John Cortale is a seasoned wealth advisor and entrepreneur who founded the Cortale Group in Washington D.C. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a dual degree in Finance and Accounting and used that foundation to carve a really unique path for himself. Flash forward to today, Cortale has over 20 years of investment experience helping people of all kinds achieve their financial goals sustainably. His specialty is delving deep into each individual client’s needs and providing precise, tailor-made advice that takes into account all the nuances and extenuating circumstances that play a role. He’s not about the quick-fix mentality, he’s about changing the habits and mindset to deliver long-term results consistently. And that’s exactly what he’s done.
How did you get started in this business?
I had this inkling at the beginning of my career that I didn’t think I would be a great employee working for someone else. I had too many ideas and didn’t like the thought of sitting at a desk all day. I wanted to work with people and make an impact on my community. I soon realized that I could leverage the financial skills that I had acquired to help others achieve their financial goals and navigate this murky world of personal finance. So, we started small and it’s crazy to look back today and see how far we’ve come.
How do you make money?
Unlike other wealth advisors, we don’t make money off each trade and we don’t have sales quotas to meet that incentivize us to offer certain products to our clients. We make money on a fee-only basis so our reward is tied to that of our clients. If they do well, we do well – and frankly, that’s how business should be done. The incentives are in the right place and we can work with the clients to make the right decisions for them, every single time.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
It actually happened in the first year in the business. I started as an intern while I was in college and when I graduated, I was able to leverage my financial skills as well as my ability to connect with people to build a successful operation.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Yes, of course – that’s the curse of the entrepreneur. For all the optimism that we carry, there is always that voice at the back of your head that doubts you. The facts don’t lie – the vast majority of businesses fail. But the way that I got past those doubts was just by taking small steps forward on a consistent basis. The only thing I could control was the very next decision and so I just focused on getting that right and trusting that the success would come if I worked hard enough. And it did.
How did you get your first customer?
It was actually from a cold call, believe it or not. I called an executive at Compaq computers in the early days and after developing some rapport with them, it actually blossomed into a real great working relationship. They were my first client and I haven’t looked back since!
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Webinars. We’ve seen great success from putting some great virtual events together where we share some of our knowledge and expertise on various topics for free. By giving value to our audience, it builds our credibility and trust in the marketplace – which eventually leads to conversions to clients. It allows those on the fence to see what we’re all about before they sign up.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
It probably would be having to turn potential clients down. As any business owner will know, saying no to a potential sale feels wrong in every way – but when a client has unrealistic expectations about what is realistic, then it’s actually better that I don’t get involved. But it still hurts, because I want to help them. It’s a pity.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think it’s my self-awareness at the end of the day. I’m very aware of the fact that I don’t know everything and I’ve used that as a catalyst for relentless curiosity and a journey of lifelong learning. I’ve been very deliberate in seeking out and working with people who have complementary skills rather than trying to do everything myself. That alone, has expanded my impact way larger than would have been possible on my own.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Without a doubt, it’s when you see a client right through to retirement. You work so hard with them to help strategize, come up with a plan, and then keep them accountable for achieving those goals. Then, when they get to that retirement moment, and realize that all that effort has paid off and they are financially free – that is a feeling unlike any other. It makes all the difficult times worth it, knowing that those clients can sleep well at night because of good financial decisions they made earlier in life.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
The future looks really bright from where we are. The wealth advisory industry has gone through some significant transformations recently, especially when it comes to the digital realm – but the reality remains that this is a people business. As strange as this may sound, I’m excited to be of assistance to people who are emerging from this pandemic and trying to get back on their feet again. I’ve been encouraged by seeing how well our existing clients have handled this economic meltdown, and I’m hoping we can expand our reach to help even more people going forward.
What business books have inspired you?
The one that comes to mind immediately is ‘Principles’ by Ray Dalio. He’s one of the greatest hedge fund managers of our time, but this book isn’t necessarily about finance. It’s about mindsets and habits that set you up for a successful life and business. I’ve drawn so much wisdom from that book and it forces you to think deeply about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Highly recommended!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think I would tell myself to invest more time and effort into quality relationships. I’ve always been exceptionally driven and that sometimes took over everything in my earlier years. I wish I had made time for more balance and actually invested deeply into the people around me. I was too selfish back then.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Definitely. I’m eternally grateful to the mentors I’ve had throughout the years who have helped me get to where I am today, and I’m determined to pay that forward to the young talents of tomorrow. The best way to reach me would be to go through the Cortale Group website and we can take it from there.