On Andrew Johns' second day in the industry, a fund rep gave him a tip.
"He said, 'Be prepared to live like no one is willing to for five years, so you can spend the rest of your life living like no one else can.' "
Sure enough, it was about five years before Johns, now a lead advisor with Raymond James in Vancouver, could live off his earnings.
"Up until [the middle of my] fourth year, I was still refereeing men's hockey at night and working labour jobs on the weekends," he says. This added 20 hours to the 60 a week he was spending on his practice.
"My first summer in Vancouver, I didn't go to the beach. I was so stressed."
The sacrifice was worth it. Now 38, he has $2.2 billion in AUM, and pulls in $4.75 million in annual revenue.
Johns comes from humble beginnings—his LinkedIn profile mentions a teenage stint at McDonald's. As a University of Victoria student, he worked as a gofer at Global Securities. Upon graduation, the firm hired him on commission only. To survive, he moved into his grandparents' basement.
He amassed a half-million-dollar book within six months, but left for Canadian Western Capital (now Raymond James) after deciding to become a fee-based advisor.
In short order, the firm "gave me the option to move to Vancouver Island to take over a retiring advisor's book," he says. "I was 26 and single. They needed someone willing to live there, so I didn't have to put up capital."
He was skeptical, but his manager told him it would be a career changer. And it was, despite initial bumps. "I was told [the book size] was $5 million, but when I got there it was $2 million. The rest I've built myself."
And while it's possible to craft a book from scratch, having a good mentor speeds up the process.
Cindy David, vice-president of estate planning at Vancouver's Dupuis Langen Group, agrees. By her estimate, she compressed 10 years of work experience into five by becoming the assistant to a successful advisor.
"He let me do everything from lick the stamps to sit in on client meetings," and paid $10,000 for coaching and training her first year.
She wasn't the only one who benefited. "We tripled production the five years I was there." But she was working 12-to-14 hour weekdays and studying on weekends.
"If you want to punch the clock, expect to have a cap on your salary," she adds.
Another salary capper, says David, who's now 38, is staying in one place too long.
"Learn as much as you can, and then strive to be more independent," she warns. "We tripled production in three years," but then it stagnated. David was 25 and making $60,000 per year. But she'd set herself a goal of $100,000 by that age, so she knew it was time to leave.
"If I'd stayed, everyone would still see me as the assistant. To be an advisor, you have to clock hours as one."