Name: Gordon Shaw
Business Name: Partners in Financial Planning (Pty) Ltd
Business Description: Independent financial planning consultants.

1. How long have you been operating?
I started in 1996 with a partner and 50% of the business. I started in the industry in ’86, so that’s 32 years.

2. How did you start your business?
I joined my partner for about 5 years and then I bought her out. Before then, from ’86 to ’96 (my first 10 years in the industry) I worked for Old Mutual and I went up through the ranks there. I sold policies for Old Mutual where I started as a trainee, then a broker consultant, and then sales manager. I was eventually branch manager of a broker branch in Pietermaritzburg, where I had about seven broker consultants who worked under me. The first time I actually got involved in advice is when I joined my partner. I got my education at Old Mutual. I had been out training and became a certified financial planner while I was working for them (the qualification in our industry).

3. How old were you when you started it?
32

4. What can you tell us to show the scale of your business?
We’ve got about R600 million in assets under management and, as for clients, we’ve probably got 150 couples and 50 individual clients, so I like to think of it as 200 clients.

5. What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best I think is determining our own time frames. When you are self-employed, you can determine your own times. The worst parts are perhaps the responsibilities and stress because we manage other people’s money. My clients can sleep well at night because they know Gordon is worrying about it. I have to worry about the markets! The other thing I think is difficult is the loneliness. We’re a small business and it’s not like in corporate where you can have a joke or cup of coffee with colleagues.

6. What was the hardest lesson you had to learn in business?
To over deliver and not over promise. You can’t promise the world to someone and then not being able to do it, particularly with returns on investments. You can’t tell a guy he will get 15% and then he gets 5%. Also, to keep it simple. Trying all the new fandangled things doesn’t work. If you stick to your normal routine and something that you’re good at, you do okay.

You also can’t be all things to all people. Refer things to other people if you’ve got something that’s out of your area of expertise. You might have a working knowledge of it but if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. There’s no use trying to pretend you know everything. I’ve been able to refer clients and so build relationships with other service providers. I get a lot of legal queries so I refer them to someone who actually knows what’s going on.

7. Did you ever want to quit and, if so, what did you do to overcome it?
When business gets tough, or my family is struggling because I’m stressed out or have to work late, I remind them, and myself, that this business pays for our family and everything we do. It’s important to remember why we’re doing it.

8. What are you most grateful for while running your business?
I would say it is the satisfaction of helping and being appreciated.

9. What has the potential to keep you up at night?
The markets. We’re dealing with people’s retirement money. We hold onto people’s capital and it needs to be invested so they can draw an income from it. Returns haven’t been so easy to come by in the last three years and it’s very hard when retired people battle to make ends meet because they don’t have enough capital to succeed in the markets. They run out of capital. That’s probably the most stressful thing.

10. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs starting out?
If you put the hours in, it will all come back to you. You have to learn a hell of a lot in the beginning but as you build up, you get more immunity in business. Hit the ground running in the beginning and stick it out.

If you are involved in sales and you give the right advice, the rest will look after itself. In our industry, in the beginning you have to sell a lot of policies and life cover to earn commission. I’m not much of a sales person, so I try to give advice. It makes the client more comfortable and then I’m not the person that pressurises them to buy. If you give the right advice, the rest will look after itself.