Budget Coach and entrepreneur Michelle Jacobik runs financial solutions and divorce support programs designed to help individuals around the country rebuild their financial foundations. Using budgeting tools, debt-reduction planning, and saving techniques, Michelle helps her clients create a Lifestyle Re-Design PlanTM.
A longtime entrepreneur, Michelle spoke to Innovation Destination Hartford about her latest startup and the ways in which she is helping her clients reach their financial goals.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: Did you always want to be a business owner?
MICHELLE JACOBIK: I had the entrepreneurial bug early on for sure!
My parents both worked for a municipality and figured I would follow in their footsteps. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I wanted to have the ability to grow my income based upon my own results.
I also had a solid goal that I would buy a house by age 25 and own a business by age 30. I was willing to take some risks to get there and I figured if I failed I could always do one of the many jobs I had done until that point and rebound. I was willing to risk it and try, rather than not trying at all.
IDH: Tell us a little about your entrepreneurial journey.
MJ: I landed in the financial services/insurance business at the age of 23. After working my way through the ranks, I was approached by an agency owner to open a local branch. Seven years later, the owner was ready to move into other ventures. I partnered with an entrepreneurial colleague and friend and purchased the business. That was 14 days before my 30th birthday.
We were the largest Small Business Administration (SBA) loan underwritten by the bank. They had rolled the dice on us. It was a great story of “Employees turned Entrepreneurs” for them—and for us. We grew the agency year after year and served more than 5,000 clients.
In 2009, I divorced and quite honestly, the ability to balance 50-hour work weeks and my kids’ needs became harder and harder. I always knew I wanted to do more than one thing in my professional life and thought I would teach in the area of business or finance. I decided it was a good time to simplify my life and spend more time with my kids. I opted to retire from that business and figure out my next thing.
I had been leading financial education classes in the community and had become a Dave Ramsey trained financial coach. With the help of those master training classes, in just a year and a half I helped 47 families pay off more than $339,000 of debt, increase their savings by more than $100,000, and cut up 93 credit cards.
And I loved it! One of the biggest challenges after owning a business for 17 years was the thought of working for someone else. I’m certain most business owners feel that way when they decide to make the transition.
I decided I could help more people and get even better results if I provided one-on-one support, and from there my financial coaching practice was born. That was in 2014—and I have no regrets!
IDH: And you’ve continued to innovate. Let’s talk about Prosperity After Divorce. How did you develop the business concept?
MJ: When I established my practice, my intention was to educate and support all people in the area of paying off debt so they could use those dollars to build wealth.
While I didn’t advertise any niche, many of the people who were reaching out to me for guidance were divorcees. However, they were coming to me three to five years post-divorce, looking for help sorting out their finances. Many were trying to find a way out of the new debt that was created after their divorces.
I really didn’t think much about it the first year—and then it hit me. I had been working toward my own “Prosperity After Divorce” and that required a reset button over that first three to five years.
I was able to share so many things with these clients because I had already been through it and had learned many things the hard way. No one was there to talk to me about the lifestyle changes or financial impact that was really happening in my life when I dropped to one income but still had the same type of expenses (and in my case more). No one was there to remind me that I should set new goals. No one was there to let me know there were “teachable moments” I could capture and pass along to my kids in the area of money and transitions in life.
I was really good at getting people to use my budgeting tools as the means to rebuild their financial foundation and help them meet their new personal and business financial goals. I figured: Why not focus on being that person for other people? From that vision and desire to help, I developed Prosperity After Divorce, which is now evolving.
IDH: In what ways is your startup innovative?
MJ: My interest in working with people is in the area of budget coaching. I’m finding more and more that even high-earning/highly educated individuals don’t necessarily have good foundations with their day-to-day money handling.
While I have a background in both investments and taxes, it’s not the role I want to play today. I actually compliment those professionals by helping their clients be more diligent in their day-to-day money handling by establishing a workable plan that spans pay period to pay period and incorporating fun tools to help them stay on track to meet their short- and long-term financial goals.
Today, we are bombarded by so many messages and ways to easily buy what we want. Whether or not we have the money becomes irrelevant in our day-to-day thinking. Over the past few decades, credit has been easy to access and we can have what we want whether or not we can afford it.
Personal finance is truly 80% behavior and only 20% head knowledge. Our kids are learning algebra, statistics, calculus, and trigonometry, but they have no idea how to write a check, balance a checkbook, or budget. I love working with people in this area because it’s the missing link.
IDH: What’s the biggest challenge your company has faced as a startup? What do you wish you’d known before you started out?
MJ: Many new startups begin with no clients and no income and have to take on tasks that don’t reflect their strengths. For example, when I had a team, I had people who brought different skill sets to the table and together we functioned very well. I focused on sales and the left the details to someone else.
However, as soloprenuer, which is a new startup without a team, I made the initial mistake many others make. I spent much of my time creating the framework for this new business. I took on many of the things that were foreign to me, such as building two websites, creating blogs, and learning internet marketing. It delayed my progress by more than a year. I should have outsourced that work to others with that expertise in those areas so I could get out and reach people quicker.
IDH: Who is your clientele and how are they finding you?
MJ: I help individuals and business owners who are tired of “running in place” to start living the lives they dream of!
I walk alongside divorced and divorcing women and men who are now faced with the new financial challenges of having one income and different expenses to cover on their own. I equip my clients with a Done-For-You Individualized Financial Lifestyle Re-Design Plan and provide them with the tools necessary to clearly chart their way in their next chapter. In this way, I am able to support them as they rebuild their financial footing and work toward creating their own Prosperity After Divorce.
I educate and support young adults who are carrying the heavy burden of student loan debt and teach them how to avoid going from swiping a meal plan card at school to swiping a credit card in life. I give them a solid budget and tools to help them live on their own and crush their student loan debt rather than carrying it like a mortgage.
I also support and educate entrepreneurs who are ready to figure out how to gain better financial footing in both their business and personal finances. I give them a much clearer view of their cash flow as well as the forecasting required to be successful in the long term.
Many of my clients are referred by others who have used my services. CPAs, therapists, divorce attorneys, mediators, divorce coaches, and other business owners who see the value added in what I do have been great about referring their clients to me.
I also write for Divorce Force Magazine and host workshops as well as an online Meetup group and a Facebook support group.
IDH: Are you working with any Connecticut resources?
MJ: Yes, I have participated in many workshops and webinars that are available through SCORE, the Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Hartford and many resources in my local area in terms of networking, etc.
IDH: What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
MJ: Being an entrepreneur gives me a sense of freedom and allows me a place to creatively connect with others. For me that’s what it’s all about. Connecting with and helping others. Doing that daily, I always have a place to stretch and grow from myself while helping others on their journeys as well.
IDH: What advice can you offer other startups?
MJ: Know your numbers (I can help with that!) and know your market. Tap into the resources that are available in the state. Connecticut does a fantastic job offering free resources to both startups and existing businesses that are looking to grow and reinvent, including help to design an initial business plan design, access to business counseling/mentors, education about marketing and networking/mastermind groups, and funding sources such as microloans. There is so much at your fingertips to will help you be prepared and more successful.
Make sure you are around other likeminded business owners. We can all help each other in some way or another. Sometimes that little extra energy boost that happens when we share a challenge or a win with another entrepreneur is what gets us through to the next day.
Don’t do everything on your own. Many times we hold onto things we should have outsourced or hired someone else to do because we believe we can’t afford to pay someone else to do it for us.
Also, over the years, I’ve seen so many business owners delay their progress because they get stuck “working in the business and not on it.” Make sure you remember your role and stay open to creating new ways to reinvent and grow.