Building a business from scratch when you’re mid-career and trying to support a family is difficult. Just ask financial advisor Michael Horne.

Horne was in his early thirties when he first decided to leave his eight-year position as an engineer and manager in the auto industry in search of something more fulfilling. With an MBA fresh under his belt, he wanted to find some way to combine his skills in finance with his desire to “do a job that mattered.”

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“I kept an open mind and did a lot of research,” says Horne, of Freedom55 Financial in Collingwood, Ont. “I started interviewing with just about everybody. I ended up really liking [my firm’s] product line and the fact that I could run my own show made it very appealing.”

Learn from mistakes

As with many first-time business owners, Horne admits there were many challenges. Had he been in his early twenties and living in his parents’ basement, it may have made the rocky road a little smoother. By 2008, however, Horne was married with one child (he now has two). Having to help pay his mortgage was both motivation and curse.

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“You don’t make an income if you don’t sell,” says Horne. “Early on, I was really trying to force sales, mostly out of desperation because I needed to in order to feed my children.”

It didn’t take long for him to realize it was the wrong approach.

“I think I was talking too much and scaring people off,” explains Horne. “But instead, I started to listen, in the same way I would listen to my staff when I was looking to develop them as a manager.”

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He adds, “I have a lot of experience working with different personalities. I began to focus on applying what I know about people to the needs analysis, focusing on asking the right questions so I’d know what kind of package to put together for people.”

The hardest part was forcing himself to “be patient,” especially as he was building up credibility in his new career. Without any experience behind him, Horne says clients weren’t willing to just hand over their life savings without first putting him to the test.

“They’d say ‘here’s $10,000; it’s up to you to put it in the best product based on my risk tolerance,’” recalls Horne. “But it took some time for me to prove myself. Really, the only way to build relationships is to put in that time.”


Horne admits he was initially reluctant to seek advice from colleagues and contemporaries in the business, but eventually found their counsel invaluable.

“People who’ve been in the business a while are really good at showing the nuts and bolts of the industry and quelling your fears,” says Horne. “That’s invaluable, especially when retention in the industry is around 8%.”

In the early days, he had the opportunity to have an industry veteran shadow him to help him through the sales process, and audit his client interviews.

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“Watching my mentors helped me understand the needs’ analysis, how to formulate questions, and put together packages. It’s a much faster way to learn than making mistakes all the time,” says Horne. “Even if you work for yourself, you don’t have to be by yourself.”

Horne also has a regional director with an open-door policy.

“He was the one who really kept me focused when I felt like I was working 70 hours a week to make $300,” says Horne. “He was really good at pointing out the amount of time each transaction can take and keeping me focused on my goals.”

Take business seriously

While the first six months without a regular paycheque were difficult, Horne attributes his success to his work ethic, as well as some practical steps he took within the first year, such as hiring help and establishing financial backing.

“I realized early on that I was spending too much time doing paperwork when I should have been out meeting clients,” says Horne. “I hired an assistant and established a business line of credit. To me it was an invaluable investment.”