Starting a Financial Counseling Business

Interview with Matt Wegner, Financial Coach

While there are myriad debt-relief solutions available, most of them don't solve the behaviors that get consumers into trouble in the first place. Matt Wegner saw this, and started his financial coaching business to help debtors get out of financial hardship, and stay out of it.

Interview with Matt Wegner, President and Coach of Matt Wegner Coaching.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Matt Wegner Coaching provides confidential, one-on-one coaching in all matters of personal finance. Our specialties include budgeting, saving for emergencies, communicating with your spouse about money, investing advice, insurance needs, retirement planning, estate planning and more. Our coaching focuses on the mechanics and behavior of money management to help you establish good money habits. We don't fix our clients' problems with a magic pill. We teach them how to work hard and be accountable to themselves to improve their financial situation. The service is fee-based, with no pressure to buy investments or insurance. In fact, we don't even sell financial products so we can make sure our advice is always in your best interest.

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

This is my first business, which I started in September 2007 in Sheboygan, WI. Before this I was an engineer and operations supervisor in the manufacturing industry. Before that I was an Army Artillery Officer serving in Iraq, Kosovo and Macedonia. While I learned a lot in my former life and regret nothing, I wasn't the best fit for those professions. My internal wiring is such that I am better aligned for self-employment in a field where I can reach out and help others while solving problems.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I see so many people struggling today with their debt loads. It doesn't have to be that way. It's a matter of the decisions we make and the habits we form in managing our money. Personal finance is only 20% knowledge – the rest depends on your behaviors. There are so many quick fixes out there that don't work. Debt consolidation, bankruptcy, home equity loans, payday loans – none of these address the behaviors and decisions that caused the problems in the first place. Yet all you see and hear in commercials are these services. I was tired of that message bombarding people who really need education, hope and personal accountability. So, I started my business to compete with the "magic pill salesmen."

Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?

Having a plan is critical in personal finance and in business. If you don't have a plan, life just happens to you. I didn't have a super detailed 100-page plan for my business, but I did have a simple plan to lay out the revenues needed to be profitable and the actions necessary to bring in those revenues. My plan isn't perfect but it's something I can work with and change as I move forward and learn. One thing I learned in the military is that a 70% effective plan executed quickly is better than a perfect plan that's never carried out. I made a simple plan and adjusted it as I went.

With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?

A common mistake business owners make is thinking they need a lot of money to start and run a business. I spend next to nothing on marketing. I didn't go out and buy a new vehicle for the sake of a tax deduction. I don't have a huge office with lots of equipment. I use a small, inexpensive office with used furniture and equipment. My overhead is extremely low. Let your product or service speak for itself and create a community of raving fans. Yes, you need a presentable facility if you meet customers face to face but don't go out of your way to impress people with brand new equipment, vehicles, etc. Too many businesses fail because they borrow too much to impress their clients and customers. They then borrow more money to cover shortages in cash flow. It's a losing formula. Buy only what you need when you need it, and never buy something solely for the purpose of a tax deduction.

Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?

Absolutely. I believe traditional marketing is costly, inefficient and ineffective for the small business owner, especially in a service industry. When a small business provides a level of service beyond the expectations of the customer, the customer becomes a walking billboard for that business. All of my marketing is through word of mouth, website/blog/email marketing development, and social networking sites, in that order. The only marketing costs I have are in my website hosting fees and e-newsletter hosting fees.

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

Every entrepreneur has a vision when they start. Every entrepreneur is overly optimistic with their vision. I was no different. I knew owning a business would be a lot of hard work and a lot of time. I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of that hard work and time commitment. I wouldn't trade it for the world though. There is nothing like devoting everything you have to producing results, and then seeing those results come in. That kind of reward for your efforts can't be found by working for someone else!

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Sometimes you just have to go out there and get it done. Too often we are paralyzed into inaction by fear of the unknown. Starting a business can be as simple as printing some business cards and spreading the word. You need to have a good plan and business model, but don't wait for the perfect plan. If you wait for the perfect plan, you'll never get the business launched.

Just do it. Where have I heard that before? Anyway, thanks for speaking with me today.

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