Level Up Financial Planning – A COVID19 Small Business Pivot Story

Nick Armstrong, Lead Organizer of Fort Collins Startup Week, interviewed Lucas Casarez, Founder of Level Up Financial Planning of Fort Collins, Colorado about his pivot during COVID-19 and the long-term considerations he’s emphasizing in his work.

An unedited transcript is provided below.

Nick Armstrong  00:00

I’m Nick Armstrong from Fort Collins Startup Week and I’m here with Lucas from Level Up Financial Planning. And we’re going to be talking about his successful pivot to the COVID-19 situation. Lucas, why don’t you introduce yourself and give us some background on your company.

Lucas Casarez  00:15

Yeah, so, I’m Lucas Casarez, I’m a certified financial planner. I started level financial planning two and a half years ago. So definitely way before COVID 19 hit and kind of through the whole world into chaos, but basically level up financial planning and I focus on kind of entry and mid career level tech professionals, which is typically not the space for most financial planners. Most financial planners only want to work with rich, successful people before I started my own company as working at a firm where our minimum was $500,000 of investments in order to work with us and so that’s why I started a low level financial plan is to really help people figure out how to be successful not only work with people once the only the ones that survived were successful at that point.

Nick Armstrong  01:02

What were your first reactions when the COVID-19 situation began?

Lucas Casarez  01:07

Yeah, I think it’s hard for me to tell because stuff started happening so quickly. And I was monitoring the news and stuff a little bit more before things start really hitting home. But I think the investments is what I noticed the first so the stock market went crazy. It’s at records on the low end set records on the high end, sometimes in the same week. Like it was pretty, pretty interesting and phenomenal how volatile the stock market was. So the first thing I did was I was very proactive in creating videos that I shared not only with my clients, but with all my email subscribers and Facebook followers, all those different social media outlets. And that was something that was important to me because, with with my clients, just knowing how people are emotionally tied to their investment sometimes I wanted to make sure that it was gonna be very hard for me to reach out to every single one of them and make sure I get them live on the phone to talk them through what’s going on. So that the video was super helpful as far as putting people at ease and, and giving people confidence that all my clients at least were to talk through this possibility that COVID-19 specifically, but crazy stuff that throws the market into a tailspin. And we account for these things in advance, make sure people don’t freak out basically do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Nick Armstrong  02:29

So it sounds like you already did a good amount of client priming prior to this about disaster recovery and disaster planning. What was the reaction of your clients during the actual crisis as it was unfolding?

Lucas Casarez  02:42

So as it was unfolding, I think a lot of people thought it wasn’t going to be an issue for them initially. And again, I think that’s how a lot of us felt like oh, yep, this is like a china thing. Now it’s like, it’s different parts of the country. Not here. Not Not us type deal. So I think Early on, it was like, Oh, yeah, like that’s crazy. It’s kind of like the flu. I think that’s what a lot of people were thinking. And as things kind of got more serious, you could see even the communications with the same client. I went from that with some clients to the stock market being super volatile, like, Oh, yeah, let’s, let’s be aggressive. Let’s start buying in while things are cheap. And those very same types of clients. Couple weeks later, like, oh, my goodness, let’s get everything out now. Like what’s going on? So I think the emotional toll it was taken on people, especially once people went into quarantine and having to be isolated, it’s just not normal for people that have to deal with. So there’s a lot of different emotions and things going on. I think that was the biggest thing that I noticed is people kind of wigging out. And so it was cool. A lot of clients were checking in on me and make sure like, I’m doing well. My family’s doing well, too. I think the most impactful thing that actually was relevant is the job losses. So starting to see that pretty substantially about 20% 30% of my clients have either been laid off or are in some type of transitionary type period due to everything going on.

Nick Armstrong  04:14

That’s a great time to talk to your financial planner to I suspect.

Lucas Casarez  04:17

Yeah, yep. And that’s one of the interesting things about my business model and how it shaped is, like, I people pay me kind of on a monthly subscription, and it’s not tied to investments, specifically. And so when when they lose their job, lose your income, I did have to be a little bit more proactive as far as how I was gonna make this work. So basically, we’re allowing clients to hit the pause button on paying me But obviously, that’s when they need to speak with me the most so they’re probably getting a lot more service. They’re not actually pay me right now. And what we’ll do is we’ll kind of share up things once they get back on their feet. So that’s one of the things that I’ve had to be proactive about, and it’s something that it just makes sense to do. Like I I enjoy work with my clients. And so I’d hate for them. hate to have to turn them away during like one of the biggest times of need that they’ll probably have in the foreseeable future.

Nick Armstrong  05:09

You mentioned that you had an email list, you started creating videos, how did you get the message out to your clients and your community that you were providing these services.

Lucas Casarez  05:19

So I use MailChimp for kind of sending out those mass emails. So then I have them. There’s definitely some things that were more specific client messages. So I have my segments for clients specifically. And that’s gonna be worded differently because it’s like I know more about their situation. Then there’s kind of just the Mass General email list that I have like 300 people or so on there. And one of the big things with everything going on is there was a lot of changes a lot of new information flying around. And so that’s, I think, something that I was able to do really proactively and hopefully is. Now there was the Cures Act, which had a lot of unique features, both with retirement account With the stimulus for paychecks, or just the stimulus checks, and there’s unemployment, there’s student loan forbearance, there was so much going on. And there was so much bad information and false news to kind of early on. And so I think that was the biggest thing where I was like, I need to learn stay up to date on what’s actually real and then triple check it to do it for its validity. Because Yeah, there was one thing I did jump the gun on, on my text business that I also created this year. And it was with the extension, being going to July 15. I announced that like one day before, it was actually official because of something I read that said it was official, but it wasn’t wasn’t too big of a deal because it was official within like 24 hours. So it actually looked like as master diamonds there.

Nick Armstrong  06:49

It’s always good to be prescient, I think. What kind of help Did you seek out and where, if any, and where and why did you seek it out?

Lucas Casarez  06:59

Yeah, so I’m a part of a few professional groups on Facebook, that’s been helpful. Also just have professional membership groups that I’m a part of. So just getting, having those kind of safe places to go and kind of see like, oh, we’re not the only ones thinking this stuff. We’re not crazy for feeling this way about what’s going on. So that was helpful. I then I think the biggest thing is just knowing where to go for the accurate information. Because that’s, that’s what my clients needed. That’s what anyone that I want to communicate with. I don’t want to give them false information. I want to make sure that they know like, Oh, this guy is gonna try to give us information, try to lighten it up a little bit, try to make it a little bit more fun than maybe some of the other outlets that they might have access to.

Nick Armstrong  07:44

We’re still early on but have you seen any results so far in terms of your pivot and how your clients or customers are interacting with it? So

Lucas Casarez  07:53

I know I saw your first interview that you did, I saw they had like crazy success. I haven’t been quite so. Luckily with that, so no new clients, which is ultimately like as a business owner, what a lot of people would consider success. But what I do like to kind of hang my head on and focus on the things I can control is kind of that value. I’m working with my clients so much more in depth right now. Gaining even more trust and authority head gaming, strengthening relationships, to the point where like, a lot of my clients that I’ve been talking with, they’re like, oh, you’re like, that’s why I have you around. You’re my go to you. Whenever I have a financial question. A client saying that Yeah, like you. You’re stuck with us Your life is something I’ve been here so I obviously wouldn’t when people are fearful of their jobs, but they’re still saying that stuff to me. Makes makes me feel good about what the future looks like. So I think a lot of what I’ve been doing is building kind of long, longer term, kind of potential, not only with my clients, but with referrals. And then a lot of lot of the people on my email list and followers on social media is like they’re getting some The same information. Obviously, it’s not pinpoint personalized, but at least they have that resource and they know who to go to once they are ready to kind of dive in and get their financial life in order.

Nick Armstrong  09:11

Yeah, customer retention is nothing to shake a stick at,

Lucas Casarez  09:15

especially during these times for sure.

Nick Armstrong  09:17

Do you have any advice for business owners who are looking to pivot or just not quite sure what to do yet,

Lucas Casarez  09:24

at least from how I’m situated, it’s definitely gonna vary based off of kind of your business model and kind of where you’re at. I think my business had just hit a point where two and a half years into starting this thing out where it’s like, oh, we’re not operating like in the red, like, we have a good we’re able to make payments. We don’t necessarily need to grow at racket speed. And so that’s been nice to not have to worry about that because of growth. As I mentioned, that hasn’t occurred in the last two to three months. But what it’s allowed me to do is be able to To think more long term and that’s what I’ve tried to do from the very beginning, like a lot of my clients in the first place or sometimes in their early 20s. And in all reality, I’m probably not making a profit off of them compared to what I would be if I was working with that more traditional clients. So everything I try to do, as painful as it is, is usually thinking like long term not not, oh, I want to have this client for a year, I do want these clients for five years, 10 years for the rest of their life, basically, if I’m able to hold up the value on my end. So I think thinking long term is always an aspect. And it is painful, especially during these times. But the thing I like to think about is there’s there’s only so much I can control. I did have a lot of prospects that had verbally committed before all this happened. But I could I could dwell on that I could keep kind of hounding people but that’s not my, my style at all. And so what I’ve chosen to do is just focus on the things that I can control and some of these things are going to be very long term plays, but it’s something I’m adding value and I’m still kind of enjoying the process of creating all this content and, and being there for people and whatever capacity they allow me to be there for them.

Nick Armstrong  11:07

Do you think that some of the changes that you’ve made to your business during this crisis are gonna stick with you afterwards?

Lucas Casarez  11:14

I believe so I, I’ve had the thoughts, just because I haven’t seen it, reuse them because they kind of been so well, with tech constantly growing, there hasn’t really been layoffs for the longest time. But I do know that that’s just kind of built into how tech expands then they have to cut off some of the excess fat and stuff like that. So I’ve already had that in the back of my mind, like, what happens if someone gets laid off. So that helped me put this actually more firm in place, that being able to pause there’s payments, but still be able to receive value when they needed the most. And so I think some of it is actually putting into place some of the things I’d mentally thought of, but yeah, it’s at a much, much grander scale and it’s definitely gonna be something that I keep around Because even the clients that are worried about unemployment, but you’re not actually unemployed when I share this with them, I see them like that like, oh, okay, awesome. Like, hopefully you’re like cross their fingers. We don’t have to go through that, that process with you. But it’s good to know like, you’re not going to just disappear because because we’re gonna have trouble trying to pay you over the next month or two until we get situated again,

Nick Armstrong  12:23

Where can we find out more about your business and level up financial planning services?

Lucas Casarez  12:27

Yep, so level up financial planning comm you’ll find services, you’ll find different forms of content, I have my video, even though it’s on YouTube, I have everything kind of portaling through to my level up page. And so I also do strategy guides and cheat sheets and so lots of free educational informational content. And yeah, if you want to work with me, then I love working with people that want to work with me.

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