you saying the empathy based approach sort of thing was a much more rewarding time?

Donna Lee Powell: 09:41 Yeah. I guess what the key is, is when someone’s in such a vulnerable place, people want to help them and take over, but in actual fact, that’s not the best thing for people. People need to be empowered and educated and empathy is very, very important, but yeah it is. Fundamentally, empathy’s there, but you also need to empower people and not take over, because you’re not doing them any justice by telling them what to do. I guess that’s my process with my vulnerable window clients.

Donna Lee Powell: 10:22 I can appreciate the empathy’s there, the compassion’s there to start with, first and foremost, but then it’s about empowering them and getting them back on track, educating them so they can then take charge of their own life, and not be so reliant on me or other people.

Fraser Jack: 10:40 Yeah. I really like this approach. As you said, the idea of helping without taking over, and the approach that really is around a co-creation of advice through absolutely allowing the control to be in the hands of the person, the decision to be made in the hands, and you there as a helping person.

Donna Lee Powell: 11:03 Yeah. And also accountability is something that’s key, I think when working with clients, regardless of their individual situation. Life happens and tragedy does strike, but at the end of the day, we are all accountable for our own actions and our own outcomes. We actually can control our destiny, so I think that’s also important. I’m very kind and compassionate always, and my advice always comes from a good place, and it’s their best intentions at heart I’ve always got. I think that’s fundamental key, isn’t it? To really, relationship building.

Fraser Jack: 11:45 Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Now, there’s a lot of talk at the moment around advice being an option really between one-off ad hoc advice versus ongoing relationship, it sounds to me like your practice is very much around the ongoing relationship and long term accountability.

Donna Lee Powell: 12:05 Yeah, I think so. We are, as you said, we’re getting more and more inquiries for that one. We have this discussion on the one-off transactional advice, and we do have that discussion in our business quite often about the value around it. I do actually think a small part of it we will start, we’ll do a little bit of estate planning facilitation as a one-off, and we’re looking at doing aged care as a one off, but ultimately, from a capacity perspective as well as a business, that ongoing relationship is key. They’re the types of clients that we want to work with over the long term, and build longstanding relationships. I guess it just depends on your business model and what it is, what your driver is and what your motivation and purpose is.

Fraser Jack: 12:53 Yep, exactly. Now, you mentioned your niche before, helping women who are vulnerable and in that position. Do you want to dive a little bit deeper into the niche and talk us through how you get to, in front of these clients, and how they become new clients?

Donna Lee Powell: 13:13 Yeah, I guess I get referrals from existing clients, friends, family, my referral parties, and any article that potentially is written about me or my journey. The clients find me all around Australia, actually. I guess initially, we just always tread quite slowly and carefully. Usually we get them because they’ve had a lump sum of money, or they’ve been paid out, or they just don’t even know where to start. So, every circumstance is different. Each client we get referred to in these situations, when I talk about vulnerable women, it’s literally could be anything. It might be that their husband’s just left them or they want to leave their ... It’s not necessarily always death or dying. It’s all different things.

Donna Lee Powell: 14:01 But it just depends on where they’re at. Every client is different. We have a process of onboarding new clients that these particular, or the widow ones in particular, it can be a little bit different. But it’s all about just educating them and not overwhelming them with information. Whether we’re just doing an upfront insurance claim, we’ll just limit it to that at that point, and then more often than not, they end up being ongoing servicing clients.

Donna Lee Powell: 14:30 In fact, I have had 100% strike rate at the moment with my windows coming onboard as ongoing service clients, and we don’t even talk about that sort of stuff until well and truly down the track. It’s literally just one step at a time, keeping it simple, precise. I always follow-up with an email, outlining what we’ve spoken about and what next steps are, and done overwhelm them with everything that needs to happen. I’m aware with what needs to happen, but literally, it could just be we’ll just get the death certificate first, then it might just be let’s get the coroner’s report, then it just evolves into a full implementation of a plan.

Donna Lee Powell: 15:05 I always quote a fee upfront, and I usually cap it, get them to sign a client engagement form, and it’s literally step-by-step. At times, if then they come onboard and do a full financial plan, I might rebate some of that cost, but I just, I price it as we go, and I’m always very upfront with what I’m charging and what I’m doing for that money.

Fraser Jack: 15:29 Yeah, so while we’re talking about pricing schedules, so very different set of circumstances when it comes to just depending on what they need and then letting them know this could be a long journey and we’ll do bit by bit. Do you have a standard fee section where you go, “These are my standard fees for doing standard things?” Or, how do you actually quote?

Donna Lee Powell: 15:53 That’s something I would like to formalize more, but I usually just quote on time. So, I estimate my time, my staff’s time, and what it’s likely on an average deal I guess, like a claim or something like that. Yeah, so I just quote my time and I know my costings of my staff and what mine are and what the time frame is that these things likely take. But I would like to formalize it more, but that’s the difficult thing with what we do, is different situations have different outcomes.

Donna Lee Powell: 16:29 That’s why I quote the worst case scenario, and then I can bring it down if it’s a good outcome and it’s a quick outcome.

Fraser Jack: 16:37 Okay, so that’s really interesting. You sort of say, “It’s going to be maximum this amount but it could be less?”

Donna Lee Powell: 16:43 That’s right. If we get close, I’ve had one instance where we’ve got close to my maximum, so I’ve just basically phoned up and said, “Look, we’ve had these circumstances, it’s outside the norm, it’s likely to cost a little bit more. What do you want me to do?” At the end of the day, that particular client had come from a lawyer actually, and her legal fees were far, it just wasn’t comparable, so I was actually getting what she needed to get done at a very reasonable price. She was just grateful for me to take that pain away and get it done. She could see progress with me and what I was doing, where she I think had had the lawyer acting for her for eight months, and had already been charged thousands of dollars for no progress.

Fraser Jack: 17:27 You just opened up a can of worms there. I thoroughly agree with you on the legal side of it. There are certainly a lot of people paying a lot of money to lawyers where probably could get away with not. Now, you mentioned staff, what sort of size is your practice and how many staff do you have?

Donna Lee Powell: 17:45 I have myself, another advisor, and we’ve got a newest advisor starting next month. There’ll be three advisors, we have one office manager, an accounts person who just works one day a week, and we’ve got a paraplanner.

Fraser Jack: 17:58 Okay, and you’ve got a fairly busy little office there in Western Australia?

Donna Lee Powell: 18:04 Mount Pleasant. Yeah, we have very little work down here on the river. Busy office, yeah. We’re looking at expanding, potentially moving over to South Perth, so hopefully that’ll happen early next year, but we’ve grown out of the little office that I started off in two years ago. I didn’t expect to be in this place so quickly.

Fraser Jack: 18:22 Yeah, and you mentioned you had clients all around Australia. How do you go with that?

Donna Lee Powell: 18:27 Yeah, we just do Zoom appointments and clients are more than happy with that, and even sometimes my Perth clients are opting to have just their review appointments by Zoom. It’s just great. It doesn’t really matter where the clients are, we can work with them all around Australia.

Fraser Jack: 18:43 Yep. If you’re talking to somebody who just I guess comes in through one particular channel or need at the time, you help them with that, and then you start introducing sorting everything else out essentially, how long and how many appointments would it take? Do you do it over a certain period of time, or I guess it depends on the client, but if somebody wanted to get everything done, do you have several appointments or how do you-

Donna Lee Powell: 19:09 Yeah, we do. Our mainstream clients, if you like, so our non-ones going through traumatic events, we do what we call a discovery meeting which is our first appointment. That usually takes anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. That’s a complimentary meeting and during that process, we usually go through a family tree and we dig deep with their family, what it looks and feels like, and what their enjoyments are and what they’re basically trying to achieve. It’s very much around their goals and outcomes, and why they’ve come to see us as an advisor, for advice.

Donna Lee Powell: 19:50 It’s literally just really getting to know them, they get to know me and my style and who I am and what I’m all about. It’s just literally a very casual discussion. I try and make it as light as possible, especially if they are going through something quite traumatic. And then we finish off that appointment and I go through the scope of advice and all the areas of advice that we can give, and the value that I see in that, and how it correlates back to some of the discussions that we’ve had during that appointment.

Donna Lee Powell: 20:20 Then I present them with our client engagement form at that time, and quote on the services. Basically when I go through that scope of advice, then I say, “What areas of that would you like me to cover off on?” Then they pick whatever aspects or areas they want me to give advice on, then I quote for that, they sign the client engagement, and then we schedule another appointment and at that point, we get all the authorities signed. We do their identification, and then at the next appointment, we call that our strategy meeting, where we actually then bring them in for the second time.

Donna Lee Powell: 20:59 At that time, we’ve got a better idea of where they’re at. We might have obtained their financials, done analysis of their existing investments or superannuation or insurances, and we just talk about where they’re at, what they’ve actually got. Because a lot of the time they don’t actually know what they’ve got, or what they’re invested in, or what fees they’re paying. We dig deep into their current situation at that point, and we might have questions. We quite often just do projections of their current situation, so we can actually show them where they’re at, if they keep going the way they’re going, what the outcome would be.

Donna Lee Powell: 21:33 During that strategy appointment, we then talk about their goals and we might just do a quick few model situations on options that they have, or things that we might be thinking about, or that they might be thinking about, and test it from a projections perspective. And then we have a third meeting which we call our action meeting, and that’s where we present the financial plan and our recommendations. The appointment before the strategy meeting is where we actually start talking about our ongoing service proposition. We don’t really touch on that too much in the discovery, but the strategy meeting we do, we talk about our ongoing service proposition and when we’re projective, are doing any high level projections, we include our costs in there just to demonstrate that they can afford it.

Donna Lee Powell: 22:27 They’re already aware of our process, and then in the action meeting, usually it’s literally just, “Yep, go through” and then we implement there.

Fraser Jack: 22:35 I just love the term action meeting by itself. It’s such a ... I’ve never heard it being called that before, but it really does line up the fact that it’s decision time, time to take action and do something about it.

Donna Lee Powell: 22:51 Yeah, because I think we all procrastinate over different things, and lots of people procrastinate over money, and actually actioning their desires and needs and their goals.

Fraser Jack: 23:03 Yeah, fantastic. Now, when it comes to goals, how do you go about eliciting the goals or starting the conversation? I know that sometimes, people say sort of thing, oh, they might just say something off the cuff, or it doesn’t actually mean that they want to do that thing and getting into that goal can be quite a process.

Donna Lee Powell: 23:21 Yeah, it can be, and I’ve learned that different clients are very different in terms of my engagement. So, we use varying techniques actually. This is, I think intuitively, during the appointment, depending on the type of client and the engagement I’m getting, I’m quite good at reading clients with body language and I just get a good feel for where they’re at. If they’re very open, we dig deep quite deeply, but sometimes I find that initial appointment, some clients are not ready to actually go really, really deep and they quite like the surface thing, the surface goals.

Donna Lee Powell: 23:59 I acknowledge that and accept that at that time, but then it’s a strategy meeting when we’ve built more, and I’ve almost shown my depth of care and compassion and interest in their financial position, that’s quite often, it’s the discovery ... Sorry, it’s the next meeting where I’m actually, I’m able to really get those true life changing goals, so it’s really, really important to them. They know exactly what you mean and what you’re saying, but I guess it’s just asking open-ended questions.

Donna Lee Powell: 24:27 If you sense that they’re not opening or sharing enough of what really is their driver, or what they’re really, really trying to achieve, it’s just being aware of it but also not going in too heavy in that first appointment. If the engagement’s not there, just waiting until the right time.

Fraser Jack: 24:47 Yeah, you’re definitely right. Once you’ve built that rapport and that trust, and you’ve produced some sort of feedback from the initial discovery meeting is theirs and they can hold onto, and then they can start opening up and getting, as you said, going deeper on their goals.

Donna Lee Powell: 25:03 Yeah. That’s an experience thing, I think. Yeah, practice.

Fraser Jack: 25:10 Exactly right. You mentioned body language and those sorts of things and those conversation skills and body language fairly essential in that space.

Donna Lee Powell: 25:19 Yeah. I think it’s just, I actually met with a lawyer on Friday and she was saying to me that the old advice firm that she was going to had this very smick process and they had a junior coming in and they were mind mapping the appointment and she just said it just lost her. There was a disengagement because she just felt like she was in almost like a transition, it was like a, what do you call it? Where you just go through a production line, because it’s all very smick.

Donna Lee Powell: 25:53 She goes, “The idea and the concept behind it was amazing,” she goes, “But there was just no engagement.” She goes, “I just felt like a number in a series of production line.” That was really interesting for me because we as advisors are trying to make our businesses so efficient and providing value to our clients, because the costs are so significant now, and to be profitable these days, we have to have a very smick business and have good processes. But we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t overdo it because the clients know. There’s that balance, isn’t there?

Fraser Jack: 26:33 Yeah, it’s a tricky one, because as you mentioned, efficiency’s a massive piece of a puzzle. If we’re not efficient, then we’re not necessarily doing the right thing by our clients, however, there is that fine line. But how do we then, how do you maybe teach the young advisors coming through those sort of skills?

Donna Lee Powell: 26:53 I think it’s really important that you have ... Each interview that you have, you have an outcome that you’re trying to achieve, and have structure to your appointment. It’s really important to have structure to each appointment, and what are your outcomes? What outcomes do you want to achieve for each appointment? And then just being mindful of your success, so when are you ... Just trial it. Our discovery appointment in particular is evolving all the time.

Donna Lee Powell: 27:27 We test it, we trial and test, we trial and test, and we look at engagement, transitioning clients from an inquiry to an ongoing servicing client. And just test it, but yeah, just assess it. Test and trial, test, trial, and tweak, I guess.

Fraser Jack: 27:47 Yeah. With that structure, do you take an agenda in, or how do you ...

Donna Lee Powell: 27:52 I’m not so formal, I guess, in terms of an agenda. I’m very aware of what my agenda is, but I don’t make it so formal. The clients that we work with are professional clients, quite often on high incomes, or low incomes, but they’re not necessarily that smick, professional, highly savvy financial people. They’re usually highly educated, on good incomes, but money’s just not their thing. I think if I came in with an agenda, they would think they’re at school, maybe.

Fraser Jack: 28:26 Yeah, fair enough, fair enough. Now, you mentioned earlier the concept of when you came through the system and left school and you went to TAFE and did some banking, have you got a whole lot of study you’ve still got to do?

Donna Lee Powell: 28:42 Yeah, I’ve got a lot to do. I have. I’ve got a lot to do. Part of me’s really looking forward to that, and part of me is thinking, “How am I going to fit this in?” But I very much value it. I have a plan, I put a plan in place to go ahead and do it and I’d actually like to go on and do my master’s in estate planning, actually.

Donna Lee Powell: 29:07 Yeah, it’s just like everybody else, I’m wondering how on Earth I’m going to do it, but I’m looking forward to doing it. It’s just another thing I just need to create the time and the space for, and just get in there and do it.

Fraser Jack: 29:20 Yeah, I think a lot of people are in that similar boat to you, just trying to work out how they’re going to fit everything in and how it’s going to fit. Certainly a lot of changes coming in the industry in that respect. How do you think that’s going to pan out?

Donna Lee Powell: 29:35 I think it’s great, to be honest. If these changes weren’t happening, I actually wouldn’t have come back to advice, to be honest. I think all the changes, or most of the changes are for the better of our industry. I think we’ve got potentially a little bit of a bit more heartache, but yeah, I think it’s great. I think the education standards are a good thing. I think the attention that we’ve received, the negative attention, hopefully that’s in the past now, but I think people are more aware of advisors and just the potential we’ve got in terms of people seeking advice and the value that we add. Yeah, no I’m quite excited to be in this profession, I’m very proud of who I am and what I do.

Fraser Jack: 30:19 You talked about estate planning there. Firstly, how do you go about that process in your practice at the moment? And secondly, tell us why that’s your passion.

Donna Lee Powell: 30:30 It’s my passion because I think ... Okay, so how do I go about it in my practice? Obviously it comes out when we do that family tree in the first discovery appointment. I guess it’s just so important, especially even for young people, because it can just ... I see now when estate planning goes wrong and when estate planning goes right, and how much of a significant impact that can have on someone’s wellbeing or relationships within their family.

Donna Lee Powell: 31:01 We refer on at the moment, to a lawyer, but we very much facilitate that process in terms of we’re engaged with the lawyer and the accountant and the client, and we quite often all meet together to get the right estate planning outcomes that the client wants. Because again, I think we do go a lot deeper with our clients and we understand the family dynamics a lot more, so there’s quite often, like earlier young I didn’t get involved in a couple of client situations, I didn’t have the capacity to get involved with the estate planning and referred it on completely without the facilitation service.

Donna Lee Powell: 31:38 Then, I got the wills back, read them, and realized that it wasn’t in line with what the client was actually trying to achieve. Whether it was just wrong executor or wrong beneficiary, yeah, or the structure of it. Yeah, we are very much involved with the estate planning process and have those conversations, and sending instructions off to the lawyer. The lawyer then drafts, contacts the client, checks to make sure they’re happy with everything and then signs it all up. And then we always get copies and we always read them.

Donna Lee Powell: 32:14 And then my passion for it, yeah, I think my passion is just because even from an intergenerational transfer as an advising practice, by getting involved in the estate planning process, just helps us transition wealth from one generation to another and to be part of that process and that journey with our clients and their children.

Fraser Jack: 32:35 Yeah. It’s probably not just children, either. It could be parents as well.

Donna Lee Powell: 32:40 Yeah, that’s right. That’s right, and this new advisor I’ve hired who starts with us next month, she specializes in aged care, because I was finding that during the family tree, lots of my clients were having issues or problems transferring, facilitating that aged care space, and I don’t have the qualifications, nor the experience, nor the desire to learn and do that additional training myself. So, I saw a gap in our service offering, so I’ve hired to fit that gap and I’m looking forward to exploring that area a lot more.

Fraser Jack: 33:20 Yeah, fantastic. Is that how you’re going to expand your practice or scale your practice through growing your amount of advisors?

Donna Lee Powell: 33:30 I think so. At this stage, I’m really happy. I guess what I did is initially I looked at my skillset, the space where I was working, and looked at who I could bring in when I needed the support, when I was too busy to do it on my own. I looked at my skills and what my strengths were and where I wanted to work and then I thought, “Well, who can I bring into my business? Who can support me with other areas of advice where I enjoy, but I’m not a specialist if you like?” My first advisor was an insurance specialist, although she’s fully licensed. Insurance is her thing, she loves reading PDS’, she knows the products and the technical side intimately. She complements me and we quite often chair meetings together and then she’ll just run with the insurance and I’ll do all the other bits and pieces.

Donna Lee Powell: 34:19 And then this new advisor, I’d recognized that at the moment again, I can’t do everything, I can’t specialize in everything, so I’ve brought on a new advisor who will take over more of the estate planning, aged care, retirement space. Because I yeah, just the whole Centrelink thing and that’s pretty much how I’ll scale, is bring in specialist advisors who are fully licensed, who can do all advice across all aspects, but specialize in a particular area and we all complement each other.

Fraser Jack: 34:49 And so your clients will end up with a relationship with each of you.

Donna Lee Powell: 34:53 Yeah. It’s important, because we’re all women actually. That wasn’t deliberate, but it just so happens that we’ve ended up being a female only practice at this point in time, so got the poor man who works with us down the track, the first one that I hire, but yeah, I need flexibility in my life. The other two advisors don’t have children or may not ever have children, but I think work/life balance is very important. One of the reasons why I sold my last practice is because I couldn’t cope, I wasn’t coping well with the demands of being a wife, a mom, a business owner, an advisor, and all the stresses that come with that.

Donna Lee Powell: 35:32 So, I don’t want to put myself into that position ever again, so I’m creating a practice where I quite often have a second chair in my meetings, and have that second advisor, so that clients can be supported when I’m actually having my own life outside of the business, because let’s face it, my children need me more than most children. They’ve got one parent, so the last thing I need to do is work myself down to the, just go crazy basically. They don’t want that, I’m sure.

Fraser Jack: 36:03 Yeah, absolutely. Looking after that is the number one priority. Now, you won the Female Excellence in Advice Award with the AFA in 2018. Do you want to talk us through that process that you went through, and what you thought of the process and what you would maybe recommend other people do?

Donna Lee Powell: 36:19 Yeah, it was actually quite surreal when I think about at the time. I got nominated and to be honest, I’m just so head down, bum up, always working. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to what’s going out there in the industry, or I haven’t in the past, but I’ve learned that it’s really important that you do that. I wasn’t really aware of the award process and what would happen because I’d not been one of these people that had put my hand up for that.

Donna Lee Powell: 36:44 But I read the award and the nomination, I thought it was a really good idea and I guess because I’ve been in a male dominated industry for so long, I thought it was kind of nice, because we do have different challenges I guess. We are a minority, it’s getting better, but there’s a lot of room to move, and I guess the feedback I get from my clients is that they come to me mostly because they don’t have, they prefer potentially talking or being, having a female advisor but there’s not a lot of choice out there.

Donna Lee Powell: 37:16 I thought it’d be a great way to get involved with that female community of our profession, and yeah, so just the actual application process in itself was really good for me from a professional development perspective, and from a business development perspective. It made me really realize how much, number one how much I love what I do, and number two, how much my services are valued with my clients. Because part of the process you actually have to go to your clients and get a referee from them.

Donna Lee Powell: 37:50 I actually, it brought tears to my eyes when I was reading the references that I’d asked from my clients and just I didn’t have any ... I knew that we helped them and I knew that they liked me and I knew that they valued me as an advisor, but it wasn’t until I actually read the references that I realized the depth of what we do and how important it is that we do what we do. That was quite rewarding and then the interview process was quite amazing. I met some amazing other women who were also finalists, and just the people in our community, we’re very fortunate in our profession to be so well supported by such amazing people.

Donna Lee Powell: 38:31 But I’ve never grown, apart from obviously Brett passing away, and that growth that I was forced into that, but from a career perspective, my personal growth going through that journey was significant. I had a massive fear of public speaking, it was something that I avoided like anything before, and I’d had a situation in year 12, I was head girl, running an assembly. I introduced somebody to come to the stage, I think we had 600 students, 700 students at our school, and they didn’t come, so I had to hold school and I said something really stupid and probably inappropriate, and the whole school just laughed at me. From that point, I swore I would never do any public speaking ever again.

Donna Lee Powell: 39:18 What I didn’t realize when I nominated myself for the award is that part of that process was that I would have to tour Australia if I won and speak to my peers. I didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t think that would be an issue, so when I did win, I was forced to conquer that fear which I did. I’m very proud of myself for that.

Fraser Jack: 39:43 Yeah, completely outside your comfort zone, wasn’t it?

Donna Lee Powell: 39:46 Yeah, very much so. If you asked the guys who were touring with me, I was literally just shaking. Even when I won the award, I didn’t expect to win it, and I was up there and I did my acceptance award, which I hadn’t really prepared, because again, I didn’t expect to win it. Phil and Niall, as I was walking off the stage, they were like, “Donna, you were physically shaking.” Actually, my body was just shaking, just doing the acceptance award. That was my fear of public speaking. It was ridiculous, really, when I look back now, but I’m glad I was forced to conquer it.

Fraser Jack: 40:26 Yeah, congratulations on that, too, by the way. I listened to your talk when you did it in Sydney, I think, probably in the second week of the tour. It was fantastic. You would never have known that you had a concern or a worry about speaking, listening to you on stage.

Donna Lee Powell: 40:41 Thank you. I actually enjoyed it by the end. It was enjoyable, so there you go, you just never know, do you?

Fraser Jack: 40:47 Yeah. Like ripping a Band-Aid off, and tell me, have you got any more speaking coming up?

Donna Lee Powell: 40:53 I don’t, actually. But I would like to. I have been asked to do some late August, however, I’ve had to just turn that down for now because I’ve just got to get back in and focus on the business, and I’ve got some new staff starting, and just get back to the foundations and get the business up and running, or get the new advisor up and running. There’s a bit happening here in the office, but once I’ve got that all in place again, it’s something I would really like to pursue actually, and do a lot more of.

Fraser Jack: 41:28 Sounds good. Now, you mentioned a book earlier. Do you want to run us through a process of what made you decide you wanted to write a book, and then how did you start this process?

Donna Lee Powell: 41:37 Yeah. My main reason for writing the book is for my children. They were 10 and 12 when they lost their dad, and he was 39, and I’d been with Brett from when I was 16 and he was 17. I originally thought I would write a book about our journey and before they were even born, and just a little bit more about him and who he was as a person, because I feel that they don’t know enough about their dad, or they potentially will forget about him. So, that was my main driver and reason for it.

Donna Lee Powell: 42:15 But my life story and my journey, basically I just think it’s a story worth sharing, that you’re quite often faced with challenges in your life, but there’s always beauty in challenges. There’s beauty in grief. The more and more I talk to my clients, who are experiencing something similar, I’m quite inspirational to them and they’re all very much supportive and encouraging of me sharing my journey and the challenges that I’ve had and how I’ve overcome them.

Donna Lee Powell: 42:51 But there’s a love story in there, like I met Brett as I said, when I was 16. We were completely happily married and had an amazing relationship. But not everybody gets that. I was just grateful for being able to have that. Money and finances and that have been a fundamental part of my life, actually. It’s not because I’m materialistic, it’s because I want choice and freedom and security and being able to manage your money and look after your investments and make good decisions is fundamental to quality of life. I very much believe that.

Fraser Jack: 43:33 How practically then, you wanted to share your story, how practically did you go about then working out how you’re going to write a book?

Donna Lee Powell: 43:40 Yeah, that’s an ongoing thing. I journal write all the time, and then it’s just again, just structure. I’ve literally, my struggle at the moment is when do I end the book? I journal write all the time, so I’m always taking down notes and journal writing, and then it’s basically ... I’ve written the first few chapters and then it’s just structuring it. I’m changing it all the time, so it’s putting in like I guess yeah, it’s difficult to articulate where I’m at. Because I’m struggling to know when to end it, if that makes any sense.

Fraser Jack: 44:26 Yeah, fair enough.

Donna Lee Powell: 44:27 Or maybe the end hasn’t happened yet, who knows? Just chunking it down basically, and having that high level of what’s my story? What outcome do I want? What’s my message, I guess? From a high level. And then just chunking it down into different sections and different potentially events or outcomes, so the readers get some value from it. It’s not just me rabbiting on about myself, it’s actually that’s the challenge, is finding out what people want to read and what can I help them with?

Fraser Jack: 45:06 Yep. Do you have a working title for it?

Donna Lee Powell: 45:09 No. I’m still very much struggling with that. And again, the book was going fabulously until I started this business and this has consumed me for now. But I’m putting in places, in the practice, the book is something that’s very, very dear to me in my heart and I don’t want to leave it too long, so hence while I’m bringing on this other advisor, so that I have more capacity to put my heart and soul back into the book. Because it’s very much been shelved a bit over the last two years, while I’ve been doing this.

Fraser Jack: 45:38 Yeah. What you just said to me before was when I was asking about the book, was finding the beauty in grief.

Donna Lee Powell: 45:45 Ah, finding the beauty in grief. That potentially might be [inaudible 00:45:51].

Fraser Jack: 45:51 Yeah. How are you going to publish it?

Donna Lee Powell: 45:54 I was going to self-publish actually. That’s what I was thinking. Yeah, we’ll see.

Fraser Jack: 46:03 When you started your business, did you just start from scratch or did you buy a book, or how did you start it?

Donna Lee Powell: 46:10 Yeah. I did what everyone else was telling me not to do. I literally opened up an office with not one client, and I’ve grown organically over the last two years. I’m very proud of that achievement and I did it, I far exceeded my expectations, but it’s got to a point now where the scale, I’m looking to acquire a business now, but I’ve got all my ... I just wanted to get my processes, the foundations right before I scaled and grew. I’m really grateful and happy that I did that.

Donna Lee Powell: 46:51 I had the capital there if I needed it, to be able to do that. That was a risk that I take, and it’s something that I’m really glad that I did. But yeah, it’s time to scale now, so I am looking at acquiring now.

Fraser Jack: 47:05 Yeah, and a lot going on with all the changes around what happens from here and the future. How do you see all this playing out in the longer term?

Donna Lee Powell: 47:14 Yeah, I think ultimately we will be very much obviously continue to be a professional service. I think we will broaden our service offering. I think it’s important for advisors to actually have a look at the value that we can add holistically, over all aspects of clients’ wealth creation. It’s very much to me, products are a very small part of what we do. It’s all about basically meeting our clients’ desires and needs, so they can be more financially sound and improve their financial position, which in turn will improve their quality of life. But I think there’s so many opportunities, so much potential out there for us, for those hanging in there and do it right, and just back themselves.

Fraser Jack: 48:04 Yep. I couldn’t agree more. Now, when it comes to consumers, if you’re having a conversation with a friend of yours or someone that you’ve recently met even, and they’re asking you, what sort of tips would you give them about finding the right advisor?

Donna Lee Powell: 48:24 I think it’s really important number one, if they can, be referred by somebody who’s got an advisor that they can recommend. Someone that they know and that they trust, and they’ve had an advisor. I think that’s the best referral source, and then if your friends and family, or professional services, if your accountant or lawyer don’t have anyone to recommend, I think then really, you just have to go, like I think Adviser Ratings is a good place to look. Obviously education standards are important, and experience, but yeah, I think you’ve just got to look at, read, actually just read testimonials and things like that, and just go yeah, I think education standards, but testimonials, but experience. Advisors that have been around and have got experience working with clients is key.

Fraser Jack: 49:17 Yep. What tips would you give to a younger advisor, or someone that’s looking to become an advisor?

Donna Lee Powell: 49:24 Yeah, I think just back yourself. It’s important to follow your passions and for me, I’m always thinking about myself, what value can I add? Or, where’s the best value that I can add clients, in terms of whether it’s my life experiences or younger advisors potentially haven’t got life experience that us older ones have, but just thinking about what you’re passionate about, what you really enjoy doing, and where can you give the most value to clients? Or, what type of clients can you give the most value for?

Donna Lee Powell: 49:54 Potentially starting with that, and then potentially broadening it once you’ve mastered that, if you like. Because I think I get so many referrals because people know exactly what I do and the types of clients I work with. It’s very easy, like I know a lot of my lawyers I work with that refer to me or accountants even, even mortgage brokers, I know they work with other advisors and I have no issues with that, but I know I get the clients I like working with and it’s my niche. I think that’s important.

Fraser Jack: 50:24 Yeah, and what tips do you give to anybody that are wanting to develop those [inaudible 00:50:29] influence relationships with professionals?

Donna Lee Powell: 50:34 Pick professional services of people, like pick people that you like. I only work with a small number of referral partners, but I have a good quality relationship with them. I choose my referral partners on culture, values, ethics, and I just have to like them as a person, that work with similar types of demographics to what I want to work with. But yeah, and don’t be greedy or want too many. I think we’ve just networked with a few small ones. Like I have just networked with people that you get along with, that you like, that have the same sort of values and ethics with you. It’s all about relationships, isn’t it?

Fraser Jack: 51:21 It’s absolutely all about relationships. Now, Donna, if you could go back in time and give yourself some tips and advice, where would you go and what would you say to yourself?

Donna Lee Powell: 51:33 Depending on how far you want me to go back, but this time, this is my third business, so this time I feel like I’ve done it okay. But I think just follow who you are. Just be proud of who you are, and be that person, because I used to think that I needed to be, dress like a man, be like a man, pretended to be like all those other amazing male advisors I used to work with, or I still do, but the reality is I’m not them and I can’t be.

Donna Lee Powell: 52:05 I am female, I am feminine, so I’ve embraced that this time around, and it’s actually paid off more than a couple of the other businesses that I’ve had in the past, because I’m just honoring who I am.

Fraser Jack: 52:17 Yeah, fantastic. Donna, thank you so much for coming on the show and telling us your story and chatting about your business so openly. I really appreciate it. I know the listeners will too.

Donna Lee Powell: 52:27 Thank you. It’s been fun.

Fraser Jack: 52:32 I hope you’ve overcome your fear of public speaking, and your fear of speaking on podcasts.

Donna Lee Powell: 52:36 My first ever podcast, tick. Done. Thank you.

Fraser Jack: 52:40 There we go. Thank you very much.

Donna Lee Powell: 52:42 No worries.

Fraser Jack: 52:44 If you haven’t already, I’d love you to subscribe to the podcast on your podcast platform of choice. And to continue the conversation, head over to our social media channels. We’ll catch you next time.



Disclaimer: This document is a transcription obtained through a third party. There is no claim to accuracy on the content provided in this document, and divergence from the audio file are to be expected. As a transcription, this is not a legal document in itself, and should not be considered binding to advice intelligence, but merely a convenience for reference.