I was honored to be featured in CanvasRebel Magazine, featuring artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs under the “Doing Things Your Way” category. In it, I share the defining ‘why’ moments that drove me to pursue a life-planning approach and Collective Wealth Planning, along with some brass tacks around the ‘how’ behind getting started and continuing to thrive. You can find the full write-up here or read below.
Meet Brenna Baucum
We were lucky to catch up with Brenna Baucum recently and have shared our conversation below.
Brenna, appreciate you joining us today. Let’s start with a story that highlights an important way in which your brand diverges from the industry standard.
Most agree that strong technical knowledge is table stakes for a good financial advisor. You must have that to call yourself a CFP® professional (one of the litmus tests I encourage people to use when looking for an advisor). That said, I came to understand that technical knowledge alone was not enough to play the role my client families needed me to play.
I was about six years into my career when a call from a client brought this learning home. After a moment or two of silence, she managed to whimper, “Scott died today.” Her husband’s health had declined over the last year, and we knew this was coming. We cried together. She asked, “What do I need to do?” I recognized the allure of gravitating toward logistics when there’s nothing else you can control. I said, “Right now? Nothing. Go be with your family.” She responded, “I haven’t told anyone else yet.” I was speechless. This woman was standing at the threshold of her life’s most painful and uncertain moment, and she called me. Recalling this story brings tears to my eyes all over again.
Relationships have always been central to what fulfills me about this career. My role involves problem-solving, breaking the complex into actionable steps, and education. All of these rest on the foundation of a strong relationship. After that call, I knew I had relationship-building fundamentals with my client families, but I recognized I could improve. I could seek out training and guidance on how to have words when they feel impossible to find. It only made sense to strengthen this integral part of being an advisor, just as I had on the technical side.
I joined a small subset of financial advisors that take a ‘life planning’ approach to financial planning. We blend technical skills with emotional intelligence, recognizing how human beings approach all aspects of life – with both their heads and hearts. Those who utilize a financial life planning model are almost always focused on the educational part of our work. We enjoy a collaborative approach to planning. You’ll hear us saying, “That’s interesting. Can you say more about that?” Curiosity leads. Advice only comes after we’ve learned the whole story. We’re less likely to have commission or product sales as a central component of our fee structure; we may, instead, be fee-only (another litmus test I recommend). We’re more likely to have clearly articulated fees and processes to make it easier for you to understand how we work.
Most advisors in this community believe in enough; enough business to go around and enough growth to achieve intrinsically motivating goals. We’re generous with our time and sharing, understanding that we elevate the profession when we extend our fiduciary duty to other advisors. That’s why I can’t talk about how “I” practice within this context – it’s a movement for the greater good that’s so much bigger than me and my firm.
When we skip cognitive understanding, our financial decisions lack clarity and confidence. When we disregard emotions, our financial choices lack context and motivation. When we ignore obstacles, our financial journey is fraught with potholes and detours. I aim to weave the qualitative and quantitative aspects of financial planning, clear the path, and help my client families explore their unique definitions of alignment, wealth, and success. Serving as their thought partner on this journey is a great privilege and honor.
Brenna, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I chose “Collective Wealth Planning” for my practice about four years ago, not knowing if it would ever come to fruition. It started with my grandmother. “Grams,” as I called her, was always a giving person. She and my grandfather used their resources to support what they cared about more than anything: family. They hosted holiday gatherings that brought everyone together. They traveled, explored the world, and brought us along, literally or through stories and photos. They bore witness to our growth through their sharing. They gave generously and discovered a sense of empowerment around creating meaningful opportunities for our family to connect, love, and learn.
As I sat with my grandmother as she died in 2019, memories of our relationship and all I had learned from watching her and my grandfather washed over me. After, the months passed, the grief shifted, and I married those learnings with the reality of my professional role in financial planning. Processing this lesson of just how satisfying life can be when your resources align with your values was a new level of learning.
I realized this alignment could change our lives, communities, and the world. In doing so, we join the broader collective to make life better. That’s the life I want to live and the life I want to support my clients in pursuing. I knew if I were to create my own firm, this learning had to be at its heart. So, I did, and it is.
Most of my client families are near or in retirement. Most often, we start by answering the question, “Are we going to be okay?” Once we have a shared understanding of stability, our work focuses on moving toward alignment. That could mean cash flow planning to ensure they’re living for today and saving for tomorrow, proactive tax planning to minimize tax liability and maximize charitable/family gifting, or estate planning conversations to ensure the legacy they’re building is intentional. These are three of dozens of examples of how we collaborate to help align their money and life.
Can you open up about how you funded your business?
As I considered starting the practice, I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts from other entrepreneurial advisors. Nearly all shared the importance of saving enough for start-up costs and maintaining the first ~1-2 years of business and personal expenses. My husband Ben and I made the tough decision to stop maximizing our retirement accounts and instead squirrel money away in cash. This adjustment and our regular savings reached our goal in about eight months. Ben’s willingness to make this change was one of many signs that he was on board with my move to becoming an entrepreneur, another vital component of a successful business.
As I registered my business with the state (about six months before I officially opened), I recognized my head/heart ties to this pool of money we’d created. I had become very accustomed to seeing that balance in our savings accounts. It felt incredibly comforting, particularly as the anxiety of leaving W2 income for the first time started to creep in. It was time for me to give myself some of the advice I’d been giving my client families for the past decade: just because something makes sense on paper doesn’t always mean it makes sense for you.
Serving as the board president of the local community college foundation, I learned about the small business development center. What an incredible hidden gem this is in our community. I partnered with Joanne, an advisor there who helped me develop my business plan. Over several months and meetings, her guidance and wealth of knowledge helped me move my practice from ideation to fruition.
During one of our meetings, I shared my anxiety about spending what we’d saved. Joanne told me about the Entrepreneurial Development Loan Fund, a program in Oregon that supports small businesses and start-ups like mine. She encouragingly told me, “You have the money to repay the loan in full on day one – you’re exactly the kind of smart business person this program wants to lend to.” I was approved and funded three months later.
Did I end up paying interest on the loan? Yes. Did the funds give me extra comfort and support to meet my unique money needs? Yes. As I said, money decisions that don’t consult the heart are irrelevant in making the best choice for you. I’m no different.
Where do you think you get most of your clients from?
New client families have come to me almost exclusively from direct referrals. About 50% of those are from existing clients who are happy and share my name with the people they love. The other 50% are from other professionals in my community (attorneys, CPAs, other advisors, community leaders, etc.), particularly other female business owners. These humbling, affirming referrals aren’t coming because of the performance in my investment portfolios or because I saved someone $10,000 on their taxes. They’re relationship-driven.
Relationships and your personal brand are everything in a trust-based service industry like finance. I built both over the past 20 years through genuine commitment and cultivation of the communities I’m grateful to be a part of. Call it karma, kismet, or the golden rule. It’s about finding your people and showing up for them as your best self.