Kirsten Curry is the president of Leading Retirement Solutions, a company that provides retirement plan services and tax strategy to businesses, owners, and investors. The company designs and administers 401K plans, defines benefit plans, and provides related services to business owners and the employees of their companies. Recently certified as a woman-owned business by the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Leading Retirement Solutions is currently on a growth streak, something Curry owes to persistence and hard work.
Why did you start your business?
I started the company almost six years ago with a couple of other business partners. That partnership didn’t work out at all. We ended up in litigation for a couple of years. I took over as the sole owner of the company in January 2013.
Before that, I had always wanted to be a business owner. I worked for a startup company prior, and got a lot of experience in growing teams and helping to grow a business. After a certain amount of time there, I decided it was time to go strike it out on my own. And here I am!
How did you get the funds to get going?
This was a self-financed company. When we started, I actually had a couple of other businesses with my business partners. We were trying to self-finance all of the companies by building a brand new client base from the ground up and tapping into some referral sources. What ended up happening is that some of the companies were not making as much money as the others, which led to me making some pretty significant personal expenditures on my part. That is in part why the partnership didn’t work out.
Once I separated from my business partners, I really started aggressively going out myself and building sales. We’ve been building our profitability since then. We have still not taken out a third-party loan. It’s remained all self-financed up to this point, though I have taken a loan from my parents.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes, though I did not need to use business credit to get things going.
A lot of our clients actually utilize their 401K plan dollars to start their small businesses. That’s actually a strategy we help our clients with. We have a few hundred clients who have used their 401K plans to get access to money because they can’t get a loan to start up a brand new business or take their existing business to the next level.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
It’s sometimes like pushing a boulder uphill every day. I always thought when I was starting up my business that the most challenging thing was going to be generating sales. But I very quickly learned that the most challenging thing is getting people to know that you actually exist. If people don’t know you exist, you don’t even have the opportunity to sell them something. When you’re out there competing with big behemoth companies like John Hancock and the Principal and T. Rowe Price and Fidelity, it’s a lot of work to get that name and face recognition.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
Our profits currently cover all of our expenses. Though, I am getting ready to go out to market to buy a book of business. I will need to have half a million to a million dollars easily on hand to buy that. I am anticipating getting traditional bank financing, probably a line of credit, to do that. I’ll also need to get my own financial affairs in order so I can extend a loan to the company as well.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
We do work with vendors and suppliers, though not that much. We haven’t gone the trade credit route.
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
Going into partnership with two other people who happened to be a husband and wife was probably my first and biggest mistake. It’s really important that all partners have access to financial information, regardless of which partner has been dubbed the CFO. You should have the process for making major decisions memorialized before you go into partnership. What happens is that you make all of these verbal agreements, and then you end up in a situation where you’re not in agreement, and you end up spending all of your time arguing about how you should come to an agreement, and that dramatically affects the business.
The other mistake was thinking it would be a bigger challenge to sell than to get my name and face out there. I think that set me back a good year or year and a half. Once I realized that and started changing my approach to things, the business really started to take a very positive and profitable direction.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
The fact that I was able to self-finance the business was a smart move, because I’m now in a position where I need a lot of capital to go out and buy a book of business to take the business to the next level. I’m not loaned to the max, so I have flexibility.
Also, I had a willingness to hire virtual employees. A lot of folks are resistant to that, they want people in the office. There are definitely things you need to do to be successful at managing virtual employees, like you need to have the right technology and hire the right people.
Finally, I’ve had a significant commitment to technology. Even as a small company, we have a technology consultant that helps us grow the business, which has had a significant impact.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
The most rewarding thing is that I employ at least 10 team members now. I help to provide for them. I’m providing a job, I’m providing a career path, I’m providing a paycheck. I’m supporting people as employees.
What does the future look like for your business?
We’ve grown quite a bit in the last two years both with our client size and our employee size. One of our big goals in the next 12-24 months is to buy a book of business. We are completely grassroots grown.
People are often surprised to hear that we have clients in 48 states. We do some pretty unique work with 401K plans, so another goal is to earn a more significant national presence, as well.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
Your biggest challenge is really going to be getting people to know you exist. In an ideal world, you’ll have a written marketing strategy. But, in reality, most of us small business owners don’t have the time to do that. I simply started pounding the pavement to turn things around. I started meeting with every single referral source I could possibly meet with. I cold called most of those people and asked for meetings. In 2010, I met with over 120 new referral sources because I was just constantly going out. It’s a lot of work. There are a lot of other approaches, but for me, pounding the pavement and going out and meeting with people really worked. It didn’t mean that I started getting business right away. In some instances, I started getting calls a year and a half down the road.