Cover Story: Jodie Douglas
More than life
From car yards to camper trailers, Jodie Douglas' journey to successful financial advice practice owner is like no other. Jamie Williamson writes.

Growing up in rural New South Wales, Jodie Douglas knew early on she wanted to work with animals.

Finishing high school, she began studying veterinary nursing. This was the bridge she needed to get into veterinary science, leading to a lengthy, fulfilling career as the town's most trusted animal doctor.

I made sure I was making at least eight phone calls a week, booking at least four client meetings and producing a minimum of two Statements of Advice. I stuck to that religiously, week in, week out.
But the universe had other ideas.

Working a shift at the local ice-cream shop, Douglas slipped and fell. The result was a torn meniscus and a diagnosis from her physiotherapist that she would likely never be able to perform a stand-up role again.

Devastated, and with office-based jobs in relative short supply in Kyogle, Douglas made the move to Sydney where she took a job in a car yard on Parramatta Road.

It was here that she first dipped her toes into the world of financial services, assisting customers with car loans.

From there she worked at Tower Australia - now TAL - as an underwriting administration assistant. It was in this role that her interest in financial advice, particularly risk advice, was piqued.

"I was constantly talking to advisers and started to get to know a few quite well. I didn't totally understand what they did but I knew they were helping people, and so that really interested me," Douglas says.

Two years later, one of those same advisers - who became one of her mentors - offered her a job and Douglas relocated to Canberra to be a life insurance administration assistant.

She says it's here she realised the difference advisers can make in people's lives, especially when it comes to insurance claims. As a result, she became qualified as a risk adviser herself.

"I thought I want to be able to do this and I want to do it for everyday Australians. Being a country girl, it's ingrained in my bones to work with and help people that are just like me," Douglas says.

However, the clients she was working with in Canberra didn't really fit that bill.

"I was mostly working with dentists and doctors, which was great, but I wanted to make a difference and to educate those who think financial advice is out of reach for them," she explains.

And, after five years in the nation's capital, Douglas and her husband Mike wanted a lifestyle change.

Moving to the Gold Coast in 2013, they started their own small business, though not the one you'd necessarily expect.

Driven by a love for the great outdoors, the pair launched Mad About Campers. When she wasn't working in a nearby advice practice, Douglas was selling and leasing camper trailers to holidaymakers.

"The business was doing quite well and I was kind of left wondering why I was still employed. I knew what I really wanted to do, and we were probably in the best position we were going to be in for me to do it," she says.

In 2014, without a single client or referral partner, Mad About LIFE Risk Advice was born.

"Insurance is probably the thing I am most passionate about because it is the one thing people need and it can truly change your life," Douglas says.

"My philosophy is to create financial awareness through education to provide the client with peace of mind and choice of lifestyle."

Without much in the way of a marketing budget, in order to secure business Douglas would promote the practice alongside her camper trailers at lifestyle expos.

She also used social networking site Meetup, attending networking events across the Gold Coast four nights a week.

The intention wasn't to sign clients then and there, but to simply promote the business and educate people on what an adviser does.

"I worked so hard in that first year and spent so many nights out, my husband used to question whether I was really out networking," she laughs.

In addition to all the events and determined to succeed, Douglas set herself some stringent KPIs.

"I made sure I was making at least eight phone calls a week, booking at least four client meetings and producing a minimum of two Statements of Advice. I stuck to that religiously, week in, week out," she says.

Douglas also wasn't above asking clients for referrals; the first she asked provided her with a two-page list of names and phone numbers and texted all of them to let them know Douglas would be in contact.

"I did feel a little awkward about asking for them at first, but I soon realised that if you're passionate about what you do, that shines through and people won't hesitate in telling their family and friends about you," she says.

Opportunity came knocking when Douglas was then approached by a Toowoomba-based mortgage broker whose wife was studying to be a financial adviser. The broker asked if Douglas would mentor his wife in return for a referral partnership.

Over the next six months, Douglas received four referrals a week from the broker and established a significant client base in the Garden City.

"That really set the foundation for the business. I made sure I made the most of that opportunity because I recognised it was not going to last forever. It was a real gift," she says.

Helping her to capitalise on this, within the first few months of being open for business, almost all of Douglas' clients asked her to help with more than just insurance.

It was 2014, the impact of the Future of Financial Advice reforms was being felt and the Government and industry were broaching the Life Insurance Framework.

"There was a lot of change going on at the time and you could tell it was the kind of change that would continue," she explains.

"We needed to build a business that was adaptable to that change."

So, Douglas reevaluated her value proposition and repositioned the business as a holistic financial advice practice.

As a result, Mad About LIFE has organically amassed just over 200 clients. They are mostly tradespeople and their families, some are professionals.

Funds under advice is not a metric used by the business and much of what is required of Douglas is education around the basics such as cash flow and superannuation.

One of her greatest career highlights came when a client she had been working with for close to 12 months was able to pay their annual car registration in full and on time for the first time.

"It might not seem like much or might be a small win, but it meant the world to the client," she says.

When Douglas started the business, she had a very clear vision of what it was going to be for both her and her clients.

"I want to be an adviser for life to my clients for life. I never wanted to provide advice that was set and forget; I don't believe it ever works. Advice is an ongoing awareness piece; you can never have too much peace of mind or education," she says.

Currently, Douglas is crafting a relationship with her youngest client to ensure she's there for every milestone; at 19 years of age, there's quite a few to come.

"I want to be there when they buy their first home, I want to see them have children and travel the world and see them through to retirement. I want to help them navigate every stage of life," she says.

And about two years ago she came one step closer to being able to do just that.

"My husband Mike was looking to leave his career in IT and I told him he couldn't do that until he was capable of generating revenue; I didn't need any more admin assistants," Douglas laughs.

At the time, she was referring out a lot of clients to mortgage brokers and receiving feedback that the quality of service simply wasn't the same as that provided by Mad About LIFE.

Douglas' husband qualified as a mortgage broker and Mad About LIFE Finance was launched, offering the services in-house.

"The mortgage broking business was established really to just provide another service to existing clients but it's proved really complementary and so, from this year, we will be sourcing clients elsewhere to really make the most of it," Douglas says.

"We will continue to grow the business for as long as it is sustainable and we can keep providing the same level of service, which is quite high-touch. Once we reach that point, my next step would be mentoring."

In addition to the couple, there are three administration staff supporting both sides of the business, all of which are currently studying financial planning and mentored by Douglas.

It's a role she relishes, believing it is incumbent upon advisers to educate and empower the next generation of advisers.

"I know I can't be the one to ensure everyone gets advice; I know that will never be possible. What I want is to pass on what I've learned to other advisers which will then help me achieve that vision," she says.

Not interested in conquering the world, Douglas is focused on what she can do to ensure more Australians receive advice.

Grateful for the opportunities she's had to date, Douglas isn't about to let any others pass her by and looks forward to what the next chapter holds for her business. fs

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