Having worked his way through retail banking into wealth management, James Woodfall decided to start out on his own, and still finds the industry exciting.
What’s your story?
After I left school I started working in retail banking and worked my way into wealth management. I studied whilst working and when the opportunity opened up to become a financial adviser on an internal training programme, I put myself forward. A few restructures, redundancies and more exams later I handed my notice in and decided to start my own wealth management company. That was 7 years ago now, and I’d say I’m the typical “E-Myth Entrepreneur” as I was a technical person who thought they could do it better on their own.
What excites you most about your industry?
Financial services are going through a change at the moment and to be a part of that is exciting. There is more information than ever available, so people can make investment decisions themselves quite easily. That means that the role of advisers has to change and become more focused on being great at listening and helping people make choices. I’ve had to adapt my business, invest in new qualifications and create new ways of delivering value for money.
What drives you in business to push beyond what other people consider normal?
I’m inquisitive and always have been. I have the drive to understand how things work, which often leads to me making improvements in how I get my work done. I’ve seen large benefits from integrative thinking; reading widely, especially outside my profession, has gained new insights. I don’t like to keep still, the idea of going on holiday to sit on a beach and do nothing would be hell. I like to stay busy.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
I didn’t go to university when I was younger, but that hasn’t stopped me from learning. Most of my success has come from acquiring knowledge and putting it to practice. I am still learning now, I’m partway through a 2-year MSc in communication, behaviour and credibility analysis. Learning and applying that knowledge is a skill that can be practised. I’m a fan of the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know”.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Before I started my first business I struggled with the concept of going from the safety of a salary to being self-employed. I spoke to someone who I respected and had been through it and their advice was to just get on with it. It’s simple but very true. There is no advantage to being indecisive, only wasted time and opportunities. So make your decision and get on with it.
Who inspires you?
I find endurance athletes inspiring, especially solo yachtsmen and women. We’ve got a good track record in the UK with sailors crazy enough to sail around the world on their own: Pip Hare, Alex Thomson & Ellen Macarthur for example. It’s hard enough when there is a team of you, but on your own is beyond imagination. Being in business can feel like a lonely mental battle at times. Keeping your mind focused and being able to deal with problems rationally is important.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
I read a news story about NASA flying a remote control helicopter on Mars. It shocked me that the story wasn’t top of the page, it was buried at the bottom of the BBC news website. I thought about it for a minute, and the idea that someone on earth was controlling a vehicle on another planet remotely astounded me. It paves the way for building on Mars before humans go there. It should have got more coverage than it did, amazing innovation.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Not try and do everything myself. I have made the largest gains when I have found people with specialist knowledge who have helped me solve problems in my business. I’ve also hired people with skills that I don’t have, and if I had my time again, I would delegate far more often.
How do you unwind?
I read a lot, and I like spending time in nature. I go snowboarding and sailing each year, and that relaxes me and gives me time to be mentally away from work. When you are at sea or sliding down a mountain, there isn’t much time to think about all the stuff you have to deal with on Monday morning when you are back in the office.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your business?
It took me a long time to understand that marketing won’t work if you try and make your business appeal to everyone. When you start a business, it can feel like you have to say yes to everything to earn money. That seems logical, but is counterproductive long term. Find your niche and create a service or product that solves the problems and pain for your target audience. You need to know what to say yes to and what to say no to.
Everyone in business should read this book:
My book! Financial Planning for Entrepreneurs: How to create your own route to financial independence. I could list a number of business books, but they will be the classics most people recommend. One book that I think everyone should read is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. For such a short story, it’s very metaphorical and I’ve spent a long time extracting meaning from it. Hemingway was an amazing writer.
Shameless plug for your business:
If you are in the UK, run your own business and want some help putting a financial plan in place, let’s speak. I get all the pains and problems of being a business owner and know there is little time left at the end of the day to work on the things that matter to you. Client/Adviser relationships are built on trust and that means the relationship comes first. Hopefully, this interview has given you some insight into me, so if you feel like we have a few things in common it would be great to hear from you.
How can people connect with you?
Via LinkedIn or my website woodfallwealth.co.uk.
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This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.