Financial Empowerment for Busy Families with MK Lee
Conversation with MK Lee, Financial Planner & Coach, SEAMFI LLC
Financial Empowerment for Busy Families
November 13, 2019
1. What is your business?
SEAMFI is a financial planning and coaching firm I founded. My goal is to help busy families stay on top of their finances because I believe planning for goals and living a meaningful life go hand in hand. It is so easy with little kids to put off any long term or important decisions–life is lived every moment. I want families to be able to live life while also preparing for a comfortable and fulfilling retirement.
We know we need to prepare for our own retirement. But when there are so many things that require our attention, it is so easy to think, “I don’t have time for that.” My goal is to help solve a stressful element in people’s lives so they could focus on things that bring them joy.
In many cases, people seeking help from financial planners usually believe their questions or concerns are simply about “money”. That might be the case on the surface but what they are truly seeking at the fundamental level is usually more related to living a better quality of life, being able to feel safe and secure, and minimizing the day to day stress.
Through SEAMFI, I focus not only on the delivery of a financial plan and the step by step guidance to execute the plan, but also on money education and coaching to help clients build the right type of money habits that will serve them during their very own unique journey. We constantly encourage empowerment and action to move forward while keeping judgment and feeling of overwhelm at bay.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
Before I had my son, I worked at JP Morgan in a investment-focused client advisory role. Then life happened and I became a stay at home mom. My sabbatical of staying home with my son was meant to be one year, and suddenly one year became three years. I really missed working and that’s when I thought, “I better get my resume ready before I miss the boat.”
We had just moved to a different city, and it was such a different environment, no one really knew me or my career history. So while I was trying to figure out my next step in a new environment, I kept asking myself, “How can I bring value as an employee?” After a while I realized that what I missed the most is being able to help clients. I also realized that I did not miss the many other things one may need to endure when working for a large corporation. So I started experimenting with a different question, “How would I do things differently as a small business owner?” Who would be my audience? How could I serve them in my own unique way? That’s when I realized I needed to start my own business with my own vision.
I knew that if I wanted to branch out on my own I needed to focus on high-quality service. So I started to think about the big pain points: investments, figuring out employer benefits, cash flow management, budgeting, financial planning after death – they are all important. There really are so many pieces to the financial picture and I wanted people to see it can be done. Once you get started, there is an extreme sense of empowerment. It’s taking that first step that is the hardest.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
There was never one big moment but there were many small moments that gave me just the right amount of confidence to move forward to the next phase. One of those moments was when I started to feel okay with being vulnerable and step outside of my comfort zone.
Being away from work, at home taking care of my son, was so hard. I had never felt such a low level of confidence about my career. Every month and every year that would pass brought another year of doubt. Then, I started learning about coaching thanks to my friend who eventually became my life and career coach. I had a lot of doubts, but I realized this coaching was giving me a boost of energy. More and more, I started thinking it was possible to start my own business, and it was okay if it failed.
That was a big fear. It’s embarrassing to fail with so much wasted time and energy. There were a lot more downs than ups, but small wins gave me the energy to try something more.
4. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
The biggest thing to overcome is self-doubt. Sometimes there is no foundation to how we are thinking and feeling but it’s there. Like when launching my website, it’s something I worked on for months, and then it’s time and it’s hard not to wonder “Is it good enough?” but you just have to let that go.
The other hard thing is self-marketing. Some people are just good at it. Some people you meet at a cocktail party and you just can’t stop listening to them, their story, and it’s fun. Not the case for me… It is not easy to talk about my business in a way that is not awkward to me.
It’s also hard having a product that is finance-related because people assume you are selling something. I am still looking for something relatable to deliver my message correctly. Nailing that elevator pitch is still an ongoing process.
5. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
The universe has given me the opportunity to meet so many amazing people. It really started when I let myself be more vulnerable and I wasn’t hiding behind a facade. Ever since, I have met many people who would go out of their way to be helpful, giving me honest feedback, and encouraging me through ups and downs.
I also joined a coach training organisation, Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (“IPEC”) to become a certified coach. Being around all of the high energy people who think outside of the box makes you do the same. It’s amazing because it helps you be more and do more with a focus.
6. Have you ever used a career or life coach?
Yes and it was one of the best decisions I have made. I used to be skeptical about coaching and didn’t believe I would benefit much from being coached. That all changed thanks to my friend from business school. We reconnected at our 10 year reunion a few years ago and she helped me understand why and how coaching can be helpful, especially when one feels stuck, when there are too many priorities and not enough time, and when one is trying to make big changes in life.
She eventually became my coach and thanks to her, my view of the world and how I perceive myself changed significantly. I am not sure whether I would have ever had the courage or the determination to actually start my own business if it weren’t for the weekly coaching sessions… Fast forward 18 months, like many others, I too go through the daily ups and downs that come with being a small business owner but coaching helps me deal with all the unexpected challenges without losing focus. There are other added benefits as well. I am more mindful, resilient, thankful, and a lot more happier than before.
7. What are some of your current challenges?
The biggest one is marketing. I get so excited talking about what I am doing to clients, but my elevator pitch is rusty. Marketing overall is a slower pace movement than other parts. Another challenge is time management and staying focused.
8. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
There is so much to tell her, but the biggest is that “life is not meant to be perfect.” There will be curve balls, problems, conflicts, things that don’t go well. Don’t shy away from them, go head on, ask for help, and trust your intuition. There’s no guarantee on whether the outcome will be good or bad so just be open minded. When one door closes, another will absolutely open.
9. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
I really want to see my firm grow to its fullest potential, beyond my imagination. One of my focuses right now is working one-on-one with clients while also building out an online education platform. I really enjoy the in-depth relationships when working with clients one-on-one but such set-up limits the number of clients I get to work with. Which is why I decided to create the online education program for a broader audience so that I can help many more people and be able to meet them where they need me in terms of time commitment or budget.
10. Are you willing to serve as a mentor to others interested in your sector?
Absolutely. I believe there is no better career than financial planning for someone who loves to learn, to help people, has a financial background, and is looking for work life balance. You can work full-time or part-time, create your own hourly consulting role, you can work for a large corporation, a smaller company or for yourself. It’s can be as flexible as you want. If people are looking for guidance, I really want to be there to help them.
Conversation Date: May 23, 2019
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