Growing a Business in “A Man’s World”

By: Cicely Jones

As a 21-year-old woman, I started my career as a financial consultant in an industry that is largely stuck in the 1970s, where the “good old boys” drinking whiskey and playing golf all day rule and women are few and far between.

I spent my days cold-calling tech company employees and my nights feeling like an imposter at networking events with professionals at least twice my age. At those events, I found out I was more likely to be asked out on a date than to have anyone hand over management of their assets. Within a month, I feared I had made a horrible mistake. I walked into my supervisor’s office and tried to quit.

I was told that instead of quitting, I should shift my focus. I agreed to give it a good six months of focus and became a specialist in all things to do with retirement planning. Within a year, I was the top producer on my 25-person team. As the only female on the team, that felt empowering. It also made me realize that maybe I wasn’t an imposter after all.

[Related: Focus Like an Elite Athlete]

After I had gotten off my feet, I started to realize that pure willpower was not going to get me where I needed to go. I needed systems in place to retain clients, generate referrals, and grow my practice effectively. I chose criteria for tiering out my book of clients.

Clients who receive Tier A designation are my best clients, the ones who continue to grow our relationship and/or give referrals. In a perfect world, every client would be Tier A. They get birthday cards, newsletters, invitations to events, holiday gifts/cards, helpful articles, and quarterly review reminders. As the tiers go down lower, the number of touches and attention goes down so that maximum effort is focused on tailored content to the best clients. During this time, I also became very generous with referrals I gave to friends, professional contacts, and clients.

Six years later, every new client relationship I gain comes from referrals. In my time of building a business, I’ve learned that sometimes your first idea needs to be amended, that giving is essential, and that marketing needs to be systematized.

[Related: Three Strategies for Women to Take Control of Their Visibility and Impact]

These things are, of course, not all there is to building a business. The only way I was able to shift my focus and put the correct systems in place was through accountability. I’ve found the best way for me to remain accountable is through mentors and peers. When mentors and peers cannot provide this kind of support, some people also do this through coaches.

My mentor helped me shift my focus to a better marketplace for me, and my peers gave me a mishmash of marketing ideas and how they put their own systems in place. I would also put together business plans on a quarterly basis to assess my own personal accountability by seeing what went well, what did not, and what could be improved.

It remains important to continue to seek out new accountability partners within a community like Ellevate to grow as a professional and as a person.

Thank you for taking some time to review some of the things I’ve learned in building my business — let me know your thoughts in the comments!

[Related: Go Ahead, Be Ambitious!]

Cicely Jones is a Financial Planner at Equitable. She was the first woman in 20 years in her local organization to be promoted to the role of Regional Vice President. Her current focuses are growing her practice, getting a book published, and furthering her education.

Originally published at



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