Breaking into the Good Old Boys Club

Debra L. MorrisonHello, everybody, and welcome to Business Divas. This is Hello Hump Day, and we are here with Miss Deborah Morrison. Deborah Morrison is a transformational and TEDx speaker and a financial coach for women navigating finances. She sold her fee-only fiduciary financial planning and asset management company, which she founded, and in which she worked for 42 years. Deborah has been featured on CNN, ABC, MSD, Metro Money, and many more. She’s a certified grief coach and Amazon best-selling author of My Husband Died, and Now What? And A Widow’s Guide to Grief and Recovery and Smart Financial Decisions. Welcome, Deborah; how are you today?

Debra: Thanks, Dotty. I’m pleased to be with you, and let’s get right to it.

Dotty: I have known you for probably 10 – 15 years. I have always wondered how it is that you became self-employed? Can you share a little bit of your journey?

Debra: Yeah, it was a very, very quick one. I was president of my senior class in college, and I had interviewed and interviewed and interviewed because I had kind of boasted, “I’m going to have a job when I walk the aisle.” Well, when I walked the aisle, I didn’t have a job, and I applied to a particular insurance mega-company to be an underwriter. Now we look back at my personality, and you think that was a horrible mismatch. The only thing worse might have been an accident, but it just sounded fun and sexy to me, so I applied to be an underwriter. I was denied. I didn’t have the right degree. So I then took a position with that same company as a claims examiner, because after all, I did need a job. So I went on the job the first day, and I had this little desk, and I looked to my left, and there was a woman that was probably 60. She had a pile on her desk, Dotty, this high, it was incredibly high, and on the other side, you could hardly see her.

Dotty: A pile of papers?

Debra: Papers, files, the whole thing. Then I looked over here on my right, and there’s a guy who couldn’t be 23-24 years old, and his desk was clean as a whistle. I went over to her, and I said, “Anne, how long have you been with this company?” And she said, “28 years,” and I said, “How many raises have you gotten?” She said four.

Dotty: That doesn’t sound good.

Debra: No, no, it was not good at all. Then at lunch, the company’s newsletter came out, and it said that the underwriter’s position was given to Bob Mcgillicuddy with an MBA Business Administration degree. Bachelor of Science and Business essentially was my degree.

I said to myself, “Self, you have a choice, the first half day in the corporate world, and you can file for a sex discrimination suit. Or you can just shake the dust from your feet and move on.” I put in my resignation after being on the job for like four and a half hours. It was hysterical. I said, “Do you want me to, you know, work out a couple of days?” (Because you generally don’t just quit.) But they were like, “No, not so much.” So I left, and I had no job.

Well, the next day, I got a call from John Hancock, as it turned out, and they said, “I don’t know what happened to your test results. Initially they were deep-sixed in somebody’s desk. We just found them they were off the charts, we’d love to talk with you,” and I took that interview.

I originally had applied with them because they were the only big huge financial company – I went to a small college – Morgan Stanley and the Wall Street firms weren’t coming to my college. So insurance companies were coming to my college, and this insurance company, John Hancock, at the time, was the only major insurance company that had a wholly-owned subsidiary, CEO was a woman. They had a wholly-owned subsidiary about investments, which was my true love. That’s why I applied with them.

Dotty: Can you tell me what year that was?

Debra: Oh, yeah. 1978. Some of you weren’t even born. I said, “Wow, yeah, I love investments.” And they said, “Not so fast. Why don’t you sell life insurance first?” And I was like, “I was raised on a little humble 100-acre farm. I’ve heard of life insurance, but what is it?” And they describe the product to me, Dotty, and I just sat there like, jaw agape, right, like. “Oh, my heart, this product keeps families together, keeps businesses together.” I took the position, and I bolted it out of the gate. I sold life insurance like there was no tomorrow; I led the agency in my first year. I was 23 years old.

Yay. I didn’t even know anything about life insurance.

I did. So I had this beautiful wooden rosewood attached in one hand and a towel to wipe the wet behind my ears in the other hand. I had one gray hair at the time, and I pulled it entirely to the front, you know, almost pasting it, right? That was just my beginning, which was interesting.

Dotty: Awesome. So then, how did you graduate from working at John Hancock to owning your own company? That’s a huge jump.

Debra: Yes, yes, it is. It is a funny story. I was dressed up – three-piece suits and so forth – and heels, and I was driving to an appointment in Central Pennsylvania. It was snowing to beat the band, and my car stopped. So I’m pushing my vehicle through this intersection in high heels, a three-piece suit, a winter coat, and like one guy comes up and helps me.

I went into the office the next day – I don’t even know how I got there – and I said, “You know, my car died.” My office mate, who is a retired Navy Colonel – white wavy hair – he said, “Let’s go down to the BMW place, and I said, “What’s BMW?” Yeah, it was so crazy! So we went down, and I got like, enthralled with this BMW. I came back, and I told my sales manager, I said, “I bought a BMW,” and he was ecstatic. He was pushing me out the door because it was like the size of a mortgage payment, so he knew I would have to sell.

Then I went into his office after the first year, and I said, “Now let’s talk about investments.”

So I began doing the licensure for investments. There were a couple of levels, and there was a series six, which you could sell in annuities and mutual funds. Then there was a series seven, and you could trade stocks. I thought, “Why do the series six?” I went right into series seven; everybody was like, “Don’t do that. It’s hard,” and I studied and studied, and I got it. Then I began buckling down to know and learn about investments and then tax-advantaged assets. There was the progression because I knew full well that the integration of the income taxes was critical. So I’d go to people’s houses that were pretty high net worth, and I would say, “You know, I’ve got this tax-advantaged investment along with the life insurance.” and I would ask them, “Let’s see your tax return.” They were like, “We never had a life insurance agent ask us to see our tax return.” I said, “Yes, but I’m not just the life insurance person.”

Then I did a bunch of speaking to a group called Silver Citizens and people retiring. I would come and talk with them about tax-advantaged investments and how they could buy a bigger house than what they thought they could afford. The realtors loved me because I was talking about action for the mortgage interest, right? So I had no problem having clients.

Then I progressed to a life insurance company, Lincoln National. It peeled off of that planning firm. The general agent, a good friend of mine, said, “You know, why don’t you come over to our agency”? (Lincoln National Agency), and he said, “I’d love to have you here.” I just thought about it, and he said, “Uh, because you know, we need good, good energy.” I did have good energy. Then I said very swiftly, “You know, Bill, I would be coming in and bring my equities, sales business, and all the renewals.” (Because in the day, it was all commission.) “I would be bringing that into your operation under an equity sales manager, whom I have my fourth-year commissions, my fourth-year renewals would supersede his first-year commissions by probably 10 to one, and I’m just not doing that. I’m not giving my override to a person that’s not producing.” Not that I didn’t like the guy, but he didn’t have any ingenuity.

Bill immediately said, “If you could have the equities director position, would you?” I said, “Tomorrow morning.” So I went over, and they were producing a little bit of equity business – there were about 27-28 reps – and I completely shifted the whole thing around to storylines. When wholesalers came in and wanted us to sell their mutual funds, I said, “Tell me a story about your international investment company. Tell me that story.” Because that’s what my people can tell their clients, and that’s what they did, and the production went 300% in the first six months.

Dotty: Wow!

Debra: It’s just a difference in perspective. I think that is the underlying foundation of entrepreneurship. So from there, I went completely out on my own. Then for four years, I was a partner in a billion-dollar firm, and that ended up being not such a great choice on my part. When I realized that, I said, “Okay, I can either stop now, quit now, and go back to self-employment, or I can see what I can learn here because of a different environment.” I chose to see what I could learn for years, learned a lot, then went on, and from there, just completely self-employed.

Then in 1999, I went fee-only, which I felt was the best work for me because I was dealing with some high-monied people, and I never wanted a person to say or think, “What’s in this for you, Debra?” You know, because you could easily land a $50,000 commission, right? So I went fee-only, which meant saying goodbye to all of those renewal commissions. It was a pretty big gulp. Right? So when people say, “Yeah, my friend at Merrill Lynch, she’s just like you.” I’m like, “Not so much.”

So it’s just been an exciting progression. I’m just too stubborn to be employable. I’m just too type A. My passion drives me to produce and communicate with people in a far more significant way than any salary package.

Dotty: Now, in all the time I’ve known you, every time we talk, I always learn something from you. You have the best little tidbits. Would you like to share any self-employment tidbits that you have gained along the way?

Debra: I’d love to. Let’s talk about entrepreneurship, and if you’re there, God loves you. Maybe you will come into entrepreneurship if you’re not there, but you don’t want a side hustle. It grows, and you start to see that there’s a whole lot more energy than you’re putting into the side hustle. So you’ll feed and nurture that until it can sustain you. I want you to know that everyone considering entrepreneurship is different from the not-for-profit.

We are for-profit as far as the tax code is concerned. So the idea of profiting, actually selling, meeting our costs – forgetting profit – just meeting our costs, is something that is an anathema to far too many entrepreneurs. I got around that curve very early in life.

I sat in church quite a lot. We were Christian Fundamentalists: Three times on Sunday, two times on Wednesday – a lot of time in church. I sat there as a young girl, and I thought, “That pastor is selling. He’s selling. He’s selling his message.” Right? You go to the grocery store, and we put all of our things in the basket. Whether we have someone help us or we self-check out, somehow they’re asking us for money at the end.

Dotty: Yep.

Debra: That’s what’s expected. So if and when people want things badly enough, they wish to pay for them. They’ll spend a lot if they’re going through things badly or their situation is dire. So what I like to do is reset our minds. Because once our minds are focused, it almost looks like blinders on a horse when the horse is about to race. We don’t want any periphery. We just want to get down to what’s our next: How many calls do we make to get an appointment? How many meetings do we have to make to get a sale? We check off those No’s because each No is closer to Yes. I dare each of us as entrepreneurs when someone wants to be our client – that may be not a huge client or a completely premier client – but if it’s a borderline personality. They’re kind of like testing the waters; I would say, “I love that Dotty, and based on the conversation we’ve had, I think that what I offer could be of tremendous value. I am booked right now, and I have people on a waitlist, but I’d be happy to talk to you on June 1. We’ll be in touch before then.” You know, they will break the door. “No, no, no, surely you can’t. You can’t take me in?” All you have to say is, “Now the door’s shut.” Somehow people figure out a way that they need in that door. It’s the scarcity principle.

Dotty: Yep, I’ve used that one.

Debra: Of course. The other thing that I learned early on…and I was very early…you know, 23 years selling life insurance…well, I bought the BMW, and what color did I buy? Anthracite, the darkest, gray, beautiful luster car because it made me look 40 years old when I walked out of it. So I drive to this guy’s house, and he hands me a check for $100,000 for mutual fund investment. I took that check from him like it was the fourth one I’d assumed that day. I go to the car entirely at ease, completely relaxed. I get the car started and back out. I got down two streets away, pulled over, and I started shaking like a leaf-like I had never held a check for $100,000!

I suggest that you think of your highest-priced product or service. Multiply that times 10, and imagine me or any client prospect coming up to you and saying, “I’ll take that.” I want you to look in the mirror as you say, “Thank you. What credit card will you use?” I want you to look in the mirror and ensure that you’re not clenching.

Dotty: Right.

Debra: To get comfortable with those dollars, add a zero.

Dotty: Because we love zeros.

Debra: Love zeros! It’s really about igniting or reigniting our passion. Whatever it is we’re doing – product sales, a combination – if we’re excited about it, it will be contagious. I’ve often said, what I have is interesting to me. I developed it because of so many people I saw in life that were…and I and I often say it breaks my heart to see people spending and wasting valuable time. Right? When they don’t have to. It breaks my heart to see people doing the same routine over and over, hoping and praying for a different result. So I say save your hope and prayer for life’s big problems, illness, accidents, wrong diagnosis, these tragedies. Let’s plan upfront and say what we have is valuable, else we wouldn’t have started doing it. We need to find the people whose situation is our ideal client.

Dotty: Yes.

Debra: Sometimes, we have to say, “This isn’t for everyone.” You have a choice. Rather than thinking that our options, or the choice not to buy, have no consequence, we have to be ready with the result. You have a choice: You can risk further upset and further family disarray. You can risk trying to juggle which bill you’re going to pay. You can risk not knowing if your retirement account will last as long as you will. You can bet the declination of your health or your family or friend. You can risk all those things. Yet, why? When this solution has worked for so many people. I’m going to be happy to give you referrals and references for people who were just as dubious as you because it’s unique, I want to say. I came into this space, filling this particular need or this pedestrian need uniquely. That will pique some interest because, as I know, this isn’t for everybody.

You know that there are toll roads in almost every state, certainly in New Jersey. There are toll roads, the turnpike, the Guard’s Department, and then through town. Take your pick.

Dotty: I have noticed that every business has clients they don’t need. Do you know what I mean? Because your business is not for everybody, and you need to find the right people. So that is an excellent tip.

Debra: Yeah, I mean selling life insurance…it was the joke anybody could fog a mirror because they’d have to pass the medical, right? So they have to fog a mirror. So that was pretty funny, yet, ultimately, I was asked this on live television on CNN, across from Stuart Varney. “Debra, what’s your best asset?” And it’s ironic, Debra Morrison, certified financial planner, and the question took me so by surprise. It was one of that instant like, “Oh, God, give me the answer.” Sure enough, God gave me the words, and I said, “Stuart, I have two assets in life. Time and health.” I thought he was going to fall off the producer chair, “Oh, my heart, we have a certified financial planner talking about time and health! I got to take a station break.” He did. I get it. He was sweating, and I said, “You know I have varied clients and friends with groups of zeros, and they would trade most of those for another dance with their partner, another kiss, another day, a hike, a camping trip, a wedding.”

So if we get those priorities right, we don’t have time to deal with anybody that can fog a mirror because we want people whose problem is so unique and so palpable, they’ve explained it. We’re going to develop the relationship; we’re all about that. Then we’re going to say, “Dotty, you know, based on the conversation we’ve had, it feels like, and if I heard you correctly, you have this income goal, and you’ve just been able to move into a larger house, but you want to furnish it, or you’ve gotten downsized, so this is the crunch, and this is the bogey, you have to meet.” You get the buy-in as you are recanting the conversation. What are you doing the entire time?

Dotty: Thinking about that whole thing.

Debra: Are you shaking your head? Yes. Maybe not quite as apparent as I did just to get everyone’s attention, but you’re just nodding.

Dotty: Yeah.

Debra: As soon as you say yes, and I say yes, and pretty soon…nobody’s breaking anybody’s arm. I am coming to the rescue with my product and sales and services that will give you relief, maybe life itself or extended life or happiness in the time you have left. So when I sold life insurance, plenty of people said no, and I got real smart after a while. I had it all typed out back in the day – you know, typing on a typewriter…I dated myself. I had a little sheet of white paper, and I had the person’s name there. “I so and so realize that Deborah Morrison has proposed – and I had a blank there because I didn’t know what the amount of insurance that I was guessing that they should have – blank of insurance. I’m choosing not to buy it at this time,” and I had the date filled in, and I had them sign it. So I said, “Fine? Well, it’s a free country. It’s fine, but you know, because my manager wants to know what I’ve been up to, I just need you to know that I’ve proposed this, and you’ve decided against it. So if you just sign here, I’ll take it back to my manager, and everything will be fine.”

Well, people look at this thing: “I refuse to take this life insurance agent’s recommendation.” I think like maybe one person signed it in all of the time. They’re like, “Okay, I’ll buy it,” because they hadn’t thought about the cart, the consequence of their not buying. It’s not just saying, “Okay, I want to get this life insurance agent off my kitchen table and her elbow off my kitchen table and get her out of here.” It’s like, “Wait a minute! You told me that if you died yesterday, and you’re making $50,000 a year, you wanted to buy your family four years of recovery time, of readjustment time. Fifty times four is $200,000. If you have a mortgage, another $200,000, $400,000 term insurance, are there any questions?”

Dotty: So if I hear you right, what you just said was no matter what your business is, no matter what you’re selling, if you have somebody that’s on the fence, that you need to be able to tell them the consequences of not using your service or product so that they’re thinking about whether they need it or not.

Debra: Yeah.

Dotty: That’s genius.

Debra: Well, it’s a little ballsy, I have to say, pardon the French, but the fact is, I realized that some people would just push it aside. I’ve probably been talking with them for 45 minutes by this point in the conversation. We’ve exchanged stuff. He trusted me up until third base. It’s just they can’t round third base and pull the trigger. So I have failed them somehow that they’re still sitting on third base. So this gives them an opportunity to kind of see in black and white, “Wow, this professional…” I have degrees and so forth…that’s the other thing I knew as a young woman – in an old white male’s field – I had to have a lot of initials. So I got the Certified Financial Planner; I got the series seven, screw the series six…went right to series seven. Then I got my Certified Financial Planner designation, not that I learned a whole lot because I crammed for that course; I just needed the initials.

The course was supposed to be three years, and it was six sections at the time. I asked my sales manager; I said, “You know, does anybody double up, you know, take one course in the morning, the test in the morning and one course in the afternoon, the test in the afternoon?” And he goes, “I’ve never heard of that,” and I said, “Well, I’m going to do it.”

Dotty: Well, you are a groundbreaker.

Debra: Am I? I took the answers because they were always in the back. I cut them out, and Elmer’s glued or taped them into the book, and three days before the exam – without exaggeration – three days before the exam, I spent an hour and a half on one section, so it was tax estate planning, insurance, investments, etc. Six levels, and I read through all the questions and the answers and the answers all the questions in the answers. I put that aside for a day and a half. The next day and a half before the Saturday exam, I did the other level, and I got through all six, and in a year and a half, I had my CFP…never failed any of the tests. I don’t know if I learned as much as I might have, but I had the initials.

So if we’re up against systems, we need to figure out how to play the strategies – how to reroute our game plan – so that we get our valuable product and service out there. REDO IT if you don’t think your product is valid or your service is invaluable. Pivot until you have something that you are bursting at the seams to convey to somebody else – just like if you went to a fantastic restaurant. You say to your friends, “Hey, my gosh, go here,” but it’s much bigger than that because our products and services are typically transformational. Life-changing.

Dotty: You are a fascinating woman to listen to and learn from. I want to thank you for your time. Is there anything you want to offer?

Debra: Thanks so much. I learned one last little question from Dan Sullivan in the Strategic Coach. I was in his master’s program, and he devised the relationship factor question, and I invite you to write this down. You’ve had a conversation now with your prospect for a long time, however long. Then you say, and I’ll play with you, Dotty, “Dotty, you know…” and pretty much you kind of lean back. You’re not being pressured at all…you lean back and say, “Dotty, you know, let’s just imagine that you and I are sitting across from each other three years from now.”

“It’s May 1st, 2024, and you hear the cadence. It’s not unintentional; I stopped.” You said, “Okay, I’m happy. You said, Okay,” and I say, “Tell me what needs to have happened for you, personally, professionally, over these past three years, for you to be happy with our relationship?”

Dotty: Wow, that’s a big question, and it would require thought.

Debra: When I’m talking to a single person or a couple, they almost always say, “That’s a big question.” If it’s a couple, I say, “I want you to answer it, and the other plug your ears, and I want you to answer,” because they’re so often different. I want us as salespeople to listen to that and write down on your pad the exact words they say, “I want to put my kids through private school, I want to retire early.” When you write your follow-up letter or email to them, you say, “Bill, you said you wanted to retire early, and Sally, you said you wanted this and that, and to send your child to private school.” When they hear their exact words, now they know you have listened, and that is so golden.

So golden. I invite anybody to come to the Facebook group. It’s called Women Navigating Finances. It’s a public group. Chime in and sound off with questions. I’ll be happy to answer them. And then we, of course, have a paid group to which we offer some exclusive benefits if you want to graduate. We are on a waitlist right now. So pop over to Facebook, join the Women Navigating Finances group, and I’ll be happy to welcome your questions in general. I’m not a financial advisor anymore, but I’m a financial coach, and I can steer your economic car’s proverbial tire out away from the big deep potholes and towards navigating your finances, and that would please me very much.

Dotty: Great. I want to thank you for your time. Next week, we will be having Raksha Joshi live with us for everybody out there. She is someone who has been in the corporate world for a very, very long time and has graduated to being self-employed as well. So we will learn all about what her process was. We’ll sign off for now. Thank you, Debra, and have a fantastic day.