Search & Replace Episode S01E18: Steve Larsen

Steve Larsen realized the biggest block to scaling his financial planning firm was his lack of formal systems and processes that he had been resisting for years. He wanted to grow his business larger than a solopreneur, yet have the business maintain a sense of his personality. Find out how Steve was able to scale his business around his personality and increase profits by 50% in nine months.

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode.
[00:00:12] Joe Taylor, Jr: What if the biggest blocker for the growth of your own company is you? I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace.
According to data published in the spring of 2021 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 10 million Americans claimed they're self-employed. And surveys conducted by research teams at Dartmouth and elsewhere report that as many as two out of three of us share a desire to become our own bosses. And self-employment can work great for folks in a lot of professions.
As both a certified public accountant and a certified financial planner, Steve Larsen specializes in helping entrepreneurs and professionals manage their risk while they're running their own companies, while helping them plan for retirement. However, when Steve started thinking about his own future plans, he discovered that there was one big thing getting in the way of growing his company.
[00:01:12] Steve Larsen: I run a financial planning firm. I started it from a one- man shop of myself, probably about 15 years ago, and now I've grown it to over 10 advisors and we manage about $150 million in assets. So retirement planning, financial planning, tax planning, that type of thing. 
What I found out when I was trying to grow my business is that it was really dependent on me personally. It was all the business processes and systems were in my head. We want to bring on a new client, the steps we take was all in my head. It was all relying on my experience and my relationships and really all the time I'd put into built it. And it was my baby. When you go to scale you, you have those problems because it's hard to transfer that knowledge on if you haven't taken the time. Really a lack of formal systems was what I ran into when I was trying to scale. 
[00:02:01] Joe Taylor, Jr: Steve tells us this is a pretty common scenario for self-employed folks who want to scale a professional practice into something larger than themselves. 
[00:02:09] Steve Larsen: The financial advising business is full of solo practitioners and kind of lone wolves, so to speak. And there's a big advantage to that. And in my industry, it's called a lifestyle practice and you can basically make a nice living working a limited amount of time, just because it's so difficult to build up that business in the first place is why some of those rewards exist. And I did have that practice.
And honestly, I think what drove me to get bigger is probably my lack of hobbies. I was making a good income. And didn't have much to do, and I'm not a golfer and I'm not a skier and, you know, little hiking and camping, but nothing much. And so quite frankly, I was just bored the extra income's nice. Of course, I won't turn that away, but I ended up in a position where I just had too much free time and not enough purpose. 
[00:02:53] Joe Taylor, Jr: Steve soon realized he could reclaim some of that free time and focus on finding that stronger purpose by doing something he often asks his clients to do when thinking about business stability. 
[00:03:04] Steve Larsen: Everybody knows what an organizational chart is, but very few people have one. And even if you're a solo practitioner or a solopreneur who's thinking about growing, I'd still advise you to do one. And what you put in the org chart is your future hires. 
As you have employees join your team things change, and you realize, oh, I like having three employees or maybe I want 15. And that's going to drastically change how you spend your time. So your employees will be a huge driver on how your vision changes. 
[00:03:30] Joe Taylor, Jr: Even after you onboard your perfect new employees, Steve says that there's one more important thing you've got to do to make sure they succeed. 
[00:03:38] Steve Larsen: It's getting your ego out of the way. So to realize that yeah, your clients like you. Yeah, they're doing business with you, but also you're not so important that they can't have somebody else return a call and email or have somebody explain something to them.
And just realizing that, cause it's hard to you build everything you're in charge of everything. People have come just for you and you think, man, that's what they expect. But then you look at other areas of your life where you don't expect a call back necessarily. You don't expect your doctor to pick up the phone when you're scheduling a medical appointment.
And there's examples of that really in everything you do in life and just realize, okay, this isn't, that. Bringing other people in on this to do some or a large part of the work. So getting your ego out of the way is the first step. And then number two is a shift to making the process the stars that you. So everybody's just going to get such a similar experience and such high quality every time by following a checklist that it may be different than having me there, but it will probably be better in the end. 
[00:04:33] Joe Taylor, Jr: Steve says there's one more thing you can do to ensure your business is going to succeed as you grow. 
[00:04:40] Steve Larsen: You need to find a business and build a business that matches your personality. And if you're formal, make it formal. If your informal do that, too. If you go by your gut, don't be afraid of that either. But at the end of the day, you also have to know that's going to introduce some weaknesses. So for me, I am so anti-corporate and anti-policies and procedures and performance reviews that I had just took everything, I just wiped all that out of my business.
And I realized I didn't need to go full Fortune 500 company, but I did need to introduce some level of processes and systems back to my business. And I reaped the rewards. So for those entrepreneurs out there, even the solopreneurs who have avoided doing that because they just liked the freedom and don't like being told what to do, I would say introducing a little bit of that back in your life is going to pay some big dividends for you. 
I grew my profit by 50% in nine months. And I couldn't believe it, and I still can't believe it, but those are numbers I tracked that are very real. Once I instituted operations across the board from my firm, things went through the roof. And my main issue was trying not to feel like an idiot for not doing it sooner. 
[00:05:45] Joe Taylor, Jr: That's accountant and financial planner, Steve Larsen -- who's also written a book called 'The Year Off: The Anti-Budget Solution to Mastering Your Money and Following Your Dreams.' Steve outlines what he did to take an entire year off from his business without, as he puts it, panicking his wife or his kids.
We've got a link to that on our show notes page over at 
Also in today's show notes, entrepreneur Maynard Webb writes about his time as COO of eBay and how he realized when it was time to put some new processes in place. Denise O'Berry from Quickbase offers her suggestions on how to document those processes. And Oliver Pearce offers 10 reasons why standard operating procedures can reduce risk in your business.
All those resources and more are over on our show notes page at
Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard. With support from Christine Benson, Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith and executive producer Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex Refire. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr.
[00:07:04] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. 
Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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